A Charge of Materialism
The next stage in the conflict was marked by the appearance of the following in Mr. Campbell’s paper: “As well might they charge us with the doctrine of Anabaptism or Materialism, because one of our brethren has avowed these sentiments. And I must be permitted to express my regret that it is so. I am sorry, truly sorry, that any one who can wield as able a pen as our brother of the A—A—will turn away from the good work of pulling down the Babel of Sectarianism and building up the temple of the Most High, to any speculations.”
Again: “Our beloved brother Dr. T—has lately given some views which I think are calculated to remove both the torment of fear and the fear of torment; for if they should not be wholly relieved from their alarm by re-immersion for the remission of sins, he has by means of opinions effectually barricaded all the avenues to the unseen world, whether by the pons asinorum, or through the air on angel’s wings; and can by an extra dose of heterodoxy (an old fashioned antidote for orthodoxy), make all who are nervous or uneasy sleep so sound that they shall not even dream of purgatory. But I am doubtful whether you would like church dormant any more than church patient; and in the meantime, lest I should cause you to imagine either doctrine true, and put you to sleep, or ‘torment you before the time’ by too long a letter, I will close for the present.”
Again Mr. Campbell told his readers, in commenting upon an extract from the letter of “a man of business,” that it is “more worthy of being embalmed than ever was the body of an Egyptian king.” The extract is said to be composed of certain “apposite and practical reflections.” They are the following: —“I have read your conversation at Father Goodall’s, and approve it. I am no Sadducee. I believe in both angel and spirit. I think that God is the Father of the spirits of His saints, and earth the mother of their bodies. I am therefore agreed to give to my mother earth all she can rightfully claim—namely, all that is corruptible; and having done so, I stand ready to be clothed upon with my house from heaven—namely, my spiritual body; and in the meantime, I have no idea of remaining torpid or asleep. I am contented to go to Paradise or Abraham’s bosom. I am willing to be with Christ wherever he is; if in the grave, why well. But we know that he is not there; and therefore I feel a deep repugnance against being confined in the grave. If the grave has charms for any one, I can assure you it has none for me. I wish not to be reserved in chains of darkness. I wish to live, and I feel confident that while Christ lives those who trust in him shall live also. I have no idea of dying—Jesus has died for me, and therefore death has no claims upon my life.”
On this Dr. Thomas made the following remarks:
“It will be seen from these ‘obviously practical, useful, and apposite reflections,’ that the Harbinger represents me to his readers (without affording them an opportunity of judging for themselves, or doing me the justice of self-defence) as a heretic of the deepest dye. If I believe and teach the things insinuated against me in the foregoing documents, the brethren who edit and write for that able work, are culpable and truant to the cause of truth in fellowshipping me as their beloved brother.”
“I am accused of Anabaptism, of Materialism, of having turned away to speculation, of having ceased from the good work of pulling down the apostasy, of forsaking the building-up of the temple of the Most High, of teaching re-immersion for the remission of sins, of barricading the avenues to the unseen world, of being a Sadducee, of affirming that the grave is the only Paradise, and I know not what else beside. I need not say to those who read the Advocate unbiasedly, or who hear me speak, that these insinuations are founded only in the distempered views of my dissentient friends. When I obeyed the gospel, I knew nothing of the ‘Reformation,’ or the topics of controversy between it and its numerous opponents. Having been thoroughly disgusted with Sectarianism in England, I determined to maintain my independence of all religious sects in America; and in this resolution I find myself this day. Christ, and not the Reformation, is my Lord. The spirit of liberty, based upon the law of faith, is the spirit of Christ; and this spirit all the sons of God are privileged to possess, and having it, to breathe. I claim the right of exercising this privilege, as well as my contemporaries; and I require of them that they should do to me as once they loudly required others to do to them. If I have turned away from the faith, as some of the insinuations charge me, I am amenable to the law of Christ, and to the congregations in this city. I ought not to be represented to the brethren at large as guilty until proved so; and this proof can be received only as a matter of fact, and not as a matter of opinion. Having purified my soul (life) by obeying the truth, I assumed the truth as my sole instructor. By the truth, I understand the Holy Spirit speaking in the writings of the apostles and prophets. All other writings are subordinate to these. None are infallible save the Scriptures. The opinions of the world, that is of mankind, whether readers, writers, or Editors, are none of them so sacred but they be examined and discarded or retained, as evidence may determine.”
“For some time, I thought this was the golden attribute of the Reformation: but I confess myself deceived. I find that liberty is granted to discuss everything under certain conditions, which in truth, nullify the privilege, or rather right, in toto. You may discuss all topics, except some; and these are called speculative, if they happen not to have come within the range of popular view. A thing is speculative in a bad sense when it happens to jeopardise the integrity of my opinions! You may ‘prove all things,’ but you may not ‘hold fast that which is good,’ unless we say so! You may have more light than all men, but not more than we! The zig-zag of our belief is to be the bound of your liberty! You may do and say what you please, only don’t condemn us. This is the spurious liberty with which Christ did not make his people free; I fear it is the liberty of this Reformation to a considerable extent. The treatment I have experienced from various sources, satisfies me that this is true. I once thought that the errorist was to be silenced by argument: Paul acted thus: but so do not my brethren. The Harbinger seems to act as though it thought that its opinion was the authority by which all controversies among us were to be resolved; and subscribers to our periodicals who succumb to this, deign not to convince us of our error, but summarily attempt to put us down by withdrawing their subscriptions.”
“This is the argument of force, not the force of argument. One instance of this we put on record; another occurred in which we received a letter notifying the discontinuance of twenty-seven subscribers, and assigning as the cause, the agitation of the ‘sleeping question,’ i.e., the state of the dead. Now, if I loved my subscribers’ money better than what I believe to be the truth, I should be afraid even to allude to that or any other unpopular subject, lest I should lose a subscriber. Have I found the key to rule 1? Would it be of ‘practical utility’ to silence the Advocate? If it would, certainly the most ‘obvious’ way would be to do as the Harbinger is doing—prejudice the minds of its readers so that they shall be deterred from yielding it their support. This would be a short way, and save the trouble of much argumentation. But I can assure my brethren none of these things move me. The ‘sleeping question,’ as it is called, is not disproved by the loss of twenty-seven subscribers, nor can the Advocate be silenced by authority.”
“Our subscription is increasing; our paper is read with avidity; and if we succeed in our proposed arrangements, we shall go on more vigorously and securely than heretofore. While I regret that justice to myself and to truth requires me to speak thus of some of the brethren, it affords me pleasure to bear testimony to the free inquiry on every subject relating to the destiny of man, come good come evil from the Church or world. Many of the brethren were once Baptists, and have not been re-immersed. * They prefer eccentric truth to consistent error and expediency. May it be my happiness to have my lot always cast with brethren of such principle . . .”
* “not” would seem to be a misprint for “now.”
“To say a man is a Materialist is to pronounce him as worthy of death at once in the estimation of some wise people. To give him a name that few know the meaning of, is an ingenious device to prejudice the world against him. I affirm that I have never read a single page of a book, except the Bible, on the subjects called Materialism. I once assented to the traditions of men on the spirit, the soul, the state, and the destiny of the dead, simply because I was nurtured in these absurdities; but the truth has made me free, and I believe with the Apostles that the dead are truly dead, asleep, and will so remain until the RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE shall call them forth from their graves to enjoy life or to suffer punishment. Is this doctrine ‘calculated to remove the fear of torment;’ is this ‘blocking up the avenue to the unseen world,’ Bro. Richardson?”
“My time is as much devoted as ever to the pulling down of Babel and to the building up of the temple of the Most High. Many can bear testimony that I labour more than any in these parts at this very work. I have neglected my own affairs to a considerable extent, since I submitted to the government of Jesus Christ, that I might attend to those very things. But I expect no thanks from the many; my reward is reserved in heaven. God is the judge. It is not true that I am turned to speculation in a bad sense. It is the church and the world that are speculating about ghosts and airy heavens; I am endeavouring to bring them back from these aerial conceits to the grave and substantial matters (materialism, if you will have it so) taught by the Holy Spirit in the Bible.”
We next learn from the Advocate that a series of articles was published in the Harbinger, by Mr. Campbell, on “Materialism,” with the object of checking the influence of the Doctor’s arguments, but without directly debating with the Doctor. The articles attacked Dr. Priestley, making only occasional reference to Dr. Thomas. While these articles were in progress, we find the following editorial notice in the Advocate for November, 1836:
“As the reader is already informed, I am at present much engaged in settling my family in a new abode. The setting-up of a printing establishment, in addition to this, consumes much additional time. I am, therefore, prevented, for the time being, giving that attention to things published concerning me and my views, which the respect due to the writer, if not to his sayings, demands. My regard for brother Campbell, as a man and a brother, is undiminished, notwithstanding his proceedings against me. He has done and is doing himself more harm than me. The only impression his pieces have made upon my mind, is to make me indifferent to his hard speeches hereafter. I was at first a little sensitive; but sensitiveness has yielded to indifference. He has denounced me as ‘unfit for Christian society.’ He can do no worse. The hardest speech hereafter is oil and balsam compared to this. If I have hurt his feelings, in self-defence, I am sorry for it, and sincerely regret it. The injury has been done unintentionally. My feelings are hurt only by the truth contained in the sayings against me. He has not hurt my feelings, though some may think his remarks severe. They may be in the estimation of our friends; but I can assure them, I am still whole, skin, wind, and limb. If they think me tortured, let them bear me witness that I bear it patiently.”
“These remarks are elicited, by way of notice, by the last Harbinger. Brother C. is still monstrous busy ‘wiping the escutcheons of the Reformation.’ Somehow or other they seem to have become wonderfully unclean; for the wiping process seems to take a mighty long time. When he has done, they will no doubt be singularly pure from all material contamination. We shall not hereafter interrupt his labours until he has finished, when we shall inspect his work and see of what excellency it is.”
“Will some king-at-arms be pleased to describe to these heraldic devices? What are these escutcheons of the Reformation? We should like to know.”
On the same subject a short article headed, “Matter and Manner,” appeared in the Advocate, for September, 1836, reading as follows: -
“As to the matter and manner of the ten pages and a half of typography, published in the last Millennial Harbinger concerning me, I have, this month, time only to observe that never did one poor mortal more egregiously misrepresent the sentiments of another, than has Brother Campbell mine in that portion of his paper. I do not intend to insinuate that he has wilfully misrepresented me; I merely state the fact: and I take this opportunity of disclaiming his inferences, and the version he has given of my sentiments. Those who read my paper and his, well know that his version and my views themselves are not one and the same; those who read his exclusively are incapable of giving a correct judgment in the case. As to the manner in which our worthy brother has treated me, it is obvious to more than myself that it is not only unbrotherly, but unfriendly, and calculated to place me in an odious and ridiculous light before his readers, which is an unjust and false position.”
“Till now, we had supposed, that as far as ‘this reformation’ was concerned, opinions were free, and that we were free to discuss all principles to whatever religious subject they might appertain. But we discover our mistake. Bro. C. says No! and has assumed the unenviable office of an arbitrator as to what may and may not be discussed; as to what is taught and not taught in the word; as to what is speculative and what not. But Brother C. may thank himself for all the trouble brought upon him by me and many others. He has taught us to call no man master, and has directed us to search the Scriptures independently for ourselves. He has given an impulse to our minds (and we thank him for it) which neither he, nor any other man, however superior to us in age, experience, character, learning, or renown, can control. I have always studied to treat Br. C. with respect; the least return I expected was that he would use me civilly. If he has called me a stripling, I took it in good part, supposing I was so named in the spirit of good humour; and, in the same spirit, I took up the allusion, and named him the giant. The primary allusion was his, not mine. I do not wish to deprecate our brother’s opposition to what we have published. It is public property, and as such he may do with it as he pleases. As opposing counsel we court the antagonism (since he is opposed) of all his superior talent, (and we most readily admit his superiority); but we decidedly object to him as a judge in the case at issue. The brethren must judge between us, and give their verdict according to the evidence as set forth in the Advocate as well as in the Millennial Harbinger. To enable his readers to do this, Bro. C. must cease to substitute his versions and inferences for my own connected essays. He must either (to do me justice) forbear to oppose, or concede me the same privilege (not to say right) that he has granted to aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. Our brother has devoted whole pages of his work to the republication of the speculations of a Waterman; of Brougham, a worldly philosopher; and of the abusive declamation of a Meredith and others. If I am worthy of being opposed, am I not, as a brother worthy of equal privileges with them? Why should our brother conduct himself with more impartiality to aliens than to me, whom he recognises as a brother? Let him remember the royal precept—Do unto others as you would they should do to you. Had I attacked Bro. C. as he has me, I would have republished all he had said that I intended to controvert, Would Bro. C. like me to treat him in this respect as he has treated me? I think not. But enough for the present.”
In due time, Mr. Campbell’s articles completed their appearance, and then the Doctor made them the subject of exhaustive replies.
In the absence of the Harbinger’s arguments it is not necessary to reproduce the replies of Dr. Thomas in full, but two or three extracts may be given, as they are interesting in themselves.
“Materialism! So the Harbinger terms the doctrine that he only that has the Son hath eternal life; in other words, that man is not naturally, and therefore necessarily, immortal, but that the immortality of his life is a gift of God to that portion of the race who obey His institutions. This is the true point at issue; a proposition which the Harbinger in all the thirty pages of typography he has appropriated to Materialism has not ventured to encounter” . . .
“Would it be believed that so dexterous a polemic has been for many moons past practising the cuts of literary warfare against the Advocate by attacking Dr. Priestley and the materialists taught by him! The Advocate studiously avoided the consultation of the work of any author upon materialism in order that what he believed on the Constitution of Man, on the external world, and on the ultimate destiny of both, might be the result of an unbiased study of the Book of Revelation.” (The Bible, not the Apocalypse).
A little later in his reply Dr. Thomas wrote:
“He (The Advocate) labours for no denomination; it is for the truth as he believes it independent of all sects or parties, he pleads whether by writing, speaking, or acting. The party he belongs to is a Church of Christ composed of but a few persons, who assemble every first day of the week in a little village of Virginia, that they may worship God in spirit and in truth according to His Word, and not according to the documents of this or that reformation, or denomination” . . .
“Well then, the Advocate labours according to the light he has, to show to his readers what the Scriptures teach; he desires neither to add to, nor to take from, the things they reveal. His labours may not please contemporary labourers, but he cannot help it. He does not wish wantonly to offend them. They labour according to their opinions of what is right; but he would observe that their opinions may be a rule for them, but not for him. The Advocate must judge for himself and leave others to do as they please” . . .
Taking up some rather slighting allusions to his comparative youth, Dr. Thomas continued:
“About the beginning of the sixteenth century, there lived a man whom the Scriptures term “The Man of Sin,’ but whose name, on the pages of history, is recorded as Leo X. He was considered, in the estimation of his friends, as ‘superior in age, learning, character, and general attainments’ to all the world. Contemporary with him, there lived a monk, named Martin; more notorious, albeit, by the name of Luther. He was a mere ‘stripling’ and ‘a very young man,’ in the Catholic life compared to ‘His Holiness,” who is said to be the great father of the faithful. Father Leo had a wonderful affection for his son Martin, who of all the sons of his mother, the Church, turned out to be a very naughty and unruly boy. As he grew apace, the insubordinate and rebellious Martin, had the presumption among other things equally wicked, to deny the existence of purgatory and its pains, or as Protestants term it, an intermediate state. Father Leo, or as we would call him, Father Goodall (for he professed to be good to all), believed all these things, and pleaded for them very sincerely, by opinionative assertion, perversion of Scripture, and ecclesiastical thunders. These were all brought to bear upon poor Martin out of ‘kindness’ to him, in order to save him from the pains of the purgatory he denied, and the worse ordeal of fire and faggot in reserve for all heretical sons who persist in living and dying contumacious. Father Leo invited him to Rome; bot Martin refused to go. Finding that all the inducements he could offer failed in bringing him thither, he determined to proscribe him as unworthy of Christian society, being almost, if not altogether, worse than an infidel. Now, Martin had written a good many things which Father Leo thought ought not to have been written, inasmuch as he conceived them calculated to ‘unsettle the minds of the brethren,’ who ‘were comparatively uninterested and never to be edified by them.’ Accordingly, out of a ‘due regard to the edification’ of the faithful, he determined to prevent ‘his speculations’ being ‘obtruded on their attention;’ being also convinced in his own mind, that all good and orthodox Catholics ‘would think more’ of son Martin and himself, ‘the less they read of his writings.’ To this end, he prohibited the reading of his books, as the Harbinger has in effect done those of his ‘dogmatical’ friend, the Advocate.”
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