Storms are hard to ignore. They hold our attention, more or less, depending on their severity and proximity. Storms change people’s plans. And sometimes a storm changes the history of the world. In his masterpiece, Search For The Ancient Order, Volume I, Earl Irvin West recounts the amazing history behind the meteoric rise to prominence of two giants of the Restoration in America—Barton Warren Stone and Alexander Campbell. Ironically, a storm plays a part in each of their lives as they came to a crossroads.
Barton W. Stone was born in 1772 near Port Tobacco, Maryland. Growing up, he listened to Baptist preachers and Methodist preachers, but became disenchanted with the continual controversies among the denominations and grew indifferent to religion in general. Stone was not even a devout church member, and the thought of becoming a preacher was not one he entertained. Rather, he had his sights set on being a statesman.
Thus, in 1790, when he was near eighteen, Stone enrolled in the school of David Caldwell in North Carolina, along with about fifty others. In addition to being a teacher, Caldwell was a Princeton graduate, a Presbyterian preacher, and a farmer. Stone noticed that religion seemed to be the dominate influence in Caldwell’s school and this alarmed him. Stone determined he was in the wrong place, decided to leave that school, and set a date for moving out of North Carolina. As providence would have it, when moving day arrived, there came a storm which prevented his leaving.
Shortly thereafter, Stone was invited to hear a Presbyterian preacher who greatly impressed him. He became intensely interested in spiritual matters and joined the Presbyterian Church the following year. Of course, the rest is history. Stone grew to reject the Westminster Confession and, eventually, denominationalism, and helped lead countless thousands on a crusade back to New Testament Christianity. But when a not-very-convicted eighteen year old student bent on dropping out of his religious school was confronted with a storm that prevented his move, he had no clue what God had in store on his horizon.
Across the Atlantic in Ireland, a young Alexander Campbell and his family waited for word from his father, Thomas, to come join him in America. Thomas Campbell had earlier arrived in America and was preaching for the Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania. In March of 1808 the letter from Thomas arrived and Alexander’s family made plans to leave home and sail to the New World. They anxiously boarded a ship, but the wind was fierce and prevented their entering the open sea. When the ship finally reached the sea, calamity struck and the ship was wrecked. The Campbells were forced to return to Scotland. But, between the time of the shipwreck and Alexander’s setting foot on dry Scottish soil, he had made up his mind to become a preacher.
Delayed by the shipwreck, Alexander entered Glasgow University and studied Greek, Logic and Experimental Philosophy under some of the same professors who had taught his father, Thomas, twenty-five years before. He also came in contact with independent religious movements in Scotland led by revolutionary thinkers such as James and Robert Haldane, John Glas and Robert Sandeman. Influenced by the free thinkers, Alexander began to question the Seceder Presbyterian Church, of which he was a member.
Thus, during an unplanned stay in Scotland brought on by the disaster at sea, Alexander Campbell got an education he would not otherwise have had, determined he was going to devote his life to God, and further determined the denomination he belonged to was not Scriptural. The Campbells left for America again on the ship, Latonia, in August of 1809. After reuniting in Pennsylvania, Thomas and Alexander went on to have an impact, perhaps unprecedented since apostolic times, in fanning the flames of Restoration. Only God knows how poorer the history of His church might have been had the churning waves not smashed Alexander’s ship when he first attempted to sail from Ireland.
All of us face storms. It may not be a driving wind, lightning or a lashing sea. It may take the form of a temptation, an illness, a persecution, a lost job, family trouble, a church problem, or even a war. All these can lead to spiritual crises. But while the thunder crashes and the rain beats down, remember Barton Warren Stone and Alexander Campbell. And remember that, if we truly trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6), we can weather any barrage and emerge the stronger for it. After all, there’s no telling what God has in mind for us when the wind dies down.
– Weylan Deaver, TBC Online Instructor