by Michael D. “Mike” Greene
If Thomas and Alexander Campbell were the intellectual and theological leaders of the early Restoration Movement, Walter Scott had to be the one who helped bring the grand principles expounded by the Campbell’s to the common man.
Walter Scott was born October 31, 1796 in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Like the Campbell’s he was reared in the Presbyterian Church. He, too, was well educated having attended the University at Edinburgh.
When he finished his course of study at the University in 1818, an uncle paid his way to immigrate to America. He arrived in New York July 7, 1818. He was 24 years old. He soon landed a job as a teacher, a vocation he pursued for most of his life.
The next year he moved west to Pittsburgh where he met Robert Forrester and became a teacher in Forrester’s school. Scott was soon influenced by Forrester’s ideas in matters of religion. Forrester, like Alexander Campbell had been influenced by the thinking of such men as James and Robert Haldane and John Glas, reformers who had broken with the Church of Scotland.
Under Forrester’s influence and through his own study of baptism he was immersed by Forrester. He became a strong advocate for believer’s baptism as opposed to infant baptism which was the predominate practice of the day.
His study also led him to the conclusion that baptism was “more than simply a Christian ritual or ordinance. Rather it was a positive action taken by Christians. God’s response to this action provided formal remission of sins through the death of Christ.”/1
He also reached the conviction that the central tenet of the Christian faith is the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This truth he called the “Golden Oracle,” and it became a primary focus of his preaching and writing.
In the winter of 1821-22, Alexander Campbell came to Pittsburgh and he and Scott met. Scott was 25, Campbell was 33. They discussed their respective religious views and formed an immediate attachment, respect and affection for each other.
It is reported that they complimented one another well, each supplying what the other lacked. While Campbell was rock steady, logical, and saw the wide view of things, Scott was emotional, and saw things through the eyes of a poet.
“Both were nobly endowed with the powers of higher reason — a delicate self-consciousness, a decided will and clear perception of truth. But as it regards the other departments of the inner nature, in Mr. Campbell the understanding predominated, in Mr. Scott the feelings; and if the former excelled in imagination, the later was superior in brilliancy of fancy.”/2
In 1823, Campbell shared with Scott his plans for a religious periodical. Scott suggested the Name Christian Baptist. Campbell was also preparing for the debate with the Presbyterian W. L. McCalla on infant baptism. Scott suggested to Campbell that since baptism is “for remission of sins” and an infant is incapable of sinning, an infant is not a subject for baptism. Campbell used the argument with great effect in the debate.
In contrast to his good friend Alexander Campbell, Scott was never economically successful. His compassion led him to give away much of what he earned. Campbell once gave Scott a five dollar gold piece only to stand amazed when Scott later gave it away to someone in greater need. A neighbor had no cow. Scott’s family had two cows, so Scott gave the neighbor one of the cows. His children complained that he had given away the one with the bell./3
Scott’s emotional makeup was demonstrated in his domestic relationships. He was married three times. His third wife, a wealthy widow named Eliza Sandidge, outlived him by many years. Scott’s marriage to Sandidge was a stormy one. She was wealthy and had a strong respect for possessions. Scott had no such understanding of money. Money was to be used or to be given away.
The conflict soon removed any happiness from the home and would send Eliza into a rage and send Walter from the house.
On one such occasion, Walter not only left the house but left town. His absence was soon noted by the elders of the church for which Walter preached. Two were sent to find him. And find him they did, wandering the streets of the nearby city of Cincinnati. The elders urged him to return home. He agreed to go, only if the elders would go with him./4
In 1860, at the age of 64, Walter was growing ever more distraught with the conditions in his adopted homeland of America and the church which he loved. Abraham Lincoln had been elected President. Abolitionist and secession fervor had wracked the nation.
In April of 1861, Fort Sumter was fired upon by Confederate cannon. America was breaking up and Civil War was imminent. The church was struggling with its own conflicts over the Missionary Society and the recent introduction of instrumental music in nearby Midway, Kentucky.
Scott passed into eternity April 23, 1861. It is said he died of a broken heart, broken over the state of the country and church he loved. When the news of Scott’s death reached Campbell he wrote:
“No death in my horizon, out of my own family, came more unexpectedly or more ungratefully to my ears than this of our much beloved and highly appreciated brother, Walter Scott; and none awoke more tender sympathies and regrets. Next to my father, he was my most cordial and indefatigable fellow laborer in the origin and progress of the present reformation… By the eye of faith and the eye of hope, methinks I see him in Abraham’s bosom”/5
1/ Foster, Douglas, A., Ed., The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 2004, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 674.
2/ Richardson, Robert, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. I, 1897, Reprinted by Religious Book Service, Indianapolis, IN., 510-11.
3/Stevensen, Dwight E., Walter Scott Voice of the Golden Oracle, 1946, College Press, Joplin, MO, 137-38.
4/ Ibid, 211-12.
5/Campbell, Alexander, Millennial Harbinger, 1861, 296. As quoted in: Walter Scott Voice of the Golden Oracle, 223-24.