Profile of Alexander Campbell
Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a U.S. religious leader and one of the founders of the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ. Born in County Antrim, Ireland, he was the son of Thomas Campbell (1763-1854), a Presbyterian minister who urged Christian unity. In 1807 Thomas Campbell emigrated to America, where he formed the Christian association of Washington, Pennsylvania, to promote "simple evangelical Christianity" as the way to church union. Following a breach with Presbyterianism he produced a Declaration and Address for the association in 1809. Alexander Campbell, after a year at the University of Glasgow, emigrated with the rest of the family in 1809 to join his father. Like his father, he espoused Christian unity and emerged as the leader of a movement for religious reform. He began preaching, without a salary, in 1810 and married in 1811, settling in what is now Bethany, West Virginia. Biblical study led him and his followers to adopt baptism by immersion in 1812, and in 1813 they joined the Baptists; but tension on other issues led him to break with the Baptists in 1830. In 1832 Campbell’s followers, known as Disciples, or Christians (nicknamed Campbellites), joined Kentucky "Christians" under Barton W. Stone (q.v.) to form the Disciples of Christ, or Christian Church.
Influenced by John Locke’s theory of knowledge, Campbell presented a rationalistic and deliberative Christianity based on the New Testament but opposed alike to speculation and emotional revivals. He exercised his leadership through preaching, addresses and debates with the Roman Catholic bishop John Purcell of Cincinnati, the secularist Robert Owen of Scotland and others.
Campbell’s major writing and publishing began with a periodical, the Christian Baptist, in 1823, continued as the Millennial Harbinger after 1830. He wrote or edited over 60 volumes, including The Living Oracles, a version of the New Testament first issued in 1826, and a hymnal. Thomas Campbell gave his son extensive editorial assistance. Alexander Campbell was a member of the constitutional convention of Virginia in 1829. He founded Bethany college in 1840, and was its president till his death. In 1849 he became the first president of the first national convention and missionary society of the Disciples of Christ. Managerial ability and scientific methods of farming brought him wealth, and his home, with much original furniture and decoration, still stands, open to the public.
The term Campbellism is used in this treatise, not as a term of reproach, but of distinction. No other word denotes the system which it is proposed to examine. Mr. Alexander Campbell, of Bethany, Virginia, and the party embracing his views, have assumed several appellations. They have styled themselves "Reformers," "Christians," and "Disciples." Without discussing their exclusive claim to these titles, it is clear that from neither of them can any tern be derived which will fairly distinguish their system of doctrine. The word Reformation has been appropriated, by common consent, to denote that great moral revolution, of which Luther and Calvin were the prime agents. The term Christianity can never be wrested from its universally established import, to express the views of any sect or party, however good, wise or great. From the word Disciple, indefinite as an appellative, no term can be derived to signify the views of his claim, it may be observed that the inquiries now to be made have reference not to the Ancient Gospel, recorded in the writings of the evangelists and apostles, but to the speculations of Mr. Campbell, contained in his voluminous works, concerning this gospel, and which have been received as true by friends of the "Current Reformation." To call these speculations the Ancient Gospel, would be a manifest misnomer. I am then under the necessity of employing some indefinite term, a tedious circumlocution, or the word Campbellism to denote the system under discussion, and the last course seems preferable.
This system is with great propriety termed Campbellism. Systems of philosophy, science, and religion, have usually been designated after their discoverers, first promulgators, or most distinguished advocates. Mr. Campbell is the author, and most eminent proclaimer of the peculiar doctrines, which, within the last thirty years, have spread in the Southern and Western states, under the title of "The Reformation." No other man has added an article to the system, subtracted one from it, or materially modified it. Many truths are taught by Mr. Campbell in common with other Christians; very few of the principles for which he pleads are strictly new; but having revived, modified, and placed in new combinations some antiquated sentiments, and added to them a few original speculations, he is fairly entitled to all the honor, and obnoxious to all the censure which his system merits.
... I design, therefore, to discuss with as much care and fullness as the prescribed limits of my treatise may permit, a few of the distinctive, and most objectionable Principles of Campbellism.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN CONVERSION.
This subject is one of vital importance in the Christian system. The admission or denial of the reality and efficiency of this influence constitutes the main difference between evangelical and rationalistic theology—between intelligent living piety, and heartless, self-sufficient formalism. Almost every Christian sect, holding grossly erroneous principles, has included among its errors the denial or perversion of the doctrine of the spirit’s influence. Mr. Campbell in his debate with Rev. N.L. Rice, admitted that the subject is "of transcendent importance to the Christian" [page 611]. I would, therefore, enter on its investigation, profoundly conscious of my liability to err, and earnestly seeking wisdom "of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not."
On no subject have the opponents of Mr. Campbell, and the Christian public generally, found it so difficult to understand and represent his views as on this important point.
... I shall, for the present, confine my remarks to its principal error – viz., that all the converting power of the Holy Spirit is in the written word, which he has indicted and confirmed.
It is desirable to divest this subject of all extraneous matter. I fully concur with Mr. Campbell in the opinion that a moral change is necessary to the salvation of men. With all that he has written of the inspiration and importance of the Scriptures, and of their adaptation to promote the salvation of men, I heartily agree. I do not think, more than he, that any new faculty is given, or any old faculty (understanding by the term physical , not moral power,) is repaired in conversion. It is freely admitted that the Spirit operates through the word in the conversion and sanctification of men. But I understand Mr. Campbell to maintain that the influence of the Spirit in the work of conversion is limited, and of necessity, to the simple presentation of arguments, motives, truth, to the minds of men, by means of words, and other signs—that all the power of the Spirit in the conversion of men is in moral suasion. This he does explicitly teach, if words have any definite import. By physical power we operate on matter—by moral power on mind. "All the moral power which can be exerted on human beings, is, and of necessity must be, in the arguments addressed to them." The illustration employed by Mr. Campbell would seem to preclude the possibility of misunderstanding his views. The influence of an orator over his hearers is not exerted, by the entrance of his spirit into them, but "by words uttered by the tongue; by ideas communicated to" their minds. Of precisely the same nature is the influence ascribed by Mr. Campbell to the Spirit in the conversion of men. "As the moral power of man is in his arguments, so is the moral power of the Spirit of God in his arguments." The Spirit of God exerts a moral influence in conversion exactly like that which men exert in controlling the actions or emotions of one another, but stronger in proportion as his arguments are clearer, fuller, weightier, and more pertinently expressed. But the Spirit can do no more than reason, expostulate, and present motives.
"If the New and Old Testament contain all the arguments which can be offered to reconcile man to God, and to purify them who are reconciled, then all the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate on the human mind is spent; and he that is not sanctified and saved, cannot be saved by angels or spirits, human or divine."
I should deem it needless to labor this point so carefully, did I not know that Mr. Campbell and his friends have almost constantly charged his opponents with falsely stating his views on this very subject. These were the views of "the agency of the Holy Spirit" against which the "Dover Decree" was leveled. Elder A. Broaddus in the "Appendix" to the "Extra Examined," published in 1831, thus wrote: —"In few words, then, Mr. Campbell’s view, in regard to Divine influence, appears to me to be in substance as follows—The canon of Scripture being closed, the actual work of the Spirit is done; but the word of truth being dictated by the Holy Spirit—the influence of that word may be termed the influence of the Spirit: and this is all the Divine influence that is exerted. And then, God’s Spirit, which is a Holy Spirit, being in his word, as my spirit (for example) is in my writings—in receiving the word we receive a holy spirit: and this is all the Holy Spirit that is received: [p.48]. Such were the views entertained by this astute and ingenuous writer, of Mr. Campbell’s doctrine on the influence of the Spirit. This "Appendix" was noticed by the Editor of Harbinger in several Nos. of the Dialogue on the Holy Spirit, between Timothy and Austin; and, for a wonder, Mr. B.’s statement of the doctrine was not called in question.
Mr. Campbell maintains, or did maintain, that all the converting power of the Holy Spirit is in the arguments or motives which he presents to the mind in the written Word. On this point I take issue with him. I maintain that there is an influence of the Spirit, internal, mighty, and efficacious, differing from moral suasion, but ordinarily exerted through the inspired Word, in the conversion of sinners. Whether this influence shall be called moral, from the effect which it produces, physical, from the energy which is put forth in it; or spiritual, from the nature of the agent who exerts it, I have no wish to decide. It is for the reality and importance of this influence, not for its name, that I contend.
The principal argument adduced by Mr. Campbell in support of his theory of conversion, is purely metaphysical. All power, he says, is either physical or moral—by physical power we operate on matter, and by moral power on mind. A physical power cannot produce a moral effect. "And when we think of the power of the Spirit of God exerted upon minds or human spirits, it is impossible for us to imagine, that that power can consist in any thing else but words or arguments." The gist of Mr. Campbell’s logic seems to be this—We cannot comprehend any power of the Spirit of God in conversion, except that consisting in words or arguments: therefore, it does not exist. What is this, but to deduce a most unwarrantable conclusion from his own ignorance? It were a sufficient reply to this reasoning, to quote the words of the Saviour—"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit." John 3:8. But we have more to say on this subject. To affirm, as Mr. Campbell does, "that if the Holy Spirit has spoken all its arguments,. . . then all the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate upon the human mind is spent," is a bold assumption. When a man has uttered all his arguments and persuasions to influence his fellow, his power may be exhausted; but when the Infinite Spirit has spoken all his arguments and persuasions for reconciling proud, perverse and stupid men to Christ, is his power spent? Is there nothing more that he can do? Are his resources exhausted? Has he thus limited himself? Has Mr. Campbell any authority for prescribing this limit to his power? The truth is, this assumption is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptual. God created the human spirit—has access to it—is perfectly acquainted with all its springs of emotion and of action—and can, in ways unknown to us, and without contravening the laws of its being, influence, impress, and guide it. He that made, can certainly renew the spirit of man, with means, or without them, as he pleases. It is no less the dictate of reason than of revelation, that "the king’s heart," and consequently the heart of every other man, "is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will."
The assumption that the Spirit can operate on the soul of man in conversion only by arguments, or words, is, not only unphilosophical, but contrary to divinely recorded facts. It is not true that physical power cannot produce a moral effect. God created man, not by arguments or words, but by the direct exercise of physical power, in his "own image" — which image comprehended "righteousness and true holiness." Was not this a moral effect produced by a physical cause? Christ was created holy. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee," said the angel to Mary, "and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 4:35). Was not the holiness of the infant Redeemer a moral quality? And was not this effect produced, not by arguments, persuasion, or words, but by the "power," the physical "power of the Highest?"
The assumption under consideration is incompatible with the salvation of infants. They enter into the world, as Mr. Campbell admits, with depraved hearts. Dying before they attain to years of intelligence, they must enter heaven with their moral natures unchanged, which is impossible; they must be renovated by death, which is a mere figment; they must be renewed by the Holy Spirit without the Word, the possibility of which Mr. Campbell cannot conceive; or, they must be lost. I do not charge him with admitting this consequence; but it appears to be logically deduced from the position which he assumes, and all his ingenuity has not enabled him to escape from it.. .
I will now proceed to offer direct arguments against Mr. Campbell’s theory of conversion.
1. It overlooks, or at least, underestimates, the inveteracy of human depravity. The Spirit of inspiration has drawn the picture of man’s moral corruption in gloomy colors. He is utterly depraved—fleshly, sensual and impure. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6). He is without spiritual life, without holiness, without moral worth—"dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). He is alienated from God, and opposed to his law, and consequently to truth and righteousness. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). This depravity pervades, and controls the whole man—blinding the mind, perverting the affections, stupefying the conscience, making rebellious and obstinate the will, and prostituting the members of the body as the instruments of sin. And this moral corruption of human nature is universal. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3: 23).
It is proposed to make man, thus corrupt, obstinate and debased, a friend of God, humble, obedient, and meet for heaven—in short, "a new creature," from whom "old things have passed away," and to whom "all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). I do not charge Mr. Campbell with denying the doctrine of human depravity; but his theory of conversion does not provide for the accomplishment of a moral renovation, at once so difficult, and so important.
How, according to his scheme, is this great moral change to be effected? Simply by the presentation of arguments, truth, and persuasion, to the mind by words, or other signs, When the Spirit has presented all his arguments, he has spent all his power. Of this scheme several things may be observed.
First. It is oblivious of the chief difficulty in conversion. Mr. Campbell maintains that "the arguments which are written in the New Testament" must be "understood" in order to exert their influence on the human mind [Chn’ty. Restored, p. 350]. To understand these arguments requires attention, candor, and a spiritual discernment. Men attend readily to what they delight in, and believe easily what is congenial with their tastes; but the "natural man," the unrenewed, sinful—has a deep-rooted aversion to divine truth. This aversion is an element and a proof of his depravity. He may hear or read the arguments contained in the Scriptures, through curiosity, politeness, or a captious spirit; but to expect of him a candid, serious, docile and obedient attention to them, is to expect to "gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles." "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." If divine truth must be understood in order to be efficacious; and if it must be candidly examined, before it can be understood; and if every evil doer, hating the light, or divine truth, refuses to come to it, or consider it, how, on Mr. Campbell’s theory, can any soul of man be saved? But the scheme which I advocate—the Spiritual scheme—makes provision for overcoming this difficulty. God, by the gracious inward, efficacious influence of his Spirit, prepares the heart for the reception of the Gospel. "Whose heart," that is, Lydia’s heart, "the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14). This woman "worshipped God," as did all the Jews, and Jewish proselytes; but there is not the slightest proof that she was pious. The very reverse is clear. Her heart was closed against the Gospel, else there had been no need for God to open it. She hated the light, neither would come to it. "The Lord opened or inclined, her "heart" to attend "to the things which were spoken of Paul." Mr. Campbell is of opinion that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart by the miracles which were wrought in confirmation of the Gospel [Chn’ty Restored, p. 354]. Of this there is neither proof nor probability. There was no miracle wrought on the occasion. Miracles were utterly insufficient to awaken an obedient and saving attention, like that which Lydia gave, to the Gospel (John 11:47). The Lord opened the heart of this woman of Thyatira—really and effectively opened her heart, by a process which is not explained. As the result of this process she attended, promptly, honestly, and obediently to Paul’s Gospel; and but for this process, the apostle, though he had spoken as an angel, had spoken without success.
Secondly. Suppose this great difficulty obviated, the sinner’s attention arrested, and truth brought clearly before his mind, would knowledge of divine truth, without the special influence of the Spirit, secure his conversion? If ignorance is the only evil with which the Gospel has to contend, then obviously the illumination of the mind is all that is necessary for its removal. But ignorance, though it may be in itself criminal, is rather the effect than the cause of man’s depravity. There is a corrupt disposition which blinds the understanding. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). The love of darkness—which signifies ignorance or error—is the very root of man’s depravity. This love implies an aversion to light, truth, and holiness, and is the cause of the prevalent ignorance of divine things in the world. Conversion includes a cordial approbation of divine truth (2 Thess. 2:10). Now, can arguments, however clear and weighty—persuasion, however earnest and tender—and words, however fitly chosen and expressive, change the tastes and dispositions of the soul? Man hates Christ, not because of the contrariety in their tastes and dispositions; and it is proposed to change this hatred into love, simply by giving man clearer views of the qualities which excite his aversion. Man is opposed to the divine law, because it is pure, spiritual, and inflexible; and it is proposed to overcome this opposition by revealing to him more fully its hated qualities. Man is averse to the light; and it is proposed to subdue this aversion by increasing its splendor. I cannot but suspect the inefficacy of this scheme of conversion. Sinful man needs something more than light—more than arguments, persuasion, words—for his moral renovation. "The wicked . . will not listen to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely" (Ps. 58:5).
Thirdly. The theory under discussion is contradicted by numerous well authenticated facts. If all the converting power of the Spirit is in the arguments addressed by him in words to the mind; then it follows that every minister of the word must be successful in converting souls to Christ, in proportion to the distinctness with which he presents the arguments of the Spirit to the minds of his hearers. The same measure of power must, under similar circumstances, produce similar results. But does this conclusion agree with the experience and observation of Christian ministers? But I need not appeal in this argument to questionable evidence. Christ was an unrivalled preacher of the Gospel (Mark 1:1). Never man spake as he did. For the weight of his arguments, the clearness of his illustrations, the simplicity and force of his style, the fervency of his spirit, the dignity of his manner, the adaptation of his discourses to the circumstances and necessities of his hearers, indeed, for every excellence which could render his ministry attractive, luminous, and successful, he stands alone. Prophets and apostles gave him homage as the "Light of the world." If all the converting power of the Spirit is in moral suasion, we might certainly infer that such a teacher as Christ would be eminently successful in winning souls. But what was the result of his ministry? It was unsuccessful—not wholly so—but it produced no such results, as from his preeminent qualifications might have been expected—no great moral revolution, and no extensive revival of true religion. His ministry seems to have been less effective than that of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:5, 6). More persons were probably converted by the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, on the day of Pentecost, than by the ministry of Jesus during its whole period. The Apostle Paul quotes from Isaiah 65:2, a prediction of the manner in which the Messiah’s ministry would be treated among the Jews. "But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Rom. 10:21). This prophecy was strikingly fulfilled in the history of Jesus. He was earnest and diligent in teaching. "All day long I have stretched forth my hands." He uttered such arguments as should have convinced, and such entreaties as should have moved, his hearers; but they were "disobedient and gainsaying." The arguments, motives, and words of the Saviour, were eminently suited for their conversion; but the converting power of the Spirit was not present—was withheld in wisdom and righteous judgment.
2. Mr. Campbell’s theory of the Spirit’s influence is incompatible with prayer for the conversion of sinners.
I do not charge him with denying, or questioning, the propriety of such prayer. On the contrary, he insists that it is obligatory, and practices it. Still his theory and his practice are inconsistent. If all the converting power of the Spirit is in the written Word, then all that can be done for the conversion of sinners is to place the Word before their minds. The Spirit indicted and confirmed the Word, and in that Word put forth all his moral or converting power. On Christians now devolves the duty of presenting the arguments, truths, and motives, contained in the written Word, to the minds of sinners. When all the arguments contained in the Old and New Testaments are brought before their minds, "then all the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate upon" them "is spent," and if they are "not sanctified and saved by these," they "cannot be saved by angels or spirits, human or divine." Why then pray for the conversion of sinners? Will the Spirit reveal the Word to their minds? or incline their hearts to receive it? Can any thing be added by the Spirit to its power and efficiency? Prayer for any blessing implies the power of God to bestow it. When we pray for our daily bread, it is implied that God so governs the seasons as to send rain or drought, fruitfulness or famine. When we pray that the sick may be healed, it is implied that God has such a control over man’s physical nature, that he can, without a miracle, cure his diseases. So when we pray for the conversion of sinners, if we pray intelligently, we ascribe to the Holy Spirit the power to convert them. And this power is not inherent in the Word, any more than the power that wields a sword, is inherent in the sword. The Word is the instrument, but the Spirit is the agent of conversion. The Spirit gives efficiency to the Word, opening the mind to receive it, impressing it on the heart, and developing its excellence in the life.
3. Mr. Campbell’s theory of conversion is inconsistent with the introduction of the Millennium.
I will permit him to define what I mean by the Millennium. "There is reason, clear, full, and abundant, to justify the expectation that the reign of favor, or the government of Jesus Christ, shall embrace, under its most salutary influences, the whole human race; or that there are plain, literal, and unfigurative, as well as figurative and symbolic representations, in both Testaments, which authorize us to expect a very general, if not a universal spread of evangelical influences, so that the whole race of men, for a long period of time, shall bask in the rays, and rejoice in the vivifying power of the Sun of Righteousness" [Mill. Har. vol 1, p. 54]. This consummation, described in the glowing language of prophecy, has been the grand object of the hopes, prayers, and labors of the saints in all ages. Whatever contributes to hasten this glorious period must, if its tendency is perceived, awaken universal delight among the lovers of Christ. Every principle, theory, or practice, which is harmonious with its introduction is erroneous. So Mr. Campbell very properly teaches. "In detecting the false Gospels, nothing will aid us so much as an examination of their tendencies, and a comparison of their effects with what the Millennium proposes. The gospel of no sect can convert the world. This is with us a very plain proposition; and if so the sectarian gospels are defective, or redundant, or mixed" [Mill. Har. vol 1, p. 7]. With the sectarian gospels I have now no concern: I wish to inquire whether the "ancient Gospel," furnishes any ground to hope for the introduction of the Millennial glory. I propose to try it by the rule which Mr. Campbell himself has prescribed.
The Scriptural canon was completed nearly eighteen centuries ago. Christianity was clearly revealed, perfect in all its parts, and confirmed by indubitable testimonies. The inspired record, according to the teaching of the Bethany Reformer, contains all the arguments of the Holy Spirit for reconciling men to God; in this all his moral, or converting power is exhibited. Christ commissioned his apostles to go into all the world, and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. From the apostolic times to the present day, the servants of Christ, with the Old and New Testaments in their hands, have been laboring to convert the world to Christ. What has been the success of their efforts?
Three-fifths of the world are still shrouded in the gloom of paganism. Muhammadanism sways its hundred millions of intelligent, immortal beings. The ignorance, superstition, and spiritual domination of Popery overspread the half of Christendom. The Greek church, little less corrupt and intolerant than the Romish, divides the remaining half with Protestantism. The various sects of Protestants, in the estimation of Mr. Campbell, stand in not much less need of conversion than the heathen. Such was the moral condition of the world when the "current reformation" began. Then Mr. Campbell and his associates, disinterred the "ancient Gospel" from the accumulated rubbish of past ages. "About the commencement of this century," this is his account of the matter, "finding that notes and comments, that glosses and traditions, were making the word of God of little or not effect. . .
5. The theory of conversion advocated by Mr. Campbell, is inconsistent with the plainly revealed, and fairly conceded influence of the Holy Spirit in believers after baptism.
That the Spirit of God dwells in the saints, or believers, as in a temple, to refresh and invigorate them, to quicken their devotions, and to make them fruitful in good works, is a truth so clearly taught in the Scriptures, and so generally admitted among Christians, that it is unnecessary to attempt to prove it. I will merely refer the reader to a few out of many Scripture proofs of it (Lev. 11:13; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 5:5; Phil. 2:13; Gal. 5:22-23).
Mr. Campbell admits, and maintains the efficacious influences of the Holy Spirit in believers—an influence differing not in degree, but kind, from that by which a sinner is converted. . . .
I do not, I trust, misunderstand Mr. Campbell on this vital subject. He teaches that all that is done in us before regeneration—which in the Bethany dialect means "born of water,’ or immersion—"God our Father,’ not the Holy Spirit, "effects by the Word;" —but after our new birth, "the Holy Spirit is shed on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; of which the peace of mind, the love, the joy, and the hope of the regenerate is the proof." The illustration employed by Mr. Campbell seems to preclude the possibility of misunderstanding his views. What the atmosphere is to animal life, the influences of the Holy Spirit are to the new life. As the animal, after its birth, is sustained by respiration; so after we are "born of water," or immersed, we live—our new life is maintained—by "the influences of the Holy Spirit."
What religious teachers those are who "contend more for the work of the Spirit in conversion, than for the work of the Spirit in sanctification," I do not know. I do not think that Mr. Campbell can name a single orthodox divine, of reputation, who does not believe that the influence of the Spirit is equally and indispensably necessary in conversion and sanctification. The question whether that influence is more needed in the one process or the other, could have originated only from such metaphysical, vague and barren speculations as abound in the writings of Mr. Campbell.
Mr. Campbell’s last remark, concerns the honor of the Holy Spirit. The theory which I am opposing represents the infinite Spirit as condescending to carry on, and complete a work, which was commenced, and passed through its most difficult stage, without his influence. Man without any agency except the force of argument, contained in the written Word, is converted. He attends to the Word, is enlightened by it, sorrows for his sins, abandons them, believes in Christ, or heartily receives him as a Saviour, devotes himself before men, braves scorn, persecution and death in his cause, and is baptized in his name; and them, this easy part of the work, as Mr. Campbell deems it, but most difficult according to the Scriptures, having been performed, the Holy Spirit actually and powerfully assists him in his mighty struggles for eternal life. What is this but to wrest from the Spirit the chief glory of his work?
Mr. Campbell, in his great zeal to steer clear of all speculative theology, maintains that all theories of the Spirit’s influence in conversion are equally inefficacious and worthless. He thus writes—"But who can live on essential oils? Or will the art of speculating or inferring; or will the inferences when drawn—that the Spirit without the Word, or the Word without the Spirit, or the Spirit and Word in conjunction, regenerates the human soul; I ask, will the act of drawing these inferences, of these inferences when drawn, save the soul? If they will not, why make them essential to Christianity, beneficial to be taught?" [Chn. Bap., p.269]. I am no more an advocate of mere speculation and empty theory, than Mr. Campbell. The subject of the Spirit’s influence has been a fruitful source of profitless theorizing and vain jangling. I fully concur with him in the opinion that preaching the influence of the Spirit, is not preaching the Gospel; and that much mischief has arisen from insisting on this influence to the neglect of the duty of repentance and faith. But whether men are converted by the Spirit without the Word, or the Word without the Spirit, or the Word and Spirit in conjunction, are not questions of mere speculation, but grave, weighty, and practical. Whatsoever is legitimately inferred from the Scriptures is a part of Divine revelation, and profitable for instruction. The belief of it may not be essential to salvation; and yet it may contribute to the growth, happiness, and efficiency of the disciples of Christ. The influence of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of sinners is not a mere theory, but a revealed truth, the belief of which is intimately connected with the progress of the Redeemer’s kingdom. . . .
First. —Are the statements of Mr. Campbell concerning the influence of the Holy Spirit contradictory? In my judgment they are. Whether his views on the subject were confused, or differed at different times, or were carelessly and vaguely expressed, I will not say; but they appear to me to be inconsistent. "The only power," says Mr. Campbell, "which one spirit can exert over another is in its arguments." If this is not the "word alone system," I would gladly be informed what that system is. I repeat, I must be permitted to doubt whether any man ever has taught, or ever can teach the system, if Mr. Campbell did not inculcate it in his Christianity Restored. And yet he affirms in his Debate with Rice, "There is the Word alone system, and there is the Spirit alone system. I believe in neither. . . .
Secondly, Are the last recited extracts from the writings of Mr. Campbell to be interpreted in harmony with the theory of conversion by moral suasion? Are we to understand all that he has said of the cooperation of the Spirit and Word—of religion "begun, carried on, and completed by the personal agency of the Holy Spirit" —of his "actually and personally" working through the Word on "man’s moral nature" —as meaning nothing more than that the Spirit addresses arguments, through the written Word, to sinners, to persuade them to be converted; and that having done this his resources are exhausted, his power is spent? In other words, is the actual, personal agency of the Spirit, pleaded for by Mr. Campbell, to be resolved into mere moral suasion? If so, the system has been already examined, and the reader must decide whether it has been satisfactorily refuted. But if Mr. Campbell rejects the doctrine of conversion by moral suasion, or by the mere presentation of the arguments of the Holy Spirit to the mind, then I remark,
Thirdly, —That Mr. Campbell’s teaching is in substantial agreement with the popular evangelical doctrine of conversion through Divine influence. There is no middle ground between the "Word alone," or moral suasion system, and that which ascribes conversion to the personal agency of the Spirit through the Word. This latter system is the popular evangelical system—the system is the popular evangelical system—the system universally taught, when Mr. Campbell commenced his Reformation, except by a few ultra-Calvinists, and low Armenians and formalists—the system which permeated almost all our Biblical and theological literature; our commentaries, Bible dictionaries, bodies of divinity, and popular sermons—in fine, the system which maintained a quiet, undisputed, and controlling influence in all the orthodox churches of the land. . . .
. . . Mr. Campbell believes as the great body of evangelical ministers in all the Christian sects, believes, that sinners are converted by the personal agency of the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel. But, surely, since the world began, have there never been so many labored arguments, so much learned criticism, so much toil, debate and strife, such a waste of ink and paper, and such a multiplication of essays, pamphlets and books, to prove what scarcely any body doubted. The public mind was excited, the Christian world was agitated, the Baptist denomination, in several states, was thrown into confusion, many of the churches were rent asunder, a new sect was formed, and the aid of earth and heaven was invoked in the contest; and for what? Why, simply because Mr. Campbell taught, what was almost universally admitted that the Spirit in conversion operates through the Word. But what then becomes of the boasted Reformation, of which the peculiar teaching on the influence of the Spirit constituted so important and article? It turns out, if the supposition under discussion is true, that the Reformation, on this important point, is no Reformation at all. We cannot avoid being reminded of a well known fable. Surely, there were never in any previous case, such sore travail, such mighty heavings, such piteous moanings, and such swelling expectations, in a simple case of abortion.
Before I conclude my remarks on this subject, I must venture on a conjecture, which will, I fear, not prove very acceptable to Mr. Campbell and his admirers. It is this—When he commenced his career as a Reformer, his religious views were undefined and crude. His first object was to bring into disrepute the "mystic theology" of the "populars," or "clergy." He found it necessary, for the accomplishment of his purpose, to publish some theory at variance with the popular doctrine of the Spirit’s influence in conversion. This new theory began to be developed about the year 1826, and was consummated, and fully revealed, in the year 1831, when Austin taught the docile Timothy, that "every Spirit puts forth its moral power in words; that is, all the power it has over the views, habits, manners, or actions of men, is in the meaning and arrangement of its ideas expressed in words; or in significant signs addressed to the eye or ear." [Christianity Restored, p. 348]. But after the Reformation resulted in an organized party, Mr. Campbell, to avoid the odium of his peculiar notions of the Spirit’s influence, or because he found it easier to defend the popular doctrine, began gradually to modify his views, and to glide out of the theory of conversion by moral suasion, into the doctrine that conversion is by the actual, personal agency of the Holy Spirit. This modification of his views began to appear in a discussion of the subject with the Rev. J. M. Peck, and was still more apparent in his Debate with the Rev. N.L. Rice. But for Mr. Campbell to acknowledge that he had erred in the fundamental principle of his Reformation, and that after all his wanderings, and denunciations of the "popular clergy," he had been compelled to admit the truth of their teaching on this vital point, would have demanded a degree of humility and moral heroism, which the high-spirited Reformer did not possess.
I do not intend to impeach the motives of Mr. Campbell. With their moral qualities I have nothing to do. Men are influenced by considerations of which they have little knowledge. Mr. Campbell has quite a fair share of human nature in him. He does not rise above the laws which govern other frail mortals. I have simply, and, I trust, kindly sketched what appears to me to have been his course in regard to the agency of the Spirit in conversion, and the motives that probably shaped it; and the intelligent and candid reader must form his own judgment.
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