by Michael D. (Mike) Greene
It was 1830. Walter Scott was only 34 years old, but he was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. His preaching, which had moved thousands, was now disappointing. The former energetic, gregarious preacher was in an almost constant state of melancholy.
What had brought the most successful evangelist of the early Restoration Movement to such a low state?
In the years prior to 1827, the churches in the Western Reserve (now Ohio) under the influence of the Campbells and others, were well along in their search for the “ancient order of things.”
Through diligent study, Biblical beliefs and practices had replaced sectarian doctrines and practices in the life of the churches. But the churches were not growing.
Few conversions were reported among the congregations that made up the Mahoning Association, of which many of those reforming churches were members. However, all that was about to undergo a seismic change.
When the association met at New Lisbon, Ohio on August 23-24, 1827, through the efforts of Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott was appointed traveling evangelist for the year. With great enthusiasm Scott left his family behind in Steubenville, Ohio and set out to evangelize the Western Reserve.
For some time Scott had been dwelling on the possible cause of the lack of converts. Had not the search for the “ancient order of things” brought new understandings of Biblical faith and practice to the life of the churches? Why then were converts so few?
As he pondered this vital matter he came to understand that while he, Campbell, and others had worked successfully to restore the ancient order in worship, government and belief, little attention had been given to a restoration of how one became a Christian. He came to believe converts were to be made in the modern day in the same way as they were in the New Testament day.
An examination of how converts were made in the New Testament led Scott to conclude that “After the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship was presented, first came faith, or the believing of the evidence; then followed in logical order, repentance, baptism, the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and life eternal”(italics in the original, MG)./1
This Scott came to understand as the ancient gospel, which he felt was distinct from the ancient order. Of this understanding Stevenson writes:
“The ancient order and the ancient gospel were two distinct matters. The ancient order referred to the life of the church, but the ancient gospel to entering the church. The gospel preceded the church; and the ancient order without the ancient gospel is necessarily barren. But unite the two! The expansion of the kingdom is bound to be incalculable.”/2
With his new found insight to the process of conversion, he set about fulfilling the work of an evangelist on the Western Reserve. His first efforts at preaching this new approach to conversion met with dismal results./3 But he was undeterred. He knew this was what the Bible taught as to how converts were made. After a period of devout prayer, he determined to preach it again.
At his next opportunity he began his sermon with an old familiar theme from Matthew 16:16; Jesus Christ, the Son of God… the “Golden Oracle.” He noted that Jesus at that time gave the keys to the kingdom to the apostle Peter.
When did Peter exercise the use of those keys? On the day of Pentecost when he commanded those who cried out “men and brethren, what shall we do” to repent and be baptized for remission of sins.
Scott declared that the need, promise and conditions were unchanged and he urged his auditors to accept and act upon the same message in the same way.
In the assembly was a man by the name of William Amend who through independent study came to understand the relationship between baptism and remission of sins and prayed that he might someday hear a man preach the same message as Peter had done. If he ever did, he would obey it.
When he heard Scott proclaim the same message as did Peter on the day of Pentecost, that same day he made a public confession of his faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and was baptized into the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. The date was November 18, 1827./4
It was on this date, Scott would later affirm, that the ancient gospel was restored.
Scott went forth with his new understanding of the ancient gospel and his success was nothing short of phenomenal. In the three years from 1827 to 1830, he was indefatigable in his efforts to share the ancient gospel with anyone who would listen.
He preached anywhere and anytime he could. It mattered not the place or whether one or one hundred was gathered to listen. In those three years the churches of the Mahoning Association reported 3,000 additions under the preaching of Walter Scott.
Others copied his methods and converts multiplied throughout the reforming churches. The theory had become successful practice. The ancient order had been coupled with the ancient gospel and the results were incalculable. But Scott had given his all, and was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. The work had taken its toll.
In time Scott regained his vigor. He continued to preach, write and labor effectively in the cause of the restoration of the ancient order as well as the ancient gospel until his death at age 65.
While many others labored effectively in the cause, none did as much as Scott in bringing the intellectual theory of restoring the New Testament church into the reality of practice so that the common man of the day could understand and obey, and through that obedience become Christians after the New Testament order.
1/ Stevensen, Dwight E., Walter Scott Voice of the Golden Oracle, 1946, College Press, Joplin, MO, 62-63.
2/ Ibid, 63.
3/ Ibid, 65.
4/ Ibid, 66-68.