How The Nathan Lewis Rice
Versus Alexander Cambell Debates
Relate to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration

nathan lewis large
alexander campbell 225
Nathan Lewis Rice (1807-1877)
Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

Nathan Lewis Rice (1807-1877) was a Presbyterian minister who trained at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is most famous for his debate with Alexander Campbell on the subject of baptism. The debate was held in Lexington, Ky. The moderators consisted of some of the most eminent lawyers of the state, among, whom was Henry Clay. This discussion created a wide and intense interest throughout the country, and brought out the full power of Dr. Rice as a disputant, and gained for him the reputation of being the greatest polemic of the age. The debate was written out by the disputants and published in a large octavo volume, which was extensively circulated.

Alexander Campbell was educated at the University of Glasgow, Scottland, and as such, indoctrinated with the salvation theology of Scottish Common Sense Realism, the 18th century salvation theology of the Presbyterian Church. He also believed the Rational Faith views of John Locke. At age 21, he emigrated to the United States in 1809.

With his father Thomas, he began their movement in 1809 with the publication of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington (Washington County, Pennsylvania). In 1811, the Association established itself as the Brush Run Church. They called themselves "Disciples of Christ" to distinguish from the Baptists with whom they fellowshipped.

In fact, Alexander Campbell published a magazine called "The Christian Baptist" from 1823-1830. Because Campbell denied supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and told Baptists all they had to do to be saved was be baptized in water, many Baptist Associations started to expell church members that associated with the Restorationist movement. You can read one of thes Baptist Circular Letters that warned against Campbellism, published in July 1830.

In 1830, Alexander Campbell's Consistently Published view (and the majority opinion of Restorationists), was The Verbal-Restrictive theory, that is,
The work of the Holy Spirit is imminent (restricted to, but fully available) in the word of Scripture. The means of salvation are therefore restricted to hearing and reading scripture. Campbell wrote, “Whatever the word does, the Spirit does; and whatsoever the Spirit does in the work of converting men, the word does.”

But when confronted with this quote from The Christian System in a debate in 1843 with Nathan Lewis Rice, Campbell said he was NOT a strict “Verbal-Restrictivist”, and that he believed in some way the Spirit quickened scripture in the heart, which should have silenced Rice, because that sounds like the Scottish Common Sense Realism taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. Rice would have called it the "truth-impression" theory. Campbell's church called it the Verbal-Augmentative theory.

A good explanation of the "truth Impression" theory of Scottish Common Sense Realism was given By Archibald Alexander in commenting on the teaching of his mentor, William Graham. Notice the red comment.

"One of his radical principles was that the rational soul of man can undergo no moral change, except through the influence of motives, or the presentation through the understanding of such objects as excite the affections. He therefore scouted (refused to believe in) the opinion that in regeneration
there is any physical operation on the soul itself, and held that by the influence of the Holy Spirit truth is presented in its true nature to the rational mind, and when thus perceived cannot but (this is the “must” of Scottish Common Sense realism that was the beginning of the heresy of decisional regeneration which required no immediate change of character) produce an effect correspondent with its nature."

"He therefore fully held what has been called in some places the 'light-scheme' believing that all moral changes must be produced by new views, and can be produced in no other way. But how the dead soul could have truth thus presented to it, without being first vivified, he did not explain. In effect, however, he held with those who believe that all moral acts and exercises are produced by the operation of the truth, justly apprehended, but that in order to this a regenerating influence must be sent forth to render the soul capable of such views of truth as will produce these effects."

"Regenerating influence" is a sop to the Holy Spirit being necessary as a metaphysical "energizing" influence on the mind, so there can be a "truth impression" on the mind, as later explained by Archibald Alexander:

"There are two kinds of religious knowledge, which though intimately connected as cause and effect, may nevertheless be distinguished. These are the knowledge of the truth as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and the impression which that truth makes on the human mind when rightly apprehended. The first may be compared to the inscription or image on a seal; the other to the impression made by the seal on the wax. "

“genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind, by the energy of the Holy Spirit”.

To the simple-minded, this seems to relieve God of the responsibilty of supernatural regeneration (change of character). But this is an illusion. Alexander took an analogy which is static, and applied it to the human mind, which is changing. Alexander did the same thing Finney did with his separation of Moral Law from Physical Law, taking a philosophical abstraction, and saying it applies to reality, as illogical as saying thoughts are separate from thinking.


The immutability of a "truth impression" is saying that the soul, once illuminated, is forever changed, something emphatically stated by Witherspoon. Regeneration became nothing more than a soul that had been morally persuaded. This, of course, is like saying that blind men can see if given enough light, something contrary to Calvin's view that sinners are completely blind until God supernaturally gave them sight.

The immutability of a supernaturally changed (regenerated) nature taught by previous generations of Calvinists was transfered to the immutability of a morally persuaded rational mind of the Scottish Common Sene Realists.

Rice (educated at Princeton theological seminary in Scottish Common Sense Realism) and Campbell, educated at Glascow Seminary in Scottish Common Sense Realism, both has a psychological view of salvation with minor diffrences.

Here is the debate record:

The following rules governed the entire discussion: 
1. The debate shall commence on Wednesday, November 15, 1843. 
2. To be held in the Reform Church. 
3. Judge Robertson, selected by Mr. Rice, as Moderator. Col. Speed Smith, selected by Mr. Campbell and agreed that these two shall select a President Moderator. In case of either of the above-named gentlemen declining to act, Judge Breck was selected by 
Mr. Rice as alternate to Judge Robertson, and Colonel Caperton as alternate to Col. Speed Smith. 
4. In the opening of each new subject the affirmant shall occupy one hour, and the respondent the same time; and each thereafter half hour alternately to the termination of each subject. The debate shall commence at 10 o'clock A.M., and continue until 2 o'clock 
P.M., unless hereafter changed. 
5. On the final negative no new matter shall be introduced. 
6. The propositions for discussion are the following: 
I. The immersion in water of a proper subject, into the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is the one, only apostolic or Christian baptism. Mr. Campbell affirms. Mr. Rice denies. 
II. The infant of a believing parent is a Scriptural subject of baptism. Mr. Rice affirms. Mr. Campbell denies. 
III. Christian baptism is for the remission of past sins. Mr. Campbell affirms. Mr. Rice denies. 
IV. Baptism is to be administered only by a bishop or ordained Presbyter. Mr. Rice affirms. Mr. Campbell denies. 
V. In conversion and sanctification, the Spirit of God operates on persons only through the word of truth. Mr. Campbell affirms. Mr. Rice denies. 
VI. Human creeds, as bonds of union and communion, are necessarily heretical and schismatical. Mr. Campbell affirms. Mr. Rice denies. 
6. No question shall be discussed more than three days, unless by agreement of parties. 
7. Each debatant shall furnish a stenographer. 
8. It shall be the privilege of the debaters to make any verbal or grammatical changes in the stenographer's report, that shall not alter the state of the argument, or change any fact. 
9. The net available amount, resulting from the publication, shall be equally divided between the two American Bible Societies. 
10. The discussion shall be conducted in the presence of Dr. Fishback, President Shannon, John Smith, and A. Raines, on the part of the Reformation ; and President Young, James K. Burch, J. F. Priee, and John H. Brown, on the part of the Presbyterianism. 
11. The debatants agree to adopt as "rules of decorum" those found in Hedges' Logic, p. 159, to-wit: 
Rule I. The terms in which the question in debate is expressed, and the point at issue, should be clearly defined, that there could be no misunderjstanding respecting them. 
Rule 2. The parties should mutually consider each other as standing on a footing of equality, in respect to the subject in debate. Each should regard the other as possessing equal talents, knowledge, and a desire for 
truth with himself; and that it is possible, therefore,  that he may be in the wrong, and his adversary in the right. 
Rule 3. All expressions which are unmeaning, or without effect in regard to the subject in debate, should be strictly avoided. 
Rule 4. Personal reflections on an adversary should, in no instance, be indulged. 
Rule 5. The consequences of any doctrine are not to be charged on him who maintains it, unless he expressly avows them. 
Rule 6. As truth, and not victory, is the professed object of controversy, whatever proofs may be advanced, on either side, should be examined with fairness and candor ; and any attempt to answer an adversary by arts of sophistry, or to lessen the force of his 
reasoning by wit, cavilling or ridicule, is a violation of the rules of honorable controversy. 
(Signed.) A. Campbell,  N. h. Rice. 

Monday, Nov. 27, 10 AM. 

Mr. President. — The proposition to be discussed to-day is admitted on all hands to be of transcendent importance to the Christian. It is expressed in the following words: "In conversion and sanctification, the spirit of God operates on persons only through the Word." Most controversies are mere logomachies — wars of words about words, and not about things. Perspicuity and precision in the definition of the terms of a proposition at the commencement, would have prevented more than half of all the debates in the world, and would have reduced the other half to less than half their size. Indeed, we yet need for daily use a much more simple and Scriptural vocabulary, on the great subject of religion, as well as in some other departments of literature and science. The cumbrous, unwieldy, and badly assorted nomenclature of certain sciences has, for centuries, retarded their progress.

This is most unfortunately true in the intellectual and moral departments. Scholastic theology is greatly behind the age. The stale divinity of other times refuses to reconsider its sense or its symbols. Hence the superabundance of the barbarous gibberish and miserable Jargon yet extant in our creeds and systems of theoretic divinity. Some samples of these quaint vocables may be given in the discussion of the creed question. Meantime, we have yet to learn how much perversion, not of language only, but of tlie mind also, has grown out of sectarian animosities and bickerings.

The periodical hobbies of religious parties generate, like our political feuds, hosts of new terms ; and often change and modify the old ones, that even a well practiced politician, with Johnson, and Webster, and Richardson by his side, can not nowadays define, either Whig or Tory. Democrat or Republican. It is truly an interesting study to learn the new phraseology of religion — not only of religion in general, but of the different leading parties of the present church militant. An adept in this study could almost swear to a Romanist or a High Churchman, a Presbyterian of a Methodist, in the dark, if he only heard him speak for a single hour; and that, too, without stating one of his peculiar dogmata.

Certain words, like the shibboleth of the Ephraimites. invariably identify the religious tribe to which the speaker belongs. In the midst of this babelism there is one fact which it behooves me to state.' I scarcely know how. indeed, to introduce it in this place; and yet it is essential to a proper understanding of the whole subject before us.

This fact is, that, in the strife of partyism, some Bible terms have been so appropriated to represent peculiar tenets and views which never occurred to their inspired authors; that, were Paul now living amongst us, he could not understand much of his own language. To this class belong the words "regeneration," "sanctification, and ''conversion." With special reference to the discussion, and to the words of my proposition, I must, therefore, notice one capital blunder, which, if not now detected, might involve the subject before us in great obscurity. I can not, however, much as I regret it, distinctly unfold my meaning in a single sentence. Allow me, then, to open it gradually to the apprehension of all.

The various conditions of man, as he was, as he now is, and as he shall hereafter be, as connected with Adam the first, and Adam the second, are set forth in Sacred Scripture, under various images and metaphors, each of which belongs exclusively to its own class, and is independent of every other one ; requiring no addition or subtraction of other images, from other classes, to complete or to unfold it. For example, the present condition of sinners, in Adam the first, is set forth under such metaphors as the following: dead, destroyed, lost, alienated, enemy, going astray, condemned in law, debtor, unclean, sold to sin, darkened, blind, etc. Each one of these has a class of opposite metaphors, of the same particular idea or figure. These metaphors, just now quoted, give rise to a corresponding class, indicative of his new condition in Adam the second, such as quickened, made alive, born again, new created, saved, reconciled, friend, converted, illuminated, pardoned, redeemed, etc.

The changing of these states is also set forth in suitable imagery, such as regeneration, conversion, reconciliation, new creation, illumination, remission, adoption, redemption, salvation, etc. Now, the error to which I allude, primarily, consists in not uniformly regarding each one of these as a complete view of man, in some one condition, or in his whole condition in Adam the first, or in Adam the second; but in sometimes contemplating them as parts of one view, as fractions of one great whole, and, consequently, to be all added up to make out a full Scriptural view of man, in Adam and in Christ, and of the transition from the one state to the other.

From this wild confusion of metaphors — the indiscriminate use of certain leading terms, mere images it may be — our very best and most admired treatises on theology are not always exempt. Hence regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, etc., etc., are frequently represented as component parts of one process; 1 whereas, any one of these, independent of the others, gives a full representation of the subject. Is a man regenerated? he, is converted, justified, and sanctified. Is he sanctified? he is converted, justified, and regenerated. With some system-builders, however, regeneration is an instantaneous act, between which and conversion there is a positive, substantive interval; next comes justification; and then, in some still future time, sanctification.

A foreigner, in becoming a citizen, is sometimes said to be naturalized, sometimes enfranchised, sometimes adopted, sometimes made a citizen. Now, what intelligent citizen regards these as parts of one process? Rather, who does not consider them as different metaphors, setting forth the same great change under various allusions to past and present circumstances? From such a statement none but a simpleton would imagine that a foreigner was first naturalized, then enfranchised, then adopted, and finally made an American citizen; yet such a simpleton is that learned rabbi, who represents a man first regenerated, then converted, then justified, then sanctified, then saved.

Under any one of these images, various distinct acts of the mind, or of the whole person of an individual, may be necessary to the completion of the predicate concerning him. Thus, in regeneration or conversion there may be included hearing, believing, repenting, and being baptized. These are connected as cause and effect, under a fixed administration or economy of salvation. So Paul asks, "How shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? — and how shall they hear without a preacher? — and how shall they preach unless they be sent?"

The terms of my proposition will now be easily defined and apprehended. Conversion is a term denoting that whole moral or spiritual change, which is sometimes called sanctification, sometimes regeneration. These are not three changes, but one change indicated by these three terms, regeneration, conversion, sanctification. Whether we shall call it by one or the other of these depends upon the metaphor we happen to have before us, in contemplating man as connected with the two Adams — the old or the new,

the first or the second, the earthly or the heavenly. Is he dead in the first? — then he is born again and alive in the second. Has he, like the prodigal son, strayed away in the first? — he returns, or is converted in the second. Is he unclean or polluted in the earthly Adam? — he is sanctified in the heavenly. Is he lost in the first? — he is saved in the second. Is he destroyed and ruined in the first ? — he is created anew in the second Adam, the Lord from heaven.

If I am asked, why I admitted the terms conversion, sanctification, or regeneration into the proposition, I answer again, I could not help it. It would have been to debate the question while settling the preliminaries. We must take the religious world as we have to take the natural or the political: that is, just as we find them, or as they find us. I seek to accomplish in this preamble, what ought to have been, but which could not be, accomplished in settling the propositions. I therefore now most distinctly and emphatically state, that with me, and in reference to this discussion, these terms, severally and collectively, indicate a moral, a spiritual, and not a physical nor legal change.

A physical change has respect to the essence or form of the subject. A legal change is a change as respects a legal sentence, or enactment. Hence pardon, remission, justification, have respect to law. But a moral or spiritual 2 change is a change of the moral state of the feelings, and of the soul. In contrast with a merely intellectual change, a change of views, it is called a change of the affections, a change of the heart.

It is in this acceptation of the subject of my proposition that I predicate of it, "The Spirit operates only through the Word." 3

The term only is indeed redundant, because a moral change is effected only by motives, and motives are arguments; and all the arguments ever used by the Holy Spirit are found written in the book called the Word of Truth. Hence, the term is only equivalent to a denial of what I conceive to be the assumption of my respondent, viz., that the Spirit in regeneration operates sometimes without the Word. 4 Only is, therefore, by the force of circumstances, made to mean always. But, indeed, this is more a matter of form than of any grave importance, inasmuch as the common admission of Protestants, and, I presume, of my opponent also, is, that the change of which we speak is a moral or spiritual change.

If, then, I prove that conversion, or sanctification. is effected by the Word of Truth at all, I prove that it is a moral change, and, consequently, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, through the Word alone.

On the subject of spiritual influence there are two extremes of doctrine. There is the Word alone system, and there is the Spirit alone system. I believe in neither. The former is the parent of a cold, lifeless rationalism and formality. The latter is, in some temperaments, the cause of a wild, irrepressible enthusiasm; and, in other cases, of a dark, melancholy despondency. With some there is a sort of compound system, claiming both the Spirit and the Word — representing the naked Spirit of God operating upon the naked soul of man, without any argument, or motive, interposed in some mysterious and inexplicable way — incubating the soul, quickening, or making it spiritually alive, by a direct and immediate contact, without the intervention of one moral idea, or impression.

But, after this creating act, there is the bringing to bear upon it the gospel revelation, called conversion. Hence, in this school, regeneration is the cause; and conversion, at some future time, the result of that abstract operation.

There yet remains another school, which never speculatively separates the Word and the Spirit; which, in every case of conversion, contemplates them as cooperating; or, which is the same thing, conceives of the Spirit of God as clothed with the gospel motives and arguments — enlightening, convincing, persuading sinners, and thus enabling them to flee from the wrath to come. In this school conversion and regeneration are terms indicative of a moral or spiritual change — of a change accomplished through the arguments, the light, the love, the grace of God expressed and revealed, as well as approved by the supernatural attestations of the. Holy Spirit. They believe, and teach, that it is the Spirit that quickens, and that the Word of God — the Living Word — is that incorruptible seed, which, when planted in the heart, vegetates, and germinates, and grows, and fructifies into eternal life. They hold it to be unscriptural, irrational, unphilosophic, to discriminate between spiritual agency or instrumentality — between what the Word, per se, or the Spirit, per se, severally does; as though they were two independent and wholly distinct powers or influences. They object not to the co-operation of secondary causes; of various subordinate instrumentalities; the ministry of men; the ministry of angels; the doctrine of special providences; but, however, whenever the Word gets into the heart — the spiritual seed into the moral nature of man — it as naturally, as spontaneously, grows there as the sound, good corn, when deposited in the genial earth. It has life in it, and is, therefore, sublimely and divinely called "The Living and Effectual Word." 5

I prefer the comparisons of the Great Teacher. They are the most appropriate. We frequently err when handling these, because, in our quest of forbidden knowledge we are disposed to carry them farther than he himself did. In the opening parable of the Gospel Age — a parable placed first in the synopsis of parables presented by Matthew, Mark, and Luke — he thus compares the Word of God to seed; and, with reference to that figure, he compares the human heart to soil, distributed into six varieties: the trodden pathway, the rocky field, the thorny cliff, the rich alluvian, the better, and the best of that. But we are not content with that beautiful and instructive representation of the philosophy of conversion. We must transcend these limits. We must explain the theory of vegetation. We must explain the theory of soils. We must even become spiritual geologists, and explore all the strata of mother earth; and even then there yet remains an infinite' series of whys and herefores concerning all the reasons of things connected with these varieties.

These speculations, and the conflicting theories to which they have given birth, we will and bequeath to the more curious and speculative, and will farther premise some things necessary to a proper opening of the argument.

Man, by his fall or apostasy from God, lost three things — union with God, original righteousness, and original holiness. In consequence of these tremendous losses he forfeited life, lost the right of inheriting the earth, and became subject to all the physical evils of this world. He is, therefore, with the earth on which he lives, doomed to destruction; meanwhile, a remedial system is introduced, originating in the free, sovereign, and unmerited favor of God; not, indeed, to restore man to an Eden lost — to an inheritance forfeited — to a life enjoyed before his alienation from his divine Father and Benefactor. This supremely glorious and transcendent scheme of Almighty love contemplates a nearer, more intimate, and more sublime union with God than that enjoyed in ancient paradise — a union, too, enduring as eternity, as indestructible as the divine essence.

It bestows on man an everlasting righteousness, a perfect holiness, and an enduring blessedness in the presence of God for ever and ever. To accomplish this a new manifestation of the Divinity became necessary. Hence the development of a phirality of existence in the Divine Nature. The God of the first chapter of Genesis is the Lord God of the second. Light advances as the pages of human history multiply, until we have God, the Word of God, and the Spirit ot God clearly intimated in the law, the prophets, and the Psalms. But it was not until the Sun of Righteousness arose — till the Word became incarnate and dwelt among us — till we beheld his glory as that of an only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth; it was not till Jesus of Nazareth had finished the work of atonement on the hill of Calvary — till he had brought life and immortality to light, by his revival and resurrection from the sealed sepulcher of the Arjniathean senator; it was not till he gave a com







1 Campbell calls salvation a process of the mind. Lets see if Rice, (who believes in "truth impressions" of the mind as the "process" of regeneration) objects.

2 Cambell's view of "spiritual" is "higher rational thought", not "of or pertaining to the spiritual realm". Lets' see if Rice objects.

3 Campbell starts the debate with the "verbal restrictive" theory of the Holy Spirit. Lets' see if Rice objects.

4 Orthodox salvation is the Holy Spirit immediately changes the heart supernaturally, not merely changing the mind by moral persuasion. Lets' see if Rice objects.

5 This is Scottish Common Sense Realism. Lets' see if Rice objects.