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Defamed and Defended


It is not surprising that the feelings of antagonism which had for a considerable time been growing up between Dr. Thomas and Mr. Campbell and his friends, broke out into an open rupture. This result seems to have been precipitated by the publication of the following article in the Gospel Advocate, one of the organs of the Reformation, under the heading, “Dr. John Thomas, of the Apostolic Advocate, a Factionist.”


“We are informed that this restless, ambitious individual, whose course we have long considered exceedingly reprehensible, has actually been the occasion of a division of the congregation that met at the Sycamore M. H., Richmond, Virginia. It has long been suspected that Dr. Thomas was aspiring to head a religious party in this country. It is now confirmed, at least to the satisfaction of many very intelligent brethren. We cannot look upon him in any other light than as a FACTIONIST. He has taken a party off with him in his wild speculations on the subject of materialism, anabaptism, &c. There was much more of infidelity than Christianity in his thirty-four questions that appeared in the December number of the Apostolic Advocate, 1835. A brother of more than ordinary intelligence, and who is well acquainted with the intricacies of scepticism, after reading those questions, said the writer would be an avowed infidel in less than twelve months. I expressed a hope that it would not be so; but I confess I begin to entertain some fears, for not much more than half the time has elapsed and the Doctor is certainly fully half-gone.”


                “Will the friends of the reformation sustain an individual who is striking at the very foundation of our religion—a factionist, who is sowing the seeds of discord among us, and leading off a party after him—who never has had any respect for the feelings of friends or opponents—and who, to say the least, has done us as much harm as Alexander the coppersmith did Paul?”


                “Should we not rather disclaim all connection with him, and let the world know that he is no longer one of us? I consider that he has gone from us, and as he is no longer identified with us, we hope that his semi-infidel speculations will not be charged upon this reformation.”


                “Should the Doctor demur to this notice, we hope he will assign his reasons for doing so. He must prove that he and we are advocating the same cause. If he will convince me of that, I will acknowledge my mistake, and pursue a different corse in future.



                Upon this, the following remarks appeared in the Advocate for October, 1836:


            “In the anonymous effusion which precedes this, I am, by some unknown accuser, charged with certain heinous offences. I trust, my beloved reader, whoever you are, that you will not condemn me to the fires of a Protestant purgatory as a profane speculator, because I venture to speculate a little upon Mr. Plain Dealing; and presume to show you, by setting forth to you the other side of the question, that, though accused and condemned, I have, nevertheless, done nothing worthy of death or of bonds.”


                “Well, then, I would that Mr. Plain Dealing would first take the splinter out of his own eye, being persuaded that he would be the better able to see to take the mote out of mine. He would do well, or at least better than he has done, if, when he attacks an individual, he would put his name to his effusions, that the accused might know the hand that wounds to disable or to kill. In the case before me, I know not who it is that strikes. I cannot believe, unless upon strong testimony, that brethren Johnson and Hall, the Editors of the Gospel Advocate, could be so ---------, (I will not characterise the act, for I have such a horror of attacking a person in the dark), as to be guilty of such a thing; still, however, until they publish the writer’s name I can do no less than hold them responsible for the sentiments set forth by Mr. Plain Dealing in their paper. I should not have noticed the attack, but for its appearing where it did. There is not a word of truth in it, from first to last, as far as concerns me; and this I shall show in brief.”


                “First, then as to the alleged facts; and second, as to the opinions. I have caused no division of the congregation that meets at the Sycamore Meeting House, Richmond, Virginia. This is Monday on which I write. Until last Lord’s day week, I was one of the Elders of the said congregation, and then voluntarily resigned on account of changing my residence from the city to Amelia county, in this State. I am still a member of the congregation and harmless of any just accusation. What becomes then of the charge of Factionism? That I am a Factionist, ‘Plain Dealing’ says, is confirmed. Woe be to the perpetuity of the gospel if its confirmations rest upon no better grounds than the confirmation of this charge against me. This statement, which can be confirmed by hundreds, will preclude the necessity of further remarks under this count.”


                “A brother of more than ordinary intelligence, well acquainted with sceptical intricacies, after reading the thirty-four questions, prophesied that I should become an avowed infidel in twelve months! And Mr. Plain Dealing adds to his prophecy, that I am fully half-gone, i.e., in his opinion! As to the brother, however intelligent he may be, this is certain, that he is neither a prophet nor a son of a prophet; the Lord, I know, has not spoken by him; for my faith in what the Scriptures teach has much increased within the last six months; the more I study the sacred writings, the more firmly I believe what I first embraced, which was the faith of the gospel, and not the faith of ‘this’ or that ‘reformation.’ The nearer I arrive at the end of said twelve months, the surer I am that said brother’s prediction will not come to pass; and that he is most assuredly a false prophet. Alas for his acquaintance with the intricacies of scepticism! Alas, too, for the sagacity of his Gehazi, Mr. Plain Dealing.”


                “The Gospel Advocate callas upon the reformation to disclaim all connection with me. I am said to have left the reformation, which he calls ‘us,’ and to be striking at the very foundation of the religion of us, which he calls our religion. And what is ‘the reformation?’ When I was baptised by my worthy and beloved Christian brother Scott, I was baptised into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, whom I confessed to be the Christ, being convinced then, as now, that he is so from Scripture testimony. I was not immersed into this ‘reformation’ or that denomination, but into Christ. ‘The Reformation’ may disclaim me as soon as it pleases; but how is ‘the reformation’ to speak? There are many churches fellowshipped by ‘the reformation’ that will not disclaim me till they are convinced by something more weighty than assertion from evidence, that I have denied the faith, and thus become worse than an infidel. Will ‘the reformation’ disclaim those churches with me? Mr. Plain Dealing may; but is he ‘the reformation?’ I belong to no ation, and trust I never shall. I belong to the church of Christ, some of whose members meet in a meeting-house called Sycamore, in this city. Those who are most alive to the interests of the faith here; whose conduct is unimpeachable—these are they of said congregation, who are the warmest, firmest, and beloved friends. I am ready to fellowship all who have obeyed and continue to obey the truth, of whatever particular congregation they may constitute a part. I know no man as a reformer. If I fellowship an individual, it is because I suppose him to be a Christian. Experience has taught me that the terms Christian and Reformer are not equivalent. There are degrees in love, if I may so say; he that loves the truth most, though he differ from me in opinion, I love best; he has my whole heart, a totality which some have charitably denied me the possession of.”


                “The Gospel Advocate calls me a restless, ambitious individual. I am restless, and shall so continue to be until I enter that rest which remains for the people of God. I am ambitious, and my ambition will be satisfied with nothing short of incorruptibility, and a portion in the undefiled and undecaying inheritance, in which I hope eternally to dwell. Shall I rest, surrounded as I am by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, both in the church and in the world? Shall I cease to aim at the disenthralment of the human mind from the traditions both of Romish and Protestant ‘Divines?’ Shall I cease to plead for what I honestly believe to be the truth of Holy Scripture, because men, as liable to err as myself, are pleased to call it speculative and untaught? I am ambitious to benefit mankind, though that effort may not indeed square with the views of Mr. Plain Dealing, or the opinions of ‘us’ called ‘the Reformation.’ Has ‘the Reformation’ all wisdom and knowledge? Is it infallible? Is it susceptible of no increase in knowledge? No improvement in practice? Is ‘this Reformation’ in the person of editors and writers to brand as speculators, materialists, Anabaptists, and infidels, Christian men who have the independence to think and act for themselves according to their own understanding of what God says to them in His word? If this despotism is to be established, the sooner it explodes the better. But I cannot persuade myself that at this day, such a system will be tolerated by the lovers of civil and religious liberty and eternal truth.”


                “I am not an infidel, unless unbelief in human dogmas is to constitute me such. I believe, upon testimony, in one God, and one mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus; I believe that all men are born into a state of sin, and are, therefore, sinners, be they called actual transgressors or not; that birth is at the one end, and death at the other, of this state; that though men cannot help being born in sin, they can help dying in sin, provided they have been made acquainted with the means; but that, on the contrary men can no more help dying in sin than they could being born in sin, if the means by which they may escape such a catastrophe have no been made known to them.”


                “I believe that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life; and that they only are in a state of favour, under this dispensation, who have made him their friend by doing whatever he commands them; that to believe on Jesus, in order to obedience, is to be convinced of righteousness; and that all who do not obey, be they physically or intellectually incapacitated, matters not—do not, whatever else may become of them, attain to an eternal existence, which comes only as a gift through Jesus Christ to the obedient believers. I believe in the resurrection of the material body, called ‘the adoption.’ There are many other things I believe, too numerous to mention now; things, no doubt, staggering to Mr. Plain Dealing, but none the less true on that account.”


                “As to desiring to be the head of a religious party in this country, I scorn the position as unworthy a Christian man. When I reflect upon who have been the heads of the religious parties in the world, I feel that I should be degraded were I to be added to their coterie. A man can attain to no higher honour in this state, than to that of being an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ of the promise made to Abraham. The head of a sect! Contemptible! I leave such vanities to those whose empty heads are best pleased therewith; they have no charms for me.”


            In addition to the foregoing reply in the Advocate, a defence of the Doctor appeared in the Gospel Advocate.


“Walkerton, Virginia, Oct. 28th, 1836.

Brethren Johnson and Hall. —In your Advocate for August last I have just read, as it recently came to hand, a piece signed ‘Plain Dealing.’ The caption and contents, I must be allowed to say, are false; and I am surprised that you should permit an anonymous writer to slander a pious and devoted disciple of Jesus Christ in your Gospel Advocate. If such are to be the principles carried out in this reformation, I shall enter my positive dissent.”


                “We can bear with a writer that calls himself a disciple, when he writes upon gospel facts or duties in disguise; but when he attacks any man, or any set of men in disguise, he comes not up to the character of him ‘who obeys the truth—that is to the light, that it may be made manifest, that his actions are agreeable to God.’ The very circumstance of his concealing his name, ought to carry suspicion to the mind of every reader. He is one that ‘does evil, hates the light, and shuns it, lest his deeds should be detected.’ I repeat it, if your paper is to become the vehicle of slander, in disguise, please discontinue it to me. I cannot, nor will not sustain any editor that suffers his paper to be made such a vehicle; and I now ask you to give the public the proper name of ‘Plain Dealing.’”


                “I know, as well as any man in Old Virginia, the circumstances respecting the Sycamore congregation in Richmond. My having heard both sides, enables me to say that ‘Plain Dealing’ has slandered Dr. Thomas—first, by charging him with being a ‘factionist.’ Secondly, as ‘aspiring to head a religious party in this country.’ It is false that ‘he has taken a party off with him in his wild speculations on the subject of materialism and anabaptism,’ &c. Permit me to say, from an intimate acquaintance with Dr. Thomas, I have greater fears of such a man as ‘Plain Dealing’ becoming ‘an avowed infidel in less than twelve months,’ than Dr. Thomas.”


                “The question asked, ‘Will the friends of the reformation sustain an individual who is striking at the very foundation of our religion?’ I answer, We will sustain him in overturning the religion of every man and every sect; but not in overturning the religion of Jesus Christ. This writer proves himself a factionist, ‘who is sowing the seeds of discord among us, and leading a party after him, who has no respect for the feelings of friends or opponents, and who, to say the least (if he succeeds), will do as much harm as Alexander the coppersmith.’”


                “As evidence of the above, look at this—‘Should we not rather disclaim all connection with him, and let the world know that he is no longer one of us?’ This surely must be some lording clergyman, like the one that has bought up the press in Richmond, and will not suffer the Apostolic Advocate any longer to be printed there. * This high churchman has thus triumphed over Dr. Thomas like ‘Plain Dealing’ would if he could. But vain man! Force and slander never triumph long. A press will be furnished Dr. Thomas, and we will say to him, Go on and point out our errors and ‘our religion,’ and show to us that it is not the religion of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and we will acknowledge it, and embrace that religion Jesus and his apostles taught. I hold it as an article of my ‘creed’ that error cannot ultimately profit any being in heaven, earth, or hell. Dr. Thomas has as much right to his opinions as ‘Plain Dealing,’ or any other son of darkness; and we will never forsake a man because he has the independence to examine and point out to us that the religion we profess is ‘our religion,’ and not the religion of Jesus Christ.”


                “I differ with Dr. Thomas in many of his opinions; but I am not so vain as to profess myself a reformer, and yet wear the mantle of the Pope and say to Dr. Thomas, ‘hitherto shall you go, and no farther—here shall thy proud billows be stayed, or I will anathematise you.’ Such would be the conduct of ‘Plain Dealing,’ if he could find enough to sustain his holiness in his recommendation.”



* See Chapter 14



                 “I would be pleased to see ‘Plain Dealing’ come into contact in any argument upon any topic with Dr. Thomas. I venture to say he would never afterward deal so plainly in slandering one that maintains the truth at every point with sound argument and Scripture evidence. His almost unexampled devotion to truth and unblemished character, with his noble and independent spirit, will find, so long as he maintains them with a Christian spirit, the friends of this reformation sustaining him, at least in Old Virginia. To charge him with materialism and anabaptism is unjust and illiberal, when he has publicly disclaimed against holding any such sentiments.”


                “You will, in justice to Dr. Thomas and those who are advocating the gospel of Jesus Christ, and not ‘our religion,’ give this a place in the Gospel Advocate, or please erase my name, as a subscriber, to a paper that would have a name, but bears not its fame. —Yours in the gospel of Christ,

Thomas M. Henley.”


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