|The Reformation For Which We Are Pleading:
What Is It?
We cannot, perhaps, more appropriately initiate the Quarterly than by an essay on the foregoing question. Some statement, certainly, is demanded, in the outset of our labors, of the objects we, as a people have heretofore been, and arc still, aiming at. By this, however, it is not implied that these objects have not been perceived by our brethren, nor that a restatement of them is necessary for their sake. Such implication would be unjust. But that these objects have either not been perceived by large numbers of our contemporaries, or if perceived by them, that they have been grossly misconstrued, is to us, at least, a well known fact. For their sake, then, but more especially for the sake of those who may candidly desire to know the objects we are aiming at, is the present introductory essay intended.
The object of the Reformation we are endeavoring to effect was not, as seems to have been erroneously thought, and, certainly, falsely said, the formation of a new sect. Far, very far from it. Indeed, we formerly believed, and still firmly hold, that the existence of sects and hostile parties in Christendom is one of the sorest curses with which it has been afflicted. Far more truthfully could it be Raid that a leading object with us was the extinction of all sects. For, while the accomplishment of such an object was, as we well know, a thing to be hoped for only as a bare possibility, unless urged on by tremendous providential causes; yet that it was right to intend such an object as well as to work for it, no enlightened and candid thinker will deny. On the contrary, then, instead of our being actuated even in the smallest degree by the desire to form a new sect, the hope that we might, under God, be enabled, in some measure, to impose a check on this monstrous evil, formed with us a chief incentive to attempt a reformation.
Forty years have now gone since the great chiefs in our ranks became almost simultaneously impressed with the conviction that the state of the so-called religious world then was not the state intended by the founder of Christianity. It is pertinent to the object we here have in view to reconsider briefly that state.
The papacy, (we now begin to hope its day of retribution is at hand,) cruel, merciless, and rapacious as in days of old, was growling and thundering its silly anathemas against protestantism. Protestantism, exulting in its young strength, was haughtily retorting every insult, and boldly urging forward its encroachments on the illicit gettings of Rome. The wrath of the parties, hot as in the days of the Inquisition, only bitted decidedly on the one side, showed clearly that it was destined never to cool. Amidst this fierce commotion, half political, half religious, but in no sense Christian, the true gospel and spirit of Christ were completely lost sight of. The Papacy, as such, was the “man of sin” of the Scripture. Protestantism, as such, was not Christianity. Right it may have been in many respects, as it certainly was; but Christian, in any respect, necessarily, it certainly was not. With this state of things, no man knowing the truth, and at heart desirous of it, and of communion with Christ, could get his consent to remain satisfied. A better state of things was clearly demanded.
Nor was confusion and estrangement of heart confined to these parties alone. Even amongst Protestants party spirit flamed high with no signs of subsidence. Calvanism, (sic) cold, narrow, bigoted Calvanism, (sic) claimed to be the only orthodox faith in the world, and hence demanded universal credence. Arminianism put forth the adverse claim, and refused to accept an inferior homage to that demanded by its great rival. Here, too, the strife was fierce and seemed nothing short of endless. Out of these huge strifes sects and parties rapidly arose. Each reared high its narrow standard, proclaimed itself divine, and published its “lo here,” as the sure specific for all ecclesiastic ills. Amongst Presbyterians we had “old sides” and “new sides,” Seceders and Dissenters, with numerous smaller sects, each imbued with a genuine Ishmalitish(sic) animosity against its cognate sect. Amongst the Methodists sects were bred with a fecundity perfectly amazing. Each succeeding throe gave us a succeeding sect, each a little less, and a little worse than the parent source. The Baptists, by perceptible and steady disintegrations, were fast resolving themselves down into little flocks with little light, little life, and a hopeless future. These sects, in regard to all that is most amiable amongst sects, constituted the fairest samples of the age. Can even the most partial eye recognize in them the state of things for which Christ prayed when he requested that all his followers might be one? With a few things that were good amongst these sects, they still held much that was positively bad. They existed as sects, and as such, were in a great measure powerless for good. They hated each other cordially, one never causing another even an emotion of joy, except when some straggling sheep bounded away from his own fold and came abroad seeking shelter elsewhere. True, these sects held some practices that are worthy of high praise. We greatly admire the strictness with which Presbyterians rear their children. Our only grief being that they teach them, not the life-inspiring and quickening truths of the Gospel, but the cold dicta of that caput mortuum, the catechism. The zeal of Methodists is certainly worthy of a better cause. We duly honor the man who is not ashamed to enter the humblest African cabin to bear to its inmates what he deems a message of life and deliverance. We highly commend the simple unostentatious worship of Baptists, particularly the older type of them, and sincerely admire their earnest trusting faith in God. These traits we deem worthy of something more than admiration; we even deem them worthy of imitation. Still, it was felt that, as long as these parties existed as sects, the redemption of the world could never be achieved through them. Hence it was felt that a grand necessity had arisen for supplanting them by something immeasurably better, to-wit: The “one body” of Christ.
Scholastic theology had, at the time of which we are speaking, completely engrossed the minds of the clergy. Indeed, this had been the case for long ages before. The language employed by these men in their writings and sermons was a peculiar language. Their themes were recondite and metaphysical. The essential natures of the Father and the Son, the mystic mode of three in one and one in three, predestination, foreknowledge, free will, how a spirit divine quickens a spirit human—these were the popular themes of the clergy. Yet in time these themes became the themes of the people, and constituted the body of their faith. That peculiar language was on every lip. Holy trinity, triune God, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, eternal sonship, eternally begotten, eternally proceeding from the Father, Holy Ghost religion, heart religion, head religion, sanctifying grace, electing grace, particular atonement, general atonement, general atonement and particular application, operation of the Holy Ghost, getting religion, etc. These are a specimen of that peculiar dialect which, while it may have served to impress an audience with the depth of him that used it, never failed to leave them in a mood shallow, doubtful, and painfully unsatisfactory. These clergy talked of a special call to the ministry with as much face as if it had been a commendable thing to lie. They boldly affirmed their rank and qualifications to be of God; and pronounced their neighbors heretics, who dissented from them, with as little scruple as if they had been unfallen seraphs. These assumptions gave them great power over the common people. Their decisions in matters of religion rated but little below a revelation. Such was their influence over the masses that the right of private judgment was virtually abandoned. They felt that to look after the interests of the soul was as peculiarly their prerogative, as it was that of Aaron and his sons to guard the ancient Ark of the Covenant. The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures was their inalienable right. Hence the common people left them unread, and consulted their clergy to learn their duty, much as they did their physician in questions of gout. Few will say that a change was not demanded here.
Tradition had accumulated upon the Bible, until its brightest pages emitted but a small dubious light; its broad truths and fine distinctions were shrouded in obscurity; its plainest precepts were set aside to make room for the “commandments of men;” while, by many, it was even dishonored as a “dead letter.” Its authority was little more than nominal, its decisions little better than prudent counsel. Hence, like a thing of no account, it lay unread, unstudied, with the dust of ages upon its sacred lids. True, much of this neglect is due to the fact that but few knew how to read it; and even the few who did, scarcely dared to exercise a right which might so soon subject them to the charge of having imbibed some dangerous heresy. No book will ever be much read or much cherished which is not understood; and forty years ago, as now, he who took his faith from the Bible was treated as a heretic, while he who collated his creed from other sources was held as orthodox. In nothing did the religious world more need a reformation, at the time, than in the method then current of studying the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps we should rather my, the religious world then needed a method; for, with the common people, at least, there was none. The Scriptures were regarded much in the light of a book on curious arts, and were read as though replete with mystic double meanings. Planless they certainly were to the masses; and where they meant any thing at all, they meant one thing about as well as another. Did a man wish to know what to do to be saved; he was as likely to read the Proverbs of Solomon as the Acts of Apostles. Things said to Moses as prophet, or to Aaron as priest, were held as equally applicable to the sinner for the first time seeking the way of life. The consequence was, that every conceivable doctrine was held; for every conceivable doctrine could be proved. Contradiction and confusion held a high band over most minds; and, as for relief, men seem to have thought of none. We have a distinct recollection of listening, for near twenty years, to the preaching of the day; and, during that entire period, we heard not even one discourse calculated to teach the people how to study the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, where neither preacher nor people knew their value, it is not strange that they gave themselves but little trouble to understand them. Still the preachers needed the Bible, because it furnished them their “texts;” and the people needed it, because it proved predestination and free will. Beyond this its value amounted to nothing. The mode of expounding it in those days was a curious one. Expound was a compound word, composed of ex and pound. Pound meant to beat or strike, ex meant out of. Hence, to expound the Bible meant an effort to pound its meaning out with a huge fist; which generally resulted, not really in pounding any meaning out of the Bible, but in pounding its meaning all out of the heads of the people. It had a literal, figurative and spiritual meaning. Its literal meaning was for the rabble, its figurative for the just awakened, its spiritual for the quickened elect. When explained at all it was firstly, secondly, and thirdly, in harmony with its three-fold meaning, but seldom or never rationally or correctly.
Creeds and confessions of faith had accumulated to such an extent that libraries groaned beneath their weight, and heads were turned by their contents. Though intended originally, it may be, to compose disputes, they served rather to fan the flame of religious discord; and instead of uniting the friends of Christ in fraternal affection, they estranged the children of God one from another, and reared between them doctrinal and practical barriers insuperable to pious and conscientious men. Designed at first, possibly, to exclude only error, they came in the lapse of time to exclude only the truth. Instead of being repositories for the mind and spirit of Christ, they teemed with the effete matter of bold dreamers, or the crude dogmas of arrant speculators. To the pragmatic, they were cyclopedias of doctrines and philosophies for criticism, digest, and the display of empiricism. To the humble Christian, they were learned little tomes, with much darkness, little light, and no adaptation to the common mind and common heart of the people. Whatever defense may be made for creeds, and to enlightened reason there is none, they are an impeachment of the Word of God as a sufficient rule of faith and practice. They are a virtual declaration, either that Christ would not provide such a rule for his people, or that he has not done it. In the former case, they impeach Him, in the latter case, they impeach His word; and in either case, they are a disgrace alike to those that make them and to those that accept them.
Superstition, or an error closely akin to it. swayed, if not all minds, certainly the popular mind to an almost exampled extent. The people had become persuaded that religion was a thing “to be got,” and at thing “to be lost,” like a dinner or a sock—a thing inexplicable before the getting—a thing inexplicable after. Some were “seekers,” some “mourners,” some had “a hope,” others merely “thought” they had; some had “faith,” others doubted if theirs was “the right kind;” “some were “exercised,” some “anxious, ” some “concerned,” some were barely “converted,” some “hopefully” converted, some “powerfully” converted; one had a “bright manifestation,” another had a “bright experience,” so the matter ran. Often, in the operation, vulgarity called “getting through,” the sinner was suddenly transported from the deepest mental gloom, or keenest spiritual agony, into a sort of half clairvoyant state—a state in which “sights” were seen and “voices” heard incommunicable to unregenerate ears. These were mysterious warnings to the guilty soul, or the gentle whisperings of the angel of peace assuring the freed spirit of its acceptance on high. Marvelous dreams were often dreampt, and taken as an evidence of “a work of grace in the soul;” when all they proved was a work of meat in the stomach, for a huge supper yet lay undigested there. These sights and dreams, and exercises, constituted what was then, and still is, familiarly known as “experimental religion. However sincere men might be in their efforts to “get religion,” and it is pleasing to know that they were really so, still they had no certain guarantee that in the end they should be successful. The future was all doubtful. Nor was it confidently known in many cases that success had been achieved at all. For even the brightest experiences cast some shadows of doubt. Each instance of success was a palpable miracle, so felt, and so held, in the heart of the convert, and so accepted by others; and yet the most intelligent and virtuous generally doubted, the most abandoned, seldom.
Such, to a great extent, was the state of the religious world forty years ago; and, although in certain localities important changes have been effected, such, in the main, is still its state. It is due the truth of private personal history to say that a few men of the times saw these evils and grieved over them; but being either unable to comprehend their nature, or to discover a remedy for them, or if able to discover it, afraid to apply it, they effected simply nothing in the way of a cure. What was to be done? That some great, and serious reformation was demanded, was evident.
But what was to be the character of that reformation? In other words, in what, 1st, was it to take its rise? In what, 2d, was it to consist? To what final end, 3d, was it to look? These were grave questions. On the judicious settlement of them every thing depended. One fake step here and it was felt that all might be lost. For the present we shall merely indicate briefly the answers to these questions. A fuller discussion of them will then follow.
In reply to the first question it was decided, that the reformation demanded must take its rise in the expressed will of Christ. This will is now the supreme law of both doctrine and practice; and all reformations have reference to one or the other, or both, of these. Hence in this will must the present reformation have its rise. It must accept this as its supreme regulating principle.
To reply to the second question was easy; the reformation was to be both doctrinal and practical. It was to consist in holding precisely and only what is taught in the word of God: and in founding our practice strictly thereon.
In answer to the third question it was determined, that the final end to which the reformation should look is a complete return to primitive Christianity, in doctrine, in practice, and in spirit. All of which is concisely expressed in the following decision: To believe precisely what the Scriptures teach, to practice only what they enjoin, and to reject every thing else. Hence the reformation proposed was to be marked, positively, by accepting, as matter of faith, what, and only what, the holy Scriptures teach; practically, by doing every thing and only what they enjoin, and, negatively by rejecting every thing which they do not sanction. Such was the reformation proposed by Mr. Campbell and his brethren. But we must now enlarge a little.
All reformations have their origin in some theoretic question or questions. Nor are they, as a general rule, less distinguished by their theoretic, than by their practical, peculiarities. At least is this true of all reformations of any great note. Such was the case with the reformation of the sixteenth century. It took its rise in the question of justification, strictly a theoretic question; the controversy being whether, with Rome, a man is justified by works, or, with Luther, he is justified by faith alone. This question underlay all the labors of the great German. Nor can less be said of the reformation for which we are pleading. Every leading feature of it has its basis in some important theoretic question. True, it may be said that reformations have their origin in the perversions or corruptions of Christianity. But this is not strictly correct. Corruptions may be the occasion of a reformation; but in them it cannot arise. It must, if it be genuine, have its origin in the will of Christ, or in our view of it, and be corrective of corruptions. It must contain some strong positive element, and not be merely relative or negative. That element is the determining will of Christ. It so happens that in a reformation, such as we are speaking of, errors are corrected, and hence it is relative. But this is not the only feature it contains. It is constructive, as well as destructive; that is, it is designed to build up the cause of Christ as well as to correct error.
But we are proceeding too rapidly. What do we mean by the word theory? Without a correct answer to this question, we shall be constantly encountering a deep-grown prejudice in the popular mind. For there, every thing assumed to be theoretic in religion is strongly objected to. It matters nothing, is the common saying on both learned and unlearned lips, what a man’s theory is provided only his practice is right. To this position, so false yet so current, we shall reply more particularly further on. The word theory is derived from the Greek, and literally means seeing. But seeing in the common acceptation of the term is not the popular meaning of theory. Seeing with the organ of vision is one thing; theoretic seeing another. The word theory denotes, not seeing with the eye, but seeing with the mind. It denotes the mental view we take of a thing. In the present essay we mean by it the view we take of what the Holy Scriptures teach. They contain a revelation of the mind, or the will of God to man. The word, theory expresses the view we take of that mind or will. It is perhaps proper to remark here in order to prevent misapprehension, that the word theory is frequently, perhaps we might even say generally, used to express a pure speculation. Something which has no foundation except in the mind. In this acceptation we do not here use it. With us the word theory expresses something actually existant, a positive reality; and consequently something which exists, not only in the mind, but out of it, but which exists as a theory only with reference to the mind. The word expresses not only the act of mind seeing, but especially what is thus seen.
Now it so happens that every theory is marked by one or more of four characteristics. It is either complete, exact or inexact.
A theory is partial when it takes in a part only of the contents of God’s word; when it is a view not of the whole of these, but of a part only. Such are all the theories of men. They comprehend, not all, but only a part of “the things of God.” Such in some measure must they continue to be as long as man sees through a glass darkly.
A theory is complete when it includes the entire contents of the word of God. Completeness means fullness, and in the present case, has reference not merely to extent of view, but to number, in respect to particulars. A theory is therefore complete when it includes all the particulars contained in the Holy Scriptures. In his present state, no man can claim for his theory that it is complete in this sense, that it contains all the sacred volume contains, that of all the particulars of that wonderful book it omits not one. But, may it not be his proud lot one day, in the distant and enchanting future, to number them all in his theory? We love to cherish such dreams.
A theory is exact when, throughout its whole extent, it corresponds precisely to the Divine original. In order to exactness, it is not necessary that a theory shall be complete; that is, contain all the particulars of the Divine volume. It is only necessary that, as far as it does contain them, they, as constituting the view, shall correspond truly to the things viewed.
A theory is inexact when this correspondence does not exist, but is merely assumed to exist. Here, more than in anything else, is error likely to appear in theories. They are assumed to contain the things of God (ta tou theon) (transliterated, sdh) when such is not the case.
Now what is required in every theory is, not that it shall be complete, though the nearer it approaches this the better certainly, but that it shall be exact. This much cannot be dispensed with. Indeed, it is difficult to see how even God could accept less. That the view we take of His holy word, whatever may be its extent, should correspond truly to that word, is absolutely necessary. Anything short of this would be unjust to the truth.
But when we say that the view we take of God’s word should be just to it, that is, correspond truly to it, we may be misunderstood. We do not mean that a mere resemblance shall exist between the elements or particulars of our theory and the contents of His word; but that these contents shall themselves constitute those elements or particulars. This is what we mean. The contents of that word must reappear in our theory, and compose it; otherwise it is false—it is no theory at all, but a mere vacant gaze of the mind. Still by some it may be said that whether the contents of the word of God, and the particulars of our theory are identical, or merely resemble each other, is not worth discussing. We do not propose to discuss the question; we merely state the case, together with our own conviction, and there leave the matter. But let no one suppose the case as stated by us an impossible one. The contents of the word of God are its meaning. This meaning is perceived by the mind; and not only is it the thing perceived by the mind—it is the only thing perceived by it. This meaning thus perceived and held in the mind is the Christian’s theory. It is the word of God, the truth dwelling within him, the lumen of the soul, or light of the spiritual eye.
What in the light of these premises would constitute a perfect theory? A perfect theory would be both complete and exact. In regard to the former characteristic, the most that can be affirmed of any theory, is that it is a mere approximation; in respect to the latter, none should be defective. The very least that can be required of any theory, is that it shall be exact. Nor is this a mere speculative requisition. Certainly the word of God has a meaning, determinate, that may be known by the mind, and what may be known in this crew, is positively required to be known. To doubt that the word of God has a meaning is monstrous; to deny either that it may be known, or is to be known, is no better. Whether a theory is, or is not, in fact, exact, is another question. What we affirm is, not merely that a theory may be, but that it dogmatically must be exact. To a thinker this position is all but self-evident.
Not only, moreover, is a distinct knowledge of the truth attainable; but we hold that we may even know that we know the truth, not certainly in all cases, but in every case seriously affecting the interests of the soul. We are not only conscious, in many instances, that we know a thing; but conscious that we know it correctly, truly, as it was intended to be known. We are, in other words, as conscious that we know the thing as it was designed to be known, as we are that we know it at all. This is the best and highest knowledge. To know that we know, is the proof that we know; and in the proof that we know, lies the pleasure of knowing. That things which are equal to the same third are equal to one another, is not merely a truth, it is a truth for the mind. It may be apprehended in thought as a truth, and in the act the mind is conscious that it so apprehends it. The same, to a certain extent, is true in Christianity. Indeed, if this were not so, it would be difficult to see on what ground man is to be held accountable. For, if he may know the truth, and yet not know that he knows it, this is the same thing as if he did not know it at all. In this case, it would be hard to hold him accountable for a course of action in conformity to the truth. The Bible, then, being assumed true, we hold that its contents may be so apprehended that the mind has in the act, the highest possible assurance that its knowledge is correct. Indeed, that this is so, and that the mind does know the truth, it not only refuses to doubt, but finds it impossible to doubt. It reposes with unquestioning faith on this knowledge. It is the truth thus known that makes us free, and fills the heart with joys so exquisitely pleasurable, that renders the life of the enlightened Christian the pure foretaste of the life to come. In no one thing perhaps, so far as happiness in this life is concerned, does true religion more advantageously contrast itself with false, than in this. The advocates of the latter spend their lives in doubt, the only thing of which they are positively certain being that they doubt. These doubts enter largely into their experiences, especially into the popular tenet of experimental religion, in which they are a chief element. Indeed, the entire body of the tenet may be said to consist of these doubts, and in a certain excited state of feelings.
In every attempt, therefore, to effect a reformation, the very first thing to be done is the formation of a theory approaching completeness as near as can be, and in all its particulars exact. In this event two important questions will be at once settled. 1st, What is to be accepted as doctrine? 2d, What is to be rejected as not doctrine? By these questions the mind is brought at once immediately into contact with the word of God, as the source from which the theory is to be formed. Here will arise the investigation and discussion of doctrinal or theoretic questions. But 1st, how shall these investigations be conducted so as to result successfully? And 2d, what is their effect upon the minds of those that conduct them?
1st. We reply, that the investigations shall be conducted in conformity to such laws of exegesis as necessarily elicit to the truth. To say that they shall be conducted in accordance with such laws as may elicit the truth, is merely to say that the results may or may not be true. Of course no truth is thus elicited, except by accident; and then it is not known to be a truth, but only a problematic proposition. Such investigations may start questions for debate, but they settle nothing; they furnish the mind with no truth, but leave it still in search of truth. Such are most of the investigations now current amongst the sects; and such the main body of the rules by which they are conducted. The consequence is, that the conclusions arrived at are mere propositions yet to be proved true. More especially is this true of those conclusions which are accepted as the basis of partyism, or which constitute the doctrinal or theoretic differences between one sect and another. Of even the very best of them, the most that can possibly be said is that they may be true; of not one can it be said it is true. In no one thing known to us, could a competent person at this time more certainly prove himself the benefactor of the world, than by producing a sound, and masterly work on sacred criticism. Should such a work ever be produced, whatever may be its character in other respects, of one thing we feel assured, that its laws and rules must be the embodiment of necessary and intuitive truths—of such, consequently, as compel their own belief; not such as may be admitted or accepted, but such as cannot be rejected or denied. Such a work, and we believe it to be perfectly practicable, would be worth all the commentaries ever written on the Bible.
But in regard to laws of exegesis, and the formation of a correct theory, let us be understood. We do not mean that the human mind can, either by intuition, or the aid of these laws, invent a perfect theory, or thereby determine what truths are Divine, and what not. This is not the province of such means of knowledge. To determine what is to be accepted as of God, and what not, belongs to a different branch of investigation. The question of revelation is a question of fact, and to be determined like any other question of fact. What we mean is, that this question of fact being settled, and revelation being granted, we may know the contents thereof, and feel perfectly assured that we know them correctly. In other words, we mean that there are laws of exegesis which may, by intuition, be perceived to be necessary laws of thought; and that by these the meaning of Holy Writ may be determined, not doubtfully, but with absolute certainty. We may be very incapable of inventing a proposition; but that we may certainly know its meaning is a demonstrable fact. Thus, we may not only know its meaning, but be rendered profoundly certain that we do know it. If for example, we construct, and give expression to a proposition, it is demonstrated that we are understood, provided the person hearing us returns our identical meaning in some equivalent form of expression. Surely this is on every day occurrence; and one, too, which establishes the fact that there are laws of thought which unerringly guide the mind to the meaning of verbal communications. If I say, the pen with which I write made of the quill of a goose, my meaning is instantly, and certainly collected. The mind cannot but see it. Now why? In the answer to this question, we have one of those necessary laws which so unerringly lead to the meaning of Holy Writ. To enunciate this law is not here my purpose, I wish merely to indicate its certain existence. These laws I call necessary, because in all cases they discover the true meaning, and can not but discover it. If there be any cases in which they cannot be applied of course they are not here taken into the account. What, these laws are more particularly, it will be the business of some future number of this work to inquire. Of them certainly must a work consist, should one ever be produced, which shall be final on the question of sacred criticism.
I am now prepared to reply more fully to the popular position that it matters nothing what a man’s theory is, provided only his practice is right. This position would unquestionably be correct, if it ever happened that a man’s practice is right, while his theory is wrong. But this is not the case. The position assumes it, I know; but in this lies its error. It is a man’s theory that determines his practice. What a word is to an idea, practice is to theory; the one is the expression, or embodiment of the other. Especially is this true in case where our practice is regulated by the will of another, as in Christianity. Here the other’s will creates the practice, and hence, of course, determines it. Where conduct results from the expression of authority, or is influenced by will, it is as certainly shaped by theory, or mental view, as is the position of a shadow determined by the direction in which the light falls upon the body which casts it. Differences in practice are determined and accounted for in the same way. Why, to use a few familiar illustrations, does the practice of one physician differ from that of another? It is evidently owing to a difference in their respective theories. The practice of one farmer differs from that of another, and why? Because one takes one view of his calling, the other takes a different view. Why, further, do the usages and practices of one denomination differ so widely from those of another? Clearly because each is under the influence of a different theory. We conclude, then, that it is not true that it matters nothing what a man’s theory is, provided only his practice is right. The position assumes what is false, and hence should be rejected.
Since, moreover, it is a man’s theory which determines his practice, it follows that if his theory be defective, his practice must be so too. His practice will never rise above his theory. Hence, if his practice approach his theory perfectly, allowing the latter to be defective, and only in case of defective theory can practice approach it perfectly, then is he at fault in two respects—theory and practice, when he should be at fault only in one—practice, In this case, further practice cannot be improved beyond a certain limit. When it approaches theory completely, improvement ceases. Yet in this life it is never contemplated that practice will become so perfect that improvement must cease. On the contrary, then, we hold the true position to be—a theory strictly correct, and a practice as nearly conformed to it as possible. In this case practice may be always improving, always approaching its perfect standard, but, in this life, never completely attaining it.
But what is the effect of theoretic discussions upon the minds of’ those that conduct them? It is, of course, much the same as that of any other purely intellectual exercise. They tend to sharpen the intellectual powers, to render them more acute and penetrating, and hence serve as an excellent mental discipline. They lead us, in the first place, to examine our conceptions with the greatest possible minuteness, to exclude from them all elements which do not properly belong to them, to give distinctness and individuality to those which do. By them we are introduced into the very secret chambers of thought, and are compelled to the narrowest inspection of every element upon which the mind works. They induce definiteness, clearness, and fullness in our ideas. They render us, in a word, familiar with the very first, and most important elements of religious inquiry. In the second place, they lead us to an accurate, and comprehensive study of the meaning of words. In no department of human thought is thorough discipline more necessary. How it is in other minds we know not, but in the human, thought exists only in connection with its symbols or terms. In these alone it finds a translation horn mind to mind. Nor is this true of human minds only. For, as yet, our Heavenly Father has indicated no medium through only by degrees and after a long time. Hence some men, who seem not aware of this, on turning their attention to practical defects, and making an effort to correct them, and finding that they do not at once succeed, despair of success. They now sit down in a complaining mood. Theory is blamed for these defects. Too much attention, it is now urged, has been bestowed on purely theoretic questions; while practical matters have been allowed to languish. But this complaint is not just. Theory, unless it be a faulty one, is not to blame for these defects. They had their existence before any question respecting theory was started; and it was precisely with a view to correcting them that such question was started. On the contrary, instead of being to blame for these defects, theory has only revealed the fact of their existence; and now, not only demands their immediate correction, but supplies the laws in obedience to which it must be effected.
To indicate our meaning still more fully and specifically, let any one take up the Christian Baptist. He will find that it literally teems with theoretic discussions; and if he does not find it the most complete, he will certainly find it the most luminous of Mr. Campbell’s writings. Indeed, the period of the Christian Baptist was the inceptive, theoretic period of the reformation. Our theory, as it relates to ourselves, was then in its incipient formative state. We do not mean of course that its matter was then formed, but only that this matter then first begun to be formed in us into a theory. This theory then began to assume exactness, and from that time on it has been steadily growing more and more complete. May its progress in this direction never be checked! But what constitutes the body of our more recent periodical literature? With emphasis it may be said, the discussion of practical questions. The duties of evangelists and the limit of their power, the duty of elders, the duty of deacons, the duties of private members, forms of church organization, modes of trying offenders, modes of excluding them, missions and missionary societies, educational schemes, plans of finance—these are some of the themes with which our periodicals of the present day are filled. This is precisely as it should be. Having advanced sufficiently far in theoretic matters to justify it, we are now engaged in an effort to correct our practical defects. But this is a slow work, and requires patience. Let no brother despair because he brings not practice up to a perfect standard in a day. Nay, rather, let us work steadily for the worthy end, work with heart, trusting in God, and great results must at last be achieved. Let us remember that there is a philosophy and a law in every reformation founded in truth. These we are not to seek to modify, but to them labor to conform. We must first have our theory, then our practice. Heretofore our labor has been in the former, at present it is in the latter. Have we seen all this at all times? Or has not a sublime providence been governing us, whose leadings we have not understood? Have we been elaborating a grand theory by chance, or did we by the mind’s own light forecast the degree of perfection it has now attained, and the exact date when our attention, as that of a single man, should be turned to errors in practice? We may have known what we were doing, but we have surely not always known why. The hand of God is in the work.
But just here in our history some will fall away. We have now entered the period when, by the light of our theory, we are attempting to effect a corresponding reformation in practice. A few impatient and unphilosophic spirits, seeing that the work goes slowly forward, will falter and turn back. By their clamor and their fruits you shall know them. They will cry down the theoretic in religion, and extol the practical. Indeed, they are now prepared to ignore theory altogether. Hence they are ready to fraternize with Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Unversalists—in a word, with any sect or party, provided only an agreement can be effected in a few small practical details. This, of course, is easily done; and then the circle is completed. Starting in the darkness of sectarianism, these men halted in the light of Christianity; and now starting in the light of Christianity, they have ended in the darkness of sectarianism. They may be readily known by their abnormal charity and eccentric affinities. They love every body but their brethren forget no one except their former friends, and have an intense affinity for sects, but none for the Church of Christ. They talk much of spiritual Christianity, but attempt to check their folly, and they reveal that they have the spirit of the Devil. At the mention of baptism, they sneer; at the mention of baptism and repentance, they are shocked; at the mention of baptism for remission of sins, they take hysterias: which at the mention of the reformation, they positively have spasms. They love the sects, and yet will not abandon the brethren whom they hate, preach in churches where they are not wanted, affect piety as mechanically as a Pharisee, and speak of the blunders of Mr. Campbell with an air exquisitely ludicrous. Such are a few of those who, just at this time, must, slough off into the service of Satan.
But, we repeat, we have now arrived at the point in our history when a reformation in practice is urgently demanded. To this work it now becomes us to address ourselves with a strong will, and prayerful heart. What is merely respectable is not enough. We should, in our conduct as a people, exhibit a sublime moral spectacle to the world. Our faith should be clear and strong; our piety deep and pure; our love intense and large; our devotion to God cordial and uniform, and our practice as simple and faultless conformity to the will of Christ. But even here we en. counter a danger which we must not omit to point out. It is possible that our attention to practical matters, important though they are, may become dangerously exclusive. We may bestow on them an attention, not too constant, but certainly too partial. Let this be done, and let our view of the mind, or will of Christ become dim or untrustworthy, and we at once lose the power to proceed with our practical reform. Hence, while steadily prosecuting our work in this respect, we must by no means neglect constant efforts to render our theory still further complete, and yet more exact. The task with many is not easy; for but few persons can attend, with equal success, to two different duties at the same time. Still the importance of the duties renders the task imperative. This will lead to the laborious and minute study of the Holy Scriptures, since it is from them that our theory is to be formed. Caution, “discrimination, and a sound judgment will give exactness, patience and perseverance, completeness.
We are now prepared to answer more definitely and fully the question standing at the head of this article. The reformation for which we are pleading consists, 1st. In accepting the exact meaning of Holy Writ as our religious theory. This is held as the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, the thing taught in them, and hence the thing to be believed, or the matter of faith. Hence, human elements are absolutely excluded from our theory. Reason may determine what is said in God’s word, not what ought to be said. We accept as our creed the contents of his word without enlargement, contraction, or modification. Such is the matter of our theory.
2d. In the minute conformity of our practice to the revealed will of Christ. Such is the second feature of the reformation. Hence all practices having their origin in tradition, human reason, or expediency, are utterly eschewed. In other words, the reformation consists in an effort to, induce all the truly pious in Christ to become perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, by accepting as doctrine, precisely and only what is either actually asserted or necessarily implied in the Bible; to speak the same things by speaking what the Bible speaks, and to speak them in the language of the Bible; and to practice the same things by doing simply the will of Christ. Thus, it is proposed continually to construct the body of Christ after the Divine model, to unitize completely its constituent members, to imbue them with a new, divine life, and to pervade them with the “peace” of Christ, and a warm, pure, fraternal affection. Such is the great and good work in which we are now engaged. That it should ever have been opposed or spoken against by a single being possessed of mind enough to comprehend it, is certainly one of the mysteries of sin.
-Moses E. Lard, Lard’s Quarterly, 1863, Volume 1, pages 5-22
Web Editor's Note: Very few articles have been written that better portray the intentions of those who have enlisted in the theme concept of the Restoration Plea than the article written above by Moses E. Lard. It was the first article that appeared in the first issue of his paper, Lard's Quarterly. It was written in 1863. Its wording expresses to this day, the commitment of those who are seeking to return to the old paths. April, 2012