A Liberal Protestant sect — found chiefly in North America — whose distinctive tenet is the belief in the final salvation of all souls. The doctrine of universal salvation found favor among members of various Christian Churches (see APOCATASTASIS for its treatment anterior to the foundation of the Universalist Church). The present article will exclusively consider Universalism as a separate denomination.
I. DOCTRINAL PRINCIPLES
The historic creed of this religious body is the profession of belief adopted by the General Convention at Winchester, New Hampshire, in 1803. It contains the following articles:
- 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.
- 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 tie whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
- 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.
To meet the objections raised by some Universalists to parts of the foregoing articles, a briefer statement of essential principles was adopted in 1899 by the General Convention held at Boston. It required for admission to fellowship the belief in the following articles:
- the universal fatherhood of God,
- the spiritual authority and leadership of His Son Jesus Christ;
- the trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God;
- the certainty of just retribution for sin;
- the final harmony of all souls with God.
To the admission of these principles must be added "the acknowledgment of the authority of the General Convention and assent to its laws". The Trinity is usually rejected by present-day Universalists. The reception of the sacraments is not enjoined; but baptism (according to the mode preferred by the candidate) and the Lord's Supper are administered. The infliction of temporal punishment for sin insufficiently atoned for on earth is now generally admitted. A usage of distinctly Universalist origin is the observance of "Children's Sunday." A special day (the second Sunday in June) is set apart for the baptism of children and their dedication to God's service. This observance has been taken over by other Protestant churches. For many years, the several Universalist congregations administered their own affairs independently, and the General Convention enjoyed merely advisory powers. The functions of this body were enlarged in 1866 and further extended in 1870, until it became the highest legislative authority for the United States and Canada.
II. HISTORY & INSTITUTIONS
The first Universalist congregation was organized in 1750 in London by Rev. James Relly, who ministered to its spiritual needs until his death (1778). In spite of this early establishment few Universalist churches exist at present in Europe; but Universalism is undoubtedly believed in outside of the denomination. The stronghold of the sect is in America, where the first church was established by Rev. John Murray. He landed in New Jersey in September, 1770, preached the doctrine of Universalism along the Atlantic seaboard, and in 1779 formed with fifteen other persons the first American congregation of that faith at Gloucester, Massachusetts. Other preachers of the same doctrine arose about this time: Elhanan Winchester, a former Baptist minister, taught Universalism at Philadelphia, and Adams Streeter and Caleb Rich spread it m New England. More marked in its success and wider in the range of its influence was the propaganda of the Rev. Hosea Ballou (1771-1852), whose Unitarian views triumphed in the denomination over the Sabellian conception of the Trinity taught by Murray. His teaching of universal salvation immediately after death, however did not meet with unanimous approval, and caused the secession of eight ministers and some members who, under the name of Restorationists, founded a separate sect. But the existence of this new creation was short-lived (1831-41), while the parent body spread during Ballou's lifetime not only in the United States but also to Canada. Its progress was slowed by the Civil War, but the propaganda subsequently carried on, chiefly under the direction of the board of trustees and the state conventions, was crowned with some success, and the denomination spread throughout the United States.
The denomination founded the following educational institutions:
- Tufts College (founded in 1852) Medford, Mass.;
- Lombard College (1852), Galesburg, Illinois;
- St. Lawrence University (1856), Canton, New York;
- Buchtel College (1872), Akron, Ohio.
A school of divinity is connected with the first three institutions named. Academies are maintained at Franklin Massachusetts (Dean Academy); Barre, Vermont (Goddard Seminary); and Portland, Maine (Westbrook Seminary). N.A. WEBER