Friday, November 17, 2017

Article on Winchester & Murray

I found this very informative article on Elhanan Winchester, a Baptist Universalist who influenced among others Benjamin Rush. It brings to mind Rush's quotation:
At Dr. Finley’s school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher’s controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.
Curiously, one name missing from Rush's list is that of the other most notable Universalist of America's Founding era, John Murray. The article sheds light on why that might be so [it relates to Murray's denial of temporary punishment in the afterlife]:
During the Revolutionary Era and Early Republic, the two leading universalists in America were Winchester and John Murray; the latter was a onetime friend of George Whitefield who eventually came to embrace the universalist views of a Welsh minister named James Relly. Both Relly and Murray had been pro-revival Calvinists prior to their conversion to universalist sentiments. In 1770, Murray relocated to America and spent the next forty-five years promoting the universalist cause from Virginia to New England. Murray met Winchester shortly after First Baptist Church of Philadelphia split over Winchester’s views. The two men became friendly acquaintances, and on August 5, 1785 Murray and Winchester founded a Universalist Society in Oxford, Massachusetts. ...
Though the two men were co-laborers for the universalist cause in the mid-1780s, they represented two distinct versions of universal restoration.42 Following Relly, Murray argued for what might be called a Calvinistic version of universalism that affirmed unconditional election and effectual atonement, but applied them to all of humanity. Murray argued that all people are presently reconciled with Christ, even if they do not know it, and are thus ushered into Christ’s presence upon their death. For Murray, conversion was about awakening to the reality that you are already saved; Christians are those who simply live in light of that reality.43 Murray denied that there would be any punishment for sin in the afterlife, believing that sin is punished temporally in the present life; this emphasis on temporal punishment marked a key difference between Murray and Winchester.
Winchester advocated a different understanding of universal restoration. James Leo Garrett argues Winchester built his cases for universalism around three key ideas: God’s love is his central attribute, Christ’s atonement is general in its provision, and salvation is inclusive of all people.45 Unlike Murray, Winchester argued for the necessity of post- mortem punishment as a means to reform unrepentant sinners and reconcile them to God. Eventually, all people would be purged of their sin and be saved. For Winchester, conversion was about resting in the saving work of Christ in this life and avoiding God’s just punishment of sinners in the next life.46 Though a universalist, Elhanan Winchester was in every other respect a mainstream evangelical.
I think that Winchester's view of "future punishment, and of long duration" probably predominated among then Universalists. However, one still can't discount Murray's influence during the American Founding.  In 1775, George Washington defended Murray as a chaplain during the revolutionary war when the "religiously correct" sought to disqualify Murray for the position because of his universalism.

Later, in 1790, responding to a letter co-written by Murray, Washington gave his props to the Convention of the Universal Church. Though I don't think this group privileged Murray's view of the afterlife over Winchester's (Winchester also, apparently played a leadership role in that group).

[The notes to Washington's letter to the Convention also interestingly detail George and Martha's social relationship with the Murrays.]

Still, one thing about Murray's view reported above, to me, sticks out as striking a very important note that resonates with classical and Christian thought of yesterday and today: "believing that sin is punished temporally in the present life[.]"

Of that era, most Unitarans, Universalists, Deists and so on, along with Jews, orthodox Christians and Muslims believed in at the very least the doctrine of an overriding Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. While Murray's view is consistent with Providence and a future state of rewards, what about the punishment part? Yes, there is punishment for sin, or for the more philosophically minded, violation of the natural law. But to Murray, it's more of a present punishment than a future one.

This is Aristotle's notion of Eudaimonia, that there is, as George Washington put it in his First Inaugural "an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." Perhaps this explains why Washington could venerate Murray's theology.

3 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

George Washington was an avid collector of printed sermons; I think he found theologizing interesting but that it's an error to translate his praise for his agreement. My own guess is that he listened to all but decided on little.

I also think this is more true of Franklin than is usually described. I find Franklin seldom if ever taking a firm stand for or against a given piece of theology. For instance, he may have doubted the Trinity but by no means would he have had the arrogance of Jefferson and Adams to explicitly refudiate it.


As for Winchester's cosmology, it would not be out of place in today's Catholic Church, which is also open to "universal reconciliation." It is amusing to see Protestants come back around to a purgation--Purgatory--after Luther so stridently denied it.

https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/remembering-hans-urs-von-balthasars-important-book/4620/

JMS said...

Jon - good post. But you should give a "shout out" to Judith Sargent Murray.
http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2011/10/judith-sargent-murray.html

"In 1782 Judith privately published a Universalist catechism. It is considered the earliest writing by an American Universalist woman, and the first religious education material produced for Universalists. The pamphlet included Judith’s first public assertion of male and female equality, a hallmark of Universalism."

Judith and her brothers "persuaded John Murray to bring their case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and argue for the right to separate from First Parish and support their own church. In 1786, the court ruled in favor of the Universalists, the first ruling for freedom of religion in America."

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