Campbellism in its Inception.
By J. B. Jeter
CIRCUMSTANCES, it has been frequently affirmed, make men.
The remark is not true in an unqualified sense; but it cannot be questioned that circumstances exert a mighty influence in forming the tastes, opinions, and characters, and guiding the lives of most men. Mr. Campbell, much as he has boasted of his independence of thought and conduct, has not risen above this common law of humanity. He is, to a great extent, what his peculiar circumstances - his early training and associations, and his subsequent relations, avocations, and conflicts - have made him. He bears, most clearly, the impress of the mould in which he was cast. He was educated in the University of Glasgow, in Scotland. If he was not brought up among the Seceders - as he probably was - he was early connected with that most rigid of all the Presbyterian sects, adopted their views, and fully imbibed
their spirit. "I have," said he, "tried the pharisaic plan, and the monastic. I was once so straight, that, like the Indian's tree, I leaned a little the other way. And however much I may be slandered now as seeking 'popularity,' or a popular course, I have to rejoice to my own satisfaction, as well as to others, I proved that truth, and not popularity was my object; for I was once so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as perfect as I supposed myself.” Christian Baptism, p. 238. Had Mr. C. not passed his early years in Scotland, his religious views and career would have differed widely from what they have been. Many of his speculations have been Scottish importations. To which of the Seceder sects he was attached, does not appear, but it is presumed from his early phariseeism, to the straitest. It would be strange, if his education in the school of bigotry and intolerance, had not given complexion to his spirit, character to his opinions, and direction to his labors, in after life.
In August, 1809, this young Seceder, with a certificate of church membership in his pocket, set sail from the city of Greenock, in Scotland, for the United States, and, after a narrow escape from shipwreck, landed safely in the city of New York, in the ensuing September. He brought with him the Reformation in embryo. Before he left the fatherland, his faith “in creeds and confessions of human
device” was considerably shaken. Whether the iron rigor of his creed, by which he had been fettered, had any influence in unsettling his faith does not appear. From New York, he immediately repaired to Washington, Penn., and commenced his American career, with what he proclaimed as an important discovery, “that nothing not as old as the New Testament should be made an article of faith, a rule of practice, or a term of communion among Christians.” This truth was the “polestar” to guide him in all subsequent researches and labors. We cannot but congratulate him on his discovery, while we confess our surprise that he should have been so long in making it. It was the doctrine—the main pillar of the great reformation led on by Luther, Calvin, and other worthies, in the sixteenth century. It had never been called in question by any respectable Protestant sect, or even writer. The most zealous advocates of human creeds ascribed to them no authority, except what they derived from the Scriptures. They might, by a misinterpretation of the Scriptures, put unscriptural articles into their creeds, or they might pervert the Scriptures to make them harmonize with their inherited creeds; but not a creed-monger could be found who maintained, or even dreamed, that any thing "not as old as the New Testament should be made an article of faith."
Guided by this “pole-star," Mr. C. soon began
to make progress in religious knowledge. His pole-star” proved to be “the morning star of the reformation.” In July, 1810, he publicly avowed his “convictions of the independency of the church of Christ, and the excellency and authority of the Scriptures.” He now commenced a series of desultory, itinerating labor - "pronouncing," to use his own style, “orations on the primary topics of the Christian religion," in Western Pennsylvania, and the contiguous parts of Virginia and Ohio. In 1811, he married, and became a resident, and, as soon as the laws would permit, a citizen of Virginia. About this time, he was led to question the divine authority of infant sprinkling; and, after a long, serious, and prayerful examination of all the sources of information within his reach, to reject it, and to solicit immersion on a profession of faith. He was baptized by Elder Matthias Luse, in the presence of Elder Henry Spears, in June, 1812, and soon after was ordained one of the Elders of the church at Brush Run. He did not, at first, design to connect himself with the Baptist denomination, but forming a better acquaintance with some of the members of the Redstone Baptist Association, composed of churches partly in Pennsylvania, and partly in Virginia, he induced the church with which he was connected, to sue for admission into that body, and presenting a written declaration of their faith, they were received in the fall of 1813. From this period,
until 1823, Mr. C. continued his labors as a Christian teacher, in North-Western Virginia, without any very important results. But his mind was far from being stationary. Light dawned on it apace. He was preparing, either with or without design, to become the advocate of what he deemed a great reformation, and the Corypheus of a large party. Christian Baptism, p. 92.
Mr. Campbell, having burst the bonds imposed on him by his early creed, pursued his religious investigations, without restraint, except such as was laid on him by natural temperament, early impressions, and mental capacity. He had now ceased to be a pharisce. He could sing and pray with his fellow-Christians. But mingling with them, he soon began to speculate on their manifold errors. His penetrating eye perceived, or he thought that it perceived, and he did not lack moral courage to proclaim, that “the present popular exhibition of the Christian religion is a compound of Judaism, heathen philosophy, and Christianity." Christian Baptism, p. 9. The phrase “popular exhibition of the Christian religion” is somewhat equivocal; and yet there can be no reasonable doubt as to the sense in which he uses it. It could be nothing to his purpose to affirm that the exhibitions of Christianity made by Romanists, German Rationalists, or the advocates of baptismal regeneration, are such a compound. Among these classes of religionists he was not
laboring. He, doubtless, referred to the exhibition of Christianity usually made by the prevailing religious denominations of the country. These different Christian persuasions, mostly maintaining, along with some errors, almost inseparable from human imperfection, the vital, soul-saving truths of the Gospel, were in his estimation, exhibitors of a compound of “Judaism, heathen philosophy and Christianity.”
That there may be no mistake on this subject, another quotation from the pen of Mr. C. will be furnished.If Christians were, and may be the happiest people that ever lived, it is because they live under the most gracious institution ever bestowed on men. The meaning of this institution has been buried under the rubbish of human traditions for hundreds of years. It was lost in the dark ages, and has never been, till recently, disinterred. Various efforts have been made, and considerable progress attended them ; but since the Grand Apostacy was completed, till the present generation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not been laid open to mankind in its original plainness, simplicity and majesty. A veil in reading the New Institution has been on the hearts of Christians,” &c. Christian System, p. 180.With the truth or falsehood of these opinions, we have, at present, no concern. It is, however, desirable to take an accurate observation of Mr.
Campbell's position. The above language defines, quite unambiguously, his own conceptions of the ground which he occupied. The Christian institution - the Gospel of salvation - had been buried, under a mass of traditions, for ages. Various efforts had been made, at different times, by men of great reputation for learning, piety, zeal, and fidelity, to remove the superincumbent mass, with small success. Then the Reformer of Bethany arose, dug away the rubbish, and exposed, in the light of day, the long lost Gospel, in all its beauty, simplicity and majesty. These are, certainly, high pretensions. They may be just, and if so, we should know it, that we may render homage to our benefactor. We propose in the progress of this work, to make strict inquiries concerning the justice of these claims.
Mr. C. was now prepared to enter earnestly on the prosecution of his mission. Having analyzed the "popular exhibition of the Christian religion," and pointed out its primary elements, and having made considerable, progress in disinterring the “ancient Gospel” from the deep grave in which for centuries it had lain, he was naturally desirous that the benefits of his discoveries and labors should not be confined to an obscure corner of Virginia. The candle was not lighted to be put under a bushel. The morning star of the new Reformation rust shed its effulgence in a wider sphere. That he might have a channel for disseminating
his newly formed opinions, Mr. C. commenced publishing a small monthly pamphlet, entitled the Christian Baptist. The first No. was issued from Buffalo, afterwards called Bethany, Brooke County, Va., July 4th, 1823. The day was aptly chosen for the commencement of the enterprise. Consecrated to the celebration of American Independence, it was thenceforth to be distinguished as the commencement of a struggle for the liberation of the churches from priestly domination. The publication of the Christian Baptist marks an era in the history of Campbellisin. For seven years it was the repository of the lucubrations of Mr. C. and of his numerous correspondents, who rapidly sprang up through the country. It was edited with ability. As it will hereafter be necessary to examine many articles in this work, it is sufficient now merely to express the opinion that it contains some things worthy of commendation, more that are entitled to no particular notice, and a great mass of rubbish. Mr. C. has boasted much of the independent, generous, and fearless manner in which his periodicals have been conducted. He has professed to publish both sides of every controversy. It may be remarked, that policy frequently assumes the garb of liberality. He was a skillful and popular debater - handled a ready pen — was desirous to gain notoriety, and promote the circulation of his pape — and controversy was the pabulum on which he lived and thrived. It is
easy to perceive that under such circumstances, sound policy as well as liberality, would court discussion. Liberality is envinced, not by an eagerness for disputation, but by a candid, fair, and considerate treatment of our opponent. Few theologians were qualified to enter the lists with a disputant so ready, adroit and sarcastic as he was, and most of that small number, feeling but little interest in his labors or speculations, deemed it sound policy, if not liberality, to decline gratifying his penchant for debate.
It does not appear to have been the purpose of Mr. C., at least in the commencement of his Reformation, to organize a new sect. That his labors tended to that result was clear to every discerning, attentive, and impartial observer. Sectarianism was the object of the most intense aversion-an aversion probably heightened by the remembrance of his previous Seceder intolerance. His favorite project was to fuse the various Christian sects, not, it would seem, by the fire of love, but of criticism and ridicule, and from the melted mass mould, in what he termed, the “ancient Gospel,” a new and glorious body. Let us hear him on this point.
“I have no idea of adding to the catalogue of new sects. This game has been played too long. I labor to see sectarianism abolished, and all Christians of every name united upon the one foundation on · which the Apostolic Church was founded. to
bring Baptists and Pedo-baptists to this, is my supreme end." Christian Baptism, p. 217.
No intelligent Christian can object to the end which Mr. C. proposed to accomplish. The union of all true Christians on the Apostolic foundation, is an object most devoutly to be wished. All good men pray for it. But we must carefully inquire, whether the means by which he proposes to attain this object, are Scriptural and efficacious. We are now prepared to contemplate Campbellism under another phase.
CAMPBELLISM IN ITS CHAOS
The period of Campbellism which it is now proposed to examine, extends from the first appearance of the Christian Baptist to the time when Mr. Campbell, and those persons who adopted his peculiar views, and entered into his spirit and aims, were excluded from the Baptist denomination. This period may with equal propriety be termed its chaotic or its belligerent state. Belligerent it certainly was. The publication of the Christian Baptist was an open, formal declaration of war against all the religious sects and parties in the country; and most fearlessly, skillfully and furiously was it waged. Criticism, logic, eloquence, sarcasm, ridicule, and especially caricature and sophistry were the missiles employed in this warfare. Revelation, history, and fiction were laid under contribution in the conflict. At first, Mr. C. stood alone, battling single handed, as he fancied, against the disciplined hosts of sectarianism; but soon he was joined by a band of volunteers, less learned strategic, and cautious, but by no means less valorous, confident
and aggressive, than himself. Almost all who came over to his side were from the first warriors, of dauntless spirit, panoplied from head to foot. So great was their ardor, and so fierce their onslaught, that, for a time, it seemed as if one could "chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight."
This was no less the chaotic than the belligerent period of Campbellism. It would have puzzled the most careful, discriminating and candid reader of the Christian Baptist to form any clear conceptions of Mr. Campbell's principles or aims. He eschewed all the common and well defined terms of theology. His teaching was almost entirely negative. He was neither a Unitarian nor a Trinitarian, neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian; but what he really was, or desired to be, none could certainly affirm. It was clear that he rejected "the popular exhibition of the Christian religion ;” but not clear what he would substitute for it. Many opinions and practices held sacred and dear by most Christians, were by him openly and sarcastically denounced ; but his own views were concealed, or cautiously and obscurely revealed. The title of his monthly periodical" The Christian Baptist”--might seem to identify him with the Baptist denomination ; but the appearance was illusory. Agreeing with the Baptists on the action and subjects of baptism, he differed widely from them on the design of the ordinance, and on many other doctrinal, experimental and practical subjects; and in the sequel they received a full share of his censure and opposition. True, he constantly and earnestly insisted that the Scriptures are the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice, but in this opinion there was nothing distinctive. He held it in common, not only with the evangelical Protestant sects, but with Unitarians, Universalists, and almost every class of religious fanatics and errorists.