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WHEN the Presbyterian General Assembly, in 1803, made a studious review of the revivals which for several years had been in progress, especially at the South and West, it included in its “Narrative” the following observations:
“The Assembly observe with great pleasure that the desire for spreading the gospel among the blacks and among the savage tribes on our borders has been rapidly increasing during the last year. The Assembly take notice of this circumstance with the more satisfaction, as it not only affords a pleasing presage of the spread of the gospel, but also furnishes agreeable evidence of the genuineness and the benign tendency of that spirit which God has been pleased to pour out upon his people.”
In New England the like result had already, several years before, followed upon the like antecedent. In the year 1798 the “Missionary Society of Connecticut” was constituted, having for its object “to Christianize the heathen in North America, and to support and promote Christian knowledge in the new settlements within the United States”; and in August, 1800, its first missionary, David Bacon, engaged at a salary of “one hundred and 247ten cents per day,” set out for the wilderness south and west of Lake Erie, “afoot and alone, with no more luggage than he could carry on his person,” to visit the wild tribes of that region, “to explore their situation, and learn their feelings with respect to Christianity, and, so far as he had opportunity, to teach them its doctrines and duties.” The name forms a link in the bright succession from John Eliot to this day. But it must needs be that some suffer as victims of the inexperience of those who are first to take direction of an untried enterprise. The abandonment of its first missionary by one of the first missionary societies, leaving him helpless in the wilderness, was a brief lesson in the economy of missions opportunely given at the outset of the American mission work, and happily had no need to be repeated.159159 “Life of David Bacon,” by his son (Boston, 1876).
David Bacon, like Henry Martyn, who at that same time, in far different surroundings, was intent upon his plans of mission work in India, was own son in the faith to David Brainerd. But they were elder sons in a great family. The pathetic story of that heroic youth, as told by Jonathan Edwards, was a classic at that time in almost every country parsonage; but its influence was especially felt in the colleges, now no longer, as a few years earlier, the seats of the scornful, but the homes of serious and religious learning which they were meant to be by their founders.
Of the advancement of Christian civilization in the first quarter-century from the achievement of independence there is no more distinguished monument than the increase, through those troubled and impoverished years, of the institutions of secular and sacred learning. The really successful and effective colleges that had survived from the colonial period were hardly a half-dozen. Up to 1810, 248these had been reinforced by as many more. By far the greater number of them were founded by the New England Congregationalists, to whom this has ever been a favorite field of activity. But special honor must be paid to the wise and courageous and nobly successful enterprise of large-minded and large-hearted men among the Baptists, who as early as 1764, boldly breasting a current of unworthy prejudice in their own denomination, began the work of Brown University at Providence, which, carried forward by a notable succession of great educators, has been set in the front rank of existing American institutions of learning. After the revivals of 1800 these Christian colleges were not only attended by students coming from zealous and fervid churches; they themselves became the foci from which high and noble spiritual influences were radiated through the land. It was in communities like these that the example of such lives as that of Brainerd stirred up generous young minds to a chivalrous and even ascetic delight in attempting great labors and enduring great sacrifices as soldiers under the Captain of salvation.
It was at Williams College, then just planted in the Berkshire hills, that a little coterie of students was formed which, for the grandeur of the consequences that flowed from it, is worthy to be named in history beside the Holy Club of Oxford in 1730, and the friends at Oriel College in 1830. Samuel J. Mills came to Williams College in i8o6 from the parsonage of “Father Mills” of Torringford, concerning whom quaint traditions and even memories still linger in the neighboring parishes of Litchfield County, Connecticut. Around this young student gathered a circle of men like-minded. The shade of a lonely haystack was their oratory; the pledges by which they bound themselves to a life-work for the kingdom of 249heaven remind one of the mutual vows of the earliest friends of Loyola. Some of the youths went soon to the theological seminary, and at once leavened that community with their own spirit.
The seminary—there was only one in all Protestant America. As early as 1791 the Sulpitian fathers had organized their seminary at Baltimore. But it was not until 1808 that any institution for theological studies was open to candidates for the Protestant ministry. Up to that time such studies were made in the regular college curriculum, which was distinctly theological in character; and it was common for the graduate to spend an additional year at the college for special study under the president or the one professor of divinity. But many country parsonages that were tenanted by men of fame as writers and teachers were greatly frequented by young men preparing themselves for the work of preaching.
The change to the modern method of education for the ministry was a sudden one. It was precipitated by an event which has not even yet ceased to be looked on by the losing party with honest lamentation and with an unnecessary amount of sectarian acrimony. The divinity professorship in Harvard College, founded in 1722160160 Compare the claim of priority for the Dutch church, p. 81 note. by Thomas Hollis, of London, a Baptist friend of New England, was filled, after a long struggle and an impassioned protest, by the election of Henry Ware, an avowed and representative Unitarian. It was a distinct announcement that the government of the college had taken sides in the impending conflict, in opposition to the system of religious doctrine to the maintenance of which the college had from its foundation been devoted. The significance of the fact was not mistaken by either party. It meant that the two tendencies which had been recognizable from 250 long before the Great Awakening were drawing asunder, and that thenceforth it must be expected that the vast influence of the venerable college, in the clergy and in society, would be given to the Liberal side. The dismay of one party and the exultation of the other were alike well grounded. The cry of the Orthodox was “To your tents, O Israel!” Lines of ecclesiastical non-intercourse were drawn. Church was divided from church, and family from family. When the forces and the losses on each side came to be reckoned up, there was a double wonder: First, at the narrow boundaries by which the Unitarian defection was circumscribed: “A radius of thirty-five miles from Boston as a center would sweep almost the whole field of its history and influence;”161161 J. H. Allen, “The Unitarians,” p. 194. and then at the sweeping completeness of it within these bounds; as Mrs. H. B. Stowe summed up the situation at Boston, “All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarian; all the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarian; all the élite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches; the judges on the bench were Unitarian, giving decisions by which the peculiar features of church organization so carefully ordered by the Pilgrim Fathers had been nullified and all the power had passed into the hands of the congregation.”162162 “Autobiography of L. Beecher,” p. 110.
The schism, with its acrimonies and heartburnings, was doubtless in some sense necessary. And it was attended with some beneficent consequences. It gave rise to instructive and illuminating debate. And on the part of the Orthodox it occasioned an outburst of earnest zeal which in a wonderfully short time had more than repaired their loss in numbers, and had started them on a career of wide beneficence, with a momentum that has been increasing to 251this day. But it is not altogether useless to put the question how much was lost to both parties and to the common cause by the separation. It is not difficult to conceive that such dogged polemics as Nathanael Emmons and Jedidiah Morse might have been none the worse for being held in some sort of fellowship, rather than in exasperated controversy, with such types of Christian sainthood as the younger Ware and the younger Buckminster; and it is easy to imagine the extreme culture and cool intellectual and spiritual temper of the Unitarian pulpit in general as finding its advantage in not being cut off from direct radiations from the fiery zeal of Lyman Beecher and Edward Dorr Griffin. Is it quite sure that New England Congregationalism would have been in all respects worse off if Channing and his friends had continued to be recognized as the Liberal wing of its clergy? or that the Unitarian ministers would not have been a great deal better off if they had remained in connection with a strong and conservative right wing, which might counterbalance the exorbitant leftward flights of their more impatient and erratic spirits?
The seating of a pronounced Unitarian in the Hollis chair of theology at Harvard took place in 1805. Three years later, in 1808, the doors of Andover Seminary were opened to students. Thirty-six were present, and the number went on increasing. The example was quickly followed. In 1810 the Dutch seminary was begun at New Brunswick, and in 1812 the Presbyterian at Princeton. In 1816 Bangor Seminary (Congregationalist) and Hartwick Seminary (Lutheran) were opened. In 1819 the Episcopalian “General Seminary” followed, and the Baptist “Hamilton Seminary” in 1820. In 1821 Presbyterian seminaries were begun at Auburn, N. Y., and Marysville, Tenn. In 1822 the Yale Divinity College was founded (Congregationalist); in 1823 the Virginia 252 (Episcopalian) seminary at Alexandria; in 1824 the Union (Presbyterian) Seminary, also in Virginia, and the Unitarian seminary at Cambridge; in 1825 the Baptist seminary at Newton, Mass., and the German Reformed at York, Pa.; in 1826 the Lutheran at Gettysburg; in 1827 the Baptist at Rock Spring, Ill. Thus, within a period of twenty years, seventeen theological schools had come into existence where none had been known before. It was a swift and beneficent revolution, and the revolution has never gone backward. In 1880 were enumerated in the United States no less than one hundred and forty-two seminaries, representing all sects, orders, and schools of theological opinion, employing five hundred and twenty-nine resident professors.163163 “Herzog-Schaff Encyclopedia,” pp. 2328-2331.
To Andover, in the very first years of its great history, came Mills and others of the little Williams College circle; and at once their infectious enthusiasm for the advancement of the kingdom of God was felt throughout the institution. The eager zeal of these young men brooked no delay. In June, 1810, the General Association of Massachusetts met at the neighboring town of Bradford; there four of the students, Judson, Nott, Newell, and Hall, presented themselves and their cause; and at that meeting was constituted the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The little faith of the churches shrank from the responsibility of sustaining missionaries in the field, and Judson was sent to England to solicit the coöeration of the London Missionary Society. This effort happily failing, the burden came back upon the American churches and was not refused. At last, in February, 1812, the first American missionaries to a foreign country, Messrs. Judson, Rice, Newell, Nott, and Hall, with their wives, sailed, in two parties, for Calcutta.253
And now befell an incident perplexing, embarrassing, and disheartening to the supporters of the mission, but attended with results for the promotion of the gospel to which their best wisdom never could have attained. Adoniram Judson, a graduate of Brown University, having spent the long months at sea in the diligent and devout study of the Scriptures, arrived at Calcutta fully persuaded of the truth of Baptist principles. His friend, Luther Rice, arriving by the other vessel, came by and by to the same conclusion; and the two, with their wives, were baptized by immersion in the Baptist church at Calcutta. The announcement of this news in America was an irresistible appeal to the already powerful and rapidly growing Baptist denomination to assume the support of the two missionaries who now offered themselves to the service of the Baptist churches. Rice returned to urge the appeal on their immediate attention, while Judson remained to enter on that noble apostolate for which his praise is in all the churches.
To the widespread Baptist fellowship this sudden, unmistakable, and imperative providential summons to engage in the work of foreign missions was (it is hardly too much to say) like life from the dead. The sect had doubled its numbers in the decade just passed, and was estimated to include two hundred thousand communicants, all “baptized believers.” But this multitude was without common organization, and, while abundantly endowed with sectarian animosities, was singularly lacking in a consciousness of common spiritual life. It was pervaded by a deadly fatalism, which, under the guise of reverence for the will of God, was openly pleaded as a reason for abstaining from effort and self-denial in the promotion of the gospel. Withal it was widely characterized not only by a lack of education in its ministry, but by a violent and 254brutal opposition to a learned clergy, which was particularly strange in a party the moiety of whose principles depends on a point in Greek lexicology. It was to a party—we may not say a body—deeply and widely affected by traits like these that the divine call was to be presented and urged. The messenger was well fitted for his work. To the zeal of a new convert to Baptist principles, and a missionary fervor deepened by recent contact with idolatry in some of its most repulsive forms, Luther Rice united a cultivated eloquence and a personal persuasiveness. Of course his first address was to pastors and congregations in the seaboard cities, unexcelled by any, of whatever name, for intelligent and reasonable piety; and here his task was easy and brief, for they were already of his mind. But the great mass of ignorance and prejudice had also to be reckoned with. By a work in which the influence of the divine Spirit was quite as manifest as in the convulsive agitations of a camp-meeting, it was dealt with successfully. Church history moved swiftly in those days. The news of the accession of Judson and Rice was received in January, 1813. In May, 1814, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptists was organized at Philadelphia, thirty-three delegates being present, from eleven different States. The Convention, which was to meet triennially, entered at once upon its work. It became a vital center to the Baptist denomination. From it, at its second meeting, proceeded effective measures for the promotion of education in the ministry, and, under the conviction that “western as well as eastern regions are given to the Son of God as an inheritance,” large plans for home missions at the West.
Thus the great debt which the English Congregationalists had owed to the Baptists for heroic leadership in the Work of foreign missions was repaid with generous usury 255by the Congregationalists to the Baptists of America. From this time forward the American Baptists came more and more to be felt as a salutary force in the religious life of the nation and the world. But against what bitter and furious opposition on the part of the ancient ignorance the new light had to struggle cannot easily be conceived by those who have only heard of the “Hard-Shell Baptist” as a curious fossil of a prehistoric period.164164 “The Baptists,” by Dr. A. H. Newman, pp. 379-442.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions continued for twenty-seven years to be the common organ of foreign missionary operations for the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians, and the Dutch and German Reformed churches. In the year 1837 an official. Presbyterian Board of Missions was erected by the Old-School fragment of the disrupted Presbyterian Church; and to this, when the two fragments were reunited, in 1869, the contributions of the New-School side began to be transferred. In 1858 the Dutch church, and in 1879 the German church, instituted their separate mission operations. Thus the initiative of the Andover students in 1810 resulted in the erection, not of one mission board, timidly venturing to set five missionaries in the foreign field, but of five boards, whose total annual resources are counted by millions of dollars, whose evangelists, men and women, American and foreign-born, are a great army, and whose churches, schools, colleges, theological seminaries, hospitals, printing-presses, with the other equipments of a Christian civilization, and the myriads of whose faithful Christian converts, in every country under the whole heaven, have done more for the true honor of our nation than all that it has achieved in diplomacy and war.165165 I have omitted from this list of results in the direct line from the inception at Andover, in 181o, the American Missionary Association. It owed its origin, in 1846, to the dissatisfaction felt by a considerable number of the supporters of the American Board with the attitude of that institution on some of the questions arising incidentally to the antislavery discussion. Its foreign missions, never extensive, were transferred to other hands, at the close of the Civil War, that it might devote itself wholly to its great and successful work among “the oppressed races” at home.256
The Episcopalians entered on foreign mission work in 1819, and the Methodists, tardily but at last with signal efficiency and success, in 1832. No considerable sect of American Christians at the present day is unrepresented in the foreign field.
In order to complete the history of this organizing era in the church, we must return to the humble but memorable figure of Samuel J. Mills. It was his characteristic word to one of his fellows, as they stood ready to leave the seclusion of the seminary for active service, “You and I, brother, are little men, but before we die, our influence must be felt on the other side of the world.” No one claimed that he was other than a “little man,” except as he was filled and possessed with a great thought, and that the thought that filled the mind of Christ—the thought of the Coming Age and of the Reign of God on earth.166166 It may be worth considering how far the course of religious and theological thought would have been modified if the English New Testament had used these phrases instead of World to Come and Kingdom of God. While his five companions were sailing for the remotest East, Mills plunged into the depth of the western wilderness, and between 1812 and 1815, in two toilsome journeys, traversed the Great Valley as far as New Orleans, deeply impressed everywhere with the famine of the word, and laboring, in coöeration with local societies at the East, to provide for the universal want by the sale or gift of Bibles and the organization of Bible societies. After his second return he proposed the organization of the American Bible Society, which was accomplished in 1816.
But already this nobly enterprising mind was intent on 257a new plan, of most far-reaching importance, not original with himself, but, on the contrary, long familiar to those who studied the extension of the church and pondered the indications of God’s providential purposes. The earliest attempt in America toward the propagation of the gospel in foreign lands would seem to have been the circular letter sent out by the neighbor pastors, Samuel Hopkins and Ezra Stiles, in the year 1773, from Newport, chief seat of the slave-trade, asking contributions for the education of two colored men as missionaries to their native continent of Africa. To many generous minds at once, in this era of great Christian enterprises, the thought recurred of vast blessings to be wrought for the Dark Continent by the agency of colored men Christianized, civilized, and educated in America. Good men reverently hoped to see in this a triumphant solution of the mystery of divine providence in permitting the curse of African slavery, through the cruel greed of men, to be inflicted on the American republic. In 1816 Mills successfully pressed upon the Presbyterian “Synod of New York and New Jersey” a plan for educating Christian men of color for the work of the gospel in their fatherland. That same year, in coöeration with an earnest philanthropist, Dr. Robert Finley, of New Jersey, he aided in the instituting of the American Colonization Society. In 1817 he sailed, in company with a colleague, the Rev. Ebenezer Burgess, to explore the coast of Africa in search of the best site for a colony. On the return voyage he died, and his body was committed to the sea: a “little man,” to whom were granted only five years of what men call “active life”; but he had fulfilled his vow, and the ends of the earth had felt his influence for the advancement of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. The enterprise of African colonization, already dear to Christian hearts for the hopes that 258it involved of the redemption of a lost continent, of the elevation of an oppressed race in America, of the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery, received a new consecration as the object of the dying labors and prayers of Mills. It was associated, in the minds of good men, not only with plans for the conversion of the heathen; and with the tide of antislavery sentiment now spreading and deepening both at the South and at the North, but also with “Clarkson societies” and other local organizations, in many different places, for the moral and physical elevation of the free colored people from the pitiable degradation in which they were commonly living in the larger towns. Altogether the watchmen on the walls of Zion saw no fairer sign of dawn, in that second decade of the nineteenth century, than the hopeful lifting of the cloud from Africa, the brightening prospects of the free negroes of the United States, and the growing hope of the abolition of American slavery.167167 The colored Baptists of Richmond entered eagerly into the Colonization project, and in 1822 their “African Missionary Society” sent out its mission to the young colony of Liberia. One of their missionaries was the Rev. Lott Cary, the dignity of whose character and career was an encouragement of his people in their highest aspirations, and a confirmation of the hopes of their friends (Newman, “The Baptists,” p. 402; Gurley, “Life of Ashmun,” pp. 147-160).
Other societies, national in their scope and constituency, the origin of which belongs in this organizing period, are the American Education Society (1815), the American Sunday-school Union (1824), the American Tract Society (1825), the Seamen’s Friend Society (1826), and the American Home Missionary Society (1826), in which last the Congregationalists of New England coöerated with the Presbyterians on the basis of a Plan of Union entered into between the General Assembly and the General Association of Connecticut, the tendency of which was to reinforce the Presbyterian Church with the numbers and 259the vigor of the New England westward migration. Of course the establishment of these and other societies for beneficent work outside of sectarian lines did not hinder, but rather stimulated, sectarian organizations for the like objects. The whole American church, in all its orders, was girding itself for a work, at home and abroad, the immense grandeur of which no man of that generation could possibly have foreseen.
The grandeur of this work was to consist not only in the results of it, but in the resources of it. As never before, the sympathies, prayers, and personal coöeration of all Christians, even the feeblest, were to be combined and utilized for enterprises coextensive with the continent and the world and taking hold on eternity. The possibilities of the new era were dazzling to the prophetic imagination. A young minister then standing on the threshold of a long career exulted in the peculiar and excelling glory of the dawning day:
“Surely, if it is the noblest attribute of our nature that spreads out the circle of our sympathies to include the whole family of man, and sends forth our affections to embrace the ages of a distant futurity, it must be regarded as a privilege no less exalted that our means of doing good are limited by no remoteness of country or distance of duration, but we may operate, if we will, to assuage the miseries of another hemisphere, or to prevent the necessities of an unborn generation. The time has been when a man might weep over the wrongs of Africa, and he might look forward to weep over the hopelessness of her degradation, till his heart should bleed; and yet his tears would be all that he could give her. He might relieve the beggar at his door, but he could do nothing for a dying continent. He might provide for his children, but he could do nothing for the nations that were yet to be born to an inheritance of utter wretchedness. Then the privilege of 259engaging in schemes of magnificent benevolence belonged only to princes and to men of princely possessions; but now the progress of improvement has brought down this privilege to the reach of every individual. The institutions of our age are a republic of benevolence, and all may share in the unrestrained and equal democracy. This privilege is ours. We may stretch forth our hand, if we will, to enlighten the Hindu or to tame the savage of the wilderness. It is ours, if we will, to put forth our contributions and thus to operate not ineffectually for the relief and renovation of a continent over which one tide of misery has swept without ebb and without restraint for unremembered centuries. It is ours, if we will, to do something that shall tell on all the coming ages of a race which has been persecuted and enslaved, trodden down and despised, for a thousand generations. Our Father has made us the almoners of his love. He has raised us to partake, as it were, in the ubiquity of his own beneficence. Shall we be unworthy of the trust? God forbid!”168168 Leonard Bacon, “A Plea for Africa,” in the Park Street Church, Boston, July 4, 1824.261
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