Unitarianism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 50 pages of information about Unitarianism.
and articles, claiming to believe ’the Scripture’—­a well-understood expression in those days.  The question of their exclusion was referred to London, and there again the point of renewed ‘subscription’ was raised before the vote on the Exeter case was taken.  By seventy-three to sixty-nine it was decided that the declaration of faith should be confined to ’the words of Scripture’—­as Sir Joseph Jekyll put it, ‘the Bible carried it by four.’  This was widely recognized as setting open the door for liberty in matters of religion, and the interesting fact should be recorded that Independents and Presbyterians were found on both sides.

Here, then, we may for the present leave the English development; it was slow, tentative, for the most part obscure.  In one direction and another the movement of thought might be perceived, in the Church, among the ‘Congregationals,’ or Baptists, or Presbyterians, as the case might be.  It was only long after that much preponderance of heretical opinion was distinctive of Presbyterian congregations.  In the Academies men like Philip Doddridge (1702-51), the hymn writer, were affording room at least for ample discussion among the students, and moderate as his own opinions were he is credited with having made so-called ‘orthodoxy’ a byword.  The Independents, Caleb Fleming and Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768), led the way to ‘Humanitarian’ views, the latter being a learned writer of much influence.  It is said that another great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, finally shared the Humanitarian view.  On the whole, with some notable exceptions, the Dissenting preachers seem to have been decorously dull, and uninspiringly ethical.  Without the zeal of the ‘enthusiast,’ whom they severely scanned from afar, and seeking in all things to prove that Christianity was so ‘reasonable’ as to be identical with ‘rational philosophy,’ it is little wonder that when the popular mind began to be stirred by a religious ‘Revival’ they were not its apostles, but mostly its critics.  This is precisely the point where we may fitly turn to consider the growth of Unitarianism in New England.

NEW ENGLAND

I. BEFORE THE ‘GREAT AWAKENING’

As in the Old Country, so in the colonies of North America, a great evangelical revival took place towards the middle of the eighteenth century.  John Wesley the Arminian, and George Whitefield the Calvinist, were the great apostles of this movement, and the latter especially was very influential in America.  The English revivalists were not alone, however; among the most powerful leaders in the colonies was Jonathan Edwards, whose name ranks very high in the records of religious philosophy in the States.  Despite preliminary obstacles this preacher of the most stern and unflinching determinism produced a quite extraordinary effect at last.  As usually happens, his dogmas were more easily repeated by others than his reasoning; violent excitement ran through the colonies, and it was this that gave a decisive turn to the liberalism which ultimately developed into a very memorable phase of Unitarianism.  The preceding steps may be briefly indicated.

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Unitarianism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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