Thomas Campbell A Watchful Eye on the Reformation




Chapter XVI


ROR several years we have little data remaining to show how this rededication to his task was fulfilled. In 1836, Dr. Robert Richardson was induced to remove to Bethany, to become associate in the publication of the Harbinger. This gave more freedom to both the Campbells. A general outline of the activities of Alexander is kept before us in the magazine, but we catch only an occasional glimpse of the father. In 1836, "My Dear Son" published a rather extensive letter from his father which dealt with devotion to the original idea of the reformation and the importance of giving to all who professed adherence to it a correct understanding of the same.

      Debates with the Baptists in periodicals and in sermons, reached such proportions, sometimes the Reformers leading and then the Baptists, that in the year 1835, Alexander Campbell, in the Harbinger, proposed that "the Baptists select some one to write a tract of sixty or one hundred pages in defence of their system, assailed by us, and we will furnish like pages in support of our views and in exposure of theirs, the same to be published and circulated widely so that papers be left free for other things." That proposal surely pleased the elder Campbell, but nothing came of [174] it. The discussions by pen and tongue continued with the Baptists, but other faiths were given attention. In 1836 occurred the memorable discussion with the Roman Catholic Bishop Purcell (later elevated to an archbishopric). So exhaustively did the editor of The Millennial Harbinger examine and discuss Roman Catholicism that the Roman Catholic authorities take no satisfaction in the distribution of the printed report of the discussion. The elder Campbell seems not to have been present at the debate. In the same year a discussion with a Mr. Skinner on the merits of Universalism was conducted in the Harbinger, and it lasted for almost two years. An incidental note in an 1838 Harbinger states that the circulation of the various issues of the New Testament prepared by the Campbells had reached about 24,000. In the same year Dr. Richardson wrote a letter from Hillsborough, Va., to "Beloved old brother T. Campbell: Learning from brother Alexander when he was at my house, you would attend to the Harbinger, I address you as the Editor." How long the absence of the editor gave him that honor then we are not sure.

      In 1839, from the "old brother, came an article on "The Divine Order for Evangelizing the World, and for Teaching the Evangelized How to Conduct Themselves." He started with the Great Commission in Matthew, and urged the necessity of teaching and preaching.

"Let the church then take up its Book and read and study it. The proper character of the church is the school of [175]  Christ, disciples, Christians. . . . It must not shame its Master by its stupid, wilful, shameful ignorance of his Book."

He proposed for the Lord's Day a meeting of four hours, beginning at ten o'clock and a half-hour intermission between each two hours. An order of service is really suggested which provides at the close for assignments of study for the week and "a contribution of something to the common stock for religious purposes, as God has prospered him." A record book was proposed for each church that should have

"1. A declaration of sentiment. 2. The names of the members. 3. A record of additions by baptism, by letter, or otherwise [we use this very method of recording additions today]. 4. A record of deaths; also of dismissals, specifying the time and causes. 5. An account of contributions and expenditures."

This article was followed by a series entitled "Church Edification," and still another named "A Scriptural View of Christian Character and Privileges" (five articles). These productions indicate that the elder Campbell was concerned for the well-being of the new churches that were springing up everywhere. In 1839 (Millennial Harbinger, p. 19) we see Thomas Campbell ranging himself with Barton W. Stone in favor of using the name "'Christian" and against Alexander Campbell, who had announced himself in favor of using the name "Disciple," though not exclusively. Again in the following year the father published a short article in which he maintained that the name, "Christian" was to be preferred. [176]

"First, because of the radical and comprehensive import of its appellative signification. Second, because of its scriptural consistency with the intention of the proposed reformation."

      Toward the close of 1838 and the opening of 1839, the attention of our "advocate of Christian union" was challenged by a Christian Union Convention, which held its first session in Syracuse, N. Y., and its second in Cazanovia, N. Y. This seems to have been the first formal effort at Christian union since Thomas Campbell's publication of the Declaration and Address in 1809. There had been associated denominational activity for work among the Indians.

Mr. Campbell did not attend, but took his knowledge of the convention through articles in the Union Herald.Harbinger by way of acquainting all with the new proposal for the union of Christians.

There was a report of a committee on resolutions, which presented what it thought were fundamental propositions that all should adhere to. There were several addresses which magnified the object and the immediate necessity of the same. There was some discussion which revealed that theological agreement was thought to be the way into unity. Possibly the reply of Thomas Campbell will be sufficient to indicate the nature of the propositions and the prevailing thought of that Christian Union Convention.

Three installments of the reports are spread on the pages of the

"Having presented to the readers of the Harbinger in this and two preceding numbers a large and comprehensive extract of the [177]  proceedings and sentiments of a respectable number of ministers and others, principally of the state of New York, in convention assembled at Syracuse, Aug. 21, A. D. 1838, and at Cazenovia, Jan. 30 and 31, 1839, for the desirable purpose of Christian union, we now proceed to make some remarks upon the said documents."

He expressed his joy in the fact that this all-important subject is beginning to awake the public.

"Some thirty years ago, when we addressed a portion of our fellow Christians in western Pennsylvania upon this all-important subject, we met with universal opposition from the leaders of the people and were considered as the disturbers of religious society; but now, blessed be God, it is not only our privilege to bear of some hundreds of thousands in the United States and elsewhere that have been awakened, by means of our humble commencement, to advocate this blessed cause, upon pure scriptural principles of primitive, apostolic Christianity; but that also now, at length, there is a voluntary movement in different parts of the camp, beyond the bounds of our co-operative agency in favor of this blessed cause, the cause of union in truth amongst all the friends of truth and peace throughout all the churches, for this was the sacred design and motto of our commencement."

Here he cites, propositions 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 5 and 3 in this order.

"Adopting and acting upon these principles, as apparently the only just and scriptural alternative for the multifarious corruptions and divisions which have desolated and ruined the Christian church, we have reason to rejoice that our [178]  humble commencements have been crowned with a degree of success far exceeding our most sanguine expectations; and which we believe nothing but the divine approbation could have effected; for we have been most bitterly and vehemently opposed by the leaders of all parties--Atheistic, Deistic, Catholic and Protestant--with which we have happened to come in contact. But, blessed be God, in spite of all opposition, the good cause of scriptural reformation is happily prevailing; and no doubt will continue to do so, till all anti-Christian errors and corruptions be forever abolished.

      "Second, as to the propositions adopted by the convention, they, appear too indefinite, and, of course, have a tendency to produce difficulties, both to the candidates for Christian fellowship, and also to those who are to admit and receive them. We mean the first and second propositions that were adopted by the convention in their former meeting at Syracuse, and the first of those adopted in their latter meeting at Cazenovia. (Those propositions said, 'The regeneration of the candidate constitutes his only and his sufficient title for admission into the visible church,' and 'that the title by which a person enters the visible church is the only and sufficient title for remaining in it.') For though each of the propositions may be abstractly true, and that all of them taken together might qualify the candidate for Christian fellowship, and so entitle him to admission into the church; yet a difficult point of radical importance still remains to be determined; viz., Does the applicant possess these qualifications? [179] What shall be deemed satisfactory evidence that he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ; that he is a subject of that regeneration, or new birth, spoken by Jesus Christ to Nicodemus? Now, if the ascertainment of these queries may be matter of very serious difficulty to the candidate himself (as it most surely may be, if we advert to daily experience and to the numerous efforts of preachers and writers to solve the anxious inquiries of doubting Christians relative to these all-important matters), how much more so must it be to those who are to be his examinators for admission. Whereas, if instead of these perplexing and almost indissoluble difficulties, teachers and churches would proceed upon the divinely prescribed practice of the Apostles;

namely, to preach the gospel as heaven might grant opportunity to every creature that had not yet professedly embraced it; and upon his being confessedly convinced and disposed to obey it, to baptize him into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, for the enjoyment of the promised salvation, as Peter did on the day of Pentecost, and afterward carefully teach the baptized to observe all things taught by the Apostles as expressly recorded in the New Testament, they would in so, doing do everything as far as teaching is concerned, that God has intended to be done for the salvation of the world. And it is only by thus assuming and acting upon original ground, as we have, proposed, that ever the modern churches can be reduced to New Testament order, so as to, exhibit the divine costume of the apostolic churches. [180]

      "Now, if this can not be done, Christendom must remain in its apostasy; the deleterious causes and ruinous effects of which are well and truly described in the Minutes of the convention. But we can see no reason why this cannot and should not be done by a direct appeal to the divine pattern itself. . . . We make this appeal to the understanding and practice of the primitive churches, not to authorize our faith and practice, but merely to show that we understand the apostolic writings upon those subjects as they were understood from the beginning. And this we think all Christian unionists are bound to do, because it is only upon the belief of the apostolic doctrine that Christ has proposed and prayed for the unity of His people (John 17:20, 21)."

Since 1839, several, if not many, other plans or methods for uniting Christians have appeared in the world. They have been made to center about doctrines that relate themselves to human creeds, experiences and character appreciation which are based upon human judgments. So they differ but little fundamentally from the method which Thomas Campbell examined and dismissed in the convincing fashion just recorded. His answer avails, still for those who undervalue the plain things which constituted the apostolic message and method as the New Testament witnesses. [181]

[TCSCUA 174-181]


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