Purity of Speech (A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things. No. 17)

[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]

IF all Christians “spoke the same things” they would doubtless be of the same mind. But, says the philosopher, if they were all of one mind they would all speak the same things. Grant, then, that speaking the same things is the effect of thinking the same things; and yet, perhaps, it might be true that speaking the same things might, in its turn, be the cause of thinking the same things. For example; William and Mary thought the same things concerning John Calvin–they spoke the same things concerning him to their children; and their sons and daughters thought the same things of him. This is true in the general.

It is no uncommon thing in the natural world for an effect to be the cause of another effect, and the last effect to be similar to its cause. For example; there is a chain of seven links. A person with a hammer strikes the first link. The motion of the first link is the effect of the stroke of the hammer; but the motion of the first link becomes the cause of the motion of the second, because of the impulse it gives it; and the motion of the second becomes the cause of the motion of the third, and so on to the end of the chain. In each of these effects, so far as they become causes, there is something similar to the first cause. Now it is much more obvious that, in the world of mind or thought, this similarity exists to a much greater degree than in the world of matter. The reason is, men cannot think but by words or signs. Words are but embodied thought, the external images or representatives of ideas. And who is there that has paid any attention to what passes in his own mind, who has not perceived that he cannot think without something to think about, and that the something about which he thinks must either assume a name, or some sort of image in his mind, before his rational faculties can operate upon it; and moreover, that his powers of thinking while employed exercise themselves in every effort, either by terms, names, or symbols, expressive of their own acts and the results of their own acts? Now, as men think by means of symbols or terms, and cannot think without them, it must be obvious that speaking the same things and hearing the same things, though it might be alleged as the effect of thinking the same things, is more likely to become the cause of thinking the same things than any natural or mechanical effect can become the cause of a similar effect. This much we say for the employment of the speculative reader; but for the practical mind it is enough to know that speaking the same things is both rationally and scripturally proposed as the most sure and certain means of thinking the same things. On this view of the matter, I would base something of great consequence to the religious world. Perhaps I might find something in it of more real importance to all Christians of every name, than all the fabled powers of the philosopher’s stone, had they been real. Perhaps in this one view might be found the only practicable and alone sufficient means of reconciling all the christian world, and of destroying all partyism and party feelings, with all their retinue and train of evils which have been more fatal to christian light and liberty than were all the evils which tell upon human bodies from the opening of Pandora’s box, to the animal enjoyments of this world. But how shall we all speak the same things relating to the christian religion? Never, indeed, while we add to, or subtract from the words which the Holy Spirit teaches. Never, indeed, while we take those terms out of their scriptural connections, and either transpose them in place, or confound them with terms not in the book. If I am not greatly mistaken, (and I be to be corrected if I am) the adding to, subtracting from, the transposition of, and mingling the terms of the Holy Spirit with those of human contrivance, is the only cause why all who love the same Saviour are disunited.

Now every human creed in Christendom, whether it be long or short, whether it be written or nuncupative, whether it be of “essentials or non-essentials,” whether it be composed of five or of fifty articles–either adds to, subtracts from, or transposes the words of inspiration, or mingles things of divine and human contrivance together. No such volume, no such articles can be the form or a form of sound words. Every creed is a new mould of doctrine, and into whatever mould metal is cast, when molded it must assume the size and impress thereof. Let silver be cast into a French, Spanish, English, or American mould of the same size, but differently constructed; and although it is all the same metal, and of equal size, each crown, whether French, English, or Spanish, assumes a different stamp. Now the apostle Paul uses this figure, Rom. 6:17 (see the new translation.) “You have obeyed from the heart that mould of doctrine into which you were delivered,” or cast. Now does not reason and experience teach us that if ten thousand thousand pieces of coin were cast into the same mould they would bear the same impress. We have but one apostolic mould of doctrine in the world, and all the sons of men cannot construct a mould of doctrine like it. A human conscience cast into the mould of the Episcopalian, Presbyterial, Methodistic, or Baptist creed, and a human conscience cast into the apostolic mould, all bear a different stamp. The Episcopalian, Presbyterial, Methodistic, Baptist, and Apostolic coin, not only wear a different date, but a different image and superscription. Martin Luther’s head, John Calvin’s head, John Wesley’s head, John Gill’s, or Andrew Fuller’s head is stamped upon each of them. Not only is the Anno Domini different, but the image or head is different on each. They may be all silver of equal purity for aught I know, till they are tried in the furnace; but they are not one, neither can they be in image, superscription, date, and other circumstances, and therefore can not pass current in another country. Let them, however, be tried with fire, and melted down, and all cast into the apostolic mould, and they will come out with a new image and superscription, and pass current through all the empire of that head which is stamped upon them. The figure, I think, is the best in the world, and illustrates the whole matter. I am indebted for it to the Apostle Paul. He gave me the hint, and I am grateful for it.

Some of our Baptist friends here in Kentucky have tacked round, and thought of a new plan of making a mould to give no impress or stamp to the coin at all. They will have no image, superscription, or date upon it. They will have the coin to weigh so many grains or pennyweights, but without a stamp. A plan of this sort has been lately proposed by one of our good Doctors; but to the astonishment of all, the first coin that came out of this new mould was inscribed with the number “six hundred three score and six.” Let him that has understanding explain how this could be. But of this hereafter.

Let, then, but one mould of doctrine be universally adopted, of standard weight, image, and superscription, and all Christians will be one in every visible respect; and then, and not till then, will the kingdom be visibly one. There will be one king, Dei gratia, on every crown; and that crown, if of genuine metal, will pass current through all the king’s dominions. It is admitted there may be some pewter, or brass pieces whitewashed; but the former will soon grow dim, and the latter, when rubbed a little, will show a baser metal.

I may be asked, How does this correspond with speaking the same things? I will tell you, it is but a figure illustrative of the same thing. The same image and superscription engraved to the mould, answers to the same things spoken in the ear and conveyed to the mind. The same impression will as certainly, though not mechanically nor as instantaneously, be made upon the mind as upon the metal. And did we all speak the same things we would be as visibly one as all the pieces of coin which have been cast into the same mould. I again repeat, that this unity never can be obtained while any other creed than the sacred writings is known or regarded. And here I invoke all the advocates of human creeds in the world:– Gentlemen, or Christians, whoever or whatever you be, I will consider your attempt to disprove this position a favor done to me and the Christian world. None of you have ever yet attempted to show how Christians can be united on your principles. You have showed often how they may be divided, and how each party may hold its own; but while you pray for the visible unity of the disciples, and advocate their visible disunity, we cannot understand you.

But to come to the illustration of how speaking the same things must necessarily issue in thinking the same things, or in the visible and real unity of all disciples on all those topics in which they ought to be united, I will select but one of the topics of capital importance on which there exists a diversity of sentiment. For example: The relation existing between Jesus Christ and his Father. This is one of those topics on which men have philosophized most exuberantly, and on which they have multiplied words and divisions more than on any other subject of human contemplation. Hence have arisen the Trinitarian, Arian, Semiarian, Sabellian, Unitarian, and Socinian hypotheses. It is impossible that all these can be true, and yet it is possible that they all may be false theories. Now each of these theories has given rise to a diction, phraseology, and style of speaking peculiar to itself. They do not all speak the same things of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But all who do speak the same things belong to one theory. Scripture words and sentences are quoted by each of the theorists, and to these words are added expositions and definitions which give a peculiar direction to the words of the Holy Spirit. Some portions are considered by each theorist as peculiarly favorable to his views, while others are not often quoted, and if quoted at all, are clogged with embarrassing explanations. Some of the words of the Holy Spirit are quoted with great pleasure and others with great reluctance. And why? Because the former are supposed more favorable to the theory than the latter. I have often seen with what pleasure the Arian dwells upon the words “first born of every creature;” “the beginning of the creation of God.” And how seldom, and with what reluctance, he quotes “I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last;” “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Again, the Socinian emphasizes with great force upon the words “the man Christ Jesus;” but never dwells with delight upon this sentence, “Who being in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be like God.” The Trinitarian rejoices that “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and that these three are one;” that Jesus said, “I and my Father are one,” &c. But seldom does he quote on this subject the texts on which the Arian and Socinian dwell with pleasure. Not one of them will quote with equal pleasure or readiness every thing said on this subject; and had they the liberty they would trim and improve the apostles’ style to suit their respective theories. They would do, as I heard a preacher do this week, quote the scriptures thus: “If any come to you and bring not the doctrine of the absolute, unoriginated and infinite divinity, the doctrine of the eternal filiation and generation of Jesus Christ, receive him not into your house.” They do not speak the same things of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now, suppose that all these would abandon every word and sentence not found in the bible on this subject, and without explanation, limitation, or enlargement, quote with equal pleasure and readiness, and apply on every suitable occasion every word and sentence found in the volume, to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; how long would divisions on this subject exist? It would be impossible to perpetuate them on this plan. I ask the world if it would not? But, says an objector, there would be as many opinions under any other phraseology as the present. This might be for the present generation, but they could not be perpetuated. And as to any injury a private opinion may do to the possessor, it could, on this principle, do none to society.

Again, could not men believe in, obey, love, fear, and rejoice in Jesus Christ as readily and to as great a degree by speaking and hearing all the words and sentences in the volume, as they now do in all the varieties of their new nomenclature. Let them be cast into the same mould; that is, speak and hear the same things, and there would not be a Trinitarian, Arian, Semiarian, Sabellian, Unitarian, Socinian, or any thing else but a christian on this subject, or an infidel in the world. It would be so on all other topics as on that instanced, if the same principle were to be adopted.

Men would, on this principle, learn to appreciate and love one another, and to estimate human character on the real standard of piety and moral rectitude. Unfeigned obedience to the Lord, guileless benevolence to all men, and pure christian affection to the household of faith, would be the principle of appreciation of human character. Not our wild reveries, our orthodox jargon, or our heterodox paradoxes would be of paramount importance. Never can this state be induced until a pure speech be restored–until the language of Canaan be spoken by all the seed of Abraham.

Our confessions of faith, our additions to, our subtractions from, our transpositions of, and our extractions out of the book of God, are all in open hostility to the restoration of a pure speech, and are all under the curse, and we are punished with famine and sterility on account of them.I have seen a confession of faith all in bible terms, extracted and transposed, like putting the eyes and ears and tongue in the right hand. Now I object as much to a creed in bible terms transposed and extracted, as I do to worshipping the Virgin Mary instead of Jesus the Messiah. The transposition of the terms or the extraction of sentences from their connections is just as pernicious as any human innovation. Samples of this sort will be afforded at another time.

No man is to be debarred the christian church who does not deny in word or in works the declarations of the Holy Spirit, and no man is to be received into the christian community because he expresses himself in a style or in terms not found in the christian books; which must be the case when a person is obliged to express himself in the corrupt speech or in the appropriated style of a sectarian creed in order to his admission.

EDITOR.

About Scott Shifferd Jr.

Minister, Dean Road church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of three. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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