Alexander Campbell & the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

What was Alexander Campbell’s belief regarding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Christian?

The debate over how the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian has been contentious in the past. While it is rationally unavoidable that the Holy Spirit does indwell the Christian (cf. Rom. 8:9-11), the debate continues over how. Campbell’s view on the Spirit’s indwelling does not determine the truth on the matter. However, the topic is interesting considering the early restoration movement in America and how modern day Restorers view the Holy Spirit.

Unlike those who affirm that the Holy Spirit miraculously operates on the sinner, Campbell affirmed in his Millennial Harbinger that the Holy Spirit operated on sinners only through the Word of God (Richardson 355). Yet, Campbell affirms that the Spirit, “takes his abode in the saints” (Richardson 355). Campbell’s denial of certain “operations of the Spirit” led some to construct a word-alone theory which “dispensed with the great promise of the gospel—the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers” (Richardson 355).

This belief led Walter Scott to publish his Discourse on the Holy Spirit, in which Scott affirms that “there is no member of the body of Christ in whom the Holy Spirit dwelleth not… if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Robinson 357). Scott’s discourse was circulated in pamphlet form, receiving Campbell’s “warm commendation” regarding “the sentiments which it contained” (Richardson 357). Campbell wrote that the items in Scott’s discourse were also “taught by the apostles in their writings” and that those who were “continually misrepresenting” Scott and Campbell’s view of the Spirit’s indwelling should “request to furnish themselves with a copy” of Scott’s discourse to be “better informed on this topic” (Richardson 358). Campbell also “opposed the popular notions of special illuminations and mystic influences of the Holy Spirit upon the heart” (Robinson 358).

Although it may seem as if Campbell’s belief in the literal, non-miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit was sure, other resources differ. Some cite the Campbell-Rice debate as proof for Campbell’s affirmation of the “word-only” theory of the Spirit’s indwelling. Many cite Campbell’s following words in the debate: “The Spirit operates only through the word” (quoted in Music 15). When the quote is stripped from its proper context, it does seem that Campbell believes the Spirit indwells the Christian through the word. However, the context shows that Campbell’s quote was discussing matters of regeneration, conversion, and sanctification which Campbell affirmed was one change indicated by three different terms. It is in this change that Campbell affirms the Holy Spirit only operates through the word (Music 15).

With the evidence examined, the words of the great Restorer Moses E. Lard will suffice to conclude: “To represent Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott as not believing in the immediate indwelling in the Christian of the Holy Spirit is to falsify the clearest teachings of their lives. It is to do injustice to the memory of the dead and to the faith in which they died” (quoted in Music 16).

Works Cited

Richardson, Robert. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell. Indianapolis, IN: Religious Book Service, 1897.

Music, Goebel. A Resource and Reference Volume on the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Colleyville, TX: Goebel Music Publications, 2000.



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