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SEVEN years of war left the American people exhausted, impoverished, disorganized, conscious of having come into possession of a national existence, and stirred with anxious searchings of heart over the question what new institutions should succeed to those overthrown in the struggle for independence.
Like questions pervaded the commonwealth of American Christians through all its divisions. The interconfessional divisions of the body ecclesiastic were about to prove themselves a more effectual bar to union than the political and territorial divisions of the body politic. The religious divisions were nearly equal in number to the political. Naming them in the order in which they had settled themselves on the soil of the new nation, they were as follows: 1. The Protestant Episcopalians; 2. The Reformed Dutch; 3. The Congregationalists; 4. The Roman Catholics; 5. The Friends; 6. The Baptists; 7. The Presbyterians; 8. The Methodists; to which must be added three sects which up to this time had almost exclusively to do with the German language and the German immigrant population, to wit, 9. The German Reformed; 1o. The Lutherans; 11. The Moravians. Some of these, as the Congregationalists and the Baptists, were of so simple and 209elastic a polity, so self-adaptive to whatever new environment, as to require no effort to adjust themselves. Others, as the Dutch and the Presbyterians, had already organized themselves as independent of foreign spiritual jurisdiction. Others still, as the German Reformed, the Moravians, and the Quakers, were content to remain for years to come in a relation of subordination to foreign centers of organization. But there were three communions, of great prospective importance, which found it necessary to address themselves to the task of reorganization to suit the changed political conditions. These were the Episcopalians, the Catholics, and the Methodists.
In one respect all the various orders of churches were alike. They had all suffered from the waste and damage of war. Pastors and missionaries had been driven from their cures, congregations had been scattered, houses of worship had been desecrated or destroyed. The Episcopalian and Methodist ministers were generally Tories, and their churches, and in some instances their persons, were not spared by the patriots. The Friends and the Moravians, principled against taking active part in warfare, were exposed to aggressions from both sides. All other sects were safely presumed to be in earnest sympathy with the cause of independence, which many of their pastors actively served as chaplains or as combatants, or in other ways; wherever the British troops held the ground, their churches were the object of spite. Nor were these the chief losses by the war. More grievous still were the death of the strong men and the young men of the churches, the demoralization of camp life, and, as the war advanced, the infection of the current fashions of unbelief from the officers both of the French and of the British armies. The prevalent diathesis of the American church in all its sects was one of spiritual torpor, from which, however, it soon 210began to be aroused as the grave exigencies of the situation disclosed themselves.
Perhaps no one of the Christian organizations of America came out of the war in a more forlorn condition than the Episcopalians. This condition was thus described by Bishop White, in an official charge to his clergy at Philadelphia in 1832:
“The congregations of our communion throughout the United States were approaching annihilation. Although within this city three Episcopal clergymen were resident and officiating, the churches over the rest of the State had become deprived of their clergy during the war, either by death or by departure for England. In the Eastern States, with two or three exceptions, there was a cessation of the exercises of the pulpit, owing to the necessary disuse of the prayers for the former civil rulers. In Maryland and Virginia, where the church had enjoyed civil establishments, on the ceasing of these, the incumbents of the parishes, almost without exception, ceased to officiate. Farther south the condition of the church was not better, to say the least.”134134 Quoted in Tiffany, p. 289, note. The extreme depression of the Protestant Episcopal and (as will soon appear) of the Roman Catholic Church, at this point of time, emphasizes all the more the great advances made by both these communions from this time forward.
This extreme feebleness of Episcopalianism in the several States conspired with the tendencies of the time in civil affairs to induce upon the new organization a character not at all conformed to the ideal of episcopal government. Instead of establishing as the unit of organization the bishop in every principal town, governing his diocese at the head of his clergy with some measure of authority, it was almost a necessity of the time to constitute dioceses as big as kingdoms, and, then to take security against excess 211of power in the diocesan by overslaughing his authority through exorbitant powers conferred upon a periodical mixed synod, legislating for a whole continent, even in matters confessedly variable and unessential. In the later evolution of the system, this superior limitation of the bishop’s powers is supplemented from below by magnifying the authority of representative bodies, diocesan and parochial, until the work of the bishop is reduced as nearly as possible to the merely “ministerial” performance of certain assigned functions according to prescribed directions. Concerning this frame of government it is to be remarked: 1. That it was quite consciously and confessedly devised for the government of a sect, with the full and fraternal understanding that other “religious denominations of Christians” (to use the favorite American euphemism) “were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective churches” to suit themselves.135135 Preface to the American “Book of Common Prayer,” 1789. 2. That, judged according to its professed purpose, it has proved itself a practically good and effective government. 3. That it is in no proper sense of the word an episcopal government, but rather a classical and synodical government, according to the common type of the American church constitutions of the period.136136 See the critical observations of Dr. McConnell, “History of the American Episcopal Church,” pp. 264-276. The polity of this church seems to have suffered for want of a States’ Rights and Strict Construction party. The centrifugal force has been overbalanced by the centripetal.
The objections which only a few years before had withstood the importation into the colonies of lord bishops, with the English common and canon law at their backs, vanished entirely before the proposal for the harmless functionaries provided for in the new constitution. John Adams himself, a leader of the former opposition, now, as American minister in London, did his best to secure for 212Bishops-elect White and Provoost the coveted consecration from English bishops. The only hindrance now to this long-desired boon was in the supercilious dilatoriness of the English prelates and of the civil authorities to whom they were subordinate. They were evidently in a sulky temper over the overwhelming defeat of the British arms. If it had been in their power to blockade effectively the channels of sacramental grace, there is no sign that they would have consented to the American petition. Happily there were other courses open. 1. There was the recourse to presbyterial ordination, an expedient sanctioned, when necessary, by the authority of “the judicious Hooker,” and actually recommended, if the case should require, by the Rev. William White, soon to be consecrated as one of the first American bishops. 2. Already for more than a half-century the Moravian episcopate had been present and most apostolically active in America. 3. The Lutheran Episcopal churches of Denmark and Sweden were fully competent and known to be not unwilling to confer the episcopal succession on the American candidates. 4. There were the Scotch nonjuring bishops, outlawed for political reasons from communion with the English church, who were tending their “persecuted remnant” of a flock in Scotland. Theirs was a not less valid succession than those of their better-provided English brethren, and fully as honorable a history. It was due to the separate initiative of the Episcopalian ministers of Connecticut, and to the persistence of their bishop-elect, Samuel Seabury, that the deadlock imposed by the Englishmen was broken. Inheriting the Puritan spirit, which sought a jus divinum in all church questions, they were men of deeper convictions and “higher” principles than their more southern brethren. In advance of the plans for national organization, without conferring with flesh and blood, they had met and acted, 213and their candidate for consecration was in London urging his claims, before the ministers in the Middle States had any knowledge of what was doing. After a year of costly and vexatious delay in London, finding no progress made and no hope of any, he proceeded to Aberdeen and was consecrated bishop November 14, 1784. It was more than two years longer before the English bishops succeeded in finding a way to do what their unrecognized Scotch brethren had done with small demur. But they did find it. So long as the Americans seemed dependent on English consecration they could not get it. When at last it was made quite plain that they could and would do without it if necessary, they were more than welcome to it. Dr. White for Pennsylvania, and Dr. Provoost for New York, were consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the chapel of Lambeth Palace, February 4, 1787. Dr. Griffith, elected for Virginia, failed to be present; in all that great diocese there was not interest enough felt in the matter to raise the money to pay his passage to England and back.
The American Episcopal Church was at last in a condition to live. Some formidable dangers of division arising from the double derivation of the episcopate were happily averted by the tact and statesmanship of Bishop White, and liturgical changes incidental to the reconstitution of the church were made, on the whole with cautious judgment and good taste, and successfully introduced. But for many years the church lived only a languishing life. Bishop Provoost of New York, after fourteen years of service, demitted his functions in 1801, discouraged about the continuance of the church. He “thought it would die out with the old colonial families.”137137 Tiffany, pp. 385-399. The large prosperity of this church dates only from the second decade of 214this century. It is the more notable for the brief time in which so much has been accomplished.
The difficulties in the way of the organization of the Catholic Church for the United States were not less serious, and were overcome with equal success, but not without a prolonged struggle against opposition from within. It is not easy for us, in view either of the antecedent or of the subsequent history, to realize the extreme feebleness of American Catholicism at the birth of our nation. According to an official “Relation on the State of Religion in the United States,” presented by the prefect apostolic in 1785, the total number of Catholics in the entire Union was 18,200, exclusive of an unascertainable number, destitute of priests, in the Mississippi Valley. The entire number of the clergy was twenty-four, most of them former members of the Society of Jesuits, that had been suppressed in 1773 by the famous bull, Dominus ac Redemptor, of Clement XIV. Sorely against their will, these missionaries, hitherto subject only to the discipline of their own society, were transformed into secular priests, under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of London. After the establishment of independence, with the intense jealousy felt regarding British influence, and by none more deeply and more reasonably felt than by the Catholics, this jurisdiction was impracticable. The providentially fit man for the emergency was found in the Rev. John Carroll, of an old Maryland family distinguished alike for patriotism and for faithfulness to Catholic principles. In June, 1784, he was made prefect apostolic over the Catholic Church in the United States, and the dependence on British jurisdiction was terminated.
When, however, it was proposed that this provisional arrangement should be superseded by the appointment of 215a bishop, objections not unexpected were encountered from among the clergy. Already we have had occasion to note the jealousy of episcopal authority that is felt by the clergy of the regular orders. The lately disbanded Jesuits, with characteristic flexibility of self-adaptation to circumstances, had at once reincorporated themselves under another name, thus to hold the not inconsiderable estates of their order in the State of Maryland. But the plans of these energetic men either to control the bishop or to prevent his appointment were unsuccessful. In December, 1790, Bishop Carroll, having been consecrated in England, arrived and entered upon his see of Baltimore.
Difficulties, through which there were not many precedents to guide him, thickened about the path of the new prelate. It was well both for the church and for the republic that he was a man not only versed in the theology and polity of his church, but imbued with American principles and feelings. The first conflict that vexed the church under his administration, and which for fifty years continued to vex his associates and successors, was a collision between the American sentiment for local and individual liberty and self-government, and the absolutist spiritual government of Rome. The Catholics of New York, including those of the Spanish and French legations, had built a church in Barclay Street, then on the northern outskirt of the city; and they had the very natural and just feeling that they had a right to do what they would with their own and with the building erected at their charges. They proceeded accordingly to put in charge of it priests of their own selection. But they had lost sight of the countervailing principle that if they had a right to do as they would with their building, the bishop, as representing the supreme authority in the church; had a like right to do as he would with his clergy. The building 216was theirs; but it was for the bishop to say what services should be held in it, or whether there should be any services in it at all, in the Roman Catholic communion. It is surprising how often this issue was made, and how repeatedly and obstinately it was fought out in various places, when the final result was so inevitable. The hierarchical power prevailed, of course, but after much irritation between priesthood and people, and “great loss of souls to the church.”138138 Bishop O’Gorman, pp. 269-323, 367, 399. American ideas and methods were destined profoundly and beneficially to affect the Roman Church in the United States, but not by the revolutionary process of establishing “trusteeism,” or the lay control of parishes. The damaging results of such disputes to both parties and to their common interest in the church put the two parties under heavy bonds to deal by each other with mutual consideration. The tendency, as in some parallel cases, is toward an absolute government administered on republican principles, the authoritative command being given with cautious consideration of the disposition of the subject. The rights of the laity are sufficiently secured, first, by their holding the purse, and, secondly, in a community in which the Roman is only one of many churches held in like esteem and making like claims to divine authority, by their holding in reserve the right of withdrawal.
Other and unwonted difficulties for the young church lay in the Babel confusion of races and languages among its disciples, and in the lack of public resources, which could be supplied no otherwise than by free gift. Yet another difficulty was the scant supply of clergy; but events which about this time began to spread desolation among the institutions of Catholic Europe proved to be of inestimable benefit to the ill-provided Catholics of America. Rome might almost have been content to see the 217wasting and destruction in her ancient strongholds, for the opportune reinforcement which it brought, at a critical time, to the renascent church in the New World. More important than the priests of various orders and divers languages, who came all equipped for mission work among immigrants of different nationalities, was the arrival of the Sulpitians of Paris, fleeing from the persecutions of the French Revolution, ready for their special work of training for the parish priesthood. The founding of their seminary in Baltimore in 1791, for the training of a native clergy, was the best security that had yet been given for the permanence of the Catholic revival. The American Catholic Church was a small affair as yet, and for twenty years to come was to continue so; but the framework was preparing of an organization sufficient for the days of great things that were before it.
The most revolutionary change suffered by any religious body in America, in adjusting itself to the changed conditions after the War of Independence, was that suffered by the latest arrived and most rapidly growing of them all. We have seen the order of the Wesleyan preachers coming so tardily across the ocean, and propagated with constantly increasing momentum southward from the border of Maryland. Its congregations were not a church; its preachers were not a clergy. Instituted in England by a narrow, High-church clergyman of the established church, its preachers were simply a company of lay missionaries under the command of John Wesley; its adherents were members of the Church of England, bound to special fidelity to their duties as such in their several parish churches, but united in clubs and classes for the mutual promotion of holy living in an unholy age; and its chapels and other property, fruits of the self-denial of many 218poor, were held under iron-bound title-deeds, subject to the control of John Wesley and of the close corporation of preachers to whom he should demit them.
It seems hardly worthy of the immense practical sagacity of Wesley that he should have thought to transplant this system unchanged into the midst of circumstances so widely different as those which must surround it in America. And yet even here, where the best work of his preachers was to be done among populations not only churchless, but out of reach of church or ministry of whatever name, in those Southern States in which nine tenths of his penitents and converts were gained, his preachers were warned against the sacrilege of ministering to the craving converts the Christian ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, and bidden to send them to their own churches—when they had none. The wretched incumbents of the State parishes at the first sounds of war had scampered from the field like hirelings whose own the sheep are not, and the demand that the preachers of the word should also minister the comfort of the Christian ordinances became too strong to be resisted. The call of duty and necessity seemed to the preachers gathered at a conference at Fluvanna in 1779 to be a call from. God; and, contrary to the strong objections of Wesley and Asbury, they chose from the older of their ‘own number a committee who “ordained themselves, and proceeded to ordain and set apart other ministers for the same purpose —that they might minister the holy ordinances to the church of Christ.”139139 Buckley, “The Methodists,” pp. 182, 183. The step was a bold one, and although it seemed to be attended by happy spiritual results, it threatened to precipitate a division of “the Society” into two factions. The progress of events, the establishment and acknowledgment of American independence, and the 219constant expansion of the Methodist work, brought its own solution of the divisive questions.
It was an important day in the history of the American church, that second day of September, 1784, when John Wesley, assisted by other presbyters of the Church of England, laid his hands in benediction upon the head of Dr. Thomas Coke, and committed to him the superintendency of the Methodist work in America, as colleague with Francis Asbury. On the arrival of Coke in America, the preachers were hastily summoned together in conference at Baltimore, and there, in Christmas week of the same year, Asbury was ordained successively as deacon, as elder, and as superintendent. By the two bishops thus constituted were ordained elders and deacons, and Methodism became a living church.
The two decades from the close of the War of Independence include the period of the lowest ebb-tide of vitality in the history of American Christianity. The spirit of half-belief or unbelief that prevailed on the other side of the sea, both in the church and out of it, was manifest also here. Happily the tide of foreign immigration at this time was stayed, and the church had opportunity to gather strength for the immense task that was presently to be devolved upon it. But the westward movement of our own population was now beginning to pour down the western slope of the Alleghanies into the great Mississippi basin. It was observed by the Methodist preachers that the members of their societies who had, through fear, necessity, or choice, moved into the back settlements and into new parts of the country, as soon as peace was settled and the way was open solicited the preachers to come among them, and so the work followed them to the west.140140 Jesse Lee, quoted by Dr. Buckley, p. 195. 220In the years 1791-1810 occurred the great movement of population from Virginia to Kentucky and from Carolina to Tennessee. It was reckoned that one fourth of the Baptists of Virginia had removed to Kentucky, and yet they hardly leavened the lump of early frontier barbarism. The Presbyterian Church, working in its favorite methods, devised campaigns of home missionary enterprise in its presbyteries and synods, detailing pastors from their parishes for temporary mission service in following the movement of the Scotch-Irish migration into the hill-country in which it seemed to find its congenial habitat, and from which its powerful influences were to flow in all directions. The Congregationalists of New England in like manner followed with Christian teaching and pastoral care their sons moving westward to occupy the rich lands of western New York and of Ohio. The General Association of the pastors of Connecticut, solicitous that the work of missions to the frontier should be carried forward without loss of power through division of forces, entered, in 1801, into the compact with the General Assembly of the Presbyterians known as the “Plan of Union,” by which Christians of both polities might coöerate in the founding of churches and in maintaining the work of the gospel.
In the year 1803 the most important political event since the adoption of the Constitution, the purchase of Louisiana by President Jefferson, opened to the American church a new and immense field for missionary activity. This vast territory, stretching from the Mississippi westward to the summits of the Rocky Mountains and nearly doubling the domain of the United States, was the last remainder of the great projected French Catholic empire that had fallen in 1763. Passed back and forth with the vicissitudes of European politics between French and Spanish masters, it had made small progress in either civilization or Christianity. 221But the immense possibilities of it to the kingdoms of this world and to the kingdom of heaven were obvious to every intelligent mind. Not many years were to pass before it was to become an arena in which all the various forces of American Christianity were to be found contending against all the powers of darkness, not without dealing some mutual blows in the melley.
The review of this period must not close without adverting to two important advances in public practical Christianity, in which (as often in like cases) the earnest endeavors of some among the Christians have been beholden for success to uncongenial reinforcements. As it is written, “The earth helped the woman.”
In the establishment of the American principle of the non-interference of the state with religion, and the equality of all religious communions before the law, much was due, no doubt, to the mutual jealousies of the sects, no one or two of which were strong enough to maintain exceptional pretensions over the rest combined. Much also is to be imputed to the indifferentism and sometimes the anti-religious sentiment of an important and numerous class of doctrinaire politicians of which Jefferson may be taken as a type. So far as this work was a work of intelligent conviction and religious faith, the chief honor of it must be given to the Baptists. Other sects, notably the Presbyterians, had been energetic and efficient in demanding their own liberties; the Friends and the Baptists agreed in demanding liberty of conscience and worship, and equality before the law, for all alike. But the active labor in this cause was mainly done by the Baptists. It is to their consistency and constancy in the warfare against the privileges of the powerful “Standing Order” of New England, and of the moribund establishments of the South, that we are 222chiefly indebted for the final triumph, in this country, of that principle of the separation of church from state which is one of the largest contributions of the New World to civilization and to the church universal.
It is not surprising that a people so earnest as the Baptists showed themselves in the promotion of religious liberty should be forward in the condemnation of American slavery. We have already seen the vigor with which the Methodists, having all their strength at the South, levied a spiritual warfare against this great wrong. It was at the South that the Baptists, in 1789, “Resolved, That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government, and we therefore recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land.”141141 Newman, “The Baptists,” p. 305. At the North, Jonathan Edwards the Younger is conspicuous in the unbroken succession of antislavery churchmen. His sermon on the “Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave-trade,” preached in 1791 before the Connecticut Abolition Society, of which President Ezra Stiles was the head, long continued to be reprinted and circulated, both at the North and at the South, as the most effective argument not only against the slave-trade, but against the whole system of slavery.
It will not be intruding needlessly upon the difficult field of dogmatic history if we note here the widely important diversities of Christian teaching that belong to this which we may call the sub-Revolutionary period.
It is in contradiction to our modern association of ideas to read that the prevailing type of doctrine among the early Baptists of New England was Arminian.142142 Ibid., p. 243. The pronounced individualism of the Baptist churches, and the emphasis which they place upon human responsibility, 223might naturally have created a tendency in this direction; but a cause not less obvious was their antagonism to the established Congregationalism, with its sharply defined Calvinistic statements. The public challenging of these statements made a favorite issue on which to appeal to the people from their constituted teachers. But when the South and Southwest opened itself as the field of a wonderfully rapid expansion before the feet of the Baptist evangelists, the antagonism was quite of another sort. Their collaborators and sharp competitors in the great and noble work of planting the gospel and the church in old and neglected fields at the South, and carrying them westward to the continually advancing frontier of population, were to be found in the multiplying army of the Methodist itinerants and local exhorters, whose theology, enjoined upon them by their commission, was the Arminianism of John Wesley. No explanation is apparent for the revulsion of the great body of American Baptists into a Calvinism exaggerated to the point of caricature, except the reaction of controversy with the Methodists. The tendency of the two parties to opposite poles of dogma was all the stronger for the fact that on both sides teachers and taught were alike lacking in liberalizing education. The fact that two by far the most numerous denominations of Christians in the United States were picketed thus over against each other in the same regions, as widely differing from each other in doctrine and organization as the Dominican order from the Jesuit, and differing somewhat in the same way, is a fact that invites our regret and disapproval, but at the same time compels us to remember its compensating advantages.
It is to this period that we trace the head-waters of several important existing denominations.224
At the close of the war the congregation of the “King’s Chapel,” the oldest Episcopal church in New England, had been thinned and had lost its rector in the general migration of leading Tory families to Nova Scotia. At the restoration of peace it was served in the capacity of lay reader by Mr. James Freeman, a young graduate of Harvard, who came soon to be esteemed very highly in love both for his work’s sake and for his own. Being chosen pastor of the church, he was not many months in finding that many things in the English Prayer-book were irreconcilable with doubts and convictions concerning the Trinity and related doctrines, which about this time were widely prevalent among theologians both in the Church of England and outside of it. In June, 1785, it was voted in the congregation, by a very large majority, to amend the order of worship in accordance with these scruples. The changes were in a direction in which not a few Episcopalians were disposed to move,143143 Tiffany, p. 347; McConnell, p. 249. and the congregation did not hesitate to apply for ordination for their pastor, first to Bishop Seabury, and afterward, with better hope of success, to Bishop Provoost. Failing here also, the congregation proceeded to induct their elect pastor into his office without waiting further upon bishops; and thus “the first Episcopal church in New England became the first Unitarian church in America.” It was not the beginning of Unitarianism in America, for this had long been “in the air.” But it was the first distinct organization of it. How rapidly and powerfully it spread within narrow geographical limits, and how widely it has affected the course of religious history, must appear in later chapters.
Close as might seem to be the kindred between Unitarianism and Universalism, coeval as they are in their origin 225as organized sects, they are curiously diverse in their origin. Each of them, at the present day, holds the characteristic tenet of the other; in general, Unitarians are Universalists, and Universalists are Unitarians.144144 Dr. Richard Eddy, “The Universalists,” p. 429. But in the beginning Unitarianism was a bold reactionary protest against leading doctrines of the prevailing Calvinism of New England, notably against the doctrines of the Trinity, of expiatory atonement, and of human depravity; and it was still more a protest against the intolerant and intolerable dogmatism of the sanhedrim of Jonathan Edwards’s successors, in their cock-sure expositions of the methods of the divine government and the psychology of conversion. Universalism, on the other hand, in its first setting forth in America, planted itself on the leading “evangelical” doctrines, which its leaders had earnestly preached, and made them the major premisses of its argument. Justification and salvation, said John Murray, one of Whitefield’s Calvinistic Methodist preachers, are the lot of those for whom Christ died. But Christ died for the elect, said his Calvinistic brethren. Nay, verily, said Murray (in this following one of his colleagues, James Relly); what saith the Scripture? “Christ died for all.” It was the pinch of this argument which brought New England theologians, beginning with Smalley and the second Edwards, to the acceptance of the rectoral theory of the atonement, and so prepared the way for much disputation among the doctors of the next century.145145 Ibid., pp. 392-397. The sermons of Smalley were preached at Wallingford, Conn., “by particular request, with special reference to the Murrayan controversy.”
Mr. Murray arrived in America in 1770, and after much going to and fro organized, in 1779, at Gloucester, Mass., the first congregation in America on distinctly Universalist principles. But other men, along other lines of 226thought, had been working their way to somewhat similar conclusions. In 1785 Elhanan Winchester, a thoroughly Calvinistic Baptist minister in Philadelphia, led forth his excommunicated brethren, one hundred strong, and organized them into a “Society of Universal Baptists,” holding to the universal restoration of mankind to holiness and happiness. The two differing schools fraternized in a convention of Universalist churches at Philadelphia in 1794, at which articles of belief and a plan of organization were set forth, understood to be from the pen of Dr. Benjamin Rush; and a resolution was adopted declaring the holding of slaves to be “inconsistent with the union of the human race in a common Saviour, and the obligations to mutual and universal love which flow from that union.”
It was along still another line of argument, proceeding from the assumed “rectitude of human nature,” that the Unitarians came, tardily and hesitatingly, to the Universalist position. The long persistence of definite boundary lines between two bodies so nearly alike in their tenets is a subject worthy of study. The lines seem to be rather historical and social than theological. The distinction between them has been thus epigrammatically stated: that the Universalist holds that God is too good to damn a man; the Unitarian holds that men are too good to be damned.
No controversy in the history of the American church has been more deeply marked by a sincere and serious earnestness, over and above the competitive zeal and invidious acrimony that are an inevitable admixture in such debates, than the controversy that was at once waged against the two new sects claiming the title “Liberal.” It was sincerely felt by their antagonists that, while the one abandoned the foundation of the Christian faith, the 227other destroyed the foundation of Christian morality. In the early propaganda of each of them was much to deepen this mistrust. When the standard of dissent is set up in any community, and men are invited to it in the name of liberality, nothing can hinder its becoming a rallying-point for all sorts of disaffected souls, not only the liberal, but the loose. The story of the controversy belongs to later chapters of this book. It is safe to say at this point that the early orthodox fears have at least not been fully confirmed by the sequel up to this date. It was one of the most strenuous of the early disputants against the “liberal” opinions146146 Leonard Bacon, of New Haven, in conversation. who remarked in his later years, concerning the Unitarian saints, that it seemed as if their exclusive contemplation of Jesus Christ in his human character as the example for our imitation had wrought in them an exceptional beauty and Christlikeness of living. As for the Universalists, the record of their fidelity, as a body, to the various interests of social morality is not surpassed by that of any denomination. But in the earlier days the conflict against the two sects called “liberal” was waged ruthlessly, not as against defective or erroneous schemes of doctrine, but as against distinctly antichristian heresies.
There is instruction to be gotten from studying, in comparison, the course of these opinions in the established churches of Great Britain and among the unestablished churches of America. Under the enforced comprehensiveness or tolerance of a national church, it is easier for strange doctrines to spread within the pale. Under the American plan of the organization of Christianity by voluntary mutual association according to elective affinity, with freedom to receive or exclude, the flock within the fold may perhaps be kept safer from contamination; as when the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1792, and 228again in 1794, decided that Universalists be not admitted to the sealing ordinances of the gospel;147147 Eddy, p. 387. but by this course the excluded opinion is compelled to intrench itself both for defense and for attack in a sectarian organization. It is a practically interesting question, the answer to which is by no means self-evident, whether Universalist opinions would have been less prevalent to-day in England and Scotland if they had been excluded from the national churches and erected into a sect with its partisan pulpits, presses, and propagandists; or whether they would have more diffused in America if, instead of being dealt with by process of excommunication or deposition, they had been dealt with simply by argument. This is one of the many questions which history raises, but which (happily for him) it does not fall within the function of the historian to answer.
To this period is to be referred the origin of some of the minor American sects.
The “United Brethren in Christ” grew into a distinct organization about the year 1800. It arose incidentally to the Methodist evangelism, in an effort on the part of Philip William Otterbein, of the German Reformed Church, and Martin Boehm, of the Mennonites, to provide for the shepherdless German-speaking people by an adaptation of the Wesleyan methods. Presently, in the natural progress of language, the English work outgrew the German. It is now doing an extensive and useful work by pulpit and press, chiefly in Pennsylvania and the States of that latitude. The reasons for its continued existence separate from the Methodist Church, which it closely resembles both in doctrine and in polity, are more apparent to those within the organization than to superficial observers from outside.229
The organization just described arose from the unwillingness of the German Reformed Church to meet the craving needs of the German people by using the Wesleyan methods. From the unwillingness of the Methodist Church to use the German language arose another organization, “the Evangelical Association,” sometimes known, from the name of its founder, by the somewhat grotesque title of “the Albrights.” This also is both Methodist and Episcopal, a reduced copy of the great Wesleyan institution, mainly devoted to labors among the Germans.
In 1792 was planted at Baltimore the first American congregation of that organization of disciples of Emanuel Swedenborg which had been begun in London nine years before and called by the appropriately fanciful name of “the Church of the New Jerusalem.”230
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