Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More From Alexander Campbell's Lectures

I'm taking my time reading through Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch. A few highlights from numbers V and VI:

In Lecture V, Alexander Campbell speaks to the men at Bethany College about the superiority of man, and the wonderful wisdom and goodness of the Creator, as manifested in the closing acts of his six days' labor (pp. 89-90).

"Trinity" Used in the Sense of Three-ness

In an earlier post, I mentioned AC's aversion to theorizing and, thus, the unlikeliness of his using the term "Trinity." However, he does speak of God's triune character (90), and he does believe that the plural pronouns of the creation account refer to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. He even speaks of their plurality (or three-ness) as the trinity (90).

Man's Superiority as a Moral Creature

The superiority of man is strikingly developed by comparison. Wonderful and grand are the qualities that distinguish man from all things else; for there is no creature beside man, on the face of the earth, capable of being inducted into the conception of a moral idea. You may impart different kind of instruction to animals . . . . but you can never communicate to any animal the idea of moral obligation (91). So far, I've come across nothing that even begins to sound like the depravity of man. The anthropology is high. Adam was the universe in miniature. He is not only the pinnacle of Creation, he's way up there.

"Soul" and "Spirit"

It may be enough for us to know, that there is an animalism in the soul of man, but that there is none in his spirit. The spirit of man is the glory of man, and the special emanation from God (92-93).

Necessity of Knowledge

And we claim, that if a man would enjoy himself perfectly, that is, if he would derive all the pleasure possible from the healthy exercise of all his faculties, he must possess a complete knowledge of his mental and physical, moral and spiritual constitution and character, together with his surrounding circumstances. Such knowledge will not only comprehend the whole outward and inward man, but it will radiate, and lead off the inquiring and ever active mind, into all the branches of material and social science (95).

The Week Has No Type in Nature

In Lecture VI, Campbell begins by emphasizing the uniqueness of the week as a measure of time: This ordinance of time, depends entirely upon absolute will for its origin. The cessation of the creative labors of God on the seventh day, gave rise to this division of time; for which there is no type in nature. There is a type, or some symbolic mark, for every cardinal institution of the divine economy, except the week, and that has none. . . . . The week culminated in the seventh day--at the end of creation of the world--and that being a day of rest for man, is commemorative of God's ceasing to create, and the term rest is disposed of, on the ground that it is simply a figurative expression, so far as God is concerned, signifying, merely, that he ceased to act at the end of the week, but by no means indicates that the Almightly stopped to rest--to recover from the exhaustion of labor (96-97).

Uniqueness of the Fourth Commandment/Sabbath Remembrance Forever

Keeping this subject-matter under consideration, we invite attention to another remarkable fact, bearing upon this interesting question. It is this : Every one of the ten commandments begins with the phrase, " Thou shalt" or " shalt not" do this or that, except the fourth, and that begins with, " Remember." This is quite peculiar, and its significance is worthy of notice. Why this variation in the form of expression, as introduced at this particular command ? May we not presume or affirm, that it is because the Author had in his mind the fact that there is one day above all others in importance ? It was of extraordinary regard, because God had ceased to work on that day, and for this reason man is especially commanded to "remember" (always) " the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." On that day of days, God terminated the creation of the heavens and the earth, and retired into the solitude of his own infinity. Out of respect for this great truth, this important event, it was meet that man should cease to work on the same day, for the purpose of commemorating the great termination. (98). So, does Campbell believe that the Sabbath is to be remembered always, or not? Would he make a distinction between remembrance and observance? Interesting. And what a blessing to get to hear him "speaking" in this book.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A History Project

Starting in about one month, I plan to dive head-first into one of the following historical studies: Some aspect of . . .

1. Quanah Parker and the Comanches, Texas, and Oklahoma

2. The King James Bible

3. John Glas, Robert Sandeman, and the Sandemanian movement in Great Britain and America

4. Alexander Campbell and his Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch

5. Italian immigration to the United States in the late nineteenth century.

So what sounds interesting to you? Which one would you pick? Is there a certain bit of history you'd love to explore and just haven't yet? Or maybe you're in the middle of something like that right now. Tell us about it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Alexander Campbell on Genesis 1-3

In Lectures III and IV of Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch, Alexander Campbell comments on different parts of the first three chapter of Genesis. Lecture IV is, more specifically, about the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Here are some of the highlights:

Study hard to read well

Convinced of the unique quality and character of the Bible, Campbell asserts that it requires more and better learning to read a chapter of Holy Writ, as it should be read, than to read one of Cicero's orations; or that in European colleges honors are awarded to the best readers. We find much in the sacred volume that appears very simple to undeveloped minds, but it grows in value and importance as men become riper in years and understanding. It often requires hours of study to enable us to read a verse or chapter in the Bible as it should be pronounced (p. 75). I'm not convinced that many readers at church put in "hours of study" beforehand. A few minutes of study and practice would have improved some of the readings I've heard.

The serpent showed up as a human

For reasons that I don't completely understand, Campbell seems intent on the interpretation that the serpent of Genesis 3 actually showed up in human form: In the third chapter, the serpent is presented for our consideration. We call him serpent, as Moses did, but we presume that was not his name originally. The word serpent means creeper. He fell into this condition because of the deception he practiced upon the inhabitants of the garden. I presume he was originally very like man. I do not mean man as he is at present, but as he was originally. Men have become greatly humanized, and in this, our day, some are to be found scarcely distinguishable from the lower animals (78-79). . . . I entertain no doubt that the serpent was incarnated in the human form (80).

God's gracious protection of sinners

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve became the first sinners, they were driven from the Garden of Eden and prevented from eating of the tree of life. What Campbell gathers from this is that God expelled Adam from the garden, lest he should eat the fruit of the tree of life, and become immortal in misery, with no hope of changing or dying. Therefore, like all the acts of the All-wise and Beneficent Creator in dealing with man, it was gracious (82-83). That's a common approach to the passage, which makes perfect sense. I quote it here simply because I love Campbell's expression.

"Let us" in Genesis 1:26-27

In this connection, keeping in mind the form "let us," it will be well to observe, the peculiar and characteristic style of the language employed, which clearly indicates plurality; the doctrine and existence of three persons in the Godhead (84-85). Campbell did not accept all aspects of Trinitiarianism; which is not to say that he didn't accept the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He did. But I suspect that he didn't use the term "Trinity" in a positive way, and that he didn't because it is not a biblical word.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Alexander Campbell on Genesis 1:2

For the longest time, I've been meaning to read Alexander Campbell's Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch. He delivered them at Bethany College during the school year of 1859-60, when he was in his early seventies.

Campbell is an important member of my extended spiritual family, to say the least. And I've always wanted to find out more about how he handled the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. According to Campbell, how should the church put the Old Testament to use as holy scripture? Here, I suppose, he will answer that question not so much in theory, but in practice. So I'm looking forward to what will follow.

So far I've read the first two entries. Lecture I is introductory. Campbell highlights the necessity of the Bible for any education worthy of the name. He speaks against human theories, contrasting them with facts from the Bible. As I read this lecture, I thought about how members of the Churches of Christ, conservative heirs of Campbell, who have pursued higher education have almost always been "facts people." That is, they've typically studied history and languages, above all the Bible; but not so much philosophy or systematic theology. To get a feel for why that's the case, one would need to go no further than Lecture I, where Campbell says: The failure of popular systems of education . . . presents to us, very impressively, the truth that facts, and not theories, realities and not speculations, are essential to the true intent and meaning of education (p. 63). And where are the facts to be found? Where do we meet up with realities? Above all, says Campbell, in the pages of the Bible.

In Lecture II, Campbell covers the first two verses of Genesis 1. He presents running commentary on words and phrases. Up to this point in the Lectures, he hasn't made reference to specific Hebrew words. But he does mention the sense or the gist of the Hebrew text. In this lecture, I was especially intrigued by Campbell's reference to contemporary geology versus the biblical creation account. Here is part of his discussion of Genesis 1:2:

The second verse is especially important, inasmuch as it has to do with the many dates entertained by geologists, in regard to the antiquity of creation. But as already remarked, we take the Mosaic account, against all the world of authority of whatever nature--always accepting however, the geological history, so far as it accords with the inspired record. In this verse Moses presents us with a statement of the condition of things, in that undefined period, anteceding all the acts in the drama of creation, presented in the sequel of this chapter. How long a measure of time is assumed in this series of facts, is beyond the mental scrutiny of mortal man. (p. 71).

Here Campbell clearly states that when human theory goes against something the Bible affirms, then he will side with the Bible every time. Nevertheless, he notes, Genesis 1:2 does not give a time frame for that period during which the earth was without form and void. I don't know if the so-called "Gap Theory" had been formulated as early as Campbell's day. What is clear is that he leaves open the possibility of a huge gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3. In spite of his loyalty to the Bible, I wonder how much he was concerned that the Creation account match up with modern geology. Either way, he makes it a point to emphasize the indefinite period described in Genesis 1:2. Interesting, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mexico, Comanche Bands, and the Culture of Texas

Among my summer reads, I'm especially enjoying S. C. Gwynne's new book, Empire of the Summer Moon. As readers have learned to expect, it's the subtitle that tells you what this one is about: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

It's like David McCullough wrote a book about the Comanches. It's that good.

But the book isn't just about Quanah Parker and his father's tribe. It also relates a good bit about other Indian tribes, the Spanish in the American Southwest, and the early days of Texas. The following passage is a good sample and relates something that I think is very important about the history and culture of the Lone Star State:

Texas was never supposed to be its own sovereign country. After their victory at San Jacinto the vast majority of Texans believed that their territory would be immediately annexed by the United States. There were a few would-be empire builders like Mirabeau Lamar and James Parker (who volunteered to fulfill Lamar's grandiose vision by conquering New Mexico) who had other ideas. But mostly everyone else wanted statehood. They were soon disappointed. There were two main reasons it did not happen. First, Mexico had never recognized the Independence of its renegade northern province. If the United States added Texas it risked war with Mexico, something that, in 1836, it was not prepared to do. Nor could it easily admit a slave territory.

Texas was thus left alone, broke and militarily punchless, for ten years to confront two implacable enemies: Mexico on the south, and the Comanche nation on the west and north. The fledgling country would never know peace. Mexican incursions persisted; the city of San Antonio was captured twice by large Mexican armies in 1842. Raids were constant, as was the the predation of itinerant bandits from across the border. And Texas's western frontier was the scene of continuous attacks by Comanches. It is interesting to note Texas's peculiar position here: Neither of these enemies would have accepted peace on the terms the new republic would have offered them. Even more remarkably, neither would accept surrender. The Mexican army consistently gave no quarter, most famously at the Alamo. All Texan combatants were summarily shot. The Nermernuh, [i.e., Comanches] meanwhile, did not even have a word for surrender. In plains warfare there was never any such thing; it was always a fight to the death. In this sense, the Texans did not have the usual range of diplomatic options. They had to fight. (p. 131, emphasis is original).

One of many priceless passages.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Glasite Beginnings: Scottish National Religion in the Early Eighteenth Century

This post picks up the topic of my previous entry on Robert Sandeman (1718-1771). Eventually, the student of Sandeman has to go back to his mentor and father-in-law, the Scottish minister John Glas (portrait above). And to understand Glas and the movement he inspired, we have to establish the setting, the religious and political climate of Scotland in the early 1700s.

For centuries, religion in Scotland was dominated by the idea of a national church. For example, the Scots Confession of 1560, written under the guidance of John Knox, clearly united church and state. Chapter 24 takes up "The Civil Magistrate":

Moreover, we state that the preservation and purification of religion is particularly the duty of kings, princes, rulers and magistrates. They are not only appointed for civil government but also to maintain true religion and to suppress all idolatry and superstition. (The Scots Confession 1560, ed. G. D. Henderson, trans. into modern English by James Bulloch, [Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1960], 78).

More-elaborate wording is found the Westminster Confession of Faith, which also provides for a national church. Drawn up and introduced during the 1640s, it became the official statement of the Church of Scotland in 1689. As late as 1910, all ministers of the Church were required to subscribe to it. Regarding the civil magistrate the Confession states the following:

It is his duty to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented and reformed, and all ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatever is transacted within be according to the mind of God. (Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, 3d ed. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999], 322).

Similar language is found in the Solemn League and Covenant. For a time this document united the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, declaring them to be of one reformed religion. In 1644, in exchange for military assistance from Scotland, the statement was imposed on all Englishmen over the age of eighteen. Article 3 pledges to maintain the king's authority in the preservation and defence of the true religion. (Documents of the Christian Church, 317).

To the Scottish mind, then, a national church, governed under a system of presbyteries and synods, was natural. And because of the political history of the Church of Scotland, its national covenant was not so much about religious conviction as it was about patriotic zeal, especially against the influence of the old enemy, England.

It was into this world that John Glas was born in Auchtermuchty, Scotland, on September 21, 1695. His family line included many clergymen, beginning with his great-grandfather, William Glas, a favorite of Scotland's King James VI, who would eventually ascend to the throne of England and oversee the translation of the Bible that bears his name.

A devout young man, Glas pursued his preparation for Christian ministry with remarkable zeal. The University of Saint Andrews awarded him the Master of Arts degree when he was still only seventeen years old. Glas later continued his studies at the University of Edinburgh. Although he doubted his own ability and readiness--"My uneasiness in all respects was evident to me" he later wrote--he finally agreed to go through with the exams administered by the Presbytery of Dunkeld, and received his probationary license on May 20, 1718. The next year, Glas was called to become the next pastor of the small church at Tealing in the Presbytery of Dundee (John Howard Smith, The Perfect Rule of the Christian Religion [Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008], 17-18).

As a young preacher, Glas was in full sympathy with the long-established Church of Scotland. During those early years, he considered the Church's presbyterianism the most scriptural and, therefore, the best form of church government. He completely rejected the episcopal form, referring to it as prelacy, and gave little thought to independency, congregationalism, which he regarded as mere confusion and the mother of all the sectaries (Smith, The Perfect Rule of the Christian Religion, 187, n. 12). But he was compelled to reconsider the question when he began a course of evening lectures based on the Shorter Catechism. Question 26 asked, How doth Christ execute the office of king? Glas concluded that, ironically, Christ did not rule as the king of the Church of Scotland. Instead, heads of state and disinterested, heavy-handed members of synods controlled everything.

In time, he came to understand the kingdom of Christ as spiritual. He, therefore, rejected the notion of a national church and began to favor the idea of the independent congregation made up entirely of followers of Christ, as opposed to all the citizens who just happened to live in a given parish. In the words of Smith,

Stemming from a belief in the essential spirituality of the church, he came to the conclusion that such an institution must be composed of true believers who possessed a real experience of saving grace, who, in compliance with the will of Christ, felt an inevitable compulsion to separate themselves from the world. (The Perfect Rule of the Christian Religion, 21).

As Harry Escott put it, Glas concluded that National Christianity is not New Testament Christianity (The History of Scottish Congregationalism, [Glasgow: Congregational Union of Scotland, 1960], 17).

A radical commitment to the spiritual and, therefore, independent character of the congregation of Christ's people--the separation of church and state, announced by the church--became a hallmark of the group that would come to be called Glasites, and later Sandemanians.

But this wasn't the only idea that Robert Sandeman inherited from his mentor. More about John Glas another time.