In the Millennial Harbinger of January 1842 (Volume VI, Number I), Alexander Campbell, one of the leading voices in pleading for a restoration of original New Testament Christianity, looked back to the earliest days of the movement and gave a recap of a sermon he preached “under an oak” some eight miles from Bethany, Virginia (now West Virginia) in June of 1811 when he was 22 years old. Below are excerpts from the article by Campbell in which he gives the background to his sermon titled “Humble Beginnings.” Following that are excerpts from the sermon itself in which Campbell set forth some of the principles upon which he and others were launching out in the establishment of an independent congregation based on the New Testament alone. This was before any of the group had come to be immersed. (“We were all then Pedobaptists,” Campbell acknowledges, meaning they had been sprinkled as infants or very young children), thus indicating the infancy of the movement. Excerpts are in Campbell’s own words (as well as his spelling and punctuation), not the words of some Restoration Movement historian giving his spin, twist, or “interpretation” of what Campbell wrote and said about the event.
“IN retrospecting our course, and in collecting documents connected with the history of reformation principles, amongst the few memorabilia of early beginnings I have yet extant the exordium, or a part of the exordium and some of the details of a discourse pronounced under an oak, eight miles from our present residence, in the month of June, 1811, (2d Lord’s day, I think,) with a special reference to the organization of a new church (i.e., local congregation, hf), founded on the New Testament alone, and meeting for the first time to commemorate the Lord’s death statedly on every Lord’s day. The table was spread in the woods, and some sixty or seventy disciples, gathered out of various denominations, had assembled to show forth the Lord’s death, covenanting with each other to follow the truth, the whole truth of Christianity, whithersoever it might lead us, without regard to former prepossessions, manners, or customs. We were all then Pedobaptists….”
Following are excerpts from the sermon itself in which Campbell begins to articulate the principles upon which he and those gathered with him set forth to restore what he would later call “the ancient order of things.” Read these remarks and reflect soberly on their significance. Remember, too, that Campbell was only twenty-two years old, yet what a grasp of things he already possessed!
“The present partyism is a disgrace to our profession. It is fatal to the progress of piety and truth. Ignorance and superstition, enthusiasm and fanaticism, are the fruits of these human institutions, which have displaced the Bible or refused to admit it as its own interpreter. The key of knowledge is virtually taken away, and ages of darkness are again spreading their sable wings over a slumbering world. We must awaken from this sleep of death—this fatal lethargy that has seised the body ecclesiastic. Men are fighting about chimeras, loving and hating, approbating and disapprobating one another for reasons they do not comprehend, and, if comprehended, they would blush to see the illusions and phantoms that have bewildered them.
“We believe the Bible to be God’s own book, and well adapted to the ends of its existence. It is a lamp, and gives light. It makes the simple wise. ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.’ ‘All scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished for all good works’—’able to make one wise to salvation.’ It is a perfect book.
“We commence our career as a church under the banner of ‘The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible,’ as the standard of our religious faith and practice. We have our own opinions; but these we shall hold as private property. The faith is common. Our inferences and opinions are our own. If our brother asks for them, we may tender them; but must not force him to accept them. This is the very essence of Popery….
“For what are we here convened? To worship God, to commemorate the Lord’s death and rising again, and to grow in grace, in favor with God and men, by growing in Christian knowledge and in the practice of the Christian duties—to follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord—to bear with one another’s weaknesses, and to maintain unity of spirit in the bonds of peace….
“We shall begin with the Acts of the Apostles, and as they intimate the apostolic doctrine and practice we shall follow these. In Jerusalem the church began. To Jerusalem we must then look for a fair beginning. Whatever we have got in our faith and practice which they had not, we shall return to the rightful owners. What they had and we have not, we shall append to our inventory of Christian duties and Christian excellencies. Meanwhile, we shall assist each other in getting rid of our prejudices and errors as soon as we can, and ‘whereunto we have already attained, we shall walk by the same rule and mind the same thing ;’ and if we live in peace, the God of love and peace shall be with us: for he has promised it….”
Words deserving of serious and sober reflection yet today!
September 26, 2017