Christians love to hear personal testimonies of how God uniquely worked in the lives of individuals, reaching and saving them. For the unsaved, it can be the means by which the Holy Spirit opens the heart and mind to God in salvation. In a similar way, the biography and life story of one who has done great things for God can be an inspiration that triggers a greater dedication in our own lives for the things of God. The story of James Campbell can do just that.
The biography of James Campbell is one of several in the Pioneer Series published by Gospel Tract Publications. At less than 100 pages, the book does not claim to be a memoir but “a brief record of some of the outstanding features of a godly and devoted life.”
Born in Scotland in 1841, saved at 26 after 10 years of religion with no peace, James Campbell then went on to see countless souls saved and the planting of the first assemblies in the United States.
The truth of separation and gathering to the name of our Lord Jesus alone in local assembly testimony was all but lost and known only to a remnant until it was revealed again to men of God in the 1800s. This biography opens a window into the sacrifices made to establish the foundation for the assembly testimony we enjoy and, perhaps, take for granted today. Many of our forefathers of that age suffered the loss of all things, and counted them as dung that they might win Christ and as such were used as instruments for the modern revelation of the local assembly.
More than a history lesson of assembly work done in Scotland, the US, Northern Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, this biography should motivate the reader to appreciate and protect what has been passed down to us at such great cost. The reader will be encouraged to see how God chooses to reveal His truths and use a person devoted to Him. While James Campbell’s world of 150 years ago is different from ours in many ways, there is much we, as Christians, can glean from studying the convictions of such a man.
While reading this book you cannot help but be reminded of a similar motivation found in the Apostle Paul whom the Lord said was “a chosen vessel unto Me” (Acts 9:15). Of James Campbell it was said, his life was characterized by “an intense devotion to the work to which the Lord had called him; a faithful and fearless testimony of the truth; an utter disregard for earthly things, a hatred of human praise … his one object to please God and fulfill the ministry committed to his trust.” We read that he was a man always earnest in agonizing prayer and the undiluted clear preaching of the gospel. It is said that the power of the preached Word was preserved from the influence of the religious systems of the day because his preaching was far too searching and convicting.
James Campbell, along with other contemporaries such as Donald Ross and Donald Munro, learned truths we now claim as foundational assembly truths, revealed to them from the Word of God, during independent study of that Word. The common denominator of those who were given this fresh light was “godliness of life.”
At that time, “The truth of the gospel of Man’s Ruin and God’s Remedy was rarely heard, for all that was known of God and His Ways was from the religious pulpits of Christendom.” It is both encouraging and marvelous to read how, through the Holy Spirit, precious truths were revealed to these men: the truth of the gospel, of baptism by immersion, of the unequal yoke, of gathering to the name of Christ alone, and of the priesthood of all believers.
James Campbell was known for being bold, unapologetic, and persistent in ensuring every individual and every audience under his voice knew that without a doubt if “their soul was not saved” they were headed straight for hell. The result was many, who were convicted, were truly saved and the rest became very resistant and confrontational until in many cases the Spirit did His work and they were won for Christ. “As in Acts, one of two things happened when cut to the heart: it was either an outcry of ‘What shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37) resulting in conversion, or a rising up in opposition to God, rejecting the message, resisting the Spirit who wrought it, and stoning the messenger who brought it (Acts 7:54-59).”
Donald Munro took his funeral on February 22, 1904. Engraved on his tombstone in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Somerville, Massachusetts, are the words by which, perhaps, James Campbell was best known: “Is Your Soul Saved?”