UNITARIANISM -IV THE SILENT ADVANCE OF LIBERALISM.

IV.
THE SILENT ADVANCE OF LIBERALISM.

The progressive tendencies went silently on; and step by step the old beliefs were discarded, but always by individuals and churches, and not by associations or general official action. Even before the middle of the eighteenth century there was not only a questioning of the doctrine of divine decrees, the conception that God elects some to bliss and some to perdition in accordance with his own arbitrary will, but there was also developing a tendency to reject the tritheism[1] which in New England took the place of a philosophical conception of the Trinity, such as had been held by the great thinkers of the Christian ages. In part this doubt about the Trinity was the result of a more thoughtful study of the Bible, where the doctrine taught by the leading theologians of the old school in New England does not appear; and in part it was the result of the reading of the works of the English divines of the more liberal school. Something of this tendency was also due to the spirit of free inquiry, and the rational interpretation of religion, that were beginning to make themselves felt amongst those not wholly committed to the old ways of thinking.

It was characteristic of those who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, as then taught, that they insisted on stating their beliefs in the language of the New Testament, especially in that of Jesus himself. They found him teaching his own dependence on his Father, claiming for himself only an inferior and subordinate position. Believing in his pre-existence, his supernatural character and mission, they held that he was the creator of the world or that creation took place by means of the spirit that was in him, and that every honor should be paid him except that of worshipping him as the Supreme Being. As in the ancient family the son was always subordinate to his father, so the Son of God presented in the New Testament is less exalted than his Father. This conception of Christ is technically called Arianism, from the Alexandrian presbyter of the fourth century who first brought it into prominence.
Subordinate Nature of Christ.

The Arian heresy did not necessarily follow the Arminian, but much the same causes led to its appearance. Many of the leading men in England had become Arians, including Milton, Locke, Taylor, Clarke, Watts, and others; and the reading of their books in New England led to an inquiry into the truthfulness of the doctrine of the Trinity. As early as 1720 the preachers of convention and election sermons were insisting upon a recognition of Christ in the old way, showing that they were suspicious of heresy.[2] Most of the Arians retained the other doctrines in which they had been educated, even putting a stronger emphasis upon them than before. Rarely was the subordinate nature of Christ made in any way prominent in preaching. It was held so strictly subsidiary to the cardinal doctrines of incarnation and atonement that only the most intelligent and watchful could detect any difference between those who were Arians and those who were strict Trinitarians. Now and then a man of more pronounced convictions and utterance was shunned by his ministerial neighbors, but this rarely occurred and had little practical effect. So long as a preacher gave satisfaction to his own congregation, and had behind him the voters and the tax-list of his town, his heresies were passed by with only comment and gossip.

We find here and there definite indications of the doctrinal changes that were taking place, as in the republication of Emlyn’s Humble Inquiry into the Scripture Account of Jesus Christ, which appeared in Boston in 1756. Thomas Emlyn, the first English preacher who called himself a Unitarian, published his Humble Inquiry in 1702; and in 1705 he established a Unitarian congregation in London. This distinctively Unitarian book made an able defence of the doctrine of the subordinate nature of Christ. More significant than the republication of the book itself was the preface written for it by a Boston layman, addressed to the ministers of the town, in which he said that he found its teaching “to be the true, plain, unadulterated doctrine of the Gospel.” He also intimated that “many of his brethren of the laity in the town and country were in sympathy with him and sincerely desirous of knowing the truth.” “In New Hampshire Province,” wrote Dr. Joseph Bellamy, in 1760, “this party have actually, three years ago, got things so ripe that they have ventured to new model our Shorter Catechism, to alter or entirely leave out the doctrine of the Trinity, of the decrees, of our first parents being created holy, of original sin, Christ satisfying divine justice, effectual calling, justification, etc.”[3]
Some of the Liberal Leaders.

The farther advance in the liberal movement may be most easily traced in the lives and teachings of three or four men. Rev Ebenezer Gay, who was settled in Hingham in 1717, was the first man in New England to arrive at a clear statement of opinions quite outside of and distinct from Calvinism. Writing of the years from 1750 to 1755, John Adams said that at that time Lemuel Briant, of Braintree, Jonathan Mayhew, of the West Church in Boston, Daniel Shute, of Hingham, John Brown, of Cohasset, and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, Ebenezer Gay, of Hingham, were Unitarians.[4] The rapid sale of Emlyn’s book would prove the truthfulness of this statement. It was not by any sudden process that these men had come to what may be called Unitarianism, though, more properly, Arianism; and not as a mere result of a reaction from Calvinism. A new time had come, and with it new hopes and thoughts. The burdening sense of the spiritual world that belonged to the men of the seventeenth century did not belong to those of the eighteenth. Men had come to see that God must manifest himself in reason, common sense, nature, and the facts of life.

In the life and teachings of such a man as Ebenezer Gay we catch a new insight into the spirit that was active in New England throughout the eighteenth century for the realization of a larger faith. He was a man of a strong, original, vigorous nature, a born leader of men, and one who impressed his own character upon those with whom he came into contact. He opposed the revival, and he made the men of his own association think with him in their opposition to it. Years before the revival, however, he was a liberal in theology, and had found his way into Arminianism. With the spirit of free inquiry he was in fullest sympathy. He was strongly opposed to creeds and to all written articles of faith. He condemned in the most forcible terms the young man who, on the occasion of his ordination, “engages to preach according to a rule of faith, creed, or confession which is merely of human prescription or imposition.” In his convention sermon of 1746 he denounced those who “insist upon the offensive peculiarities of the party they espoused rather than upon the more mighty things in which we are all agreed.” It has been said of him that, after the middle of the century, “his discourses will be searched in vain for any discussions of controversial theology, any advocacy of the peculiar doctrines regarded as orthodox, or the expression of any opinions at variance with those of his successor, Dr. Ware.”[5]

The sermon on Natural Religion as distinguished from Revealed, which Dr. Gay delivered as the Dudleian lecture at Harvard, in 1759, showed the reasonable and progressive spirit of his preaching. He claimed that there is no antagonism between natural and revealed religion, and that, while revealed religion is an addition to the natural, it is not built on the ruins, but on the everlasting foundations of it. Revelation can teach nothing contrary to natural religion or to the dictates of reason. “No doctrine or scheme of religion,” he said, “should be advanced or received as Scriptural and divine which is plainly and absolutely inconsistent with the perfections of God, and the possibility of things. Absurdities and contradictions, are not to be obtruded upon our faith. No pretence of revelation can be sufficient for the admission of them. The manifest absurdity of any doctrine is a stronger argument that it is not of God than any other evidence can be that it is.”

Jonathan Mayhew, the son of Experience Mayhew, of Martha’s Vineyard, was settled over the West Church of Boston in 1747. He was even then known as a heretic, who had read the most liberal books of the English philosophers and theologians, and who had boldly accepted their opinions as his own. On the occasion of his ordination not one of the Boston ministers was present, although a number of them were well known for their liberal opinions. The ordination was postponed, and later several men of remoter parishes joined in inducting this young independent into his pulpit. No Boston minister would exchange pulpits with him, and he was not invited to join the ministerial association. He was shunned by the ministers, and he was dreaded by the orthodox; but he was gladly heard by a large congregation, which grew in numbers and intelligence as the years went on. He had among his hearers many of the leading men of the town, and to him gathered those who were most thoughtful and progressive. Boston has never had in any of its pulpits a man of nobler, broader, more humane qualities, or one with a mind more completely committed to seeking and knowing the truth, or with a more unflinching purpose to speak his own mind without fear or favor. His influence was soon powerfully felt in the town, and his name came to stand for liberty in politics as well as in religion. His sermons were rapidly printed and distributed widely. They were read in every part of New England with great eagerness; they were reprinted in England, and brought him a large correspondence from those who admired and approved of his teaching. Though he died in 1766, at the age of forty-six, his work and his influence did not die with him.

The cardinal thought of Jonathan Mayhew with reference to religion was that of free inquiry. Diligent and free examination of all questions, he felt, was necessary to any acquisition of the truth. He believed in liberty and toleration everywhere, and this made him accept in the fullest sense the doctrine of the freedom of the will. In man he found a self-determining power, the source of his moral and intellectual freedom. He said that we are more certain of the fact that we are free than we are of the truth of Christianity. This belief led him to the rejection of the Calvinistic doctrine of inability, and to a strong faith in the moral and spiritual possibilities of human nature. He described Christianity as “a practical science, the art of living piously and virtuously.”[6] He had quite freed his mind from bondage to creeds when he said that, “how much soever any man may be mistaken in opinion concerning the terms of salvation, yet if he is practically in the right there is no doubt but he will be accepted of God.”[7] He held that no speculative error, however great, is sufficient to exclude a good and upright man from the kingdom of heaven, who lives according to the genuine spirit of the gospel. To him the principle of grace was always a principle of goodness and holiness; and he held that grace can never be operative as a saving power without obedience to that righteousness and love which Christ taught as essential.[8] He declared that “the doctrine that men may obtain salvation without ceasing to do evil and learning to do well, without yielding a sincere obedience to the laws of Christianity, is not so properly called a doctrine of grace as it is a doctrine of devils.”[9] He said, again, that we cannot be justified by a faith that is without obedience; for it is obedience and good works that give to faith all its life, efficacy, and perfection.[10]
The First Unitarian.

Dr. Mayhew accepted without equivocation the right of private judgment in religion, and he practised it judicially and with wise insight. He unhesitatingly applied the rational method to all theological problems, and to him reason was the final court of appeal for everything connected with religion. His love of freedom was enthusiastic and persistent, and he was zealously committed to the principle of individuality. He believed in the essential goodness of human nature, and in the doctrine of the Divine Unity. He was the first outspoken Unitarian in New England, not merely because he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, but because he accepted all the cardinal principles developed by that movement since his day. He was a rationalist, an individualist, a defender of personal freedom, and tested religious practices by the standard of common sense. His sermons were plain, direct, vigorous, and modern. A truly religious man, Mayhew taught a practical and humanitarian religion, genuinely ethical, and faithful in inculcating the motive of civic duty.

Dr. Mayhew’s words may be quoted in regard to some of the religious beliefs commonly accepted in his day. “The doctrine of a total ignorance and incapacity to judge of moral and religious truths brought upon mankind by the disobedience of our first parents,” he wrote, “is without foundation.”[11] “I hope it appears,” he says, “that the love of God and of our neighbor, that sincere piety of heart, and a righteous, holy and charitable life, are the weightier matters of the gospel, as well as of the law.”[12] “Although Christianity cannot,” he asserts, “with any propriety or justice be said to be the same with natural religion, or merely a republication of the laws of nature, yet the principal, the most important and fundamental duties required by Christianity are, nevertheless, the same which were enjoined under the legal dispensation of Moses, and the same which are dictated by the light of nature.”[13] His great love of intellectual and spiritual freedom finds utterance in such a statement as this: “Nor has any order or body of men authority to enjoin any particular article of faith, nor the use of any modes of worship not expressly pointed out in the Scriptures; nor has the enjoining of such articles a tendency to preserve the peace and harmony of the church, but directly the contrary.”[14] Such sentences as the following are frequent on Mayhew’s pages, and they show clearly the trend of his mind: “Free examination, weighing arguments for and against with care and impartiality, is the way to find truth.” “True religion flourishes the more, the more people exercise their right of private judgment.”[15] “There is nothing more foolish and superstitious than a veneration for ancient creeds and doctrines as such, and nothing is more unworthy a reasonable creature than to value principles by their age, as some men do their wines.”[16]

Mayhew insisted upon the strict unity of God, “who is without rival or competitor.” “The dominion and sovereignty of the universe is necessarily one and in one, the only living and true God, who delegates such measures of power and authority to other beings as seemeth good in his sight.” He declared that the not preserving of such unity and supremacy of God on the part of Christians “has long been just matter of reproach to them”; and he said the authority of Christ is always “exercised in subordination to God’s will.”[17] His position was that “the faith of Christians does not terminate in Christ as the ultimate object of it, but it is extended through him to the one God.”[18] The very idea of a mediator implies subordination as essential to it.[19] His biographer says he did not accept the notion of vicarious suffering, and, that he was an Arian in his views of the nature of Christ. “He was the first clergyman in New England who expressly and openly opposed the scholastic doctrine of the Trinity. Several others declined pressing the Athanasian Creed, and believed strictly in the unity of God. They also probably found it difficult to explain their views on the subject, and the great danger of losing their good name served to prevent their speaking out. But Dr. Mayhew did not conceal or disguise his sentiments on this point any more than on others, such as the peculiar tenets of Calvinism. He explicitly and boldly declared the doctrine irrational, unscriptural, and directly contradictory.”[20] He taught the strict unity of God as early as 1753, “in the most unequivocal and plain manner, in his sermons of that year.”[21] What most excited comment and objection was that, in a foot-note to the volume of his sermons published in 1755, Mayhew said that a Catholic Council had elevated the Virgin Mary to the position of a fourth person in the Godhead, and added, by way of comment: “Neither Papists nor Protestants should imagine that they will be understood by others if they do not understand themselves. Nor should they think that nonsense and contradictions can ever be too sacred to be ridiculous.” The ridicule here was not directed against the doctrine of the Trinity, as has been maintained, but the foolish defences of it made by men who accepted its “mysteries” as too wonderful for reason to deal with in a serious manner. This boldness of comment on the part of Mayhew was in harmony with his strong disapproval of creed-making in all its forms. He condemned creeds because they set up “human tests of orthodoxy instead of the infallible word of God, and make other terms of Christian communion than those explicitly pointed out by the Gospel.”[22]

Dr. Mayhew was succeeded in the West Church by Rev. Simeon Howard in 1767, who, though he was received in a more friendly spirit by the ministers of the town, was not less radical in his theology than his predecessor. Dr. Howard was both an Arminian and an Arian, and he was “a believer neither in the Trinity, nor in the divine predestination of total depravity, and necessary ruin to any human soul.”[23] He was of a gentle and conciliatory temper, but his preaching was quite as thorough-going in its intellectual earnestness as was Dr. Mayhew’s.
A Pronounced Universalist.

Another preacher on the liberal side was Dr. Charles Chauncy of the First Church in Boston, whose ministry lasted from 1727 to 1787. He was the most vigorous of the opponents of the great awakening, both in his pulpit and through the press. He wrote a book on certain French fanatics, with the purpose of showing what would be the natural results of the excesses of the revival; he preached a powerful sermon on enthusiasm, to indicate the dangers of religious excitement, when not controlled by common sense and reason; and he travelled throughout New England to gain all the information possible about the revival, its methods and results, and published his Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England in 1743. He had been influenced by the reading of Taylor, Tillotson, Clarke, and the other latitudinarian and rationalistic writers of England; and he found the revival in its excesses repugnant to his every thought of what was true and devout in religion.

Dr. Chauncy was not an eloquent preacher; but he was clear, earnest, and honest. Many of his sermons were published, and his books numbered nearly a dozen. As early as 1739 he preached a sermon in favor of religious toleration. At a later period he said, “It is with me past all doubt that the religion of Jesus will never be restored to its primitive purity, simplicity, and glory, until religious establishments are so brought down as to be no more.”[24] It was this conviction which made him oppose in his pulpit and in two or three books the effort that was made just before the Revolution to establish the English Church as the state form of religion in the colonies. He said, in 1767, that the American people would hazard everything dear to them–their estates, their lives–rather than suffer their necks to be put under the yoke of bondage to any foreign power in state or church.[25]

In his early life Dr. Chauncy was an Arminian, but slowly he grew to the acceptance of distinctly Unitarian and Universalist doctrines. Near the end of his life he Published four or five books in which he advanced very liberal opinions. One of these, published in Boston in 1784, was on The Benevolence of the Deity fairly and impartially Considered. This book followed the same method and purpose as Butler’s Analogy, and aimed to show that God has manifested his goodness in creation and in the life of man. He said that our moral self-determination, or free will, is our one great gift from God. He discussed the moral problems of life in order to prove the benevolence of God, maintaining that the goodness we see in him is of the same nature with goodness in ourselves. The year following he published a book on the Scriptural account of the Fall and its Consequences, in which he rejected the doctrine of total depravity, and interpreted the new birth as a result of education rather than of supernatural change. Thus he brought to full statement the logical result of the half-way covenant and the teachings of Solomon Stoddard, as well as of the connection of church and state in New England. He saw that the method of education is the only one that can justly be followed in the preparation of the young for admission to a church that is sustained in any direct way by the state.

Dr. Chauncy’s great work as a preacher and author[26] was brought to its close by his books in favor of universal salvation. In 1783-84 he published in Boston two anonymous pamphlets advocating the salvation of all men, and these pamphlets made no little stir. In 1784 he published in London a work which he called The Mystery hid from Ages and Generations, made manifest by the Gospel Revelation; or, The Salvation of All Men the Grand Thing aimed at in the Scheme of God: By One who wishes well to the whole Human Race. In this book Dr. Chauncy made an elaborate study of the New Testament, in order to prove that salvation is to be universal. Christ died for all, therefore all will be saved; because all have sinned in Adam, therefore all will be made alive in Christ. He looked to a future probation, to a long period after death, when the opportunity of salvation will be open to all. He maintained that the misery threatened against the wicked in Scripture is that of this intermediate state between the earthly life and the time when God shall be all in all. He held that sin will be punished hereafter in proportion to depravity, and that none will be saved until they come into willing harmony with Christ, who will finally be able to win all men to himself, otherwise the power of God will be set at naught and his good will towards men frustrated of its purpose. In the future state of discipline, punishment will be inflicted with salutary effect, and thus the moral recovery of mankind will be accomplished.
Other Men of Mark.

Another leader was Dr. Samuel West, of Dartmouth, now New Bedford, where he was settled in 1760, and where he preached for more than forty years.[27] He rejected the doctrines of fore-ordination, election, total depravity, and the Trinity. In preaching the election sermon of 1776, he took the ground of an undisguised rationalism. “A revelation,” he said, “pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural laws ought immediately to be rejected as imposture; for the deity cannot make a law contrary to the law of nature without acting contrary to himself,–a thing in the strictest sense impossible, for that which implies contradiction is not an object of Divine Power.” The cardinal idea of West’s; position, as of that of most of the liberal men of his time, was stated by him in one sentence, when he said, “To preach Christ is to preach the whole system of divinity, as it consists of both natural and revealed religion.”[28]

In 1751 Rev. Thomas Barnard, of Newbury, was dismissed from his parish because he was regarded as unconverted by the revivalistic portion of his congregation; and in 1755 he was settled over the First Church in Salem. He was an Arminian, and at the same time an Arian of the school of Samuel Clarke. His son Thomas was settled over the North Church of Salem in 1773, which church was organized especially for him by his admirers in the First Church. He followed in the theological opinions of his father, but probably became somewhat more pronounced in his Arian views, so that, after his death, Dr. Channing called him a Unitarian. It is not surprising that the younger Barnard should have been liberal in his opinions and spirit, when we find his theological instructor, Rev. Samuel Williams, at his ordination, saying to him in the sermon preached on that occasion, “Be of no sect or party but that of good men, and to all such (whatever their differences among themselves) let your heart be opened.” On another similar occasion Mr. Williams said that it had always been his advice to examine with caution and modesty, “but with the greatest freedom all religious matters.”[29] It was said of the younger Barnard that he believed “the final salvation of no man depended upon the belief or disbelief of those speculative opinions about which men, equally learned and pious, differ.” When it was said to him by one of his parishioners, “Dr. Barnard, I never heard you preach a sermon upon the Trinity,” the reply was, “And you never will.”[30]

In 1779 Rev. John Prince was settled over the First Church in Salem, as the colleague of the elder Barnard. He was an Arian, but in no combative or dogmatic manner. He was a student, a lover of science, and an advanced thinker and investigator for his time. In 1787 he invited the Universalist, Rev. John Murray, into his pulpit, then an act of the greatest liberality.[31] Another lover of science, Rev. William Bentley, was settled over the East Church of Salem, as colleague to Rev. James Diman, in 1782. The senior pastor was a strict Calvinist, but the parish called as his colleague this young man of pronounced liberal views in theology. As early as 1784 Mr. Bentley was interested in the teachings of the English Unitarian, William Hazlitt,[32] who at that time visited New England. And in 1786 he was reading Joseph Priestley’s book against the Trinity with approval. He soon after commended Dr. Priestley’s short tracts as giving a good statement of the simple doctrines of Christianity.[33] He insisted upon free inquiry in religion from the beginning of his ministry, and not long after he began preaching he became substantially a Unitarian.[34] In 1789 he maintained that “the full conviction of a future moral retribution” is “the great point of Christian faith.”[35] It has been claimed that Mr. Bentley was the first minister in New England to take distinctly the Unitarian position, and there are good reasons for this understanding of his doctrinal attitude.[36] Dr. Bentley corresponded with scholars in Europe, as he also did with Arab chiefs in their own tongue. He knew of the religions of India, and he seems to have given them appreciative recognition. The shipmasters and foreign merchants of Salem, as they came in contact with the Oriental races and religions, discarded their dogmatic Christianity; and these men, almost without exception, were connected with the churches that became Unitarian. It may be accepted as a very interesting fact that “the two potent influences shaping the ancient Puritanism of Salem into Unitarianism were foreign commerce and contact with the Oriental religions.”[37]

The formation of a second parish in Worcester, in 1785, was a significant step in the progress of liberal opinion. This was the first time when a town, outside of Boston, was divided into two parishes of the Congregational order on doctrinal grounds. On the death of the minister of the first parish several candidates were heard, and among them Rev. Aaron Bancroft, who was a pronounced Arminian and Arian. The majority preferred a Calvinist; but the more intelligent minority insisted upon the settlement of Mr. Bancroft,–a result they finally accomplished by the organization of a new parish. It was a severe struggle by which this result was brought about, every effort being made to defeat it; and for many years Mr. Bancroft was almost completely isolated in his religious opinions.[38]
The Second Period of Revivals.

It must not be understood that there was any marked separation in the churches as yet on doctrinal grounds. Calvinism was mildly taught, and ministers of all shades of opinion exchanged pulpits freely with each other. They met in ministerial associations, and in various duties of ordinations, councils, and other ecclesiastical gatherings. The preaching was practical, not doctrinal; and controverted subjects were for the most part not touched upon in the pulpits. About 1780, however, began a revival of Calvinism on the part of Drs. Bellamy, Emmons, Hopkins, and others; and especially did it take a strenuous form in the works of Samuel Hopkins. The New Divinity, as it was sometimes called, taught that unconditional submission to God is the duty of every human being, that we should be willing to be damned for the glory of God, and that the attitude of God towards men is one of unbounded benevolence. This newer Calvinism was full of incentives to missionary enterprise, and was zealous for the making of converts. Under the impulse of its greater enthusiasm there began, about 1790, a series of revivals which continued to the middle of the nineteenth century. This was the second great period of revivalism in New England. It was far better organized than the first one, while its methods were more systematic and under better guidance; and the results were great in the building of churches, in establishing missionary outposts, and in awakening an active religious life amongst the people. It aroused much opposition to the liberals, and it made the orthodox party more aggressive. Just as the great awakening developed opposition to the liberals of that day, and served to bring into view the two tendencies in the Congregational churches, so this new revival period accentuated the divergencies between those who believed in the deity of Christ and those who believed in his subordinate nature, and led to the first assuming of positions on both sides. There can be little doubt that it put a check upon the friendly spirit that had existed in the churches, and that it began a division which ultimately resulted in their separation into two denominations.[39]

Such details of individual and local opinion as have here been given are all the more necessary because there was at this time no consensus of belief on the part of the more liberal men. Each man thought for himself, but he was very reluctant to depart from the old ways in ritual and doctrine; and if the ministers consulted with each other, and gave each other confidential assistance, there was certainly nothing in the way of public conference or of party assimilation and encouragement. A visitor to Boston in 1791 wrote of the ministers there that “they are so diverse in their sentiments that they cannot agree on any point in theology. Some are Calvinists, some Universalists, some Arminians, and one, at least, is a Socinian.”[40] Another visitor, this time in 1801, found the range of opinions much wider. In all the ministers of Boston he found only one rigid Trinitarian; one was a follower of Edwards, several were Arminians, two were Socinians, one a Universalist, and one a Unitarian.[41] This writer says it was not difficult to find out what men did not believe, but there was as yet no public line of demarcation among the clergy. There being no outward pressure to bring men into uniformity, no institution or body of men with authority to require assent to a standard of orthodoxy, little attention was given to merely doctrinal interests. The position taken was that presented by Rev. John Tucker of Newbury, in the convention sermon of 1768, when he said that no one has any right whatever to legislate in behalf of Christ, who alone has authority to fix the terms of the Gospel. He said that, as all believers and teachers of Christianity are “perfectly upon a level with one another, none of them can have any authority even to interpret the laws of this kingdom for others, so as to require their assent to such interpretation.” He also declared that as “every Christian has and must have a right to judge for himself of the true sense and meaning of all gospel truths, no doctrines, therefore, no laws, no religious rites, no terms of acceptance with God or of admission to Christian privileges not found in the gospel, are to be looked upon by him as any part of this divine system, nor to be received and submitted to as the doctrines and laws of Christ.”[42] Of Rev. John Prince, the minister of the First Church in Salem during the last years of the century, it was said that he never “preached distinctly upon any of the points of controversy which, in his day, agitated the New England churches.”[43] The minister of Roxbury, Rev. Eliphalet Porter, said of the Calvinistic beliefs, that there was not one of them he considered “essential to the Christian faith or character.”[44]
King’s Chapel becomes Unitarian.

These quotations will indicate the liberty of spirit that existed in the New England churches of the later years of the eighteenth century, especially in the neighborhood of Boston, and along the seacoast; and also the diversity of opinion on doctrinal subjects among the ministers. It is impossible here to follow minutely the stages of doctrinal evolution, but a few dates and incidents will serve to indicate the several steps that were taken. The first of these was the settlement of Rev. James Freeman over King’s Chapel in 1782, and his ordination by the congregation in 1787, the liturgy having been revised two years earlier to conform to the liberal opinions of the minister and people. These changes were brought about largely through the influence of Rev. William Hazlitt, the father of the essayist and critic of the same name, who had been settled over several of the smaller Unitarian churches in Great Britain. In the spring of 1783 he visited the United States, and spent several months in Philadelphia. He gave a course of lectures on the Evidences of Christianity in the college there, which were largely attended. He preached for several weeks in a country parish in Maryland, he had invitations to settle in Charleston and Pittsburg, and he had an opportunity to become the president of a college by subscribing to the doctrinal tests required, which he would not do; for “he would sooner die in a ditch than submit to human authority in matters of faith.”[45] In June, 1784, he preached in the Brattle Street Church of Boston, and he anticipated becoming its minister; but his pronounced doctrinal position seems to have made that impossible. He also preached in Hingham, and some of the people there desired his settlement; but the aged Dr. Gay would not resign. It would appear that he preached for Dr. Chauncy, for Mr. Barnes in Salem, and also in several pulpits on Cape Cod. He gave in Boston his course of lectures on the Evidences of Christianity, and it was received with much favor by large audiences. The winter of 1784-85 was spent by Mr. Hazlitt in Hallowell, Me., in which place was a small group of wealthy English Unitarians, led by Samuel Vaughan, by whom Mr. Hazlitt had been entertained in Philadelphia. Mr. Hazlitt returned to Boston in the spring of 1785, and had some hope of settling in Roxbury. In the autumn, however, finding no definite promise of employment, he returned to England. He afterward corresponded with Dr. Howard, of the West Church in Boston, and with Dr. Lathrop, of West Springfield. The volumes of sermons he published in 1786 and 1790 were sold in this country, and one or two of them republished.

It would appear that Mr. Hazlitt’s positive Unitarianism made it impossible for him to settle over any church in Boston or its neighborhood. In 1784 he assisted Dr. Freeman in revising the Prayer Book, the form of prayer used by Dr. Lindsey[46] in the Essex Street Chapel in London being adapted to the new conditions at King’s Chapel. He also republished in Philadelphia and Boston many of Dr. Priestley’s Unitarian tracts, while writing much himself for publication.[47] In his correspondence with Theophilus Lindsey, Dr. Freeman wrote of Mr. Hazlitt as a pious, zealous, and intelligent minister, to whose instructions and conversation he was particularly indebted.[48] “Before Mr. Hazlitt came to Boston”, Dr. Freeman wrote, “the Trinitarian doxology was almost universally used. That honest, good man prevailed upon several respectable ministers to omit it. Since his departure the number of those who repeat only Scriptural doxologies has greatly increased, so that there are now many churches in which the worship is strictly Unitarian.”[49]

Beginning with the year 1786, several of the liberal men in Boston were in correspondence with the leading Unitarian ministers in London, and their letters were afterward published by Thomas Belsham in his Life of Theophilus Lindsey. From this work we learn that Dr. Lindsey presented his own theological works and those of Dr. Priestley to Harvard College, and that they were read with great avidity by the students.[50] One of the Boston correspondents, writing in 1783, names James Bowdoin, governor of Massachusetts in 1785 and 1786, General Benjamin Lincoln, and General Henry Knox as among the liberal men. He said: “There are many others besides, in our legislature, of similar sentiments. While so many of our great men are thus on the side of truth and free inquiry, they will necessarily influence many of the common people.”[51] He also said that people were less frightened at the Socinian name than formerly, and that this form of Christianity was beginning to have some public advocates. The only minister who preached in favor of it was Mr. Bentley, of Salem, who was described as “a young man of a bold, independent mind, of strong, natural powers, and of more skill in the learned languages than any person of his years in the state.” Mr. Bentley’s congregation was spoken of as uncommonly liberal, not alarmed at any improvements, and pleased with his introduction into the pulpit of various modern translations of the Scriptures, especially of the prophecies.[52]
Other Unitarian Movements.

In March, 1792, a Unitarian congregation was formed in Portland under the leadership of Thomas Oxnard, who had been an Episcopalian. Having been supplied with the works of Priestley and Lindsey through the generosity of Dr. Freeman, he became a Unitarian; and his personal intercourse with Dr. Freeman gave strength to his changed convictions. A number of persons of property and respectability of character joined him in accepting his new faith. In writing to his friend in November, 1788, Mr. Oxnard said: “I cannot express to you the avidity with which these Unitarian publications are sought after. Our friends here are clearly convinced that the Unitarian doctrine will soon become the prevailing opinion in this country. Three years ago I did not know a single Unitarian in this part of the country besides myself; and now, entirely from the various publications you have furnished, a decent society might be collected in this and the neighboring towns.”[53] In 1792 an attempt was made to introduce a revised liturgy into the Episcopal church of Portland; and, when this was resisted, a majority of the congregation seceded and formed a Unitarian society, with Mr. Oxnard as the minister. This society was continued for a few years, and then ceased to exist. The members joined the first Congregational church, which in 1809, became Unitarian.[54] Also in 1792 was organized a Unitarian congregation in Saco, under the auspices of Hon. Samuel Thatcher, a member of Congress and a Massachusetts judge.[55] Mr. Thatcher had been an unbeliever, but through the reading of Priestley’s works he became a sincere and rational Christian. He met with much opposition from his neighbors, and an effort was made to prevent his re-election to Congress; but it did not succeed. The Saco congregation was at first connected with that at Portland, and it seems to have ceased its existence at the same time.[56]

In 1794 Dr. Freeman wrote that Unitarianism was making considerable progress in the southern counties of Massachusetts. In Barnstable he reported “a very large body of Unitarians.”[57] Writing in May, 1796, he states that Unitarianism is on the increase in Maine, that it is making a considerable increase in the southern part of Massachusetts, and that a few seeds have been sown in Vermont. He thinks it may be losing ground in some places, but that it is growing in others. “I consider it,” he writes, “as one of the most happy effects which have resulted from my feeble exertions in the Unitarian cause, that they have introduced me to the knowledge and friendship of some of the most valuable characters of the present age, men of enlightened heads and benevolent hearts. Though it is a standing article of most of our social libraries, that nothing of a controversial character should be purchased, yet any book which is presented is freely accepted. I have found means, therefore, of introducing into them some of the Unitarian Tracts with which you have kindly furnished me. There are few persons who have not read them with avidity; and when read they cannot fail to make an impression upon the minds of many. From these and other causes the Unitarian doctrine appears to be still upon the increase. I am acquainted with a number of ministers, particularly in the southern part of this state, who avow and publicly preach this sentiment. There are others more cautious, who content themselves with leading their hearers by a course of rational but prudent sermons gradually and insensibly to embrace it. Though this latter mode is not what I entirely approve, yet it produces good effects. For the people are thus kept out of the reach of false opinions, and are prepared for the impressions which will be made on them by more bold and ardent successors, who will probably be raised up when these timid characters are removed off the stage. The clergy are generally the first who begin to speculate; but the people soon follow, where they are so much accustomed to read and enquire.”[58]

In 1793 was published Jeremy Belknap’s biography of Samuel Watts, who was an Arian, or, at least, held to the subordinate nature of Christ. This book had a very considerable influence in directing attention to the doctrine of the Trinity, and in inducing inquiring men to study the subject critically for themselves. In 1797 Dr. Belknap became the minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston, and his preaching was from that time distinctly Unitarian. Dr. Joseph Priestley removed to Philadelphia in 1794, and he was at first listened to by large congregations. His humanitarian theology–that is, his denial of divinity as well as deity to Christ–probably had the effect of limiting the interest in his teachings. However, a small congregation was established in Philadelphia in 1796, formed mostly of English Unitarians. A congregation was gathered at Northumberland in 1794, to which place Priestley removed in that year.

In the year 1800 a division took place in the church at Plymouth, owing to the growth there of liberal sentiments. These began to manifest themselves as early as 1742, as a reaction from the intense revivalism of that Period.[59] Rev. Chandler Bobbins, who was strictly Calvinistic in his theology, was the minister from 1760 until his death in 1799. In 1794 a considerable number of persons in the parish discussed the desirability of organizing another church, in order to secure more liberal preaching. It was recognized that Mr. Robbins was an old man, that he was very much beloved, and that in a few years the opportunity desired would be presented without needless agitation; and the effort was therefore deferred. In November, 1799, at a meeting held for the election of a new pastor, twenty-three members of the church were in favor of Rev. James Kendall, the only candidate, while fifteen were in opposition. When the parish voted, two hundred and fifty-three favored Mr. Kendall, and fifteen were opposed. In September, 1800, the conservative minority, numbering eighteen males and thirty-five females, withdrew; and two years later they organized the society now called the Church of the Pilgrimage. The settlement of Mr. Kendall, a pronounced Arminian,[60] was an instance of the almost complete abandonment of Calvinism on the part of a congregation, in opposition to the preaching from the pulpit. In spite of the strict confession of faith which Dr. Robbins had persuaded the church to adopt, the parish outgrew the old teachings. Mr. Kendall, with the approval of his church, soon grew into a Unitarian; and it was fitting that the church of the Mayflower, the church of Robinson and Brewster, should lead the way in this advance.

As yet there was no controversy, except in a quiet way. Occasionally sharp criticism was uttered, especially in convention and election sermons; but there was no thought of separation or exclusion. The liberal men showed a tendency to magnify the work of charity; and they were, in a limited degree, zealous in every kind of philanthropic effort. More distinctly, however, they showed their position in their enthusiasm for the Bible and in their summing up of Christianity in loyalty to Christ. Towards all creeds and dogmas they were indifferent and silent, except as they occasionally spoke plainly out to condemn them. They believed in and preached toleration, and their whole movement stood more distinctly for comprehensiveness and latitudinarianism than for aught else. They were not greatly concerned about theological problems; but they thoroughly believed in a broad, generous, sympathetic, and practical Christianity, that would exemplify the teachings of Christ, and that would lead men to a pure and noble moral life.
Growth of Toleration.

That toleration was not as yet fully accepted in Massachusetts is seen in the fact that the proposed Constitution of 1778 was defeated because it provided for freedom of worship on the part of all Protestant denominations. The dominant religious body was not yet ready to put itself on a level with the other sects. In the Constitutional Convention of 1779 the more liberal men worked with the Baptists to secure a separation of state and church. Such men as Drs. Chauncy, Mayhew, West, and Shute were desirous of the broadest toleration; and they did what they could to secure it. As early as 1768, Dr. Chauncy spoke in plainest terms in opposition to the state support of religion. “We are in principle,” he wrote, “against all civil establishments in religion. It does not appear to us that God has entrusted, the state with a right to make religious establishments. But let it be heedfully minded we claim no right to desire the interposition of the state to establish the mode of worship, government or discipline, we apprehend is most agreeable to the mind of Christ. We desire no other liberty than to be left unrestrained in the exercise of our principles, in so far as we are good members of society…. The plain truth is, by the gospel charter, all professed Christians are vested with precisely the same rights; nor has our denomination any more a right to the interposition of the civil magistrate in their favor than any other; and whenever this difference takes place, it is beside the rule of Scripture, and the genuine dictates, of uncorrupted reason.”[61] All persons throughout the state, of whatever religious connection, who had become emancipated from the Puritan spirit, supported him in this opinion. They were in the minority as yet, and they were not organized. Therefore, their efforts were unsuccessful.

Another testing of public sentiment on this subject was had in the Massachusetts convention which, in 1788, ratified the Constitution of the United States. The sixth article, which provides that “no religious tests shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,” was the occasion of a prolonged debate and much opposition. Hon. Theophilus Parsons took the liberal side, and declared that “the only evidence we can have of the sincerity and excellency of a man’s religion is a good life,” precisely the position of the liberal men. By several members it was urged, however, that this article was a departure from the principles of our forefathers, who came here for the preservation of their religion, and that it would admit deists and atheists into the general government.

In these efforts to secure religious toleration as a fundamental law of the state and nation the Baptist denomination took an active and a leading part. Not less faithful to this cause were the liberal men among the Congregationalists, while the opposition came almost wholly from the Calvinistic and orthodox churches. Such leaders on the liberal side as Dr. David Shute of the South Parish in Hingham, Rev. Thomas Thatcher of the West Parish in Dedham, and Dr. Samuel West of New Bedford, were loyally devoted in the convention to the support of the toleration act of the Constitution. In the membership of the convention there were seventeen ministers, and fourteen of them voted for the Constitution. The opinions of the fourteen were expressed by Rev. Phillips Payson, the minister of Chelsea, who held that a religious test would be a great blemish on the Constitution. He also said that God is the God of the conscience, and for human tribunals to encroach upon the consciences of men is impious.[62] As the Constitution was ratified by only a small majority of the convention, and as at the opening of its sessions the opposition seemed almost overwhelming, the position taken by the more liberal ministers was a sure indication of growing liberality. The great majority of the people, however, were still strongly in favor of the old religious tests and restrictions, as was fully indicated by subsequent events. The Revolution operated as a liberalizing influence, because of the breaking of old customs and the discussion of the principles of liberty attendant upon the adoption of the state and national constitutions. The growth of democratic sentiment made a strong opposition to the churches and their privileges, and it caused a diminution of reverence for the authority of the clergy. The twenty years following the Revolution showed a notable growth in liberal opinions.

Universalism presented itself as a new form of Calvinism, its advocates claiming that God decreed that all should be saved, and that his will would be triumphant. In many parts of the country the doctrine of universal salvation began to be heard during the last two decades of the eighteenth century, and the growth of interest in it was rapid from the beginning of the nineteenth. This movement began in the Baptist churches, but it soon appeared in others. At first it was undefined, a protest against the harsh teaching of future punishment. It was a part of the humanitarian awakening of the time, the new faith in man, the recognition that love is diviner than wrath. Many persons found escape from creeds that were hateful to them into this new and more hopeful interpretation of religion. Persons of every shade of protest, and “infidelity,” and free thinking, found their way into this new body; and great was the condemnation and hatred with which it was received on the part of the other sects. In time this movement clarified itself, and it has had a positive influence for piety and for nobler views of God and the future.

Of much the same nature was the movement within the fellowship of the Friends led by Thomas Hicks. It was Unitarian and reformatory, influenced by the growing democracy and zeal for humanity the age was everywhere manifesting.

In the border states between north and south began, during the last decade of the eighteenth century, a movement in favor of discarding all creeds and confessions. It favored a return to the Bible itself as the great Protestant book, and as the one revealed word of God. Without learning or culture, these persons sought to make their faith in Christ more real by an evangelical obedience to his teachings. Some of them called themselves Disciples, holding that to follow Christ is quite enough. Others said that no other name than Christian is required. They were Biblical in their theology, and unsectarian in their attitude towards the forms and rituals of the church. In time these scattered groups of earnest seekers for a better Christian way, from Maine to Georgia, came to know each other and to organize for the common good.

With the rapid growth of Methodism the Arminian view of man was widely adopted. The Baptists received into their fellowship in all parts of New England, at least, many who were not deeply in sympathy with their strict rules, but who found with them a means of protesting against the harsher methods of the “standing order” of Congregationalists. Their demand for toleration and liberty of conscience began to receive recognition after the Revolution, and their influence was a powerful one in bringing about the separation of state and church. Those who were dissatisfied with a church that taxed all the people, and that was upheld by state authority, found with the Baptists a means of making their protest heard and felt.

In all directions the democratic spirit was being manifested, and conditions which had been upheld by the restrictive authority of England had to give way. The people were now speaking, and not the ministers only. It was an age of individualism, and of the reassertion of the tendency that had characterized New England from the first, but that had been held in check by autocratic power. There was no outbreak, no rapid change, no iconoclastic overturning of old institutions and customs, but the people were coming to their own, thinking for themselves. In reality, the people were conservative, especially in New England; and they moved slowly, there was little infidelity, and steadily were the old ideals maintained. Yet the individualism would assert itself. Men held the old creeds in distinctly personal ways, and the churches grew into more and more of independency.

The theological development of the eighteenth century took two directions: that of rationalism and a demand for free inquiry, as represented by Jonathan Mayhew and William Bentley; and that of a philanthropic protest against the harsh features of Calvinism, as represented by Charles Chauncy and the Universalists. The demand that all theological problems should be submitted to reason for vindication or readjustment was not widely urged; but a few men recognized the worth of this claim, and applied this method without hesitation. A larger number followed them with hesitating steps, but with a growing confidence in reason as God’s method for man’s finding and maintaining the truth. The other tendency grew out of a benevolent desire to justify the ways of God to man, and was the expression of a deepening faith that the Divine Being deals with his children in a fatherly manner. That God is generous and loving was the faith of Dr. Chauncy, as it was of the Universalists and of the more liberal party among the Calvinists. Their philanthropic feelings toward their fellow-men seemed to them representative of God’s ways of dealing with his creatures.

[1] Levi L. Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, 105. “Nathaniel Emmons held tenaciously to three real persons. He said, ‘It is as easy to conceive of God existing in three persons as in one person.’ This language shows that Emmons employed the term ‘person’ in the strict literal sense. The three are absolutely equal, this involving the metaphysical assumption that in the Trinity being and person are not coincident. Emmons is the first theologian who asserts that, though we cannot conceive that three persons should be one person, we may conceive that three persons may be one Being, ‘if we only suppose that being may signify something different from person in respect to Deity.'”

[2] E.H. Gillett, History and Literature of the Unitarian Controversy. Historical Magazine, April 1871; second series, IX. 222.

[3] Letter to Scripturista by Paulinus, 18.

[4] William S. Pattee, A History of Old Braintree and Quincy, 222. When a copy of Dr. Jedediah Morse’s little book on American Unitarianism was sent to John Adams, he acknowledged its receipt in the following letter:–

QUINCY, May 15, 1815.

Dear Doctor,–I thank you for your favor of the 10th, and the pamphlet enclosed, entitled American Unitarianism. I have turned over its leaves, and found nothing that was not familiarly known to me. In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a witness to its old age. Sixty-five years ago my own minister, the Rev. Lemuel Briant; Dr. Jonathan Mayhew, of the West Church in Boston; the Rev. Mr. Shute, of Hingham; the Rev. John Brown, of Cohasset; and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, the, Rev. Mr. Gay, of Hingham, were Unitarians. Among the laity how many could I name, lawyers, physicians, tradesmen, farmers! But at present I will name only one, Richard Cranch, a man who had studied divinity, and Jewish and Christian antiquities, more than any clergyman now existing in New England.

JOHN ADAMS.

Also see C.F. Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History, 643; and J.H. Allen, An Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Movement since the Reformation, 175.

[5] History of Hingham, I., Part II., 24, Memoir of Ebenezer Gay, by Solomon Lincoln.

[6] Sermons, 1755, 83.

[7] Ibid., 103.

[8] Ibid., 119.

[9] Ibid., 125.

[10] Ibid., 245.

[11] Sermons, 1755, 50.

[12] Ibid., 82.

[13] Sermons, 1755, 83.

[14] Ibid., 65.

[15] Ibid., 62.

[16] Ibid., 63.

[17] Ibid, 268, 269.

[18] Sermons, 1755, 275, 276.

[19] A. Bradford, Memoir of the Life and Writings of Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, D.D., 36.

[20] Ibid., 464.

[21] Letter from his daughter, quoted by Bartol, The West Church and its Ministers, 129.

[22] Sermons, 293

[23] C.A. Bartol, The West Church and its Ministers.

[24] Reply to Dr. Chandler, quoted in Sprague’s Annals of the Unitarian Pulpit, 9.

[25] Remarks upon a Sermon of the Bishop of Landaff, quoted by Sprague.

[26] Chauncy’s many published sermons and volumes are carefully enumerated by Paul Leicester Ford in his Bibliotheca Chaunciana, a List of the Writings of Charles Chauncy. He gives the titles of sixty-one books and pamphlets published by Chauncy, and of eighty-eight about him or in reply to him.

[27] Sprague’s Annals, 49; W.J. Potter, History of the First Congregational Society, New Bedford.

[28] Sprague’s Annals. 42.

[29] George Batchelor, Social Equilibrium, 263, 264.

[30] Ibid., 265.

[31] Sprague’s Annals, 131.

[32] Father of the essayist of the same name.

[33] Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804, was one of the ablest of English Unitarians. Educated in non-conformist schools, in 1755 he became a Presbyterian minister. In 1761 he became a tutor in a non-conformist academy, and in 1767 he was settled over a congregation in Leeds. He was the librarian of Lord Shelburne from 1774 until he was settled in Birmingham as minister, in 1780. In 1791 a mob destroyed his house, his manuscripts, and his scientific apparatus, because of his liberal political views. After three years as a preacher in Hackney, he removed to the United States in 1794, and settled at Northumberland in Pennsylvania, where the remainder of his life was spent. He published one hundred and thirty distinct works, of which those best remembered are his Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, A History of the Corruptions of Christianity, and A General History of the Christian Church to the Fall of the Western Empire. He was the discoverer of oxygen, and holds a high place in the history of science. He was a materialist, but believed in immortality; and he believed that Christ was a man in his nature.

[34] C.S. Osgood and H.M. Batchelder, Historical Sketch of Salem, 86. “He took strong Arminian grounds; and under his lead the church became practically Unitarian in 1785, and was one of the first churches in America to adopt that faith.”

[35] George Batchelor, Social Equilibrium, 270.

[36] Ibid., 267.

[37] Ibid., 283.

[38] E. Smalley, The Worcester Pulpit, 226, 232.

[39] See the Unitarian Advocate and Religious Miscellany, January, 1831, new series, III. 27, for Aaron Bancroft’s recollections of this period. In the same volume was published Ezra Ripley’s reminiscences, contained in the March, April, and May numbers. They are both of much importance for the history of this period. Also the third volume of first series, June, 1829, gives an important letter from Francis Parkman concerning Unitarianism in Boston in 1812.

[40] Life of Ashbel Green, President of Princeton College, 236.

[41] Life of Archibald Alexander, 252.

[42] Convention Sermon, 12, 13.

[43] Sprague, Annals of Unitarian Pulpit, 131.

[44] Ibid., 159.

[45] This is the statement of his daughter.

[46] Theophilus Lindsey, 1723-1808, was a curate in London, then the tutor of the Duke of Northumberland, and afterward a rector in Yorkshire and Dorsetshire. In 1763 he was settled at Catterick, in Yorkshire, where his study of the Bible led him to doubt the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1771 he joined with others in a petition to Parliament asking that clergymen might not be required to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles. When it was rejected a second time he resigned, went to London, and opened in a room in Essex Street, April 1774, the first permanent Unitarian meeting in England. A chapel was built for him in 1778, and he preached there until 1793. He published, in 1783, An Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship from the Reformation to our own Times, two volumes of sermons, and other works. In 1774 he published a revised Prayer Book according to the plan suggested by Dr. Samuel Clarke, which was used in the Essex Street Chapel.

[47] Four Generations of a Literary Family: The Hazlitts in England, Ireland, and America, 23, 26, 30, 40, 43, 50; Lamb and Hazlitt: Further Letters and Records, 11-15.

[48] Monthly Repository, III., 305. Mr. Hazlitt “arrived at Boston May 15, 1784; and, having a letter to Mr. Eliot, who received him with great kindness, he was introduced on that very day to the Boston Association of Ministers. The venerable Chauncy, at whose house it happened to be held, entered into a familiar conversation with him, and showed him every possible respect as he learned that he had been acquainted with Dr. Price. Without knowing at the time anything of the occasion which led to it, ordination happened to be the general subject of discussion. After the different gentlemen had severally delivered their opinions, the stranger was requested to declare his sentiments, who unhesitatingly replied that the people or the congregation who chose any man to be their minister were his proper ordainers. Mr. Freeman, upon hearing this, jumped from his seat in a kind of transport, saying, ‘I wish you could prove that, Sir,’ The gentleman answered that ‘few things could admit of an easier proof.’ And from that moment a thorough intimacy commenced between him and Mr. Freeman. Soon after, the Boston prints being under no imprimatur, he published several letters in supporting the cause of Mr. Freeman. At the solicitation of Mr. Freeman he also published a Scriptural Confutation of the Thirty-nine Articles. Notice being circulated that this publication would appear on a particular day, the printer, apprised of this circumstance, threw off a hundred papers beyond his usual number, and had not one paper remaining upon his hands at noon. This publication in its consequences converted Mr. Freeman’s congregation into a Unitarian church, which, as Mr. Freeman acknowledged, could never have been done without the labors of this gentleman.”

[49] American Unitarianism, from Belsham’s Life of Lindsey, 12, note.

[50] American Unitarianism, 16.

[51] American Unitarianism, note.

[52] Ibid., 20.

[53] American Unitarianism, 17.

[54] “Oxnard was a merchant, born in Boston in 1740, but settled in Portland, where he married the daughter of General Preble, in 1787. He was a loyalist, and fled from the country at the outbreak of the war. He returned to Portland in 1787. A few years later, 1792, the Episcopal church being destitute of a minister, he was engaged as lay reader, with the intention of taking orders. His Unitarianism put a sudden end to his Episcopacy, but not to his preaching. He gathered a small congregation in the school-house, and preached sometimes sermons of his own, but more often of other men. He died in 1799.” John C. Perkins, How the First Parish became Unitarian,–historical sermon preached in Portland.

[55] American Unitarianism, 18.

[56] Ibid., 17, 20.

[57] American Unitarianism, 24.

[58] American Unitarianism, 22.

[59] Church Records, in MS., II. 7.

[60] Rev. Thomas Robbins, Diary for October 13, 1799, I. 97, heard Mr. Kendall, and said: “He appears to be an Arminian in full. I fear be will lead many souls astray.” See John Cuckson, A Brief History of the First Church in Plymouth, eighth chapter.

[61] Chauncy against Chandler, 152.

[62] These particulars are taken from the Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held in the year 1788, and which finally ratified the Constitution of the United States, Boston, 1856.

2,019 thoughts on “UNITARIANISM -IV THE SILENT ADVANCE OF LIBERALISM.”


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