The five poems immediately following indicate the intense feeling of the friends of freedom in view of the annexation of Texas, with its vast territory sufficient, as was boasted, for six new slave States. Up the hillside, down the glen, Rou... Read more of Texas Voice Of New England at Martin Luther King.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
Home - Articles - Church History - Catholic Morals - Prayers - Prayers Answered - Saints Children's Bible - History


Reconstruction





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; 10. The
Lutherans; 11. The Moravians. Some of these, as the Congregationalists
and the Baptists, were of so simple and elastic 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 began 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.[210:1]

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 of 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.[211:1] 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.[211:2]

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 Bishops-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, and 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.[213:1] The large prosperity of this church dates
only from the second decade of this 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 a 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
was 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.[216:1] 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 wasting 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 poor,
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.[218:1] 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
constant 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.[219:1] In 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 co÷perate 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. But 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 chiefly 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.[222:1]
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.[222:2] The pronounced individualism of the Baptist
churches, and the emphasis which they place upon human responsibility,
might 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.


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,[224:1]
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 as 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.[225:1] 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.[225:2]

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 thought, 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 other 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 opinions[227:1] 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 again in 1794,
decided that Universalists be not admitted to the sealing ordinances of
the gospel;[228:1] 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.

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.





Next: The Second Awakening

Previous: Close Of The Colonial Era The Ge



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK