[By Alexander Campbell (1829); with emphasis added in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2018)]
Part of the Editor’s History.
To the co-operation of a few friends, under the divine government, is to be ascribed the success which has accompanied this first effort to restore a pure speech to the people of God—to restore the ancient order of things in the christian kingdom—to emancipate the conscience from the dominion of human authority in matters of religion, and to lay a foundation, an imperishable foundation, for the union of all christians, and for their co-operation in spreading the glorious gospel throughout the world. I had but very humble hopes, I can assure the public, the day I wrote the first essay or the preface for this work, that I could at ail succeed in gaining a patient hearing. But I have been entirely disappointed. The success attendant on this effort has produced a hope which once I dared not entertain, that a blissful revolution can be effected. It has actually begun, and such a one as cannot fail to produce a state of society far surpassing in the fruits of righteousness, and peace, and joy, any result of any former religious revolution, since the great apostacy from christian institutions.
Having been educated as Presbyterian clergy men generally are, and looking forward to the ministry as both an honorable and useful calling, all my expectations and prospects in future life were, at the age of twenty-one, identified with the office of the ministry. But scarcely had I begun to make sermons, when I discovered that the religion of the New Testament was one thing, and that of any sect which I knew was another. I could not proceed. An unsuccessful effort by my father to reform the presbytery and synod to which he belonged, made me despair of reformation. I gave it up as a hopeless effort: but did not give up speaking in public assemblies upon the great articles of christian faith and practice. In the hope, the humble hope, of erecting a single congregation with which I could enjoy the social institutions, I labored. I had not the remotest idea of being able to do more than this; and, therefore, I betook myself to the occupation of a farmer, and for a number of years attended to this profession as a means of subsistence, and labored every Lord’s day to separate the truth from the traditions of men, and to persuade men to give up their fables for the truth—with but little success I labored.
When pressed by some of the most influential Baptists in the cities of New York and Philadelphia, in the year 1816, to settle in one of those cities, I declined the friendly offers and kind persuasions of both deacon Withington of New York and deacon Shields of Philadelphia, alledging that I could not take the charge of any church in those cities, because I did not think they would submit to the government of Jesus Christ, or to the primitive order of things. They asked me what that order was! I gave them my views. To which neither of them objected.—Deacon Withington alluded to Mr. M’Clay’s church in that city as practising in part that order; and said that for himself he preferred it. I replied that however well disposed he might be towards it, I could not think that many of the members of that church would (Mr. Williams’ it was then,) and rather than produce divisions among them, or adopt the order of things then fashionable in that city, I would live and die in the backwoods. The same or similar remarks were made to deacon Shields in Philadelphia.
Such were my views and feelings at that time, and so slight were the hopes which I entertained of seeing the least impression made upon the kingdom of the clergy. But my own mind labored under the pernicious influence of scholastic divinity, and the Calvinian metaphysics; and although I greatly desired to stand perfect and complete in the knowledge of the will of God, and my conscience could bow to nothing but the authority of the King Eternal, yet a full emancipation from the traditions of the elders I had not experienced. This was as gradual as the approaches of spring.
In the year 1820, when solicited to meet Mr. Walker on the subject of baptism, I hesitated for about six months whether it were lawful thus to defend the truth. I was written to three times before I gained my own consent. I did not like controversy so well as many have since thought I did; and I was doubtful of the effects it might have upon society. These difficulties were, however overcome, and we met. It was not until after I discovered the effects of that discussion that I began to hope that something might be done to rouse this generation from its supineness and spiritual lethargy. About two years afterwards I conceived the plan of this work, and thought I should make the experiment. I did so, and the effects are now before the public.
Little is done, it is true, compared with what is yet to be done; but that little is a great deal compared with the opposition made, and the shortness of the time in which it has been done. He that sails against both wind and tide sails slowly, and if he advance at all it must be by great exertion of the mariners. The storm now rages more than at any former period; but the current is more favorable. The winds of doctrine are raging upon the great sea; but they are continually shifting, and though we may be tossed and driven sometimes out of our course, the vessel is good, the Pilot the most skilful, so we cannot fear to reach the desired haven.
Many apologies ought to be made for the execution of the prospectus of this work. Things changed so much from our expectations that we were compelled to change with them. Our series of essays upon more topics were much shorter, and longer between, than was contemplated. The publication of two debates, and of two editions of the New Testament, unexpected when we issued our proposals, distracted our attentions, and so increased my labors, that more was done than could be done well. The compositions for this work were almost universally written in the despatch of ordinary letter writing, the half of an essay being often in type, or in the press, before the other half of it was conceived or written. During the last two months we have issued three numbers of the Millennial Harbinger, and this is the sixth number of this work, in nearly the same period. Besides we have written scores of long letters. These things ought not to have been so, but a willingness to do all that the most unremitting attentions could do, and the demands upon our services in various departments having been so urgent, we were compelled to undertake too much. We hope to avoid these excesses of labor in future, and to rally and concentrate our energies upon one work.
Many subjects introduced into this work have not been fully and systematically discussed. General views have been submitted, rather than full developements and defences. Not a single topic has received that finish, or that elucidation which it is in the compass of our means to bestow upon it. I have thought if life should be prolonged, and an opportunity offer, that I would one day revise this work, and have a second edition of it published, with such emendations as experience and observation might
I have commenced a new work, and taken a new name for it on various accounts. Hating sects and sectarian names, I resolved to prevent the name of Christian Baptists from being fixed upon us, to do which efforts were making. It is true, men’s tongues are their own, and they may use them as they please; but I am resolved to give them no just occasion for nicknaming advocates for the ancient order of things. My sheet admonishes me that I must close, and as usual on such occasions, I ought to return thanks to all those who have aided in the circulation of this work and patronized it, were it not that I cannot consider it as a favor done to me. Those who write for a subsistence should feel grateful to those who sustain them; but the patrons of this work, its real friends, were actuated by other considerations, than personal respect for me; and as it was not to sustain an individual, but to promote the truth, they bestowed their patronage, I can only say that the God of truth has blessed them, and will bless them, having acted sincerely in this matter. To him I commend them, and to him to whom I owe my being, and all that I call mine, to whom I have vowed allegiance never to be recalled, to him I will now and forever ascribe praise for the good which he has made me to enjoy, and for the good, if any, he has enabled me to do to others. I have found myself blessed in this undertaking—my heart has been enlarged, and no reader of the Christian Baptist, I think, will ever derive more advantage from it, than I have from the writing and conducting of it. To Jesus Christ my Lord be everlasting praise.
* I do not recollect having seen this sentence until now, when half of the work is stereotyped; and I certainly never heard the editor express this determination. However, it is not very remarkable that we should arrive at the same judgment in reference to the revision and republication of a work which has done so much good.—Publisher.