Reflections on the Restoration Movement–Alexander Campbell- Part 1 (1788-1816)

Thomas Campbell had in 1807 bid his family good-bye and came to the United States because of his failing health. He left his son Alexander Campbell in charge of the school he conducted at Rich Hill. It is the  younger  Campbell that we wart to focus our thoughts on in the next few chapters we want to chronicle the early life of Alexander Campbell. Lets remember one fact, however, although we can profit by a study of the life and experiences of these pioneers, their teachings are not on a par with Scripture. We can, however, receive a rich and plentiful blessing from their experiences in working for the restoration of The Ancient Order of Things Let’s always test their teachings with the Word of God.

Alexander Campbell was born on September 12, 1788, near Ballymena, Ireland to Thomas and Jane Corneigle Campbell. His was a godly home. his father being a minister in the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church. In his early years. Alexander developed the habits concerning Bible study that would help him in later years. James DeForest Murch, in Christians only gives us this account of the religious teachings in the Campbell home,

The Campbell home followed strict Seceder Presbyterian custom and worshipped God at the family altar in the singing of hymns, Bible readings, morning and evening The children were catechized and instructed each week in the fundamentals of the Christian faith and were expected to pray in secret and maintain a conversation becoming of the Gospel,. It was their rule That every member of the family should memorize during the day some portion of the Holy Scripture.  Alexander testified that in his early years he memorized almost all of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Psalms, to say nothing of the appropriate Scriptures related to the catechism.”

His early schooling was in the academies. By the time he was 17 he was assisting his father in the operation of the school at Rich Hill. At this time his father held the pastorate at Rich Hill.

Because of his failing health, the elder Campbell sailed to the United States on April 8,1807. The American frontier must have done wonders for his health as he lived to the ripe old age of 90, dying at Bethany, West Virginia in 1854.

         About a year later Thomas sent word for his family to join him in Pennsylvania. They set sail but were delayed by shipwreck. It was in the providence of God that Alexander was given the opportunity to be acquainted with individuals whose aim it was to get back to Bible concerning New Testament Christianity. While in Glasgow Alexander began to have doubts that the Seceder Presbyterian Church had a market on salvation to the exclusion of others. The time had come for the annual partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Alexander, because his membership was with the Seceder Presbyterian Church in Ireland, had to take an examination to see if he was worthy to partake of the emblems. He passed the examination and was given a metal token to drop in the plate signifying that he was acceptable to the Church of Scotland to commune. When his time came, he refused to partake, dropping his token into the plate. Dr. Robert Richardson, Campbell’s biographer and physician, regards this event as Alexander’s formal break from the Seceder Presbyterian Church. So, an ocean apart both Thomas and Alexander Campbell renounced the doctrine of Presbyterianism and began to plead for a Biblical based church. It was a church patterned after the church spoken of on the pages of the New Testament.

Alexander and the rest of the family left Scotland on August 4,1809. They were reunited with Thomas on the Pennsylvania frontier on October 19, 1809. They settled down into their home in Washington, Pennsylvania. Here under the guidance of his father, Alexander began a rigid study of the Bible and other theological subjects. He made his first public discourse on July 15,1810. His text was Matthew 7:24-27.

On May 4, 1811, the Christian Association of Washington constituted itself as  a  church. It was  locate 2 ½  miles SW of West Middletown, PA, just  inside the  Virginia  line.  It was called the Brush Run Church.   Thomas  Campbell was  appointed  Elder; four deacons  were selected and Alexander Campbell  was  ordained  to preach.

Shortly  afterward one of the members became convinced  that  immersion was the Scriptural mode  of  baptism and  request  Thomas  Campbell to  baptize  him into Christ.  Thomas agreed, even though  he, himself was  not  immersed.  That would come  later. On  March 12,1811, Alexander Campbell  married Margaret Brown of Brooke County, VA The  birth of their first  child caused Alexander to make a  complete study of the  question of  baptism. Once  he became  convinced that   immersion was the  Scriptural mode, he sought  someone  to  immerse  him.  A  Baptist  preacher, Elder Matthias Luce consented to immerse him on a simple  confession of faith which as contrary to  Baptist doctrine. On June 12, 1812, both Thomas and Alexander and  their  wives, along  with Alexander’s sister, Dorthea presented themselves to be  baptized in the Apostolic Way.  In a  short time the  entire membership of the  Brush Run Church were immersed.

The  brethren at   the  Brush Run Church wanted to have fellowship  with other  believers of  like  manner. In  1813 the  Brush Run Church affiliated itself with the  Redstone Baptist Association. They  applied on the condition that they  not be bound  by the creeds of the  Baptists and that they be free to teach whatever they learned from the Scriptures. So the  Brush Run Church was  for its entire existence (1811-1827) considered a Baptist  church no matter  how  different than  most.

Alexander Campbell popularity within the Redstone Baptist Association  began to deteriorate after  the events that  day at  Cross Creek, VA in 1816.  It was  here that  he gave his famous  “Sermon on the Law,” based on  Rom. 8:3: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God  sending His own  Son  in the likeness of  sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” This sermon  caused a  great stir in the Baptist  churches. The  Baptists  taught that both the  Old and New Testaments were  equally binding on the  Christian. Alexander showed  that we are not bound to the Old Testament but must go to the  New Testament   to  obtain our  constitution. As a result of this sermon, many  pulpits were closed  to the Campbell’s.  It was to be, in  later years, in another  Baptist Association that the  Campbell’s and their fellow reformers would have the  most  success in  preaching  the primitive Gospel.


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