Monday, July 1, 2013

Profiles in Restoration History: "Light From Above"

In 1832, Alexander Campbell’s friend Louis Hobbs, who had constructed some of Bethany College’s buildings, built a unique study about 150 feet away from Campbell’s “Mansion.” The study was originally made as a six-sided (hexagonal) brick structure more than 15 feet in height and nearly 17 feet in diameter with a Gothic-style doorway, Gothic window designs (but no actual windows), and four interior walls lined with four sets of bookshelves more than eight feet in height and encased with sliding glass doors that kept Campbell’s main library.

Originally, the only windows were the two narrow windows beside the front door, but the primary source of light for the study was a special cupola on the roof with windows to allow in sunlight. Campbell commented about the design of the study, particularly about the lighting for it, by stating “lux descendit e caelo,” which is Latin for “light descends from above.” It is reported that he would state that all light, physical and spiritual comes form above so he wanted to harness this "Light From Above" for his study.

Campbell was often referred to as “the sage of Bethany,” a title he certainly earned. He was a serious student of the Scriptures. When he was under his father’s training for ministry, Thomas Campbell established the following study regimen which Alexander maintained throughout his life: “Arrangement for studies for winter of 1810. One hour to read Greek – from 8 to 9 in the morning. One hour to read Latin – from 11 to 12 in the morning. One half hour to [read] Hebrew – between 12 and 1 P.M. Commit ten verses of the Scriptures to memory each day, and read the same in the original languages, with Henry and Scott’s notes and practical observations. For this exercise we shall allow two hours. These exercises, being intended for every day, will not be dispensed with. Other reading and studies as occasion may serve. These studies in all require four and a half hours. Church history, and divers other studies, are intended to constitute the principal part of my other literary pursuits” (Richardson 278-79). How do our personal study habits compare?

When we are that serious as students, word travels! In fact, former U.S. president James Madison commented that Campbell was one of the “ablest and most original expounders of the Scriptures [he had] ever heard.” Campbell’s discipline led to the habit of arising at 4 a.m. and leaving for his special study, where he would research, write lessons, prepare sermons, and write for and edit the Millennial Harbinger. He would head back for breakfast and then go to teach at Bethany College, which he founded. He was known not to return home till after 10 p.m.

An addition was built in 1836, which included a double-hung window so his wife, Selina, could see him from a window in the mansion. The addition was a square in design, which made the study an octagon in shape. This addition also included a more comfortable fireplace, replacing the air-tight stove. The shelves inside the study alongside the walls were protected by sliding glass doors, which permitted ready access to the hundreds of volumes Alexander Campbell had for his research (which are now safely preserved in Bethany College Archives.)

Apparently, in the spring of 1880, a windstorm ripped away the top cupola. Selina had this repaired, but it is not exactly how it once was during Alexander’s lifetime (Campbell 56). Alexander Campbell recognized the value of having a dedicated place for a rigorous regiment of study of God’s Word. He was devoted to the pursuit of what he called “the ancient order of things” in his “light from above” study. Winford Claiborne, director of  The International Gospel Hour, once remarked that Alexander Campbell was among the finest of Bible scholars among churches of Christ. We need more sages of this caliber today.

I highly respect Alexander Campbell’s sentiment that all spiritual and physical light comes from above – from God and His Word. I have long admired this thought since I first visited his study as a young person with my parents several years ago.

It is this great maxim that has inspired the new title for our TV program Light From Above and the program picture I made from a picture I took from inside of Alexander Campbell’s study looking up to the windows, which brought in that “light from above.”

Works Cited:

Campbell, Selina. Home Life and Reminisces of Alexander Campbell. St. Louis: John Burns, 1882.

Richardson, Robert. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell. Vol. 1. Cincinnati: Standard, 1890.

Originally printed in West Virginia Christian, Vol. 20, No. 2, February 2013, p. 4. Reprinted by permission.  Also printed in the Gospel Advocate, March 2013, pp. 38-39.

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