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Page numbers refer to the pages in Peter Raible’s original collection. For Raible’s commentary on this document, see Polity Among the Universalists: The First Century.
[***Page 76 / 001021 starts]
A Brief History of the Universalist Church for Young People
L. B. Fisher, D.D.
Fourth Edition, Revised. 1904.
Prepared by the Direction of the Young People’s Christian Union
[***Page 77 / 001022 starts]
THE UNIVERSALIST SOCIETIES, PARISHES, AND CHURCHES.
The organized Universalist denomination is made up of four factors. These factors are the individual, the local society parish or Church, the State Conventions, and the General Conventions.
We shall have a strong working, growing denomination when these four factors are properly coordinated, each being vitally connected and related to all the other factors. The problem for us is, as our history proves that it has always been, to bring about this efficient co-ordination of these factors. Some individuals are Universalists, they say, but will have nothing to do with the other three factors. Many will interest themselves in the local society parish or Church, who know nothing and care less about the State Conventions. To a still larger number the General Convention is only a vague name. Our people do not hold the true view of the connection between individual welfare and a strong centralized organization. We fix [***Page 78 / 001023 starts] our attention on the individual and forgot the organization. We do very poor team-work because everybody is bound to do as he pleases, and will not listen to the captain. Now it has always been true, and is particularly true today, that the work of the world will be done by some compact efficient organization, that controls individuals enough to make them lift and act together, but not so much as to destroy individual initiative and responsibility. For the first hundred years of our history we bungled wretchedly on this matter of effective organization. It is only within the last thirty-five years that any sort of successful attempt has been made toward efficient organization of our forces.
Even yet it is probably true that there are more men who hold our Universalist opinions who are entirely outside of our organization, than there are who are vitally connected with it. If history has any voice to young Universalists, it is, “Join the nearest Church and parish, be an active member, go to the State Convention, take an active part, go to the Biennial General Convention, keep informed about your denomination, be a part of it.” This chapter is concerned with the second factor in our denominational organization, the society or the parish or the Church. This is the smallest grouping of individuals, the local group. [***Page 79 / 001024 starts]
There is no fixed line between the three names given to this local group. Up to about 1870 the commonest name of these groups was “Societies.” Generally today we speak of them as parishes and Churches. The parish is the business organization, the Church is the religious organization distinctively. Generally, any one who attends and contributes toward the support of local services is a parish member, while a Church member is one who has been baptized, and who is a communicant at the Lord’s table. Usually all Church members are parish members, but unfortunately not all parish members are Church members.
History shows that the society and the parish do not have the vitality nor the staying qualities that the Church has. It is the duty and privilege of every young Universalist to be a live member of the Historic Church of Jesus Christ.
Our first organized society was at Gloucester, Mass. The same year Murray landed at Good Luck, an Englishman brought a copy of Relly’s “Union” to Gloucester. The man in New Jersey and the book in Massachusetts were each at work. The book gathered a company and made Rellyans of them before they ever heard of Murray. Then when they did hear of Murray they wore prepared to receive him. He came and organized our first American parish in [***Page 80 / 001025 starts] Gloucester in 1770. That parish took the name, “The Independent Church of Gloucester.” It adopted articles of association in which the members agreed to work together under John Murray as long as he preached sound doctrine. At different times thirty-one men and thirty women signed these articles. Neither Murray nor his Gloucester people believed in water baptism, nor did Murray think that the Lord’s Supper was obligatory upon believers. He said that Universalists generally adopted it as their most reasonable service, but did not hold themselves in subjection thereto. Very soon after Gloucester organized, we had societies at Oxford, Boston, and other places, until in the year 1800 we had about thirty-five societies scattered from Pennsylvania to Maine, and extending west into New York.
It is useless to attempt figures here the names society and parish are so vague. Some of these societies were simply occasional gatherings to hear some preacher who chanced along. Many of these meetings were held in groves and schoolhouses, often in halls and barns. Sometimes they built meeting-houses, which would be opened to the occasional preacher and then closed. Few of these really attempted to maintain regular services of public worship, but they are all counted as societies. Some years a large number of these; societies would be reported, [***Page 81 / 001026 starts] and everybody would feel encouraged at our growth, but a few years later these so-called societies had vanished like dew before the sun. If only these early preachers had gathered these hearers round the communion table of the Lord, and knit them into Church fellowship, more would have stayed.
An occasional gathering of people to listen to preaching is not a parish. Often the members of these societies went to meeting when they felt like it, contributed little or nothing, saw no use in joining the Church, or in the rites of baptism and communion; and so the society soon passes, and has to be stricken from the list, and it appears that we are losing numbers. The fact is, that scores of these little sporadic gatherings ought never to have been counted as societies.
A careful study of the whole story proves that the enduring, working, building, growing organization is the Church of Christ, and not the mere society or parish. A few extracts from reports of societies read at a Convention in 1792 have a lesson for us; indeed, they may have a modern and familiar sound to some: “The brethren in this place are averse to system, and generally walk as it seemeth right to every man.” The result was, as any sensible person might have foreseen, that they walked into oblivion, and our denomination has not had any [***Page 82 / 001027 starts] name in that place. Here is the report from Newport, R.I.: “Those that are at Newport join neither with the world nor with each other. They are afraid of months and of days and of years; and to avoid being tangled with what they deem a yoke of bondage, they keep from even the appearance of assembling at any time.” Here is the sufficient answer to the question why we have, no Church at Newport. These facts of our history ought to speak with tongues to us to hasten to perfect the coordination of the four factors of our denomination.
We have today about a thousand parishes: and out of this number many single societies could be named that have vastly more strength than all we had a hundred years ago, put together, excepting two.
One of our churches that has much significance historically was the old Orchard Street Church in New York City. Dr. T. J. Sawyer went into the Orchard Street Church in April, 1832, and was pastor there until 1845. Then he resigned to take the presidency of Clinton Liberal Institute; but in 1853 he went back to Orchard Street for a second pastorate, which lasted until 1859, when, owing to shifting of population, the old church was sold. The old Orchard Street Church under Dr. Sawyer has passed into our history as the institution noted for making intelligent Universalists, who knew what they be- [***Page 83 / 001028 starts] lieved, and could tell why they believed it. Dr. Sawyer was not averse to discussion and debate, and the very air was electric with attack and defence, controversy and doctrine, during the Orchard Street years. It seems as if there was no time in all those years that Dr. Sawyer did not have at least one public debate on his hands defending his faith. The men and women who stood beside Dr. Sawyer those years were of the sturdiest stuff. Dr. Tuttle says, “The influence of the Church in Orchard Street was mighty and far-reaching. Its emigrants settled in other parts of the city, and in the country to the Mississippi and beyond. Its people were a synonym for soundness and faithfulness; the strength it added to our denomination is beyond estimate.” While the Orchard Street Church lost its building on that street, its members were not lost. They were workers and builders wherever they went. “All Souls’ Church” in Brooklyn was founded largely by Dr. Sawyer’s people, and they are found to this day in many places of our Zion.
Columbus Avenue Church in Boston, formerly the School Street Church, is historically of great interest. Here Hosea Ballou was pastor from 1818 until his death in 1852, easily making this our first Church in influence all those years. In 1840, when Mr. Ballou began to feel the weight of his years, E. H. Chapin, the golden-tongued, [***Page 84 / 001029 starts] became his colleague for two years. In 1848 Dr. A. A. Miner came to this preacher’s throne. For more than forty years he ministered to that parish. During most of those years Dr. Miner was the recognized leader of our Church. Here he died with the words on his lips, “Tell the ministers to be faithful.”
Hon. H. B. Metcalf, himself a product of the old parish of which it may well be proud, has said that the old School Street Church, now Columbus Avenue Church, furnished the men to establish the “Universalist Sabbath School Union,” the “Universalist Publishing House,” and the first institution that we had outside the parish that could be called an ecclesiastical institution, “The Massachusetts State Convention of Universalists.” They have largely been behind Tufts College and all denominational works. The Churches in Philadelphia have behind them a rich history, told by A. C. Thomas in his “Century of Universalism.” The Church of the Divine Paternity in New York, with, the fame of Dr. Chapin built into its walls, and the memory of Dr. Eaton illuminating it, is a centre of commanding influence.
Dr. Ryder and St. Paul’s Church of Chicago, Dr. Tuttle and the Churches in Minneapolis, are names of men and places that ought to be, familiar words for generations of Universalists.\
So from Calais to Spokane, and from Atlanta [***Page 85 / 001030 starts] to Canada, we have men who are not simply making societies, but who are building on broad and deep and enduring foundations Churches of Jesus Christ. May the day come when every individual who holds the Universalist idea, shall be a consecrated member of the Universalist Church! [***Page 86 / 001031 starts]
ASSOCIATIONS AND CONVENTIONS.
In the preceding chapter we have spoken of the first two factors of our denomination, the individual and the society, parish, or Church. In this chapter we are to note the grouping of all the societies in one section into an association or into a State Convention, and to note how all the State Conventions at last form a General Convention, the supreme governing body. Many Universalists, as we have seen, have been and are individualists, holding fast to their right to walk alone and do as they please. Gradually some Universalists have become congregationalists, but many have no interest in our denomination beyond that.
Congregationalism is the form of Church Government in which each congregation does as it pleases. In pure Congregationalism there is no Pope nor Bishop nor Presbytery nor Synod, nor any other power whatsoever that has any right to dictate to the local congregation. Each congregation is its own ruler. Universalists are strongly biassed toward congregational government. Very early in our history thoughtful men among us saw that great good would come if the con- [***Page 87 / 001032 starts] gregations of the same section at least would meet annually for consultation, agreement, and to unite in common statements of belief and common tasks. The history of our denomination might easily he written from the point of view of two parties, one of which has always fought and pleaded for centralization, establishment of Conventions with some authority over local parishes, and another party that has opposed or been indifferent to all organization. It seems as if the gain must have been immense if the thirty-five parishes we had in, 1800 could have had some mutual understanding and united common endeavor, some superintendency.
John Murray and some other leading spirits greatly desired this, but the most were indifferent, and the difficulties in the way of doing it seemed insurmountable. Believers were separated by great distances, travel was difficult, slow, and expensive, the people were poor, and forced to unremitting toil, and opposition and persecution appalled all but the, stoutest hearts. In spite of all obstacles however, about 1778 Warwick, Jaffrey, and Richmond, in New Hampshire associated themselves together, and agreed to meet annually. This association gave letters of license, and ordination to ministerial applicants. This appears to be our first effort to associate parishes for united action.
In 1783 John Murray wrote to Noah Parker, [***Page 88 / 001033 starts] proposing an association of all the societies, and this proposal bore fruit in a meeting at Oxford, Mass., Sept. 14, 1785. We have referred to this association in a previous chapter, as consisting of nine laymen from five parishes, and four ministers. This association advised that each society take the same name, “Independent Christian Society, commonly called Universalist;” and it drew up a pattern constitution for all to adopt. Three societies accepted, the advice of the association: the other two kept on doing just as they pleased. This Oxford association held three annual meetings, and then died, and we lapsed again to pure congregationalism.
It was 1790 before another attempt was made to associate our societies. A letter was then sent to every known parish, asking that delegates be sent to a convention at which should be considered the question of having “one uni- form mode of Divine worship; one method of ordaining suitable persons to the ministry, one consistent way of administering the Lord’s Supper, and whatever else may seem desirable when the Convention meets.” This Convention, held in Philadelphia, began on the 20th of May, 1790, and continued in session until the 8th of June. This was known as the Philadelphia Convention, and it held twenty annual sessions, ceasing to exist in 1809. [***Page 89 / 001034 starts]
Perhaps this first, mooting of the Philadelphia Convention, lasting fourteen days, was the longest session any ecclesiastical body among us ever held. They fully appreciated the importance of their task, and took time to do it well. There were seven preachers and ten laymen, representing eight Churches, present. They adopted a creed, referred lo later; they formulated a plan of Church government; they agreed that the administration of the ordinances should be left to the individual conscience; they passed some excellent resolutions about the instruction of children, against war, against holding of slaves, and against going to law. Dr. Benjamin Rush took an active part in this Convention.
The real parent of our present General Convention was a gathering which met in Oxford, Mass., Sept. 4, 1793. The records of this meeting are lost; but under slightly varying names this Convention held an annual meeting until 1889, at which date the meetings of the General Convention were made biennial, and so remain. We are not to think, however, of this association as being “General;” almost a hundred years pass before it gets to that.
Thus it happens that for these early years the student of our history has to follow the doings of the Philadelphia Convention, and of this other calling itself a General Convention, and a score or more of Associations. In 1799 [***Page 90 / 001035 starts] the Eastern Association for the District of Maine organized itself. In 1804, Vermont, New Hampshire, and part of New York formed the Northern Association. In 1806 the Western Association appeared, including the remainder of the State of New York. In 1815 the Southern Association was created by Rhode Island and Connecticut, parishes. As population increased and societies multiplied, these Associations were cut up into smaller ones, and new ones were created, until the list is too long to print. Many have disappeared, but we still have fifty-seven reported in the Register. For many years each of these, Associations assumed the same powers that are now vested in the State and General Conventions. As occasions to call our people together to feel the touch of fellowship and to listen to stirring preaching, these Associations have been, and are still, of great use. But when each had power to legislate for itself regardless of the others, in matters of license, ordination, and discipline, hopeless confusion arose. There was no possible source from which some great plan could emanate to enlist the whole Church in the same enterprise. This government by association was, a slight advance on Congregationalism, but it was very weak and uncertain. A man who could not get licensed to preach by some Association must have been dull indeed. [***Page 91 / 001036 starts]
Gradually all wise leaders came to see that all the Associations in any State ought to form one State Convention, and that State Convention ought to be the head for that State. Thus in 1828 the five Associations in Maine formed the Maine State Convention. In 1832 New Hampshire and Connecticut, did the same. Vermont, followed in 1833, and Massachusetts in 1831. In New York it was as late as 1845 before all the Associations would agree to surrender their legislative powers to a State body.
This movement went on until today no Association claims any direct legislative power on matters concerning the general Church interests. In twenty-four States the Associations have put all direct ecclesiastical governing power for the State into State Conventions. Thus it appears that we have twenty-four State Conventions. The Province of Ontario has also a Convention. In States where we have not enough parishes to make a Convention, they hold what are called State Conferences, looking toward the time when numbers will warrant the organization of a Convention. We have ten such Conferences reported. Nearly all these State Conventions have invested funds and carry on missionary work each in its own borders.
It appeared that a great step had been taken when we got all our parishes and Associations organized into State Conventions; but it soon [***Page 92 / 001037 starts] appeared that government by State. Conventions, while better than that of Associations, was still very bad. The States legislated at cross-purposes. There were no uniform laws for all the denomination. There was no recognized head which could summon all the States to unite in large denominational enterprises. The wise leaders saw more, and more clearly that there must be a General Convention with co-ordinating and directing power over all the States. To effect this has been a long, slow process, and it is still not perfected. In 1830 the Maine State Convention declared itself a “distinct and independent religious body, having the right to transact its own business without the intervention of any other body whatsoever.” The New York Convention in the same year adopted the same sentiment. So said nearly all the Conventions then existing. It was the era of State rights in, our history. We were twenty or so little denominations, each, seeing only itself, and not one Church at all.
Several attempts were made to organize bodices uniting a number of States, before the General Convention had much recognition. The most notable of these attempts was the Northwestern Conference organized in 1860 at Chicago. It included the States of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. This Conference did not oppose the Conventions, it [***Page 93 / 001038 starts] reported to the General Convention as a subordinate body. It had an oversight of Church property within its limits, saving thousands of dollars worth by a little timely aid. It raised forty thousand dollars to help build new churches, expended fifteen hundred dollars to aid students in Canton Theological School, and raised a hundred thousand dollars for Lombard University. It gave up its separate existence in 1870 after a career of great usefulness in the West.
Our great leaders, like Dr. Sawyer and Dr. Brooks, raised their voices in a mighty plea to all our people to create one ecclesiastical body, with a reasonable authority over all lesser bodies, and with power to direct all these con- fused, weak, and scattered parts in all the world. They explained, wrote, spoke, and privately urged the matter, and with them all others who wanted a Universalist Church. In 1860 the matter had gathered headway enough so that a committee was chosen to consider the whole question of the relation between all lesser bodies and the General Convention. But the Civil War came on, everybody forgot all about this committee, nor did they appear to take themselves at all seriously. Occasionally they feebly reported progress; but it did not appear anywhere outside of their report. At last in 1864 a Committee, with Rev. Richard Eddy, [***Page 94 / 001039 starts] D.D., at the head, proposed a form of constitution clearly defining the powers of the General Convention and the various State Conventions and minor bodies, making the former the real head of the denomination. In 1865 it appeared that the majority of the State Conventions had consented to this proposed form of organization, and in 1866 it was made our accepted Constitution; and our annual mass meeting became for the first time an ecclesiastical body, a real General Convention.
We speak of our Church in America as having been born in 1770 when John Murray came. It might be nearer the truth to say that it was born in 1866 when for the first time we reached the point where we had a denomination with a recognized head and properly related parts.
This Constitution thus adopted in 1866 did not prove to be adequate to the needs of our organization. It was soon seen that it must be broadened and changed. In 1868, only two years after its adoption, Mr. Henry K. Busch placed before the Convention a proposed revision of the whole matter. In 1869 this matter of revision was referred to a committee of five; Rev. E. G. Brooks, Bev, H. W. Rugg, Rev. J. S. Cantwell, J. D. W. Joy, and W. T. Barker composing the committee.
This was a committee of experts, and they gave the important matter put into their hands [***Page 95 / 001040 starts] very careful study. They held frequent meetings, they consulted widely with our people, they asked for expression of opinion from all sections of the Church. The result of their most faithful and valuable labor was that the new Constitution they reported in 1870 at the Gloucester Convention was adopted, and, submitted to the States, became our working Constitution of to-day in substance.
Our people in the several States are still careless about following scrupulously the General Convention law for uniform procedure. The General Convention rule is that a State Convention shall be composed of all the ordained Universalist clergymen residing in the State and actively engaged in the work of the ministry, unless hindered by sickness; of the officers of the Convention, and of one lay delegate from each parish, and an additional lay delegate for each — families contributing to parish expenses. It appears that the different States interpret this rule very freely, and fill in the blank space, referring to the number of families that shall be required to entitle a parish to an extra delegate, in very different ways. In 1807 Rev. John Coleman Adams, D.D., reported for a Committee on relation of State and National Conventions, that the States had in many instances disregarded the General Convention law on this point, and had organized themselves in [***Page 96 / 001041 starts] a number of ways, and had never been disfellowshipped therefor by the General Convention. Some States admitted to their Convention four lay delegates, — two from the society, one from the Church, and one from the Sunday-school. Other States made trustees of schools within their borders, delegates from Associations, delegates from the Y. P. C. U., etc., members of their State Conventions. There is great variety still in actual practice. At this same session of the General Convention, 1807, Rev. F. A. Bisbee, Eben Alexander, and Rev. J. K. Mason, as a committee on the laws of fellowship, reported similar varieties of procedure in the various States regardless of the General Convention law.
Sometimes men refused ordination in one State received it very soon after in another. Ministers disfellowshipped in one State had been restored in another in direct violation of law. The General Convention has not even yet therefore secured uniformity of procedure in all the States in those matters which such uniformity is plainly most desirable.
Every Universalist ought to stand for uniformity of procedure and obedience to Church law on these matters of general concern. But the encouraging fact stands that we have passed from government by Association, through government by States, into government by a Gen- [***Page 97 / 001042 starts] eral Convention. “Under the Constitution and rules adopted at Gloucester in 1870, our Denomination has been compacted and set forward, uniformity of ecclesiastical procedure prevails to a wide degree, and, what is vastly more important, the General Convention has become a working power for Church extension and missionary service at home and abroad.” The only important particulars in which this Constitution of 1870 has been changed are these: a change in our credal basis of fellowship, spoken of in another place, a change from annual to biennial sessions of the Conventions, and a change in response to a feeling that our Convention might well be a larger and more popular body than the laws of 1870 made it. To bring about this latter change, in 1899 an amendment to the Constitution was made, enlarging the membership of the General Convention. The composition of that body now is as follows: —
“1. This Convention shall be composed of the Officers of the Convention, the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Secretaries of the several State Conventions in its fellowship.”
“2. Each State Convention shall be entitled to two clerical and four lay delegates; or having an aggregate of twenty-five parishes and clergymen to two clerical and four lay delegates, and for every additional ten parishes and clergymen to one clerical and two lay [***Page 98 / 001043 starts] delegates. If there be organized Universalist Parishes in any State or Territory which has no Convention they may unite to choose two delegates, and if there be but one such. Parish it shall likewise be entitled to two delegates.”
This new rule makes it possible that the Convention have 489 delegates, whereas formerly it could have but 216. The first session of the Convention held under the new rule was at Buffalo, in 1901, with 284 delegates present.
The Board of Trustees is the ruling body in our Church between the biennial sessions of the General Convention.
We do not mean to speak lightly of the value of Associations if they are held as popular gatherings of our people, who may suggest legislation to their State bodies and to the General
[From footer: ] NOTE. —The Presidents of the General Convention have been: Hon. Sidney Perham of Maine, 1871-1876. John D.W. Joy of Boston. 1878- 1885. Dr. Sweetser, 1886-1887. Hon. II. W. Parker, 1888-1891. Hon. Henry B. Metcalf, 1892-1895. Mr. Charles Hutchinson of Chicago has served the longest in this office, being President from 18!)fi to 1902 and again from 1907 to 1911. ,In 1911 at the session in Springfield a movement was started looking for a President who should not only preside at the biennial sessions, but also be the active leader in the educational and inspirational work, the official representative of our church for all the world. Rev. M. D. Shutter, D.D., of Minneapolis was chosen to fill the old office in this new way.
The office of Secretary was filled by Dr. Brooks, Dr. Saxe and Dr. Pullman down to 1877. In 1878 Rev. G. L. Demarest, D.D., came to the office and made a remarkable continuous record in it until 1900, when age prevented him from further service. Dr. Demarest died at Manchester, N. H., Oct. 10th, 1909, aged nearly ninety-three years.
Dr. Atwood was Secretary from 1905 to 1911, then Rev. W. H. Skeels of Utica, N. V., was chosen to fill the office. Mention must be made of Rev. H. W. Rugg, D.D., who died at Providence, July 21, 1910, having been a Trustee for thirty-seven years. The Convention maintains Commissions on the Ministry, Sunday Schools, Social Service and Foreign Relations. [***Page 99 / 001044 starts] Convention, but which surrender all direct ecclesiastical power. The facts seem to indicate, however, that we do not succeed in maintaining much popular interest in religious gatherings shorn of their ecclesiastical power. The Associations have steadily fallen off in attendance since they surrendered governing power to the State. Many of them have entirely died.
After the session of the General Convention became biennial, an attempt was made to hold Conferences in the intervening years. Every attempt was made to provide strong programs and secure special speakers, but the Conferences failed to attract enough of our people to warrant their continuation.
Rev. Q. H. Shinn, D.D., with his splendid missionary enthusiasm, organized in 1881 the Universalist National Summer Meeting. This meeting was held each summer for sixteen years at Weirs, N.H., for three years at Saratoga, N.Y., and for three years at Ferry Beach Park in Maine. At this latter point it holds its 23d annual session in 1904. Rev. Charles E. Lund of Deering, Me., is secretary. The summer meetings at Good Luck and at Rome City, Ind., are further examples of meetings that have possibilities of great usefulness. The old Associations and the Summer Meetings ought to be continued and be made into inspiring mass meetings for our Church.
[From footer: ] NOTE. — The Ferry Beach Park Association now has itasheadquarters at Hotel Quillen, Old Orchard, Me., where it holds annual summer meetings in August. Rev. O. Howard Perkins of Brockton, Mass., is President. Rev. Dwight A. Ball of West Paris, Me., is now Secretary. [***Page 100 / 001045 starts]
THE UNIVERSALIST CREEDS
Shall we have a long creed, a short creed, or no creed at all? A long creed is definite, even to details, but its fault is that it cites too many details, and so becomes a source of contention on non-essential matters. A short creed can only give principles, and ought to give only essential principles.
As what seems essential to some, seems unimportant to others, it has always been difficult to make a short creed which gave general satisfaction. Our fathers in the Universalist Church tried for a little time to have no creed at all. They soon found, however, that it would be of great use if there was some short statement that all Churches accepted’ which could be put into the hands of inquirers as. to what Universalists believed. The few Churches that we had from 1780 to 1780 watched with intense interest the lawsuit that Mr. Murray and the Gloucester parish carried on in the Massachusetts courts as to whether the Universalists were a distinct body with- power to ordain a minister [***Page 101 / 001046 starts] so that he could legally marry couples. The question was also involved as to whether Universalists must pay taxes to support the Orthodox Church of the town, their own organization not being reckoned to be a Church at all by many.
Then at this time there were, two distinct parties at least among the Universalists themselves. There were the Murray school and the Winchester school of Universalists.
As we have before said, the Murray school were Rellyans, while the Winchester school held to some future punishment as necessary to discipline and reform the sinner, Mr. Winchester himself saying that that punishment might be as long as fifty thousand years. There was a strong desire expressed in many quarters that some authoritative statement of what Universalists really believed be issued. It is probable that before the session of the Philadelphia Convention in 1790 a committee had been chosen to draft a creed for that body to act upon.
We do not know who this committee was, nor even that it existed at all; but we do know that Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, perhaps our wisest and most influential layman of his day, had a creed put into his hands to put into final shape for committal to the Convention for its action. [***Page 102 / 001047 starts]
This, our first official creed, adopted in May, 1790, is given here in full: —
“Sect. 1. Of the Holy Scriptures. — We believe the Scriptures of the Old and Now Testaments to con- tain a revelation of the perfections and will of God, and the rule of faith and practice.
“Sect. 2. Of the Supreme Being. — We believe in One God, infinite, in all his perfections; and that these perfections are all modifications of infinite, adorable, incomprehensible and unchangeable Love.
“Sect. 3. Of the Mediator.— We believe that there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; who, by giving himself a ransom for all, hath redeemed them to God by his blood;and who, by the merit of his death, and the efficacy of his Spirit, will finally restore the whole human race to happiness.
“Sect. 4. Of the Holy Ghost. — We believe in the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to make known to sinners the truth of their salvation, through the medium of the Holy Scriptures, and to reconcile the hearts of the children of men to God, and thereby dispose them to genuine holiness.
“Sect. 5. Of the Good Works — W e believe in the obligation of the moral law, as the rule of life; and we hold that the love of God manifest to man in a Redeemer, is the best means of producing obedience to that law, and promoting a holy, active, and useful life.”
This Convention also made a plan of Church government which was of much use in those early years in unifying our organizations, although the progress was very slow in that direction. [***Page 103 / 001048 starts]
In regard to the debate over this creed in the Convention, we can only judge by the long time occupied in the work, from May 25 to June 8, and from the variety of opinions that we know were represented there. But that there was generous concession and a real Christian desire to promote unity, we know from what was said about this creed in a pamphlet issued at the time. It said: —
“The articles arc few, hut they contain the essentials of the Gospel. We thought it improper to require an assent to opinions that are merely speculative, or to introduce words, in expressing the articles of our belief, which have been the cause of unchristian controversies.”
It is not easy even to-day to improve on that description of what a creed ought to be. Dr. Eddy thinks that there is a Trinitarian intent in these Articles of Faith, although it was stated so mildly that in some quarters the creed was criticised as a denial of the Deity of Christ. The matters of rites, of baptism, of ordinances, etc., were left to individual consciences, and the differences between the Rellyan theology and the Winchester seem to be blended in a statement that both sides accept.
This was our “official” creed for thirteen years, although during that time some of the Churches, notably the one at Boston, amended it beyond recognition. The brethren kept their [***Page 104 / 001049 starts] debating faculties sharpened in criticising this creed, and many believed that, a better one could be made. In 1,802 a committee of five was chosen to draft a new creed. This committee consisted of Zebulon Streeter, George Richards, Hosea Ballou, Walter Ferriss, and Zephaniah Lathe.
In 1803 the Convention of the New England States, as it was then, met at “Winchester, N.H., and among other matters of business was the report of the committee on a new creed, chosen the previous year. Walter Ferriss presented the report, and it is generally supposed that he was the principal author of the creed offered in that report, as he says that he had had no opportunity during the year to meet the rest of the committee. That creed was: —
“Article I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
“Article II. We believe, that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
” Article III. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practise good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.”
The record gives us no account of the debate, [***Page 105 / 001050 starts] if there was any, over this report. It says that the report was “Deliberately read, naturally considered, and seriously investigated.” One account says that the articles were adopted unanimously, but another record says that two voted against them. The Convention consisted of eighteen or twenty ministers and twenty-two laymen, representing thirty-eight societies.
Whatever the rest thought, the clerk who kept the records had a beautiful unconsciousness that they were making and he recording important denominational history.
It is a strange fact that Hosea Ballou made no suggestion as to this creed either at the time or afterward. It evidently had no importance whatever in his eyes. John Murray did not attend the Convention of 1803, and so had no part in making the creed. Nathaniel Stacy was a visitor to the Convention from the State of Vermont, and he kept a diary, and afterwards published an Autobiography. Mr. Stacy says that Noah Murray likened the proposed creed to a calf before its horns have appeared. “But it will soon grow older,” he said, “and then it will begin to hook.” Zephaniah Lathe replied, “All that Brother Murray has offered would be correct had he not made a mistake in the animal. It is not a calf; it is a dove; and whoever heard of a dove having horns at any age?”
The reader can easily see that Mr. Ferriss fol- [***Page 106 / 001051 starts] lowed closely the Philadelphia creed in making these Articles of Faith, and that he greatly improved upon his copy.
It has always been a tradition among us that the chief impelling motive to creed-making in 1803 was that we might escape paying taxes to the Orthodox Churches in New England by having a creed of our own to prove .that we ourselves were a Church. Dr. Eddy believes that this tradition among us has no ground, and that the only desire was to have some definite Church organization of our parishes and people, with no thought of escaping taxation.
This creed has always been known among us as the Winchester Profession of Belief, and it has always held a very important place in our work. In 1903, exactly one hundred years after the making of this Profession, a notable meeting was held in the historic old church edifice at Winchester. Dr. Cantwell read a most interesting paper, of great historic value, giving the history of that gathering in 1803, and an analysis of their work. We have made free use of that paper here. Dr. Pullman and Dr. Atwood and many others gave valuable addresses, and the great gathering took much delight in honoring the fathers who made for their day so noble a statement of faith. All these addresses and papers, with much more interesting [***Page 107 / 001052 starts] matter, are published in the volume referred to in the Introduction to this book.
The Winchester Profession remained our only official statement of belief until 1899, although for twenty-five years preceding that date few Conventions passed without attack and defence of that historic, to many people sacred, document.
As one reads the debates in the records of those years from 1878 to 1899, the old fear that disturbed Noah Murray comes to mind, and it seems that the calf’s horns were getting well grown.
The chief grounds of criticism of the Winchester Profession are these: The word “restore” implies a fall from some previous superior condition, generally from a perfect state in Adam, and that the race is to be put back in some condition in which it formerly was that it has lost for a time. Another objection was made that its statement of the connection of holiness and happiness was utilitarianism. Many were the committees chosen, many the cunning rhetoricians who volunteered to make a better creed than this Winchester Profession. The Convention records for the period indicated contain many interesting attempts at creed improvement, all of which attempts were riddled by the adroit critics before they were fairly off the table. At last the Church grew very weary of [***Page 108 / 001053 starts] a discussion that appeared to have outlived its usefulness, and a sigh of relief went up when the Convention of 1899 at Boston adopted the following amendment to the Constitution, proposed at Chicago two years before: —
“I. The Profession of Relief adopted at the session at Winchester, N.H., A.D. l830, is as follows:
“Article I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of Clod and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
“Article II. We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
“Article III. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practise good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.
“II. The conditions of fellowship shall be as follows:
“1. The acceptance of the essential principles of the Universalist Faith, to wit: 1. The Universal Fatherhood of God; 2. The Spiritual authority and leadership of His Son, Jesus Christ; 3. The trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God; 4. The certainty of just retribution for sin; 5. The final harmony of all souls with God.
“The Winchester Profession is commended as containing these principles, but neither this nor any other precise form of words is required as a condition of fellowship, provided always that the principles above stated be professed. [***Page 109 / 001054 starts]
“2. The acknowledgment of the authority of the General Convention and assent to its laws.”
This disposition of the creed question seems to be generally satisfactory.
Some have objected to the word “retribution” in the new statement as a word connoting revenge or anger, and others have wished that a belief in the Holy Spirit had been stated as one of our principles. However, those who like the Winchester Profession have perfect liberty to use it; those who object to its wording have entire liberty to state its principles in better words. This action seems to justify our claim to be a Liberal Church. We stand on principles, and not on any fixed form of words.
The most interesting effort that has yet been made to take advantage of this liberty to state the principles of the creed in one’s own words, is Dr. Capon’s effort to cast the principles of our faith in a form having liturgical value. In the New Gloria the Winchester Profession stands for those who desire to use its time-honored form, and beside it stands this new form for those who prefer it: —
“I believe in God: the Father, Almighty and Universal; and in Jesus Christ his Son, the true teacher, example, and Saviour of the world. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the quickener and. comforter of men. I believe in the Holy Scriptures of the Old’ and New Testaments as a revelation- of righteousness and love. I believe in the Holy Church Universal; in the communion of saints; in the certainty of punishment for transgression; in the forgiveness of sins; in the life immortal; in the final triumph of goodness and mercy; and in the union and harmony at lust of all souls with God.”