The “Golden Oracle” on the Western Reserve
The Campbell’s and their associates had only found hostility in their relationship with the Redstone Baptist Association. To the Pharisees of the Redstone, the teachings of the Reformers was considered heresy. When the Redstone was about to expel Alexander Campbell in shame he outwitted them. As we related in our last number, he and some thirty members from the Brush Run Church had went of f to start a new work of faith in Wells-burg. Virginia. The Wellsburg Church of Christ affiliated itself with the Mahoning Baptist Association. It was to be in this association that the teachings of New Testament Christianity would spread. The majority of the congregations were located in what was known as the Western Reserve.
It might be helpful, at this time, to give a little geographical background. A.S. Hayden, in his book, A History Of The Disciples On The Western Reserve, had this to say,
“This district of country, also called Connecticut Western Reserve, and New Connecticut, is situated in the north-east part of the State of Ohio. It is bounded on the north by Lake Erie, east by Pennsylvania, south by the forty first parallel of north latitude and on the west by Sandusky and Seneca counties…The area includes about 3,000,000 acres.”
Here the restoration spirit would gain a foothold and spread. Before we deal with the main character of this essay let us relate some background material on how the teachings of the Ancient Order got a chance to gain a foothold in a fertile land. Alexander Campbell, had in June 1820, debated the Presbyterian minister John Walker at Mount Pleasant, Ohio. One person who had read the text of the debate was the minister of the Baptist Church in Warren, Ohio, Adamson Bentley. While on a preaching tour in Kentucky, Bentley. along with his .brother-in-law, Sidney Rigdon, paid a visit to Alexander Campbell at his home in Bethany. They spent the night and left the next morning with a promise that Alexander would come to the Western Reserve so that all might have the chance to formulate their own opinions on whether what he taught was scriptural.
Perhaps a little about the forming of the Mahoning Baptist Association is in order. This association was formed on August 30, 1820. In 1824,”the Church of Christ at Wellsburg was admitted without having to submit to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. We are going to give you some highlights of this period (1820-1830). The main character will be Walter Scott who was known as the Golden Oracle.
We want to give you some facts concerning Scott prior to his association on the Western Reserve. He was born in Scotland on October 31, 1796. His family were devout Presbyterians. Scott had obtained a good college education. This enabled him to support himself as a teacher. On July 8, 1818, he arrived in the New World. Some time later, he arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and became the assistant in an academy operated by George Forrester. As providence would have it Forrester was the minister of a small group of saints who took the Bible alone as their guide and rule.
Scott, after a study of the New Testament, discovered that he had not been scripturally baptized and asked Forrester to immerse him into Christ. He then aided Forrester in the Church work. Upon Forester’s untimely death by drowning, he closed the academy and went for a while to New York. He later returned to Pittsburgh and started another academy. Among his students was Robert Richardson, who would later become the biographer and physician of Alexander Campbell. It was in the winter of 1821-1822 that Walter Scott first met Alexander Campbell. In 1826 Scott was located at Steubenville, Ohio. Alexander Campbell, along with his father-in-law John Brown. called on Scott on their way to attend the annual meeting of the Mahoning Baptist Association. They urged Scott to go along with them. He went with them and was granted a seat as a teaching brother. Alexander Campbell and John Brown went as messengers of the Wellsburg Church. Dr. Richardson, in his Memoirs Of Alexander Campbell, had this to say about one of the most important events that took place.
“On the following day, the first item of business, to be considered was a request sent up from the church at Braceville. of which Jacob Osbourne was elder, as follows: ‘We wish that the Association may take into serious consideration the peculiar situation of the churches of this Association, and if it would be a possible thing for an evangelical preacher to be employed to travel and teach among the churches, we think that a blessing would follow. “
As it turned out the man chosen was Walter Scott. Walter Scott entered into his work at once and began laboring among the Churches of the Mahoning Association. On the subject: What must I do to be saved? , Scott said that there were certain obligations that the sinner had and if he met those obligations then the Father was obligated, by His Word, to do certain things. The sinners part consisted of Faith, Repentance, and Baptism (immersion into Christ–Romans 6). God’s part was to forgive sins and to give the Gift of the Holy Spirit. As a result of both parts, the Christian was automatically added to the Church of Christ (Acts 2:47).
We want to relate one important preaching experience that Walter Scott had while on the Western Reserve. On Sunday. September 27, 1827, Scott preached in the Baptist meetinghouse in New Lisbon. Ohio. Talking about this day, James DeForest Murch, wrote these words in Christians Only.
“In his sermon he discussed the text (Matthew 16316) as a fact which the four Gospels were written to establish, to which type and prophecy in the Old Testament had pointed; which the eternal Father had announced from heaven at Christ’s Baptism and Transfiguration. Scott then shoved that the foundation truth of Christianity was the deity of Jesus and that belief in Him was essential to salvation. He insisted that this belief would produce such love in the heart of the believer that he would be led to true obedience in all things necessary to the acceptance of Christ as Savior and Redeemer. The speaker then showed that this same Peter was the first to declare the terms of pardon under the new dispensation of God’s grace. It is said, that as Scott spoke, he was gripped with the idea that if what he was saying was true, the Spirit—guided answer of Peter to the cry of the people ‘What must we do?’ was the only answer that any minister of Christ had a right to give to the same question now. With great boldness of spirit, Scott thereupon concluded his discourse with these words. ‘ Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38).
At this meeting a very devout Presbyterian man came forward. Scott thereupon immersed him into Christ as commanded by the Living Oracles. The man, William Ammend, only heard Scott’s concluding remarks about baptism for the remission of sins. It seems that he had, in his own independent study of the word of God, became convinced that baptism was indeed by immersion and for- the remission of sins. He then resolved to obey this great Biblical truth when he heard it expounded. As Scott continued with this teaching, the Churches of the Mahoning Association’ one by one accepted the New Testament view of conversion. Murch says that “the Mahoning River became a veritable Jordan as Scott immersed hundreds of believers.”
At the next meeting of the Association in August of 1828. Scott reported that the Association had doubled it membership. At that meeting. William Hayden was added to the evangelistic team. Another important day in the life of the Mahoning Association was the annual meeting at Austintown, Ohio in 1830. Concerning the importance of this meeting Murch wrote these words in Christians Only.
“The Mahoning churches were shaking off their allegiance to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith and were determined to give up every man-made tradition and practice that could not be supported by a ‘thus saith the Lord.’ The idea of an association, they had come to believe, was unscriptural.”
A motion was then made to dissolve the Mahoning Baptist Association. This motion came at the urging of Walter Scott and against the urging of Alexander Campbell. The motion passed and like the Springfield Presbytery the Mahoning Baptist Association “died and sank into union with the Body of Christ at-large.” We hope that this brief history will let you know of the efforts to preach the everlasting Gospel to a lost and dying world.
Let us always be willing to lift up the Lord of Glory as the Hope of the world (John 14:6) and let us be living our lives in anticipation of the return of the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13). Until next time, MARANATHA