Early Canadian Restoration Connections

One of the beauties of restoration is that it can occur anytime and anywhere spontaneously. God is available all day, every day. Jesus died for our sins to restore us to God and we can respond to Him and be baptized into Him any time of the day or night. Sincere hearts that are open to God and His Word can obey him, experience reconciliation, and go on their “way rejoicing” today, for “today is the day of Salvation” (cf. Acts 8:39; Is. 49:8; 1 Cor. 6:2). The practice of faith in Christ does not require much in material terms: a book, water, a table, bread, and fruit of the vine. Renewal and returns to the roots of the faith have occurred spontaneously and simultaneously in many parts of the world and are still happening today.

This article briefly explores a sample of the connections between the early New Testament restoration awakenings in what is now eastern Canada and those in the United States and The British Isles. The explosions of restoration activity on both sides of the Atlantic in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries are inspiring and have a lasting importance for those who seek to live out their faith today in the manner of primitive New Testament Christianity.

Independents from The British Isles

The article, “Restoration Stirrings Across the Water,” examined the restoration impulses of Glas, Sandeman, the Haldanes, and Ewing. According to volume 40 of Alexander Campbell’s The Millennial Harbinger, Robert Sandeman “came to America and founded societies in New England and Nova Scotia,” one of the Canadian Maritime Provinces. In 1809, John R. Stewart, who had come under the influence of the Scotch Baptists began a church in Prince Edward Island. Alexander Crawford, a student of the Haldane Seminary, started another Prince Edward Island church in 1811, the first to baptize by immersion.

Several men who came under the influence of the Haldanes, whom the Scotch Baptists immersed in 1808, immigrated to Upper Canada (Ontario) as beacons of the faith. These include pioneers such as James Black and Donald McVicar who came to Aldborough Township in 1818-1820, and Dugald Sinclair who said, “When I was baptized it was as a Disciple of Christ, and when I met a people so designated I united with them at once” (Amos Tovell, quoted in J. T. Brown, The Churches of Christ). David Oliphant, Sr., was a Scotch Baptist who met his wife Sophia in a Haldane chapel and immigrated to Eramosa Township in 1821.

Early Journals

William W. Ashley came into contact with the writings of Alexander Campbell through Francis E. Emmons who came from Lisbon, Ohio, where Walter Scott preached and who also had Scotch Baptist connections through George Forrester of Pittsburgh. Ashley brought Campbell’s writings to the Maritimes and in 1833, the Christian Gleaner from Halifax was the first Restoration paper in the Maritimes and in Canada. Ashley also influenced William Wentworth Eaton who began a paper in 1837, on primitive Christianity he called The Christian and went on to teach at Bethany College. The first paper in Upper Canada was the Gospel Vindicator, also in 1837.

The journals of Stone and Campbell, The Christian Messenger, The Christian Baptist, and The Millennial Harbinger, profoundly influenced early Canadian pioneers such as F. W. Straight, Joseph Ash, and James Black. Straight bought issues of The Christian Baptist as “a ‘blind’ purchase at an auction” and preached its doctrines in the Niagara Peninsula (Eugene Perry, A History of Religious Periodicals in the Restoration Movement in Canada). Of Campbell, Black wrote, “to my surprise and joy . . . brother Campbell was on the same track with ourselves, only far in advance” (Ibid.).

The prolific Canadian editor and historian, David Oliphant Jr., was one of the first students at Bethany college in 1841. He threw himself deeply into his studies and was one of the first foreign graduates in 1845. Thomas and Alexander Campbell gave him a copy of the famous “Declaration and Address.” Oliphant returned to Canada and had decades of fruitful preaching and publishing, including lively debates with Benjamin Franklin over the missionary society. Oliphant strongly opposed it and had a hand in Franklin’s revision of his views. William Wentworth Eaton, founder of The Christian in the Canadian Maritimes, went south to teach at Bethany College.

Progress with Leaders from the South

Church leaders from the south also made inroads for the “cause” in Canada. Elder Thomas McIntyre was a Stone preacher who worked in Upper Canada and introduced the writings of Campbell to the prolific Joseph Ash who was converted out of Anglicanism and baptized by “a minister of the New Lights, or as they called themselves, Christians, and as a body, 'The Christian Connexion.’” Tolbert Fanning went with Alexander Campbell in 1836, on a tour that included Canada. Alexander Campbell visited "Canada West" in 1855, and described his tour in The Millennial Harbinger. Elder D. Wiers preached in Canada and reported, “The ancient gospel is gaining ground in Canada. The people begin to inquire for truth. I have recently baptized 13, for the remission of sins. I meet with great opposition from the different sects” (The Millennial Harbinger 12 {December 12, 1832}).

Closing Reflections

In the early days of Canada, the growth of the Restoration Movement received its germination from The British Isles and was “cross-pollinated” with the Movement from the south. It was an exciting time of discovery with lively exchanges of people, Scriptural insights, and ideas. These fruitful exchanges took place through personal evangelism, preaching tours, immigration, migration, journals, and Christian education. In his informative “Reminiscences,” Joseph Ash (1808-1895) would write later in his life about his growth in the Ancient Gospel, “I have lived to see the apostolic theory well-established over America and Britain, and the isles of the seas.” The early pioneers of the “cause” in The British Isles, the United States, and Canada, have left a wonderful legacy for us who continue to build upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ.

Paul Birston

April 2005©