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Preaching among The Campbellites


The incident recorded at the close of the last chapter was Dr. Thomas’s introduction to Campbellism, and the inauguration of the career which terminated in the repudiation of every form of popular faith, and the adoption of “The Truth,” as found in the writings of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles. He was unaware of the nature and consequences of the step he had taken. He thought he was merely obeying a divine precept without identifying himself with any ecclesiastical organization. He had studiously sought to avoid such a thing, and had no idea of having united himself with a sect; yet so it was. On going to the meeting with Major Gano the first time after his immersion, he was greeted on all hands as “brother Thomas.” He was surprised to find himself thus introduced to Campbellism in spite of his resolution to steer clear of all parties. It proved to be a providential occurrence, as the sequel shows. The following remarks on the subject occur in “Reformation in Richmond,” Apostolic Advocate, vol. 5, p. 87.


            “Previous to our baptism into Christ, we were almost altogether misinformed about Mr. Campbell and ‘this reformation.’ All we knew about him was from the pen of Mrs. Trollope. We had heard in New York of a sect denominated ‘Campbellites,’ but of the doctrine of Mr. Campbell and his followers, as they were termed, we knew nothing and cared not to know. On leaving our native country, we had renounced all connection with sectarianism, and had determined never to be entrammelled by its bonds, nor to wear a party badge. This resolution was strengthened by an escape from a watery grave. Threatened with shipwreck off the Nova Scotian shore, and experiencing upon that trying occasion the worthlessness of our religious principles as a basis for a sure and certain hope of salvation, we determined if we were ever permitted to tread the soil again, not to rest until we found the true way to immortality. But our way of seeking the truth proved not to be the way of God. We commenced a tour of sermon-hearing. We first visited the Presbyterian and then the Baptist temples, and here we stopped, or rather, were stopped by the word of God. A private conversation of about three hours, as to what was truth, with brother Walter Scott, resulted in our baptism into Christ by moonlight the same night. By this act, we considered ourselves in fellowship with all and every name who had believed and obeyed the same things. We were invited to connect ourselves with the Church in Cincinnati, with which we found brother W. Scott in fellowship. We observed we should have no objection, providing it pledged us to no sect or party, and upon being assured that it would not, we joined, and thus found ourselves in fellowship also with Mr. Campbell.”


            Major Gano invited the Doctor to make his house his home, and the Doctor availing himself of the invitation, resided with him during his stay in those parts. Previous to this, his father had accepted the call to a Baptist congregation in Cincinnati. On hearing next day of the Doctor’s baptism, he was full of wrath, but afterwards his wrath abated, and he himself embraced Campbellite principles.


            The Doctor resided in Cincinnati seven months. His original idea was to settle there. On this point, he says, in the article quoted above: “Cincinnati was our destination when we left England. We purposed to settle there and practise our profession, but found the prospect of success more flattering in the distance than on the spot it proved to be. The city was crowded with physicians, and we determined to leave it for one of the Atlantic cities. Previous to our departure, however, brother W. Scott had often exhorted us to commence the practice of speaking in the cause of truth. He thought if we would only break the ice we should easily get along. But we steadily persisted in refusing. We used to tell him that we thought it out of character for one who had just become a Christian to set up for a teacher of that religion in the face of older and abler men, who ought rather to teach us. But he seemed to think that no objection, as there were many old Christians who knew but little. He proposed our going to Carthage, where he would introduce us, and pave the way, as it were, for our commencement. But, no; our scruples could not be overcome.”


            In April, 1833, or thereabouts, the Doctor left the West and returned to the Eastern States. When he left, Major Gano gave him a letter of introduction to Dr. Richardson, of Wellsburg, Virginia, and one to Alexander Campbell, of Bethany, both of which he had to pass on his way. On landing at Wellsburg, he was welcomed by Dr. Richardson, who informed him that Alexander Campbell was in the town, and would shortly be at his house. Dr. Richardson had been an Episcopalian, but was converted to “the Reformation” as it was called, and immersed for the remission of sins. Afterwards, it was said, he became a Spiritualist.


            About an hour after the Doctor’s arrival, Mr. Campbell was seen coming up the street, and Dr. Richardson called the Doctor to the door and pointed him out as he approached. The Doctor was very much surprised at the appearance of the man. The ideas he had formed of a parson or preacher were derived from his acquaintance with the “profession” in England, where broad-cloth, silk and fine linen were badges of the craft. What was his surprise, therefore, on seeing a shabbily dressed, farm-labouring-looking man, in an old drab coat and a slouching white hat. But though Mr. Campbell presented a rough exterior, the Doctor found him to be a very pleasant and agreeable companion. On the arrival of Mr. Campbell at the house, Dr. Richardson introduced Dr. Thomas to him, and the Doctor also presented the letter of introduction he had received from Major Gano. This was the commencement of his acquaintance with Mr. Campbell, which proved another important circumstance in the development of his career.


            In view of the important place Alexander Campbell and Campbellism occupy in this narrative, a few facts about the man may be interesting. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister who had introduced a “Christian Association” for the promotion of the unity of Christians on evangelical principles. The son became minister at Bethany in Western Virginia, and in 1832 was recognised as the leader of the new church, self-named the “Disciples of Christ,” but popularly known as Campbellites. He taught baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, though he disagreed with the Baptists on some matters. According to him the gospel was the good news of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also taught the Second Coming of Christ, which, he said, would occur in the year 1866, which, by a coincidence, was the year of his own death.


            In the course of their interview, Mr. Campbell invited the Doctor to go home with him and spend a little time at his establishment. The invitation being accepted, and a second horse provided, the two set out for Bethany. Mr. Campbell at that time was the owner of 2,000 acres of rich Virginia soil, on which there grazed 1,000 head of sheep. The hills on the estate were full of coal, for which it was only necessary to dig horizontally for a few yards to get to a bed. His establishment comprised a post office, a printing office, a store, a mill, and a stone meeting house, besides his residence. But notwithstanding the opulence of his circumstances, Mr. Campbell lived in a very plain and unostentatious style.


            On a certain Sunday, shortly after the Doctor’s arrival at Bethany, he went with Mr. Campbell to Wellsburg, where the latter had a preaching appointment. On the way to the meeting in the afternoon, Mr. Campbell (who had spoken in the morning) said to Dr. Thomas that he should call upon him to speak that afternoon. The Doctor told him that he must not by any means do so, as he had never spoken in public on religious matters in his life, and should have nothing to say if he did get up. Mr. Campbell replied that that did not matter; he should certainly call upon him, for he liked to try a man’s mettle. This was said with so decided an air that the Doctor saw there was no escape, and remarked to Mr. Campbell that if he did intend to call upon him, he (Mr. Campbell) must occupy the time as long as he could, so as to give him a little chance of preparation.

            Arrived at the meeting house, Dr. Thomas took up his Bible, and began to turn over its leaves in search of something as a foundation for his remarks. He went from one end to the other without being able to fix upon anything, when at last it occurred to him that he knew Rollin’s interpretation of Daniel’s four empires, and that the 2nd chapter which treats of them being a long one, the reading of it would give him time to accustom himself to standing head and shoulders above the people, before commencing to speak. He was called upon in due course, and proceeded to read the chapter. Having got through it, he fixed his eyes upon the doorpost, and delivered himself of all he knew upon the subject without venturing to look his audience in the face. Having occupied about half an hour, in which time he completely emptied himself, he concluded by a sudden stop and sat down. He said he was astonished to hear afterwards that the people were taken by his discourse.


            On the following Sunday, as he was walking with Mr. Campbell to Mr. Campbell’s own meeting house in the morning, Mr. Campbell said he should call upon him to speak again in the afternoon. As there was the prospect of a considerable time to think over the matter, the Doctor did not object. He was, however, again taken by surprise: for Mr. Campbell occupied from half-past ten till two, and then concluded the meeting with the remark that they would have a recess for a quarter of an hour, after which Dr. Thomas would speak to them. The Doctor had calculated upon a considerable interval between the morning and afternoon meetings, and was taken aback at finding he had only a quarter of an hour to prepare. He had considerable difficulty in fixing his mind upon anything to say, but decided to speak on the Apostasy, of which he had read something. He occupied the afternoon with this subject, speaking, as afterwards transpired, to the satisfaction of those who heard.


            The meeting over, the Doctor determined that this sort of business must stop. He felt that he was being entangled in a work for which he was utterly unqualified, and which was entirely opposed to his tastes; he determined therefore to get out of the way as fast as possible. He decided to proceed to Baltimore, by way of Washington, in Pennsylvania. Communicating his intention to Mr. Campbell, the latter arranged to send him as far as Washington, Penn., and gave him letters of introduction to Mr. Postlethwaite, Somerset Court-House, Pennsylvania, and another to Mr. Carman, of Baltimore. In due time he bade farewell to Bethany, after spending an agreeable month in Mr. Campbell’s company. The Doctor makes the following remarks on this occasion, in the Apostolic Advocate, vol. 5, p. 88.


                “We were much gratified with his acquaintance. We became much attached to him; and though before our interview and subsequent to our baptism, we had read much of his writings, and highly approved of them, yet we never advocated him. Our visit to Bethany, however, excited in our hearts a friendship for him, which we exceedingly regret should have terminated so unpropitiously; but so it was. For Mr. Campbell, we would have laid down our life if called upon; so much greater was his personal than his literary influence over us.” . . .


                “From Bethany, we travelled eastward, by way of Somerset Court House, in Pennsylvania. To some brethren at this place, we had letters of introduction from Mr. Campbell. We remained with them sixteen days. Nothing would satisfy the brethren but that we should speak on every occasion. A disposition to oblige induced compliance, though sorely against our inclination; for we did not travel as an evangelist, but simply to find a place of settlement in our peculiar way of life; besides the labour of public speaking was very great, owing to a want of previous preparation, and the violence it did to our disposition which is naturally reserved, and gratified by an abstraction from the noisy and busy haunts of men. But the things we have least sought after are the very things we are most engaged in. Our constant desire was to obtain an honourable living by our calling in as quiet a way as possible. But this desire, in the way we had marked out, has been completely thwarted; and we find ourselves tilling the soil in the retirement of a country life at home, but, when absent, buffeting the waves of a stormy sea. We never sought the engagements of an editor, nor of a public speaker; and from the time that Mr. Campbell put our mettle to the proof until now, we have never addressed the people from inclination, but always from a sense of duty, and at the earnest solicitation of others. Many have been the times that we would rather have travelled thirty miles from than five miles to an appointment. We mention these things to show that our public labours have been disinterested and super-imposed; if they have not resulted in the applause of those who have called us out, it is because, though called out contrary to inclination we have always determined to do our best in speaking according to the oracles of God, or not to speak at all. A public life is not a life of our seeking, but if we must engage in its concerns, we will strive to direct our course by no other rule or standard of expediency than that of the Word of God. We plead for no man but ‘The Man Christ Jesus;’ for no sect but that ‘everywhere spoken against’ of old, and we are resolved to hold no man’s person in admiration for the sake of advantage, even should it result in our falling back upon the much loved solitude of private life. Our wants are few and simple. Mankind have nothing in the way of honour, glory, or renown to bestow that we think worth contending for. We ask the world for nothing. We neither fear its frowns nor court its smiles. If a nobleman of old would receive nothing at his hand lest it should be said that it had made Abraham rich; neither would his descendants.”


            At Somerset Court House, the Campbellites requested him to settle among them as their preacher, a proposition which Dr. Thomas would not for a moment entertain. His object was not to become a preacher but to get into medical practice. He told them so, and that he must at once push on to Baltimore, where he had been informed the most intelligent congregation of the Reformationists was situated, and where, therefore, he presumed they would be able to do all the speaking for themselves, and leave him to attend to his medical duties.


            He arrived at Baltimore on a Sunday evening, and to his dismay, he was at once solicited to address the congregation. He wished to decline, but they would take no denial: and he spoke. Having heard him, they would be satisfied by nothing short of taking a public hall and calling the public together to hear the new preacher. The hall was engaged for a week, and every night in the week the Doctor addressed the public on “The Ancient Faith,” which he considered to be the faith promulgated by Mr. Campbell.

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