Among the things that happened this past week in the American Restoration Heritage history:
April 19, 1826 – Of what use are varying Bible translations? Why burden the earth with yet another? Isn’t the best rendering one that is literal, word-for-word, so to speak? Which version is “best,” or is there even such a thing? And just how exactly is one to approach the reading of Scripture? How can a person maximize their comprehension and practice of what it says?
These are just come of the questions Alexander Campbell anticipates as two thousand copies of the first edition of the Living Oracles (LO), a translation of the New Testament edited by Campbell, rolls off the press today. In the Preface to this first edition, Campbell is careful to make a strong case for – to address the question of “why” – another translation. He offers several arguments, one of which reads:
“… we are now in possession of much better means of making an exact translation, than they were at the time when the common version [King James Version] appeared [over 200 years earlier]. The original is now much better understood than it was then. The conflicts of so many critics have elicited a great deal of sound critical knowledge, which was not in the possession of any translators before the last century.”
Campbell continues to parry the anticipated thrusts of those who might try to find fault with the LO as he goes on to note in this first preface:
“… some who may be pretty well acquainted with the classical use and meaning of words and phrases, will think and say, that in some passages the common version is more literally correct than this translation. Indeed, we remember since we once thought so ourselves. But after forming a better acquaintance with the idiomatic style of the apostolic writings, and of the Septuagint Greek, we have been fully convinced that what a classical scholar, or a critical etymologist, might approve, as a literal version of some passages, is by no means the meaning of the writer. And the king’s translators have frequently erred in attempting to be, what some would call, literally correct. They have not given the meaning in some passages where they have given a literal translation.”
Touche! It is indeed difficult to beat “I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Is that the best you’ve got?”
Naturally, the LO will quickly prove to be a hit with preachers, teachers, and leaders of the Restoration Heritage, ultimately appearing in six editions. But, it is eighteen months after this first edition appears today, that Campbell pens a new “Preface to the Reader” [October 5, 1827] for a future edition of the LO. That “Preface to the Reader” is just as relevant to us now as the day it was penned. Do read it in its entirety; you will not find it burdensome, but pleasant, and you will not be disappointed:
“You are here furnished with a new and excellent Version of all the Apostolic Writings, by the combined labours of three eminent Critics [George Campbell, James Macknight, and Philip Doddridge]. This very important and seasonable work is by no means intended to diminish your regard for the Common Version, but rather to render it more profitable for the advancement of your knowledge, and the establishment of your faith, than the best translation could possibly be alone.
“That you may understand the utility of various different versions of Scripture, it may be observed, that distinct languages do not consist of precisely the same number of words, corresponding with each other in their signification and extent of meaning, like the several pounds which compose any given sum, or the four sides of a square, which are in all respects alike, so that any one of the same kind is equivalent to any other; but the corresponding terms of distinct languages agree with each other in meaning with slight shades of difference, like those natural productions which are in many respects similar, without being in all things absolutely equal. If one be furnished with a large collection of different kinds of flowers or fruits, and required to match every one of them as nearly as possible, in a garden where there are large quantities of every given sort, he will find it very difficult, in some cases, to fix on the one, out of many similar, which corresponds most nearly with the sample received: and if various persons be employed in succession, they will not always hit on the same selection. Thus, the same word of Greek may be rendered, according to circumstances, by the English word, church, assembly, or congregation; another word, by either bishop, superintendent, or overseer; another, by master, sir, or lord.
“Now, were a translator to interpret every word of the Greek by all the English words that have a similar meaning, the result of his labours would be a very clumsy paraphrase, rather than a faithful version, equivalent to the original. As, therefore, he must select, from among various similar terms, that one which he considers the most proper, to the exclusion of all the rest; and as different translators always deviate more or less from, each other in making their selection, the use of sundry versions is calculated to give the English reader a more distinct, full, and certain understanding of the sacred text, than could be obtained by the exclusive perusal of any single one, however excellent. Hence, it is not your duty to lay aside the common version, as less perfect than that which is here offered, or vainly to set the one in opposition to the other; but to compare them together, verse by verse, and combine the ideas suggested by both. Do this deliberately: do it repeatedly, with attention and candour; and its utility in advance your knowledge of the mind of the Holy Ghost, beyond all that could be attained from any single version, will exceed your most sanguine hope.
“But you must carefully study the whole of the Old Testament also, that you may be prepared to understand the New. Contemplate, therefore, the account which it gives of the original condition and the fall of man, in connexion with the only infallible illustration of the subject which has been given by our Apostle. See Gen. i. ii. iii.; Rom. v.; 1 Cor. xv. Consider, especially, the divine covenant of promise, made with Abraham and his seed; the covenant of the Ten Commandments, made with the nation of Israel, with the judgments and ordinances which were added to it; the everlasting covenant which was afterward made with David respecting the endless reign of his seed; and the intimations which were given by the Prophets of the establishment of a new and perpetual covenant in the days of the Messiah. All these covenants have an important and conspicuous place in the Sacred Volume, and its meaning cannot be properly understood if they be neglected, confounded, or in any way misrepresented. Make it your care, therefore, to observe the true nature, order, and design of them; and mark wherein they differed from each other, how they were mutually connected, in what manner the Prophets introduced them, and how the glorious consummation of them was disclosed by the Apostles.
“Examine the several component parts of divine revelation in their natural order and succession, without vainly attempting to comprehend all those things at once which were communicated at various distant periods, or beginning with those which are the most abstruse and sublime. Make the simple narrative of facts your first study. Then proceed to the leading doctrines, precepts, promises, and threats. Get a distinct acquaintance with the literal sense of Scripture, before you attempt to investigate the figurative or allegorical meaning of any part of it; and let those predictions which have not as yet received their accomplishment be your last study. To invert this order would expose you to endless perplexity and delusion.
“Keep some special subject of inquiry in view while you read the Scriptures, and attentively mark all those passages which treat of it, or throw light upon it. For example, you may make it your particular object, in reading the four Gospels, to ascertain all the different kinds of miracles which Jesus Christ performed, together with the various classes of persons who witnessed them, their surprising magnitude, the deep impression that they made upon enemies as well as friends, and all the other circumstances calculated to render them convincing. Or, you may read the Gospels to discover what new doctrines Jesus taught, — what he said of his own person, office, and salvation, — what representation he gave of vital religion, a general resurrection, and a state of endless retribution. In reading the Apostolic History and Epistles, your immediate object may properly be to ascertain the rapid success with which the Apostles preached after the effusion of the Holy Ghost; the additional information which they imparted beyond all that Christ had taught before his death, what they called sinners to believe in order to their justification, and how they commanded the disciples to walk so as to please God.
“Let it be distinctly remembered, that the four Gospels were intended for the instruction of all classes of mankind, but that the Apostolic Epistles were addressed to Christians exclusively, as a peculiar people called out of the world, and united in church-fellowship. Read them, therefore, that you may understand what a true Christian is, in distinction from a hypocrite; what a church of Christ is, in distinction from every other kind of assembly; what description of persons were admitted to be members of the primitive churches; what ordinances they were united to observe; what duties were required of them toward each other, as brethren; and how they were directed to act toward them who were without.
“Take heed of perverting the sacred Record by imposing an arbitrary meaning upon any part of it, or artfully accommodating it to any human theory or system of religion. You are not called to mend or improve the Scriptures, by making them more spiritual or perfect than they actually are; but to search them with singleness and candour. Beware of imagining that you may safely hold fast your preconceived opinions, as long as you can force any detached texts to give them apparent countenance or resist arguments of an opposite kind. The question concerning any particular text should not be, ‘What turn can you give to it?’ or, ‘What can you make it seem to teach?’ but, ‘What sentiment did the Holy Ghost intend to impart by it?’ Make it your daily care to ascertain his mind, as it is set before you in his word; and implicitly receive every passage in that sense which appears the most natural and obvious, when viewed in connexion with the context, and all the parallel passages which treat of the same subject.
“Keep the reality and unspeakable importance of eternal things in view, that your mind may be truly serious, sincere, and teachable. It is not with erring mortals chiefly, but with the Searcher of hearts, that you have to do in the investigation of his word. Remember, therefore, while reading it, that his all-seeing eye is upon you. He addresses you, in particular, as an individual; he sets his great salvation freely before you; he warns you to flee from impending wrath, and seek everlasting life; he demands your heart, without delay or reserve; and he will reward you at the last day according as you now receive and honour, or reject and violate what he reveals. While you ponder his holy Record, the personal interest which you have at stake to be decided according to it, is of infinitely greater value and duration than any temporal kingdom. Reflect on this, and you will no more trifle with sacred things, as if they were only matters of doubtful speculation.
“Join the prayer of faith with all your reading. None can properly understand the Scriptures without the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. God has promised to give the spirit of wisdom to them who ask it. Seek his effectual teaching, therefore, with self-diffidence and unfeigned faith, earnest importunity and perseverance. Turn the sacred word into humble prayers, corresponding with the several parts of it; by confessing your sins which it reproves, imploring those spiritual blessings which it reveals, pleading the accomplishment of its promises, and asking grace to sanctify you according to its holy precepts. This is the most effectual way to discover the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, to fix it in your memory, impress it upon your heart, and secure the ultimate benefit of it.
“Make a practical application of all that is addressed to you in the Scripture. Receive it without gainsaying, as the sure testimony of God, who cannot lie — the immediate ground of your confidence before him — the immoveable foundation of your hope for eternity — the divine charter of your unfading inheritance — and the perfect rule of your future conduct. Treasure up the word of Christ in your heart, make it the chief joy of your life, and never hold any part of it in unrighteousness; but resolutely forsake every evil way, put off all your perverse habits, deny your own will, crucify your carnal affections, cherish every gracious disposition, observe the ordinances of Christ with godly sincerity, and keep all his commandments. If you comply with his will, in the manner now proposed, you ‘shall know of the doctrine,’ and become ‘mighty in the Scripture’ — you shall attain the delightful assurance, even in this world, that the truth is in you, and that you shall enjoy it for ever.”
[cf. the entry for Jan. 29 in this series for more information on the LO.’]
April 20, 1829 – Isn’t the Bible a bit suspect? After all, doesn’t it have some errors and mistakes in it? And so, can we truly trust it? Should we? Today, in his debate with renowned atheist Robert Owen, Alexander Campbell gives answer to just such questions.
Campbell does so, in part, by quoting a skeptic turned believer, by the name of Soame Jenyns (1704-1787). He relates how Jenyns had set out to author a book “against the Christian religion,” but in the course of his research and reflection, came to write as to “the truth and authenticity of it” instead. Campbell’s quote of Jenyns follows:
“… I will venture to affirm, that if any one could prove, what is impossible to be proved because it is not true, that there are errors in geography, chronology, and philosophy, in every page of the Bible; that the prophecies therein delivered, are all but fortunate guesses, or artful applications, and the miracles there recorded, no better than legendary tales: if any one could show, that these books were never written by their pretended authors, but were posterior impositions on illiterate and credulous ages, all these wonderful discoveries would prove no more than this, that God, for reasons to us unknown, had thought proper to permit a revelation by him communicated to mankind, to be mixed with their ignorance, and corrupted by their frauds from its earliest infancy, in the same manner in which he has visibly permitted it to be mixed, and corrupted from that period to the present hour. If, in these books, a religion, superior to all human imagination, actually exists, it is of no consequence to the proof of its divine origin, by what means it was there introduced, or with what human errors and imperfections it is blended. A diamond, though found in a bed of mud, is still a diamond, nor can the dirt which surrounds it, depreciate its value, or destroy its lustre.”
* April 20, 1880 – Winthrop Hopson, widely regarded as one of the finest preachers in our heritage at the time, dies in Nashville at the home of his son-in-law, R. Lin Cave.
* April 21, 1836 – Today, under battle cries like “Remember Goliad!,” “Remember the Alamo!,” “Take prisoners like the Mexicans do!”, and “Give them hell!,” a militia of “Texians” led by Sam Houston, Sr. surprise and overwhelm a far bigger Mexican army beside the San Jacinto River in southeast Texas. And, the following day, they are able to capture the Mexican army’s commander, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, as he tries to slip away disguised as a lowly Private. This victory not only brings a halt to Mexico’s attempts to squelch the bid of Texas settlers for independence from Mexico, it gives quick birth to that freedom.
How so? With cold-blooded executions and massacres like Goliad and the Alamo vivid in their mind, few of the Texans are in any mood to show mercy. And so, just hours earlier – despite Houston’s passionate attempts to prevent such – hundreds of Mexican troops are shown no mercy (a fact underscored by the highly disproportionate ratio of troops killed to those who are wounded; well over six hundred killed and only two hundred wounded, the exact opposite of what would be expected in most battles). However, Santa Anna himself – the instigator of the atrocities of the Alamo, Goliad, etc. – is now offered an opportunity to receive mercy for himself: recognize the “full, entire, and perfect Independence of the Republic of Texas” and be given safe passage to Veracruz. Santa Anna agrees and the Lone Star Republic of Texas is born.
Now in the course of the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texans suffer the loss of nine men killed and thirty wounded, and among the wounded is Sam Houston himself. His ankle wound is attended to by the Texan Army’s twenty-nine year old surgeon, Dr. Mansil Walter Matthews – a preacher in the Restoration Heritage.
While I have yet to attempt to research the matter, it is probably safe to assume that Matthews is not the only one involved in the Battle of San Jacinto who has, or who will have, connections with the Restoration Heritage. Of the hundreds of Texans who fight in this battle, a percentage of them have come to Texas only recently from states where the Restoration Heritage has been experiencing great growth (Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc.), Matthews himself being a prime example of such, even helping lead a large band of migrants to Texas. [cf. the post for Jan. 17 in this series for more info on Matthews]
One wonders: given the immense impact of Sam Houston’s life on the future history of Texas, how things might be different today if Mansil Matthews‘ treatment of Sam Houston’s wound at San Jacinto not proven effective.
* April 21, 1839 – At the age of nineteen, Isaac Errett preaches his first sermon. His subject is God’s promise to David that his kingdom will never fail. [That’s a far deeper subject than I attempted with my first sermon! How about you?]
* April 21, 1888 – It’s all too easy for those of us within the Restoration Heritage to think of the earlier years of our heritage as being limited to the United States. Such is hardly the case, of course, and a man who dies today, Gilbert Young Tickle, is a striking example of a leader within our heritage “across the pond.”
Tickle is a prominent church leader among our tribe in Great Britain and his influence is particularly felt far and wide through his gift of songwriting. The vast majority of his lyrical and musical work consists of putting the Psalms – and most remarkably, Matthew’s Gospel, John’s Gospel, and the book of Acts – to meter. However, this is not his only work and one of his songs, “Lord of Our Highest Love” can still be found today in a hymnal still commonly found among many Churches of Christ in the United States. “Lord of Our Highest Love” is #261 in the current edition of Songs of Faith and Praise.
In addition to hymn-writing, Tickle plays a quite vocal role in the the discussion of a number of social issues of his time in England, especially on the issues of slavery (he is an abolitionist) and the temperance movement (he is a teetotaler).
The next time you sing ‘Lord of Our Highest Love” – perhaps most likely to occur immediately preceding sharing in communion, I would guess – remember how the roots of our heritage have long reached much further than just this country of ours.
* April 21, 1898 – Spain severs diplomatic ties with the United States today. Consequently, the United States initiates a blockade of Cuba. Two days later (April 23) the government of Spain formally declares war on the United States. And on April 25, the U.S. Congress responds with a word that a state of war has existed between the two countries since the blockade of Cuba began.
Arguably the most plain-spoken preacher of the time within the Restoration Heritage is Jefferson Davis (“J.D.”) Tant. As the events that lead up to the start of the Spanish-American War reverberate in the minds of many, Tant is peppered with questions as to his take on Scripture and whether Christians should go to war or not. Finally, about three months after today’s events, Tant will succinctly, and with characteristic color, declare his perspective in print in an article published in the Gospel Advocate:
“I would as soon risk my chance of heaven to die drunk in a bawdy house as to die on the battlefield, with murder in my heart, trying to kill my fellowman.”
April 22, 1889 – Do you remember the land rush scene from the 1992 movie Far and Away starring Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman? If so, you have a vision of what things are like at noon today as over fifty thousand people pour across the border in the first land run into the “Unassigned Lands.” These lands – nearly three thousand square miles – make up a portion of what will, eighteen years later, become the state of Oklahoma. Of course, members of the Restoration Heritage make up a percentage of the homesteaders and each seek to stake a claim to 160 acres of free land as a result of the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 and today’s rush (commonly known at the time as ‘Harrison’s Horse Race’ due to President Benjamin Harrison’s sanction of it).
Naturally, this run results in whole communities springing up, quite literally, overnight and Oklahoma City, the future capital of the state of Oklahoma, is one of them. A number of the homesteaders of our tribe gather together there on the first Sunday following Harrison’s Horse Race (April 28) and so, make for the start of, what will with the passage of time, become dozens of congregations of our heritage in that city and the immediate area.
The wild times only begin with this initial rush to claim land; the months that follow are wooly as well. So much so that Oklahoma City quickly gains the reputation of being “tougher than a boiled owl.” So tough, in fact, that six weeks after today’s run, when the first congregation there in Oklahoma City wants to walk together to the nearest water (the North Canadian River) for several to be baptized, their preacher, T.J. Head, requests that two hundred cavalrymen escort their coming and going and to keep watch over them during the proceedings.
* April 23, 1861 – Walter Scott dies today of typhoid pneumonia. Reminiscing of Scott, Alexander Campbell will write of him: “Next to my father, he was my most cordial and indefatigable fellow laborer … I knew him well. I knew him long. I loved him much.”
* April 23, 1912 – A glowing report authored by Arthur Wilkinson and published in the Firm Foundation speaks of a “boy preacher” who’s preaching skills leave everyone amazed. The report reads:
“Last Sunday was the day for _____, to occupy the pulpit at the Christian church in Sunset [located in Montague County, Texas]. _____ is known as the ‘boy preacher,’ which is indeed true. He is only 15 years of age, and is still wearing his knee pants, but his ability as a preacher is indeed wonderful.
“The house was crowded to its fullest capacity, and judging from the expression on the faces of the departing crowd, not one was disappointed over their attendance at either morning or evening discourse, but all were agreeably surprised, and no doubt greatly benefited by the lessons presented.
“Brother _____ not only has the startling ability to entertain his audience, but presents the Scriptures in meekness and love, causing all to realize that what he says, though it falls from the lips of a boy, comes from a heart that is sincere, and is intending to point people from the hopelessness of sin to the light of life in a risen Lord.
“It makes us rejoice to see such interest and earnest zeal manifested by one so tender in years, and we can almost feel the pride of the father and mother of so noble a son. And as this thought leaves our mind a sadder one comes to take its place, and we think what a pity it is that there are fathers and mothers whose heads are made to bow low in shame over the disgraceful conduct of their boy. This being true, we think that [in] the giving to the world [of] such a noble character in the young Christian, such as Brother _____, is made even more commendable, though it be that their parents have only done their duty.
“Now, we do not believe in singing the praise of one gospel preacher over that of another, but we do believe that the efforts of our young preachers deserve the commendation and that they should have our encouragement and prayers, therefore we have written the above.”
Who is this boy wonder? Foy E. Wallace, Jr. And in only seventeen more years, this young man will be the editor of the most influential paper in our heritage at the time, the Gospel Advocate.
April 24, 1831 – Today, the first merger between those of “The Christian Connection,” the movement of “Christians” who rally to Barton W. Stone, Sr., and those of the movement known as the “Reformers” (aka: “Reformed Baptists”). The latter are made up of “Disciples” who look to Alexander Campbell, Sr. for direction. This merger of the Stone and Campbell movements becomes pervasive and official seven months later on January 1, 1832. For the next several decades, the merged movements will be most commonly referred to as the “Christian Church” or the “Disciples of Christ.”
April 25, 1826 – Today’s post has two springboards. (1) Today, the daughter and son-in-law of one of the Restoration Heritage’s key pioneer figures follows the the common wisdom of the time to “Go west!” and it costs them literally everything, except their lives. (2) Which great pioneer leader of our heritage has a grandson who offers a $1,000,000 reward for the kidnapping of Adolph Hitler?
A sterling example of a young man who attempted to “go west,” but wound up limping home “back east” is a son-in-law of Walter Scott. It is on this day in 1826 that William Church is born to Samuel & Mary (Hannen) Church. William grows up to marry Walter Scott’s daughter, Emily, on January 1, 1849. William and Emily make their home for a time in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; however, in the summer of 1857 they decide to move out “out west” onto “the unbroken prairie” of Caldwell County, Missouri. John Woolf Jordan tells us the rest of the story:
“The hardship, suffering, and danger involved in this daring enterprise can hardly be exaggerated. The part of Missouri in which they took up their abode was very sparsely populated, and every necessity of life was in the crudest form. On arriving at their new home in the wilderness they, with the help of some neighbors, built a log cabin from timber hewn on the premises – a dwelling which, like all others of that region, consisted of but one room. There was no money in part of the country, and the few necessaries which could be obtained were purchased on the basis of exchange for other commodities. The prairie home was unprotected by fences, and had but a meagre outfit of live stock. No food could be regularly obtained, with the exception of bacon, a few potatoes, and cornbread made by grating the corn direct from the ear. On rare occasions a sack of flour and a few luxuries, such as tea, coffee, and sugar, were brought from a town fifty miles distant. Mr. Church attempted to improve the quality of their civilization by establishing a sawmill on Maribone Creek, an enterprise which was regarded with great favor by the neighborhood, sawed lumber being at that time unknown on the prairie, and no house boasting the luxury of a wooden floor. After a few weeks’ trial, however, the engine broke down, and there was no skilled labor available to keep it going. Finally, the spring rains overwhelmed the little lumber mill, which, together with the engine, was swept away in the rushing waters. …
“The slavery controversy had at this time assumed in Missouri a condition of great bitterness, and bushwackers took advantage of the state of affairs to commit robbery and murder, carrying their hatred of the anti-slavery principles which were held by the northern people like the Church family to such an extreme that persons were sometimes hanged for their opinions at their own roadsides. …
“Accordingly, in the spring of 1859 [two years before the death of Walter Scott], Mr. and Mrs. Church, with their family, now four children, entered their wagon, and as there was no possibility of selling their effects, they abandoned everything, including house, furniture, live stock and land, and set out across the country for Lexington, Missouri, completing their journey by boat, down the Missouri River to St. Louis, and up the Ohio to Pittsburg, profoundly thankful to arrive an unbroken family at their old home. Mr. Church became associated with the Pittsburg and Oakland Street Railway Company, serving as its secretary and treasurer throughout the brief remainder of his short life. He died March 11, 1863, having not yet completed his thirty-seventh year, and leaving the following children: Walter, Emily, Mary, Samuel Harden … and Sarah.”
Now William and Emily’s youngest son, Samuel Harden Church, grows up to enjoy, among other things, a very successful career in the railroad business, international recognition as a first-rate British historian and the longest tenure ever as president of the Carnegie Institute (1914-1943). And it is Samuel, a grandson of Walter Scott, who, at the age of 82, makes the following word public via a letter published in the New York Times on April 30, 1940:
“In order to prevent further bloodshed and outrage in this war of the German aggression, I am authorized by competent Americans to offer a reward of the person or persons who will deliver Adolph Hitler, alive, unwounded and unhurt, into the custody of the League of Nations for trial before a high court of justice for his crimes against the peace and dignity of the world. This proposal will stand good through the month of May, 1940.”