by Michael D. “Mike” Greene
The twists and turns of life may take one along many roads and paths before the allotted three score and ten have passed. So it was as Alexander Campbell spent his life in his search for truth, unity, and the restoration of the ancient order of things.
Margaret Brown Campbell lived sixteen years after her marriage to Alexander and bore him five children. Campbell then married Selina Bakewell, a woman fourteen years his junior, a marriage approved by Margaret before her death.
Campbell’s marriage to Selina lasted until his death some 38 years later. She bore him six children. Campbell eventually buried ten of his own children. The 1847 drowning of his eight year old son Wickliffe, whom he thought had the most promise as a preacher, while Campbell was travelling in England had a profound effect on both Alexander and Selina. Campbell was a man acquainted with grief.
Whether the second marriage was one of mere convenience or love has been the cause of much speculation. However, at the age of 73 he dedicated a book, Popular Lectures and Addresses to “Selina Campbell, My Dutiful and Affectionate Wife, Who Has Greatly Assisted Me in My Labors in the Gospel At Home and Abroad.”/1
They may not have married for love, but it is clear that Campbell grew to love Selina as he had Margaret. Both Margaret and Selina served as true help meets to Campbell; caring for the growing family, house and farm, especially in Alexander’s absence. This, too, was a great blessing to Campbell as well as a positive factor in Campbell’s rise to prominence and influence in so many areas.
How Campbell’s search for truth and the ancient order of things led him into unknown waters is seen by questions raised after the birth of his first child, Jane, on March 13, 1812. Should this infant be sprinkled as both he and Margaret had been? It was soon decided from diligent study of the word that there was no authority for infant baptism. But in studying the question, he became convinced that only believer’s baptism was biblical baptism.
Not being one “who could remain long without carrying out his convictions of duty, he resolved at once to obey what he now, in the light of the Scriptures, found to be a positive Divine command.”/2
Arrangements were made with a Baptist preacher, Matthias Luce, who agreed to baptize Campbell. When the appointed time came on June 12, 1812, Campbell spoke to give his reasons for being baptized. During that explanation he quoted Peter’s command on the day of Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized for remission of sins.”
In all, seven persons, including Campbell, his wife and parents were baptized. It was noted that immersion was performed “upon making the simple confession of Christ required of the converts in the apostolic times.”/3
Campbell’s success in defending believer’s baptism so impressed the Baptist community that they sought Campbell to defend the belief in a debate with John Walker, a Presbyterian who practiced infant baptism. Campbell’s efforts were so successful that he was recruited to participate in another debate on baptism with Willam L. Maccalla, another Presbyterian, in 1822. After these first debates, although not fond of controversy, Campbell was persuaded that a week’s worth of debating is worth a year’s preaching./4
Thus began Campbell’s career as a debater. He held a multitude of smaller debates and several major ones. Including debates with the Scottish infidel Robert Owen in 1829, Catholic Bishop John Purcell in 1837, and with Presbyterian N. L. Rice in 1843. Which debate lasted sixteen days.
In 1823, Campbell issued a prospectus for his first venture as an editor. He proposed a periodical to be called The Christian Baptist. It was to be a 24 page monthly, the purpose of which was to: “… espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting that ancient sect called ‘Christians first at Antioch.’ Its sole object shall be the eviction of truth, and the exposure of error in doctrine and practice.”/5
In the first years of its publication, Campbell ran a series of articles in which he sought out the ancient order of things and how the ancient order could be restored. These articles served as the basis of his later book entitled The Christian System which served to exhibit “a concentrated view of the whole ground we occupy.”/6 This was, in effect, Campbell’s first published systematic theology.
The Christian Baptist became a profitable periodical as did most things to which the name of Alexander Campbell was attached. One reason demonstrates the acumen of the man. Prior to his printing the first edition, he obtained an appointment as postmaster of Buffaloe, Virginia, which gave him the privilege of mailing the Baptist at no charge./7 More than one sister publication went out of business due to the cost of mailing.
The Christian Baptist was published from 1823 to 1830. Campbell discontinued it because his association with the Baptists (an association for convenience sake alone) was becoming strained and would soon end. In the same year, he issued the first number of his Millennial Harbinger, a journal that continued to be published for four years after his death in 1866. Campbell had given the editorship to his son-in-law, W.K. Pendleton, in 1864.
It has been said that the Restoration Movement did not have bishops, it had editors. Campbell, as one of the most influential of those editors, wielded his pen in the cause of restoration as effectively as he had the opportunities for debate. Knowing his role as debater and editor is just scratching the surface of appreciating this multifaceted gentleman farmer from Bethany, West Virginia.
1/Foster, Douglas, A., Ed., The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 2004, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 130.
2/Richardson, Robert, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. I, 1897, Reprinted by Religious Book Service, Indianapolis, IN., 395.
4/Ibid, Vol. II, 90.
5/Foster, Douglas, A., Ed., The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 2004, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 174.
6/ Campbell, Alexander, The Christian System, 1835, Reprinted by the Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, TN., 1970, xv.
7/ Foster, Douglas, A., Ed., The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 2004, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 174.