on these days in the American Restoration Heritage: March 22-28

Among the things that happened this past week in American Restoration Heritage history …

March 22

* March 22, 1829 – Today, for the first time, the Baptist church in Windham (in the ‘Western Reserve,’ as the western portion of Ohio is known at that time), begins observing the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. The church had been “constituted a church of Christ” the preceding May by Thomas Campbell and Marcus Bosworth. To be “constituted a church of Christ” a group of believers rejects existing creeds and confessions and begins to look to the “New Testament as a perfect rule, directory and formula for the faith, discipline, and government of the church.”

In a letter from William Hayden (a preaching partner with Walter Scott) to Thomas Campbell in May 1830, Hayden speaks of the period of change within the congregation from its existence as a Baptist church to a church within the Restoration Heritage. Matters of transition were not conducted overnight, but were gradually phased in.

“A wise forbearance ruled the church, and they eventually all came to the unity of the faith and practice of the apostolic order.”

In his letter to Campbell, Hayden also comments on the spread of the Restoration Heritage in the Western Reserve:

“The Word of God has great success with us. The churches are growing in knowledge, spirituality and numbers. New churches are rising up in very many towns on the Reserve, where we are laboring.”

* March 22, 1833 – On this day, thirty-three year old Absalom Rice, one of the earliest pioneer preachers in Missouri, pens a letter to Alexander Campbell reporting on some of the spread, trials, and influence of the Restoration Heritage in “the West” (i.e. – east central Missouri). Campbell publishes the letter in the Millenial Harbinger.

“Calloway County, MO., March 22, 1833

“Surrounded with opposition by all sectarian societies, and as far in the wilds and forests of the West, we, a few names, constituted ourselves on the second Lord’s Day of December [9], 1832, into a congregation of the Lord; there being only nine in number, three males and six females. We have since increased to twenty-three in number, and I am of opinion that the prospect is somewhat flattering for gaining many more. Our friends of the Baptists and other denominations have many hard sayings concerning our belief, but utterly refuse investigation. But I have succeeded in getting some of them to read for themselves, and they confess that they find no such views in your writings as are attributed to you. I received a request a few days ago to visit a Methodist society, 20 miles distant. They had got hold of the Harbinger, and in spite of all their priests can do, are about to blow up. Light is spreading, and men’s minds cannot be much longer manacled by sectarianism. – Absalom Rice

March 23

* March 23, 1827John Franklin Rowe is born just outside of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He will grow to become a significant writer and publisher in the Restoration Heritage. He is most remembered for his work with the American Christian Review (1867-1886), his own paper (Christian Leader – 1886-1897), and, most significantly, his book entitled History of Reformatory Movements: Resulting in a Restoration of the Apostolic Church, with a History of the Nineteen General Church Councils (1884). Rowe’s book of history, virtually excising the record of Barton W. Stone and his influence from the work of the Stone-Campbell Movement, depicts Campbell’s work as the summit of the mountain that all preceding reformation movements have attempted to climb. This book helps seal this understanding of the Restoration Heritage’s place in history in the minds of many young ministerial students for nearly half a century. It is not until the appearance of F.W. Shepherd’s book The Church, the Falling Away, and the Restoration in 1929 (published by a son of John Franklin Rowe) that Rowe’s history is superseded.

* March 23, 1830 – On this day, Robert B. Semple, a prominent Baptist preacher in Virginia of the time, pens a letter to Alexander Campbell regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and the interpretation of Scripture. Campbell publishes Semple’s letter, and his reply, in the Millenial Harbinger (vol.1, no.3). In his reply to Semple, we learn of some of Campbell’s early quest and habits toward understanding Scripture, who he has read after, and what a change of approach and mind has taken place within him.

“From the age of sixteen I read devoutly, at intervals, the most ‘evangelical writers.’ … ‘Dr. John Owen was a great favorite with me; I read most of his works …

“… how laboriously and extensively I … examined the question of faith. For the space of one year I read upon this subject alone. Fuller, Bellamy, Hervey, Glass, Sandeman, Cudworth, Scott, M’Lean, Erskine, cum multis aliis, were not only read, but studied as I studied geometry. And I solemnly say, that, although I was considered at the age of twenty-four [1812] a much more systematic preacher and text expositor than I am now considered, and more accustomed to strew my sermons with scores of texts in proof of every point, I am conscious that I did not understand the New Testament; not a single book of it. Matthew Henry and Thomas Scott were my favorite commentators. …

“… I began to read the scriptures critically. Works of criticism from Michaelis down to Sharp, on the Greek article, were resorted to. While these threw light on many passages, still the book as a whole, the religion of Jesus Christ as a whole, was hid from me.

“I took the naked text and followed common sense; I read it, subject to the ordinary rules of interpretation, and thus it was it became to me a new book.

“… as I learned my Bible I lost my orthodoxy, and from being one of the most evangelical in the estimation of many, I became the most heretical. I can only say for the spirit which actuated me, that it was a most vehement desire to understand the truth. I did most certainly put the world out of my sight. I cared no more for popularity than I did for the shadow that followed my body when the Sun shone. I valued truth more than the gold of Ophir, and I sought her with my whole heart, as for hidden treasure. My eye was single, as King James’ Translators said. I paid no court to the prejudices of the world, and did sacrifice every worldly object to the Bible.

“… I would only add that experience has taught me that to get a victory over the world, over the life of fame, and to hold in perfect contempt human honor, adulation, and popularity, will do more to make the New Testament intelligible, than all the commentators that ever wrote.”

March 24

March 24, 1818 – On this day, a Tuesday, Barton W. Stone, Sr. conducts a wedding for Rebecca Willamson Russell and a young veteran of the War of 1812, twenty year-old Thomas Miller (“T.M.”) Allen. Given his experiences in the war, T.M. has lost all interest not only in the church in which he was reared (Presbyterian), but in matters of faith altogether; however, the friendship that is kindled between him and Stone, and hearing Stone preach, ultimately leads to his baptism into Christ by Stone in May 1823.

T.M. is, if anything, a human dynamo, being diligent in focus and labor. Between his marriage (1818) and his baptism (1823), he studies law at Transylvania University, becomes a grand master in a Masonic Lodge (the same lodge in which Henry Clay is a member), and practices law for a time in Indiana with his law partner, James Whitcomb (who later becomes the Governor of Indiana, and then, a U.S. Senator). However, within two years of his baptism, T.M. takes up preaching and John Allen Gano is one of his first converts (July 1827).

In 1836, T.M. and Rebecca move to Boone County, Missouri, and T.M., now making a living by farming, becomes wealthy and purchases several slaves.  He treats his slaves well, so well in fact that despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, most of his slaves refuse to leave the Allen family (and all keep connection with the family).

Throughout this time, T.M. continues to preach and though he continues to farm, he also travels through much of Missouri and even makes time in the early 1840’s to help edit Stone’s paper, the Christian Messenger. H. Leo Boles once said of T.M.:

“No man did more to spread the cause of Christ in the State of Missouri than did Thomas M. Allen.”

Over the course of his life, T.M. baptizes a total of 3,570 people and plants/organizes eighteen churches.

And what of John Allen Gano? It is an article regarding the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper that appears (1831) in the Christian Messenger, penned by John Allen Gano, that powerfully influences members of the Stone Movement and so, does much to pave the way the following year (1832) for official union between the Stone and Campbell Movements. Oh, and John Allen Gano is the father of Richard Montgomery (“R.M.”) Gano, a man we will speak more of in a future post.

March 25

March 25, 1857 – In the May 1857 issue of the Millenial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell reproduces a letter penned to him on this day, March 25, 1857, telling of the advance of the gospel in Alliance, Ohio. In it we’re allowed to listen in on and overhear the private conversation of a preacher and one coming forward to be baptized. The introduction and letter reads:

“Bro. P.K. Dibble writing to us from Canton [Ohio] under date of March 25 [1857], says – ‘On Monday night last I concluded a meeting of 16 days at Alliance, in this county, which resulted in the organization of a congregation of 53 members. Of this number, 12 confessed their faith in Christ Jesus and were immersed into his death; 6 united from the Baptists, 2 from the Methodists, and 4 reclaimed; the balance were disciples living in Alliance and the neighborhood, many of them not knowing that there were any brethren in the neighborhood besides themselves.

“‘On Monday night I went to the Mahoning and immersed a young lady; as I came out of the water, a physician of that place came forward and said, “Here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?” I answered, “If you believest with all thy heart thou mayest.” He replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” We both went down into the water, and I baptized him.'”

March 26

March 26, 1830 – On this day, the Book of Mormon makes its first appearance to the public. Not wanting to lend the Book of Mormon any publicity and hoping it will die a natural death by being ignored, Alexander Campbell does not publish a review of it until the following February (1831). He feels prompted to review it then only because rather than dying a quick death, Mormonism’s influence has been increasing. His review in the Millenial Harbinger is nothing less than a broadside and is entitled “Delusions.” Following are a few of Campbell’s comments on the Book of Mormon and the head of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith:

  • Mormonism is “… the most recent and most impudent delusion which has appeared in our time.”
  • Joseph Smith is “as ignorant and impudent a knave as ever wrote a book …”
  • In publishing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith has set forth an “impious fraud.”
  • “This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his Book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. … But he is better skilled in in the controversies of New York than in the geography or history of Judea.”
  • The Book of Mormon is “without exaggeration the meanest* book in the English language … It has not one good sentence in it. … I would as soon compare a bat to the American eagle, a mouse to a mammoth, or the deformities of a spectre to the beauty of Him who whom John saw on Patmos, as to contrast it with a single chapter in all the writings of the Jewish or Christian prophets. It is as certainly Smith’s fabrication as Satan is the father of lies, or darkness the offspring of night.”
  • “Let the children of Mormon ponder well, if yet reason remains with them … Isaiah 44, and if they cannot see the analogy between themselves and the sons of ancient imposture, then reason is of as little use to them as it was to those of whom the prophet spake …”

In addition to the ‘Delusions’ article, Campbell adds a brief article entitled “Sidney Rigdon” (pp.100-101). Sidney Rigdon had once been a preacher in the Restoration Heritage, but had left to join the Mormons early on. Of Rigdon, Campbell has this to say:

“He who sets out to find signs and omens will soon enough find enough of them. He that expects visits from angels will find them as abundant as he who in the age of witchcraft found a witch in every unseemly old woman. I doubt not but that the irreverence and levity in speaking of the things of God, which have been too apparent in Sidney’s public exhibitions for some time past, and which he has lately confessed, may yet be found to have been the cause of this abandonment to delusion.”

[* As in “small-minded, ignoble, inferior in grade, of little consequence, or shabby.”]

March 27

March 27, 1824 – We all find strength in, and require strength from, others. And so we might ask: if those of us who are “mere mortals” look to “giants” in faith and scholarship for the articulate expression of matters, to whom do the giants turn? In a great many cases, we will never know, and in cases where we do, it is often people we have not heard of, or who for whatever reasons, are largely forgotten.

On this day, one is born who becomes one of those that one of the giants among us turned for insight into meaning and expression. Namely, on this day, Lanceford Bramblet (“L.B.”) Wilkes is born to Edmund & Cynthia Hartshorn (Houston) Wilkes in Maury County, Tennessee. He will become, among other things, a scholar, preacher, writer, and debater. And though not a name nearly so well remembered today as that of J.W. McGarvey, it was MaGarvey who once said of Wilkes:

“If my life were dependent statement of an argument, I would have Bro. L.B. Wilkes state it.”

March 28

March 28, 1855 – On this day, John Naylor writes a letter to Alexander Campbell from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The heart of his letter reads:

“I have been a pretty careful reader of your writings for years, with few intermissions, when I could not obtain them; and as the opportunity casually offers, to write to yourself … Dr. Jeter [Jeremiah Bell Jeter, a prominent Baptist critic of Campbell] charges you with materially modifying your views – or, rather, the expression of your views – and that you have altered your opinion of ministerial education, &c.

“Well, it seems to me, my dear Sir, that he is somewhat correct in some of these matters. You formerly used some terms, and advanced some sentiments, which do not agree with your late publications. I cannot refer to the Christian Baptist at present; but, if my recollection serve me, I think I could cull out a few paragraphs, and not take them from their connection either, which would not quite tally with your late efforts for Colleges.

“However, no person who has ever written one-tithe of the matter that you have done, is less open to the charge than yourself; and it would certainly be very strange if, by garbled extracts, such discrepancies could not be shown.”

Campbell’s reply in Millenial Harbinger begins with these words:

“Touching these changes of which you have spoken, and to which you allude, I have leisure, at present, only to state, that I am not conscious of any change in any Christian doctrine since I wrote the first volume of the Christian Baptist. That my horizon has been much enlarged during the last thirty years, I should be ashamed not to avow. But it has mainly been in deepening my impressions of the great departure, in the exhibition and practice of the present Christian world, from Primitive Christianity.”