Tuesday, November 17, 2009

George Willis Cooke on Charles Chauncy (and Samuel West)

Two more "key" patriotic preachers of the Founding era. Read it here.

A Pronounced Universalist.

Another preacher on the liberal side was Dr. Charles Chauncy of the First Church in Boston, whose ministry lasted from 1727 to 1787. He was the most vigorous of the opponents of the great awakening, both in his pulpit and through the press. He wrote a book on certain French fanatics, with the purpose of showing what would be the natural results of the excesses of the revival; he preached a powerful sermon on enthusiasm, to indicate the dangers of religious excitement, when not controlled by common sense and reason; and he travelled throughout New England to gain all the information possible about the revival, its methods and results, and published his Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England in 1743. He had been influenced by the reading of Taylor, Tillotson, Clarke, and the other latitudinarian and rationalistic writers of England; and he found the revival in its excesses repugnant to his every thought of what was true and devout in religion.

Dr. Chauncy was not an eloquent preacher; but he was clear, earnest, and honest. Many of his sermons were published, and his books numbered nearly a dozen. As early as 1739 he preached a sermon in favor of religious toleration. At a later period he said, "It is with me past all doubt that the religion of Jesus will never be restored to its primitive purity, simplicity, and glory, until religious establishments are so brought down as to be no more."[24] It was this conviction which made him oppose in his pulpit and in two or three books the effort that was made just before the Revolution to establish the English Church as the state form of religion in the colonies. He said, in 1767, that the American people would hazard everything dear to them--their estates, their lives--rather than suffer their necks to be put under the yoke of bondage to any foreign power in state or church.[25]

In his early life Dr. Chauncy was an Arminian, but slowly he grew to the acceptance of distinctly Unitarian and Universalist doctrines. Near the end of his life he Published four or five books in which he advanced very liberal opinions. One of these, published in Boston in 1784, was on The Benevolence of the Deity fairly and impartially Considered. This book followed the same method and purpose as Butler's Analogy, and aimed to show that God has manifested his goodness in creation and in the life of man. He said that our moral self-determination, or free will, is our one great gift from God. He discussed the moral problems of life in order to prove the benevolence of God, maintaining that the goodness we see in him is of the same nature with goodness in ourselves. The year following he published a book on the Scriptural account of the Fall and its Consequences, in which he rejected the doctrine of total depravity, and interpreted the new birth as a result of education rather than of supernatural change. Thus he brought to full statement the logical result of the half-way covenant and the teachings of Solomon Stoddard, as well as of the connection of church and state in New England. He saw that the method of education is the only one that can justly be followed in the preparation of the young for admission to a church that is sustained in any direct way by the state.

Dr. Chauncy's great work as a preacher and author[26] was brought to its close by his books in favor of universal salvation. In 1783-84 he published in Boston two anonymous pamphlets advocating the salvation of all men, and these pamphlets made no little stir. In 1784 he published in London a work which he called The Mystery hid from Ages and Generations, made manifest by the Gospel Revelation; or, The Salvation of All Men the Grand Thing aimed at in the Scheme of God: By One who wishes well to the whole Human Race. In this book Dr. Chauncy made an elaborate study of the New Testament, in order to prove that salvation is to be universal. Christ died for all, therefore all will be saved; because all have sinned in Adam, therefore all will be made alive in Christ. He looked to a future probation, to a long period after death, when the opportunity of salvation will be open to all. He maintained that the misery threatened against the wicked in Scripture is that of this intermediate state between the earthly life and the time when God shall be all in all. He held that sin will be punished hereafter in proportion to depravity, and that none will be saved until they come into willing harmony with Christ, who will finally be able to win all men to himself, otherwise the power of God will be set at naught and his good will towards men frustrated of its purpose. In the future state of discipline, punishment will be inflicted with salutary effect, and thus the moral recovery of mankind will be accomplished.

Other Men of Mark.

Another leader was Dr. Samuel West, of Dartmouth, now New Bedford, where he was settled in 1760, and where he preached for more than forty years.[27] He rejected the doctrines of fore-ordination, election, total depravity, and the Trinity. In preaching the election sermon of 1776, he took the ground of an undisguised rationalism. "A revelation," he said, "pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural laws ought immediately to be rejected as imposture; for the deity cannot make a law contrary to the law of nature without acting contrary to himself,--a thing in the strictest sense impossible, for that which implies contradiction is not an object of Divine Power." The cardinal idea of West's; position, as of that of most of the liberal men of his time, was stated by him in one sentence, when he said, "To preach Christ is to preach the whole system of divinity, as it consists of both natural and revealed religion."[28]

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