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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.

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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.