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Organized Beneficence

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

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

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 ten 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.[247:1]

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

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 these 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 1806 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 heaven 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 1722[249:1] 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 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;[250:1] 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 Úlite 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.[250:2]

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 this 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 (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

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 co÷peration 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

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 brutal 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 by 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.[255:1]

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.[255:2]

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.[256:1] 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 co÷peration 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 a 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 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 co÷peration 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 it 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.[258:1]

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 co÷perated 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 the 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 co÷peration 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
engaging 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![260:1]

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Previous: The Second Awakening

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