Noah Worcester.

Bible news, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit : in a series of letters. In four parts. I. On the unity of God. II. On the real divinity and glory of Christ. III. On the character of the Holy Spirit. IV. An examination of difficult passages of Scripture. The whole addressed to a worthy minister of online

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Online LibraryNoah WorcesterBible news, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit : in a series of letters. In four parts. I. On the unity of God. II. On the real divinity and glory of Christ. III. On the character of the Holy Spirit. IV. An examination of difficult passages of Scripture. The whole addressed to a worthy minister of → online text (page 18 of 19)
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other man within my acquaintance has been, with the
monstrous incongruity between the spirit of Christian-
ity and the spirit of Christian communities, between
Christ's teaching of peace, mercy, forgiveness, and the
wars which divide and desolate the church and the world.
Every man has particular impressions which rule over
and give a hue to his mind. Every man is struck by
some evils rather than others. The excellent individu-
al of whom I speak was shocked, heart-smitten, by
nothing so much, as by seeing, that man hates man,
that man destroys his brother, that man has drenched
the earth with his brother's blood, that man in his in-
sanity has crowned the murderer of his race with the
highest honors; and, still worse, that Christian hates
Christian, that church wars against church, that differ-


ences of forms and opinions array against each other
those whom Christ died to join together in closest broth-
erhood, and that Christian zeal is spent in building up
sects, rather than in spreading the spirit of Christ and
enlarging and binding together the universal church.
The great evil on which his mind and heart fixed was
War, Discord, Intolerance, the substitution of force for
Reason and Love. To spread peace on earth became
the object of his life. Under this impulse he gave birth
and impulse to Peace Societies. This new movement
is to be traced to him above all other men, and his name,
I doubt not, will be handed down to future time with
increasing veneration as the ' Friend of Peace,' as hav-
ing given new force to the principles which are grad-
ually to abate the horrors and ultimately extinguish
the spirit of war.

The history of the good man, as far as I have learn-
ed it, is singularly instructive and encouraging. He
was self-taught, self-formed. He was born in narrow
circumstances, and to the age of twenty-one was a la-
borious farmer, not only deprived of a collegiate educa-
tion, but of the advantages which may be enjoyed in a
more prosperous family. An early marriage brought on
him the cares of a growing family. Still he found or
rather made time for sufficient improvements to intro-
duce him into the ministry before his thirtieth year.
He was first settled in a parish too poor to give him
even a scanty support ; and he was compelled to take a
farm on which he toiled by day, whilst in the evening
he was often obliged to use a mechanical art for the
benefit of his family. He made their shoes, an occu-
pation of which Coleridge has somewhere remarked,


that it has been followed by a greater number of emi-
nent men than any other trade. By the side of his
work-bench he kept ink and paper, that he might write
down the interesting thoughts, which he traced out or
which rushed on him amidst his humble labors. I take
pleasure in stating this part of his history. The preju-
dice against manual labor as inconsistent with personal
dignity is one of the most irrational and pernicious, es-
pecially in a free country. It shows how little we com-
prehend the spirit of our institutions and how deeply
we are tainted with the narrow maxims of the old
aristocracies of Europe. Here was a man, uniting great
intellectual improvement with refinement of manners,
who had been trained under unusual severity of toil.
This country has lost much physical and moral strength,
and its prosperity is at this moment depressed, by the
common propensity to forsake the plough for less manly
pursuits, which are thought however to promise greater
dignity as well as ease.

His first book was a series of letters to a Baptist min-
ister, and in this he gave promise of the direction
which the efforts of his life were to assume. The great
object of these letters, was not to settle the controver-
sies about baptism, about the mode of administering it
whether by immersion or sprinkling, or about the proper
subjects of it whether children or adults alone. His
aim was, to show that these were inferior questions,
that differences about these ought not to divide Christ-
ians, that the 'close communion' as it is called of ihe
Baptists was inconsistent with the liberal spirit of Christ-
ianity, and that this obstruction to Christian unity
ought to be removed.


His next publication was what brought him into no-
tice and gave him an important place in our theological
history. It was a publication on the Trinity, and what
is worthy of remark, it preceded the animated contro-
versy on that point which a few years after agitated
this city and commonwealth. The mind of Dr Worces-
ter was turned to this topic not by foreign impulses but
by its own workings. He had been brought up in the
strictest sect, that is as a Calvinist. His first doubts
as to the Trinity arose from the confusion, the perplex-
ity, into which his mind was thrown by this doctrine in
his acts of devotion. To worship three persons as one
and the same God, as one and the same being, seemed
to him difficult if not impossible. He accordingly re-
solved to read and examine the Scriptures from begin-
ning to end, for the purpose of ascertaining the true doc-
trine respecting God and the true rank of Jesus Christ.
The views at which he arrived were so different from
what prevailed around him, and some of them so pecu-
liar that he communicated them to the public under the
rather quaint title of ' Bible News relating to the Fath-
er, Son and Holy Spirit.' His great aim was to prove,
that the Supreme God was one person, even the Fath-
er, and that Jesus Christ was riot the Supreme God but
his Son in a strict and peculiar sense. This idea of ' the
peculiar and natural sonship' of Christ, by which he
meant that Jesus was derived from the very substance
of the Father, had taken a strong hold on his mind, and
he insisted on it with as much confidence as was con-
sistent with his deep sense of fallibility. But, as might
be expected in so wise and spiritual a man, it faded more
and more from his mind, in proportion as he became


acquainted with and assimilated to the true glory of his
Master. In one of his unpublished manuscripts, he
gives an account of his change of view in this particu-
lar, and, without disclaiming expressly the doctrine which
had formerly seemed so precious, he informs us that it
had lost its importance in his sight. The Moral, Spir-
itual dignity of Christ, had risen on his mind in such
splendor as to dim his old idea of 'natural sonship.' In
one place he affirms, ' I do not recollect an instance [in
the scriptures] in which Christ is spoken of as loved,
honored, or praised on any other ground than his Moral
dignity. 5 This moral greatness he declares to be the
highest with which Jesus was clothed, and expresses
his conviction, * that the controversies of Christians
about his natural dignity, had tended very little to
the honor of their Master, or to their own advantage.'
The manuscript to which I refer was written after his
seventieth year, and is very illustrative of his character.
It shows, that his love of truth was stronger than the
tenacity with which age commonly clings to old ideas.
It shows him superior to the theory, which more than
any other he had considered his own, and which had
been the fruit of very laborious study. It shows how
strongly he felt, that Progress was the law and . end of
his being, and how he continued to make progress to
the last hour. The work called ' Bible News' drew
much attention, and converted not a few to the doctrine
of the proper unity of God. Its calm, benignant spirit
had no small influence in disarming prejudice and un-
kindness. He found however that his defection from
his original faith had exposed him to much suspicion
and reproach ; and he became at length so painfully im-


pressed with the intolerance which Ijis work had excit-
ed, that he published another shorter -work called
' Letters to Trinitarians,' a work breathing the very
spirit of Jesus, and intended to teach, that diversities of
opinion, on subjects the most mysterious and perplexing,
ought not to sever friends, to dissolve the Christian
tie, to divide the church, to fasten on the dissenter from
the common faith the charge of heresy, to array the
disciples of the Prince of Peace in hostile bands. These
works obtained such favor, that he was solicited to leave
the obscure town in which he ministered, and to take
charge, in this place, of a periodical called at first the
Christian Disciple, and now better known as the Chris-
tian Examiner. At that time, (about twenty-five years
ago,) I first saw him. Long and severe toil, and a
most painful disease, had left their traces on his once
athletic frame ; but his countenance beamed with a be-
nignity which at once attracted confidence and affection.
For several years he consulted me habitually in the con-
duct of the work which he edited. I recollect with ad-
miration the gentleness, humility, and sweetness of tem-
per, with which he endured freedoms, corrections, re-
trenchments, some of which I feel now to have been
unwarranted, and which no other man would so kindly
have borne. This work was commenced very much for
doctrinal discussions ; but his spirit could not brook such
limitations, and he used its pages more and more for the
dissemination of his principles of philanthropy and peace.
At length he gave these principles to the world, in a
form which did much to decide his future career. He
published a pamphlet called * A Solemn Review of the
Custom of War.' It bore no name, and appeared with-


out recommendation, but it immediately seized on at-
tention. It was read by multitudes in this country, then
published in England, and translated, as I have heard,
into several languages of Europe. Such was the im-
pression made by this work, that a new association,
called the Peace Society of Massachusetts, was institut-
ed in this place. I well recollect the day of its forma-
tion in yonder house, then the parsonage of this parish,
and if there was a happy man that day on earth, it was
the founder of this institution. This society gave birth
to all the kindred ones in this country, and its influence
was felt abroad. Dr Worcester assumed the charge of
its periodical, and devoted himself for years to this
cause, with unabating faith and zeal ; and it may be
doubted, whether any man, w r ho ever lived, contributed
more than he, to spread just sentiments on the subject
of War, and to hasten the era of universal peace. He
began his efforts in the darkest day, when the whole
civilized world was shaken by conflict, and threatened
with military despotism. He lived to see more than
twenty years of general peace, and to see through these
years, a multiplication of national ties, an extension of
commercial communications, an establishment of new
connections between Christians and learned men through


the world, and a growing reciprocity of friendly and be-
neficent influence among different states, all giving aid
to the principles of peace, and encouraging hopes which
a century ago would have been deemed insane.

The abolition of war, to which this good man devoted
himself, is no longer to be set down as a creation of fan-
cy, a dream of enthusiastic philanthropy. War rests on
opinion, and opinion is more and more withdrawing its


support. War rests on contempt of ^human nature, on
the long, mournful habit of regarding the mass of human
beings as machines, or as animals having no higher use
than to be shot at and murdered, for the glory of a chief,
for the seating of this or that family on a throne, for the
petty interests or selfish rivalries which have inflamed
states to conflict. Let the worth of a human being be


felt ; let the mass of a people be elevated ; let it be un-
derstood that a man was made to enjoy unalienable
right, to improve lofty powers, to secure a vast happi-
ness; and a main pillar of war will fall. And is it not
plain that these views are taking place of the contempt
in which man has so long been held ? War finds
another support in the prejudices and partialities of a
narrow patriotism. Let the great Christian principle
of human brotherhood be comprehended, let the Chris-
tian spirit of universal love gain ground, and just so fast
the custom of war, so long the pride of men, will become
their abhorrence and execration. It is encouraging to
see how outward events are concurring with the influ-
ences of Christianity in promoting peace, how an exclu-
sive nationality is yielding to growing intercourse, how
different nations by mutual visits, by the interchange of
thoughts and products, by studying one another's lan-
guage and literature, by union of efforts in the cause of
religion and humanity, are growing up to the conscious-
ness of belonging to one great family. Every rail road
connecting distant regions, may be regarded as accom-
plishing a ministry of peace. Every year which passes
without war, by interweaving more various ties of in-
terest and friendship, is a pledge of coming years of
peace. The prophetic faith, with which Dr Worcester,


in the midst of universal war, looked forward to a hap-
pier era, and which was smiled at as enthusiasm or
credulity, has already received a sanction beyond his
fondest hopes by the wonderful progress of human af-

On the subject of War, Dr Worcester adopted opin-
ions which are thought by some to be extreme. He
interpreted literally the precept, Resist not evil ; and
he believed that nations as well as individuals would
find safety as well as ' fulfill righteousness ' in yielding
it literal obedience. One of the most striking traits of
his character, was his confidence in the power of love, I
might say, in its omnipotence. He believed, that the
surest way to subdue a foe, was to become his friend ;
that a true benevolence was a surer defence than
swords, or artillery, or walls of adamant. He believed,
that no mightier man ever trod the soil of America than
William Penn, when entering the wilderness unarmed,
and stretching out to the savage a hand which refused
all earthly weapons, in token of brotherhood and peace.
There was something grand in the calm confidence, with
which he expressed his conviction of the superiority of
moral to physical force. Armies, fiery passions, quick
resentments, and the spirit of vengeance miscalled hon-
or, seemed to him weak, low instruments, inviting, and
often hastening the ruin which they are used to avert.
Many will think him in error ; but if so, it was a grand
thought which led him astray.

At the age of seventy, he felt as if he had discharged
his mission as a preacher of peace, and resigned his of-
fice as Secretary to the Society, to which he had given
the strength of many years. He did not, however, re-


tire to unfruitful repose. Bodily infirmity had increased,
so that he was very much confined to his house ; but he
returned with zeal to the studies of his early life, and
produced two theological works, one on the atonement,
the other on human depravity or the moral state of man
by nature, which I regard as among the most useful
books on these long agitated subjects. These writings,
particularly the last, have failed of the popularity which
they merit, in consequence of a defect of style, which
may be traced to his defective education, and which
naturally increased with years. I refer to his diffuse-
ness, to his inability to condense his thoughts. His
writings, however, are not wanting in merits of style.
They are simple and clear. They abound to a remark-
able degree in ingenious illustration, and they have often
the charm which original thinking always gives to com-
position. He was truly an original writer, not in the
sense of making great discoveries, but in the sense of
writing from his own mind, and not from books, or tradi-
tion. What he wrote, had perhaps been written before ;
but in consequence of his limited reading, it was new to
himself, and came to him with the freshness of discove-
ry. Sometimes great thoughts flashed on his mind, as
if they had been inspirations ; and in writing his last
book, he seems to have felt as if some extraordinary
light had been imparted from above. After his seventy-
fifth year he ceased to write books, but his mind lost
nothing of its activity. He was so enfeebled by a dis-
tressing disease, that he could converse but for a few
moments at a time ; yet he entered into all the great
movements of the age, with an interest distinguished
from the fervor of youth, only by its mildness and its se-


rene trust. The attempts made, in some of our cities,
to propagate atheistical principles, gave him much con-
cern, and he applied himself to fresh inquiries into the
proofs of the existence and perfections of God, hoping
to turn his labors to the account of his erring fellow-
creatures. With this view, he entered on the study of
nature as a glorious testimony to its almighty author.
I shall never forget the delight which illumined his coun-
tenance a short time ago, as he told me, that he had just
been reading the history of the coral, the insect which
raises islands in the sea. ' How wonderfully,' he ex-
claimed, ' is God's providence revealed in these little
creatures.' The last subject to which he devoted his
thoughts, was slavery. His mild spirit could never rec-
oncile itself to the methods in which this evil is often
assailed ; but the greatness of the evil he deeply felt,
and he left several essays on this as on the preceding
subject, which, if they shall be found unfit for publication,
will still bear witness to the intense, unfaltering interest
with which he bound himself to the cause of mankind.
I have thus given a sketch of the history of a good
man who lived and died the lover of his kind and the
admiration of his friends. Two views of him particu-
larly impressed me. The first was the unity, the har-
mony of his character. He had no jarring elements.
His whole nature had been blended and melted into
one strong, serene love. His mission was to preach
peace, and he preached it not on set occasions, or by
separate efforts, but in his whole life. It breathed in his
tones. It beamed from his venerable countenance.
He carried it, where it is least apt to be found, into the
religious controversies, which raged around him with


great vehemence, but which never excited him to a
word of anger or intolerance. All \ny impressions of
him are harmonious. I recollect no discord in his beau-
tiful life ; and this serenity was not the result of torpid-
ness or tameness ; for his whole life was a conflict with
what he thought error. He made no compromise with
the world, and yet he loved it as deeply and constantly
as if it had responded in shouts to all his views and

The next great impression which I received from him,
was that of the sufficiency of the mind to its own hap-
piness, or of its independence on outward things. He
was for years debilitated and often a great sufferer; and
his circumstances \vere very narrow, compelling him to
so strict an economy, that he was sometimes represent-
ed, though falsely, as wanting the common comforts of
life. In this tried and narrow condition, he was among
the most contented of men. He spoke of his old age
as among the happiest portions if not the very happiest
in his life. In conversation his religion manifested itself
in gratitude more frequently than in any other form.
When I have visited him in his last years, and looked on
his serene countenance, and heard his cheerful voice, and
seen the youthful earnestness with which he, was read-
ing a variety of books, and studying the great interests
of humanity, I have felt how little of this outward world
is needed to our happiness. I have felt the greatness of
the human spirit, which could create to itself such joy
from its own resources. I have felt the folly, the insan-
ity of that prevailing worldliness, which, in accumulating
outward good, neglects the imperishable soul. On leav-
ing his house and turning my face toward this city, I


have said to myself, how much richer is this poor
man than the richest who dwell yonder. I have been
ashamed of my own dependence on outward good.
I am always happy to express my obligations to the
benefactors of my mind ; and I owe it to Dr Wor-
cester to say, that my acquaintance with him gave me
clearer comprehension of the spirit of Christ, and of
the dignity of a man.

And he has gone to his reward. He has gone to
that world, of which he carried in his own breast so
rich an earnest and pledge, to a world of Peace. He
has gone to Jesus Christ, whose spirit he so deeply
comprehended and so freely imbibed ; and to God,
whose universal, all-suffering, all-embracing love he
adored and in a humble measure made manifest in
his own life. But he is not wholly gone ; not gone
in heart, for I am sure that a better world has height-
ened, not extinguished, his affection for his race ; and
not gone in influence, for his thoughts remain in his
works, and his memory is laid up as a sacred treas-
ure in many minds. A spirit so beautiful ought to
multiply itself in those to whom it is made known.
May we all be incited by it to a more grateful, cheer-
ful love of God, and a serener, gentler, nobler love of
our fellow-creatures.


I cannot resist the desire to insert heie a few extracts from two letters relat-
ing to Dr Worcester, the first from one of his children, whose filial virtue con-
tributed largely to the comfort and happiness of his last years, and the second
from the Rev. Mr Austin, of Brighton.


My father was blessed with pious ancestors. His grandfather was reputed
a devoted minister. Both his grand-parents took a deep interest in his welfare,
and, with his pious parents, no doubt, offered fervent supplication that he might
early devote himself to the service of God. He often remarked that he could
not remember, when he had not a love for divine things. A few days previous
to his death, he mentioned a circumstance which deeply interested me. He
said, that, in the absence of his father, his mother and grandmother were in the
habit of conducting family worship, until he arrived to the age of twelve. From
that period, he said, tint he, being the oldest child, was ca'led upon to perform
this service. The sacredness, which, from early life, he attached to the observ-
ance of this delightful duty, may thus be accounted for. Even when there
were strong indications of mental aberration, as there often were in the lethargic
turns with which he was afflicted for several years previous to his death, he
would call the family together at the customary hour, and address the throne
of grace in an affectionate and collected manner.

' He had no advantages for an education, excepting what the common public
schools of that day afforded. He was industrious, and very economical of time,
and having a thirst for knowledge, improved all his moments to some good pur-
pose. At the age of twenty-one he was married, and removed to Thornton,
N. H. At what time he made a profession of religion, I cannot tell ; hut the
deep interest which he took in the spiritual welfare of the people, and the af-
fection manifested on their part, suggested to their aged minister the idea, that
his own services could be spared, and that my father should prepare himself to
be his successor. With the care of a family, dependent entirely upon his labor
for support, and with few books except his Bible, he commenced. The minis-
ter above alluded to, I think, afforded him such assistance as he was able; but
it was very evident, that the Great Teacher was his principal instructor, as he
possessed much of his spirit.

' He was in the habit of speaking of his death with perfect composure for
years, and calculated to have all his affairs arranged and settled daily, and

* 27

appeared to be constantly waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom. If there
was one grace, which shone more conspicuously in his character than another,
I think it was gratitude; and surely no family have greater reason for gratitude
than we have had. The debt is great to earthly benefactors, but how immense
our obligations to our Divine benefactor. During rny dear father's last illness,
when he was relieved from distress, or after refreshing sleep, he would exclaim,
Give God the praise ; help me to praise him.' For the last few weeks of his
life, he was too weak to converse much. He appeared to take great delight in
hearing the Scriptures read, and in uniting with Christians in prayer. His pre-
cious spirit returned to God who gave it, twenty minutes past nine in the eve-

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Online LibraryNoah WorcesterBible news, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit : in a series of letters. In four parts. I. On the unity of God. II. On the real divinity and glory of Christ. III. On the character of the Holy Spirit. IV. An examination of difficult passages of Scripture. The whole addressed to a worthy minister of → online text (page 18 of 19)