Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 21, 1956

Meditations At A Grave

Bill J. Humble, Kansas City, Missouri

Last week, as I stood beside a grave on a beautiful rolling hillside near Bethany, West Virginia, it was a moment for serious meditation. The grave was not a new one, for the tall marker at the head of the grave carried the dates: 1788-1866. This grave had already been on that peaceful hillside for sixty years when I was born into the world; yet, I realized that my life had been made richer by the man at whose resting place I stood. Further down the hillside stood the old mansion where he had been married, where he had rocked his fourteen children and where he had died. Outside the mansion was the octagonal study, lighted by small windows at the top to symbolize the owner's desire to be guided only by that light which comes from above; and I realize that within this study had been prepared volumes which I had perused with interest and profit.

For I was standing beside the grave of Alexander Campbell. Nearby was the final resting place of his father, Thomas Campbell, who had coined that familiar plea, "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." To others this would have been just another grave, but to one who has been interested in the cause of restoring New Testament Christianity, it was a memorable experience and a moment of meditation.

Each of us must leave his small mark in the world, but Alexander Campbell was one whose mark was larger, more impressive and more enduring. It is not often that truly great men arise, but Campbell was such a man, gifted to guide others. It was within the little octagonal study that Campbell had studied and prayed in preparing to debate Bishop John B. Purcell of the Roman Catholic Church; but many years later Purcell, who was then America's ranking Catholic prelate, paid this tribute to Campbell: "History will place him on the same pedestal with Luther and Calvin and Wesley, the peer of either of them." Remarkable praise for a remarkable man!

Campbell's greatness was many-sided. He was a profound student of the word of God, and he accepted it as the all-sufficient revelation of God's will. As a preacher he could hold audiences spellbound for hours, and he is one of the few men to preach to both houses of our Congress. Campbell was probably the most gifted debater ever to grace the American religious scene; yet, he engaged in only five formal debates.

Campbell knew the Bible, and he understood that denominationalism and division were sinful. Campbell never founded a denomination; he did not establish the church of Christ. Christ's church had been founded in the first century, a perfect pattern of what the church should be in every century; and Campbell was simply one among many who pleaded for a restoration of that first century body of Christ. They planted the seed and the kingdom grew.

But as I stood beside that grave, I mused, "His greatness should not blind us to his mistakes." For Campbell was a man, and men make mistakes. Campbell made his. Earlier in his life, he had challenged all organizations which questioned the sufficiency of the church to do its work; but later he pleaded with his brethren to establish an organization through which the congregations might work in carrying the gospel to others. When the organization was created, Campbell became its first president. The mantle of charity will hardly excuse this mistake; for when he thus abandoned his earlier faith in the sufficiency of Christ's church, he opened the door for the digression and apostasy which engulfed much of the church after his death. And unfortunately, the Christian Church, born of that mistake, has never been able to close the door.

Not far from that hillside grave, there stands Bethany College, the school which Campbell founded. Today, it is probably typical of most Christian Church schools; it is worldly, liberal and modernistic. Christian churches frankly admit that they do not believe in the verbal inspiration of the scriptures, the miracles of the Bible or the essentiality of baptism. They have abandoned their faith in the New Testament as a perfect blue-print for what the church should be in every century; yet, they profess to be following the same principles which guided the Campbells. As I stood beside that grave, I thought, How many times Campbell must have 'turned over' in this grave at such a turn of events. 'Behold, how great an apostasy a little deviation kindleth!"

The lives of great men always serve to inspire and influence others. Campbell set out in search of the ancient order, unaided as are we by others efforts; and we can be thankful that his influence for a restoration of the Lord's church does not lie buried in yon hillside grave. But how important it is that we remember the warning of Paul that we follow men, but only as they are followers of Christ!