Churches Faith Builders Email Updates Biz Directory Commerce
Campbell and the Design of Baptism - Part One


Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was the acknowledged leader of the American Restoration Movement during its first years of expansion across the American frontier. It was his leadership and writing that gave the Restoration Movement its impetus in the 1820s and 1830s. Indeed, it was his call for a restoration of the "Ancient Order" and the "Ancient Gospel" which became the battle-cry of the American Restoration Movement.[1] Campbell's theology, then, through the pages of the Christian Baptist (1823-1830) and the Millenial Harbinger (1830-1870)[2] dominated the movement, but never more so than in its initial stages.

In the beginning of the movement, his theology was not only influential, but programmatic. He set the agenda for the movement. This is particularly true with respect to the issue of baptism. It was his debates, writing and influence which pushed the subject of baptism to the forefront of discussion. In fact, Campbell believed that baptism was an issue upon which his program of reform and unity depended. In 1851, reflecting on almost 30 years of controversial discussion about the subject, he states:

I say, then, that in order to the union of Christians, we must have a definite and unmistakable term indicating one and the same conception to every mind. If, then, the Christian Church ever become really and visibly one, she must have one immersion, or one baptism.[3]

Baptism, then, in Campbell's mind became the one institution which could signal the union of all Christians in the visible church. Consequently, the discussion of the subject became a top priority for Campbell in the first years of implementing his unity movement. Afterall, if everyone believed that believer's immersion was right and proper, why could not everyone unite on that form of the institution alone instead of offering conflicting opinions about it? Thus, Campbell spent much of the first 10 years (1823-1832) of his reformation calling upon the sects to give up their opinions and unite on what all believed was a scriptural baptism: the immersion of believers.

However, in the course of discussing the scripturality of believer's immersion, Campbell "discovered" what he believed was the true design and meaning of baptism. This discovery would have a significant impact on the progress of his unity movement. In fact, this discovery would ultimately be the reason the "Reforming Baptists" (as Campbell's followers were known) and the "Regular Baptists" (the Baptist group Campbell was associated with at the time) would separate. The Regular Baptists could not accept the legalism of "water salvation." As a result they drew a line between themselves and Campbell's followers.[4] It is the purpose of this chapter to detail this "discovery," its formulation and implementation within the context of Alexander Campbell's thought.

A. Historical Background

1. Campbell's Theological Background Thomas Campbell (1761-1854), the father of Alexander Campbell, was an ordained minister in the Seceeder, Anti-burgher Church of Scotland.[5] The Seceeder church was Presbyterian in form and Reformed in theology. Alexander Campbell, born in Ireland, was trained by his father in conjunction with a number of schools. In fact, Alexander taught with his father at the Rich Hill Academy beginning in 1805. In 1807, due to health problems, Thomas preceded his family to America where he was appointed to the Chartiers Presbytery of the Associate Synod of North America within the Seceeder Church.

Alexander, while waiting for a ship to America, studied at the University of Glasgow for one year (1808-1809). In addition to his time at Glasgow, he also attended the Seminary of George Ewing, the Independent leader who had recently separated from the Haldanes due to their acceptance of immersion as the only scriptural form of baptism. Consequently, Campbell's theology at this point was thoroughly imbibed with Reformed and Paedo-baptists concepts.

However, by the time that A. Campbell had reached American shores in 1809, he had become dissatisfied with the Presbyterian form of church order and was moving in the direction of Independency (e.g., Ewing and the Haldanes). In the Spring of 1809 Campbell had even refused to participate in communion with the Seceeder church due to the state of the church at that time. When Alexander arrived in America, he found that his father had been disciplined and suspended from the Seceeder ministry on a variety of charges. One charge was that Thomas believed that there was no divine warrant for holding confessions and creeds as terms of communion. Eventually, on May 18, 1810, Thomas was deposed by the Presbytery of Chartiers.

In the meanwhile, Thomas along with some other Independent Presbyterians had started the "Christian Association of Washington" in Washington, PA (August 17, 1809). Thomas wrote the basic document for this Association which is entitled The Declaration and Address. Its major emphases included an appeal for unity among Christians, the authority of the Scriptures alone, the right of private judgment and the evil of sectarianism. When Alexander arrived from Scotland in October of 1809, father and son found themselves in fundamental agreement. They had both rejected sectarian Presbyterianism (i.e., the Seceeder Church), and both were now advocating Independency.

After attempting to unite with other Presbyterian bodies without success, the Campbells began an independent church on May 4, 1811. It was called the "Brush Run Church" located near Bethany, Virginia (now Bethany, West Virginia). What is interesting for our purposes is the attitude of the Brush Run Church toward baptism. The church determined that only one thing was required for admission into the visible church, and that is the correct answer to this single question: "What is the meritorious cause of a sinner's acceptance with God?" Of course, the answer is the blood of Jesus Christ. But it is important to note that baptism played no role in the acceptance or non-acceptance into the fellowship of the visible church at Brush Run. In fact, one of the reasons that the Campbells were not accepted into the Synod of Pittsburg (a Presbyterian synod of Unionists [as opposed to the Seceeders]) was that the Campbells did not make baptism an indispensable term of communion, and they had raised doubts about the authority behind infant baptism.[6] In fact one member of the Brush Run church had never been baptized at all until his immersion on July 4, 1811.

Alexander Campbell, then, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, had been baptized as an infant. He was raised within a Presbyterian church whose theology was thoroughly Reformed or Calvinistic. As he turned toward Independency, he rejected baptism as a term of communion and began to doubt the propriety of infant baptism.

2. Campbell's Immersion Almost immediately after the beginning of the Brush Run church, two of the members refused to participate in the communion of the church[7] because they had not been immersed. Thomas Campbell reportedly admitted that only immersion was baptism, and he consented somewhat hesitantly to immerse them. They were immersed along with one other person on July 4, 1811. Interestingly, James Foster raised the question whether one unscripturally baptized (as Thomas Campbell was since he had been sprinkled as an infant) could immerse others. The question was apparently side-stepped for some time. At this point the Brush Run church totalled about 30 members.]

The Brush Run church gave little attention to baptism. The Campbells had only publicly preached on the matter three times (Feb. 3, 1810; May 19, 1811; and June 5, 1811). It was becoming clear that the Campbells' had rejected infant baptism as an human invention. This was obvious when, after the birth of Alexander's first child, Jane, on March 13, 1812, he did not baptize her. Instead, he devoted himself to a thorough study of the subject. The conclusion of that study would change the life of the Campbells.

The question had changed. No longer was the question: "May we safely reject infant baptism as a human invention?" Now the question was: "May we omit believer's baptism which all admit to be divinely commanded?" Alexander came to the determination that he was an unbaptized person, and therefore was in violation of the command of God to be baptized. Consequently, he decided to be immersed upon a confession of his faith.

Alexander immediately informed his father of his decision. While the father was not immediately enthused, he accepted his son's decision. They finally obtained the services of Mathias Luce, an ordained Baptist minister of the Redstone Baptist Association, to baptize Alexander on a simple confession of faith. On June 12, 1812, Alexander Campbell and his wife, Thomas Campbell and his wife, Thomas' daughter Dorothea, and Mr. and Mrs. James Hanen were immersed. The next day 13 other members of the Brush Run church requested immersion at the hands of Thomas Campbell.

Alexander often recalled that he was not baptized in Regular Baptist fashion.[8] He had neither testified about some saving experience of the Holy Spirit nor had some Baptist church voted upon his immersion. Rather, he was immersed by Luce upon a simple confession of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. As Campbell understood the Scripture that was all that was required of him. Campbell would never waver from that position. Anyone who was immersed upon that simple confession would be accepted by Campbell as a brother and a fellow-member of the visible church.

3. Campbell as a Baptist

In the fall of 1812 Alexander Campbell visited the annual meeting of the Redstone Baptist Association. Although he was relatively unhappy with the proceedings, Alexander began to accept preaching appointments in local Baptist churches. Through his acquaintance with them he gained a greater appreciation for their viewpoints. In the fall of 1813 the Brush Run church petitioned to unite with the Redstone Association as long as "no terms of union or communion, other than the Holy Scriptures, should be required." Their application was approved in 1815.

What had begun as an Independent Association in Washington, PA, had now become part of a Baptist Association. The Brush Run church, though still quite independent in thought, had associated itself with the Regular Baptist communion in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Alexander would spend most of his time doing itinerant preaching among the Baptist churches of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He even travelled to the eastern seaboard (Trenton, New York, Washington) to raise money to build a church building in Wellsburg, Virginia.

However, the Redstone Association was not always hospitable to the Campbells. When Thomas Campbell and his independent immersionist group in Pittsburg applied for membership in the Redstone Association in 1816, they were denied because they would not adhere strictly to the Philadelphia Confession of 1747. In 1816 Campbell delivered his soon-to-be infamous "Sermon on the Law" which was not well-received by the Association. Campbell had too sharply divided the Old Testament and the New Testament for most of the Association's members. From that time on, only about 10 of the Association's 33 churches used Campbell's itinerant services.

The Campbell's, however, did not limit themselves to the Redstone Association. In 1818, Campbell established the Buffalo Seminary which he conducted out of his own home. His father, beginning in 1819, assisted him in the training of young men. While the school was not long-lived (it closed in 1822), Campbell saw it as an opportunity to disseminate his reformation ideas. When the school closed, he immediately began his first journal, The Christian Baptist. The Campbell movement was not strong, but there were six independent churches associated with it by 1819 with a total of 200 members. Only one of these churches, the Brush Run church, was a member of the Redstone Baptist Association.

B. The Debates of 1820 and 1823

During his years as a member of Baptist Associations (1815-1830)[9] Campbell was working through his concept of unity and reformation. He attempted to work from within the Baptist fellowship as a whole. Indicative of this is the name of his first journal, The Christian Baptist. His ultimate separation from the Baptists is directly attributable to his developing views on the design of immersion. In this section we turn to the early years of that development.

1. The Campbell-Walker Debate[10] In the fall of 1819 Mr. John Birch, a Baptist minister, became rather successful in baptizing a number of people near the town of Mt. Pleasant, Ohio. To counteract his influence, the local Seceeder minister, Mr. John Walker, delivered a series of sermons in defense of infant baptism. Birch heard one of these lessons, and a lengthy correspondence began between the two. Walker issued a challenge to debate the issue with any Baptist minister. Birch sought the services of Alexander Campbell (who lived about 23 miles from Mt. Pleasant, Ohio). After three attempts, Birch finally persuaded Campbell to debate Walker.

The debate began on June 19, 1820 and ended the next day. The immediate result of the debate was the promotion of Campbell's reputation. All hands acknowledged that Walker had done poorly in the debate, and that Campbell was masterful. Campbell's fame spread across the Western Reserve (western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio). The debate was published and immediately sold 4,000 copies.

The debate affords us an importance reference point in the development of Campbell's baptismal theology. It gives us an extended discussion from which to glean Campbell's view of the purpose or design of immersion. It is important, then, to give close attention to what Campbell has to say at this early stage of his developing career as a reformer.

a. The Basic Issue of the Debate. Walker attempted to defend infant baptism along traditional lines. In particular, he rooted his argument in the covenant of grace. In good Presbyterian fashion, he argued that both baptism and circumcision are covenantal seals or signs of the same covenant of grace. Just as circumcision confirmed, or sealed, the blessings of the covenant of grace to the Abraham and his descendents, so baptism confirms, or seals, the blessings of the covenant of grace to the Christian and his descendents. As Walker succinctly states in his opening address (p.9):

I maintain that Baptism came in the room of Circumcision--That the covenant on which the Jewish Church was built, and to which Circumcision is the seal, is the same with the covenant on which the Christian Church is built, and to which Baptism is the seal...consequently the infants of believers have a right to Baptism.

Campbell responded that baptism could not have come in the room of circumcision because they both represent two different covenants. He denies that one single covenant lies behind both ordinances. Circumcision "conveyed only temporal blessings to the Jews" (p. 17). Circumcision was a sign and seal of the temporal promises of God to Abraham. Baptism, on the other hand, "promises the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit" which circumcision did not (p. 18). Baptism is emblematical of the spiritual blessings which derive from the new covenant, but circumcision belongs strictly to the old covenant. Since the new covenant says nothing about baptizing infants, there is no authority for it (p. 25).

b. The Design of Baptism in the Debate. It is important to note that while, according to Campbell, baptism promises spiritual blessings to its recipients, it does so only "figuratively" or as a symbol (pp. 136-137). For instance, the phrase from Titus 3:5 ("the renewing of the Holy Ghost") is used "figuratively" with respect to baptism and not in reality (p. 137). The "doctrinal import" of baptism is that it is "emblematical" of the gospel just like the Lord's Supper is a "representation" of the Lord's body and blood (pp. 136-137). Campbell summarizes his viewpoint in this lengthy quotation (p. 138):

Hence "the renewing of the Holy Spirit," is a phrase that denotes the influence of the Holy Spirit, exerted on the whole soul of man; and implied a death unto sin, an new life unto righteousness. But the apostle illustrates this subject in the most clear and convincing manner, in those passages I have read from him [i.e., Romans 6:4-6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21, JMH]. He shews it to be a spiritual discovery of the import of the death and resurrection of Christ, that produces this change upon the mind; and which leads the subject of his gracious work to submit to "be buried with Christ in baptism" --"to be planted in the likeness of his death, that he may be in the likeness of his resurrection." The outward rite, then, must bear an analogy to the doctrine exhibited in and by it. Hence immersion in water, is a beautiful and striking representation of our faith in the death and burial of Christ; and our emerging out of it, a suitable emblem of his resurrection from the grave, and of our obligations to a new life: so that the sprinkling of a few drops of water has no analogy to the thing signified in Baptism.

It is important to note that Campbell explicitly argues that baptism is an emblem or sign of something that has already happened. The "renewing of the Holy Spirit" has already taken place and has led the subject of it to be baptized in order to signify or represent this work of the Spirit. The outward rite is a "representation" of the thing itself which has already been accomplished by the work of the Spirit. The blessing of justification is given to the sinner before his baptism. and can be obtained without baptism. As Campbell said earlier in the debate (p. 56):

The called, cannot mean those whom every preacher invites to Baptism, but those whom the Lord calls by his grace or spirit. In this sense it is used, when calling is esteemed a blessing--"whom he called, them he also justified".

c. The Design of Baptism in the Appendix. When Campbell published the debate, he also published an extended appendix in which he deals with various subjects connected with infant baptism. The appendix was written during the summer of 1820 immediately following the debate. His main concern is to critique the concept of the "covenant of grace" and describe the various "covenants" of the Bible. He argues that there are multiple covenants in the Old Testament. He lists them as (154-165):[11]

1. The Covenant with Adam

2. The Covenant with Noah

3. The Covenant confirmed of God in Christ

4. The Covenant of Circumcision

5. The Covenant with all Israel at Sinai

6. The Covenant of Peace, or concerning the Sacerdotal Office

7. The Covenant of Royalty with David

Of these seven covenants, Campbell argues that only three of them had a "seal," or, as Campbell prefers "confirmative mark": Adam had the tree of life, Noah had the rainbow and Circumcision had the mark in the flesh (p. 168). "These tokens attached to these covenants were truly seals, or marks of confirmation; visible and evincive of the thing" (p. 168). They are God's acts of guarantee to those who receive them. In the New Testament, the only seal or confirmative mark which God gives is the Holy Spirit. Campbell writes (pp. 169-170):

Under the New Testament, the only seal is the mark or impression which the spirit of God makes upon the heart or soul of the believer.... The only seal spoken of in the New Testament as the guarantee and property of all Christians, is "this seal of the holy spirit." Neither Baptism nor the Lord's supper are ever so called, nor can they be so called, in conformity to the meaning of words...

Baptism and the Lord's Supper can only serve to confirm the faith of the individual, but they cannot serve to "seal" the salvation of God to the person. Only God can "seal" or "guarantee" his gift. "Baptism is an ordinance by which we formally profess Christianity" (p. 170) but it is not a seal. The seal of the Holy Spirit is all that is necessary for the assurance of the believer. It "is a sufficient guarantee and earnest, and requires not any external ordinance to perfect it" (p. 171).

Baptism, therefore, is not necessary for the seal of the Spirit. Any believer may enjoy the "full blessings" of the new covenant without baptism or the Lord's Supper. Campbell makes this clear in the following paragraph (pp. 170-171):

The whole blessings of this covenant, have been as fully enjoyed by many who are now in Heaven, who could not, who did not, receive those ordinances, as by other saints in Heaven or in earth. The thief upon the cross, had as full enjoyment of them, as any other in ancient or modern times. And many, both under the Patriarchal and Christian age, have had all the blessings of redemption as fully bestowed upon them, as any who have been baptized, and have participated of the Lord's supper. Now if Baptism and the Lord's supper, were the seals of this covenant, it would follow that they who never had received them, were deprived of the security, for the enjoyment of this covenant, and of course, had no confirmation of it to them.

Campbell's point is simple. Believers of all ages whether in the Patriarchal, Mosaic or Christian ages are sealed by the Holy Spirit as a pledge or guarantee of heaven. They receive this by faith alone without the use or aid of any external ordinance or act. Campbell, it is clear, is simply explaining his own brand of Reformed baptismal theology. In Campbell's view, those whom he baptizes have already received the Spirit as a pledge and guarantee.[12] They are baptized to symbolize the spiritual blessings and to confirm their own faith.

d. The Design of Baptism in the Strictures. In the second edition of the published Debate, Campbell added some 60 pages of response to a series of three letters written by Samuel Ralston which appeared in the Presbyterian Magazine of 1821. Campbell's response was written late in the fall of 1821 and appeared in the 1822 edition of the Debate. As a result it gives a look at Campbell's thinking about baptism one year after the debate with Walker.

In his Strictures on Three Letters Campbell evidences the same view of the design of baptism as was apparent in his Appendix to the Debate. Campbell spends most of his time answering misrepresentations of his own position and key assertions by Ralston. The issue still centers around whether or not the Covenant of Circumcision and the New Covenant (to use Campbell's terminology) are actually one and the same covenant of grace. Ralston takes, of course, the Presbyterian side of the argument. Campbell follows his premises through in disputing with Ralston.

In the course of his letters, Ralston made this statement to which Campbell strenuously objected: "I do not consider circumcision and Baptism as primarily designed for the purpose of building up believers in holiness; but as ordinances designed for the conversion of sinners of a certain character" (p. 241). Campbell replied (pp. 241, 243):

I fearlessly assert that Mr. R[alston] cannot produce one instance from the whole volume of Inspiration, of one person being converted by either circumcision or Baptism.... It is predicated on at least four gross errors.... The second, that the unregenerate are commanded by God, to make use of certain means to become regenerated, or those destitute of the spirit are to make use of means without the spirit, to obtain the spirit.

Campbell denies any relationship between baptism and the saving of the sinner other than an emblematical one. When Ralston argues that infants are regenerated "through Baptism as the appointed mean" (p. 244), Campbell responds (p. 244):

Well spoken, Baptism the appointed mean of regeneration for those in the church!! Baptism the mean too of infant regeneration!!! Romanists, shake hands with the Rev. Samuel Ralston....

By late 1821, then, Campbell's position had remained fundamentally the same. His view of the purpose and design of immersion is basically Reformed. It differs little, if any, from the views of his Baptist brethren of the day. Campbell makes no claim to be saying anything different nor do his Baptist readers understand him to be saying anything different. Instead, he is praised by them for the debate and its outcome.

2. The Reading of Errett's Pamphlet

When Thomas Campbell had been in Pittsburg in 1816, he had established a small church founded upon Independent principles in addition to teaching in an Academy. This was the church that had been rejected by the Redstone Association. One of the members of that church was Robert Richardson who was not only a one-time student of Thomas Campbell but who was also Alexander's future son-in-law. The Campbells would make frequent visits to Pittsburg due to their friendly relations with this church.

In Pittsburg, however, there was another congregation founded upon Independent principles. This church was founded by George Forrester who was also the principal of an Academy there. Robert Richardson attended this Academy as well. Forrester was a follower of the Haldane brothers. On occasions he lectured at the Buffalo Seminary until a drowning accident took his life in the summer of 1820. The man who replaced Forrester as both the leader of that congregation and the teacher in the Academy was Walter Scott. Under Scott, this congregation would ultimately unite with the other Independent church in 1823 with the assistance of the Campbells.

Scott had moved to Pittsburg in 1819 as a Scottish Presbyterian (Unionist variety). Soon after meeting Forrester he was immersed and began to read the works of Haldane, Glas, Sandeman and Carson. Scott became so imbibed by the reading of these authors that by the time that he and Campbell met in the winter of 1821-22, they were fully of the same spirit and mind. Although the two had met previously in 1820 while Forrester was still alive and Scott was still a Presbyterian,[13] the first significant meeting between the two men took place in the Winter of 1821-22 when Alexander paid a visit to the city of Pittsburg. At this meeting they discussed for the first time the meaning of baptism in connection with the remission of sins.[14] In 1838, Campbell remembered that he had given some attention to the topic when he was preparing to publish the debate with Walker. He states while he had not yet

turned his thoughts to the special meaning of Christian baptism. Either during that discussion or in transcribing it for the press, an impression was made on his mind that baptism had a very important meaning and was some way connected with remission of sins; but engaged so much in other inquiries, it was put on file for further consideration.[15]

Certainly Campbell's musing on the subject did not show up in his debate with Walker. On the contrary the sentiments expressed there were the opposite of what he would eventually conclude is the scriptural meaning of baptism.

The single item which seems to have turned the attention of both Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott to the topic of baptism's design is a pamphlet written by Henry Errett, a Scotch Baptist in New York City. It was written in 1820, but came into Scott's hands first early in 1821. Scott was so excited by the pamphlet that he spent three months in New York City that year studying the practices of this Scotch Baptist Church. Though disappointed with the church, the impression that tract made upon his mind would excite him to study the matter of the design of baptism further. Also in the early Fall of 1821, Mrs. Robert Forrester sent a copy of the tract to Campbell by way of John Tate. Just like Scott, Campbell obtained his first impressions of the design of baptism from this tract by Errett.[16]

The tract is straight-forward and simple in its approach. The first several pages are simply quotations from various New Testament passages (including Mark 1:4-5; Matthew 3:7; John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:2-11; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 5:25,27; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 2:12,13; Titus 3:5-6; 1 Peter 3:21). In quoting these passages, Errett occasionally remarks that baptism is "connected" with "salvation," "forgiveness of sins," etc.[17] He summarizes his overview of these texts in this way:

From these several passages we may learn how baptism was viewed in the beginning by those who were qualified to understand its meaning best. No one who has been in the habit of considering it merely as an ordinance, can read these passages with attention, without being surprised at the wonderful powers, and qualities, and effects, and uses, which are there apparently ascribed to it. If the language employed respecting it, in many of the passages were to be taken literally, it would import, that remission of sins is to be obtained by baptism; that an escape from the wrath to come is effected in baptism; that men are born the children of God by baptism; that salvation is connected with baptism; that men wash away their sins by baptism; that men become dead to sin and alive to God by baptism; that the Church of God is sanctified and cleansed by baptism; that men are regenerated by baptism; and that answer of a good conscience is obtained by baptism. All these things, if all the passages before us were construed literally, would be ascribed to baptism. And it was a literal consideration of these passages which led professed Christians, in the early ages, to believe that baptism was necessary to salvation.[18]

It would be a mistake to stop here, however. Errett does not believe the passages should be taken in a "literal" sense. He compares a "literal" understanding of these baptismal passages to a "literal" understanding of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper which gave rise to the "awful notion of transubstantiation." He decries the fact that a "literal" understanding implies the necessity of baptism for salvation. Such a notion gave rise to the "unauthorized" custom of infant baptism.[19]

Errett simply wants to argue that baptism should not be thought of "only as an ordinance"[20] or, as quoted above, "merely as an ordinance". Somewhere between the "literal" understanding of these passages (which yields the necessity of baptism) and the neglect of baptism as a mere ordinance of the church lies a middle ground, a via media for understanding the meaning and import of baptism. Errett saw this in the idea of "profession" whereby one "professes" his faith by act as well as by word. Just as men are to confess by word that they "have the remission of sins through the death of Jesus Christ," so also "by deed" they should "in baptism" confess that they have had their sins remitted. Believers, then, in baptism have "professed to have their sins washed away...professed to be born from above...professed to be purified and cleansed..."[21] Errett sees this profession of faith in the act of baptism as the act by which disciples recognize each other. It is to be regarded as "a prominent part of the Christian profession, or, in other words, that by which, in part, the Christian profession was made."[22] Errett concludes the extract provided by Baxter by noting the necessity of this immersion for fellowship among disciples:

And if, on reflection, it should appear that these uses and purposes appertain to the one baptism, then it should be considered how far any can now be known, or recognized, or acknowledgeed as Disciples, as having made the Christian profession, as having put on Christ, as having passed from death to life, who have not been baptized as the Disciples were.[23]

Errett's tract, if put in the historical context of the Scotch Baptist movement, is easily understandable. It is an argument for the exclusion of the unimmersed from the fellowship of the visible church. It does not argue that baptism is necessary for salvation. In fact, it denies that very conclusion. Further, it does not argue that the remission of sins is obtained in immersion. Indeed, Errett understands that to be the "literal" interpretation to which he dissents. Rather, Errett's point is simply this: Christian profession involves immersion. Those who have not been immersed, then, cannot be recognized or acknowledgeed as Christians in the full sense of that term. Immersion, then, is to be regarded as a term of communion in the sense that the immersed cannot recognize the unimmersed since they have not professed their Christianity in deed as well as word.

This understanding of Errett's tract fits well against the background of the Scotch Baptists groups who were divided over the question of the unimmersed. Should the unimmersed be invited to commune with the immersed? Errett's tract, without making baptism essential to salvation or marking it as the point at which one receives the remission of sins, answers the question in the negative. Errett stressed the "connection" of baptism with the remission of sins only to show that baptism was more than a mere ordinance or command of God, but that this command had a special connotation. That connotation is not salvation itself, but the profession of salvation. Therefore, baptism is not like other ordinances (such as to pray, sing, etc.), but is to be regarded as that ordinance by which one is "recognized" (not "becomes") as a disciple of Christ.

The effect of Errett's tract upon Campbell and Scott was to raise this very question with them, and to impress upon them the "professional" nature of immersion itself. Further, they seem not to have been altogether satisfied with Errett's dismissal of the "literal" understanding. However, it will be some time yet before either Campbell or Scott will come to a "literal" understanding. But in Campbell's next debate, the effect of the tract and subsequent discussions with Scott are quite evident.

3. The Campbell-Maccalla Debate

a. Background to the Debate. At end of the Walker Debate, Campbell had issued a general challenge to debate any Paedo-baptist minister of good standing on the issue of infant sprinkling.[24] General dissatisfaction with Walker on the part of the Presbyterians made certain that someone would seek to answer Campbell's challenge. Rev. William L. Maccalla decided to accept the challenge. Campbell agreed to meet Maccalla in Washington, Kentucky in October, 1823. The debate began on October 15 and lasted till the 22nd.

After Campbell received the first letter from Maccalla, dated May 17, 1823, he "resolved to settle the true meaning of baptism before" he debated the subject again. Over several months Thomas and Alexander Campbell discussed the subject in some detail. In July or August of that summer Scott visited Bethany (the home of Alexander) for the first time, and they pursued the discussion further. The three agreed that Campbell should present arguments in the debate based upon the design of baptism and give full airing to them. In 1838, reflecting on the debate, Campbell wrote that the arguments based upon the design of baptism were the "cardinal aim and purpose of the whole discussion." Yet, Campbell admits, the views were, at the time, "perfectly novel" to them all.[25]

In the months just prior to the debate Campbell began his first journal, The Christian Baptist.[26] The prospectus for the journal was published in the Spring of 1823, and the first issue rolled off the press on July 4, 1823. Campbell's purpose in issuing the journal was to "see sectarianism abolished and all Christians of every name united upon the one foundation upon which the apostolic Church was founded. To bring Baptists and Paedo-baptists to this is my supreme end."[27] It was in the second issue of the Christian Baptist, September 1, 1823, that the connection between baptism and the remission of sins was first noted in print by a member of the fledgling American Restoration Movement. In an article entitled "Essay on the Proper and Primary Intention of the Gospel, and its Proper and Immediate Effects" Thomas Campbell made this statement:

Such being the gospel testimony concerning the love of God, the atonement of Christ, and the import of baptism for the remission of sins: all, therefore, that believed it, and were baptized for the remission of their sins, were as fully persuaded of their pardon and acceptance with God, through the atonement of Christ, and for his sake, as they were of any other article of the gospel testimony.... Or why could he have received baptism, the import of which to the believer was the remission of sins, had he not believed the divine attestation to him in that ordinance, concerning the pardoning of his sins upon his believing and being baptized? Every one, then, from the very commencement of christianity, who felt convinced of the truth of the gospel testimony, and was baptized, was as fully persuaded of the remission of his sins, as he was of the truth of the testimony itself.[28]

Campbell's article did not seem to raise a stir in the pages of the Christian Baptist. Perhaps it went largely unnoticed since the paper was so new. But clearly Thomas Campbell had also learned something from Errett's tract and from subsequent discussions with his son and Walter Scott. However, it is unclear to what extent this article represents a mature view. It seems, in fact, to rehearse Errett's tract more than advance upon its views. Campbell stresses full persuasion and assurance rather than the point at which remission of sins is received. While this article is significant as the first printed statement of the connection between baptism and the remission of sins, it does not appear to say anything more than Errett's tract nor is it identical to the position that will be preached across the Western Reserve in a few years.

One month prior to the debate, Alexander Campbell was in Pittsburgh for the annual meeting of the Redstone Baptist Association. While no longer a member of the Association, he was present as a spectator.[29] During this time Campbell met with Scott and his father for the final time before the debate. The new understanding of the design of baptism was to be used as a major argument in the debate. This decision had tremendous significance.

b. Campbell's Argument Based upon Design. It was not until the second day and at the end of his first speech that Campbell raised an argument from the design of baptism against infant baptism. He did not even have time to fully make his argument, but only to slightly introduce it (p. 100).[30] He did, however, have opportunity to lay the bare groundwork for his presentation of the full argument. He emphasized that baptism is not like other ordinances such as praying, singing, praising, etc. Baptism is only "but once administered" and its unusual significance is indicated by various scriptures. Campbell then began to quote some of the same passages that Errett had quoted. From the quotations Campbell concludes, "I have thus, in the naked import of those testimonies, show that it is of vast import, of glorious design" (p. 100). This is nothing more than what Errett had said in his tract, and clearly he is dependent upon it at this point.

While Maccalla understandably ignored Campbell's argument at this point, Campbell returned to it in his third speech to give it a full definition (pp. 114-119). This is the fullest presentation that Campbell makes in the debate concerning the design of baptism. Campbell actually had two points to raise against infant baptism based upon the design of baptism. The first point is rooted in the necessity of faith for the forgiveness of sins. If faith is necessary for forgiveness, and baptism is connected with the remission of sins, then "baptism without faith is an unmeaning ceremony" since how can it be administered to those as a sign to whom the thing signified has not been given (p. 117)? In sum, "the nature and design of baptism is suited to believers only" (p. 126). The second is this: since baptism has some connection with the "remission of sins" (note the plural), why baptize infants who have never sinned or who are only guilt of one "sin" (note the singular, referring to "original guilt" or "original sin")? Campbell summarized his point in this way (p. 117):

Our argument from this topic is, that baptism, being ordained to be a believer a formal and personal remission of all his sins, cannot be administered unto an infant without the greatest perversion and abuse of the nature and import of this ordinance. Indeed, why should an infant that never sinned, that, as Calvinist say, is guilty only of "original sin," which is an unit, be baptized for the remission of sins!

The premise of these arguments, of course, is that the design of baptism has some connection with the remission of sins. This was Campbell's major burden of proof. Campbell argues that he is not to be faulted for connecting baptism with the washing away of sins if Ananias did the same in Acts 22:16. Just as Paul believed him, Campbell believed him. Here, however, is what Campbell understands Ananias to mean (p. 116):

When he was baptized he must have believed that his sins were now washed away in some sense that they were not before. For if his sins had been already in every sense washed away, Ananias' address would have led him into a mistaken view of himself; both before and after baptism. Now we confess that the blood of Jesus Christ alone cleanses us from all sins. Even this, however, is a metaphorical expression. The efficacy of his blood springs from his own dignity, and from the appointment of his Father. The blood of Christ, then, really cleanses us who believe from all sin. Behold the goodness of God in giving us a formal proof and token of it, by ordaining a baptism expressly "for the remission of sins!" The water of baptism, then, formally washes away our sins. Paul's sins were really pardoned when he believed, yet he had no solemn pledge of that fact, no formal acquital, no formal purgation of his sins, until he washed them away in the water of baptism.

To every believer, therefore, baptism is a formal and personal remission, or purgation of sins. The believer never has his sins formally washed away or remitted until he is baptized. The water has no efficacy but what God's appointment gives it, and he has made it sufficient for this purpose. The value and importance of baptism appears from this view of it.

This extended quotation is significant. It is the fullest statement available in the Maccalla Debate, and consequently must be used to interpret other statements by Campbell in the debate which appear isolated or unconnected with the argument based upon design. Indeed, this section should also serve as an hermeneutical tool for interpreting Thomas Campbell's article in the Christian Baptist. It is certainly the clearest statement on the design of baptism available in the writings of Campbell up to this point.

The vital question for our inquiry is this: when does a person receive or obtain the remission of his sins? Campbell answers that there are two senses in which a person receives the remission of his sins. There is a "real" or actual sense, and there is a "formal" or "personal" sense. The "real" sense corresponds to the actual point at which one receives the forgiveness of his sins. Campbell explicitly stated that "Paul's sins were really pardoned when he believed" and before he was immersed. The blood of Christ accomplished this without the waters of baptism. However, baptism was the point at which this real remission was personally assured to Paul when God gave his "formal pledge" (p. 118) to Paul that his sins had actually, even though previously, been remitted. No one is baptized, according to Campbell in the Maccalla Debate, to receive the actual or real remission of his sins, but everyone is baptized to receive or "obtain the formal remission of his sins" (p. 118).

Sometimes Campbell may refer to this "formal remission" without the term "formal." For instance, in his second speech, Campbell explicitly states "that remission of sins is bestowed through his name to all who believe and are baptized" (p. 110). However, it is clear from his later statements that he does not mean that baptism is the point at which one receives the real or actual remission of his sins. One receives this when he believes. Rather, baptism only bestows the formal remission of sins. Consequently, faith and baptism both bestow the remission of sins, but faith in the real sense and baptism in the formal sense.

c. Campbell and the Baptists on Design. Since Campbell believes that one is "really pardoned" when one believes, how does his view differ from that of the Baptists of his day? Campbell, in his own mind, saw a distinction between his view and that of his Baptist brothers. Indeed, he perceived within himself a movement from an old position to a new position.[31] Campbell did not lose the opportunity of the Maccalla Debate, with so many Baptists present, to distinguish his position from that of the Baptists in general. In the fourth speech of the second day, Campbell specifically addresses his Baptist friends (p. 125):

My Baptist brethren, as well as the Pedobaptist brotherhood, I humbly conceive, require to be admonished on this point. You have been, some of you no doubt, too diffident in asserting this grand import of baptism, in urging an immediate submission to this sacred and gracious ordinance, lest your brethren should say that you make every thing of baptism; that you make it essential to salvation. Tell them you make nothing essential to salvation but the blood of Christ, but that God has made baptism essential to their formal forgiveness in this life, to their admission into his kingdom on earth. Tell them that God had made it essential to their happiness that they should have a pledge on his part in this life, an assurance in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, of their actual pardon, of the remission of all their sins, and that this assurance is baptism. Tell the disciples to rise in haste and be baptized and wash away their sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

In distinction from the Baptists, Campbell attaches a special importance to the formal significance of baptism. The concept of baptism as God's pledge to the believer that his sins have already been remitted Campbell perceives as not commonly accepted by his Baptist brothers. He urges them to begin to practice it. Baptism's special significance and importance derives from its connection with the "formal" remission of sins. Any "believer unbaptized has not his sins washed away in a very important sense" (pp. 124-125). Ministers of the gospel ought to use baptism as a means of formally assuring the believer that his sins have been forgiven. The event is God's pledge of the fact.

The context for Campbell's statement is two-fold. First, baptism was often regarded by Baptists as simply another moral duty which ought to be rendered to God. It had no special significance other than it was a command to be obeyed. Campbell complained of this earlier in his second speech (p. 117-118):

We have heard some Baptists reduce this significant ordinance to the level of a moral example, or a moral precept.... You place honesty and baptism on the same footing, as alike moral duties. "But," says another, "I was baptized in obedience to a divine command." I presume you "don't steal" for the same reason. You then make baptism and honesty alike moral duties. The intelligent and well-instructed christian, however, is baptized to obtain the formal remission of his sins.

Second, Campbell speaks to a Calvinistic audience which grew up on revialistic evangelism and the mourning bench. It was the practice to ask the sinner to seek God at the altar of prayer, and wait for his answer. The answer expected was some experience of the Holy Spirit which would assure the believer of his salvation. Campbell is implicitly arguing that instead of asking the believer to wait for an experience of the Spirit, he ought to be commanded to obey God in baptism and there receive the assurance that his sins have been forgiven. Baptism, not an experience of the Holy Spirit at the mourning bench, is God's "formal pledge on his part of that believer's personal acquittal or pardon" (p. 118).

d. Campbell and Errett: Is There a Difference?. Campbell, like Errett, saw himself occupying some middle ground. On the one hand, both Errett and Campbell are clear that baptism is not the point at which one receives the actual remission of his sins. Campbell stated this explicitly with regard to Paul, and Errett dismissed the understanding as too "literal." Further, Errett and Campbell both regard baptism as more than a mere ordinance, or simply one of God's many commands. In particular, they both see baptism as the institution through which one is admitted to the visible church, or the kingdom of God on earth. Baptism is designed for entrance into the visible church. Errett stated that no one can be "known, or recognized, or acknowledge as Disciples" if he has "not been baptized as the Disciples were."[32] Campbell, using some of the same terminology, makes the same point in the Maccalla Debate (pp. 170-171):

...that baptism was never designed for, nor commanded to be administered to a member of the church. Except a man be born of water he could not constitutionally enter into it. But no one, recognized as a member of the christian church was baptized from the beginning of the New Testament to the end of it.--We read of them being added to the church when baptized, but not once of any being baptized as members of the church.[33]

On the other hand, while they both attached a special import or significance to baptism, Errett referred to baptism's "professional" nature. It is the believer's profession of his faith, a formal profession of faith in deed in addition to the formal profession by the mouth. Errett, therefore, attached the special significance of baptism to the believer's action.

Campbell, however, attached the special significance of baptism to the action of God. Baptism, according to Campbell, is God's pledge, not man's. It is God's profession, not the believer's. In the ordinance of baptism, God gives the believer a full assurance and a formal pledge of forgiveness. Baptism is God's gift which assures the believer of his salvation.

Consequently, while Campbell clearly draws on Errett in several places, the final result is that Campbell emphasizes the divine work of baptism and Errett emphasized the human work of baptism. This distinction is profound, and will, in the final analysis, motivate Campbell's development of his baptismal thought.

4. Analysis of Baptismal Development

In this section we have surveyed Campbell's baptismal theology from the Walker debate of 1820 to the Maccalla Debate of 1823. There can be little doubt that Campbell's view of the design of baptism has changed within these years. In 1820 Campbell held a strong Zwinglian view of baptism where no external thing can have any relationship with salvation. This is particularly exhibited in his Appendix to the Walker Debate.

However, by the fall of 1821 his views began to moderate somewhat. There is not a strong emphasis on the design of baptism in the Strictures against Ralston written during the Fall of 1821. Perhaps he had already read Errett's pamphlet before or during the writing of the Strictures. Yet, it is clear that Campbell did not devote a great deal time to thinking through the issue of the design of baptism.

It was only in his meetings with Scott and his father Thomas Campbell that the issue was raised. Apparently, after all the parties had read Errett's tract, there was considerable discussion about the issue when they met during the Winter of 1821-1822. However, these occasional meetings were not enough to motivate a renewed study of the subject in earnest.

After his challenge was accepted by Maccalla in May, 1823, Campbell began to devote himself to the study of the design of baptism. He says that he determined "to examine this matter...with the zeal of a freshman."[34] After discussions with his father, and then discussions between himself, Thomas Campbell and Walter Scott, Campbell came to a firm conclusion about the design of baptism. Determined to teach the Baptists as much as the Paedo-baptists, he presented an argument against infant baptism based upon the idea that baptism is the formal pledge of God that the sins of the believer have been remitted. This position, both in his own mind and in fact, was a reversal of his attitude during and in the aftermath of the Walker Debate. This change in position is directly attributable to three things: (1) Errett's tract; (2) discussions with his father and Scott who were coming to similar conclusions; and (3) his own renewed study of the New Testament from this perspective.

However, Campbell's position did not remain static after the Maccalla Debate. And although Campbell often protested that he began to preach baptism for the remission of sins in the Maccalla Debate, he did not preach it in the Maccalla Debate the same way and in the same sense as he would later. In particular, Campbell moved from his position that Paul's sins were "really pardoned" when he believed, and only "formally" remitted when he was baptized. In 1828, Campbell had amended his position to argue that baptism is not only the point of "formal remission," but is also the point of the actual or real remission of sins. This is clearly evidenced by two statements in the Christian Baptist:

Nor do we lose sight of the forgiveness of our sins in immersion, because Papists have made a saviour of a mere ceremony. We connect faith with immersion as essential to forgiveness--and therefore, as was said of old, "According to thy faith, so be it unto thee," so say we of immersion. He that goeth down into the water to put on Christ, in the faith that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin, and that he has appointed immersion as the medium, and the act of ours, through and in which he actually and formally remits our sins, has, when immersed, the actual remission of his sins.35]

This, then, becomes ours when we become Christ's; and if we formally and actually become Christ's the moment we are immersed into his name, it is as clear as day that the moment a believer is immersed into the name of Christ, he obtains the forgiveness of his sins as actually and as formally as he puts him on in immersion.[36]

These statements cannot stand in any stronger contrast with Campbell's extended remarks in the Maccalla Debate. In the Maccalla Debate Campbell argues that baptism is only a "formal" washing away of sin, and that the actual washing took place prior to baptism at the point of faith. In the Christian Baptist of 1828 Campbell argues that the "actual" and the "formal" washing occur simultaneously. The blood of Christ still actually washes away the sin and the baptismal waters still formally washes away the sin, but the two actions are tied together. When one is formally washed, he is at the same time actually washed, and no believer has any assurance of the actual washing without the formal one. There can be no doubt that between 1823 and 1828 there has been a shift in Campbell's baptismal theology.

Within the five years between 1823 and 1828, Campbell underwent a deepening of his understanding of the design of baptism. It is no coincidence that his mature view of 1828 coincides with the explosive revival that began within the Restoration Movement in late 1827. We now turn our attention to Campbell's mature understanding of the design of immersion.


[1]Campbell wrote two programmatic series in the course of the seven year existence of his first journal, The Christian Baptist. The first was entitled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things" and it ran in 30 articles from January 3, 1825 to September 7, 1829. The series was fundamentally a description of the true marks of the visible church. The second programmatic series was entitled "Ancient Gospel" and it ran in 10 articles from January 7, 1828 to November 3, 1828. The series was a discussion of the design of immersion as the point of entrance into the visible church and salvation. (Hereafter, Christian Baptist will be abbreviated as CB.) [2]The Millennial Harbinger was continued for four years after Campbell's death by his son-in-law Robert Richardson. It ceased publication in 1870. (Hereafter, the Millennial Harbinger will be abbreviated MH.)

[3]MH, 22 (1852), p. 210.

[4]See Hillyer H. Straton, "Alexander Campbell's Influence on the Baptists," Encounter 30.4 (1969): 355-365. This break was clear by 1830 when Campbell discontinued publication of the CB and replaced it with the MH. A number of Baptist Associations passed resolutions against Campbell and his followers: The Dover Association (December 31, 1830; see MH, 2 [1831], pp. 76-84); Appomattox Association (see MH, 1 [1830], pp. 261-62); and the most famous of all was the Beaver Creek Anathemas (see CB, 7 [1830], pp. 198-203, 292-294; MH, 1 [1830], pp. 174-177). The one thing all of these had in common was Campbell's view of the design of immersion.

[5]All biographical information, unless otherwise noted, is derived from Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 2 vols (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippinocott & Co., 1868; recently reprinted in Indianapolis, IN: Religious Book Service, n.d.). For a general account of the development of baptism in the early Restoration Movement, see Carl Spain, "Baptism in the Early Restoration Movement," Restoration Quarterly 2 (1957), pp. 213-219.

[6]See Richardson, Memoirs, I:335-347. These early years are meticulously described by William H. Hanna, Thomas Campbell: Seceder and Christian Union Advocate (reprint; Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Co., Inc., n.d.).

[7]James Foster was a member of an Independent congregation in Rich Hill, Ireland when the Campbell's persuaded him to come to America with them. He heard John Walker and Alexander Carson, two famous Scotch Baptists, preach in Ireland. In fact, Alexander Campbell in a letter to his uncle in 1815 wrote that "I am now independent in Church government;--of that faith and view of the gospel exhibited in John Walker's seven letters to Alexander Knox, and a Baptist in so far as respects baptism" (as quoted by H.C. Armstrong, "Disciples and Scotch Baptists," The Shane Quarterly 2 [Apr-Jul 1941]: p. 360). James Foster, as one of the founders of the Christian Association and the Brush Run church, had a significant impact upon the thinking of the Campbells. Just prior to the founding of the Brush Run Church, Campbell had made this comment about infant baptism: "As I am sure it is unscriptural to make this matter a term of communion, I let it slip. I wish to think and let think on these matters" (Richardson, Memoirs, I:392.).

[8]MH, 3 (1832), p. 319. For example, concerning the confession of Peter in Matthew 16:16, Campbell writes: "For my own part, I was immersed on this very confession and for that grand object, by special covenant and stipulation with the Baptist who immersed me; and for adhering to this confession alone, we have been separated from that community. They often baptize into the penitent's own experience" (MH, 9 [October 1838], p. 467). See also the account in MH, 19 (1848), pp. 282-283 and CB, 2 (1824), p. 37. Campbell's concern was simply to obey the will of God. He did not regard this as the point of his own salvation. Indeed, Richardson argues that at this time, immersion itself was subservient to unity (see Richardson, Memoirs, I:399.).

9 Campbell removed himself from the Redstone Association in 1823, and joined the Mahoning Baptist Association in 1824. He remained a member of the Mahoning Association till it dissolved itself in 1830.

10 All quotations from the Campbell-Walker Debate are taken from Alexander Campbell, Debate on Christian Baptism Between Mr. John Walker, a Minister of the Secession, and Alexander Campbell. To Which is Added a Large Appendix by Alexander Campbell. Second Edition Enlarged with Strictures on THREE LETTERS Respecting Said Debate, Published by Mr. Samuel Ralston, a Presbyterian Minister. Pittsburg: Eichbaum and Johnston, 1822; reprinted by Hollywood: Old Paths Book Club, n.d.). Quotations from the above book will be noted in the text.

For a thorough discussion of the historical background of the Campbell debates and an analysis of them, see Bill J. Humble, Campbell & Controversy: The Debates of Alexander Campbell (reprint with additions; Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1986).

[11]Campbell argued that four of these covenants belonged to the "dispensation of the law" since they were tied to the particular nation of Israel. These are: the Covenant of Circumcision, Covenant at Sinai, the Covenant of Peace, and the Covenant of Royalty. All the blessings of these four covenants are enjoyed by virtue of "natural birth" (p. 166). [12]Note this question and answer in the Appendix (p. 207): "Q. 98. Do the Baptists believe that all they receive are born from above?--A. Yes: in the judgment of charity they consider them as professing what they possess; hence they are justifiable in baptizing them." Also, in the debate Walker quoted ancient authors such as Origen and Cyprian, and Campbell responded: "The Infant Baptism of those who first introduced and taught it, was Baptism that washed away all previous guilt: it was, in fact, a purgatorial rite.... Even the Baptism of believers they had so far perverted, as to make it purgative of all sins before committed" (Campbell, Debate, pp. 119-120). [13]Though the traditional "first meeting" is usually said to have been in 1821-1822, it seems clear to me that the first meeting was in 1820 while Forrester was still alive. Campbell has this recollection (MH, 19 [1848], p. 552): "Some time in 1820 I was first introduced to brother Walter Scott, lately from Scotland, then a Presbyterian, residing with Mr. Forrester, of Pittsburg, a Haldanian, from Paisley, Scotland." Scott confirms this in the Evangelist, 1838, p. 268 when he states that "eighteen years ago" he first made his acquaintance with Alexander Campbell. My understanding is that the meeting in 1820 was an incidental one while Forrester was still alive, but that the meeting of 1821-1822 is more significant since it is the first time the two ever discussed "baptism for the remission of sins" with each other.

[14]Dwight E. Stevenson, Walter Scott: Voice of the Golden Oracle, A Biograph (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, n.d.), pp.37-39 and William Baxter, Life of Walter Scott with Sketches of his Fellow-Laborers, William Hayden, Adamson Bentley, John Henry, and Others (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., n.d.), pp. 64-68.

[15]MH, 19 (1848), p. 467.

[16]Scott tells this story along with a small extract from the tract in the Evangelist (1838), pp. 283ff. Baxter, pp. 46ff. also contains an extract from the tract. Stevenson, pp. 38-39. Interestingly, Richardson in his Memoirs never mentions this particular tract. [17]Baxter, pp. 47-51.

[18]Ibid. p. 51.


[20]Ibid., p. 52.



[23]Ibid., p. 53.

[24]Campbell, Debate on Christian Baptism, p. 141.

[25]MH, 9 (1838), p. 468.

[26]It was Walter Scott who persuaded Alexander Campbell to add the name Baptist to the title of the journal when Campbell himself simply wished to call it The Christian. Their hope was that they would attract the attention of the Baptists to their style of Reformation. See Baxter, p. 73 and Richardson, Memoirs, II, pp. 49-50.

[27]As quoted by Richardson, Memoirs, II, p. 135.

[28]CB, 1 (1823), p. 35. The article is authored by "T.W." It was known sometime later that "T.W." referred to Thomas Campbell (cf. A.S. Hayden, A History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve [Cincinnati: Chase & Hall, Publishers, 1875; reprinted by Indianapolis, IN: Religious Book Service, n.d.], p. 78). Richardson tells us that it was intended for the first issue of the paper, but it was left out due to lack of space, see Memoirs, II, p. 83. It is, in my opinion, certain that Thomas Campbell meant nothing more than Errett's tract at this point. Later in the same article he writes: "...for such was the import of the gospel testimony, as we have seen, that all who professed to believe it, whether they were intelligent persons or not, understood at least so much by it that it gave assurance of pardon and acceptance with God to every one that received it; that is, to every baptized believer: consequently every one that was baptized, making the same profession, he both thought himself, and was esteemed by his professing brethren, a justified and accepted person. Hence we do not find a single instance, on the sacred record, of a doubting or disconsolate christian...." (CB, 1 (1823), pp. 36-37).

[29]Campbell had received word that he was to be tried for heresy concerning his "Sermon on the Law" delivered on August 30, 1816. In order to keep from being excommunicated just prior to his debate with Maccalla, Campbell moved his membership from the Brush Run Church (which was a member of the Redstone Association) to the Wellsburg Church in Wellsburg, Va. The Wellsburg Church then petitioned to join the Mahoning Baptist Association, and was accepted. Consequently, the Redstone Association could take no action against Campbell since he now belonged to a different Association. For a detailed outline of these events see, MH, 19 (1848), pp. 553-557.

[30]Alexander Campbell and W. L. Maccalla, A Public Debate on Christian Baptism Between the Rev. W. L. Maccalla, a Presbyterian Teacher and Alexander Campbell to which is added An Essay on the Christian Religion by Alexander Campbell (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1842; reprinted by Kansas City: Old Paths Book Club, n.d.). All quotations from the debate will noted in the text. The popularity of the debate is indicated by the fact that within one year nearly 6,000 copies were sold (cf. CB, 2 [1824], p. 40).

[31]MH, 9 (1838), p. 468. Campbell strenuously protests that he had not come to this conclusion about the design of baptism until he began his preparation for the Maccalla Debate.

[32]Baxter, p. 53.

[33]Campbell uses the "church" here in the sense of the visible church or the church on earth. He is not speaking here of the universal, invisible church or heavenly glory. His meaning is the same as Errett's on this point. The statement submitted by the Wellsburg Church in August 1823 for admission into the Mahoning Baptist Association expresses Campbell's viewpoint (which is no accident since he was the Elder of the church; cf. CB, 2 [1824], pp. 37-38). Interestingly, it corresponds exactly with the above interpretation of the Maccalla Debate: "Every one that believeth by means of the demonstration of the Holy Spirit and the power of God, is born of God, and overcometh the world, and hath eternal life abiding in him: that such persons, so born of the Spirit, are to receive the washing of water as well as the renewal of the Holy Spirit in order to admission into the Church of the living God" (Hayden, p. 32). Note that one is born of the Spirit before he is born of water in this quotation, and that only one born of water is to be admitted into the visible church.

[34]MH, 9 (1838), p. 468.

[35]CB, 5 (1828), p. 222.

[36]Ibid., p. 256.] A. B. Jones, The Spiritual Side of Our Plea (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Co., 1901), pp. 70-192 argues in great detail that Campbell never reliquinshed this distinction between the "real" and "formal" remission of sins with respect to baptism. He argues that Campbell always maintained the position exhibited in the Maccalla Debate. However, I believe he has misunderstood Campbell on some important points. (1) Jones equates "personal remission" with "real remission," but Campbell states that personal remission comes at the point of immersion since immersion is the point at which the individual becomes personally assured of his forgiveness. Thus, personal remission is the same as formal remission in the Campbell of 1823. (2) Jones fails to recognize that Campbell used "actual" and "real" remission as synonyms, and that Campbell claimed in 1828 that the actual remission of sins occurs at baptism. (3) Jones' reading of Campbell confuses his statements about the unimmersed. Campbell is not certain of the salvation of the unimmersed, but he does not deny its possibility (even probability in certain cases). If Jones' reading is correct, then Campbell should have no doubt about real forgiveness already belonging to the unimmersed believer. (4) Jones makes the mistake of misreading Campbell's thoughts concerning the intent of the believer's heart (or the "remission of sins in anticipation through faith"). While in the Rice debate Campbell spoke of receiving pardon through "anticipation," it is clear that "anticipation" is not "actual." Campbell remarks: "I believe that when a person apprehends the gospel and embraces the Messiah in his soul, he has in anticipation received the blessing...He anticipates the end of his faith--his actual emancipation from sin" (Alexander Campbell and N. L. Rice, A Debate Between Rev. A. Campbell and Rev. N. L. Rice, on the Action, Subject, Design and Administrator of Christian Baptism [Lexington, KY: A. T. Skillman & Son, 1844], p. 522). The "actual emancipation" takes place at the moment or instant of baptism. Jones has made the fundamental mistake of reading all of Campbell's writings from the vantage point of the Maccalla Debate. Instead, he should recognize a fundamental difference between the Campbell of 1823 and the Campbell of the 1830s (even 1828). This mistake is still common among the writings of the Disciples, see Stephen J. England, "Alexander Campbell's on Baptism in the Light of the Ecumenical Movement," in The Sage of Bethany: A Pioneer in Broadcloth, complied by Perry E. Gresham (Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1988), pp. 95-116, esp. pp. 106-107, 114-116.

The Presbyterian minister, N. L. Rice, confronted Campbell with the difference between the Campbell of 1823 and the Campbell of the later years. After quoting the Maccalla Debate where Campbell argued that Paul was "really pardoned" when he believed, he quoted from the Christian Baptist (5:181) where the Eunuch had been "actually forgiven in the act of immersion" (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 524). Rice comments: "I leave those who can, to reconcile these contradictory views" (p. 524). Campbell did not respond to Rice's charge of contradiction in this specific instance after he quoted the passages from the Maccalla Debate and the Christian Baptist in that speech.

In 1851 Campbell published a compendium of his writings on baptism with some original material (Christian Baptism with its Antecedents and Consequents [reprint; Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1951]. This book clearly demonstrates a position in distinction from the Maccalla Debate. Campbell lists three "consequents" of baptism: adoption, sanctification and justification (pp. 220-254).

First published in Baptism and the Remission of Sins: An Historical Perspective, edited by David Fletcher (Joplin: College Press, 1990), pp. 111-70.


Bible Search

Add Bible to your site

Sep 2017
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Site-specific content Copyright (c) 2000 or Used by Permission
All other content Copyright (c) 2000 FaithSites, Inc. All rights reserved.
Use of this site is subject to Terms of Service and to our Privacy Policy.

If you are offended by anything on this page, click here.