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“The Apostasy Unveiled”


The difficulties between Mr. Campbell and Dr. Thomas grew apace. Passing over occasional allusions to Dr. Thomas in the Harbinger, we come to an incident which produced results that marked a distinct stage in the controversy, a discussion between him and a Presbyterian “divine,” named Watt, commencing on August 1st, 1837. The discussion was principally on the immortality of the soul. It was published in separate form, and particulars need not be given here. The matter is only referred to for the sake of its results. Shortly after the discussion, a brief account of it appeared in the Virginia and North Carolina Conference Journal (August 18th, 1837). The account, written by a Methodist named Hunnicutt, was characterised by great animus against the Doctor, and was re-published in the Harbinger, accompanied by severe remarks against Dr. Thomas. In the course of these remarks Mr. Campbell disclaimed all fellowship with him if he did not explicitly renounce the doctrines reported to have been advocated by him; declaring also his separation from all who believed them. The publication was, in fact, what the Doctor termed “a bull of excommunication.” In response, Dr. Thomas addressed a letter to Mr. Campbell, from which the following are extracts.


                “Dear Brother, --On the desk before me is the eleventh number of your periodical. It contains three documents which have an intimate connection with myself. The first is the republication of the prospectus of a debate held in Lunenburg between me and a ‘Protestant clergyman’ of the Presbyterian sect; the second, a report of said discussion by another ‘Protestant divine’ of the Episcopal Methodist Communion; and the third some ‘remarks’ purporting to be on the two preceding articles from your own pen.”


                “For the re-issue of the first, I return you my sincere acknowledgments, because it has given my prospectus a wider circulation than I could have flattered myself it would obtain under existing circumstances; and thus it may be the means, by increasing my subscription list, of expediting the publication of the debate: a consummation to be desired, at least by your humble servant, inasmuch as it will tend to correct the very monstrous absurdities which have found a circulation to my prejudice, among both the friends and foes of the truth.”


                “As for document number two, I can have no objection to its appearance in the Harbinger, for I have already published it in my own periodical. By a reference to the September number, it will be found with my remarks appended to it. These occupy five pages of No. 5, and over two of No. 6. They would have been more extended, but for the conclusion that as the whole matter was to appear in another form, it would not be necessary to enlarge on the present occasion. On good authority, I learn that my strictures have been duly appreciated by the most intimate friends of the reporter; of whom, one declares that he will not acknowledge him as a brother if he does not give me a sound caning! These ‘good’ folks evidently belong to the ‘church militant,’ which for valour and pugnacity stands high in ‘the Protestant world’!”


                “But, my good brother Campbell, I am afraid that you will, in the end, gain no applause either from the brethren, the ‘divine,’ or yourself, when you recur to the circumstances of the appearance of this report in your paper. Consider who Mr. Hunnicutt is. It is true he is a Protestant; but he is not a Christian, unless it can be shown that men become Christians without believing and obeying the Gospel. I am a Christian, and glory in the name, and am jealous of the honours and privileges, and immunities attached to it; so much so, that I cannot, I will not consent to share them with the innumerable pretenders to the title in the Protestant and Papal sections of the kingdom of Antichrist. Bro. Walter Scott can testify that I believed the gospel and obeyed it before witnesses, of whom our esteemed Bro. Daniel Gano of Cincinnati was one. These brethren, then, can testify, from the developments of a three hours’ conversation upon the truth, that I heard it, had read it, believed it, and obeyed it; they, therefore, are my witnesses that I put on Christ understandingly and honestly (for my interest seemed to be on the side of Protestantism), and am therefore a Christian.”


                “When I left Cincinnati, bro. Challen, unsolicited by me (for it was his own suggestion), presented me with a letter of introduction to the Sycamore Church and any other of the like faith and order I might sojourn with. The Church being witness, then, I left that city honourably. I have since resided in Philadelphia and Richmond. In neither of those places can a single flaw be justly detected in my moral conduct. In both places, to the neglect of my own interests, I pleaded for what I firmly and honestly believed, and do believe to be true. I would not wink at what I believed the Scriptures condemned in practice. I gained the ill-will, and I fear the hatred of many, who have a name to live, but are dead. With them I laid my account. My reputation may be clouded for a while; but there is a righteous God in heaven, and an impartial judge of His appointing, before whom we shall all stand; and, having lived in all good conscience to this day, I appeal to Him, fearing nothing from His decision.”


                “I say, then, I am a Christian of good repute before God. Now you know that the sect of the Nazarenes has been everywhere spoken against in all ages, by Jews, Greeks, Romanists, Infidels, and Protestants of all ranks and degrees. Was it, then, to be expected that if I maintained the truth, and what I maintained were reported by an enemy to the faith, that that report would do honour either to me or my defence? For my own part, I expected no more justice at the hands of a priest than I have received at those of Mr. Hunnicutt. But what I most regret is, and that, too, more for your own sake than my own, that you should seize with such avidity upon the report of a Sectarian, upon which to found that ‘bull of excommunication’ which you have thundered against me in the form of ‘remarks.’ What would the brethren have thought of me, or how would you have liked it, had some popish priest published a report of your debate with Purcell, attributing to you blasphemies against God, if I had grounded an edict upon it, turning you over to Satan, or proclaiming you to the world as everything that was heretical and diabolical? What an outcry would have resounded against me for my bare-faced assurance, my antichristian arrogance, or my supreme-Pontifical presumption! And very justly, for who could have conferred the power and authority upon me, to sit on the throne of God, and thus ex cathedra to have hurled my ecclesiastical thunderbolt against you? If your views had been ever so heretical in my judgment, my duty would have been to reason with you, and not anathematise you. If you had been subverted, it would have been for me first to expostulate with you according to our Lord’s command; if all proper means failed, I would then have had to charge you before the church to which you belong, and if they condemned you, and they requested me to notify to the world the premises, the conclusions, and the sentence they had decreed against you, it would then have remained for me to record it as their act, and not mine.”


                “But even if your church should have condemned you as a heretic, it would depend very much upon the constitution of that body whether the public should ratify their decision. By the public, I mean the brethren at large. If your church were endowed with spiritual gifts, and so could judge infallibly as the churches of the apostolic age did, then, indeed, the public would be bound to ratify their decree; but inasmuch as these gifts are not now in congregations; and owing to the utter perversion of the faith by the apostasy, with the spirit of which the majorities of nearly all ‘reformation churches’ are imbued, together with the notorious apathy and want of knowledge among great numbers, it is manifest that if you were even deemed heretical by your church, other churches would be bound in honour and justice to you and themselves not to ratify their decree until they had examined you in their own behalf.”


                “We ought to be very cautious in this matter of excommunication; and especially ought we to beware of jumping to conclusions upon the reports of enemies to the faith. I know we agree in this, if we differ in everything else beside, which however, we do not, —that there is no infallible judge of controversy upon earth. If this be true, then my judgment of you, or yours of me, or ours of the church, or the church of us, is not, and cannot, under existing circumstances, be infallible. If you say there is no resurrection of the dead, then, inasmuch as the Scriptures plainly say there is, the Scriptures pronounce you perverted; but even then not lost, but in a state to be reasoned with, and so reclaimed to the true doctrine. If you deny the remission of sins by faith in the blood of Christ and obedience, then you would manifestly have apostatised, and trampled under foot the blood of the Son of God. But is there no difference between this and contending for what one honestly believes to be the Scripture doctrine of the resurrection, the gospel, its obedience, and so forth? If at this time, just as some are beginning to emerge from the smoke of the great city, they are to ‘elevate’ themselves as arbitrators in religious matters, and with an air of infallibility, to fulminate decrees against their brethren, I certainly think they are overstepping the bounds of modesty, decorum, discretion, and propriety. It appears to me, from all the consideration I have been able to bestow upon the subject, that brethren ought not to excommunicate one another, unless for well established dereliction of Christian conduct, or a plain and positive (NOT A CONSTRUCTIVE) denial of the truth, founded upon their own confession, and not upon the report of others, who may be either personally or ecclesiastically opposed to them.”


                “I regard Mr. Hunnicutt’s report as a species of revenge. He is not an impartial witness in this case, as I will show you. In the month of August, 1836, I attended, by request, the annual meeting of the brethren at The Fork Meeting House in Lunenburg. After my speech on the second day, an invitation having been given for any who were dissatisfied at what they had heard to state their objections, Mr. Hunnicutt rose, and in his remarks upon what I had written in the Advocate concerning ‘Methodistic Sanctifications,’ said it was as false as I was infamous. In the September number, I reported proceedings and in doing so gave him some salutary discipline. He had been smarting under this from that time to the debate he has so ignorantly reported . . .”


                “But, my dear brother, the more I reflect upon the documents before me, the greater is my astonishment at seeing them where I do. What can have been the cause of their appearance at this ‘crisis’? You say, in effect, my report or prospectus, and Hunnicutt’s articles: for it is written, p. 514, in italics thus: ‘The Rubicon is passed in the late discussion, as is evident from the report of Dr. Thomas and the Methodist journal above quoted.’ Upon my having passed the Rubicon, carrying out the idea, am I to conclude that you consider me as marching upon Rome, to besiege your capital, and to overthrow the Senate? There is some little resemblance here, for the thunders of excommunication usually emanate from that city to burst upon the heads of the untried condemned! But fear not, my brother; I have indeed passed the Rubicon, the boundary of Caesar’s provinces, and am marching onwards as expeditiously as time will serve; but it is towards Jerusalem, and not to Rome, that I urge my way. The Rubicon which I have passed was baptism into Christ, when I renounced the faith of Caesar and of Caesar’s god.”


                “But, permit me to say, that I cannot attribute the cause to these articles. I will give you my reasons. I have a letter from you in your own handwriting, dated Bethany, December 20th, 1836, about eleven months ago. It is a friendly epistle, and the last I have received from you. In this you subscribe yourself: ‘In all benevolence, yours in the hope, A. Campbell’ . . .”


                “Well, then, eleven months ago, and mark, two months subsequently to my leaving Richmond, you considered me ‘in the hope’ and also ‘yours,’ or your brother. Now, I would here observe, that all that I believe now I believed then, and practised; and if you consult my periodical, and unprejudiced persons, they will say, ‘He tells the truth.’ But I have also the copy of a letter in my possession written to a brother in whom you therein say you have ‘the fullest confidence.’ Now, this brother has as much confidence in me as you profess to have in him, and we are very intimate together for the truth’s sake; and, with but little variation, we believe the same things. This letter is dated, April 11th, 1837, not quite four months after the former, and about three months and twenty days before the debate. In that letter you speak of me in the most opprobrious terms, reduce me to a level with Dr. Sleigh, and declare that you have ‘lost all confidence’ in me. I saw this letter soon after its arrival, and as it was almost altogether about me, I was permitted to take a copy of it. You know that you received a letter from Lunenberg, signed by about fifteen brethren, concerning your sentiments respecting me, which they testified I did not deserve. I had no hand in that letter; it was written and sent spontaneously by them . . .”


                “But what was the cause of the difference between your letter to me, and that to our brother only about four months after? As there have been no private communications between you and me, the cause must be sought fir in the Advocate of January, February, and March; for the December No. was published and the April not. On referring to these, I find the articles on Materialism, Nos. 2, 3, 4 and a prefatory notice to Epistolary Extracts. These, then, have caused you to lose all confidence in me. Had I to re-write No.2, I think I should express myself in somewhat milder terms; I did not, however, call you the Pope or Man of Sin. This is a construction put upon my words which was not intended. In No. 3 I consider I made sufficient admissions to have satisfied any reasonable person, and in No. 4, I see nothing that you can take exception to, unless it be the complete refutation of your positions.”


                “Now, your judgment concerning me it appears has been made up ever since April 11th. It is obvious, then, that you have only been waiting a favourable opportunity to ‘come down upon me like a thunderstorm’ as a brother in Richmond informed me you intended to do before the Harbinger had arrived. But, my brother, it is a cloud without a bolt, for it comes at a time when I have ceased to be electric; it may be a storm of thunder, but for myself, I regard it as vox et proeterea nihil.”


                “But what makes this crisis so favourable an opportunity to discharge ‘the great gun of excommunication’ against me? Let us see. I perceive in the ninth number of the Harbinger, three extracts from the letter of a sister in Lunenberg. That letter has been charged upon me, either as the prompter or writer. But the sister who wrote it can testify that it was all written and folded for the mail before I knew of its existence. I have heard the whole epistle read, and a most excellent one it is; and it would have been well had you laid it before your readers entire, that they might themselves have been permitted the privilege of reading and judging independently of your views of expediency. My good brother, the remarks which you have appended to the extracts go to the utter subversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not my individual opinion. I am sustained in it by the loud and stern decision of brethren in whom you do confide, and others, who, if you knew them in their Christian character, you could not but respect.”


                “I have not long returned from a tour through Caroline, Spottsylvania, Essex, King and Queen, and King William. I have had an opportunity of acquainting myself with the sentiments of Protestants and brethren. The Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists of the day congratulate themselves that you have at length come over to them, and that the ‘Campbellites’ will have to follow! This is natural enough: he who stands before the world as ‘the Champion of Protestantism’ (I have read the debate), the next step is, to plead in their behalf that there are Christians in all sects. How have the brethren received this avowal? Some of them go so far as to say that if you were to come among them, they would not fellowship you . . .”


                “I should not have named the things which now see the light in this letter, but you have put me on the defensive. My cause is too just to permit me to indulge invectively, as some may term a warmth and energy of style. My brother, you have done me no real harm. I do not think you can now separate from me twenty patrons. Your decree from Bethany has arrived about one month too late. The September Advocate is in the hands of its subscribers, and they know from that, that your manifesto is the baseless fabric of a vision. I need not, therefore, offer any further remarks in refutation of Mr. Hunnicutt’s fictions; for fictions they are, as brethren who heard both sides can abundantly testify.”


                “But if his are fictions, your allegations, being founded on these, are fictitious too. You have become my public accuser. In the discharge of your official attributes, you accuse me of denying the resurrection of the dead. Permit me to say, that the fervour of your imagination has obscured your judgment. Did I not see the charge before me, I could not believe you would make so reckless an assertion. I believe with all my heart, and without the shadow of a reservation, that there will be a resurrection of the just and unjust. Mr. Jones, of London, in his lectures on the Apocalypse, says, that the first resurrection is but metaphorical; yet you can fellowship him, though he has unfellowshipped you. You are not so sensitive, therefore, upon this doctrine in relation to me. Now, ‘do justice though the heavens fall.’ I believe that there will be two literal resurrections of dead bodies. You know I believe this, provided only you read what I write. I believe in a resurrection of the dead saints at the second coming of Christ; and in a second resurrection of saints and sinners, the subjects of the personal reign of Jesus on earth for one thousand years. I believe in the judgment which sits upon the subject of the second resurrection at the end of the millennium: a judgment of all, both small and great, who have done good or evil, according as it shall be determined by the things written in the books.” *


                “As to the accusation about ‘all Adam’s race who die in infancy,’ and which you have printed in capitals, it is nothing more than an appeal which a man of sense ought not to condescend to. I regard it as an appeal to animal passion; the forlorn hope of weak, defeated partisans. My opponent in the debate swelled amazingly upon this topic, knowing how calculated it was to alarm the parentalism of his hearers. For my own part, I scarcely ever mention it on this account; for it is the most difficult thing in the world to elevate the intellect of an audience above their passions. Nevertheless, when questions are put to me, I answer as readily as I can, come what will. You say, my brother, that the contrary doctrine is taught in the Scriptures; prove it if you can. I know you cannot. Show that eternal life is unconditional, and then I will give up the point.”


                “’Doleful gospel’ is a singular phrase. Who ever heard of glad tidings full of grief? The gospel I am accustomed to teach is full of joy to all people who will obey it. It is, that though under sentence of death, God offers them eternal life on condition of believing and obeying the truth concerning Jesus. But you know what I maintain as well as I do myself, for it is plainly laid down in my former letters to you. Though you say I am mutable, I still adhere to that.”


                “You have brought many railing accusations against me. May the Lord forgive you: I do . . .”


                “But your decree takes an amazing sweep. My poor, weak, hazardous, glaring and mutable self, is not enough to satiate its appetite; ecclesiastical proscription must have more victims than one to gratify its inordinate desires! All ‘who believe’ as well as teach what I maintain must go by the board with me!”


                “As to my ‘speculation’ and ‘opinionism,’ permit me to say that you are the last man in America that ought to reproach me in reference to these. What is your controversy with Mr. Skinner but speculation? To one who reads the Scriptures attentively, and understands them according to their most obvious signification, there is no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the theories neither of yourself nor of your opponent can possibly be sustained . . .”




* For Dr. Thomas’ maturer views on resurrection see Anastasis.





                “But has it not entered into your conceptions that a proposition may, at one and the same time, be both a matter of faith and a matter of opinion? A few years ago, the proposition was advanced by you, in your debate with Macalla, I believe, that baptism was for remission of sins. This to you was a matter of faith; and why? Because there was testimony sufficient before your mind to make it so. Not more, perhaps, than three or four persons believed it. You propounded it; but how was it received by the public? As an opinion; and why? Because there was not sufficient testimony before their minds to make it a matter of faith. Now, suppose the public had said to you on that occasion, ‘Mr. Campbell, sir, the world has hitherto been sufficiently harassed by the opinions of men. We have, therefore, determined to be distinctly understood upon this topic; we now, consequently, make known to you that we are resolved to quash the liberty of propagating opinions; we command you, therefore, “explicitly to renounce” and to be for ever silent respecting your opinion, that baptism is for remission of sins, which in our judgment is speculative and untaught.’ Suppose they had dictated thus to you as, in effect, you have to those who dissent from you, pray, my good brother, where would now be the doctrine of baptism for remission of sins? The Baptists, I trow, would have been spared much distress, and even you might have missed the renown of having schismatised a portion of their communion . . .”


                “But I am glad that I am too weak ‘to form and cement a party.’ The party that will be approved by God, is that only which is formed and cemented by the truth. I belong to this party; and having volunteered under its banner, I intend to enter into no compromise with any other. You can do as you please about persisting in or retracting your fulminations; it matters not. You may cast us out of your church; but, thanks be to the King, you cannot deprive us of the rights of citizenship or expel us from His kingdom. You have excommunicated us, it is true; but we are still ‘kings and priests to God,’ constituted such by being washed in the blood of a royal victim; we have still the right, though denounced by the whole world, if unjustly condemned, to commune in spirit with the Father, who has begotten us to Himself by a belief of the truth.”


                “We are commanded to return good for evil. Being yet ‘in the hope,’ as you profess to be, I expect to meet you in the Kingdom of the Everlasting Age. I shall therefore treat you as a brother, and regard you as such, though somewhat more dictatorial than you have a right to be. I shall continue to plead fro what I believe to be true, though it should cross you at every step. I shall not seek to encounter you unnecessarily; but if you continue to plead for an UNBAPTISED CHRISTIANITY, I shall oppose you with all my powers, contemptible as you may deem them to be.”


                “My case I willingly submit to the jurisdiction of the Church to which I belong. It is composed of honourable and intelligent men, who have learned how to rise superior to vulgar prejudice. I will not anticipate their decision; but, as they are friends to us both, and no doubt will require that justice be done to each, it is possible that they may respectfully call upon you to retract your decree, and to republish my remarks upon Hunnicutt, and this letter to you, as a part of the amende honorable to which I, as the injured party, may be entitled. But I shall not seek to bias their decision; for I am armed too strong in the justice of my cause, to have recourse to any sinister means of defence.”


                “With the most unfeigned wishes for your well-being in all things, I subscribe myself, dear brother, yours in all Christian benevolence,

John Thomas.”

Amelia, Virginia, Nov. 20th, 1837.


(For Mr. Campbell’s retort to this letter see Chapter 17).


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