Alexander Campbell The Christian System: CS - 00.3-Preface

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Alexander Campbell The Christian System: CS - 00.3-Preface

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P R E F A C E.

SINCE the full development of the great apostasy foretold by Prophets and Apostles, numerous attempts at reformation have been made. Three full centuries, carrying with them the destinies of countless millions, have passed into eternity since the Lutheran effort to dethrone the Man of Sin. During this period many great and wonderful changes have taken place in the political, literary, moral, and religious conditions of society. That the nations composing the western half of the Roman empire have already been greatly benefited by that effort, scientifically, politically, and morally, no person acquainted with either political or ecclesiastical history can reasonably doubt. Time, that great arbiter of human actions, that great revealer of secrets, has long decided that all the reformers of the Papacy have been public benefactors. And thus the Protestant Reformation is proved to have been one of the most splendid eras in the history of the world, and must long be regarded by the philosopher and the philanthropist as one of the most gracious interpositions in behalf of the whole human race.

We Americans owe out national privileges and our civil liberties to the Protestant reformers. They achieved not only an imperishable fame for themselves, but a rich legacy for their posterity. When we contrast the present state of these United States with Spanish America, and the condition of the English nation with that of Spain, Portugal, and Italy, we begin to appreciate how much we are indebted to the intelligence, faith, and courage of Martin Luther and his heroic associates in that glorious reformation.

He restored the Bible to the world A. D. 1534, and boldly defended its claims against the impious and arrogant pretensions of the haughty and tyrannical See of Rome. But, unfortunately, at his death there was no Joshua to lead the people, who rallied under the banners of the Bible, out of the wilderness in which Luther died. His tenets were soon converted into a new state religion, and the spirit of reformation which he excited and inspired was soon quenched by the broils and feuds of the Protestant princes and the collisions of rival political interests, both on the continent and in the islands of Europe.

While Protestant hatred to the Roman Pontiff and the Papacy continued to increase, a secret lust in the bosoms of Protestants for ecclesiastical power and patronage worked in the members of the Protestant Popes, who gradually assimilated the new church to the old. Creeds and manuals, synods and councils, soon shackled the minds of men, and the spirit of reformation gradually forsook the Protestant church, or was supplanted by the spirit of the world.

Calvin renewed the speculative theology of Saint Augustine, and Geneva in a few years became the Alexandria of modern Europe. The power of religion was soon merged in debates about forms and ceremonies, in speculative strifes of opinion, and in fierce debates about the political and religious right of burning heretics. Still, however, in all these collisions much light was elicited; and had it not been for these extremes, it is problematical whether the wound inflicted upon the Man of Sin would have been as incurable as it has since proved itself to be.

Reformation, however, became the order of the day; and this, assuredly, was a great matter, however it may have been managed! It was a revolution, and revolutions seldom move backward. The example that Luther set was of more value than all the achievements of Charles V., or the literary and moral labors of his distinguished contemporary, the erudite Erasmus.

It is curious to observe how extremes begot extremes in every step of the reformation cause, to the dawn of the present century. The penances, works of faith and of supererogation, of the Roman church, drove Luther and Calvin to the ultraism of "faith alone."

After the Protestants had debated their own principles with one another till they lost all brotherly affection, and would as soon have "communed in the sacrament" with the Catholics as with one another; speculative abstracts of Christian Platonism, the sublime mysteries of Egyptian theology, became alternately the bond of union and the apple of discord, among the fathers and friends of the reformation.

The five great dogmas of the Geneva reformer were carried to Amsterdam, and generated in the mind of James Arminius in 1591 five opposite opinions; and these at the synod of Dort, in 1618, formed a new party of Remonstrants.

Into Britain, with whose history we are more immediately concerned, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Arminianism were soon imported; and, like all raw materials there introduced, were immediately manufactured anew. They were all exotics, but easily acclimated, and soon flourished in Britain more luxuriantly than in their native soil. But the beggarly elements of opinions, forms, and ceremonies to which they gave rise, caused the "Spirit alone" to germinate in the mind of George Fox, in little more than half a century after the introduction of the Leyden theology.

In Lord Chatham's days, the Episcopal church, as his Lordship declares, was a singular compound--"A Popish liturgy, Calvinistic articles, and an Arminian clergy." But every few years caused a new dissension and reformation, until the kirk of Scotland and the church of England have been compelled to respect, in some good degree, the rights of conscience, even in dissenters themselves.

Abroad it was no better. The Saxon reformer had his friends; John of Picardy, lived in the grateful remembrance of the Geneva family; and James of Amsterdam, speculated in a very liberal style amongst all the Remonstrants at home and abroad. In Sweden, Holland, Germany, England, Scotland, the debate varied not essentially: the Pope against the Protestants--the Lutherans against the Calvinists--the Calvinists against the Arminians--the Bishops against the Presbyters--and the Presbyterians among themselves; until, by the potency of metaphysics and politics, they are now frittered down to various parties.

While philosophy, mysticism, and politics drove the parties to every question into antipodal extremes; while justification by metaphysical faith alone; while the forms and ceremonies of all sects begat the "Spirit alone" in the mind of George Fox, while the Calvinian five points generated the Arminian five points; and while the Westminster Creed, though unsubscribed by its makers, begot a hundred others--not until within the present generation did any sect or party in Christendom unite and build upon the Bible alone.

Since that time, the first effort known to us to abandon the whole controversy about creeds and reformations, and to restore primitive Christianity, or to build alone upon the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself the chief corner, has been made.

Tired of new creeds and new parties in religion, and of the numerous abortive efforts to reform the reformation; convinced from the Holy Scriptures, from observation and experience, that the union of the disciples of Christ is essential to the conversion of the world, and that the correction and improvement of no creed, or partizan establishment in Christendom, could ever become the basis of such a union, communion, and co-operation, as would restore peace to a church militant against itself, or triumph to the common salvation; a few individuals, about the commencement of the present century, began to reflect upon the ways and means to restore primitive Christianity.

This led to a careful, most conscientious, and prayerful examination of the grounds and reasons of the present state of things in all the Protestant sects. On examination of the history of all the platforms and constitutions of all these sects, it appeared evident as mathematical demonstration itself, that neither the Augsburg articles of faith and opinion, nor the Westminster, nor the Wesleyan, nor those of any state creed or dissenting establishment, could ever improve the condition of things, restore union to the church, peace to the world, or success to the gospel of Christ.

As the Bible was said and constantly affirmed to be the religion of Protestants, it was for some time a mysterious problem why the Bible alone, confessed and acknowledged, should work no happier results than the strifes, divisions, and retaliatory excommunications of rival Protestant sects. It appeared, however, in this case, after a more intimate acquaintance with the details of the inner temple of sectarian Christianity, as in many similar cases, that it is not the acknowledgment of a good rule, but the walking by it, that secures the happiness of society. The Bible in the lips, and the creed of the head and in the heart, will not save the church from strife, emulation, and schism. There is no moral, ecclesiastical, or political good, by simply acknowledging it in word. It must be obeyed.

In our ecclesiastical pilgrimage we have occasionally met with some vehement declaimers against human written creeds, and pleaders for the Bible alone, who were all the while preaching up the opinions of saint Arius or saint Athanasius. Their sentiments, language, style, and general views of the gospel were as human as auricular confession, extreme unction, or purgatorial purification.

The Bible alone is the Bible only, in word and deed, in profession and practice; and this alone can reform the world and save the church. Judging others we once judged ourselves, there are not a few who are advocating the Bible alone, and preaching their own opinions. Before we applied the Bible alone to our views, or brought our views and religious practice to the Bible, we plead the old theme,--"The Bible alone is the religion of Protestants." But we found it an arduous task, and one of twenty years' labor, to correct our diction and purify our speech according to the Bible alone; and even yet we have not wholly practically repudiated the language of Ashdod. We only profess to work and walk by the rules which will inevitably issue in a pure speech, and in right conceptions of that pure, and holy, and celestial thing called Christianity--in faith, in sentiment, and in practice.

A deep and an abiding impression that the power, the consolations, and joys--the holiness and happiness--of Christ's religion were lost in the forms and ceremonies, in the speculations and conjectures, in the feuds and bickerings of sects and schisms, originated a project many years ago for uniting the sects, or rather the Christians in all the sects, upon a clear and scriptural bond of union--upon having a "thus saith the Lord," either in express terms, or in approved precedent, "for every article of faith, and item of religious practice." This was offered in the year 1809, in the "Declaration and Address" of the Washington Association, Pennsylvania. It was first tendered to the parties that confessed the Westminster creed; but equally submitted to the Protestants of every name, making faith in Christ and obedience to him the only test of Christian character, and the only bond of church union, communion, and co-operation. It was indeed approved by all; but adopted and practiced by none, except the few, or part of the few, who made the overture.

None of us who either got up or sustained that project, was then aware of what havoc that said principle, if faithfully applied, would have made of our views and practices on various favorite points. When we take a close retrospective view of the last thirty years, (for we have a pretty distinct recollection of our travel's history for that period,) and of the workings of that principle in heart and life, with which we commenced our public career in the work of the Lord; we know not how to express our astonishment better than in the following parable:--

A citizen of the West had a very promising young vineyard on a fruitful hill. He had no practical knowledge in the cultivation of the grape; but had read much and largely upon the dressing, pruning, and managing of the vine. He built himself a wine-vat, and prepared all the implements for the vintage. But he lacked practical skill in using the pruning knife. His vines flourished exceedingly, and stretched forth their tendrils on every side; but he had no vintage.

A vine-dresser from Oporto one day presented himself as he was musing upon his disappointments. He was celebrated in his profession, and the most skilful in all the affairs of the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard having employed him to dress and keep his vineyard, set out on a long journey for a few weeks. On his return and visit to his farm, he walked out one day to his vineyard; when, to his amazement, he saw the ground literally covered with prunings of his vines. The vine-dresser had very skillfully and freely used the pruning hook, and had left little more than the roots and naked stems of the vines standing by the frames.

'My vineyard is ruined! My hopes blighted! I am undone! I am ruined!' exclaimed the unhappy husbandman. 'Unhappy wretch! you have deceived me; you have robbed me of the labors of five years, and blasted, in one single moon, all my bright hopes for years to come!' The vine-dresser stood appalled; but soon as the tempest subsided, ventured to say,--'Master, I will serve you five years for nothing, if we gather not more grapes and have not a better vineyard this year, than you have gathered in all the years since you planted these vines.' The proprietor of the vintage withdrew, saying,--'It is impossible! It is impossible!' and visited it not again till invited by his vine-dresser about the middle of autumn; when, to his still greater astonishment, and much more to his gratification, he found incomparably more grapes than hitherto gathered from his vines, and of a much more delicious quality.

So in the case before us, the application of the principle already stated trimmed us so naked, that we strongly inclined to suspect its fallacy, and had well nigh abandoned it as a deceitful speculation. Time, however, the great teacher, and Experience, that great critic, have fully assured us that the principle is a salutary one, and that although we seemingly lose much by its application, our loss consists only of barren opinions, fruitless speculations, and useless traditions, that only cumber the ground and check the word, so that it is in a good measure unfruitful.

We flatter ourselves that the principles are now clearly and fully developed by the united efforts of a few devoted and ardent minds, who set out determined to sacrifice everything to truth, and follow her wherever she might lead the way: I say, the principles on which the church of Jesus Christ--all believers in Jesus as the Messiah--can be united with honor to themselves, and with blessings to the world; on which the gospel and its ordinances can be restored in all their primitive simplicity, excellency, and power, and the church shine as a lamp that burneth to the conviction and salvation of the world:--I say, the principles by which these things can be done are now developed, as well as the principles themselves, which together constitute the original gospel and order of things established by the Apostles.

The object of this volume is to place before the community in a plain, definite, and perspicuous style, the capital principles which have been elicited, argued out, developed, and sustained in a controversy of twenty-five years, by the tongues and pens of those who rallied under the banners of the Bible alone. The principle which was inscribed upon our banners when we withdrew from the ranks of the sects, was, 'Faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, and obedience to him as our Lawgiver and King, the ONLY TEST of Christian character, and the ONLY BOND of Christian union, communion, and co-operation, irrespective of all creeds, opinions, commandments, and traditions of men.'

This cause, like every other, was first plead by the tongue; afterwards by the pen and the press. The history of its progress corresponds with the history of every other religious revolution, in this respect--that different points, at different times, almost exclusively engrossed the attention of its pleaders. We began with the outposts and vanguard of the opposition. Soon as we found ourselves in the possession of one post our artillery was turned against another; and as fast as the smoke of the enemy receded we advanced upon his lines.

The first piece that was written on the subject of the great position, appeared from the pen of THOMAS CAMPBELL, Senior, in the year 1809. An association was formed that year for the dissemination of the principles of reformation; and the piece alluded to was styled "The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania."

The constitutional principle of this "Christian Association" and its object are clearly expressed in the following resolution:--"That this society, formed for the sole purpose of promoting simple evangelical Christianity, shall, to the utmost of its power, countenance and support such ministers, and such only, as exhibit a manifest conformity to the Original Standard, in conversation and doctrine, in zeal and diligence; only such as reduce to practice the simple original form of Christianity, expressly exhibited upon the sacred page, without attempting to inculcate any thing of human authority, of private opinion, or inventions of men, as having any place in the constitution, faith, or worship of the Christian church; or any thing as matter of Christian faith or duty, for which there cannot be produced a 'thus saith the Lord,' either in express terms or by approved precedent."

The ground occupied in this resolution afforded ample documents of debate. Every inch of it was debated, argued, canvassed, for several years, in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio. On this bottom we put to sea, with scarcely hands enough to man the ship. We had head winds and rough seas for the first seven years. A history of which would be both curious and interesting.

But to contradistinguish this plea and effort from some others almost contemporaneous with it, we would emphatically remark, that, while the remonstrants warred against human creeds, evidently because those creeds warred against their own private opinions and favorite dogmas, which they wished to substitute for those creeds,--this enterprise, so far as it was hostile to those creeds, warred against them, not because of their hostility to any private or favorite opinions which were desired to be substituted for them; but because those human institutions supplanted the Bible, made the word of God of non-effect, were fatal to the intelligence, union, purity, holiness, and happiness of the disciples of Christ, and hostile to the salvation of the world.

Unitarians, for example, have warred against human creeds, because those creeds taught Trinitarianism. Arminians, too, have been hostile to creeds, because those creeds supported Calvinism. It has, indeed, been alleged that all schismatics, good and bad, since the days of John Wickliffe, and long before, have opposed creeds of human invention because those creeds opposed them. But so far as their controversy resembles them in its opposition to creeds, it is to be distinguished from them in this all-essential attribute, viz.--that our opposition to creeds arose from a conviction, that whether the opinions in them were true or false, they were hostile to the union, peace, harmony, purity, and joy of Christians; and adverse to the conversion of the world to Jesus Christ.

Next to our personal salvation, two objects constituted the summum bonum, the supreme good, worthy of the sacrifice of all temporalities. The first was the union, peace, purity, and harmonious co-operation of Christians--guided by an understanding enlightened by the Holy Scriptures; the other, the conversion of sinners to God. Our predilections and antipathies on all religious questions arose from, and were controlled by, those all-absorbing interests. From these commenced our campaign against creeds. We had not at first, and we have not now, a favorite opinion or speculation, which we would offer as a substitute for any human creed or constitution in Christendom.

We were not, indeed, at first apprised of the havoc which our principles would make upon our opinions. We soon, however, found our principles and opinions at war on some points; and the question immediately arose, Whether shall we sacrifice our principles to our opinions, or our opinions to our principles? We need not say that we were compelled to the latter; judging that our principles were better than our opinions. Hence, since we put to sea on board this bottom, we have been compelled to throw overboard some opinions once as dear to us as they now are to those who never thought of the difference between principle and opinion.

Some of these opinions--(as the most delicate and tender buds are soonest blighted by the frost)--immediately withered, and died under the first application of our principles. Infant baptism and infant sprinkling, with all infantile imbecility, immediately expired in our minds, soon as the Bible alone was made the only measure and standard of faith and duty. This foundation of the Paidobaptist temple being instantly destroyed, the whole edifice leaning upon it became a heaps of ruins. We explored the ruins with great assiduity, and collected from them all the materials that could be worked into the Christian temple; but the piles of rubbish that remained were immense.

Other topics became the theme of discussion; and as the public mind became more intelligent and candid, the great principles of the Law and Gospel, the Patriarchal, the Jewish, and Christian Institutions were gradually unfolded. To the development of these, other publications in 1816 and 1820 greatly contributed; and so fully explored were ancient and modern Christianity, that, in 1823, the design was formed of commencing a periodical and establishing a press to contend for the original faith and order, in opposition to all the corruptions of fifteen centuries.

As we are not writing a history of this struggle from its commencement till the present time, but simply informing the reader that the principles stated in the following pages have been maturely considered, and have passed through a long, complicated, and vigorous oppositions,--we shall hasten to the object of this book, which is to lay before the reader a miniature view of the principles already noticed.

To say nothing of the periodicals which have already been commenced, and which have been for some time our fellow-laborers, in this all-important work, besides our debtors of 1820, 1823, and 1829, four editions of the new version of the New Testament, with prefaces, various tables, notes, criticisms, etc.; there have been issued from our press twelve volumes in illustration and defence of these principles; in hearing and answering objections from all sects, and from many of the most learned and talented of our country.

The CHRISTIAN BAPTIST, in seven annual volumes, being the first of these publications, and affording such a gradual development of all these principles as the state of the public mind and the opposition would permit, is, in the judgment of many of our brethren who have expressed themselves on the subject, better adapted to the whole community as it now exists, than our other writings. In this judgment I must concur; and to it especially, as well as to all other publications since commenced, I would refer the reader who may be solicitous to examine these principles more fully, and to consider the ordeal through which they have passed.

Having paid a very candid and considerate regard to all that has been offered against these principles, as well as having been admonished from the extremes into which some of our friends and brethren have carried some points, I undertake this work with a deep sense of its necessity, and with much anticipation of its utility, in exhibiting a concentrated view of the whole ground we occupy--of rectifying some extremes--of furnishing new means of defence to those engaged in contending with this generation for primitive Christianity.

Having also attentively considered the most vulnerable side of every great question, and re-examined the terms and phrases which have occasioned most opposition and controversy, whether from our own pen or that of any of our brethren,--our aim is now to offer to the public a more matured view of such cardinal principles as are necessary to the right interpretation of the Holy Scriptures--both in acquiring and communicating a correct knowledge of the Christian Institution, of such principles as are requisite to the discovery of truth and the exposure of error; as well as in a revised and corrected republication of the principal Extras of the Millennial Harbinger, to lay before the reader the elements of the gospel itself, and of the worship most acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The work, then, naturally divides itself into three parts:--The first, THE PRINCIPLES BY WHICH THE CHRISTIAN INSTITUTION MAY BE CERTAINLY AND SATISFACTORILY ASCERTAINED: the second, THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH ALL CHRISTIANS MAY FORM ONE COMMUNION: and the third, THE ELEMENTS OR PRINCIPLES WHICH CONSTITUTE ORIGINAL CHRISTIANITY. Whether this arrangement be most in the order of nature, or of importance, is not the question; it is the order in which we have from necessity been compelled to consider these subjects.

BETHANY, VA., January 2, 1835.