The Influential Isaac Errett
The Influential Isaac Errett

During this past year of sharing articles and editorials from the archives of Christian Standard, we have featured several pieces written by Isaac Errett, leader of this magazine from its founding in 1866 until his death in 1888, but not so much written about Errett.

The September 11, 1909, issue of Christian Standard was another “Centennial Special” that commemorated the 100-year anniversary of Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address.” Virtually all of the historical articles in that September issue were about Errett. We will excerpt from one article and run a second article in its entirety. Neither article attempted to tell Errett’s life story (but 12 other articles in that issue helped round out the picture!)

The writer of the first article was F. D. Power, minister of Vermont Avenue Christian Church in Washington, D.C., for more than a quarter century. President James A. Garfield worshipped at Vermont Avenue.

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Isaac Errett’s Contributions to Our Literature

By F. D. Power
Sept. 11, 1909; p. 8

The editor of the Christian Standard was a finished writer. His power lay in his excellent English and his clear and logical thought. A remarkable distinction between Alexander Campbell and Isaac Errett is seen in the Latinisms found everywhere in the writings of the great reformer, and the nobler, simpler, clearer and more vigorous Anglo-Saxon of the man who succeeded him in the leadership of the movement for restoration. Mr. Errett uses short words. He never chooses a Latin term when one of Anglo-Saxon origin will answer his purpose. His sentences are clear and strong, and never slovenly or slightingly written. He told me on one occasion nothing ever went into his paper that had not three times passed under his eye, and one so careful of the matter that appeared in his columns could not fail to be painstaking as well in his own contributions. . . . His best things—“Talks to Bereans,” “Walks About Jerusalem,” “Evenings with the Bible”—were all run through the Standard in the form of editorial matter, and later issued, with slight changes, in book form; but they all show a literary skill in harmony with the best models.

. . . [Here is a passage that is] worth more than I can tell. . . . It was in that noble address at Richmond, Oct. 18, 1876:

“If it is duty to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, then let duty be done and let God take care of the consequences. If God bids me go and quarry in flinty rocks that defy the hardest steel, it is nothing to me if I can do no more than dull my drill and sharpen it again. I must sharpen and drill and dull, and sharpen and drill and dull, if I can do no more. And when He comes who sent me there, if I can do no more, I will answer His flash of fire from the skies with a shower of sparks from the stubborn rock which I smite in his name, and He shall find me pecking away, even if there be no result—because He told me to. The rock may not be the worse for it, but my heart will be the better for it. If the rock has not yielded, my soul has grown stronger, and has risen into a stateliness and might that only come as the reward of faith clinging to duty for duty’s sake. And when I shall show Him my battered pick and broken drill, and stand before Him, covered with the sweat of my unyielding toil, and only those broken and battered tools as the fruit of my labor, I shall expect to hear Him say ‘Well done.’ But if He come not, I must work away.”

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The very next article in that “Centennial Special” was written by Thomas W. Phillips, successful businessman and oilman. It was in Phillips’s home in New Castle, Penn., in 1865 that a group of men laid the plans for Christian Standard.

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Isaac Errett—As Seen by an Eminent Contemporary

By Thomas W. Phillips
Sept. 11, 1909; p. 9

Isaac Errett was one of the most conspicuous and able advocates in the religious reformation inaugurated by the Campbells, the Centennial of which is about to be celebrated. He was born in 1820, and died in 1888. The story of his life as a child and boy, as a young man and a man of mature years is most interesting and inspiring.

While his education was liberal, yet in the highest sense he was self-educated. He studied God as revealed in nature and revelation. He had a mind capable of discerning truth, whether found in earthly or spiritual realms; and his conclusions, whether written or spoken, were most comprehensive and convincing. When a young man his discourses were strong and clean. He grew in grace, knowledge, wisdom and power, and after the death of Alexander Campbell he became everywhere recognized as one of the most prominent leaders among the disciples.

I have heard him in more than one series of meetings. He was a great preacher. Great preachers sometimes “excel themselves.” However, only twice in my life have I heard a great preacher excel himself: Isaac Errett once and O. A. Burgess once. In New Castle, in the early sixties, when Isaac Errett was in his prime, he preached to an audience that filled the largest hall in the city. I have heard many of our own prominent preachers, as well as Beecher, [Thomas De Witt] Talmage, [Charles] Spurgeon and others, but never heard this discourse equaled. A brilliant lecturer and prominent Presbyterian minister was captivated. To use his own language, “Henry Ward Beecher couldn’t hold a candle to that.” On returning to my home with Bro. Errett that night, I spoke of the deep impression made, and he told me it was only once in a hundred times that he could preach such a discourse.

While Isaac Errett was a great preacher, he was also one of the most accomplished forceful writers the “current Reformation” has produced. His books, tracts and editorials are ably written, terse, rhetorical, and logical. His tract, “Our Position,” is without exception the best condensed statement of the views of the disciples of Christ that has yet been made. As a writer on political, social, moral and religious subjects, his contributions to the Millennial Harbinger and his editorials in the Christian Standard have not only had a wide influence in shaping and advancing the religious reformation to which his whole life was devoted, but were elegant in diction, lofty in style, comprehensive and convincing.

Most of his last and best days were spent as the proprietor and editor of the Christian Standard. The paper was located first in Cleveland, O., afterwards in Alliance, O., on account of Bro. Errett having accepted the presidency of a college there. Shortly after its removal to Alliance its funds ran low, the shareholders transferred their stock to Isaac Errett, and the plant was moved to Cincinnati, O. Here, with Isaac Errett as principal owner and editor, it soon became the principal paper of our brotherhood, and one of the strongest and most influential religious papers in the country. The Standard no doubt has not always been free from mistakes, either under its former or present management, but I know of no other paper, religious or secular, during the time of its existence that has made fewer mistakes or been on the wrong side of fewer great questions, because it has uniformly stood for the truth as it is in Jesus. And I believe so long as it holds fast to the faith, it will continue to grow in influence and power.

Isaac Errett was a great man among great men. He began his religious work when the reformation movement was yet in its infancy. He was intimately acquainted with Alexander Campbell and the illustrious men associated with him, and was a co-worker with him and them. He devoted his life and exceptional ability to carrying forward the work of re-establishing the church in its divine beauty and simplicity, as founded by Christ and his apostles.

New Castle, Pa.

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In that same issue, the editorial writer—James Alexander Lord, most likely—spoke of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, and Walter Scott, and then offered this assessment: “More than that of any other person, Isaac Errett’s ministry interlaces at once with the ministry of the pioneers and with the activities of the preachers of to-day. He lived early enough to be associated with the first great advocates of the Restoration movement, and late enough to give counsel to and shape the thought of many strong men in our pulpits at the present time.”

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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Page 19 of the Sept. 11, 1909, issue of Christian Standard listed the “Stockholders of the Christian Publishing Association, 1866” with the notation, “Organization Formed in 1866.”

The individuals surrounding Isaac Errett include: (top row, from left) Jno. T. Phillips, Jas. A. Garfield, Thos. W. Phillips, Chas. M. Phillips; (second row, flanking Errett) Isaac Phillips, J. P. Robison; (third row, flanking Errett) A. J. Maron*, J. H. Jones; (fourth row, flanking text box) Dr. S. C. Boynton, W. J. Ford; (bottom row) G. W. N. Yost, Richard Hawley, J. H. Rhodes, and Harmon Austin.

The text:

All the pictures on this page will be familiar to a few of our readers. Some of them will be recognized by many.

The names of all these men have become indissolubly associated with an important epoch of our history. They are the men whose interest, ability and financial aid brought the Christian Standard into being. They were its friends through storm and shine for many years. But two of them, W. J. Ford and T. W. Phillips, remain, and their zeal for the cause of New Testament Christianity is unabated. It would be a difficult matter to assemble a similar group from the men of that time that would represent an equal amount of sterling quality and love for the truth. We count it not so much an honor to their memory as to the Standard and our brotherhood that we can look into their faces on an editorial page.

*A. J. Maron — the fourth letter of this gentleman’s last name is partially obscured in my high-resolution scan of this page of “stockholders.” The letter “o” is an educated guess. However, I can find no other mention of that name in our files or in various other reference materials, so I am unable to verify the spelling.

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1 Comment

  1. Sandra Ziegler
    September 5, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    I enjoyed reading this history. I especially found encouragement in the sharpen, drill, dull segment. I know about that rocky soil!

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