[By Alexander Campbell; with emphasis added in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2012)]
“HOLY FATHER—now I do not pray for these only, but for those also who shall believe on me through their word, that they all may be one—that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The testimony of the apostles, the Saviour makes the grand means of the enlargement and consolidation of his empire. He prays that they who believe on him through their testimony may be united. And their union he desires, that the world may believe that he was sent by God, and acted under the authority, and according to the will of the God and Father of all. The word of the Apostles, the unity of those who believe it, and the conviction of the world are here inseparably associated. All terminate in the conviction of the world. As the Father so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son; as the Son so loved the world as to become a propitiation for its sins, and as the Spirit came to convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, the conviction of the world is an object of the dearest magnitude in the estimation of the Heavens. All the attributes of Deity require that this grand object be achieved in a certain way, or not at all. That way or plan the Saviour has unfolded in his address from earth to heaven. We all must confess, however reluctant at first, that, in the government of the world, there are certain ways to certain ends, and if not accomplished in this way they are not accomplished at all. The fact is apparent, and most obvious, whether we understand, or can understand the reason of it. As well might Israel have dispossessed the Canaanites in any other way he might have devised, as we attempt to carry any point against the established order of heaven. Israel failed in his own way; in God’s way he was successful. We have failed in our own way to convince the world, but in God’s way we would he victorious. Wisdom and benevolence combined constitute his plan, and although his ways may appear weak or incomprehensible, they are, in their moral grandeur of wisdom and benevolence, as much higher than ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth.
For any thing we know, it was in the bounds of possibilities for the Saviour to have founded his kingdom without apostles or their word; but we are assured, from the fact of their having been employed, that his wisdom and benevolence required, in reference to things on earth, and things in heaven, that they should be employed. If, then, as is evident, there is a certain way in which Christianity can pervade the world, and if the unity of the disciples is an essential constituent of this way, how grievous the schisms, how mischievous the divisions among them!! While they are contending about their Orthodox and their heterodoxisms, they are hardening the hearts of the unbelievers at home, and shutting the door of faith against the nations abroad. While the Saviour, in the prospect of all the sorrows that were about to environ him, in the greatness of his philanthropy, forgetful and regardless of them all, was pouring out his fervent desires for the oneness of his followers, many who call themselves his disciples are fomenting new divisions, or strenuously engaged in keeping up the old ones. They in fact prefer their paltry notions, their abstract devices, their petty, shibboleths to the conversion of the world. Yes, as one of the regenerate divines said, some time since, he would as soon have communion with thieves and robbers, as with those who disputed his notions about eternal generation, or eternal procession, or some such metaphysical nonsense; so, many in appearance, would rather that the world should continue in pagan darkness for a thousand years, than that they should give up with a dogmatic confession, without a life giving truth in it.* From the Roman pontiff down to a licensed beneficiary, each high priest and Levite labors to build up the shibboleths of a party. With every one of them, his cause, that brings him a morsel of bread, is the cause of God. Colleges are founded, acts of incorporation prayed for as sincerely as the Saviour prayed for the union of Christians in order to the conversion of the world, theological schools erected, and a thousand contributions levied for keeping up parties and rewarding their leaders.
I have no idea of seeing, nor one wish to see, the sects unite in one grand army. This would be dangerous to our liberties and laws. For this the Saviour did not pray. It is only the disciples of Christ dispersed among them, that reason and benevolence would call out of them. Let them unite who love the Lord, and then we shall soon see the hireling priesthood and their worldly establishments prostrate in the dust.
But creeds of human contrivance keep up these establishments; nay, they are declared by some sects to be their very constitution.—These create, and foster, and mature that state of things which operates against the letter and spirit of the Saviour’s prayer. The disciples cannot be united while these are recognized; and while these are not one, the world cannot be converted. So far from being the bond of union, or the means of uniting the saints, they are the bones of controversy, the seeds of discord, the cause as well as the effect of division. As reasonably might we expect the articles of confederation that league the “Holy Alliance” to be the constitution of a republic, as that the Westminster or any other creed should become a means of uniting Christians. It may for a time hold together a worldly establishment, and be of the same service as an act of incorporation to a Presbyterian congregation, which enables it to make the unwilling willing to pay their stipends, but by and by it becomes a scorpion even among themselves.
But the constitution of the kingdom of the Saviour is the New Testament, and this alone is adapted to the existence of his kingdom in the world. To restore the ancient order of things this must be recognized as the only constitution of this kingdom. And in receiving citizens they must be received into the kingdom, just as they were received by the apostles into it, when they were in the employment of setting it up. And here let us ask, How did they receive them? Did they propose any articles of religious opinions? Did they impose any inferential principles, or require the acknowledgment of any dogmas whatever? Not one. The acknowledgment of the king’s supremacy in one proposition expressive of a fact, and not an opinion, and a promise of allegiance expressed in the act of naturalization, were every item requisite to all the privileges of citizenship. As this is a fundamental point, we shall be more particular in detail.
When any person desired admission into the kingdom, he was only asked what he thought of the king. “Do you believe in your heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Lord of all,” was the whole amount of the apostolic requirement. If the candidate for admission replied in the affirmative—if he declared his hearty conviction of this fact—no other interrogation was proposed. They took him on his solemn declaration of this belief, whether Jew or Gentile, without a single demur. He was forthwith naturalized, and formally declared to be a citizen of the kingdom of Messiah. In the act of naturalization which was then performed by means of water, he abjured or renounced spiritual allegiance to any other prince, potentate, pontiff, or prophet, than Jesus the Lord.—He was then treated by the citizens as a fellow citizen of the saints, and invited to the religious festivals of the brotherhood. And whether he went to Rome, Antioch, or Ephesus, he was received and treated by all the subjects of the Great King as a brother and fellow citizen. If he ever exhibited any instances of disloyalty, he was affectionately reprimanded; but if he was guilty of treason against the king, he was simply excluded from the kingdom. But we are now speaking of the constitutional admission of citizens into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and not of any thing subsequent thereto. The declaration of the belief of one fact, expressed in one plain proposition, and the one act of naturalization, constituted a free citizen of this kingdom. Such was the ancient order of things, as all must confess. Why, then, should we adopt a new plan, of our own devising, which, too, is as irrational as unconstitutional.
Let me here ask the only people in our land who seem to understand the constitution of our kingdom and the laws of our King in these respects, Why do you, my Baptist brethren, in receiving applicants into the kingdom, ask them so many questions about matters and things which the apostles never dreamed of, before you will permit them to be naturalized? Although you do not, like some others, present a book for their acknowledgment, you do that which is quite as unauthorized and as unconstitutional.
Your applicant is importuned in the presence of a congregation who sit as jurors upon his case, to tell how, and why, and wherefore, he is moved to seek for admission into the kingdom. He is now to tell “what the Lord has done for his soul, what he felt, and how he was awakened, and how he now feels,” &c. &c. After he has told his “experience,” some of the jurors interrogate him for their own satisfaction; and, among other abstract metaphysics, he is asked such questions as the following. “Did you not feel as though you deserved to be sent to hell for your sins? Did you not see that God would be just in excluding you from his presence for ever? Did you not view sin as an infinite evil? Do you not now take delight in the things which were once irksome to you?” &c. &c. If his responses coincide with the experience and views of his examiners, his experience is pronounced genuine. He not unfrequently tells of something like Paul’s visions and revelations, which give a sort of variety to his accounts, which, with some, greatly prove the genuineness of his conversion.* Now what is all this worth? His profession is not that which the apostles required; and the only question is, whether the apostolic order or this is the wiser, happier, and safer. When the eunuch said, “Here is water, what does hinder me to be baptized?” Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” Philip then accompanied him into the water, and immersed him. None of your questions were propounded—no congregation was assembled to judge of his experience. Philip, as all his contemporaries did, took him on his word. Now I think, brethren, that you cannot say I assume too much when I declare my conviction that the apostolic method was better than yours. You object that a person’s saying he believes what the eunuch believed does not afford you sufficient evidence to disciple him. Well, we shall hear you. But let me ask, If he heartily believe what the eunuch believed, is he not worthy of baptism? “Yes,” I hear you respond. Now for his saying he believes. What have you but his saying that he feels or felt what he described as his experience? You take his word in that case when accompanied with manifest sincerity, why not, then, take his word in this case when accompanied with manifest sincerity? Yes, but say you, any person can learn to say that he believes what the eunuch believed. Admitted. What then? Cannot any person who has heard others catechized or examined for his experience, learn too to describe what he never felt? So far the cases are perfectly equal. The same assurance is given in both cases. You take the applicant on his own testimony—so did they. We both depend upon his word, and we grant he may deceive us, and you know he has often deceived you. But we could easily shew, were it our intention, that you are more liable to be deceived than we. But we leave this, and ask for no more than what is abundantly evident, that the apostolic plan affords the same assurance as yours. We have the word of the applicant, and you have no more. These considerations shew that the apostolic plan is the wiser and the safer. It is more honorable to the truth too. It fixes the attention of all upon the magnitude of the gospel faith—upon the magnitude of the fact confessed. It exalts it in the apprehension of all as the most grand, sublime, and all-powerful fact. It makes it to the disciple, in his views, what the Saviour is in all the counsels of God—the Alpha and the Omega. It shews its comprehensive and fundamental import, which in fact transcends every other consideration. Moreover, the disciple thus baptized is baptized into the faith, but in the modern plan he is baptized into his own experience. It is then most honorable to the saving truth.
When your applicant appears before your assembly, say of one hundred disciples, and has satisfied them all, they lift up their hands or otherwise express their approbation of his experience, and their consent to his naturalization. Now admit that his profession were sincere, that he felt all that he described, still he may not be a disciple in truth. He may, indeed, have been in doubts himself whether his experience were genuine. But in your judgment he has some confidence, or he would not sincerely appear before you. He has then, in your decision, the concurrence of one hundred persons approving his experience as genuine. This emboldens him. He now feels himself somewhat assured that he is a true convert, for a hundred converts have approbated his experience and stamped it as genuine as their own. He may be deceived. And you must admit it, or else contend that all such approbated ones, who speak what they have felt, are genuine disciples. I argue that there is, on your plan, a possibility of deceiving or of confirming an applicant in self deception. On the apostolic plan no such possibility exists. For admitting in this case, as in the former, that he sincerely believes what he professes, then he is a true disciple. And they who receive him on this ground, only express their approbation of the faith he has professed. They assure him, by their concurrence, that believing what he professes, he is a disciple.—This, then, fixes his attention upon the truth professed. In the one case the faith he has professed is only attested by the brethren as of paramount importance, which is so in fact; and in attesting which, there is no possibility of deceiving, whether his profession be feigned or sincere. In the other case his experience is attested by the brethren, as of paramount importance, which it may not be in fact; and in attesting which, there is a possibility of deceiving, whether his profession be sincere or feigned.
But, says one, you may soon get many applicants in this way. Stop, my friend, I fear not so many. You will, if you interrogate the people, find many to say they believe what the eunuch believed, but you cannot persuade them to do as the eunuch did. They will confess with their mouth this truth, but they do not wish to be naturalized or to put themselves tinder the constitution of the Great King. Their not moving in obedience proves the truth does not move them. But when any person asks what the eunuch asked, he, ipso facto, shews that his faith has moved him, and this authorized Philip to comply with his desires, and should induce us to go and do likewise. When the ancient order of things is restored, neither more nor less will be demanded of any applicant for admission into the kingdom, than was asked by Philip. And every man who solicits admission in this way—who solemnly declares that, upon the testimony and authority of the holy apostles and prophets, he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, should forthwith be baptized without respect to any questions or dogmas derived either from written deeds or church covenants. But I have wandered far from my investigation of the merits of the arguments in favor of creeds—so far that I cannot approach them until my next.
* The history of the world has not informed me of one sinner brought to repentance or converted to Jesus Christ by any confession of faith in existence.
* The reader may, perhaps, think that we speak too irreverently of the practice of the experience of many christians. We have no such intention. But there are many things when told or represented just as they are, which appear so strange, and, indeed, fanciful, that the mere recitation of them assumes an air of irony. I confess, upon the whole, that this order of things appears to me as unreasonable and as novel as the following case :—James Sanitas once had a consumption. By a few simple, a change of air, and exercise, he recovered his former good health. He was importuned by Thomas Medicus, a physician, to converse about his former disease and recovery. The Doctor asked him whether he was really restored to health. He asked what medicines he used.—James Sanitas replied. The Doctor asked him whether he felt an acute pain in his breast or side for so long a time. He next inquired if certain simples were used, and how they operated. Last of all he inquired what his present feelings were. The answers of James did not correspond with Dr. Medicus’ theory, and was told that he had still the same malady, and was in circumstances [as] dangerous as before. James assured him he felt perfectly sound and vigorous, and appealed to the manifest change in his appearance, corpulency, color, strength, &c. The Doctor settled the controversy by telling him that unless he felt certain pains so long, and a peculiar class of sensations while using the simples prescribed, he is deceived, he cannot be cured, he is yet consumptive, and must die.