Rejected but not Excommunicated


Collisions with Campbellism continued to be the cause of Dr. Thomas’ advances in the knowledge of the truth. During the interval between the suspension of the Advocate in 1839 and the commencement of the Herald in 1844, the controversy between him and Mr. Campbell, which had been composed at the Paineville debate, slumbered at least so far as active manifestations were concerned. “I was so silent,” says the Doctor, “that many of my friends knew not whether I was dead or alive.” After his return from the Far West, this state of slumber did not long continue. His friendly reception at Louisville by Dr. Bodenhamer and other leading men in the Campbellite congregation seems to have excited murmuring on the part of others, and a reference to Mr. Campbell, who in response published in the Millennial Harbinger an article entitled “Narrative of my last interview with Dr. Thomas.” In this, Mr. Campbell, describing the Paineville debate, represented it as a complete humiliation of Dr. Thomas, resulting in a covenant to abandon the advocacy of his views, “which,” says the Doctor, “I would rather have suffered the loss of my right hand than have assented to.” The narrative was blended with damaging insinuations against the Doctor’s character. This misrepresentation galled the friends of the Doctor, who were parties to the debate and resolution. One of them (Dr. May, of Lunenburg, Va.), addressed the following letter to Mr. Campbell on the subject: -


“Lunenburg, Virginia, June 19th, 1843.

                “Brother Campbell. –Dear Sir, —I saw a few days since, in the Millennial Harbinger, your ‘Narrative of my last interview with Dr. Thomas,’ in which you state your understanding of certain things that transpired in Amelia. Now, as a member of the committee referred to in the piece, I mat presume to know something of that matter; and being, to say the least, as disinterested an observer as yourself, I hope you will in justice to ‘the Doctor and his friends,’ give equal publicity to my version as to your own.”


                “You say: ‘On perusing it (‘the large pamphlet from the pen of Dr. Thomas’) I immediately visited Paineville, Amelia, for the purpose of exposing its sophistry in the presence of the Doctor and his friends. I left it to them to choose the way. They preferred a public discussion. We met in their meeting-house, and occupied some ten hours in examining some of its representations. Before we commenced, I distinctly stated my objection to any publication of the conference, on account of the scandal to the cause of Reformation, which I apprehended from the publication of the Doctor’s views and arguments. The brethren, desirous of saving the Doctor (as I understood the matter), and being fully satisfied with the discussion, interposed, and proposed to settle the difference in some other way. They proposed reconciliation on the broad principles of Christian forbearance and forgiveness. Believing, as I most certainly did, that they were fully satisfied with the development made, and that Dr. Thomas was truly humbled, and desirous of a restoration of Christian harmony and cooperation, I responded to the brethren that I was ready to hear such proposition as they might deem expedient to offer,’ &c., &c.”


                “Now, I would ask, what idea is conveyed in this language, and indeed throughout the ‘Narrative?’ Why, that the Doctor acknowledged himself beaten, that the Doctor’s ‘friends’ acknowledged him beaten, and that the ‘Doctor and his friends’ had given in their adherence to the popular dogma of ‘The Immortality of the Soul,’ and that these admissions constituted the basis of the ‘reconciliation.’ This I conscientiously believe to be a just inference from your language in the above extract, and, indeed, throughout the narrative.”


                “If this be indeed the impression on your mind, I must, with all due deference to your talents and age, say that I am extremely surprised that a man of Alexander Campbell’s acuteness of intellect should be so much at fault.”


                “I mixed with the ‘Doctor and his friends’ freely at Paineville, both in public and private, and can testify (to a negative, it is true), that I never heard any one of them express any wavering in his belief in the main point at issue—the mortality of man, and the consequent doctrine, the conditionality of Eternal Life.”


                “To the best of my knowledge—and I am personally acquainted with all the members of that committee, with many of them intimately—about sixteen out of the twenty-three have rejected the ‘Immortality of the Soul,’ as a doctrine diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.”


                “So the ‘reconciliation’ was not effected in consequence of brother Campbell’s convincing ‘the Doctor and his friends’ of holding erroneous views.”


                “Besides, what says the ‘resolution?’ It states that to remove the cause of ‘offence to many brethren,’ and to avoid ‘a division amongst us,’ we recommend to brother Thomas’ to discontinue the discussion of the same, unless in defence when misrepresented’.”


                “Here we see with what Christian forbearance ‘the Doctor and his friends’ acted, in order to remove every cause of ‘offence,’ and to avoid schism in the body of Christ, and this, too, after brother Thomas had, in their estimation, ably and successfully defended what they esteem scriptural doctrine against the attack of the renowned polemic, A. Campbell.”


                “You speak of the Doctor’s being ‘duly tamed and humbled,’ ‘much dejected and humbled’; but, if we were to judge from the circumstances of the case, we should be compelled to fasten, if anywhere, the being duly tamed and humbled on another person, seeing that you, unless I greatly mistake, non-fellowshipped brother Thomas for holding sentiments which, after the discussion, as the ‘Resolution’ shows, you allowed him to hold, giving him the right hand of fellowship, simply on the understanding that he should discontinue the discussion of the same.”


                “How the ‘covenant’ could be ‘broken in the very annunciation of it by brother Thomas re-affirming his unshaken confidence of the truth of his own views of those litigated opinions,’ is, I must freely confess, beyond the reach of my mental vision.”


                “We, in this part of the country, can appreciate the charges issued, at your instance, from Philadelphia and Richmond—for they and their refutation have been before us; and, moreover, the fact that you received brother Thomas into fellowship, after the accusations referred to were made, and without, at least so far as I know, any expression of contrition on his part, plainly evinces what estimation you yourself placed on them.”


                “If you know anything against the Doctor’s moral or religious character, whilst in Amelia, I have no doubt ‘the Doctor and his friends’ would prefer to know the charges to hearing insinuations. As to Dr. Thomas’ moral deportment whilst in Amelia, allow me to say that I never heard anything against it, even as coming from his enemies, the sectaries; and I resided in that county ten months of the year subsequent to that in which you visited Paineville. And, as regards his religious character, he was, at the time of his removal, as he ever had been, in fellowship with all the congregations.”


                “His standing cannot, I presume, be quite so low in Illinois as your anonymous correspondence would imply, since his fellow citizens—clergymen too, among the number—have unanimously elected him president of Franklin College.”


                “I have given the Paineville matter as I understand it, and as I have no doubt the majority of the council understood it, and, as it appears to me, every one must understand it, who will consult the resolution as it is on page 226, Millennial Harbinger, for May, 1843. –Fiat Justitia ruat coelum.

Yours truly, Charles May.”


            The following Certificate had been drawn up by the Campbellite congregation at Dundee, Kane Co., Ill., in answer to remarks made in the same periodical at the time of the Doctor’s removal to the West.


                “Whereas, in the fifth number of the Millennial Harbinger, page 240, it is written by the Editor that ‘if he is not greatly mistaken, the Doctor has set out for a new party, founded on the annihilation of the wicked, infants, idiots, pagans, and Jews. Infants, idiots, and pagans will never rise from the dead; and the unjust hearers of the gospel, when raised, shall be judged and literally destroyed, or reduced to everlasting insensibility. To this gospel, the Doctor is now devoted, and, of course, will regularly assail us, and all who will not succumb to his speculations’.”


                “Now, this is to certify, that in consequence of misrepresentations, which, we believe, originally emanated from Bethany, we formerly regarded the said Dr. Thomas as a ‘thorn in the flesh,’ ‘a factionist,’ a disturber of the peace of the churches, and a setter forth of strange and heretical doctrines; and, consequently, when he removed to this State from the Old Dominion, and it was proposed by one or two of our brethren to invite him to come among us, we were afraid to comply with the suggestion, not doubting but he would do more to retard the progress of the truth than ‘a dozen good men could do to carry it ahead’.”


                “But we were deceived, and freely confess that we did him injustice in arriving at such a conclusion, upon no other testimony than upon the interested and garbled report of his opponents. We have now been acquainted with him a considerable time, and having conversed with him abundantly, heard him discourse often and read his writings attentively, we feel ourselves qualified to testify to the uprightness of his character, and to the things he inculcates for faith and obedience.”


                “We, therefore, without hesitation, pronounce that there is not a vestige of truth in the above extract, which we cannot but regard as a gratuitous calumny upon him. He is devoted to no such gospel, and but rarely even converses upon the destiny of infants, &c., unless the question is broached by another. The gospel to which he is devoted is the gospel preached by the apostles Peter and Paul. He maintains the necessity of that gospel being understood and believed as a pre-requisite to the reception of remission of sins by baptism. This is the principle which characterises his teaching from that of those who denounce him: a principle which if acted on in the beginning would have caused ‘this reformation’ now to present a more scriptural aspect than it does.”


                “As to the Doctor’s assailing the Editor of the Harbinger, ‘and all who will not succumb to his speculations,’ we can testify that our experience contradicts the truth of this intimation. He assails none but the assailants of the faith and hope of the gospel. He pleads for the Word of Life, and lays no stress upon matters of doubtful disputation.”


                “In relation to the Doctor’s character, we are happy in being able to rebut the falsehood which would hold it up to reprobation. There is no man in Kane county whose character stands fairer; for while we admit that his religious opinions are detested, we know that the breath of calumny has not yet affected the reputability of his standing in the estimation of the respectable portion of our fellow citizens.”


                This was signed by Elder John Oatman and fifteen others.


                For a while the discussion of these personal matters continued. The Doctor’s position in relation to Campbellism was such as to give him a hearing among many of the members of the Campbellite body. He had never been expelled from their midst by the only process which was recognised by them, viz., exclusion by the congregation of which he was a member. The Richmond congregation refused to receive him, not because any of their congregations had excluded him, but because they adopted Alexander Campbell’s antipathies, in giving effect to which they clearly acted in an unconstitutional manner. Hence the question, “Do you belong to us?” was one which met the Doctor at several points. It was propounded to him in this specific form by the editor of the Christian Journal, in a letter dated June, 1844, which appears in the Herald of the Future Age, vol. 1, p. 85, in which this passage occurred:


                “Do you consider yourself one of us—as connected with the great reforming movement of this century, which has for its object the establishment of Christianity as it was in the beginning? Do you consider yourself one of this brotherhood? —a brotherhood united in the belief of the facts of the gospel, and not in opinions; or must the brotherhood embrace your opinions (or your faith, if you prefer that word)—those opinions which have created present difficulties between you and them—before you can recognise them as brethren?”


            The following is Dr. Thomas’ answer:


                “With the calumny (for such I consider it) afloat against my name before you, it is for you to say whether I am one of what you term ‘us’ in your letter. I believed the gospel, and do still believe and rigidly contend for it as Paul preached it; I have obeyed it; and do most earnestly avow my most full and perfect conviction that there is no salvation but by an intelligent obedience of it. This is the foundation corner-stone of my ‘heresies.’ Those that are best acquainted with me can testify that I ‘persevere in well doing,’ notwithstanding all the obstacles thrown in my way by those who ought to know better. I can fellowship anyone who is ‘in Christ.’ Can you do more? If you can, I cannot: but I do not believe you can. If by the term us, you mean all who are ‘in Christ,’ then most certainly, regarding myself as ‘in Christ,’ I consider myself as ONE OF his disciples; but whether others are willing to consider me as such remains with them to say. You will also be able to determine whether I am connected with ‘the great reform movement of the century,’ by what you read in the Herald I sent you, and by the fact that I labour without compromise for an entire and complete return to first principles in theory and practice, as a preparation to meet the lord when he appears, which I believe is not far off. A brotherhood to be spiritual must be united on something more than ‘a belief of the facts of the gospel.’ When you reflect you will, doubtless, agree to this.”


                “That Jesus died is a fact; so did Abel: that he was buried is a fact; so was Abel: that he rose again is a fact; so did Lazarus. But what makes these facts in relation to Jesus of more interest to the world than the same facts in relation to Abel and Lazarus? Is it not the meaning, truth, or doctrine of the facts? The truth is, ‘he died for sins,’ or ‘was delivered for our offences,’ and ‘rose again for our justification.’ The facts and the meaning of the facts, I regard as making up the truth or gospel. I consider myself as one of a brotherhood united on a belief of the gospel as a whole and as defined; and who have been baptised into Christ in that belief. Is it an opinion that Christ died for sin; that he rose for our justification, that immortality, glory, honour, and eternal life are the reward of the righteous: and if so, belong not to the wicked? Is it an opinion that the wicked are destroyed, that Jesus will come again in the flesh that the dead in Christ are raised, the living believers changed at his coming?      . . . . If these are opinions, then what is faith? I believe and teach these things; but I GIVE LAWS TO NONE.”


                “I recognise all who are in Christ, and walk worthy of the gospel, though in some things, such as ‘the immortality of the soul,’ ‘the destruction of the wicked,’ the ‘visible manifestation of Jesus soon,’ or ‘the destiny of infants, idiots, and pagans,’ we may differ. The mottoes of the Christian Baptist are leading principles with me: first, ‘Call no man Rabbi,’ &c.: and secondly, ‘Prove all things and hold fast that which is good.’ To these I have adhered hitherto, to the best of my judgment and ability, and trust I shall be enabled to do so even till the end. My friends will, doubtless, be ready to sacrifice anything for peace, BUT truth, liberty, equal rights, justice, and character; and this we know how to defend as ‘the apple of the eye.’ The word of God requires no sacrifice of these for the sake of peace. For myself, I have weathered the storm when the tempest raged the fiercest; I do not think my barque will founder now that the wind has lulled, and the heavens are disposed for peace.”


            The letter to which this was an answer, proposed to “open a correspondence for the purpose of ascertaining if there existed a probability of a reconciliation of all past difficulties between Dr. Thomas and Mr. Campbell.” In answer to this the Doctor said:


                “What has originated the difficulties since 1842? A spontaneous and unprovoked attack upon me by friend Campbell.”


                “If I have guessed right that he is disposed to bury the past for the sake of peace, I would remark that, however much disposed, it is not in my POWER to make peace. Peace upon Bible principles is very desirable; and that is the only peace I will be party to. I have tried peace based upon compromise, and experience teaches me that no good comes of it. I am anxious and ready to promote peace based upon truth, liberty, equal rights, and justice. If the ‘principal brother’ and ‘Virginia brethren’ are prepared for this, then I, and the brethren who are my friends (and without them I make no treaty) will all doubtless be ready to bury the tomahawk and smoke the pipe of peace.”


                “Allow me to remark that an overture for peace with such a character as ‘the Virginia Brethren’ are labouring in speech and print to make me, greatly astonishes me; and suggests the inquiry, can I without a profound suspicion of their want of ‘good faith’ and honesty consent to peace with them? And should I not commit sin before God in being reconciled to them? Consider for a moment the crimes and heresies with which I am charged! They denounce me as an ‘Arch factionist,’ ‘a reviler of the brethren,’ ‘a splitter of every church with which I have to do,’ ‘a hypocritical rascal’—(Coleman’s saying) ‘a wolf’ (A. Campbell’s); a denier of the divinity of Jesus, a Materialist, a Sadducee, who denies the resurrection of all the dead; I am compared to an unclean beast; disinherited of the kingdom of God, and therefore not fit for any church; one whose principles subvert the foundation of all religion, a liar, &c., &c. Behold the use made of my name at Lexington, and in the Charlottesville Intelligencer, and the arbitrary proscription of the brethren who will not join in the proscription against me. These are not old, but current, denunciations just issued from the press; yea, brother F., some of them even since the date of your letter.”


                “Now, this is either my true character, or it is not. If I am what they represent me to be, then they would perpetrate a high crime and misdemeanour against high heaven in being at peace with me; if they believe their own charges (for I am today what I was three months ago) and in that faith they offer peace, I would as soon be at peace with Satan, for it would be a fellowship of rank iniquity—such faith and fellowship will not suit me; and if they have been moved to this overture by the unfavourable attitude Mr. Rice has placed them in by their unholy course towards me, I cannot consent to hush up the matter to extricate them from a dilemma, upon the horns of which they have suspended themselves. Did I believe a man to be such an one as they profess to regard me, I would wage a war against him till death, unless he reformed. This is their duty with respect to me, if they believe the truth of their own charges.”


                “But if their representations are not the true version of my character, then they have sinned grievously against me, and have a very fearful account to settle with the judge . . .”


            As may be supposed, reconciliation was not assisted by this correspondence. It does not appear that any further attempt was ever made. The Doctor grew to be less and less in sympathy with a system of things professing to be a return to apostolic simplicity, but lacking consistency and earnestness, and coquetting with the denominations which in theory they condemned. His mind on the subject comes out clearly in a notice of a Campbellite address at Louisville, which appears in the first vol. Herald of the Future Age, p. 120. He says:


                “During his sojourn in this city, brother Fanning addressed the public in the ‘Christian Chapel.’ We regret that, on Tuesday night, the house was not full to overflowing. There was, as usual in the week, but a small audience. The Church ordinarily assembling in the house is said to amount to about 300; but of these and strangers together, there were just sufficient to make a speaker miserable at the prospect before him. He addressed us on the Remission of Sins, and filled the hearts of several, styled ‘factionists’ and ‘heretics,’ by professing formalists, with joy and gladness at the simplicity, clearness, and force with which he presented the subject. He delivered to us the truth, and it delights us to commend him for it; and if all who pass current for ‘Proclaimers of the Ancient Gospel,’ would exhibit the truth in the same scriptural, emphatic, dignified, argumentative, and uncompromising manner, there would be, we think, a happier and a healthier state of things than at present can be gloried in. We say not this to flatter brother F.; we speak only of what we heard; but Louisville has been favoured with so little preaching other than GOSPEL NULLIFICATION, that when one appears who fears God more than man, or the loss of popularity, we cannot but commend him, and bid him God speed.”


                “We are sick, Oh heartily sick, at the yea-and-nay gospel of the day! Men tell us to obey the Pentecostian Gospel for remission of sins, and almost the next respiration, preach ‘Christ the Saviour of ALL men,’ and proclaim the ‘great and good men’ of the apostasy, such as Luther, Dwight, Adam Clark, and, perhaps, the ‘divine Plato,’ and Socrates, and a host of other unwashed sinners, to be now hymning the praises of God around His throne! And for such stuff as this, under the misnomer of Ancient Gospel, people calling themselves ‘Reformers’ have been paying a thousand per annum! Yet, in Kentucky, this passes current for the doctrine of the Reformation; yes, indeed, in this state, a ‘proclaimer’ can stand before his brethren and say of men that,

‘Between the stirrup and the ground,

He pardon sought and pardon found!’

and yet be countenanced as a teacher in good odour with reformers. All we have to say more, on the present occasion is, that the advice of the apostle John should be followed in relation to such prophets, and we trust that the day is not far distant when many voices will be lifted up against them.”


            The leaders of Campbellism became more and more hostile in their attitude towards Dr. Thomas. They could not endure his plain speaking. The differences between them were becoming more and more acute, preparing for the final break.


            Writing of the efforts of one of these (a Mr. Samuel Ayres, in the Christian Journal), the Doctor places on record the following



            “O Lord God in heaven above, merciful and gracious Father what can we render to Thee for thy goodness? Thou hast appointed a day in which thou wilt judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ! Blessed be thy holy name. We shall all be judged before his tribunal and not man’s. Then the hidden things of men shall be brought to light, and their secret thoughts shall be unveiled, to their justification or reproof! Thou God seest all, for all hearts are open before thee! If Thou beholdest any thing in me displeasing in Thy sight, let me fall into Thy hands, and not into the hands of those who thirst for my destruction! Grant me patience to endure their unrighteousness, and by fidelity and perseverance to overcome the iniquity of their doings; and may the word of the truth concerning the hope of the glorious gospel of Jesus be established in these countries; and may those who now oppose it, in ignorance and unbelief, find mercy of Thee, repenting of their waywardness, and purifying their hearts by faith, that they may be accepted when the Lord comes! ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’; and may we all at length find an abundant entrance into the kingdom of the future age, to the glory of the great Immanuel’s name! Amen! Amen!”



Berean Home Page