by Michael D. (Mike) Greene
In 1804, Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States. The Louisiana Purchase had nearly doubled the size of the country. Civilization was coming to towns that had grown up in just a few years. By 1810, New York City would have a population over 96,000 while Cincinnati, Ohio would number 2,540. Lexington, Kentucky, just 20 or so miles down the road from the Cane Ridge meetinghouse where Barton Stone labored, would be home to 4,326 souls.
When Stone and the others withdrew from the synod and established the Springfield Presbytery in 1804, Stone told the Cane Ridge and Concord churches for which he preached that they were free from any salary obligations they might have had toward him.
He preferred “the truth to the friendship and kindness of my associates in the Presbyterian ministry, who were dear to me, and tenderly united in the bonds of love.”/1 Stone turned to his small farm, laboring day and night to support his family, while still working for the two churches he held dear.
Under the name of the Springfield Presbytery, Stone and the others continued laboring for about a year. It then dawned on the small group that having yet another presbytery “savored of a party spirit.” It was decided to dissolve the Springfield Presbytery and sink into the body at large. It was at that point Stone would “date the commencement of that reformation” to which he dedicated the rest of his life.” /2
The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery was composed to explain their actions to the religious world around them. It is a brief document that begins with the reason for the death of the Springfield Presbytery: “We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into the union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”/3
In ten items, it challenged the readers to cast off all allegiance to the clergy, their creeds and forms of church government and take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven. It concludes with the words, “Finally we will that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.” /4 The document was dated June 28, 1804.
Sometime later the “Witnesses’ Address” was added, further explaining the reason for dissolving the Springfield Presbytery. They expressed deep concern with which they viewed the “divisions and party spirit among professing Christians, principally owing to the adoption of human creeds and forms of government.”/5
An immediate problem came clearly into focus. If they were no longer Presbyterians, what were they? What name should they wear?
Rice Haggard, who had recently joined them, argued that the divinely given name Christian, given first at Antioch, was the only name disciples of Jesus should wear. From that time, Stone took the name Christian and wore it and no other. Haggard wrote a pamphlet setting out his reasoning entitled, “An address to the Different Religious Societies on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name.”
For Stone, the Rubicon had been crossed, the die had been cast. Though four of his co-signers forsook him and the cause, he could never go back. For the rest of his life, he would labor to go back to the Bible in all matters of faith and practice. Never did he deviate from the desire to bring unity to God’s people by that means. For him, unity based upon Scripture became “the polar star.”
However bright Stone felt the future might be on that fateful day in June of 1804, he had no way of knowing what struggles and controversies lay ahead. Though many of the comforts of genteel living would soon find their way to the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, his would not be an easy lot in life as controversy would continually test Stone’s irenic spirit.
Stone continued to labor with the Cane Ridge church until he moved his family to Jacksonville, Illinois in 1834. Ten years later he traveled to Missouri to visit his son. On his journey home, he stopped in Hannibal, Missouri to visit his daughter and son-in-law. It was there that he passed from this life on a Saturday morning, November 9, 1844. He was 71 years old.
Notices of his death appeared in several periodicals that circulated among the expanding brotherhood. Many extolled the venerable old preacher with glowing accounts of his life and work. Of this beloved preacher Tolbert Fanning wrote:
“To be sure his talent was not, perhaps quite so brilliant as some others. But his acquaintance with the scriptures was extensive and critical, and a more humble, conscientious and pious man cannot be found. If justice is ever done to his memory, he will be regarded as the first great American reformer – the first man who, to much purpose pleaded the ground that the Bible, without note, commentary, or creed, must destroy antichristian powers, and eventually conquer the world. Although I have heard Father Stone slandered, and his views grossly perverted, yet never did I hear mortal man utter a syllable derogatory to his moral worth. A man more devoted to Christianity has not lived nor died, and many stars will adorn his crown in a coming day.”/6
His remains lie in the small graveyard next to the Cane Ridge meeting house under an impressive marker that identifies him as “the distinguished reformer of the 19th century.”
1/ Elder John Rogers, The Biography of Eld. Barton Warren Stone, (Cincinnati: J. A. & U.P. James, 1847, as reprinted in the Cane Ridge Reader, edited by Hoke Dickinson, 1972), 50.
2/ Ibid, 50.>
3/ Ibid, 51.>
4/ Ibid, 53.>
5/ Ibid, 53-54
6/ Tolbert Fanning, “A Good Man Has Fallen,” Christian Review, 1:288, December, 1844, as quoted in: Hazard of the Die, James R. Wilburn (Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Co, 1969), 29-30.