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THE REVOLT AGAINST CREEDS
The movements and counter movements running through the history of Christianity have taken their courses like currents in the sea. Every great movement has its antecedents. Back of every flower is a seed, and all ideas, however wonderful, like all living things grow. Back of Copernicus was Pythagoras; and after him his theories found fruition in Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.
So for more than a century in Europe, and for a less length of time in America, religious thinkers visioned the rise of a "new" movement in religion. Protestantism had not brought peace, but "bitter and incessant strife,"1 and for a time it seemed that it would devour itself by strife and multiplicity of division.2 The Roman Catholic orator, Bossuet, predicted that very thing with the continuation of the Protestant policies of that period--a "complete disintegration and disappearance of the entire Protestant movement."3
Each prophet that appeared with a new gospel was tried at the bitter and fickle court of public opinion and suffered the calumny of him who differs from the masses. Of one of the greatest of these, John Wesley, we are told by Canon Farrar:
"We might think it strange that the desire to preach the gospel of Christ should invoke such deadly opposition, alike of the so-called respectable and religious classes, and of the rude and ignorant multitude. Yet so it was . . . Every form of opposition, we are told, was tried against him. Milldams were let out; church bells were jangled; drunken fiddlers and ballad singers were hired; organs peeled forth; drums were beaten; street venders, clowns, drunken fops, and papists were hired, and incited to brawl or blow horns, so as to drown his voice. He was struck in the face! with sticks; he was cursed and groaned at, pelted with stones, beaten to the ground, threatened with murder, dragged and hustled hither and thither by drinking, cursing, swearing, riotous mobs who acted the part of judge, jury, and executioner. 'Knock him down and kill him at once,' was the shout of the brutal roughs who assaulted him at Wednesbury. On more than one occasion, a mad or a baited bull was driven into the midst of his assemblies; the windows of the houses in which he stayed were broken, and rioters burst their way even into his private rooms. 'The men,' says Dr. Taylor, 'who commenced and continued this arduous service--and they were scholars and gentlemen--displayed a courage far surpassing that which carries the soldier through the hailstorm of the battlefield. Ten thousand might easily be found who would confront a battery than two, who, with the sensitiveness of education about them, could (in that day) mount a table by the roadside, give out a Psalm, and gather a mob.'
"To face all this, and to face it day after day, and year by year, in England, in Scotland, in Wales, in Cornwell, in Ireland, required a supreme bravery and persistence. Yet it needed even greater courage to meet hurricanes of abuse and tornadoes of slander. Wesley had to face this also on all sides. The most popular actors of the day held him up to odium and ridicule in lewd comedies. Reams of calumny were written against him; shoals of pamphlets, full of virulence and falsehood, were poured forth from the press. The most simple, the most innocent, the most generous of men, he was called a smuggler, a liar, an immoral and designing intriguer, a Pope, a Jesuit, a swindler, the most notorious hypocrite living. The clergy, I grieve to say, led the way. Rowland Hill called Wesley 'a lying apostate, a designing wolf, a dealer in stolen wares,' and said that he was 'as unprincipled as a rook, and as silly as a jackdaw, first pilfering his neighbor's plumage, and then going proudly forth to display it to a laughing world.' Augustus Toplady said among floods of other and worse abuse, that 'for thirty years he had been endeavoring to palm on his credulous followers his pernicious doctrines, with all the sophistry of a Jesuit and the dictatorial authority of a Pope,' and described him as 'the most rancorous hater of the gospel system that ever appeared in England.' Bishop Lavington of Exeter denounced the Methodists as a dangerous and presumptuous sect, animated with an enthusiastical and fanatical spirit, and said that they were either innocent madmen or infamous cheats."4
Wesley suffered all this in law-abiding England, and men of vision have received similar treatment since. But Wesley did not believe the gospel he preached had reached its full fruition in his ministry:
"The times which we have reason to believe are at hand (if they are not already begun), are what many pious men have termed, the time of 'latter-day glory'--meaning, the time wherein God would gloriously display his power and love, in the fulfillment of his gracious promise that 'the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea,'"5 and
"What could God have done which he hath not done, to convince you that the day is coming, that the time is at hand, when he will fulfill his glorious promises; when he will arise to maintain his own cause, and set up his kingdom over all the earth?"6 Even Luther had preached that one would come who was to do a greater work than he: "I cannot tell what to say of myself. Perhaps I am Philipp's (Melanchthon's) forerunner. I am preparing the way for him, like Elias, in spirit and in power."
The amazing spread of the great revival in the new world led many to believe that this time spoken of by reformers had arrived, but as the spirit of emotionalism began to ebb, men who thought for themselves began to analyze and meditate over their Bibles after the hour of ecstasy at the penitent form, and they discovered that their new light had brought them little but confusion. They could no longer believe in "total depravity"; that men could do nothing of themselves to bring about their own salvation until God by some mysterious power had quickened and enlightened and regenerated the heart and prepared the sinner to believe in Jesus. Any reasoning man could plainly see that if God did not do this regenerating work for all, it must be because he chose to do it for some and not for others, as this was the doctrine so plainly taught and linked with "unconditional election" and "reprobation," as taught in the Winchester Confession of Faith. Men like Barton Stone in reading the Scriptures and comparing them with the confession of faith, became convinced "that God did love the whole world, and the reason why he did not save all was because of their unbelief,"7 and immediately began the assault upon creeds and authoritative systems of religion which followed in the wake of the great revival as inevitably as night follows day.
For early in the day of Protestantism, either because they felt they must do so to cope with the dogmatic theology of the Roman Catholic religion, or because, accustomed to dogmatism, they felt at sea without its anchor, the reformers had established their own systems, as positive and creed bound as the one they had renounced, and as years went by became more and more involved in the arduous task of exacting uncompromising loyalty, not to Christ but to the systems they had evolved, an ever increasingly difficult task.
Early in the century, in different places, and in unrelated and even in antagonistic sects, arose men who declared that all creeds and systems must be abandoned and the Scriptures alone become the simple rule and guide of Christian life. As early as 1793, on Christmas Day, James O'Kelley and his courageous little band of dissenters seceded from the Methodist Church in North Carolina, declaring they would have no creed or discipline but the Bible. Early in the century Abner Jones and Elias Smith in Vermont formed a fellowship, rejecting "sectarian names and creeds" and adopting the Bible as their only standard of faith and practice.
The situation among the Presbyterians will illustrate what was happening in many communions. They had been caught unexpectedly in the vortex of the great revival, and now that its inadequacies became apparent, they were carried into a whirlpool of uncertainty and confusion. For a time they co-operated valiantly with the Methodists and the Baptists in the South in the camp meetings which seemed to produce such glorious results, protecting themselves by the usual "agreement to avoid proselyting" and harmony was sustained until about 1804, when the force of emotionalism began to wane slightly. Dissensions began to break out among the denominations but even more seriously, within their own ranks. The Cumberland Presbytery had gone enthusiastically and wholeheartedly into the new movement. In the general excitement young men had gone forth to preach who did not meet the previously established qualifications of the denomination, and these had even been licensed as ministers. The erring Presbytery was brought for these and other indiscretions under the censure of the synod of Kentucky. Finally in 1810, after six years of wrangling and dissension the Cumberland Presbytery, led by William McGee and others, seceded from the organization and formed the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The new body made an earnest effort to compromise between old and new. They renounced the doctrine of predestination, but retained a belief in the "perseverance of the saints," and especially espoused the evangelical tendencies acquired during the great revival, and provided that candidates for the ministry be examined in no language but English.
Among the various denominations there was considerable discussion of the meaning and manner of administering the various rites and ceremonies of the church. There was the matter of baptism. Many had come to think that baptism was in some way connected in the Scriptures with conversion. For some time the reformers had been dissatisfied with their infant baptism, and as the Baptists would not baptize except on condition of union with their organization, many of them were reduced to the same expedient resorted to by Roger Williams and reasoned that if they were commissioned to preach they were commissioned to baptize, and therefore baptized each other. Baptism by immersion was growing rapidly into favor, but was still looked upon as a means of admission into the church to be obeyed by those already converted, and very seldom preached or talked about except when someone was going to be baptized.
The religious awakening had for some time engrossed the minds of all to the practical exclusion of baptism, but as one by one the reformers sensed that it must play some part in the scheme of conversion, it became once more a subject of controversy. Once indeed Barton Stone in the early days of the revival dimly recognized its true place. There had been a great meeting and the mourners were duly invited to the mourners' bench, and prayed over without receiving at once the expected manifestations. "The words of Peter at Pentecost," says he, "rolled through my mind, 'Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.' I thought, were Peter here, he would thus address these mourners. I quickly arose and addressed them in the same language and urged them to comply."8 The invitation, however, had the reverse effect of what he intended. The penitents, familiar with the tactics of the revival, were disappointed and confused. This was something new and strange, and they were wholly unprepared. Barton Stone's sensitive mind quickly saw that what he had said had produced a "chilling effect."9 He had often been thrilled by the warmth of the emotional reaction to his words on such occasions, and he was disappointed. He declined to repeat the experiment.
Some years later Walter Scott, an ardent and excitable man, though naturally timid and vacillating, came to the conclusion that the Bible plainly set forth the idea that baptism was for "remission of sin." He had studied long, "about the discordant and confused ideas relating to conversion"10 and in spite of all he could do "baptism seemed to present itself as in some way intimately connected with the personal enjoyment of the blessings of the gospel,"11 but he "was unable to perceive its exact position . . . in relation to other requirements."12 Once he tentatively spoke in a sermon of baptism as "designed to be a pledge of the remission of sin."13 Being very much given to analysis and arrangement he soon placed the "various items of the gospel" in a consecutive order that appealed to him as scriptural: (1) faith; (2) repentance; (3) baptism; (4) remission of sins; (5) reception of the Holy Spirit. This arrangement he said seemed to him almost like a "revelation." Perhaps it was one. He longed to present this "clue to the labyrinth in which they were involved in relation to conversion," but his timid nature made him fear to introduce more disorder. At length he ventured to do so, and though his efforts met failure at first, he was surprised at his second invitation to receive a candidate for baptism in the person of William Amend,14 who on November 18, 1827, was baptized by immersion at New Lisbon, Ohio, "for the remission of sins." From then on such baptism became general in the Western Reserve.
Other ideas were advanced. A peculiar sect called the Restorationalists actually revolted against eternal damnation and taught an infamous heresy (according to the orthodox believer): that the wicked would "be restored to grace" after a due amount of punishments.15
Thus did the revival shake to its foundations the religious structure of the West. Conservatives clung to the old creeds, the crystallized thought of the ages; radicals demanded they be thrown into the scrap heap, and a return made to the simple truths of the New Testament.
One of the chief reformers of the day, that indomitable Scotchman, Alexander Campbell, voiced the spirit of his time when he declared he would dissolve the whole superstructure of the church and go back to the simplicity of apostolic times. "Christian union," he said, "can result from nothing short of the destruction of creeds and confessions of faith, inasmuch as human creeds and confessions have destroyed Christian union."16
And Barton Stone applauded his statement in a letter to him, declaring that he had watched him "with the arm of a Samson, and the courage of a David tearing away the long-established foundations of partyism, human authoritative creeds, and confessions."17
1 Origin of the Disciples of Christ, by Peter Ainslee, Revell, New York.
3 History of Variations of the Protestant Church, by Bossuet.
4 Archdeacon Farrar, in the Contemporary Review. Quoted in Church History, Volume 1, pages 109, 110.
5 Wesley, Sermons, Volume 2 (2), sermon 71. See Church History, Volume 1. page 2.
7 Autobiography of Barton Stone.
8 Autobiography of Barton Stone.
10 Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, by Richardson, page 207.
14 This is the same William Amend who united with the Latter Day Saints in Ohio, and whose descendants are now numbered with the church.
15 The Restorationalists of Ohio did not believe in the restoration of the gospel as preached by the Latter Day Saints, but in a restoration of the wicked to divine favor.
16 A Short History of the Christian Church, by John F. Hurst, page 557.
17 The Christian Baptist, early in 1827.
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