By Jeffery Kingry
This month I had the pleasure of spending three days with a fellow preacher who was holding a meeting in Salem, Ohio. We stayed in one of the brethren’s home just outside Lisbon.
It was in Lisbon, Ohio, on November 18, 1827, that Walter Scott preached the true Gospel for the first time to the assembled Baptists of the Mahoning Association. Every seat in the Baptist church building was taken when Scott arrived in Lisbon. The aisles and doors were jammed.
Earlier that year both Scott and Campbell had decided after diligent study, that baptism was for the remission` of sins. In conversation with Alexander and his father Thomas at Bethany, Scott became even more convinced that Baptism was a part of the plan of God’s salvation.
That evening Walter was preaching on Matt. 16:16, Peter’s confession of Christ’s Messiahship and Deity. One Baptist, William Amend, a diligent Bible student himself, had arrived late. He heard Walter Scott preaching on Acts 2:38 as he approached the building. With sudden and firm resolve he pushed his way through the crowd, made his way to the feet of the teacher and demanded to be baptized for the remission of his sins.
From this beginning the entire Western Reserve was turned upside down. Many heard the Gospel for the first time and obeyed it. The Baptists and other denominational groups were in an uproar. The Gospel had been planted in the hearts of men, and the natural fruit was coming forth. despite the tares of the wicked one.
The church building that Scott preached in is long gone today. The town of Lisbon is a sleepy, rural, Ohio community with no remembrance of the excitement of earlier days. There is no sound church in Lisbon today.
We traveled an hour or so down the road till we came to a small sign declaring with weathered assurance that “Bethany” was to the east. The road we turned onto was rough and narrow. The hills rose up on either side and we crossed Buffalo Creek at least four times as we wound up towards Bethany. It was in those waters on a warm June day in 1812 that Alexander Campbell, his father and mother, and three close friends were immersed for the remission of sins. The war of 1812 with Britain was in full swing, and one of the men who came to hear and see this, unusual spectacle left for a muster in town of the militia. He returned six hours later in time to see the baptisms. The Campbell’s had been preaching baptism since he left.
Bethany College was erected by Alexander Campbell several years later on land given to him by his father-in-law. Campbell gave ten acres to the school board and by October 1842, the first classes were held. The school had 102 students. Twenty classes were formed, the first meeting at 6:30 AM. The school bell rang at sunrise and every student was required to rise and start the day at that time. Every student dressed alike in gray or black in material “not to exceed six dollars a yard.”
The ideal behind Bethany was not to produce a theological seminary but “a literary and scientific institution, founded upon the Bible as the basis of all true science and true learning.” Bethany did not have a “Bible Department.” The Bible was taught in every class. Great men taught there, and great men were students there.
We drove on the campus and found a librarian that would permit us to look into the “Campbell Room” at the remains of Campbell’s library and papers. Old letters, ledgers, notes, papers and books were idly stuffed in cabinets and bookcases. The people who worked on campus had no idea of the heritage they had been bequeathed.
The receptionist thought we were looking for material on the inventor of the telephone because she kept referring to “Alexander Campbell Bell” no doubt confusing Graham with Campbell.
In our search for material to buy or be given we visited the religion professors in their offices. While the other preacher talked to them; I glanced over their libraries. There was nothing one wouldn’t find in any denominational preacher’s library: junk. The bulletin board in the hall advertised a new course in methods and theory of Civil Disobedience with a “practical lab.”
We made our way to the home of Campbell, his Bethany mansion. The house was old, rickety, and in disrepair. A house where generations of Campbell’s lived and died, where presidents slept, where great Bible discussions with great preachers went far into the night-now stands creaking and idle, a minor tourist attraction.
We ended our day in Bethany talking to a very old man, Wilbur H. Cramblet. Cramblet had his PhD from Yale before he was.21. He had taught in Kansas shortly after it became a state, about the time Roy Cogdill was born. He had been president of Bethany College, President of the Disciple’s Board of Publications, President of the West Virginia Missionary Society Board. His book, The Christian Churches (Disciple of Christ ) in West Virginia, was reviewed by Brother Willis in Truth Magazine (“No New Thing Under The Sun” Vol. 17, p. 99 & 115).
His books were mildewing in a damp basement. As we were going downstairs, he told us he was in the process of sorting his periodicals. We had visions of old unbound volumes of the Advocate going back to the last century, at the very least the Standard. But his periodicals were Newsweek, Life, and Sports Illustrated.
From the paraphanalia on his walls, Cramblet’s greatest joy was his association with the institutions he headed, the political figures he had met, and his longtime association with the Masons. His library was junkier and even more worthless than the religious department’s.
It struck me as we drove out of that isolated valley and its one gas-pump town, “How did Campbell change the face of America and touch so many lives? What is his heritage today?” Campbell as a man left little or nothing. If he were to return to Bethany Campus today, he would find a few crumbling books, yellowed creased papers stuffed into a cabinet. He might find a few sticks of funiture and odds and ends from his house. If he were to see the bar in the home of the president, the lasciviously clad girls walking about on campus, and view the place the Bible takes in the curriculum of their evolution and religion classes, he would probably stalk away in frustrated rage.
Campbell’s heritage was not in the college he founded, the papers he started, or the money he spent. Campbell’s heritage was a strong and defiant individualism that pointed men away from conformity to the word of God. The fruit of that is eternal and still growing today, because he turned men to the only lasting heritage we have. Solomon’s temple is gone, David’s battles are long gone, the pain and sacrifice of the Apostles has long since gone into the earth, but the heritage they left us through their teaching will bear fruit in eternity. Campbell was not inspired, but he like all men, went to the dust, and his works will follow him to eternity or to the dust.
Where will “our” colleges be 150 years from now? Or the papers, or the church buildings, or the houses we live in? Will our books, and papers, and personal possessions be rotting in a library or an attic, or long since hauled away to the garbage dump of the future? The only thing that endures is the soul of man. What are we doing about its future. Souls converted to Christ, washed in the blood of the Lamb, led from spiritual infancy to full maturity by preaching the full counsel of God, strong men standing behind the power of God: These are what stand for eternity. We are making the history of tomorrow and the substance of eternity now. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11)?
Truth Magazine XIX: 45, pp. 714-715
September 25, 1975