THE GROWTH OF DEMOCRACY IN THE CHURCHES.
From the moment when the Puritan control of the church and state in New England was so far weakened as to permit of free intellectual and religious activity the democratic spirit began to manifest itself. The old régime had so fixed itself upon the people that the progress was slow, but none the less it was steady and sure. So far as the new spirit influenced doctrines, it was called Arminianism, the technical theological name for democracy in religion at this time.
Arminianism is a dead issue at the present day, for the Calvinists have accepted all that it taught when the name first came into vogue. Every kind of reaction from Calvinism in the New England of the first half of the eighteenth century took this designation, however; and to the Calvinists it was a word of disapproval and contempt. Toleration, free inquiry, the use of reason, democratic methods in church and state, were all named by this condemning word. Vices, social depravities, love of freedom and the world, assertion of personal independence, had the same designation. It is now difficult to understand how bitter was the feeling thus produced, how keen the hurt that was given the men who tried to defend themselves and their beliefs from this odium.
What the word “Arminian” legitimately meant, then, is what we now mean by liberalism. Primarily theological and doctrinal, it meant much more than the rejection of the doctrine of decrees and the autocratic sovereignty of God or the acceptance of the freedom of the will and the spiritual capacity of man. First of all, it was faith in man; and then it was the assertion of human liberty and equality. In a theological sense it did not have so wide a purport, but in a practical and popular sense it grew into these meanings.
In order fully to comprehend what Arminianism was in the eighteenth century, the student must remember that it was the theological expression of the democratic spirit, as Calvinism was of the autocratic. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is but the intellectual reflection of kingship and the belief that the king can do no evil. The doctrine of decrees, as taught by the Calvinist, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man’s moral capacity.
The Growth of Arminianism.
As early as 1730 Arminianism had come to have an influence sufficient to secure its condemnation and to awaken the fears of the stricter Calvinists. Jonathan Edwards said of the year 1734 that “about this time began the great noise that was in this part of the country about Arminianism.” At Northampton the leader of the opposition to Jonathan Edwards was an open Arminian, a grandson of Solomon Stoddard, and a cousin of Edwards. He was a young man of talent and education, and well read in theology. In a letter written in 1750, Edwards said, “There seems to be the utmost danger that the younger generation will be carried away with Arminianism as with a flood.” In another letter of the same year he said that “Arminianism and Pelagianism have made a strange progress within a few years.” In his farewell sermon, Edwards spoke of the prevalence of Arminianism when he settled in Northampton, and of its rapid increase in the succeeding years. He said that Arminian views were creeping into almost all parts of the land, and that they were making a progress unknown before. In a letter of 1752 Edwards said that the principles of John Taylor, of Norwich, one of the early English Unitarians, were gaining many converts in the colonies. Taylor’s works were made use of by Solomon Williams in his reply to Edwards on the qualifications necessary to communion.
It was owing to the rapid growth of Arminianism that Edwards undertook his work on free will. In the preface to that work he said that “the term Calvinistic is, in these days, among most, a term of greater reproach than the term Arminian.” That Edwards exaggerated the extent of this defection from Calvinism is probable, and yet it is very plain that it was this more liberal attitude of the Northampton church which caused his dismissal. What Stoddard had taught and practised was as yet powerful there, and Edwards’s opposition to his grandfather’s teachings undoubtedly led to the failure of his local work.
The council which dismissed Edwards from Northampton decided against him by a majority of one; and that one vote may have been cast by Robert Breck, of Springfield. If this were the case, there was something of poetic justice in it; for only a few years earlier Edwards had used his influence against the settlement of Breck because the latter was an Arminian. In 1734 a fierce church quarrel took place in Springfield, that involved many of the ministers of Massachusetts and Connecticut, invoked the aid of the county court, and was finally settled by the legislature of Massachusetts, when Mr. Breck was ordained. He was charged with denying the authenticity of parts of the Bible, with discarding the necessity of Christ’s satisfaction to divine justice for sin, with maintaining that the heathen who live up to the light of nature would be saved, and that the contrary doctrine was harsh. Breck refused to admit that he held these opinions, as thus stated; but he was regarded by many as an Arminian and a heretic. It was said of him that he would read any book, orthodox or otherwise, that would clear up a subject. That he departed to any considerable extent from the generally accepted faith of the time there is no evidence, but he was probably what was often called “a moderate Calvinist.” He did not favor the methods of Whitefield, and he thoroughly distrusted the revival introduced by him. Soon after Breck’s settlement the Springfield church followed the Brattle Street Church of Boston in discarding the relation of religious experiences as preliminary to admission to the church. It voted that it “did not look upon the making a relation to be a necessary term of communion.” At the very time that Edwards was preaching of the awful fate of sinners in the hands of an angry God, Breck was teaching that God is good and loving, and that his salvation is freely open to all who may wish for it. It has been truly said of these two men that “one had the heart and the other the intellect of theology.” With all his logic and power of thought and marvellous spiritual insight, Edwards failed at Northampton because of conditions beyond the control of his strenuous will. Robert Breck gained year by year in his personal influence in Springfield, his cheerful and progressive teaching made a deep impression on the community, and before he died he saw a great change for the better in the people for whom he diligently labored. Perhaps we could not have a plainer indication of the change that was going on than is found in the experiences of these two men.
When Whitefield visited Harvard College in 1740, he was received in a most friendly manner; yet he afterwards criticised the teaching there on the ground that it was not sufficiently devout and earnest, and that the pupils were not examined as to their religious experiences. These charges were denied by the president and tutors, and he was not again welcomed to the college.
That there was a substantial basis for some of Whitefield’s criticisms of Harvard there can be no doubt. In 1737, when Edward Holyoke was proposed as a candidate for the presidency, he met with a strong opposition from the strict Calvinists. After the opposition had spent itself, he was elected unanimously; and this act was received with marked approval by the General Court, from which body his maintenance was obtained. President Quincy says of President Holyoke that his religious principles coincided with the mildness and catholicity which characterized the government of the college. This evidently refers to the growing liberality of the college, and its unwillingness to lend its aid to extreme theological opinions. That moderateness of temper and that attitude of toleration which characterized the leading men in England had shown themselves at Cambridge, and with a strength that could not be overcome. “In Boston and its vicinity and along the seaboard of Massachusetts, clergymen of great talent and religious zeal,” says President Quincy, “openly avowed doctrines which were variously denounced by the Calvinistic party as Arminianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism, and Deism. The most eminent of these clergymen were alumni of Harvard, active friends and advocates of the institution, and in habits of intimacy and professional intercourse with its government. Their religious views, indeed, received no public countenance from the college; but circumstances gave color for reports, which were assiduously circulated throughout New England, that the influences of the institution were not unfavorable to the extension of such doctrines.”
At the commencement of 1737 candidates for degrees proposed to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity was not contained in the Old Testament, that creation did not exist from eternity, and that religion is not mysterious in its nature. Much alarm was caused to the conservative party by the negative form given these questions, which, it was said, “had the plain face of Arianism.” This criticism the faculty tried to quiet, but their sympathies were evidently on the side of the graduates. In 1738, when a professor of mathematics was chosen, it was proposed to examine him as to “his principles of religion”; but, after a long debate, this proposition was rejected. After these and other efforts to control the religious position of the college the strict Calvinists for the time withdrew their efforts and concentrated them upon Yale College, in which institution the faculty were now required for the first time to accept the Assembly’s Catechism and Confession of Faith.
When the legislature of Connecticut, during the great awakening, passed a law prohibiting ministers from preaching as itinerants, several of the members of the Senior Class subscribed the money necessary for the publication of an edition of Locke’s essay On Toleration. When this was known to the faculty, they forbade the publication; and all the students apologized but one, who learned a few days before commencement that his name was to be dropped from the roll of graduates. He went to the faculty with the statement that he was of age, that he possessed ample means, and that he would carry his case to a hearing before the crown in England. In a few days he was quietly informed that he would be permitted to graduate. This is but a straw, and yet it shows clearly enough the direction of the current at this time. A demand for toleration was made because it was felt that there was a need for it.
Books Read by Liberal Men.
The names of no less than thirty-three ministers have been given who, during the period from 1730 to 1750, did not teach the Calvinistic doctrines in their fulness, and who had adopted more or less distinctly some form of Arminianism or Arianism. These men were among the best known, most successful, and most scholarly men in Eastern Massachusetts, though they were not wholly confined to that neighborhood. We find here and there some hint of the books these men read; and in that way we not only ascertain the cause of their departure from Calvinism, but we also obtain some clew to the nature of their opinions. Among the charges brought by Whitefield against Harvard in 1740 was that “Tillotson and Clarke are read instead of Shepard and Stoddard, and such like evangelical writers.” Dr. Wigglesworth, the divinity professor at Harvard, said that Tillotson had not been taken out of the college library in nine years, and Clarke not in two; and he gave a long list of evangelical writers who were frequently read. In spite of this disclaimer, however, it is evident that the methods of the rationalistic writers were coming into vogue at Harvard, and that even Dr. Wigglesworth did not teach theology in the manner of the author of the Day of Doom.
Writing in 1759, Dr. Joseph Bellamy, one of the chief followers and expositors of the teachings of Jonathan Edwards, said that the teachings of the liberal men in England had crossed the Atlantic; “and too many in our churches, and even among our ministers, have fallen in with them. Books containing them have been imported; and the demand for them has been so great as to encourage new impressions of some of them. Others have been written on the same principles in this country, and even the doctrine of the Trinity has been publicly treated in such a manner as all who believe that doctrine must judge not only heretical, but highly blasphemous.”
It is said of Charles Chauncy, of the First Church in Boston, that his favorite authors were Tillotson and Baxter. Far more suggestive is the account we have of the books read by Jonathan Mayhew of the West Church in Boston, the first open antagonist of Calvinism in New England. Soon after 1740 he was reading the works of the great Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century, including Milton, Chillingworth, and Tillotson; and the eighteenth-century works of Locke, Samuel Clarke, Taylor, Wollaston, and Whiston. He also probably read Cudworth, Butler, Hutcheson, Leland, and other authors of a like character, some of them deists. Not one of these writers was a Calvinist for they found the basis of religion either in idealism or in rationalism.
The biographer of Mayhew says it “is evident from some of his discourses that he was a great admirer of Samuel Clarke, whose voluminous works were in his day much read by the liberal clergy.” Clarke’s Boyle lectures, delivered in 1704-5, showed that natural and revealed religion were essentially one, that moral action in man is free, and that Christianity is the religion of reason and nature. At a later period he defended the two propositions, that “no article of Christian faith delivered in the holy Scriptures is disagreeable to right reason,” and that “without liberty of human actions there can be no real religion or morality.” Even if one such man as Jonathan Mayhew read Clarke’s work in the Harvard Library, it justified the alarm felt by Whitefield lest the students should be led away from their Calvinist faith.
The Great Awakening.
It was “the great awakening” that showed how marked had been the growth of liberal opinions throughout New England in the forty years preceding. Silently, a great change had gone on, with little open expression of dissent from Calvinism, and without a knowledge on the part of most of the liberal men that they had in any way departed from the faith of the fathers. It was only with the coming of Whitefield and the revival that this change came to have recognition, and that even the slightest separation into parties took place.
The revival was an attempt to reintroduce the stricter Calvinism of the earlier time, with its doctrines of justification by faith alone, supernatural regeneration, and predestination made known to the believer by the Holy Ghost. The liberal party objected to the revival because it was opposed to the good old customs of the Congregational churches of New England. The itinerant methods of the revivalists, the shriekings, faintings, and appeals to fear and terror, were condemned as not in harmony with the established methods of the churches. In his book against the revivalists, Dr. Chauncy said that “now is the time when we are particularly called to stand for the good old way, and bear testimony against everything that may tend to cast a blemish on true primitive Christianity.”
When the great awakening came to an end, the liberal party was far stronger than before, partly because the members of it had come to know each other and to feel their own power, partly because men had been led to declare themselves who had never before perceived their own position, and partly because the agitation had set men to thinking, and to making such scrutiny of their beliefs as they had never made before. The testimonies of Harvard College and various associations of ministers against the methods of the revivalists were signed by sixty-three men, while those in favor of the revival were signed by one hundred and ten. These numbers represent the comparative strength of the two parties. It must be said, however, that the leading men in nearly every part of New England were among those opposing the revival methods, while in Eastern Massachusetts at least two-thirds of the ministers were of the liberal party.
The strong feeling caused by the revival soon subsided, and no division between the Calvinist and the Arminian parties took place. The progressive tendencies went quietly on, step by step the old beliefs were discarded; but it was by individuals, and not in any form as a sectarian movement. The relations of the church to the state at this time would have made such a result impossible.
Cardinal Beliefs of the Liberals.
Looking over the whole field of the theological advance from 1725 to 1760, we find that three conclusions had been arrived at by the men of the liberal movement. The first of these was that what they stood for as a body was a recovery and restoration of primitive Christianity in its simplicity and power. It was said of Dr. Mayhew by his biographer that he “was a great advocate of primitive Christianity, and zealously contended for the faith once delivered to the saints.”
The second opinion, to which they gave frequent utterance, was that the Bible is a divine revelation, the true source of all religious teaching, and the one sufficient creed for all men. In his sermon against the enthusiasm of the revivalists, Chauncy said that a true test of all religious excitement, and of every kind of new teachings, was to be found in their “regard to the Bible, and its acknowledgment that the things therein contained are the commandments of God.” “Keep close to the Scripture,” was his admonition to his congregation, “and admit of nothing for an impression of the spirit but what agrees with that unerring rule. Fix it in your minds as a truth you will invariably abide by, that the Bible is the grand test by which everything in religion is to be tried.”
The third position of the men of the liberal movement was that Christ is the only means of salvation, and they yielded to him unquestioning loyalty and faith. Turning away from the creeds of men, as they did in so far as they could see their way, they concentrated their convictions upon Christ, and found in him the spiritual and vital centre of all faith that lives with true power to help men. Mayhew held that God could not have forgiven men their sins without the atonement of Christ, for his life and his gospel are the means of the great reconciliation by which man and God are brought into harmony with each other.
Publications defining the Liberal Beliefs.
In three publications may be seen what the Arminians had to teach that was opposed to Calvinism. In 1744 appeared in Boston a book of two hundred and eight pages by Rev. Experience Mayhew, one of a devoted family of missionaries to the Indians of Martha’s Vineyard. He called his book “Grace Defended, in a Modest Plea for an important Truth: namely, that the offer of Salvation made to sinners comprises in it an offer of the Grace given in Regeneration.” Mr. Mayhew claimed that he was a Calvinist, yet he rejected the teaching that every act of the unregenerate person is equal in the sight of God to the worst sin, and claimed that even the sinner can live so well and so justly as to favor his being accepted of God. Mayhew maintained that Christ died for all men, not for the elect only. He claimed that “God cannot be truly said to offer salvation to sinners without offering to them whatsoever is necessary on his part, in order to their salvation.” Mayhew was usually credited with being an Arminian; for he positively rejected the doctrine of election, and he defended the principle of human freedom in the most affirmative manner.
In 1749 Lemuel Briant (or Bryant), the minister in that part of Braintree which became the town of Quincy, published a sermon which he entitled The Absurdity and Blasphemy of Depreciating Moral Virtue. It condemned reliance on Christ’s merits without effort to live his life, and showed that it is the duty of the Christian to live righteously. Briant said that to hold any other view was hurtful and blasphemous. He claimed that “the great rule the Scriptures lay down for men to go by in passing judgment on their spiritual state is the sincere, upright, steady, and universal practice of virtue.” “To preach up chiefly what Christ himself laid the stress upon (and whether this was not moral virtue let every one judge from his discourses) must certainly, in the opinion of all sober men, be called truly and properly, and in the best sense, preaching of Christ.”
A pamphlet of thirty pages appeared in 1757, written by Samuel Webster, the minister of Salisbury, with the title “A Winter Evening’s Conversation upon the doctrine of Original Sin, wherein the notion of our having sinned in Adam, and being on that account only liable to eternal Damnation, is proved to be Unscriptural.” It is in the form of a dialogue between a minister and three of his parishioners, and gives, as few other writings of the eighteenth century do, a clear and explicit statement of the author’s opinions in a readable and interesting form. That all have sinned in Adam the minister pronounces “a very shocking doctrine.” “What! make them first to open their eyes in torment, and all this for a sin which certainly they had no hand in,–a sin which, if it comes upon them at all, certainly is without any fault or blame on their parts, for they had no hand in receiving it!” That Adam is our federal head, and that we sinned because he sinned, he calls “a mere castle in the air.” “Sin and guilt are personal things as much as knowledge. I can as easily conceive of one man’s knowledge being imputed to another as of his sins being so. No imputation in either case can make the thing to be mine which is not mine any more than one person may be another person.” He declares that this doctrine of imputation causes infidelity. “It naturally leads men into every dishonorable thought of God which gives a great and general blow to religion.” It impeaches the holiness of God, “for it supposes him to make millions sinners by his decree of imputation, who would otherwise have been innocent.” That it was his decree alone “that made all Adam’s posterity sinners is the very essence of this doctrine.” “And so Christians are guilty of holding what even heathen would blush at.” That God “should pronounce a sentence by which myriads of infants, as blameless as helpless, were consigned over to blackness of darkness to be tormented with fire and brimstone forever, is not consistent with infinite goodness.” “How dreadfully is God dishonored by such monstrous representations as these!” Such a being cannot be loved by us, for every heart rebels against it. “All descriptions of the Divine Being which represent him in an unamiable light do the greatest hurt to religion that can be, as they strike at love, which is the fulfilling of the law. I am persuaded that many of those who think they believe this doctrine do not really believe it, or else they do not consider how it represents their heavenly Father.” The pamphlet concludes with the acceptance of this broader teaching by the parishioners, but it was the cause of controversy in pulpits and by means of pamphlets. Bellamy denied the teachings of Webster, and Chauncy defended them. So bold a pamphlet as this showed how men had come to reason without compromise about the old doctrines, and gave evidence that the growing spirit of humanity would no longer accept what was harsh and cruel.
Phases of Religious Progress.
The New England churches were thus not standing still as regards doctrines, moral conduct, the methods of worship, or the relations they held to the state; but step by step they were moving away from the methods and the ideas of the fathers. The “lining out” of hymns was slowly abandoned, and singing by note took its place. The agitation that followed this attempt at reform was great and wide-spread. The introduction of an organized and trained choir was also in the nature of a genuine reform. When the liberal Thomas Brattle offered an organ to the new church in Brattle Street, it was voted “that they do not think it proper to use the same in the public worship of God.” The instrument was, however, accepted by King’s Chapel; and an organist was secured from London. It was not until 1770 that the church in Providence procured an organ, the first used in a Congregational church in New England.
When Dr. Jonathan Mayhew died, in 1766, Dr. Chauncy prayed at his funeral; and this was said to have been the first prayer ever made at a funeral in Boston, so strong was the Puritan dislike of the customs of the Catholic Church. In this way, as well as in others, the new liberalism broke down the old customs, and introduced those with which we are familiar. Perhaps the most marked tendency of this kind was the introduction of the reading of the Bible into the services of the churches as a part of the order of worship. This innovation was distinctly due to the liberal men and the high esteem in which they held the Scriptures as a means of giving sobriety and reasonableness to their religion. The First Church in Boston, in May, 1730, voted that the reading of the Scriptures, instead of the old Puritan way of expounding them, be thereafter discretionary with the ministers of that church, but “that the mind of the church is that larger portions should be publicly read than has been used.” As we have seen, the Brattle Street Church had already led in this reform, having adopted this practice in 1699. This custom of reading the Bible as a part of the service of worship came slowly into general acceptance, for there was a strong feeling against it. When a Bible was presented to the parish in Mendon, in 1767, a serious commotion resulted because of the strong feeling against the Church of England then prevalent; and the donor gave it to the minister until such time as the church might wish to use it. It was as late as 1785 that a copy of the Bible was given to the First Church in Dedham, with the request that the reading of it should be made a part of the exercises of the Lord’s day; and the parish instructed the minister to read such portions of it as he thought “most desirable” and of “such length as the several seasons of the year and other circumstances” might render proper. In the West Church of Medway it was not until 1806 that this practice was established, and two of the Salem churches began it the same year. The reading of the Bible at ordination services did not become customary until an even later date.
Such are some of the practical innovations which accompanied the doctrinal development that was taking place. Liberality in one direction brought toleration and progress in others. Some of these changes were due to the fact that the prejudices against the Catholic Church and the Church of England had, in a measure, disappeared, because there was nothing to keep them alive. Others were due to the intellectual influences that came into the colonies from England. Still others resulted from the shifting relations of church and state, and were the effect of attempts to adjust those relations more satisfactorily.
 Narrative of Surprising Conversions, edition of 1808, 13.
 Denial of original sin, from Pelagius, an ascetic preacher of the fifth century.
 Dwight, Life of Edwards, 307, 336, 410, 413.
 Ibid., 649.
 Ibid., 495.
 Green, History of Springfield.
 Ibid., 255.
 E.H. Byington, The Puritan in England and New England, devotes a chapter to the controversy over Breck’s settlement; but he does not treat of the theological problems involved.
 Whitefield’s Seventh Journal, 28.
 History of Harvard University, 52.
 History of Harvard University, 23, 26.
 Whitefield’s Journal, seventh part, 28.
 Historical Magazine, new series, IX. 227, April, 1871.
 W.B. Sprague, Annals of the Unitarian Pulpit, II.
 Levi L. Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, 99. “Samuel Clarke and others took the ground that God is unipersonal, and hence that the Son is a distinct personal being, distinguishing God the Father as the absolute Deity from the Son whom they regarded as God in a relative or secondary sense, being derived from the Father, and having his beginning from Him.”
 Seasonable Thoughts, 337.
 Alden Bradford, in his Memoir of the Life and Writings of Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, D.D., gives a list of “the clergymen who openly opposed or did not teach and advocate the Calvinistic doctrines” at the time of Mayhew’s ordination, in 1747. These were: Dr. Appleton, Cambridge; Dr. Gay, Hingham; Dr. Chauncy, Boston; William Rand, Kingston; Nathaniel Eelles, Scituate; Edward Barnard, Haverhill; Samuel Cooke, West Cambridge (now Arlington); Jeremiah Fogg, Kensington, N.H.; Dr. A. Eliot, Boston; Dr. Samuel Webster, Salisbury; Lemuel Briant, Braintree; Dr. Stevens, Kittery, Me.; Dr. Tucker, Newbury; Timothy Harrington, Lancaster; Dr. Gad Hitchcock, Pembroke; Josiah Smith, Pembroke; William Smith, Weymouth; Dr. Daniel Shute, Hingham; Dr. Samuel Cooper, Boston; Dr. Mayhew, Boston; Abraham Williams, Sandwich; Anthony Wibird, Braintree (now Quincy); Dr. Cushing, Waltham; Professor Wigglesworth, Harvard College; Dr. Symmes, Andover; Dr. John Willard, Connecticut; Amos Adams, Roxbury; Dr. Barnes, Scituate; Charles Turner, Duxbury; Dr. Dana Wallingford, Conn.; Ebenezer Thayer, Hampton, N.H.; Dr. Fiske, Brookfield; Dr. Samuel West, Dartmouth (now New Bedford); Dr. Hemenway, Wells. Among those who took part in the ordination of Jonathan Mayhew, and therefore presumably of the same theological opinions, were Hancock, Lexington; Cotton, Newton; Cooke, Sudbury; Prescott, Danvers (now Salem). To these may be added, says Bradford, though of a somewhat later date: Dr. Coffin, Buxton; Drs. Howard, West, Lathrop, and Belknap, Boston; Dr. Henry Cummings, Billerica; Dr. Deane, Portland; Thomas Cary, Newburyport; Dr. Fobes, Raynham; Timothy Hilliard, Cambridge; Thomas Haven, Reading; Dr. Willard, Beverly. Dr. Ezra Ripley added the names of Hedge, of Warwick, and Foster, of Stafford. This makes fifty-two in all, but probably as many more could be added by careful search.
 Grace Defended, 43.
 Ibid., 60.
 Alice Morse Earle, Customs and Fashions in Old New England, 364, 367. See H.M. Dexter, Congregationalism as seen in its Literature, 458.
 A.B. Ellis, History of the First Church in Boston, 199.
 New England Magazine, February, 1899. A.H. Coolidge on Scripture Reading in the Worship of the New England Churches.