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Viewpoint Tracts on Bible Subjects

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The Christian religion is the worship and service of Jesus Christ. It’s not Mary we worship, but her Son. We worship neither saints, angels, a law code, nor even God’s Spirit. It’s JESUS who is to be honored. The Bible is our guide.

NFL04-98 -- Leroy Garrett's PREFACE
to Alexander Campell

The DEAN E WALKER Lecture #16 of European
Evangelistic Society delivered at a
breakfast in Denver, Colorado during the 1971
North American Christian Convention

Please read and consider —

by Leroy Garrett of Denton, Texas

One could introduce Alexander Campbell in a number of ways, all drawn from his diverse life on the American frontier — “a pioneer in broadcloth,” Perry Gresham calls him.

Campbell was a schoolmaster, running a school for boys in his own home as early as 1818, and in 1840 he founded a college on his own farm, over which he presided as president (and treasurer!) for a quarter of a century.

He was both a printer and a publisher.

He was an innovative farmer and an experimental rancher, raising imported Merino sheep in the hills of Bethany, and along with it played an influential role in the American Wool Growers Association, in which he was associated with none other than John Brown the abolitionist.

Recent research into the life of John Brown reveals correspondence between the two men in reference to the problems of wool growers.

He was a lecturer to educators, politicians, and atheists; a preacher all across the vast frontier, in court houses and railway stations as well as in church buildings; a debater with atheists, Roman Catholics, and Protestants alike. Five of his debates, of which three were held as early as the 1820s, appeared in book form.

Campbell was even a politician for a turn, serving for several months as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829.

He was an inveterate traveler, both at home and abroad, absenting himself from his family for months at a time. In his travels he grew up with the new republic, first by horseback and wagon, then by gig and stagecoach, and finally by steamboat and railroad. He was in a few accidents along the way, and in Scotland he was put in jail. For 40 years (1820-1860) he might well have been the most traveled man in America.

His travel letters, which are both numerous and detailed, are resourceful Americana.

Our traveling friend found time also to be a postmaster! Since he posted upwards of 4,000,000 pieces of mail of his own authorship over four decades, the franking privilege of the postmaster was no small item. He was Alexander Campbell, P.M., and advised people to write to him as such. He was a postmaster gladly in Bethany, Virginia, the name he chose for his village when the originally-preferred name, Buffalo, could not be used since a post office in Virginia already had that name.

Even if he couldn’t sing, Campbell was a hymnologist, being a compiler along with Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, and John T. Johnson (who are in the hymnal billed as “Elders of the Christian Church”) of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Original and Selected, to which he contributed six of his own hymns. The hymnal went through at least five editions, and was used widely.

And this traveling, debating, preaching, teaching postmaster was an engaging conversationalist, spending more time talking in hundreds of homes across the land than he did in preaching. Homes in which he conversed included his own home in Bethany where he entertained the small and great from all over the world. At times his home was a virtual hotel. He finally built an annex to his house called, “Strangers’ Inn” for the benefit of the ceaseless flow of guests.

Alexander Campbell helped found a missionary society and a Bible society, and he issued his own translation of the New Testament. That he was also a translator of the Bible came home to haunt him when he served as a delegate at the Virginia constitutional convention.

When one of the delegates from the Tidewater area of Virginia tired of hearing Campbell issue critiques against their political system, he blurted out, “Mr. Chairman, even the God of heaven cannot satisfy this man, for he has a Bible all his own.”

Varied, but held together by one passion --

Any one of these facets of Campbell’s colorful life would serve as a preface to a study of him. Yet no one of them or all of them together get to the heart of the real Alexander Campbell. That heart, as I see it, is his passion for the renewal or reformation of the Church of Christ upon earth, and the unity of all believers.

It occurred to me that for our purpose here we might allow Alexander Campbell to introduce himself, or write his own preface to his life and work, one that we might read in a few minutes. And what better source for this than his own prefaces, those brief introductions that he wrote for most of the volumes that issued from his press in Bethany.

I’ve studied 50-odd such prefaces, looking for clues to a better understanding of this profoundly complex man. Most of the prefaces come from the two journals that he edited for a total of 42 years, but there are also his books, debates, hymnal, and his translation of the New Testament.

There was always a preface, and a preface is something like a handshake with the author. Or, even better, it’s like sitting down with the author for 4 o’clock tea and a short chat.

Prefaces have a way of allowing the author to say what he never gets said elsewhere. In a preface he says it point blank. And sometimes it is in a preface that one bares his soul.

After all, we have a great preface in the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke where the good doctor captures our attention with, “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”

In his prefaces, Alexander Campbell does US that way. They speak with certainty. They have the ring of authenticity. They reveal to us a man who knew what he wanted to do and how he was going to do it. He wrote as one who knew what was wrong and what it took to correct it. One is impressed that he was well equipped for the task. In these prefaces one can detect Campbell’s philosophy of life and his worldview.

In his preface to the Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, for instance, he asks the sobering question, “Are we living for time, or are we living for eternity?” He thought we should ask ourselves that question every day. He referred to two passages in Psalm 90 that help us to do so — “Lord, teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts unto wisdom,” and “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish the works of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”

In the same preface he named “the two most transcendently important and interesting studies in this present world.” These are what he called Divinity and Humanity, or God and man.

Now and again Campbell refers to the three books that should be our constant study — the book of nature, the book of human nature, and the book of holy Scripture. It was in this library that we find him at work throughout his life.

In that same preface he indicates that the point of life is to be a blessing to the world. We cannot each be a Franklin or a Washington or a Moses or a Thomas Campbell, he concedes, but if we can build but one house, plant one tree, or properly educate one child we are what he chose to call “a public blessing.”

And so he wrote in another preface, “Human happiness is our end and aim in all our editorial labors” (Millennial Harbinger [MH in future reference here], 1831).

These few references go far in revealing to us the essence of Alexander Campbell. He was in this world to make it better, to be a blessing to humankind. And those three “books” were his consuming passion: God, man, and the Bible.

One of his favorite quotations was one by Alexander Pope,
“The proper study of mankind is man.”

In another preface he said, “When our bodies are immersed in water and our souls into the Holy Spirit, our plans are all religious” (MH, 1840). So Campbell believed in the Holy Spirit after all, didn’t he?

He was always conscious of the passing of time and the brevity of life, but always in reference to eternity. In the preface to the 1840 MH, he wrote, “Years roll on. The pulse of time never ceases. The wheels of Nature carry down all the living with a constant and rapid motion. We are born, we live, we die, and are forgotten amidst the bustle of coming years. Now we are the actors — the dramatis personae on the stage of time. Each one plays his part, then retires behind the curtains of death. But the sequel is in another theatre, before other spectators and auditors. The plaudits and the hissings are eternal. We play for crowns and kingdoms — for deathless fame and imperishable treasures. A heaven is lost, or a heaven is won at the close of the last act.”

How does one live for eternity in our kind of world? Campbell found the maxim for life in the wisdom of Jesus Christ, and all in a single sentence, “Sufficient for every day is its own trouble.”

Campbell was amazed that the wisdom for living in our troubled world could so succinctly be expressed. He said he had not known that truth 25 years earlier, back when he had glowing visions of the future and when he approached life “without a vision or a sign.”

He was soon to learn that as every rose has its own thorn, so every day has its own trouble. He was chastened to learn from the Great Teacher that not only does each day have its troubles, but that those troubles are sufficient for that day (MH, 1835).

His study of human nature led him to conclude that reason is the strength and dignity of man, and that he who chooses any other weapon degrades himself as well as his cause. Religion, as well as all of life, must be of the heart, but the heart must be mediated by reason (MH, 1831).

Campbell sometimes called on mottoes as well as questions to tell others about life, such as “Expect great things, attempt great things, and great things will happen” (MH, 1855), and “Falsehood and error travels from Washington to Boston while truth gets on its boots” (MH, 1854). Then there is, “It is difficult to remove the rubbish without raising the dust” (MH, 1831), which we might expect from a reformer.

In his prefaces Campbell makes it clear what his movement for reform was about. In one preface he says his long years as an editor had one specific purpose — “the preparation of the public mind for a better order of things in the visible church of Christ.”

This shows that he had no illusion of restoring the church itself, as if it did not exist. The church was real and visible. He sought to restore “a better order” — what he often called “the ancient order” — to the church that has always existed.

He gives specifics: a reformation of Christian manners and a reformation of Christian institutions. By institutions he meant what he called “positive ordinances,” such as baptism, the Lord’s day, and the Lord’s supper (MH, 1856).

In this same preface he makes a point about baptism that appears often in his writings, one to which he attached great significance, and that is that baptism was always INTO (eis in the Greek) and not IN. The apostles baptized INTO the name of the Father, INTO the name of the Son, INTO the name of the Holy Spirit — not IN the name of the Father, etc.

To Campbell this was no petty distinction, for he understood baptism to be that act which brought us formally INTO a relationship or fellowship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

His prefaces also reveal that the unity of Christians was basic to his plea and mission, such as, “The union of Christians in one Lord, in one faith, in one immersion, in one body, in one spirit, in one hope, in one God and father of all, is now the great work on hand, and the bright preface to the triumphant march of the church throughout all the earth” (MH, 1855).

He wrote of the necessity of “founding Christian union, communion, and cooperation upon the belief of facts — upon faith and obedience, rather than upon agreement of opinions” (MH, 1832).

In that same preface he goes on to say that, “I could unite in all Christian communion and cooperation with all baptized believers in all the sects in America, so far as their opinions are considered; provided only that they hold the head Jesus, believing all the facts attested concerning Him, and are obedient to His commands.”

In this context he adds that in his humble judgment there is no other way for unity among Christians to ever be realized — a unity based upon belief of facts, not agreement on opinions.

What Alexander Campbell believed about unity is what Dean E. Walker whom we particularly honor here believed when in 1974 he wrote, “I affirm my conviction that we cannot create unity of Christians, nor construct unity, nor ‘find’ it in political or sociological devices. But we CAN receive it from its Author — that gift Christ brought to us in His incarnation, that unity for which he prayed on our behalf” (Fellowship, p.14, March 1974).

We who are heirs of the Stone-Campbell movement have been less than faithful to this distinction, in that we have often sought unity among ourselves as well as with others, based on shared opinions rather than on simple trusting faith and obedience to Jesus Christ.

Christians Should Be United By
Love And Trust in God

IN STILL ANOTHER preface Campbell spoke of “the tyranny of opinionism” (MH, 1847). And why do divisions come? In the same preface Campbell had his answer — “If divisions, then, are made, it is easy to see who causes them. Not he that is excluded, but he who excludes is the schismatic and the heretic in Paul’s estimation.”

Has not time proven Campbell right about who the heretic is? Is he not usually the one who draws the line and excludes his sister or brother, rather than the one who is excluded? The one who brands folk rather than the branded is usually the schismatic.

As an editor, Campbell adopted a rule that he believed would protect him from being a schismatic, and that was to see to it that not a word went forth from his pen that was not motivated by love.

He went on to pen these impressive lines, “Truth and love have made us free. As a tribute of regard for them we shall inscribe to them all our pages, and honor them with the best efforts of our head and of our heart, whether we speak or write on the things of time or eternity” (MH, 1837). If that rule had been adhered to with greater devotion by our editors through the years, including Mr. Campbell himself, we would have had fewer editor bishops!

Campbell recognized that if there is to be reformation, there must be controversy. “Controversy began in heaven,” he wrote in an 1837 preface, and “The theatre of war was soon translated from heaven to earth.” He realized early on that his role as a reformer would be “stormy,” as he described it in one preface.

As early as 1823 in his very first preface in The Christian Baptist, he wrote, “It is a rarity, seldom to be witnessed, to see a person boldly opposing either the doctrinal errors or the unscriptural measures of a people with whom he had identified himself, and to whom he looks for approbation and support. If such a person appears in any party, he soon falls under the frowns of those who either think themselves wiser than the reprover, or would wish so to appear.”

He goes on to say that it is presumed that a paper cannot survive if it opposes the views and practices of the leaders of the people addressed. But such a fate did not befall Mr. Campbell, in that his publications continued with increasing circulation for another 40 years, always working for “the conversion of the world and the unity of Christians,” as he put it in an 1846 preface.

We have all had some difficulty, if not embarrassment, in explaining how our forebears had such a passion for unity that they launched a movement “to unite the Christians in all the sects,” and yet the movement has become a separatist group who started still another church or set of churches! By 1847, after almost 40 years into the movement, Campbell himself was having second thoughts about starting what he called, “a new denomination,” a term he could use with less reluctance than many of his heirs today would feel.

He was in 1847 saying that the cause of Christian unity might have been better served if they had never left the Baptists, but had stayed and worked for reform from within. But he was ambivalent about it. He was pleased that they had churches “founded upon the New Institution alone” and that their voice was being heard.

So, if we have a problem in knowing how to witness for unity amid a divided Christendom when we ourselves are part of that division, it may help to realize that Alexander Campbell had the same problem we face.

Nor was Campbell unmindful of weaknesses within his movement. In his 1839 preface he referred to a problem that sounds strange to many congregations in our day — they were having too many converts!

By this, he meant that they were bringing more people into their churches than they could train in the Christian graces. Drawing upon an apt illustration, he put it this way: “If the recruiting officers of any army enlist more troops than can be well fed, well clothed, and well disciplined by the regular officers and quartermasters of the army, their accession weakens rather than strengthens … ”

In that same 1839 preface he was aiming for fewer controversies. He also urged more discipline and training in the churches, and he wanted their assemblies for public worship to be more interesting.

He said he could name a few churches that measured up to what he believed a church should be, and that nothing would do more for “the triumph of our principles of reformation,” including 100,000 baptisms in a single year, than for a thousand churches to become what those few are. One important step toward accomplishing this, he ventured, was to give more attention to the junior members of the church, and to train them in the basics. He also urged more “practical” Christianity, admitting that the theory of reformation was far in advance of the practice.

Campbell was always optimistic about his work, his adopted country, and the future.

In his earlier years he had millennial expectations and would occasionally refer to “the millennial church.” After all, his publication was not called the Restoration Herald or the Reformation Gazette, but the Millennial Harbinger, which is reflective of his hope that “a new age is soon to be born; and the great regeneration is at hand” (MH, 1833).

“Expectation is on tiptoe,” he would say, “stretching forward to the mysterious future, ready to hail with acclamation the harbinger of better times.”

In his younger years as editor of The Christian Baptist, which he began in 1823, his religious and political millennial hopes were oddly blended. He would write his prefaces on the 4th of July! And much later in life he held commencement at Bethany College on that same national holiday each year.

It was significant to him that he began his debate with Robert Owen, Esq. on the same day in 1827 that the king of England signed the law of emancipation freeing Catholics from the Protestant yoke of proscription. He was joining the king of England, as was the new republic of America, in freeing people from oppression. In that same preface he rallied his forces for the arrival of the millennium, the prospects of which, he said, brightened with every volume of his work.

It is not clear exactly what Campbell meant by, “the new age to be born.” His reference to “the mysterious future” reveals his own uncertainty. But it had to do with radical change, cultural, political, and religious. Slavery, which was increasingly becoming “the crisis” in church and state alike, would gradually be eliminated. Education would be greatly enhanced. The state would be responsible to educate every child born within its precincts, head and heart alike. Political institutions would be generally ameliorated, one of his favorite words. Sectarianism would be overcome, as would ignorance and indolence (“Man is naturally indolent,” he insisted), and believers in Christ would be united through the restoration of primitive Christianity. The church and the gospel would be triumphant.

These postmillennial views waned with the years. By 1845 he was concerned with “the impending controversy between North and South,” and he was at last devastated by the Civil War.

His life was touched by tragedy. Along the way he buried the wife of his youth and outlived all of his 14 children but four. The greatest tragedy of all was that his dream of the Millennial church, which to him was a UNITED church “founded upon the Bible” was never realized. While he was always the confirmed optimist, he was chastened by the years. The expectation of a great new age slips from his writings. He still had hope but it was of a different kind.

In 1864 amid the Civil War, two years before his death, Campbell wrote his last preface.

He referred to his 40 years as an editor, and conceded that when he first began he may have had unwarranted hope of one day retiring beneath peaceful and hopeful skies.

He may have underestimated his “wily foe” who never rests from his work of evil and mischief. His church and nation had come under “the power of the world,” and “The times are full of corruption, and the church is contaminated with the times.” He went on to say, we must remind our people “that we, the people of the living God, are not of this world.”

Then, in a burst of eloquence that was not uncommon for him, he concluded his last preface ever, “In camp, in court, or in church, the Christian’s warfare is the same. It is a sleepless, perpetual, uncompromising war, through life and in death, against the power of the wicked one. . . . Who are the faithful ones, who stand ready to help us in this work? Our present volume asks this question, and holds out its hands for an answer.”

Campbell had at least learned who the enemy is, his “wily foe” who sought to do him woe, whom Luther described as “armed with cruel hate.” He learned what many of his heirs have yet to learn, that the enemy is not each other nor our brethren in other churches who differ with our opinions.

His Work Was Ended

There were no more prefaces, and few articles. In 1865 the Millennial Harbinger was turned over to others. That same year Mr. Campbell wrote his last article ever, and it was about hope. It was not the postmillennial hope of his earlier years, but it was the “one hope” to which he had given his long ministry.

The closing paragraph, the last lines he ever wrote and published, goes far in revealing the great heart that beat within his noble soul,

“The present material universe, yet unrevealed in all its area, in all its tenantries, in all its riches, beauty, and grandeur, will be wholly regenerated.

“Of this fact we have full assurance, since he who now sits upon the throne of the universe has pledged his word for it, saying, ‘Behold I will create all things new.’

“Consequently, ‘new heavens, new earth,’ new tenantries, new employments, new pleasures, new joys, new ecstacies. There is a fullness of joy, a fullness of glory and a fullness of blessedness, of which no living man, however gifted, ever formed or entertained one adequate conception” (MH, 1865, p. 517).

It may not be too much to conclude that Alexander Campbell’s life, work, and hope provide the answer to the big question that he kept asking his readers, “Are we to live for time, or are we to live for eternity?”

In time, he lived for eternity. The HOPE of Alexander Campbell is what our heritage is all about.

Dare WE hope for Christian unity?

You are invited to read on the internet, or to buy, the 16-page booklet Proper Bible Interpretation Leads to Christian Unity, by Ray Downen. $2 for one copy mailed to you.

It can’t be denied that God wants all His people united in ONE body. He calls for us to love one another and to work together in ONE mind and in ONE spirit. We all want to please God. Yet we persist in sectarianism. We seek to save ourselves while going OUR way. We all need to go HIS Way.

republished by Ray Downen