Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rice Haggard, Barton W. Stone, and the Christians of Kentucky

From the mid-1790s until the beginning of the 1800s, Rice Haggard was a preacher and leader among the former Republican Methodists. In August of 1794, the group adopted by name "the Christian Church."

It was likely in 1803 that Haggard made a trip westward from Virginia to Kentucky. One of his reasons for going there was to visit his brother David who, like Rice, had also served as a Methodist preacher. As early as 1791, David Haggard had been assigned to ride the circuit of Lexington, Kentucky. A few years later, he decided to settle in the newly-formed state.

Another of Rice Haggard's reasons for going to Kentucky was to arrange for the purchase of land, which he must have heard about from his brother. According to the records of Cumberland County, in 1798 David Haggard was granted 200 acres of land on the Little Renox Creek. The next year he was granted an additional 300 acres in the same vicinity. [1]

During his trip to see David, Rice Haggard met Barton W. Stone, a leader of the newly-formed Springfield Presbytery. The relationship between these two men, as well as the relationship between the former Republican Methodists in Virginia and the Christians in Kentucky, is not well known for the most part.

However, we do have the record of Joseph Thomas, known by his distinctive outfit and called by many in his day "the White Pilgrim." Thomas, a Kentucky preacher of the early 1800s, gives us some important first-hand information. Recounting the actions of Stone and the Springfield Presbytery in the early months of 1804, Thomas writes:

About this time R. Haggard, a minister of the christian church in Virginia, heard of them. At that time he found them a wise, candid people, enquiring after the plain simple truth as it was laid down in the scriptures. And at a great meeting held by them at Bethel he proposed to them publicly the name by which they should distinguish themselves as the followers of Christ. -- "And the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch."-- "And that the scriptures were all sufficient to govern the church of Christ, and that any other written rules or laws were spurious and only calculated to separate and keep apart the lambs of Christ." They then saw that the day of the redeemed had come, and that the day star, with all the shining beams of truth had shined into their hearts. With great joy and thankfulness they received this name, as being sent down from heaven for them to be called by. I will observe that in the time of the interview of R. Haggard with these people, I am induced to think that he received a greater and more perfect understanding of some of the doctrine of the gospel than he ever before received. . . .

Not long after this, at a memorable meeting, held at Cane Ridge in 1804, the Springfield Presbytery dissolved their body by a mutual and unanimous consent. [2]

Here, Thomas confirms for us two important facts about the Springfield Presbytery. First, Rice Haggard's counsel at the meeting at Bethel in April 1804 led to their adoption of the name Christian. Second, Haggard's influence among the Presbytery contributed to its eventual demise. It was no mere coincidence that the Bethel meeting took place in April and that the breakup came two months later on June 28th. In fact, the words of Stone himself relate that Haggard directly influenced him and his colleagues:

Under the name of the Springfield Presbytery we went forward preaching, and constituting churches; but we had not worn our name more than one year before we saw it savored of a party spirit. With the man-made creeds we threw it overboard, and took the name Christian--the name given to the disciples by divine appointment first at Antioch. We published a pamphlet on this name, written by Elder Rice Haggard, who had lately united with us. Having divested ourselves of all party creeds, and party names, and trusting alone in God, and the word of his grace, we became a byword and laughing stock to the sects around. Yet from this period I date the commencement of that reformation, which has progressed to this day. [3]

Notice how Stone acknowledges the leadership of Haggard in that "reformation" with which Stone was associated.

Finally, the place of Haggard as a leader among the Kentucky Christians--not only in his suggestion of the name Christian, but also in more-general teaching--is confirmed for us by the remarks of Robert L. Davidson, a historian of the Presbyterian Church, who sarcastically wrote:

Filled with the pleasing dream of an approaching universal kingdom which was to embrace the whole earth, they proposed to establish a grand communion, which should agree to united upon the simplest fundamental principles according to a plan drawn up by Rice Haggard, such as worshiping one God, acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Saviour, taking the Bible for the sole confession of faith and organizing on the New Testament model. To this union, all disciples of Christ, they gave the name "The Christian Church" and would recognize no sectarian appellation. Their views were communicated to the world in the promised "Observations of Church Government" and An Address to the Different Religious Societies on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name. [4]

That Davidson knew of what he spoke is verified by a comparison of his description of the "plan drawn up by Rice Haggard" to what Haggard actually published in his pamphlet in 1804.

Of course, no one doubts that the leading personality among the Kentucky Christians was Barton W. Stone. But what hasn't always been recognized is that, in 1804, when Stone and his brethren were searching for answers, the veteran reformer Rice Haggard offered biblical counsel and timely suggestions. Indeed, it is said by Davidson that it was the plan drawn up by Haggard which was approved and adopted by the Springfield Presbytery.

Considering that description, a person has to wonder how the Stone Movement might have been different had it not been for the timely influence of Rice Haggard.

[1] For more about this, see the outstanding article by R. L. Roberts, "Rice Haggard (1769-1819) 'A Name Rever'd'," Discipliana 54 (Fall 1994), pp. 67-81.

[2] Joseph Thomas, The Travels and Gospel Labors of Joseph Thomas (Winchester, VA: J. Foster, 1812), p. 26.

[3] Barton W. Stone, Biography of Eld. Barton Warren Stone (Cincinnati: J. A. and U. P. James, 1847), p. 50.

[4] Robert L. Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), p. 198.


Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Frank I am really enjoying reading your thoughts on Rice Haggard ... not any relation to the country singer though ... ;-)

Frank Bellizzi said...

Merle is my other favorite Haggard. Actually, there just might be a fairly close relationship between him and Rice.

Clyde said...

Thanks for these posts! You've done a lot of work and it's very interesting. I think I have a PPT of Rice Haggard that Tom Olbricht put together a few years ago.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks, Clyde. I'd be very interested to see Olbricht's material on Haggard. He's such a fine scholar.