The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Stone-Campbell Movement (page 1 of 3)

Abolition & the Stone-Campbell Movement: James O’Kelly’s Essay on Negro-Slavery

I have written before about the unfortunate fact that there were some Christians in the antebellum South who used the Bible to justify the practice of slavery. I argued that they were wrong to do so on at least two grounds:

  1. They failed to see a distinction between the ancient slavery described and regulated in the bible and the race-based chattel slavery of the U.S. colonies and Southern states that was basically “man-stealing,” something the Bible expressly forbade (Exodus 21.16).
  2. They failed to see the profound argument set forth by Paul in the Letter to Philemon. Here, he does not seek to abolish all slavery in the Roman Empire, but instead seeks to get one man to understand the radical implications of the Christian message: slave owners should view their slaves as Christian brothers and sisters (or at least, as potential brothers and sisters) in the family of God, and to treat them accordingly. In such a family where all are equally servants of God, there is no place for slavery.

Thankfully, many Christians were not wrong on these points, and were actually at the forefront of the fight for the abolition of slavery. One prominent abolitionist (in fact, he was one of the first clergymen to write an anti-slavery publication) was James O’Kelly (1735-1826), who is of particular interest to me (and many of my readers) because of his connection to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

O’Kelly was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in North Carolina in the 1770s and 1780s. O’Kelly withdrew from the Methodist Church in 1792 over matters of church polity, and founded the Republican Methodist Church, which later became a part of the Christian Connexion. Some of the members of this group later became a part of the Stone-Campbell Movement (though O’Kelly himself died before the Stone and Campbell groups united). You can read more about him here.

In 1789, O’Kelly wrote Essay on Negro-Slavery, in which he published his strong anti-slavery views. Abilene Christian University has a digital scan of this work available for free download, and I enjoyed reading this short publication last summer. O’Kelly writes forcefully and well. I have included some quotations from the work below, along with some of my own thoughts.

First, O’Kelly didn’t actually desire to write about such a topic, but felt compelled to do so:

“Not that I looked upon it as difficult to prove the injustice of slavery, for a man of half sense can see that; but I was reluctant to become an author. Yet the word of the Lord, whenever I thought of declining, would burn like fire in my bones, and rob me of my sleep.” [“To the Reader”]

He seeks to help his audience feel empathy, as he describes the horrible practice of the breaking up of families in slave markets, and the inhumane treatment that slaves at times received from their masters:

“O husbands, who have tender wives and precious children, can you acquiesce with a law that tolerates a practices so inhuman, which enslaves human creatures who have as much right to their natural liberty as to their common air?” [9]

“A master who drank to excess, one morning, lately, took his man-slave, and hoisted and weighed him by a tobacco-beam fixed between his legs, another standing on the beam to increase the pain; beat, cut, and lashed him, till the blood poured down in streams: the slave begged for mercy, but in vain; then spake in a soft manner to the tyrant, saying, master, you have killed me. He then lifted up his eyes to Heaven and expired.” [9]

Beyond an emotional level, O’Kelly addresses the issue of slavery from a theological perspective:

“When GOD called Abraham (Gen. xii) he preached the gospel to him, saying, “In thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,”—Africa not excepted.” [15]

“The Son of GOD did not come to destroy lives, but to save. Neither did he come to enslave men’s persons, but to preach the great jubilee. Involuntary slavery directly opposes the benevolent purposes of the Christian religion. The Christian religion is the pure undefiled religion, gathering proselytes from every nation into one fold. The Christian, who through the Spirit hath received a divine nature, even the mind of Christ, hath learned of his great master to be meek to his countrymen, neighbors and brethren, and the inhabitants of the remotest regions as well as of the nearest. He calls no man common or unclean. He is like his Father and his Master, whose sun shines upon the evil and the good, and who sends rain on the just and the unjust.” [17]

O’Kelly also does not shy away from the difficult issue of the practical consequences of emancipation. With blacks subjugated for so long and deprived of education and a means of building up personal wealth, what would happen to them if they were suddenly freed? O’Kelly acknowledges this problem and suggests that a gradual emancipation would be best, but with the clear understanding that the very people who have created this problem through enslaving others need to be involved in helping former slaves to live as independent, self-sufficient free people:

“You say, “they are poor and having to begin upon, how can they live, if free?” This objection is stronger than all. They are the poorest people that mine eyes ever saw. you shall take every rag of clothing that is on a thousand, and put them in the road as free plunder, and hardly a free-man would alight from his horse to pick them up! But why such poverty? Where is all their labour that you have got? Your objections make your injustice only more glaring. You are the cause of their poverty. Will you rob a man of his all, and then out of pity make a slave of him, because he has nothing to begin upon? Perhaps the grand objection lies here. “What shall we do?” Only let a gradual emancipation commence, from the pure love of GOD and man in our christian brethren, and that glorious example will influence the civil powers. Reward them for their labour; encourage good behaviour; subject them to your laws; let them have interest to study, and our country will not want hands to till the earth with comfort; their minds will be no longer so contracted: the activity of the magistrates will suppress the flagitiousness of white and black. The natural genius of the people will soon appear.” [26]

“If your present situation is such that you cannot liberate your captives without defrauding your creditors, or reducing your family into deep distress; acknowledge the wrong detention, converse with your dear preachers who feel for you, and emancipate them in a more gradual manner; and we shall rejoice in your sincerity, and acknowledge you as dear brethren in Christ.” [31]

In many ways this was not an enjoyable read, as it described and decried a terrible practice in a dark period of our national history. However, it was inspiring to read the thoughts of someone like O’Kelly who, thoroughly infused with the principles of the Gospel, was willing to buck the trends of his time and take a stand for justice and righteousness. Furthermore, the knowledge that he was in some sense a spiritual ancestor of mine was a simultaneous source of pride and hope.

The Mutual Admiration of Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone

The American Restoration Movement, of which I count myself a descendant, has a somewhat complex combination of origins, but it is with good reason that priority is often given to the contributions of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. Stone was chronologically prior to Campbell, but the latter eventually came to be the primary face, thinker, and influencer of the movement. Together, their accomplishments are so recognized that the movement itself is often called, “The Stone-Campbell Movement.”

At the risk of oversimplification, both Stone and Campbell led religious movements in the early 19th century that were concerned with following the practices of the church as laid out in the pages of the New Testament, and doing so as a means of producing unity among the fragmented segments of Christendom. As a testament to that unity, their two movements united in 1832.

This union occurred despite significant theological disagreements between Stone and Campbell, but the nature of those disagreements is not my focus here. Rather, my emphasis is on the fact that, in the face of such disagreement, Stone and Campbell did not regard one another suspiciously or denigrate one another; instead, they possessed great admiration for one another, and did not fail to say so publicly. Consider the following quotations:

I will not say there are no faults in brother Campbell; but that there are fewer, perhaps, in him than any man I know on earth; and over these my love would throw a veil and hide them from view forever. I am constrained, and willingly constrained, to acknowledge him the greatest preacher of this reformation of any man living.

Barton W. Stone, 1843[1]

In the heat of controversy he may, indeed, like most other men, have been carried too far on some points; still he was the honored instrument of bringing many out of the ranks of human tradition, and putting into their hands the Book of Books, as their only confession of faith and rule of life, and will no doubt, on this account, as well as others, long continue to be a blessing to those who, by his instrumentality, have already been, or may hereafter be, translated into the fullness of the blessings of the gospel of Christ.

Alexander Campbell, 1844[2]

Again, I should emphasize that these are two men who had significant disagreements on a variety of issues, and historians of the movement are often quick to point this out. However, regardless of these disagreements, I find it incredibly significant and impressive that both regarded the legacies of the other so charitably.

What a sterling example both men set for us to follow!


[1] B. W. Stone and John Rogers, The Biography of Eld. Barton Warren Stone, Written By Himself: with Additions and Reflections by Elder John Rogers (Cincinnati: J.A. & U.P. James, 1847), 76.

[2] Stone and Rogers, Biography, 107.

Mooresville Church of Christ and President James Garfield

I am a little late in posting this, but over Thanksgiving break, I was able to visit the tiny village of Mooresville in North Central Alabama. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many pre-Civil War buildings are still preserved in Mooresville.

I was interested in stopping there to pay a visit to the Mooresville Church of Christ, which has been meeting here since 1854. Even more interesting, James Garfield, who would go on to be President of the United States, preached here in 1861, while he was serving as a general in the Union Army. Many people are unaware that Garfield was a gospel preacher in the Restoration Movement.

To read more about the history of the Mooresville church, click here.

Restorationism and the Very Flawed Church at Corinth

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently doing quite a bit of reading on the New Testament Corinthian letters in preparation for a grad school class. One of the commentaries I’m reading is Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians by Ben Witherington III.

I am enjoying much of what Witherington has to say, including the following quotation:

Careful attention to the historical and social matrix of the Pauline communities makes it clear that the early ekklesia [church] was far from perfect. As often as not, Paul was busy exhorting Christians to change their ways. If we believe that the Christian community of today should in some sense be biblically shaped and if we hold up the example of the Pauline communities, then we must say “go and do otherwise” at least as often as we say “go and do likewise.”

One reason we tend to commit the fallacy of idealism when we reflect on the early ekklesia is that we have assumed that the “determining factors of the historical process are ideas and nothing else, and that all developments, conflicts and influences are at bottom developments of, and conflicts and influences between, ideas.” Such a premise too often leads to the false conclusion that if we get our ideas about the faith right or if we emulate “the pattern” of the early ekklesia, then our Christian community will be what it ought to be.

But if we read Paul’s letters carefully, they reveal that right living and proper social interaction both within the Christian community and with the larger world were at least as much of a concern as right thinking, and evidently the early Christians had difficulties with all these matters.

Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth, p. xv

As many readers know already, and as I have written about before, I am a spiritual descendant of the American Restoration Movement, which is based on the premise that Christians should seek unity in God’s church by emulating the teachings of the New Testament and following the example of the early church. I believe that such an approach is fundamentally valid, but I think Witherington provides some important words of caution.

When we read about different congregations of the early church in the pages of Scripture, we come across some like the church at Corinth or some of the seven churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation that serve better as negative examples of what not to do rather than examples that we should try to follow today. So, when we say that we want to be like the church of the New Testament, we need to understand that we don’t exactly mean that, because the various New Testament congregations of which we are aware varied greatly in practice, and not all of them are worth emulating. Because of that, sometimes we might clarify our restorationist goals by saying that we want to be the church of the New Testament as conceptualized and instructed by apostolic teaching. But Witherington provides a caution here too, since having the right ideas and beliefs does not necessarily lead to right practices. And after all, what does it matter what we think if we don’t live right?

To me, none of this discredits the validity of the Restoration principle, but it does mean that we should be careful when we talk about it and as we seek to apply it. For example, rather than seeking to emulate the practices of the early church in wholesale fashion, we should examine biblical texts carefully to see where and how first century congregations were affirmed or reproved for their beliefs and practices, and choose to emulate them accordingly. Furthermore, we need to realize that faithful Christianity is about more than simply believing the right things; it also entails living in a certain way. As Witherington points out, the latter does not necessarily follow the former. At the same time, while it is true that right ideas do not guarantee right practices, it’s also true that wrong ideas make right practices nearly impossible.

God is concerned with both: He wants us to believe certain things, which in turn empower us to live a certain way. And from this perspective, the positive and negative examples of the early church, along with apostolic teachings preserved in the New Testament, are incredibly helpful.

Alexander Campbell and the Problem of Evil

This is another installment in a loosely-united series called A Theological View of Suffering. See more here.

Introduction

The problem of evil[1] has long bothered both believers and those who remain skeptical of the existence of God: how can the idea of a loving and powerful God be reconciled with the undeniable reality of evil and suffering in the world?[2]

Alexander Campbell

Within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, no single individual has been more influential than Alexander Campbell. Campbell thought deeply on a wide variety of subjects, and as editor of popular brotherhood papers and also as a famous writer and debater, his thoughts were widely disseminated in his day and continue to influence his spiritual descendants in the 21st century.

Interestingly though, Campbell’s views on the problem of evil have not been studied significantly[3] and are not widely known. Campbell never developed a comprehensive theodicy,[4] but he did write significantly on the subject of evil and suffering in the world. In addition to being an influential thinker and a prolific writer, Campbell was also a man who was frequently battered by personal tragedy: prior to his death in 1866, Campbell buried ten of his children including his favorite son Wickliffe, who drowned at the age of ten and whose death left him devastated.[5] Through an examination of his writings and his reaction to the death of his beloved son, this paper will seek to describe the ways in which Campbell reconciled his views of God’s good governance of the world with the very real presence of evil and suffering within it.

Campbell’s Views on the Providence of God

Any discussion of Alexander Campbell’s understanding of evil and suffering must be grounded in his views on how God governs the world and providentially directs the lives of mankind. Generally speaking, Campbell’s perspective on providence is characterized by a high view of God’s involvement in the world balanced with a heavy emphasis on human freedom. This middle-ground approach is illustrative of the fact that Campbell desired to distance himself on the one hand from a pervasive Calvinism which denied the reality of human freedom,[6] and a Deistic or Skeptical perspective on the other, which denied the active involvement of God in the world.[7]

In 1833, Campbell published a series of excerpts from William Sherlock’s A Discourse Concerning the Divine Providence.[8] As this work was applauded by Campbell[9] and the excerpts were chosen and published by him, they, along with his own articles, can help us understand his views on providence.

First, Campbell argued strongly for a special providence which interacts with the lives of individuals. He was frustrated by those who believed in providence but denied the individual manifestations of it:

“They who admit a general providence, and, at the same time, deny a special providence, are feeble and perverted reasoners and thinkers. A general, or universal supervision or providence, necessarily implies a special or particular providence.”[10]

For Campbell, a God who created all things but then showed interest in only a few of them would be supremely irresponsible.[11] Instead, God is directly involved in the lives of all his creatures: he governs them in a particular sense rather than simply permitting the events of their lives in a general sense.[12] In fact, “God’s government of all events is indeed so absolute and uncontrollable, that no good or evil can befall any man, but what God pleases, what he orders and appoints for him.”[13] From this perspective, “chance” simply does not exist, as seemingly random events are actually governed by God’s unseen providential hand.[14] For Campbell, a prime biblical example of this is Joseph, whose life is comprised of repeated occurrences of “fortunate” and “unfortunate” events which were actually God’s continual providential workings in his life.[15] Indeed, even the death of infants and good men, “the purest and best of our race”, do not occur outside of the providence of God, but rather happen according to his purposes.[16] In his providence, God is intricately involved in his creation, both in a general and special sense.

However, a second major component of Campbell’s understanding of providence is that none of God’s providential action impinges upon human freedom. Despite God’s providential oversight,

“…yet he lays no necessity upon human actions: men will and choose freely, pursue their own interests and inclinations, just as they would do if there were no Providence to govern them….”[17]

As free moral agents, humans have the ability to make choices for themselves; at the same time, God can use those choices to bring about his own purposes.[18] Out of this free will, men and women at times choose to commit evil. God does not order that they do so; in fact, he expressly forbids it. But, since God honors them as free moral creatures, he does permit their evil choices.[19]

Although Campbell is confident that God meticulously governs the world, he admits that there are things which simply do not make sense from a human perspective: sinful men often live full lives, while some of the purest and best are cut down in the prime of life. But Campbell is willing to chalk this up to the mysterious nature of God, asking “…why should not the scheme of a superintending Providence, or of a righteous moral government, also have its peculiar and incomprehensible mysteries?”[20]

Regardless, Campbell is content to rely on the wisdom, care, and blessing of the God who is firmly in control of his creation:

“… our lives, and all our conditions of life, are of his superintending care and providence, and not of “blind chance” or “good luck,” but of his own direction and blessing; for, indeed, in this life, many of our so-called misfortunes are the choicest blessings, and all things do work together for good to them who love God and keep his commandments.”[21]

Reconciling Evil and Suffering with a Good and Powerful God

Alexander Campbell affirmed the three components of the problem of evil—the benevolence of God, the omnipotence of God, and the existence of evil—but he did not consider those components to be mutually exclusive. In fact, as we shall see, from Campbell’s perspective it was because of God’s goodness that he created a world in which evil exists.

In The Christian System, Campbell explicitly affirms the goodness and power of God as part of his infinite and eternal qualities:

“God appears before the universe of intellectuals in the threefold attitude of Creator, Lawgiver, and Redeemer; and, although each of these involves and reveals many of his excellencies, still in each department three are most conspicuous. As Creator, wisdom, power, and goodness; as Lawgiver, justice, truth, and holiness; as Redeemer, mercy, condescension, and love. In each and all of which departments he is infinite, immutable, and eternal.”[22]

To Campbell, it was also clear that evil and suffering occur in the world. “Moral evil exists as sure as we exist,”[23] he states, and because of that evil, “We have frequently requested such reasoners to reflect that animal and mental pain existed to a very great extent.”[24]

Acknowledging the benevolence and omnipotence of God as well as the existence of evil and suffering in the world, Campbell’s primary response to the tension between these realities was his emphasis on human freedom. For Campbell, God created humanity to be free moral creatures, and he did so out of his goodness. God’s loving goal in creation was to bring about the “diffusion of bliss on the largest possible scale”,[25] and this goal could only be achieved with God functioning as the governor of the universe and his creatures choosing to obey his moral laws:

“…the knowledge of God is essential to the happiness of a rational creature, and if God had given birth to a system which in its very nature excluded the possibility of evil, it would have also excluded the possibility of his being a governor. A creator he might have been, but a governor he could not have been; and unless exhibited as a governor, no rational creature ever could have known him in that way essential to happiness.“[26]

Campbell reasoned that in order for creatures to have the ability to genuinely choose to obey God’s laws, they must also have the ability to choose to disregard them and to rebel against the divine governor.[27] When human freedom is abused in this way, evil and suffering is the inevitable result, but indeed, God could not have achieved his goals for creation without endowing humans with free will and the subsequent ability to bring evil into the world.[28]

In his view that a humanity endowed with free will provided the best option for God’s creation—indeed, the only option which would enable God to achieve his goals for creation—Campbell approximates a version of Leibnitz’s theodicy that this is the best of all possible worlds.[29] And in fact, Campbell uses similar terminology:

“…the actual state of things now existing was the best possible state in which they could exist with a reference to all final results. It may, then, in the sprit of true devotion, and genuine humility be affirmed that God could not, with a reference to all final results, give birth to a more perfect system of things than the present.”[30]

While Campbell sees moral evil as an obvious result of human freedom, he sees natural or cosmic evil as a result of the fall which occurred at the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden:

“At its birth all was good, and therefore all was happy. Before the rebellion in Eden, all was good, all was very good. In the world not a groan, not a sigh was heard, till sin was born. No gloom, no pain, no sorrow any where. But the instant man rebelled, the heavens were overcast, the Sun lost his brightness, the earth its fertility, the air its salubrity, Eden its bloom, woman her beauty, and man his crown. Nature was immediately diseased in all her members.”[31]

Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden negatively affected human nature,[32] and indeed, tainted all of creation. As explained by Thomas Campbell, Alexander’s father, in The Christian Baptist, “…physical evils are the just and proper results and consequences of the moral,” and they are used by God “…as punishments, preventives, or correctives.”[33] Thus, moral evil is made possible by free will, and cosmic evil resulted when free creatures chose to sin.[34]

Another significant aspect of Alexander Campbell’s response to the problem of evil is his insistence on humanity’s limited ability to perceive the providential purpose behind evil events. For Campbell, many of the events and happenings in life which we consider to be pointless evil may actually reflect more upon our inability to accurately perceive what is going on rather than a flaw in the way God is governing the world. Campbell was frustrated with those who argued that God should have ordered world history in such a way that seemingly gratuitous evil would not have occurred. He compared them with children who asked why ripe ears of corn did not immediately spring forth from the earth as soon as the seed was planted:

“Could not an almighty, and benevolent being, have produced the ripe ear without waiting for a sprout, stalk, leaves, blossoms, and all the other preparations of nature to form an ear of corn? We are, even in the common concerns of life, but poor judges of propriety; and it is extreme arrogance for us to arraign Omniscience at the tribunal of our reason when we cannot tell the reason why the blossom precedes the fruit.”[35]

Campbell’s point is clear: if God, in his omniscient wisdom has a reason, indecipherable by humans, for making corn grow in the way it does, it is quite possible that he also has reasons for permitting those evil events which we would rather avoid. Campbell concludes that, ultimately, speculation on the origin and purpose of evil is inessential to the Christian life: “It is not necessary that we should analyze and comprehend the origin and nature of darkness in order to enjoy the light of the sun.”[36]

A Case Study in Suffering: The Death of Wickliffe Campbell

For Alexander Campbell, the issue of evil and suffering in the world was not simply an academic one, as he was touched deeply by suffering in his personal life. Death was a frequent visitor to the Campbell home, and Alexander witnessed the deaths of his first wife and ten of his fourteen children prior to his own passing in 1866.

The death of young children was common in the nineteenth century, but of the ten children whose deaths Campbell witnessed, only three were infants. Six died of illness in their 20’s, and one, Wickliffe, drowned at the age of ten.[37]

Wickliffe Campbell

By all accounts, Wickliffe was a special child. Described in his obituary as “a boy of remarkable and peculiar character” who had “given many evidences of a precocious piety,”[38] Wickliffe’s mother, Selina, said that he was a “remarkably polite, obedient and affectionate child—always serene, always happy.”[39] Though young, Wickliffe would carry his Bible with him daily and eagerly worked to memorize scripture.[40] He enjoyed studying academic books, and also kept a scrapbook filled with poetry he had cut out of religious newspapers.[41]

Alexander was devoted to his young son, referring to him as the “choicest lamb from my flock,”[42] and it is clear that he had high hopes for Wickliffe’s future, calling him a “child of much more than ordinary promise,” and one “on whom clustered many a hope of eminent usefulness to society in coming years.”[43] Reading between the lines, many interpreters have suggested that Alexander had tabbed Wickliffe to follow in his footsteps and succeed him as a leader within the Stone-Campbell Movement.[44]

But sadly, it was not to be. In May 1847, Alexander embarked on a tour of the British Isles which lasted several months.[45] On the afternoon of September 4, while his father was still overseas, Wickliffe went swimming with two of his cousins in a creek near his home. The boys had been diving off a small skiff near a mill dam, swimming under it, and emerging on the other side. This had been done previously without incident several times, but on one attempt, Wickliffe dove underneath but failed to emerge. His cousins raised the alarm and help arrived quickly, but it took half an hour to locate Wickliffe, who had become trapped underneath the apron of the dam, and remove his lifeless body from the water. W.K. Pendleton and Robert Richardson, Alexander Campbell’s sons-in-law, worked for hours to attempt to resuscitate Wickliffe using the medical techniques of the day, but to no avail.

The death of such an exceptional child was met with exceptional grief. Pendleton wrote Wickliffe’s original obituary, mentioning the “more than ordinary bereavement” and asked the brotherhood to unite together in beseeching God to provide Alexander and Selina “both strength to bear and resignation to suffer the calamity that has befallen them.”[46]

Still traveling overseas, Alexander Campbell was unaware of the tragedy which had befallen his favorite son. Campbell experienced a “dark, troubled night” on the night of Wickliffe’s death, and the next morning at breakfast he remarked to his host that “he had been greatly troubled in his sleep, and that he was conscious that something sad had happened at home.”[47] Regardless of whatever premonitions Campbell may have felt, he did not learn the details of his son’s passing until his return to Boston on October 19, where he received a letter from home informing him of Wickliffe’s death.[48]

Although Campbell dealt with the loss with resignation,[49] it is clear that Wickliffe’s death deeply affected him. Writing to a Brother Wallis more than a month after the tragedy, Campbell states, “I could not bring myself to write to any one for some time,” and goes on to describe how despite the loss of several other children, Wickliffe’s death was particularly distressing because of the suddenness of it and the universal admiration which people felt toward him.[50] Later, Campbell states that the loss of Wickliffe “has been more oppressive than any one case or trial through which I had passed,”[51] and even confesses that he struggles to put his grief into words, saying, “My emotions may be by a few more easily imagined than I could express them.”[52] Richardson, who in addition to being Campbell’s son-in-law also served as his personal physician, remarked that Campbell appeared to Bethany “much worn and jaded” after receiving the news of Wickliffe’s death, and that it was “a number of months” before “he could be said to have regained his health.”[53]

It is also clear that Alexander Campbell’s great grief following the death of Wickliffe did not shake his trust in God’s good governance of the world. He still held that God directed the ways of man, even if he did so in ways which were difficult to understand:

“God’s ways cannot be traced….But in this case he thought good to take to himself the choicest lamb from my flock, and has not revealed to me the reason why. But he is too wise to err, and too kind causelessly to afflict the children of men.”[54]

Elsewhere, Campbell stated that the incident “has been a most afflictive, as well as a most mysterious Providence,” but maintained that “the Lord has done it for some wise and kind, though to us mysterious, purpose.”[55] Although Campbell did not claim to understand God’s purposes, he did pray that God would use the bereavement to turn his heart from the things of earth and make him more devoted to the glory of the Savior.[56] Further, he took consolation in the thought that Wickliffe “was destined for another field of action, and the Lord has taken him to himself,”[57] and that his deceased children were now with God:

“This, to us is a sovereign balm—a blest relief. Though dead to us, they live with God. May the kind Redeemer raise us up with them in his own time, and reunite us in the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away!”[58]

Conclusion

In the course of Alexander Campbell’s long and illustrious career as an editor, writer, and debater, he discussed a wide array of subjects, including the problem of evil. Campbell’s views on evil and suffering are rooted in his understanding of a God who functions as a universal governor, using his providential power both in a general sense, and also to effect the specific events of the lives of individual men and women, though never in a way which inhibits their free will.

For Campbell, that free will is a crucial and necessary ingredient in God’s creation of the world. Unfortunately, its abuse leads to moral evil, and through the fall in the Garden of Eden, natural evil as well. Still, Campbell argues that without human freedom, there can be no true obedience to God, no relationship with him, and thus, no good or happiness.

Indeed, in his providence, God has a purpose for even those events which cause great suffering, although this purpose can be difficult to discern. This is clearly evident in Campbell’s reaction to the tragic death of his son Wickliffe: despite his great grief, Campbell clinged to his belief that God is still firmly in control, that there are aspects of the providential plan which are a great mystery to us, and that ultimately, Christian hope is grounded in the resurrection and eternal life in God’s presence.

_______________________

[1]The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus is generally credited to be the first to state the problem of evil: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge, 1990), 310.

[2]“Evil” and “suffering” are not synonyms, but they are related. For the sake of this paper, “suffering” will refer to the physical and emotional pain experienced as a result of the moral and natural evil which exists in the world.

[3]Two exceptions to this statement are John Mark Hicks, “Theodicy in Early Stone-Campbell Perspectives,” in Restoring the First-Century Church in the Twenty-First Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, ed. Warren Lewis and Hans Rollman (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005): 287-303, and J. Caleb Clanton, The Philosophy of Religion of Alexander Campbell (Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 2013), 89-117. Hicks examines Campbell’s response to evil in the context of a survey of early restoration views on the topic. Clanton looks at Campbell’s interactions with skeptics related to the problem of evil and the problem of divine hiddenness.

[4]In fact, Campbell would have had great reservations about the very idea of developing a comprehensive theodicy, as he preferred to focus on the specific teachings of scripture rather than philosophical or metaphysical speculation. See Hicks, 287, 290-91.

[5]Joseph R. Jeter, Jr. and Hiram J. Lester, “The Tragedy of Wickliffe Campbell,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 22 (July 1987): 87-89.

[6]Raised in the Scottish Presbyterian church, Campbell grew up in a Reformed context, but would come to refute aspects of this later. In Alexander Campbell, “Editor’s Reply,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (July 1833): 336, Campbell refers to his “former Calvinism”.

[7]As discussed in Richard J. Cherok, Debating for God: Alexander Campbell’s Challenge to Skepticism in Antebellum America (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2008), 37ff., Campbell exercised considerable energy refuting the arguments of Skeptics and Deists. The prime example of this is Campbell’s famous debate with skeptic Robert Owen. See Alexander Campbell and Robert Owen, The Evidences of Christianity: A Debate Between Robert Owen, of New Lanark, Scotland and Alexander Campbell, President of Bethany College, Va. Containing an Examination of the “Social System” and all the Systems of Skepticism of Ancient and Modern Times, Held in the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, in April, 1829 (Bethany, VA: Alexander Campbell, 1829; reprint, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1946).

[8]William Sherlock, A Discourse Concerning the Divine Providence (London: William Rogers, 1694; Reprint, Pittsburgh: J. L. Read, 1849). See the excerpts Campbell published in Alexander Campbell, “Sherlock on Providence,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (May 1833): 205-12, 4 (June 1833): 247-51, 4 (July 1833): 296-300, 4 (August 1833): 389-95, 4 (September 1833): 435-39.

[9]Alexander Campbell, “Reply to J.A. Waterman,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (June 1833): 243, “Your commendations of Sherlock I think are well deserved. They are not exaggerated. He is a writer of good sense….It would be well if our philosophists, who disbelieve the superintending care of the Almighty Father, would give Sherlock a candid hearing.”

[10]Alexander Campbell, “Providence, General and Special,” Millennial Harbinger 26 (November 1855): 602.

[11]Ibid., 602.

[12]Alexander Campbell, “Sherlock on Providence,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (May 1833): 206-07.

[13]Alexander Campbell, “Sherlock on Providence,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (September 1833): 437.

[14]Alexander Campbell, “Sherlock on Providence,” Millennial Harbinger (June 1833): 248-49.

[15]Campbell recounts the story of Joseph as an example of God’s providential care in both Alexander Campbell, “Chance,” Millennial Harbinger 22 (November 1851): 618-21, and Campbell, “Providence, General and Special,” 604-07.

[16]Alexander Campbell, “Mysteries of Providence,” Millennial Harbinger 18 (December 1847): 708. Campbell, 707-08, argues that God uses these departed virtuous persons to serve as his ministers in “other fields of labor.”

[17]Campbell, “Sherlock,” (September 1833): 436.

[18]Alexander Campbell, “Sherlock on Providence,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (July 1833): 300.

[19]Alexander Campbell, “Sherlock on Providence,” Millennial Harbinger 4 (August 1833): 392. Interestingly, Campbell, “Sherlock,” 393, argues that “though God orders and appoints what evils every man shall suffer, he orders and appoints no man to do the evil….And therefore we must necessarily distinguish between the evils men do and the evils they suffer. The first God permits and directs; the second he orders and appoints.”

[20]Alexander Campbell, “Mysteries of Providence,” 705.

[21]Campbell, “Chance,” 620-21.

[22]Alexander Campbell, The Christian System (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1839; reprint, Cincinnati: Bosworth, Chase & Hall, 1871), 20.

[23]Alexander Campbell, “To Mr. D.—A Skeptic.—Replication.—No. III,” The Christian Baptist 4 (November 6, 1826): 24.

[24]Campbell and Owen, The Evidences of Christianity, 140.

[25]Campbell, The Christian System, 30.

[26]Alexander Campbell, “Replication.—No. 1,” The Christian Baptist 4 (August 7, 1826): 14. See also the discussion in Clanton, 92-93, and Mark Wiebe, “Letters to a Skeptic: Alexander Campbell on Rationality, Religious Belief, and Evil,” Stone-Campbell Journal 15 (Spring 2012): 32: “A world of creatures lacking the capacity to make significant moral choices would also lack this type of continuous guiding relationship with its Creator. Such a world, Campbell asserts, would be missing something vital.”

[27]Campbell, “To Mr. D.—A Skeptic.—Replication.—No. III,” 24, “Please consider, that if a rational being was created incapable of disobeying, he must, on that very account, be incapable of obeying….There are some things impossible to Omnipotence. Hills cannot be made without vallies; shadows, without substances; nor rational beings, without free agency….It is impossible to create a being that shall be capable of obeying, and at the same time, incapable of disobeying.” Emphasis in the original.

[28]Wiebe, 31, argues that Campbell here anticipates the theodicy arguments which Alvin Plantinga would make over one hundred years later.

[29]For an introduction to Leibnitz’s famous response to the problem of evil, see Susan Neiman, Evil In Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 21-23.

[30]Campbell, “Replication.—No. 1,” 14. Emphasis in the original.

[31]Alexander Campbell, “History of Sin, Including the Outlines of Ancient History—No. I,” Millennial Harbinger 1 (March 1830): 108.

[32]Campbell, The Christian System, 29, describes mankind as possessing “…a fallen, consequently a sinful nature” and as “…greatly fallen and depraved in our whole moral constitution.” Emphasis in the original.

[33]Thomas Campbell, “To Mr. D, a Sceptic.—Replication No. V,” The Christian Baptist 4 (January 1, 1827): 39.

[34]The resulting human sinful nature leads to additional moral evil, which in turn leads to additional natural evil as part of a vicious cycle. For a fuller discussion of Campbell’s Augustinian understanding of evil, see Hicks, 291.

[35]Campbell and Owen, The Evidences of Christianity, 391; Clanton, 102-03.

[36]Campbell, The Christian System, 30.

[37]Jeter and Lester, 87, present a helpful chart detailing the birth and death dates of Campbell’s children.

[38]W. K. Pendleton, “Death of Wickliffe E. Campbell,” Millennial Harbinger 18 (October 1847): 596.

[39]Selina Huntington Campbell, Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell (St. Louis: John Burns, 1882), 28.

[40]Ibid.

[41]Ibid., 32.

[42]Alexander Campbell, “Letters from Europe.—No. XXXVI,” Millennial Harbinger 19 (December 1848): 679.

[43]Alexander Campbell, “Obituary,” Millennial Harbinger 18 (December 1847): 713. See also Pendleton, 596, who calls Wickliffe “the object of special hope.”

[44]Todd M. Brenneman, “Prophet and Priest: The Redefining of Alexander Campbell’s Identity,” (master’s thesis, The Florida State University, 2005), 39-40. Jeter and Lester, 85-96, suggest that Wickliffe, exhibiting the intellectual brilliance and personable character of his father, possibly would have been able to prevent the division within the movement that happened in the early 20th century.

[45]The accounts of Wickliffe’s death are found in Selina Campbell, 27-30, and Pendleton, 595-96.

[46]Pendleton, 596.

[47]Selina Campbell, 35. Emphasis in the original.

[48]Campbell, “Letters from Europe,” 679.

[49]Thomas W. Grafton, Alexander Campbell, Leader of the Great Reformation of the Nineteenth Century (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1897), 199. Douglas B. Skinner, “Restoration Church History and a Theology of Suffering,” Leaven 10 no. 3 (2002): 130, refers to Campbell’s “theologically controlled grief,” and argues that he “seems to skirt the edges of grief.” It is hard to be certain so many years after the fact, but I would argue that for a man like Campbell who was considerably more comfortable with reason and logic than emotion, the degree to which he shares his emotions and disappointments following Wickliffe’s death indicates the extent to which he grieved.

[50]This letter is quoted in Selina Campbell, 37-38.

[51]Quoted in Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, vol. 2. (Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Co. Publishers, 1872), 575.

[52]Campbell, “Letters from Europe,” 679.

[53]Richardson, 573. Indeed, some interpreters question if Campbell ever truly recovered from the tragedy, and trace a supposed decline in his mental capacity to this event. See Grafton, 222, Jeter and Lester, 92, and Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 44.

[54]Campbell, “Letters from Europe,” 679.

[55]Campbell, quoted in Selina Campbell, 37-38.

[56]Richardson, 574-75.

[57]Ibid., 575. When Campbell wrote in “Mysteries of Providence,” 708, that God often takes the purest and best to use in his service in other arenas of his “vast dominion,” it seems very likely that he specifically had Wickliffe in mind. “Mysteries of Providence” appears in the Milliennial Harbinger only a few pages before Campbell’s own obituary for Wickliffe, and it would only be natural for him to think of the latter while writing the former.

[58]Alexander Campbell, “Conclusion of Volume V.—Series III,” Millennial Harbinger 19 (December 1848): 717.

 

« Older posts

© 2020 The Doc File

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑