August 17, 1809

Thomas Campbell

Simply, reverentially, confidingly, they would speak of Bible things in Bible words, adding nothing thereto and omitting nothing given by inspiration. They had thus a clear and well-defined basis of action, and the hearts of all who were truly interested re-echoed the resolve: “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, are are silent.” It was from the moment when these significant words were uttered and accepted that the more intelligent ever afterward dated the formal and actual commencement of the Reformation which was subsequently carried on with so much success, and which has already produced such important changes in religious society over a large portion of the world.

It was some time after Mr. Campbell sat down to afford opportunity to those present to give, as he had requested, a free and candid expression of their views, before any one presumed to break the silence. A length, a shrewd Scotch Seceder, Andrew Munro, who was a bookseller and postmaster at Canonsburg, arose and said: “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.” This remark, and the conviction it seemed to carry with it, produced a profound sensation. “Of course,” said Mr. Campbell, in reply, “if infant baptism be not found in Scripture, we can have nothing to do with it.” Upon this, Thomas Acheson, of Washington, who was a man of warm impulses, rose, and advancing a short distance, greatly excited, exclaimed, laying his hand upon his heart: “I hope I may never see the day when my heart will renounce that blessed saying of the Scripture, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'” Upon saying this he was so much affected that he burst into tears, and while a deep sympathetic feeling pervaded the entire assembly, he was about to retire to an adjoined room, when James Foster, not willing that this misapplication of Scripture should pass unchallenged, cried out, “Mr. Acheson, I would remark that in the portion of Scripture you have quoted there is no reference, whatever, to infant baptism.” Without offering a reply, Mr. Acheson passed out to weep alone; but this incident, while it foreshadowed some of the trials which the future had in store, failed to abate, in the least, the confidence which the majority of those present placed in the principles to which they were committed. The rule which Mr. Campbell had announced seemed to cover the whole ground, and to be so obviously just and proper, that after further discussion and conference, it was adopted with apparent unanimity, no valid objection being urged against it.

This meeting was attended with very important consequences. It seemed, for the first time, to define clearly to Mr. Campbell’s hearers the exact position which they occupied; and having constantly before their minds as a guide the simple rule which many of them thought should be written in letters of gold, “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where these are silent, we are silent,” each one, with the Scriptures in his possession, could judge for himself as to the consequences likely to result from its practical adoption. Some there were, accordingly, of those loosely connected with the movement, who, after a time, began to fear that the conclusion so promptly reached and announced by Andrew Munro at the meeting would prove at last to be correct, and fearing to pursue any further a principle which seemed to involve to them so grave a consequence, they began to drop off one by one, and gradually to cease altogether their attendance at the usual meetings.

These defections, and the incidents which attended the important meeting described, naturally gave rise to much discussion among the members. James Foster, convinced, while in Ireland, as formerly stated, that there was no scriptural foundation for infant baptism, was very decided in the expression of his views. Mr. Campbell himself, however, was by no means prepared to admit that the principle which they had adopted would necessarily involve any direct opposition to infant baptism. He was himself still so much impressed with the plausibility of the arguments in its favor that he thought the practice might perhaps be justified, and he insisted that, in the present condition of parties, it should, at least, be made a matter of forbearance. He was very reluctant to admit that there was any need of hastily abandoning a usage which had so long prevailed, and which was so thoroughly incorporated with religious society. He could not but confess the difficulties connected with this vexed question, and the absence of positive Scripture authority, yet he thought that, under the existing circumstances, each one might be permitted to determine for himself, both as to the validity of infant baptism and the propriety of the respective forms or actions of sprinkling, pouring and immersion, which had been adopted as baptism by different portions of the religious community. Ardently devoted as he was to the cause of Christian union, and convinced that some concessions were needed in the existing distracted state of the religious world, he continued to insist that this question, as well as certain others of a similar character, might safely be left to private judgment, and be retained for the sake of peace, as belonging to the chapter of “non-essentials,” and by no means so important as the great matters of faith and righteousness. About this time, he was one day riding with James Foster, and as they traveled along he took occasion to urge these views with considerable warmth. At length James Foster, turning toward him, asked with great emphasis: “Father Campbell, how could you, in the absence of any authority in the Word of God, baptize a child in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” Mr. Campbell was quite confounded at this question. His face colored, he became for a moment irritated, and said in reply, in an offended tone: “Sir, you are the most intractable person I ever met.” Notwithstanding, however, such differences in sentiment on some particular points, the members felt themselves cordially united in the great object of promoting Christian union and peace in the religious world. In order to carry out this purpose more effectively, it was resolved, at a meeting held on the head-waters of Buffalo, 17th of August, 1809, that they would form themselves into a regular association, under the name of “The Christian Association of Washington.” They then appointed twenty-one of their number to meet and confer together, and, with the assistance of Thomas Campbell, to determine upon the proper means to carry into effect the important ends of the Association.

–from Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell 1868 vol. 1: 236-240 available here.

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