THE BAPTISM OF ALEXANDER CAMPBELL
Following is the account of Alexander Campbell’s baptism (as well as that of other members of his family) as reported by him in the Millennial Harbinger of May 1848, Vol. V, Number V. These are Campbell’s own words (including his spelling and punctuation) in describing the baptisms and the events leading up to them. It will be noted that the baptisms occurred one year to the month following Campbell’s sermon on “Humble Beginnings,” the subject of last week’s “News & Views.” (Note: I have inserted numbers into the body of Campbell’s account to indicate explanatory notes which I provide at the end of the account.)
“All the members of the ‘Washington Christian Association,’ whose ‘Declaration and Address’ my father had then written, were not only all Pedobaptists, but the most leading and influential persons in it were hostile to the Baptist views and practice (1). So to work I went to maintain my positions in favor of infant baptism. I read much during one year on the subject. I was better pleased with Presbyterianism than with any thing else, and desired, if possible, to maintain it. But despite of my prejudices, partialities and prospects, the conviction deepened and strengthened that it was all a grand Papal imposition. I threw away the Pedobaptist volumes with indignation at their assumptions and fallacious reasonings, and fled, with some faint hope of finding something more convincing, to my Greek New Testament. But still worse, I found no resting place there; and entering into conversation with my father on the subject, he admitted there was neither express terms nor express precedent. But, strange to tell, he took the ground that once in the church, and a participant of the Lord’s supper, we could not ‘unchurch or paganize ourselves;’ put off Christ and then make a new profession, and commence again as would a heathen man and a publican (2).
“Having the highest esteem for his learning, and the deepest conviction of his piety and devotion to the truth, his authority over me then was paramount and almost irresistible. We went into discussion. He simply conceded that we ought not to teach nor practise infant baptism without Divine authority; but, on the contrary, preach and administer the apostolic baptism. Still, however, we ought not to unchristianize ourselves and put on Christ, having not only professed and preached the Christian faith, but also participated in its solemn rites. We discussed this question, and all that family of questions, at sundry interviews, for many months. At length I told him that, with great reluctance, I must dissent from all his reasonings upon that subject and be baptized. I now fully and conscientiously believed that I never had been baptized, and, consequently, I was then, in point of fact, an unbaptized person (3).
“His response was—’I have, then, no more to add. You must please yourself.’ On leaving, in the morning, he asked me when, where and by whom I intended to be immersed. As to the place, I preferred to be baptized near home, among those who were accustomed to attend my preaching; as to the time, just as soon as I could procure an acceptable Baptist minister (4). The nearest and, indeed, the only one known to me was Elder Matthias Luse, living some thirty miles from my residence. I promised to let my father know the time and place, as soon as I obtained the consent of Elder Luse.
“Immediately I went in quest of an administrator, of one who practised what he preached. I spent the next evening with Elder Luse. During the evening I announced my errand. He heard me with pleasure. Having, on a former occasion, heard him preach, but not on that subject; I asked him, into what formula of faith he immersed. His answer was, that ‘the Baptist church required candidates to appear before it, and on a narration of their experience, approved by the church, a time and place were appointed for the baptism.’
“To this I immediately demurred, saying:—That I knew no scriptural authority for bringing a candidate for baptism before the church to be examined, judged and approved by it as prerequisite to his baptism. To which he simply responded:—’It was the Baptist custom.’ But was it, said I, the apostolic custom? He did not contend that it was, admitting freely that such was not the case from the beginning. ‘But,’ added he, ‘if I were to depart from our usual custom they might hold me to account before the Association.’ ‘Sir,’ I replied, ‘there is but one confession of faith that I can make, and into that alone can I consent to be baptized.’ ‘What is that?’ said he. ‘Into the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the confession into which the first converts were immersed. I have set out to follow the apostles of Christ and their master, and I will be baptized only into the primitive Christian faith.’ (5)
“After a short silence he replied, saying—’I believe you are right, and I will risk the consequences; I will get, If possible, one of our Redstone preachers (6) to accompany me. Where do you desire to be baptized?’ ‘In Buffaloe creek, on which I live, and on which I am accustomed to preach. My Presbyterian wife,’ I added, ‘and, perhaps, some others will accompany me.’
“On the day appointed Elder Henry Spears, from the Monongahela, and Matthias Luse according to promise, met us at the place appointed. It was the 12th of June, 1812, a beautiful day, a large and attentive concourse was present, with Elder David Jones of Eastern Pennsylvania. My father made an elaborate address on the occasion. I followed him with a statement of the reasons of my change of views, and vindicated the primitive institution of baptism, and the necessity of personal obedience.
“To my great satisfaction my father, mother, and eldest sister, my wife and three other persons besides myself were that same day immersed into the faith of that great proposition on which the Lord himself said he would build his church. The next Lord’s day some twenty others made a similar confession, and so the work progressed, until in a short time almost an hundred persons were immersed. This company, as far as I am yet informed, was the first community in the country that was immersed into that primitive, simple, and most significant confession of faith in the divine person and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, without being brought before a church to answer certain doctrinal questions, or to give a history of all their feelings and emotions, in those days falsely called ‘Christian experience;’ as if a man could have Christian experience before he was a Christian? (7) A. C.”
(1) They believed the Baptists were wrong in insisting that only immersion was the scriptural action (“mode”) of baptism.
(2) Obviously none of the Campbells or the other members of the Washington Association were “heathens” or “publicans,” but Alexander did not believe any of them had been scripturally baptized.
(3) As one who had only been sprinkled, Alexander viewed himself as being unbaptized.
(4) Campbell chose Matthias Luce/Luse, a Baptist minister, to baptize him because he was seeking someone who practiced immersion.
(5) Campbell would not agree to be baptized according to accepted Baptist custom (with Luce himself acknowledging that such custom was not true from the beginning of the Christian era), but rather upon the confession of his faith in Christ.
(6) Luce agreed to baptize Campbell contrary to Baptist custom and sought a fellow Baptist preacher from the Redstone Baptist Association to accompany him to the Campbells’ baptisms.
(7) Campbell here acknowledges that he was not truly a Christian and a member of the primitive Christian faith before his immersion into the faith.
Hugh Fulford October 3, 2017