An Epistle General to Restorationists
From the first issue of theIndependent Messenger, 1 January 1831
Beloved Brethren - Having been called by the God of our fathers to the defense of that ancient truth, whereof he hath spoken "by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began," I deem it my solemn duty to submit to your consideration an undisguised exposition of the motives and feelings with which I enter upon so responsible an undertaking. In order to render this exposition more clear and forcible, I have chosen to present a brief historical sketch of my life and experience during the last eight years.
First Experiences as a Universalist
In the year 1822, after much anxious inquiry, and many trying exercises of mind, I at length found repose in the full persuasion, that God through Jesus Christ will finally restore the whole human family to holiness and happiness.
An honest avowal of this persuasion involved me in the censure of my former religious friends, and resulted in my exclusion from their fellowship.
Soon after, having received intimations that the denomination of Universalists would give me a friendly admission into their connexion, I made application and met a cordial welcome.
I entered into this new connexion with the confident expectation of enjoying fraternal countenance and protection, without sacrificing my religious liberty.
I verily believed from the professions held out, that I was associating myself with an order of people, whose glory it was to befriend all its members in the faith and practice of what might be most conformable to the dictates of their own understandings and consciences.
I did not even suspect, that in numbering myself with the preachers of this order, I was supposed to lay myself under obligation to think, speak and act in subserviency to the sectarian policy of its leaders.
Consequently, I promised myself greater mental and conscientious freedom than I was destined to enjoy.
The commencement of my acquaintance with Universalists was with several of the most conspicuous advocates of the doctrine of no future punishment.
Against these men, and their distinguishing tenets, my prejudices had formerly been very strong; nor as yet, had I entirely divested myself of their influence.
I was, however, received and treated by them with so much courtesy, kindness and apparent friendship, that my unfavorable impressions were soon exchanged for those of confidence and respect.
I seemed to find them persons of sounder heads and better hearts than I had anticipated, and before I was well aware, passed from suspicious dread to an extravagant credulity.
I presently arrived at that easy, unsuspecting frame of mind, in which all distrust subsides, and everything is allowed to pass at its nominal value.
My new associates took care to improve their opportunity for gradually doctrinating me into their views.
They solemnly assured me, that although they believed the doctrine of no future punishment to be more sound and consistent than that of limited future retribution, as held by Restorationists, yet they had not the least inclination on this account to treat their brethren of that faith with unkindness or disrespect.
That all were Universalists, who believed in universal salvation, whether holding to limited future or no future punishment, and as such bound to consider themselves under mutual obligations to preserve the rights of each from violation.
Hence that Restorationism subjected no member of the order to any disadvantage whatever; and might be as freely enjoyed as any other doctrine.
This assurance, being perfectly satisfactory to my mind, went far towards preparing it for an entire surrender to their direction.
Knowing, however, that there had recently arisen a somewhat serious disturbance between certain eminent Restorationists, and the leading members of the no future punishment class, I desired some explanation of its cause and object.
It was replied, with some circumlocution but much apparent candor, that very unhappy difficulties had indeed taken place; but that they originated, not in a conscientious regard to particular doctrinal views, so much as in personal rivalry, envy, and hatred.
It was gravely represented that the Rev. Edward Turner, Paul Dean, and Jacob Wood, principal men of the disaffected party, had been aspiring to the most influential rank in the order - but that upon finding the Rev. Hosea Ballou perpetually in advance of them, both with respect to talents and the good opinion of the laity, they had conceived an envious ill will to wards that gentleman, and conspired his overthrow.
That in pursuance of their design they had availed themselves (for the sake of a convenient pretext) of the difference which existed in the faith of Universalists on the question of punishment, intending to excite an evil prejudice, in relation to his well known doctrine, which should prostrate his reputation among the societies.
That in reality the disaffected cared not whether their doctrine or the other were uppermost; provided they themselves could stand at the head of the order.
And finally, that the whole scheme of operations was a contrivance of hypocritical wickedness, from which every well-disposed man in the denomination could but recoil with abhorrence.
This representation went down into my soul cold and bitter as the dregs of death; yet there was so much semblance of truth in the numerous circumstantial criminations which were made against the accused, and all was delivered with so many appearances of injured innocence, that I could not allow myself to doubt its correctness.
I was too far carried away to think of inquiring, as I ought to have done, what the accused could offer in justification of themselves - and from that time forward, deemed it not only a dictate of prudence but of duty, to stand aloof from such dangerous men.
I abstained purposely from all intimacy, and only interchanged such civilities with them as seemed unavoidable.
Forthwith espousing the cause of the pretended injured party, I employed my little influence in strengthening the tide of opinion among the laity, that the disturbance of Messrs. Turner, Dean and Wood, was the offspring of inordinate ambition, personal rivalry and splenetic envy.
And that as its design was to break down so great and good a man as the Rev. Hosea Ballou - one who had been so long in the field, had borne the burden of the day, and was growing venerable with age - it deserved the reprehension of all good brethren. Still I was a believer in future retribution, rather than ultra Universalism; though the changes which had been going on in my mind in consequence of the evil bias given it against the leading Restorationists, had rendered me nearly neutral.
All these things were experienced in the course of six months after the first acquaintance with my new friends.
Influenced by Ultra Universalism
I was now considered on good ground by the no future punishment class, and in a fair way to obtain the whole truth in due time.
With all around me the grand watchword was, "research and improvement."
Many were becoming enamored with the discovery of new truths, and I began to fear, that without better efforts I should discover myself a dull scholar.
I therefore read with solicitude a multitude of different publications in favor of the doctrine of no future punishment.
In most of these I found it a leading business of their authors, not to prove from scripture and reason by direct testimony, that all mankind would certainly be happy upon their entrance into the future state, but to show that there was no proof that any part would be miserable or suffer punishment in that state.
Numerous passages of scripture, generally understood to teach future retribution, were examined, explained, and elaborately shown to have no reference to the future state.
Indeed I know of no important text relating to future judgment, or punishment, which had not undergone such an explanation.
The writings of Rev. Hosea Ballou, whom I had learned to look upon with extraordinary reverence, contained many of those expositions of scripture, several of which for a time I regarded as extremely plausible.
And if I rightly recollect, that gentleman himself expressed privately and publicly his settled conviction, that not a single passage of scripture fairly interpreted, either declared or intimated the doctrine of retribution in the future state.
To hear a man for whom I entertained so elevated a respect, deliberately declare such a conviction, with so much confidence in its truth, was well calculated to impress me with the idea that possibly he might be right.
In a few instances, I endeavored, in private conversation with him, to obtain more perfect explanations of his views concerning universal salvation; but was never so happy as to receive anything more explicit or satisfactory, than I had read in his works.
This was a circumstance that rather perplexed me, and the more so, as I did not find all that freedom which I needed, in order to propose my doubts and difficulties.
Yet I suffered it not to diminish my deference for the man; and applied with double diligence to his writings for more thorough information.
Rev. Walter Balfour's first Inquiry came out with an imposing importance, as a learned and valuable work; and I read it with high raised expectations of deriving satisfaction on many points, concerning which I had been perplexed.
I had been informed that he was a thorough scholar, particularly in the original languages of the Bible, a man of sterling sense, a strong reasoner, and withal remarkably candid.
I consequently read his work with interest, and with a prejudice in his favor.
Indeed I had grown so respectful to the no future punishment scheme, and was so intimate with its influential friends, that I greatly desired to be convinced of its soundness, and was if possible too willing to find sufficient evidence in its support.
Yet even in this frame of mind, all I had read came short of affording me the desired proof.
Mr. Balfour's work just noticed, though the most able and candid of all his Universalist productions, and though embracing much on the subjects discussed which deserved respectful consideration, did by no means settle the queries which chiefly agitated my mind.
I however thought tolerably well of it, as I endeavored to do of all the works I had examined on that side of the question.
But as my Restorationism had now become silent, my neutrality was little better than partiality to ultra Universalism.
And while in my preaching I said nothing directly in support of future retribution, I went as far as I could with those who were its opposers.
I never preached the no future punishment scheme at full length, for I never believed it true.
Yet I went so far sometimes, as to use arguments founded on those expositions of scripture, which refer most of the divine threatenings and promises to the destruction of Jerusalem.
I did this also in some instances of private argument; and therefore became regarded by many friends and opponents as a thoroughgoing Universalist.
In fact I was not much less; for I had arrived at a state of doubt concerning future punishment, which led me frequently to acknowledge that I could not well understand how there should be any suffering after the resurrection from the dead.
On that point I had been more affected by ultra Universalist writings, than any others.
I had partly assented to their explanations of those scriptures, which speak of the resurrection of "just and unjust," of some coming "forth to the resurrection of life," and some to the "resurrection of damnation" - and was therefore scarcely able to deny the inferences they had drawn from the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians in favor of their well-known position that the resurrection state must be inaccessible to sin, guilt and pain.
Still, however, I was far from being convinced of the truth of this position, in such a sense as to admit the argument generally employed upon it to be conclusive.
As to the style of my preaching, it had insensibly become remotely imitative of that which distinguished the leading Universalists.
Although irony, satire and witticism was never pleasing to me, and therefore not indulged in my discourses, yet in other respects I went too far.
In following the example of those who use their texts by way of accommodation to smite at the prevailing sects, I have since thought I sometimes erred.
Those preachers, who had become most acceptable to the laity, distinguished themselves by often selecting texts, which with an ingenious treatment would enable them to cast the severest reflections upon their opponents with the best grace.
If I fell into this practice it was only to a brief extent, for which I can plead no other excuse, than it was the fashion of my associates and therefore difficult wholly to avoid.
Otherwise I retained so much of my early religious feeling, that my discourses were in a good degree characterized by seriousness, moral sentiment, and moderation - so that not unfrequently, strangers and opposers would retire from the meeting with the remark, that I did not preach like a Universalist.
Thus I spent three years or more of my life, in addition to the first six months before mentioned.
During this period I professed to be neutral concerning the doctrines of no future, and limited future retribution - believed in the latter, if I might be said to believe in either - inclined to the former so far as to desire, and even harbor the expectation, that I might one day be convinced of its truth; but strictly speaking preached neither.
As to my influence, however, if I exerted any, it went into the no future punishment scale; and I presume I was generally viewed as a promoter of that interest.
In devotion to the denomination, I was not a whit behind the foremost - an enemy to that which was denominated faction, alarmed at any thing which portended disunion, and proud to deserve the credit of a peaceable brother.
I deprecated that "bad spirit," which tended to "make difficulty in the order," and thought of nothing but success and prosperity to the common cause.
In the meantime the disaffected Restorationists were considered as defeated, silenced, humbled and rendered harmless.
They were indeed treated externally as brethren, on the ground that the difficulties they had excited were settled, yet both they and their doctrine had evidently fallen into discredit with a majority of the societies; which majority evinced their determination, not only to befriend the no future punishment clergy, but to discountenance any thing that deviated from their distinguishing tenets.
This influence seemed to be fatal against Restorationism, and necessitated its preachers to keep their doctrine chiefly to themselves, or seek a new field for its dissemination.
Reservations about Ultra Universalism
I had now arrived at the twenty-fourth year of my age, and was passing the perihelium of my proximity to ultra Universalism.
Up to this time I had persuaded myself that my preaching, and that of my brethren, exerted or tended to exert, a salutary influence upon the moral condition of society, and believed that when fully proved in its effect it would vindicate itself against all reproach.
I knew well that some, who pretended to propagate Universalism, were too rough and vulgar to do any great good either for their own cause or any other (and such I could have wished might remain silent) but as the clergy generally promised better things, for such I accordingly hoped.
Henceforth, however, I perceived so much bitterness indulged, so much labor bestowed to show that the Bible teaches no future judgment or retribution, so much ridicule of the religion of professing Christians, and so much smart witticism, even in the preaching of those who were thought most eminent, that I began seriously to doubt whereunto things would grow.
Close moral, practical and evangelical preaching seemed to be going out of date, and when occasionally I struck into a vein of it, I found that it was evidently unwelcome to those ears, which were so much delighted with a different style and subject.
This troubled me exceedingly, and was an evil which I knew not how to remedy.
I learned that to declaim against the superstition, bigotry, hypocrisy and fanaticism of the various religious sects entertained a certain class of people very agreeably, yet without ever producing the effect to reform them of a single vice.
In contemplating the faults and follies of their neighbors, as described by an ingenious speaker, those people would evince the highest gratification; but the certain result, I observed always to be, a growing disrelish of all serious religion, and a forgetfulness of their own sinfulness in denouncing that of others.
I looked to my elders in the ministry, those who had it in their power to give tone to the taste and feelings of the laity, but I soon ascertained that they were as far from the mark at which I was aiming, as any of the people.
Gradually entering into their secrets, I began to discover some doctrines, practices and feelings not altogether consistent with the good opinion I had formed of their moral and intellectual worth.
I found them disposed to think lightly of that kind of preaching called moral.
They would speak of it as a sort of weakly, insipid, tiresome repetition, calculated to reflect no great honor upon the preacher, and to do no essential good to the hearer.
It would do well enough for those whose gifts fitted them for nothing higher - but doctrine, and exposure of the errors of the Church should be mainly attended to, by all who wished to attain celebrity.
Family devotion - asking blessings and returning thanks at table, etc. etc. they considered well enough for those who thought proper to observe them, but on the whole, as idle ceremonies which could be beneficial neither to God nor man.
With regard to a future state of existence, many of them disbelieved that mankind will in that state possess any consciousness of having previously existed in the present.
Some of them also, privately confessed their disbelief in the existence of angelic beings of a higher nature than human.
These and other similar skepticisms, which from time to time leaked out, occasioned me much bitter anxiety for the issue.
Then in relation to the Restorationist doctrine of limited future retribution, I found the whole ultra party, both clergy and laity, to hold it in abhorrence and contempt.
As I was supposed to have got over that childish notion, its opposers laid aside their reserve, and gave me an opportunity to discover their real feelings.
I found the doctrine regarded as a relic of heathenish superstition - a weak and silly whim - an indication wherever held of a shallow mind - and finally, as a serious detriment to the reputation of young preachers among the societies.
It would do well enough for people who had just been released from the dungeon of error, whose mental vision could not at once endure the full light of day.
It was, perhaps, a necessary evil, which as a convenient stepping stone into the knowledge of the truth, must be tolerated.
But as a permanent ground of faith, no man of intelligence could long rest upon it - for if any misery were admitted to exist in the future state, it was far more consistent to believe it would be endless.
Hence the man who should presume to urge it upon public attention, in distinction from their Universalism, could expect no less than to be denounced by them as an emissary of discord, and a promoter of "difficulty in the order."
Such indeed, they appeared to esteem everyone, who had independence enough to say anything in its vindication.
All these things I carefully observed, without appearing to do so, and along with many a painful pang locked them up in my own bosom.
Feeling that I was inextricably involved in the net which enclosed me, I resolved to make the best of my case, and to wait in silence for better times.
Yet even in this situation of mind I was a doubtful neutral, and thought it an almost impossible task to disprove the reasoning employed by Messrs. Ballou and Balfour to show that the scriptures do not teach the doctrines of future judgment and punishment.
But I no longer felt any anxiety to be persuaded of the soundness of their peculiar opinions; having become quite disposed to be content with whatever might finally appear most conformable to divine truth and reason.
Hudson's Letters to Hosea Ballou
About this time Rev. Charles Hudson's Letters made their appearance.
I read them with interest, and was constrained to acknowledge that the author had done more for his cause than I had had any idea was possible.
The many strong and seemingly irresistible arguments with which he had met the opposite scheme, produced a powerful impression on my mind, and prompted me, afterwards, to a critical examination of all the works of ultra Universalists within my reach.
I commenced reading Mr. Hudson's Letters with some prejudice against the man, on account of his having been, as I conceived, a disturber of the peace of our denomination - but I concluded the perusal with a determination to honor him as an able advocate of his doctrine, and moreover, to be satisfied with nothing short of a thorough answer from his opponents.
Such an answer I believed would soon appear; and as I had no doubt, the whole strength of the no future punishment scheme would be brought out, I anticipated a final settlement of the question.
But to my astonishment and mortification the Rev. Hosea Ballou at length announced through the columns of the Universalist Magazine, that he had not even read Mr. Hudson's work - but having been credibly informed by those who had that it contained nothing new on the subject, he should not reply.
How to interpret this mystery I knew not.
The elevated opinion I had entertained of Mr. Ballou's moral and intellectual worth forbade my imputing his conduct to any thing wrong in feeling, or deficient in mental ability.
Yet I could not defend his conduct, nor be satisfied with his rejecting so good an opportunity to establish his doctrine, if true, upon a permanent basis.
But when I learned that Mr. Balfour had engaged to meet Mr. Hudson, I recovered my spirits, and looked forward in anticipation of a production which should concentrate the whole force of evidence and argument, belonging to that side of the great question at issue.
The promised work at length made its appearance, but it came far short of my expectations. It discovered ability, reading and ingenuity in its author, and in a few points seemed to gain advantages over Mr. Hudson's arguments. But the bitterness of spirit, the smart repartees, the sarcastic thrusts, and above all the formal imputation cast upon Mr. H. of having written his Letters to gratify an "old grudge" against Mr. Ballou did not to me betoken a great and candid mind - such as should have stood forth to discuss so momentous a question. Then the fundamental points, on which I conceived Mr. Hudson had showed his doctrine to the best advantage, were not treated of in the reply to an extent answerable to their importance. And more than all this, entirely new ground had been assumed by Mr. Balfour in relation to the soul and other things. The system of Mr. Ballou, which laid so much stress upon the immaculate purity of the immortal soul, and which seemed to make salvation chiefly consist in separating this immortal soul from the sinful flesh at death was silently discarded by Mr. Balfour, and his new system introduced in its stead.
This of course materially changed the bearing of many prominent arguments - so that Mr. Hudson's Letters to Mr. Ballou were left in several respects wholly unanswered.
Experiences in New York
During this period, I was invited to the pastoral charge of the Universalist Society in Prince Street, New York.
This I accepted, but remained with the society only about nine months.
The Rev. Abner Kneeland was then flourishing at the head of a society in that city, part of whom had followed him from Prince Street, which he had left a short time before my arrival.
He was on the highway from ultra Universalism to Atheism, and had reduced things to such a state of confusion that I soon became convinced of my incompetency to restore them to wholesome order.
Party feuds, personal animosities, jealousy, envy and strife, with obvious symptoms of skepticism, even in some of the most respectable individuals, reigned on all sides among those who called themselves Universalists.
I endured this state of things till I could neither hope for better times, nor successfully withstand existing evils - then asked dismission and returned to Milford, whither I had been earnestly invited by my former friends.
While in New York I became acquainted with Rev. E. Mitchell, Pastor of the Society of United Christian Friends, a Restorationist who had long stood aloof from the denomination of Universalists.
I found him a man of sound moral principle, devoted piety and sincere Christian feeling.
He had stood amid the swelling surges of skepticism and infidelity firm as a rock of the ocean, and notwithstanding ultra Universalism had somewhat diminished the number of his society, he still retained a respectable congregation.
I have since fully appreciated his motives in declining the fellowship of Universalists as a denomination, and do not in the least wonder at the course he has pursued.
He has proved himself a genuine friend of the Christian religion, of moral order, and practical godliness.
And as a faithful minister of Christ, an independent minded man, and an uncompromising opponent of all sorts of licentiousness, he will receive the approbation of every good man.
Return to Restorationism
I returned from New York deeply disgusted with Atheism, libertinism, Kneelandism, and I may add ultra Universalism.
I had seen so much in the management of those who were distinguishing themselves as the friends of these isms, which did not meet the approbation of either my conscience or understanding, that I resolved henceforth to think and act wholly for myself.
I immediately examined all my opinions, reviewed the whole pathway of my mind since I first became a neutral, searched the scriptures with renewed diligence, analyzed the doctrines and arguments of the ultras, and in the course of a few months settled down into a firm belief of Restorationism, as I first received it in the year 1822.
My mind has since remained undisturbedly satisfied of the soundness and truth of that doctrine.
Having always determined, that if I should become sufficiently assured of the truth of Restorationism, I would openly preach it, at the risk of all I held dear, I had now to undergo the trial of carrying my determination into practice.
To do my duty was placing myself in an attitude of manifest opposition to my interest and reputation, as a member of the Universalist order - not to do it was exposing myself to the reprehension of the Judge of quick and dead at the last day, as an unfaithful servant.
I was with a society tutored up under the influence of ultra Universalism, and some individuals of which I was sure would never compromise with my doctrine, if plainly preached.
I might be dismissed, or if not an unhappy commotion, at least, would certainly be excited.
Then in the estimation of the no future punishment clergy and laity, I must sadly sink the moment I was known to dissent from their doctrines and practices.
As to Restorationism, it had become a byword and reproach among the reigning powers of the order.
To espouse and defend it would procure me the dislike of some, and the sovereign contempt of many.
Yet with me it was the truth, and such truth as I felt able to defend against all fair opposition.
To believe it and not preach it, was pitiful and cowardly, dishonest and unpardonable - above all it was exposing myself to the insupportable rebuke of God.
I decided that I would do my duty, that I would proclaim what I regarded as truth, whether people would hear or whether they would forbear, whether I met the smiles or the frowns of the world, and whether I had the countenance of few or many.
The moral welfare of mankind, the testimony of a good conscience, and the final approbation of Christ I have resolved to respect as objects of paramount importance.
It was not however, without a severe struggle and some delay, that I obtained the entire mastery of my timidity - shook off the fetters which chained me to the pillar of neutrality, and became properly independent in the avowal of my opinions.
My strong natural and habitual aversion to contention, especially with those whom I had so long held as brethren - and the remains of those prejudices into which I had formerly been misled against the "factious Restorationists," for some time rendered me almost unjustifiably cautious in defending my own distinct ground.
Dread of the dark tempests which I foresaw would howl around me the moment I took a decided stand, with now and then a glimmering hope that the condition of things might be meliorated without a convulsion, prevented my immediate advance.
Complaints against the Trumpet
In the meantime I applied myself studiously to criticism on all the writings of modern Universalists within my reach, and to close observation of the effects of the doctrine on its warmest advocates.
I discerned daily in these writings what appeared to me to be irreconcilable inconsistencies and contradictions.
Absurdities, which I had before no apprehension of finding, stood forth in bold relief; and I felt an indescribable mortification in reflecting that the ancient doctrine of Restorationism must be suffocated by such errors.
Yet nothing could be done without making "difficulty in the order;" because there was no medium of fair public investigation through which to act successfully against false doctrine.
I once addressed a few queries to the editor of the Trumpet, concerning his exposition of the sin against the Holy Ghost, which though he published, his reply was such as to satisfy me, that he meant to evade the leading difficulties, and stand aloof from discussion.
I made no further attempt towards public investigation till within the last year.
But I have kept a watchful eye upon the periodicals, as well as other publications of the denomination.
The Trumpet, in particular, I have scrutinized as the most immediate outlet of ultra Universalism, and the most influential organ of its defense.
Proceeding from the pure source of that doctrine, conducted by one of its most sanguine advocates, and continually favored by the united counsels of the most distinguished preachers, I knew that there, if anywhere, the spirit, genius and tendency of the new scheme would develop itself.
I also knew that the whole order would receive tone and character from the influence of such a paper.
The editor in his editorial character has always pretended to act impartially with respect to the controversy between Restorationists and his own class; but instead of doing so in the case of Messrs. Balfour and Hudson, he has lauded the writings of the former, and decried those of the latter.
When Mr. Hudson's reply to Mr. Balfour's essays first appeared, I felt exceedingly aggrieved to perceive in the Trumpet a notice of the work, containing some dozen or more picked extracts, so selected as to prejudice the laity against reading it.
Those extracts were set forth as a specimen of the tone, spirit and merits of the Reply, and accompanied with expressions of regret, that the author should write in such an exceptionable style.
They comprised most of the sharp and severe sentences of the whole book, and were nothing like a fair sample of its contents.
Yet they answered their intended purpose.
I waited for Mr. Balfour's Letters in rejoinder, meaning to observe whether Mr. Whittemore would prove his impartiality by treating them after the same method.
But he had by that time quite changed - and though there is not an impartial man in America, who, after reading the works of both, would not decide that Mr. Balfour's style, spirit and language are more bitter and invidious than Mr. Hudson's; yet he pronounced those of Mr. Balfour to have been "written in the spirit of candor, and to be replete with sound argument."
Moreover he used his influence, editorially, as well as privately, to give them sale and circulation; all of which was the reverse of his conduct in Mr. Hudson's case.
With such "impartiality" I was not satisfied.
Another injustice that aggrieved me was the frequent statements which appeared in the Trumpet and elsewhere, of the faith of our order.
Universalists were set down in the aggregate as believing all the tenets of the ultras, and the impression thereby sent abroad among the uninformed, that no man could be a Universalist, without holding those tenets.
I had preserved the original idea, given me upon my first acquaintance with the denomination, and always inculcated it; i.e. that all men were Universalists who believed in universal salvation - as much those who held the doctrine of future retribution, as those who rejected it.
But I found by the statements alluded to, that I was a believer in universal salvation, and yet not a Universalist.
These statements made no more allowance for Restorationism, or for the different opinions maintained by its advocates, than for Mahometanism.
Indeed the design in this management evidently was, to give modern Universalism full currency as the true and only faith of the order.
Thus amid darkness and silence, in violation of many solemn professions of fellowship and protection would Restorationism have been smothered out of existence, and not even an audible groan alarmed the world of its departure.
Many of the laity to my knowledge, received the impression, that Restorationists were not, and ought not to be called Universalists.
In this they were right, according to the Trumpet and the writings of several eminent no future punishment preachers.
Finding that the distinction was unavoidable, I henceforth ceased to call myself a Universalist - and acknowledged the name of Restorationist only.
But the statements under notice were in my humble opinion, after all, extremely unfair - as implying that the whole sect held doctrines to which a respectable minority were decidedly opposed.
It was virtually saying that there were no Restorationists - or that they deserved no respect as an integral part of the denomination.
Incident at the General Convention, 1829
Added to all this was the occasional discovery of a deep disgust at everything said in our general meetings not conformable to all their improved notions.
I have known an ultra Universalist preacher, upon hearing a Restorationist speak in the pulpit of "appearing in the presence of God," of "standing at the judgment seat of Christ," or of "suffering the retributions of a future state" - signify his contempt and dislike by sneers and whisperings.
Such things added fuel to the fire shut up in my bones, and urged me on to independence.
I have attended but few Associations, and only one General Convention of Universalist ministers.
The General Convention of 1829, at Winchester, N.H., was the only session of that body, and the last general meeting of clergymen at which I have been present.
I saw there a spirit in the ultras, which made me resolve it should be the last time I would meet with them on any such occasion.
There Brother Paul Dean was prohibited by a vote of the Convention from inviting Brother David Pickering to pray with him in the desk.
When I found such a vote about to pass, I left the meeting with grief and astonishment.
Final Attempt at Reconciliation
But still I remained chiefly silent, waiting in dubious indecision, whether to speak out or forbear.
I said very little concerning these troubles except to a few intimate friends, who were as unable to devise a remedy as myself.
Time rolled on only to increase my dissatisfaction.
Weary with the repetition of doctrines, opinions, and practices, which I could not approbate, and of which, therefore, I regretted to be considered by the Christian public a supporter - I resolved to make one more attempt to redeem the truth by plain, friendly discussion.
Accordingly, about the first of May last, I sent to the editor of the Trumpet an article containing a review of Rev. W. I. Reese's sermon on "punishment and forgiveness" - and desired that, if consistent with his feelings, he would publish it in his paper.
In that article I proposed a friendly public discussion with the advocates of ultra Universalism, on any or all the points of difference between them and myself.
Mr. Reese I had never seen, and in animadverting on his arguments, considered myself as opposing a doctrine common to all the brethren of the no future punishment class.
This was my last hope of bringing about a better era for Restorationism without a general commotion.
If there should be a friendly controversy in which both classes might speak plainly, I had no doubt a favorable issue would be the result.
The Review was received by Mr. Whittemore, and a partial encouragement given that it should ere long be published.
Its publication was deferred for a few weeks, as being immediately inconvenient.
But during those few weeks important events transpired, which hastened on an inevitable revolution.
In June the Southern Association of Universalists held a session at Berlin, Connecticut.
At that Association, Rev. Hosea Ballou, Thomas Whittemore and others, procured the passage of resolutions denouncing the Providence Association - and virtually prohibiting those brethren, who had of late met with it, from giving it their further countenance, on pain of excommunication from the General Convention.
Although I was not then a member of the Providence Association, and had never happened to be present at one of its sessions, yet I considered the passage of these resolutions an unwarrantable assumption of ecclesiastical authority - and an aggression upon all the Restorationists in the Convention, which if passively endured, must involve the ultimate surrender of their most sacred rights.
The Medway Sermon
Soon after this, early in July, the editor of the Trumpet came out in his paper against a sermon of mine just published at his office entitled "The Inestimable Value of Souls."
This sermon had been delivered before my friends in Medway, and by their particular request a copy furnished for the press.
They carried the copy directly to the Trumpet office, and contracted to have it printed.
Its great design was to illustrate and establish the doctrine of Universal Restoration in opposition to that of endless misery.
But as I did not construe scripture according to the light of modern Universalism, and distinctly inculcated the faith of future limited retribution, Mr. Whittemore and his brethren could not silently brook my independence.
He therefore, in accordance with the advice of his counselors, lost no time in testifying his disapprobation of the sermon and the presumption of its author.
Ere the sermon reached me in print the number of the Trumpet containing Mr. W.'s strictures was laid before me.
Those strictures breathed a spirit of censorious intolerance and hostility, warm from the fountain of ultra Universalism, which left no room to doubt the feelings and designs with which they were given to the world.
They virtually denounced me and my production as unworthy the respect and confidence of the denomination of Universalists.
The public was cautioned against receiving the sentiments of the sermon as those of American Universalists.
I was accused of having shown great irreverence towards my elders in the ministry; of having construed my text and other passages of scripture in contempt of better light; and finally as being, in Mr. W.'s opinion, "certainly far behind the orthodox in rescuing the sacred writings from perversion."
My sentiments, motives, and conduct were so misrepresented, misjudged and censured, that I considered the article no less than a ban of outlawry.
When I wrote and consented to the publication of the Medway sermon, I did not dream that it would receive the least public attention from the ultras, or indeed, from any others, except the circle of friends and opponents in my immediate neighborhood.
And though I took decided ground in favor of Restorationism, in distinction from the modern scheme, yet I had no intention of making the sermon a provocation to hostilities.
But it appears to have given great offense and therefore the determination was taken to rebuke me before, not only the whole denomination, but as it were the whole world.
Mr. W. knew well that his strictures would tend essentially to my prejudice, throughout the whole order, and above all, with a portion of the society to whom I was ministering.
He well knew that I should not only be assailed with murmurs at home, but distrusted among all Universalists over whom his paper excited any influence.
So that whether at home or abroad, every devotee to his doctrine would upon hearing me preach, say to himself, or whisper to his friend, "We shall hear strange things today - that man is not a Universalist - he is far behind even the orthodox!"
He also well knew that the consequence would be - either that I should be so alarmed with the apprehension of a dismissal from my society as humbly to submit, apologize and promise future silence; or else, if I presumed to persist in my course, that I should be swept away by the irresistible current of opposition.
But if I should be silenced, it appears to have been quite indifferent to him by what means it might be effected!
I read those strictures with great grief and mental agitation, took into consideration their character and tendency, the authority whence they emanated, the spirit which dictated them, the motives of the author, the undoubted support which he would receive from his clerical and lay friends -
and beheld that there was no alternative left me, but to make peace by a sacrifice of that independence, honesty, and liberty, which constitutes the richest treasure of human nature - or to jeopardize everything else in this world, by an uncompromising persistence in the path of my conscientious duty.
Separation from the Ultra Universalists
Although I had previously become ripe for a separation from the ultras, yet such was my weakness in this season of trial, that at first my courage quailed in view of the consequences.
But after ruminating on the relative magnitude of the evils between which I had to choose, for three unhappy days and nights, I at length came to the determination, that "sink or swim, live or die," I would be free, honest, and independent - that I would do my duty, and leave the issue with God.
I now prepared and forwarded to the editor of the Trumpet, a vindication of myself against his attack, and requested that he would give it immediate publicity in his paper, or if he decided not to publish it at all, to return it to me within four days.
About a week afterwards he returned it, without note or comment.
He refused to publish it, gave no notice that he had received any reply from me, and deigned not even so much as to signify his reasons for returning it.
But I soon learned that he and his coadjutors were industriously circulating a report in private circles, that my article was so fiery, bitter, and abusive, as to be unfit to appear in print.
To others it was pretended to be an act of friendship towards me, to suppress an article, which, if laid before the public, would certainly reflect deep disgrace upon my name.
But among the uninformed ultras abroad, the conclusion seemed to be readily drawn, that Mr. Whittemore's rod had taught me silence.
They presumed I should in future take care to respect my betters.
Thus was I accused, denounced and condemned without a hearing.
This sealed the protest of my utter separation.
I immediately announced to my society from the pulpit, my views, feelings, and determination, in the most undisguised terms - offering to receive dismission from their pastoral charge, at any moment, declaring that I considered others as free to withhold their fellowship and support from me, as I was to enjoy and propagate my own honest opinion.
I assured them that compromise with my ultra Universalist persecutors could never take place, consistently with my sense of duty to myself, to God and my fellow men - and that if I should stand entirely alone in the religious world, I would be an independent Restorationist.
Several of the most valuable of my friends assured me, they thought none the worse of me for my frankness, and should not be in haste to dismiss me from their service.
The disaffected probably meditated other things, without choosing to express them.
But whatever might be meditated gave me no concern, as I had made up my mind to count all things dross for the sake of duty and truth.
After this I came out without reserve in defense of my doctrine, and of course in opposition to modern Universalism.
The excitement was everywhere great, and I had full opportunity to know how much abhorrence and contempt the real ultras felt towards Restorationists and their faith.
The more coarse and immoral poured out their profanity upon and denounced me most heartily, together with what they were pleased to denominate my "hell junior," "tophet" and "purgatory."
In these vituperations they have been encouraged by at least some of their preachers.
Some contented themselves with saying that they had as lief hear orthodox preaching as mine, and that there was no true Universalism about me.
But others, who are distinguished for their greater candor and moderation, though inclined to the side of modern Universalism, have treated me with respect, and say that they are ready to hear, read and consider whatever Restorationists have to offer in support of their views.
With such men I have no contention.
As to decided Restorationists, and those who are friendly to the upbuilding of their cause, I have found for my encouragement many more than at first I had any anticipation - and I now feel fully persuaded that God will not suffer me to travel in solitude to the grave.
With respect to an entire separation from the no future punishment Universalists, I had only to join the Providence Association, and share the impending fate of its members - viz., be cut off from the General Convention, by the probable vote of our opposers in that body.
I accordingly became a member with the brethren of that Association, and at the session of the General Convention holden in Lebanon, N.H. during September last - we were virtually excluded from the Universalist order.
The separation has thus been consummated, and I shall henceforth govern myself accordingly.
The Independent Messenger
When this separation was foreseen to be inevitable, it became an object of the highest importance to have a periodical publication, through which to speak to the world in our defense.
As no one came forward to undertake such a publication I engaged in it myself; and now after much care and expense have at length commenced the work under more favorable auspices than I at first expected.
Since the Prospectus went out, every effort has been made by my opposers to hedge up my way.
Not one of their papers, to my knowledge, has given my prospectus a favorable notice - several of them none at all - and one or two have appeared in opposition.
The old cry has been raised, in which I once ignorantly joined, "he is making difficulty in the order," "exciting disunion, discord and strife among brethren," etc.
Slander is everywhere privately whispered against me by those who have not courage to utter it publicly; I am represented as acting under the influence of delusion, envy and revenge - and it seems to have become with some a righteous thing to prejudice as many as possible against me, that they may thereby hinder the circulation of my paper. Those people dread nothing so much as that Restorationism and its friends should have a full hearing.
The editor of the Trumpet, finding that this publication would inevitably issue, has latterly proclaimed himself a man of peace, a friend of union, concord and good fellowship; and with grave professions of devoting his paper to the interests of the "whole order," calls upon all to sustain him.
He deprecates disunion among Universalists, and warns them against the emissaries of discord.
It were well if men like him and others, who are such friends of union and good feeling, had always exercised that justice and moderation towards their brethren, which is the only basis and security of uninterrupted peace.
But with the spoils of honest independence and injured innocence about them, with the reproach of having attacked the defenseless and given them no chance for redress - let them not flatter themselves with the vain hope that the despoiled will listen to their delusive professions of friendship and love of peace.
Restorationism will in future occupy its own ground, and rise or fall upon its own merits.
It will not continue to knock at the unyielding doors of ultra Universalism for shelter, nor with unpitied tears beg to be heard in its own defense through the columns of papers unfriendly to its existence.
But through the Independent Messenger it will speak its own pure native language, and command a hearing even from those who have hitherto shut their ears upon its voice.
With the help of God these columns will be devoted to an unfettered discussion of the doctrines which divide ancient and modern Universalists.
Through them I shall assign to the world the reasons which have led me to reject the interpretations of Scripture, doctrines, opinions etc. of the ultras; and whosoever reads it will in due time know whether Restorationism is susceptible of self defense or not.
But never as its editor will I treat my opponents with the injustice of prohibiting them an opportunity to defend themselves on any point wherein I assail them.
And if I lay unsparing hands in the way of review upon all influential modern Universalist writings - if I oppose them ever so strenuously, they shall find me as honorable, open and fair an opponent as I am severe and uncompromising.
And with regard to my feelings and motives in this business, I desire to be distinctly understood, when once for all I solemnly declare, that though I cannot fellowship or make common cause with them, yet I have no personal hostility to gratify, nor a single wish to hinder their free enjoyment of all the social, civil and religious rights, which I claim for myself and brethren.
I ask justice, and will render it - I ask a patient hearing, and will give the same - I ask nothing which I am not willing to reciprocate.
I will consider no man my personal enemy because he controverts my doctrine or animadverts on my writing, and I wish no man to consider me so to him for any such reasons.
Whatever is good and praiseworthy in my opponents, I mean to acknowledge as such, however much I may condemn.
And I require only a reciprocation.
Appeal to Readers
And now, beloved brethren, having thus long detained your attention upon the history of events which have so deeply affected the experience of my life, since I became a believer in universal restoration - having laid open to you an honest statement of facts, and thereby developed the feelings, motives and reasons which have rendered me what I am, I submit the whole to your serious consideration.
It is for you to judge whether I am deserving of your fellowship, approbation and support - whether I have espoused a good cause, for good reasons, with good intentions, and a good resolution - and whether you will cooperate with me in the great work upon which I have entered - or not.
I offer you my heart and hand - I invite you in the name of Christ, of truth and religion to rally around the banner of the "ancient doctrine" - to come up every man of you into the mountain of the Lord with living stones, that we may erect a temple to our God, in which we and our children may worship him in holiness and peace, without fear and without oppression.
Think of the great and good men, who in different ages have stood forth to inculcate and defend the faith of Universal Restoration.
Think of Clemens, Origen, Gregory, and many other illustrious Christian Fathers - of Tillotson, Newton, Law, Hartley, Ramsay, Petitpierre, Chauncy and Winchester.
Remember that those eminent Christians were true Restorationists - not ultra Universalists - that they were men of deep religious feeling, devoted piety, refined benevolence and Christian godliness.
Would you not choose to follow in the path of such men? Would you not choose like them to set examples of piety and virtue before the world, which should compel reverence even from enemies?
They believed in the infinite goodness of God - in his purpose to save the whole human family through Jesus Christ, and looked forward with rapturous vision through the divine promises to the complete regeneration of the Universe - to the perfect endless glory of that era, when God shall be all in all.
But they had not learned to limit divine rewards and punishments to the shores of time - they never discovered that the destruction of Jerusalem was the day in which Christ should appear, and reward every man according to his works - nor that then the new heaven and earth superseded the old.
Neither did they cherish that unholy spirit, which disposes its possessors to look upon their fellow men of a different religious faith and practice, as objects of ridicule and reproach.
They exemplified religion without superstition, liberality without licentiousness, and free inquiry without skepticism.
Will you, dear brethren, follow them as they followed Christ? Will you rise in the strength of your God and unite to build up an order of Christians, which may be to every persecuted Lazarus, an Abrahamic bosom of faith, hope and charity?
Will you resolve to act in such a manner as to insure the approbation of the Great Judge of quick and dead?
The eyes of many liberal Christians in every denomination are upon you, and if once they became convinced that you mean to be a truly liberal, and at the same time Christian people, you will receive at least their friendship, if not their immediate social support.
Finally, brethren, having discharged the duty which I conceived to devolve upon me in the present crisis, I now leave you to consult the dictates of your own consciences, and the direction of the divine spirit.
Reflect patiently, seriously, and prayerfully on these things - and may the All-wise God give you wisdom and strength to perform your duty.
But however you may decide to act, or whoever you may choose to serve, be assured that "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Your humble fellow servant and brother,