[By Alexander Campbell; with words emphasized in bold by Scott J Shifferd]
Extract from the Minutes of the Baptist Missionary Association of
Kentucky, began and held at the Town-Fork Meeting House, in Fayette county, on Saturday, the 11th September, 1824.
“THE next meeting of this association will be in the first Baptist meeting house in Lexington, on the 30th of July next, which will be on the fifth Saturday of that month, at eleven o’clock, A M.
“It is proposed also to have a meeting of all the Baptist preachers who can attend, on Friday, the day preceding the meeting of the association, at eleven o’clock, A. M. at the same place, for the purpose of a general conference on the state of religion, and on the subject of reform. All the ministers of the gospel in the Baptist denomination favorable to these objects, are invited to attend, and, in the spirit of Christian love, by mutual counsel, influence, and exertion, according to the gospel, to aid in advancing the cause of piety in our state.
“It is obvious to the most superficial observer, who is at all acquainted with the state of Christianity and of the church of the New Testament, that much, very much is wanting, to bring the Christianity and the church of the present day up to that standard—In what this deficiency consists, and how it is to be remedied, or whether it can be remedied at all, are the points to be discovered and determined.
In the deliberations intended, it is designed to take these subjects into serious consideration, and to report the result by way of suggestion and advisement to the Baptist Christian community, and to the churches to which the members of the meeting may particularly belong. We know very well that nothing can be done right which is not done according to the gospel, or done effectually which is not done by the authority, and accompanied by the blessing of God. While God must do the work, we desire to know, and to acquiesce in his manner of doing it, and submissively to concur and obediently to go along with it.”
The sentences we have italicized in the preceding extract, are sentences of no ordinary import. The first of them declares a truth as evident as a sunbeam in a cell, to all who have eyes to see. The second presents a subject of inquiry of paramount importance to all who expect to stand before the Son of God in judgment. It affords us no common pleasure to see Christians awaking from their lethargic repose to the consideration of such subjects. That the fact should be acknowledged and lamented, that VERY MUCH IS WANTING TO BRING THE CHRISTIANITY AND THE CHURCH OF THE PRESENT DAY UP TO THE NEW TESTAMENT STANDARD amongst a people so intelligent, so respectable in numbers, and so influential, as the Baptist society in Kentucky; and that leaders of that community, so erudite, so pious, and so influential, should call upon their brethren to lay these things to heart, and to prepare themselves to make an effort towards reform, we hail as a most auspicious event.
As I feel deeply interested in every effort that is made, either among the Baptist or Paido Baptist societies, for the avowed object of reform, and as this subject has become familiar to my mind, from much reflection and a good deal of reading, I trust I shall not be considered as obtrusive in presenting a few remarks on the above extract, or rather in presenting certain thoughts, a favorable opportunity for which it presents.
Since the great apostasy, foretold and depicted by the holy apostles, attained to manhood’s prime, or rather reached the awful climacteric, many reformations in religion have been attempted; some on a large and others on a more restricted scale. The page of history and the experience of the present generation concur in evincing that, if any of those reformations began in the spirit, they have ended in the flesh.—This, indeed, may be as true of the reformers themselves as of their reformations. I believe, at the same time, that the reformers have themselves been benefactors, and their reformations benefits to mankind. I do cheerfully acknowledge, that all they who have been reputed reformers, have been our benefactors, and that we are all indebted to them in our political and religious capacities for their labors. Because they have not done every thing which they might have done, or which they ought to have done, we should not withhold the need of thanks for what they have done. Although two systems of religion, both end in the flesh, one may be greatly preferable to the other. This will appear evident when it is considered that, amongst religious persecutors, some are more exorable and lenient than others. Now, if there should be two systems of religion that both lead to persecution and issue in it, that one which carries its rage no farther than to the prison and the whipping-post, is greatly to be preferred to that which leads to the torturing wheel and to the faggot. The reason of this is very obvious, for most men would rather be whipped than burned for their religion. In other respects there are differences, which are illustrated by the preceding.
Those reformers are not most deserving of our thanks who stand highest and most celebrated in the annals of reformations. We owe more to John Wickliffe than to Martin Luther, and more, perhaps, to Peter Bruys than to John Calvin. The world is more indebted to Christopher Columbus than to Americus Vespusius, yet the latter supplanted the former in his well earned fame. So it has been amongst religious reformers. The success of every enterprise gives eclat to it. As great and as good men as George Washington have been hung or beheaded for treason.
The reformations most celebrated in the world are those which have departed the least from the systems they professed to reform.—Hence, we have been often told that there is but a paper wall between England and Rome. The Church of England, with King Henry or George IV. As her head, though a celebrated reformation, has made but a few and very short strides from her mother, the Church of Rome, with the pope at her head. So sensible of this are the good members of the reformed Church of England, that they yet give to their king the title of “Defender of the Faith,” although the title was first given him by the pope for defending his faith. The reformation of the Church of England, affected by Mr. Wesley, which issued in Episcopal Methodism, has entailed the same clerical dominion over that zealous people, which their forefathers complained of in the hierarchies of England and Rome. And not in England only does this dominion exist, but even in these United States, of all regions of the earth the most unfriendly to a religious monarchy, or even a religious oligarchy. The question remains yet to be decided, whether a conference of Methodistic clergy, with its bishop in its chair, and laity at home, is any reformation at all from a conclave of English prelates, headed by a metropolitan or an archbishop. It is even uncertain whether the Methodistic discipline has led more people to heaven, or made them happier on earth, than the rubric or liturgy of England.
All the famous reformations in history have rather been reformations of creeds and of clergy, than of religion. Since the New Testament was finished, it is fairly to be presumed that there cannot be any reformation of religion, properly so called. Though called reformations of religion, they have always left religion where it was. I do not think that King Harry was a whit more religious when he proclaimed himself head of the Church of England, than when writing against Luther on the seven sacraments, as a true son of the Church of Rome. It is even questionable whether Luther himself, the elector of Saxony, the Marquis of Brandenburg, the Duke of Lunenburg, the Landgrave of Hesse, and the Prince of Anhalt, were more religious men when they signed the Augsburg Confession of Faith than when they formerly repeated their Ave Maria.
Human creeds may be reformed and re-reformed, and be erroneous still, like their authors; but the inspired creed needs no reformation, being, like its author, infallible. The clergy, too, may be reformed from papistical opinions, grimaces, tricks, and dresses, to protestant opinions and ceremonies; protestant clergy may be reformed from protestant to presbyterial metaphysics and forms; and Presbyterian clergy may be reformed to independency, and yet the Pope remain in their heart. They are clergy still—and still in need of reformation. Archbishop Laud and Lawrence Greatrake are both clergymen, though of different dimensions. The spirit of the latter is as lordly and pontifical as that of the former, though his arm and his gown are shorter. The moschetto is an animal of the same genus with the hornet, though the bite of the former is not so powerful as the sting of the latter. A creed, too, that is formed in Geneva or in London, is as human as one formed in Constantinople. They have all given employment to tax gatherers, jail-keepers, and grave diggers.
All reformations in religious opinions and speculations have been fated like the fashions in apparel. They have lived, and died, and revived, and died again. As apparel has been the badge of rank, so have opinions been the badge of parties, and the cause of their rise and continuance. The green and orange ribbon, as well as the blue stocking, have been as useful and as honorable to those that have worn them, as those opinions were to their possessors, which have been the shibboleths of religious parties.
Human systems, whether of philosophy or of religion, are proper subjects of reformation; but Christianity cannot be reformed. Every attempt to reform Christianity is like an attempt to create a new sun, or to change the revolutions of the heavenly bodies—unprofitable and vain. In a word we have had reformations enough. The very name has become as offensive, as the term “Revolution” in France.
A restoration of the ancient order of things is all that is necessary to the happiness and usefulness of Christians. No attempt “to reform the doctrine, discipline and government of the church,” (a phrase too long in use,) can promise a better result than those which have been attempted and languished to death. We are glad to see, in the above extract, that the thing proposed, is to bring the Christianity and the church of the present day up to the standard of the New Testament. This is in substance, though in other terms, what we contend for. To bring the societies of Christians up to the New Testament, is just to bring the disciples individually and collectively, to walk in the faith, and in the commandments of the Lord and Saviour, as presented in that blessed volume; and this is to restore the ancient order of things. Celebrated as the era of reformation is, we doubt not but that the era of restoration will as far transcend it in importance and fame, through the long and blissful Millennium, as the New Testament transcends in simplicity, beauty, excellency, and majesty, the dogmas and notions of the creed of Westminster and the canons of the Assembly’s Digest. Just in so far as the ancient order of things, or the religion of the New Testament, is restored, just so far has the Millennium commenced, and so far have its blessings been enjoyed. For to the end of time, we shall have no other revelation of the Spirit, no other New Testament, no other Saviour, and no other religion than we now have, when we understand, believe and practice the doctrine of Christ delivered to us by his apostles.