1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Universalist Church

16683131911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — Universalist ChurchIsaac Morgan Atwood

UNIVERSALIST CHURCH, a religious body organized in the United States, and represented chiefly by parishes and churches in that country and in Canada. While the distribution of the denomination extends to every state in the Union, the greater number of organizations and members are found in New England and New York.

A distinction should be noted between Universalism and the Universalist denomination. Universalism is found very early in the history of the Christian Church—apparently from the beginning. It was certainly held and taught by several of the greatest of the Apostolic and Church fathers: as Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen and probably by Chrysostom and Jerome. It was taught in a majority of the Christian Schools of the second and third centuries; at Alexandria, at Antioch, at Edessa and at Nisibis.[1] But the Universalist denomination is of modern origin and confined mostly to the American continent. It dates from the arrival in Good Luck, N.J., of the Rev. John Murray (1714–1815),[2] of London, in September 1770; although there were some preachers of the doctrine in the country before Mr Murray came. He preached in various places in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and societies sprang up as the result of his ministry in all these states. His first regular settlement was in Gloucester, Mass., in 1774, whence in 1793 he removed to Boston, which from that time forth became the headquarters of the denomination. A contemporary of Murray in his later years was Hosea Ballou (q.v.), also of Boston, who soon became the recognized leader of the movement, and for half a century was its most honoured and influential name. During his ministry the sect developed from twenty or thirty churches to five hundred, with a distribution over the Eastern and Middle states. In the period of Mr Ballou’s domination little attention was paid to organization. It was the period of the propagation of the doctrine and of the controversies to which that gave rise. But about 1860 began an agitation for a more coherent organization, and a polity better suited to unity and progress than the spontaneous congregationalism that had developed during the earlier period. The result of that agitation was the adoption, at the Centennial Convention in 1870, of a somewhat elaborate plan of organization, and a manual of administration under which the denomination has since been conducted.

The plan of organization of the Universalist body follows, with necessary modifications, the scheme of the civil organization of the national government. While the local parish is the unit, the states are organized as independent federations, and combined into a national congress or convention. The parishes within the territory of a state are organized into a state convention; representatives, duly elected by the several state conventions, constitute the General Convention, which is the supreme legislative authority of the denomination. The state conventions meet annually; the General Convention once in two years. In the interval of sessions a Board of Trustees, consisting of eleven members, of whom the secretary, the chief administrative officer of the Convention, is one, administer the affairs of the denomination, except those concerns “reserved to the state sand the people.”

Doctrine.—The historic symbol of the denomination remains the Winchester Profession, adopted at the meeting of the General Convention—then a spontaneous yearly gathering of Universalists, without ecclesiastical authority—in Winchester, N.H., in Sept. 1803. It consists of three brief articles, as follows:-

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.[3]

At the session of the General Convention in Boston in October 1900, a still briefer “Statement of Essential Principles” was adopted and made the condition of fellowship, in the following terms:—

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.

Universalism, shortly described, is the belief that what ought to be will be. In a sane and beneficent universe the primacy belongs to Truth, Right, Love. These are the supreme powers. The logic of this conception of the natural and moral order is imperious. It compels the conclusion that, although we see not yet all things put under the sway of the Prince of Peace, we see the Divine plan set forth in Him, and cannot doubt the consummation which He embodies and predicts. Universalists are those members of the Christian family in whom this thought has become predominant. The idea that there is a Divine order, and that it contemplates the final triumph of Good over Evil, in human society as a whole and in the history of each individual, has taken possession of them. Hence they are Universalists.

The Universalist Church embraces but a fraction of those who hold the Universalist belief. The literature of religion, the testimony of common knowledge, the drift of theological thinking, equally with the results of expert investigation, confirm this conclusion. But the denomination holds aloft the banner, conducts the campaign of education and organization, and represents in the religious world the principle, that the best possible outcome is to be expected to the human experiment.

Work.—Some idea of the work carried on by the denomination may be derived from the extent and variety of its organized forces. There were in 1907 about 1000 parishes on its roll; and these, with large numbers of families not included in parishes, were organized into 41 state and provincial conventions; into a National Young People's Christian Union of over 600 local societies, with a membership of 10,000; into one National Women's Missionary Association and several state societies; and into one General Convention, with its Board of Trustees, Secretary, Superintendent, and Committees on Missions, Education, Investments, Ways and Means and Fellowship.

a. The Home Missionary work devolves in the first instance on the several State Conventions, which have a Board and local secretaries and superintendents charged with this particular business in their several territories. In the next place, the Home Missionary work in new fields and where the local organization is weak, is in charge of the Board of Trustees of the General Convention. They employ a Southern Missionary and a General Superintendent, and appoint and aid in maintaining superintendents and missionaries in the newer states and Territories—as the North-Western Superintendent, the California Superintendent, &c.

b. Foreign Missions. In 1907 the Universalist denomination had for about fifteen years maintained a mission in Japan, where five American and five native missionaries were regularly employed, with teachers and helpers of varying numbers. The parent church of this mission is established in Tokyo, and plantings have been made at eight or nine other points throughout the empire. A Girls' Home is maintained in Tokyo, and a considerable work in teaching and training is conducted under the auspices of the Mission in universities and other schools elsewhere. A mission under the auspices of the Universalist General Convention is also maintained at Columbia, Province of Camagüey, Cuba.

c. The educational interests and activities of the denomination are expressed in four colleges, established by the Universalists—Tufts College (1852), at Medford, Massachusetts; Lombard College (1855; opened in 1852 as Illinois Liberal Institute), at Galesburg, Illinois; St Lawrence University (1856), at Canton, New York; and Buchtel College (1872), at Akron, Ohio; three theological schools, connected with the first three colleges just named and founded respectively in 1869, 1881 and 1858; and three academies, Dean Academy, Franklin, Massachusetts, Goddard Seminary, Barre, Vermont, and Westbrook Seminary, Portland, Maine; and a publishing house in Boston with a branch in Chicago is one of the denomination's chief agencies for the spread of the knowledge of what it holds to be the truth.

d. The Chapin Home in New York, the Church of the Messiah Home in Philadelphia, the Washburne Home in Minneapolis and the Bethany Home in Boston are examples of the benevolent and charitable work in which the Universalist body is interested and enlisted.

As stated above, the Universalist denomination embraces about 1000 churches, with congregations numbering about 200,000 persons; a membership of communicants reported in 1906 as 55,831; a membership in Sunday schools of 52,538; and church property valued at $10,598,100.39.

Bibliography.—The Universalist Quarterly Review (Boston, 1843-91); T. Whittemore, Modern History of Universalism (Boston, 1830); Richard Eddy, Universalism in America (2 vols., 1884); J. G. Adams, Fifty Notable Years (Boston, 1882); Abel C. Thomas, A Century of Universalism (Philadelphia, 1870); J. W. Hanson, Universalism in the First Five Hundred Years of the Christian Church (Boston and Chicago, 1902); T. B. Thayer, Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment (Boston, 1885), tracing the doctrine directly to heathen sources; T. B. Thayer, The Theology of Universalism (Boston, 1862); I. M. Atwood (ed.), The Latest Word of Universalism, Essays by Thirteen Representative Clergymen (Boston, 1880); Manuals of Faith and Duty, a set of eleven volumes by different writers, treating of the chief doctrines, institutions and problems of religion in the modern era; Orello Cone, The Gospel and its Earliest Interpretations (New York, 1898); and biographies of John Murray, Hosea Ballou, Edwin H. Chapin, Thomas J. Sawyer, Alonzo Ames Miner, James Henry Tuttle, &c. (I. M. A.)

  1. See Dr Edward Beecher’s History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution (New York, 1878), and Hosea Ballou 2nd’s Ancient History of Universalism (Boston, 1829).
  2. A Wesleyan, then a follower of Whitefield, Murray became a Universalist after reading the tract on Union (1759) written by James Relly (1720–1778), minister of a Universalist congregation in London. Murray was a chaplain in a Rhode Island brigade during the War of American Independence, and a friend of General Nathanael Greene. His Universalism was Calvinistic in its tone, arguing from a universal election to a universal redemption—Ballou first openly broke with Calvinism. Murray’s parish in Gloucester through him brought successful suit for the recovery of property appropriated for the use of the original (Congregational) parish, and thus gained the first legal recognition granted in New England to a Universalist society. See the Autobiography (Boston, 1816) edited by his wife, Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820).
  3. Certain Universalists objected to the last clause of Article II. as implying a universal fall in Adam’s sin; and others objected to the material and utilitarian construction which might be put on the last clause of Article III.