Sunday, November 9, 2014

Richardson's Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Part I)

Robert Richardson proposes (p.4f) to reconstruct Campbell's relationship with the Secession movement and other denominations not as a pre-description of the context, but at the moment of the contact with Campbell. For the Secession movement, Richardson made use of the biographies of Robert and James Alexander Haldane, as well as the Church history by John McKerrow's History of the Secession Church (Vol I, 1839; ...).

Alexander was born in Ireland (p.19),  his father Thomas of West-Scottish extraction (p.21), his mother of French Huguenot (p.21). Though Episcopalian in upbringing, Thomas felt the Scottish church lacking in vitality, and prefered the Secession Church as well as the Covenanters (p.22). Thomas was very worried about his salvation, asking his friends for comfort, until he had a conversion experience while walking alone in the fields which left him with a feeling of consecration to the divine plan (p.23). Thomas' father Archibald preferred the Church of England, wanting to "serve God according to act of Parliament" (p.24) and did not support his son entering the Secession Church (p.24); but through the patronage of his friend Mr John Kinley (p.25), Thomas was permitted to study at Edinburgh, where he studied divinity and medicine. Richardson comments,
… it being regarded proper for ministers to have, in additional to a knowledge of their particular profession, such an acquaintance with medicine as would enable them to render necessary aid to their poorer parishioners who might not have the services of a regular medical attendant. (p.25)
(For the lecture plan of divinity at the time, including examinations in Greek and Latin proficiency, plus a short biography of Dr Bruce, the divinity school headmaster, see (p.26).) After meeting his future wife, Thomas took a position at Rich-Hill, near Lough Neagh (p.30), and this is where Alexander spent his early childhood (p.31).
The waters of the lough [i.e. Lough Neagh, RCK] are celebrated for their power of petrifying wood and other organic substances placed in its waters or buried near its shores. (p.30 Fn *)
Boarding with a Mr Gillis to attend the elementary school in Market Hill, and staying with his uncles in Newry, where they were running an academy, Alexander was nevertheless mostly interested in sports and averse to confinement (p.31), making it difficult for his father to teach him. Attempts to add French to his schedule at age nine, for example, failed (p.31); and so he ended up working with the farm hands instead, which he enjoyed very much (p.32). It was only when fully grown, that Alexander developed his taste for reading and began studying with the determination to become one of the best scholars in the kingdom. Richardson praised Thomas' parenting wisdom for taking this route (p.33).  Alexander was a fast memorizer--60 lines of blank verse in 52 minutes--and became proficient in the poets and philosophy, esp. John Locke (p.33). Richardson stressed that this did not eliminate the love for the outdoors and physical activity, which expressed itself especially in fishing and hunting (p.34); cf. Footnote * for the anecdote on attempting to produce his own gun powder.

Following the instructions of the synod (p.35), Thomas read and sung and prayed twice a day with his family, and taught them catechism once a week, encouraged twice daily secret prayer, and an observance of the sabbath. The children would learn age appropriate amounts of Bible verses by heart and recite them at evening prayer (p.35). After attending church, the children were not only expected to remember the text, but also the discourse, down to the leading points of argument (p.36). Alexander himself noted that his mother was an especially outstanding specimen of the female sex (p.37) [apparently even surpassing Alexander's own wife, RCK], and that he owed it to his parents that he knew Ecclesiastes & Proverbs, as well as the Psalms (which he attributed to Solomon and David, respectively), by heart already as a child (p.37).

Alexander also observed his father's reverence for the Bible, noting as a child already that only the Bible and the concordance would be on his father's writing desk; all other books would remain on the shelves (p.39). Thomas Campbell was also a good example as a preacher (p.40). In the political turmoils of Ireland, between Orangemen and United Irishmen, Thomas Campbell steered clear of all of them (p.41), especially condemning secret associations (p.42), a stance that Alexander inherited (p.45). Thomas' handling of the situation brought him the offer of tutoring children of the nobility, but Thomas preferred the relative poverty of his ministerial position (p.43).

With the increasing family, Thomas Campbell was hard pressed to feed the mouths with his income as a minister (p.46) [see Footnote * for details on reimbursement funds for ministries in Ireland, RCK]. Thus Thomas opened an academy, with Alexander, then 17, as the assistant, to teach his own children and those of the parish, at the town of Rich-Hill, requisitioning a two-story house on the main square (p.47). The academy quickly attracted students (p.47). netting £200 per annum (p.48) while being regarded as a key contribution to the neighborhood. The father had already previously noted (p.47) "evidences of increasing seriousness" (p.47), which now that Alexander was teaching (p.48) found expression in being “much more thoughtful upon religious subjects” and in having “a deeper religious feeling” (p.48).

As his convictions deepened, he underwent much conflict of mind, and experienced great concerns in regard to his own salvation, so that he lost for a time his usual vivacity, and sought, in lonely walk in fields and by prayer in secluded spots, to obtain such evidences of Divine acceptance as his pious acquaintances were accustomed to consider requisite; …. (p.48)
Richardson then cites a longer statement by Alexander, admitting that it hailed from a later point in time ("he himself gave, many years afterward, the following account" (p.49).
“From the time that I could read the Scriptures, I became convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. I was also fully persuaded that I was a sinner, and must obtain pardon through the merits of Christ or be lost for ever. This caused me great distress of soul, and I had much exercise of mind under the awakenings of a guilty conscience. Finally, after many struggling, I was enabled to put my trust in the Saviour, and to feel my reliance on him as the only Saviour of sinners. From the moment I was able to feel this reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ, I obtained and enjoyed peace of mind. It never entered into my head to investigate the subject of baptism or the doctrines of the creed.” (p.49)
In preparation for the ministry, a choice that was at this point mainly his father's and not yet Alexander's own, Alexander studied ecclesiastical history and marveled at the divisions inside the faith (p.49).

While thus engaged [i.e. his studies of ecclesiastical history, RCK], he was filled with wonder at the strange fortunes of Christianity, and at the numerous divisions or parties in religious society. (p.49)
Richardson then enumerates the stances that Alexander developed with respect to the different religious parties available at the time in Northern Ireland.
He found the Catholics, numerous in his own country, for the most part an ignorant, priest-ridden, superstitious people, crushed, as it were, to the earth, as well by their own voluntary submission to an unrestricted spiritual despotism, as by the pressure of the social and political burdens resting on them, … (p.49) 
The young student, in contemplating the whole system of Romanism and its superstitions, its ceremonies, its spirit and its practical effects, conceived for it the utmost abhorrence—a feeling which remainder with him through life. (p.50) 
On the other hand, the lordly and aristocratic Episcopalians, who looked down upon the dissenters, and seemed, with some exceptions, to have but little piety, and to be fond of enjoying the pleasures, fashions and follies of the world, were, notwithstanding their Protestantism, scarcely less disliked as a religious party. (p.50) 
It was, however, when he came to consider the history of the Presbyterian Church, with its numerous divisions, in one of which he was himself a member, that he was enabled to form a clearer conception of the power and prevalence of that party spirit which it became afterward the labor of his life to oppose and overthrow. (p.50)
Richardson then reviews the Scottish history of the Reformation to put some of the stances into context (p.50f). With the "Claim of Right" of 1690, the Scottish Presbyterians managed to secure their stance and abolish all Prelacy, but with devastating moral effect.

When Presbyterianism had thus attained the supremacy it so long had sought, it began, in a short time, to furnish a fresh illustration of the fact that all established national religions, whether Greek or Mohammedan, Papal or Protestant, have in them the essence of Popery—the principle of absolutism. (p.51)
Richardsons then runs through the various schisms of the Scottish Presbyterians (pp.51-56), before concluding,

Schooled amidst such schisms in his own denomination, and harassed by the triviality of the differences by which they were maintained, it is natural to suppose that one of so catholic a spirit as Thomas Campbell conceived the greatest antipathy to party spirit in all its workings and manifestations, and that his son Alexander fully sympathized with him in these feelings. (p.56)
Richardson now turns to the American context, comparing the Puritans and the Methodists to buds in the animal kingdom, who remain connected to their parents long after they have begun separating---the parents here being the Church of England (p.59). Following the principle of "occasional hearing", Thomas Campbell sometimes on Sunday evening visited the local Independents (p.60). Richardson discusses how these various splinters related to each other and attempted to influence each other.

Roger Williams, for instance, the founder of the Baptists in America, held that it was wrong for professors of religion to hold worship with the unconverted, or to sit at the communion table with those who did not perfectly agree with them in religious sentiments. (p.61)
Though the Independents had been run out of England by religious persecution, they turned the tables and became repressive once they arrived in America.
It is a singular fact that these exiles [i.e. Plymouth Brethren, RCK] had no sooner obtained possession of power than they began to exercise the very same system of persecution of which they themselves had been victims. || They whipped, branded, banished or executed Quakers and others who refused to conform to their views, thus affording another proof that a state or national religion is necessarily Popish in its spirit, for at that time, in these Puritan colonies, the Church was essentially the State. (pp.62-63)
Thus, those with other opinions such as Roger Williams, had to go elsewhere; Williams established Rhode Island as his colony, founding the first Baptist church there. As Richardson notes:
In 1162 he [i.e. Roger Williams, RCK] obtained a second charter from Charles the Second, in which it was declared that “religion should be wholly and for ever free from all jurisdiction of the civil power”; so that to Roger Williams belongs the high honor of having founded the first political State in Christendom that embraced, in its constitutional provisions, the principle of universal toleration—a noble grant, the germ of civil liberty in the United States. (p.63 Fn *)
Thus, as Richardson points out (p.63 Fn *), when Locke published his celebrated Letters on Toleration in 1693, such toleration was already established law in Rhode Island.

Richardson then observes that the three categories of Christian denominations---the Episcopal (which includes Roman Catholicism, or the Romish, as Richardson calls them), the Presbyterian and the Congregational (which includes the Baptists)---differ in their view of authority of interpreting the scriptures (p.64). Only the Congregational allow the individual members to interpret the scriptures for themselves (p.65).
With the Independents, however, the right of every member to judge for himself as to the meaning of Scripture is the great distinguishing feature, and the basis not only of their congregational form of government, and their entire repudiation of the authority claimed by Presbyteries, Synods, Assemblies, Conventions or other church-courts, but also the reason of that tolerant spirit they so strikingly manifested when attained to political power in England. (p.65)
Already under the Protectorate of Cromwell, the Independents via their role in the Army were able to put their toleration into effect.
Opposed as well to Presbytery as to Prelacy and Popery, and regarding each congregation as independent and supreme in its jurisdiction, their [i.e. the Independents] views naturally made them republican in civil affairs, while their principle that every one should enjoy the right of private judgement in religion, released them from that spiritual despotism which all the other systems labored to establish. (p.66)
For, to take the Presbyterian system as an example, their idea of a complete church is not by any means that of a single congregation, but of a number of congregations, with Sessions, Presbyteries and Synods sufficient to constitute a General Assembly. (p.66)
And Richardson illustrates the submission of the individual member under that hierarchy by remind the reader of the way in which Andrew Melville addressed King James I, namely not as a king or a lord, but rather as a member subjugated under these ecclesiastical jurisdictions of "Christ's kingdom", as the Presbyterians referred to the kirk (p.67 Fn *). When faced with a raging chancellor and king, the same individual kept his cool.
Mr Andrew, never a whit dashed, said in plain terms that they were too bold, in a constitute Christian kirk, to pass by the pastors, prophets and doctors, and to take upon them to judge the doctrine and to control the ambassadors and messengers of a greater than was here. (p.68 Fn *, continued)
Richardson then relates that Alexander Campbell observed the power and conservative stance of the Presbyterians at first hand, by the way they rejected his father's proposal to celebrate the Lord's supper more often than twice a year (p.69).  While the discussions between the Independents and various other groups continued in Campbell's hometown, concerning issues such as whether to celebrate the washing of feet or the frequency of the celebration of the Last Supper (p.71), that collaborator of Wesley, Whitefield, preached the Gospel of Christ without getting into any distracting disputes, e.g. about church governance (p.72). When Mr Whitefield was granted access to the pulpits of several ministers of the Church of Scotland, a veritable revival broke out (p.72).
Great excitement and extraordinary manifestations of swoonings [sic!], convulsions and cataleptic seizures attended Mr. || Whitefield’s labors, especially at Cambuslang, near Glasgow, where at one time the assemblage was estimated to consist of at least thirty thousand persons. (pp.72-73) 
These singular cases had previously occurred under Mr Weasley’s preaching; and have several times since been noted, as in the revivals under the preachings of Jonathan Edwards in New England, and of James McGready, B.W. Stone and some other Presbyterian preachers in Kentucky, in 1801. (p.73)
By the turn of the century, though, the English north had become equally "Burnt Over" as New York State would 20 years afterwards.
The intense religious interest awakened in Great Britain and Ireland by Wesley, Whitefield and their coadjutors, had, toward the close of the century, given place to a great degree of indifference and worldly conformity. The diffusion of infidel principles from France, political commotions [i.e. French Revolution, RCK] and a variety of circumstances connected with the American and French wars, seem to have been chiefly instrumental in inducing a change which was deeply lamented by the pious and earnest men in the different religious communities. (p.73)
In collaboration with the Haldanes of Scotland, an Evangelical Society was organized, a “considerable missionary society” (p.73), with members of the Episcopal Church in England, and Thomas Campbell sympathized with them, joined and assisted the society. 
In this species of mission there was something very pleasing, and certainly the position of such laborers was highly favorable to a fair and effective presentation of the general truths of the gospel. (p.74) 
Thus Richardson raises the important point that the plurality of issues was just as unsettling as the call to repentance itself.  
It was, however, impossible to them, consistently with the nature of their mission and their views of religion, to recommend any very definite or particular course to anxious inquirers. (p.74) 
The nature of faith; how Christ could be put on by faith; how the sinner could obtain an assurance of justification, — these were questions of the highest practical importance, to which different parties gave conflicting answers, and which, with matters of ecclesiastical organization, constituted the burden of polemical discussions and the ground of party differences. (p.74) 
Richardson insists that the Evangelical Society was successful in their effort
... to break down the prejudices of religious society and to depreciate the value of those speculative theological dogmas and go || those sectarian distinctions by which pious believers were separated and alienated from each other. (pp.74-75) 
Having thus outlined the upbringing of Alexander Campbell, Richardson concludes:
The effect of the whole [of observing the described fights between the groups and denominations, RCK] was to increase his reverence for the Scriptures as the only infallible guide in religion, to weaken the force of educational prejudices, and to deepen his conviction that the existence of sects and parties was one of the greatest hindrances to the success of the gospel. (p.75)
Alexander Campbell during this time of his youth worked basically non-stop, going to bed late at night and rising at 4am to study his books. There was almost no hope of attending university (p.76), given the six siblings, and in addition to the teaching position at his father's academy, Alexander began to provide private tutoring to the daughters of the Honorable William Richardson, the lord of the manor, in whose garden Alexander's sisters like to take their evening walks (p.77).

A few years later, the strenuous duties of his office as minister and headmaster had so weakened the health of Thomas Campbell (p.78), that the doctor prescribed an extended sea voyage (p.79). Under Alexander's entreaties, this turned into a scouting trip for moving the family to the New World, as so many of their friends were then emigrating. Thus, in early April of 1807 Thomas Campbell travelled to the New World with "the ship Brutus, Captain Craig, master, bound for Philadelphia" (p.81). Richardson contextualizes this health remedy turned into emigration.

Bibliographic Record

Dr Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 2 volumes, Philadelphia (J.B. Lippincott & Co) (Volume I 1868, Volume II 1870).

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