An interesting exchange between Stone & Campbell

FROM THE

C H R I S T I A N  B A P T I S T.

NO. III.–VOL. V. BETHANY, BROOKE CO. VA., OCTOBER 1, 1827.

From the Christian Messenger To the Christian Baptist.

BROTHER CAMPBELL,–YOUR talents and learning we have highly respected: your course we have generally approved; your religious views, in many points, accord with our own; and to one point we have hoped we both were directing our efforts, which point is to unite the flock of Christ, scattered in the dark and cloudy day. We have seen you, with the arm of a Sampson, and the courage of a David, tearing away the long established foundations of partyism, human authoritative creeds and confessions; we have seen you successfully attacking many false notions and speculations in religion–and against every substitute for the Bible and its simplicity, we have seen you exerting all your mighty powers. Human edifices begin to totter, and their builders to tremble. Every means is tried to prevent their ruin, and to crush the man who dares attempt it. We confess our fears that in some of your well intended aims at error you have unintentionally wounded the truth. Not as unconcerned spectators have we looked on the mighty war between you and your opposers; a war in which many of us had been engaged for many years before you entered the field. You have made a diversion in our favor, and to you is turned the attention of creed makers and party spirits, and on you is hurled their ghostly thunder. We enjoy a temporary peace and respite from war where you are known.

From you we have learned more fully the evil of speculating on religion, and have made considerable proficiency in correcting ourselves. But, dear sir, how surprised and sorry were we to see in your 10th number, volume 4, a great aberration from your professed principles. You there have speculated and theorized on the most important point in theology, and in a manner more mysterious and metaphysical than your predecessors. We refer to your exposition of John i. 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.” Please, sir, attend to a few friendly remarks designed to correct in time what may hereafter become of more serious injury, than any system before invented by the wisdom of man.

You have assumed very high grounds, from which you look down upon all the christian world, and see them at an immeasurable distance below you–the Calvinist midway between you and the Arian–the Calvinist on a mountain, the Arian on a hill, and the Socinian on a hillock. From this eminence you see a vast difference between the Calvinist and Arian; but on a page or two before, you could discover very little, if any difference between their views of the Son of God. The ground you occupy is too high for common minds to tread. I should be afraid to venture, lest giddiness should be the consequence. I would advise my dear brother not to soar too high on fancy’s wings above the humble grounds of the gospel, lest others adventuring may be precipitated to ruin. Not that I should advise you to settle on Calvin’s mount, on the hill of Arius, or on the hillock of Socinus, (these are all far too low,) but on the holy mount of God, revealed in his word. This, though high as the heavens, is safe for all to tread.

You object to the Calvinistic views of Trinity, and of calling Jesus the eternal Son of God, for reasons which have long since induced us to reject them. Yet, my dear sir, we confess we can see no material difference between your views and those of the Calvinists. What you call the WORD, they call the eternal Son of God; yet you both believe the Word of God and the Son of God to be the one, self-existent, and eternal God himself. We are led to conclude this of you, because frequently you apply the term Eternal to the Word–as “his eternal glory,” “his eternal dignity,” “co-eternal with God,” “the eternal relation between the Saviour and God.” We believe that whatever is eternal, is also self-existent and independent, and therefore God supreme. We cannot think that you believe in two eternal Gods, though some of your readers may draw this inference from some of your expressions. You speak of “the relation which the Saviour held to the God and Father of all, anterior to his birth“–“the relation existing between God and the Saviour, prior to his becoming the Son of God“–“the eternal relation between the Saviour and God.” We have always thought that a relation implied more than one; and that if God from eternity had existed alone, there could have been no relation between him and non-entity. We view these expressions of yours as unguarded, and not designed by you to communicate what the language imports, as when you say, “God from eternity was manifest in and by the Word.” It might be asked, To whom was he manifest from eternity, if he alone existed from eternity? Again, that you and Calvinists differ only in phraseology on this subject, while you believe the same things, appears in another particular. What they call the human nature of Christ, or the man Christ Jesus, you call the Son of God, Jesus, Christ, Messiah, Only Begotten. They believe that the human nature of Christ existed not till born of Mary; you believe and declare that “there was no Jesus, no Messiah, no Christ, no Son of God, no Only Begotten, before the reign of Augustus Cesar.” Neither Calvinists nor Socinians should impeach your orthodoxy on this point. The Calvinists maintain that the eternal son of God, who was the very and eternal God himself, became man by taking to himself a reasonable soul and true body, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance, and born of her. Confession of Faith, Lar. Cat. Ques. 37 and 47, &c! You say, the Word, by whom all things were made, “became flesh and dwelt among us. He became a child born and a son of man.”

You may deny that you ever affirmed the Word to be the only true God. Then we would humbly ask you, What was it? Was it an intelligent being or a mere name or relation? We think the query important. If it was an intelligent being, and “co-eternal with God,” as you say, then it must be the eternal God himself, or [378] another eternal, distinct God. If it be neither of these, then it must have been an eternal, unintelligent name or relation; or, in your own language, it was the sign or image of an idea, which idea is God. Shall we think that the Word, which was God, and by which all things were made, and which was made flesh, was nothing but an unintelligent name, relation, or sign of the only true God? Can this be the Saviour of sinners? We dare not impute this absurdity to you, but we fear your unguarded speculations may cause the less informed to err.

Permit us, dear brother, to propose a few queries for your consideration, and we hope for our profit:–

1. When it is so frequently asserted of the Son of God that he came down from heaven; that he ascended up to heaven, where he was before; does not this language naturally convey the idea that he was there prior to his coming down, and consequently before the reign of Augustus Cesar?

2. What can be the meaning of John vi. 38? “Jesus says to them, I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.” Was this Jesus who spake the only true God? How could the only true God say, “I came not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me? No Christian can apply this to the only true God. Was this Jesus the person that never existed till the “reign of Augustus Cesar?” How, then, could he in truth say, I came down from heaven, where he was before? The text cannot apply to him. If he was not the only true God, nor the person that never was till Cesar’s reign, it must be the Word whom we call the Son of the living God, God’s own Son, his only begotten, his first begotten, brought forth before the world was; yet we agree with you, and the generality of all sects in the present day, that he was not eternally begotten, or eternal Son. We plainly suggest these objections to your scheme to elicit information.

3. How can John xvii. 5. be reconciled with your views? “Father, glorify you me with your own self, with the glory I had with you before the world was.” This person could not, we think, be the only true God; for if he was, he prayed to himself, (v. 3.) Will Christians say that the only true God prayed to himself to be with himself, to be glorified with himself, and to restore to himself the glory he once had with himself, but which he had not now, (therefore changeable,) &c. Should we not consider a man deranged who should thus fervently pray to himself to be with himself, &c? We dare not impute this to the only true God, nor can we apply the text to the person who began his existence under Cesar’s reign, for this person that prayed had a glory with the Father before the world was, and therefore must have then existed. If it cannot apply to the only true God, nor to the person who had no existence till Cesar’s reign, to whom can it apply? Surely not to a mere name, or unintelligent effulgence, or relation.

4. Again–who was the person spoken of in 2d Cor. viii. 9? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich.” It could not be the only true God, for he is unchangeable; nor could it be the Jesus or Christ, who existed not till Cesar’s day, for he was never rich in any sense, and became poor! We ask, Who was he?

5. Who was the person mentioned Phil. ii. 6, 10? The whole passage plainly shows it was not the only true God, nor the person who never existed before the christian era.

6. Who was the person that said, “A body have you prepared me, O God?”–the person that took flesh and blood? Heb. ii. 14, x. 5.

7. Is it any where said that the Word created or made any thing (hup’autou) by himself as the original cause? Is it not always said that all things were made (di’autou) by him as the instrumental cause? as Eph. iii. 9. God created all things (dia) by Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. viii. 6. “But to us there is but one God, the Father (ex) of whom are all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, (di’hou) by whom are all things.” Heb. i. 2. “God in these last days has spoken to us by his Son (di’hou) by whom he also made the worlds,” the material worlds, Heb. xi. 3. Col. i. 16. “All things were created (di’autou) by him and for him.” It is true in the beginning of this verse en autou is used, but in the same sense.–The Greek fathers of the second and third centuries, commenting on those texts above quoted, say that hupo means the original, or first cause, and that dia signifies the second, or instrumental cause. Thus Philo, Origen, Eusebius, and Cyril, who certainly better understood their language than we do. (Clarke on Trin. p. 91. 92.) Doctor Clarke also remarks that this was the constant and unanimous sense of the primitive church. If these observations be true, will it not follow undeniably, that the Word (di’hou) by whom all things were made, was not the only true God, but a person that existed with the only true God before creation began; not from eternity, else he must be the only true God; but long before the reign of Augustus Cesar?

We are not sticklers for names; we can grant to you, without any relinquishment of principle, that this person, the Word, never bore the name of Jesus, Christ, Messiah, or Son of God, till the reign of Augustus. But we cannot say with you that these names solely belong to him; for Joshua was called Jesus, Cyrus was called Messiah, or Christ, or Anointed (for the Hebrew is the same)–and Adam was called the Son of God. Heb. iv. 8. Isa. xlv. Luke iii. 38. But the person of Joshua existed long before he was called Jesus, or Saviour–and the person of Cyrus existed before he was called Messiah or Christ. This name he never bore till he was anointed and appointed by God to restore captive Israel. So we believe the intelligent person, the Word, or the Son of God, existed long before he was called Jesus, Christ, or Messiah.

Dear brother, we submit these thoughts to you and the public from the purest motives, which we have already stated. We did design to make a few remarks on your speculations on the relation of a word and idea. We think the application of this to God and the Word, is foreign from the truth and meaning of the spirit. But the short limits of our work forbid us to write more. With sentiments of high respect and brotherly love we bid you adieu.

B. W. STONE, EDITOR.

To the Christian Messenger.

BROTHER STONE,–I WILL call you brother because you once told me that you could conscientiously and devoutly pray to the Lord Jesus Christ as though there was no other God in the universe than he. I then asked you of what import and consequence was all the long controversy you had waged with the Calvinists on the trinitarian questions. They did practically no more than pray to Jesus; and you could consistently and conscientiously do no less. Theoretically you differed, but practically you agreed. I think you [379] told me that you were forced into this controversy, and that you regretted it. Some weak heads amongst my Baptist brethren have been scandalized at me because I called you brother Stone. What! say they, call an “Arian, heretic,” a brother!! I know nothing of his Arianism, said I, nor of his Calvinism. I never seriously read one entire pamphlet of the whole controversy, and I fraternize with him as I do with the Calvinists.–Neither of their theories are worth one hour; and they who tell me that they supremely venerate, and unequivocally worship the King my Lord and Master, and are willing to obey him in all things, I call my brethren. But more than this, brother Stone, I have to say to you. Your enemies, and they are not a few, have, to a man, as far as I have heard them speak, said your christian character, your moral deportment, was unblemished. Would to Heaven that this could have been said of all who opposed you! I do not think it strange that, in running post haste out of Babylon, you should have, in some angles of your course, run past Jerusalem. Nay, verily, I have been astonished that you should have made so few aberrations in so many efforts.

But, brother Stone, I exceedingly regret that you have said and written so much on two topics, neither of which you, nor myself, nor any man living, can fully understand. One of these is the burthen of your late letter to me. You do not like my comment on John, ch. i. ver. 1st.–Well, then, just say so, and let it alone. I said in presenting it I was not about to contend for it, nor to maintain any theory upon the subject. My words are, “Nor would I dispute or contend for this as a theory or speculation with any body.” Why, then, call me into the field? I have received many letters on the subject of that essay, not one of which confines itself to the things I have said, nor to the grand object I had in view, viz. to examine into the ideas attached to the term employed by the Holy Spirit to designate the relation existing between him that “was made flesh,” and sent into the world, and him who sent him.

I have uniformly found that all writers for the trinity and against it, have much to say upon the rationale of the doctrine. Reason is either proscribed or enthroned. Those that one while proscribe her, at another appeal to her; and those who make her sovereign will not always do her homage. So that the controversy is from reason to Revelation and from Revelation to reason, as the parties are pressed. I will take the liberty of laying down a few positions on this subject, not for the sake of demonstrating them, but for the sake of deciding on a proper course of conduct.

1. The pretensions of the bible to a divine authority or origin, are to be examined by our reason alone. Its evidences are addressed to our reason, and by our reasoning powers the question is to be answered, “Is the bible of divine or human origin?” So soon as reason has decided this question, then

2. The truths of the bible are to be received as first principles, not to be tried by our reason, one by one, but to be received as new principles, from which we are to reason as from intuitive principles in any human science.

3. The terms found in the bible are to be interpreted and understood in the common acceptation, as reason or use suggests their meaning; but the things taught are to be received, not because we have proved them by our reason to be truths, but because God has taught them to us.

4. The strongest objections urged against the Trinitarians by their opponents are derived from what is called the unreasonableness, or the absurdity of three persons being but one God, and that each of these three is the Supreme God. Now as you know I am not at all disposed either to adopt the style nor to contend for the views of the Trinitarians, any more than I am the views of the Socinians or Unitarians of any grade: you will bear with me when I tell you that no man as a philosopher, or as a reasoner, can object to the Trinitarian hypothesis, even should it say that the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, are three distinct beings, and yet but one God. There is nothing unreasonable in it. I will, indeed, in one sense, say, that it is unreasonable there can be a God at all, or an Eternal First Cause; because in all the dominions of reason there is nothing could suggest the idea: and because it is contrary to all the facts before us in the whole world that any cause can be the cause of itself, or not the effect of some other cause. No man, from analogy, can reason farther than every cause is the effect of another, ad infinitum. Here reason shuts the door. Here analogy puts up her rule, and shuts her case of instruments. Now in this sense, the Unitarian and the Trinitarian are alike unphilosophical–alike unreasonable. But here is the sophism: the bible originates, or still keeps up the idea of a God–both the name and the idea. We see it is proved by every thing within and without us. The bible teaches us something concerning three beings, (I shall call them) the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. It teaches us that there is but one God. From what the bible teaches A supposes that these three beings are each and together one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. B. says it is inconsistent–it is absurd. How can three persons or beings be one? How can one of these three be the Deity, and yet the three be no more than the Deity? C. says, This is not more unreasonable than that there should have been from all eternity one First Cause uncaused; and adds, Your error is this: you know nothing of the existence of spirits at all. All bodies you know any thing of occupy both time and place; consequently, it would be absurd to suppose that three beings whose modes of existence are such as to be governed by time and space, could be one being. But inasmuch as we do know nothing about the mode of existence of spirits, we cannot say that it would be incompatible with their nature, or modes of existence, that three might be one, and that one being might exist in three beings. Now, as no man can rationally oppose the Calvinistic hypothesis on principles of reason, so neither can he prove it to be correct by any analogy, or principle of reason whatsoever. Why, then, wage this warfare? We may disprove a theory by what the bible declares, but not by our reasoning on such topics. Why not, then, abide in the use of bible terms alone? [See Essay on Purity of Speech, No. 8. vol. 4.]–There is as much reason on the side of the Trinitarian as on the side of the Unitarian; and neither of them can, without a gross dereliction of their grand positions, accuse the other of being unreasonable in their reasoning or conclusions.

But I adopt neither system, and will fight for none. I believe that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son: that Jesus was the Son of God, in the true, full, and proper import of these words; that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, which [380] was sent by the concurrence of the Father and the Son to attest and establish the truth, and remain a comforter, an advocate on earth, when Jesus entered the heavens. If any man’s faith in this matter is stronger or greater than mine, I have no objection. I only request him not to despise my weakness, and I will not condemn his strength.

I am truly sorry to find that certain opinions, called Arian or Unitarian, or something else, are about becoming the sectarian badge of a people who have assumed the sacred name Christian; and that some peculiar views of atonement or reconciliation are likely to become characteristic of a people who have claimed the high character and dignified relation of “the Church of Christ.” I do not say that such is yet the fact; but things are, in my opinion, looking that way; and if not suppressed in the bud, the name Christian will be as much a sectarian name, as Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian.

Were I to contend for any of the speculative views found in the piece under consideration, I do not know but we might soon be found in the graveyards attached to the schools, digging up the bones of obsolete systems; or perhaps we might be trying our hands at the potter’s wheel, making a new vessel; and rather than hazard this, I will decline for the present any thing more particular upon the subject, simply adding that your conclusion of the whole matter is admitted by me in a latitude as full as can be suggested by you, viz. “We believe the intelligent person, the Word, existed long before he was called Jesus Christ or Messiah.”

Wishing you favor, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and that you may never set up a new sect I am yours in the Lord.

EDITOR.

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One Response to An interesting exchange between Stone & Campbell

  1. Will Spina says:

    I’m glad you posted the whole thing. I am going to have to put a link on my blog to this post later.

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