Most associate the Restoration Movement with Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Apart from the day's context, however, they would be men of little importance. Carl Ketcherside once said, "Men become great because they are in the right place at the right time." I think this is true of the Campbells.
I. Thomas Campbell
Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father, was born in County Down, Ireland, February 1, 1763. His parents, originally Catholic, belonged to the Church of England. His father, Archibald Campbell, rejected Catholicism because he thought it out of harmony with the Bible. The family heard the Bible read and studied every day with a portion committed to memory.
As Thomas grew up he found himself repelled by Anglican formality. He sought warmer spiritual climates finding them among the Seceder branch of the Presbyterians. Here he found people more concerned with genuine piety than the Anglicans he knew. He also found a divided church. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Scotland was hopelessly divided. The Seceder Presbyterian Church originally came about when the Church of Scotland attempted to enforce laws which deprived the congregation of the right to select their own preacher. The Seceder branch "determined to preserve a congregation's right to select its own ministers." The secession church split in 1747 over whether or not members should swear an oath to adhere to the "religion presently professed in the realm."
Like most Presbyterians, Campbell accepted the Calvinistic doctrines of total hereditary depravity and election. Longing for the peace which comes by knowing one is among the elect, Campbell prayed for his conversion experience. Robert Richardson describes father Campbell's search for assurance. He wrote:
From that time on, Campbell believed himself to be specially called to the ministry. He approached his father about the possibility, but his father refused to allow it until someone else offered to pay for his education. John Kinley, a fellow Seceder, offered to do just that a bit later. For a time Thomas Campbell taught school at a school near Sheepbridge in County Down. While teaching he impressed John Kinley so much he offered to finance Campbell's religious education.
Campbell entered Glasgow University and studied there from 1783 to 1786. Scottish independent movements influenced Campbell to a small degree while he studied at the university. Following his study in Glasgow, he attended theological school at Whitburn, Scotland. This course of study covered five years. During that period Campbell taught school and occasionally preached at Ballymena in County Antrim.
In 1787, Campbell married Jane Corneigle, whose ancestors were French Huguenots. Just a year later, a rural congregation near Armagh. Ahorey, Ireland, as this rural area was known, became the Campbell family home. Campbell's farm, located near Rich Hill, lay just a few miles from the church. When Campbell began preaching, he emphasized Scripture. He based Catechetical examinations on Scripture and they were "couched in Biblical terms rather than the words and phrases of the catechism assigned for this purpose."
During his Ahorey ministry, Presbyterian divisions became increasingly evident to Campbell. I mentioned the nature of the Seceder branch earlier. Presbyterians also divided over such issues as requiring Burgesses to take certain oaths and whether or not civil magistrates had authority in religious issues. Campbell found himself a member of the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church. Campbell found all the division and wrangling discomforting.
A number of local factors influenced Campbell in northern Ireland. McAllister and Tucker outline these:
First, Campbell discovered a congregation of Independents near Rich Hill. The Campbells often attended their evening services. The congregation often allowed those of other persuasions to present their points of view. As a result, Campbell heard such notables as James A. Haldane, Rowland Hill, John Walker and others. The group's tolerance impressed Campbell highly.
Second, he heard much "evangelical" preaching in the area. Campbell even joined the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Home founded by James Haldane.
Third, sectarianism rocked the region. Campbell tried again and again to reunite Presbyterianism's warring factions. He began meetings to effect this in 1804 but each effort met with failure.
Campbell's continual concern for Presbyterian reunification, his duties at Ahorey and at his Academy combined to break his health. His personal physician recommended a sea voyage to America to help him recover. No one really knows how much Campbell's personal interest in America influenced him in this trip, but it is known he expressed much interest in America. We also know Alexander desired to go to America at some point. Thomas Campbell left for Londonderry on April 1, 1807. He sailed from there on the Brutus on April 8, 1807, in the company of Hannah Acheson, a family friend on her way to visit relatives who settled in western Pennsylvania near the town of Washington.
Campbell arrived in America in May 1807 and presented himself to the Synod of North America which happened to be in session. He requested a position and the synod appointed him to the jurisdiction of the Chartiers Presbytery in southwestern Pennsylvania. After his arrival in Washington, the Chartiers Presbytery gave him appointments in Allegheny, Beaver, Indiana, and Washington Counties. After five months Campbell found himself in big trouble with the Presbytery. The group charged him with making statements out of harmony with the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Presbytery subsequently convicted him of deviating from Anti-Burgher doctrine. Campbell and the Presbytery differed over the issues of church order and government. The Presbytery then voted Campbell's suspension on February 12, 1808. Campbell appealed to the Synod of North America and the suspension was withdrawn. While in Philadelphia making his appeal, Campbell preached in the city of brotherly love. Campbell then returned to western Pennsylvania.
The Chartiers Presbytery levied the following charges against Campbell. According to reports, they said Campbell:
The Presbyterians harassed Campbell relentlessly. Dowling says that "spies were selected to observe and report on his preaching and other activities; he was subjected to misrepresentations and lies." Finally Thomas Campbell issued a statement to the Presbytery on September 13, 1808, renouncing the Chartiers Presbytery's jurisdiction along with that of the Associate Synod of North America. Ultimately the synods permanently suspended Campbell on April 18, 1810.
In spite of Presbyterian rejection Campbell did not reduce his ministerial labors. He met with friends and neighbors to observe the Lord's Supper. Finally a group met at the home of Abraham Altars in the early summer of 1809 and again in August at which point they formed the Christian Association of Washington. They association appointed 21 members to formulate a document outlining their purposes and objectives. We now know this document as The Declaration and Address. No one saw the association as a church. Only after the principles outlined in the Declaration and Address received little attention did they organize the Brush Run Church.
II. Alexander Campbell
Thomas Campbell came to the United States without his family. He left his school at Ahorey in the capable care of his oldest son, Alexander.
Alexander was born near Shane's Castle, County Antrim, Ireland on September 12, 1788. He spent his boyhood days on the farm near Rich Hill. His first schooling took place in an Academy near Market Hill. Father Thomas often despaired that Alexander would amount to anything since he enjoyed sports and athletics over scholarly pursuits. Thinking hard work would drive out Alexander's frivolity, Thomas set him to work with those hired to do the farming. The hard work proved beneficial for Alexander since it gave him a strong body and constitution which served him well in later life.
As I noted earlier, the Campbells focused a lot of attention on Scripture. Each member memorized portions of Scripture during their daily family worship. Once these portions were committed to memory they were later recited and discussed after the family's devotions.
At age 17, Alexander Campbell became interested in religious studies. Like his father before him, Campbell sought the religious experience which would assure him of his election. The experience came after some distress and the Ahorey Seceder church received him into membership. He then began a theological study with special emphasis on church history. At that point he had no determination to enter the ministry.
His father left for America when Alexander was 18. The whole Campbell family expected to join Thomas soon. Thomas wrote the family on January 1, 1808, to join him as soon as possible. The family made preparations to leave on the Hibernia on October 1, 1808. The family sailed from Londonderry but a storm interrupted the trip blowing the ship onto a rock. As the ship took on water the sailors cut down the masts to lighten the ship so it could right itself temporarily. Alexander sat down on one of the masts' stumps and gave his life to God.
With the trip temporarily canceled, the family settled in Glasgow. Alexander entered the university for a time, met some of the city's Haldane preachers including Greville Ewing. At the university, Campbell studied Greek, French, logic and philosophy. He also read ethics, natural history, philosophy, and theology. Not having enough to do, Campbell taught Latin, grammar and arithmetic.
Alexander, separated from his father by 3,000 miles of water, had no idea of his father's struggles in Pennsylvania. He knew he found independency attractive. Campbell wrestled with his conscience but prepared for communion at a Seceder church in Glasgow. He underwent the appropriate examination and received the metallic token entitling him to take communion. When the time to partake arose Campbell was present with his token. Again he wrestled with his conscience and when the communion passed by he cast in his communion token and left without partaking. His action indicated a clean break with Presbyterianism.
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