Samuel Taylor Coleridge Returns to the Truth

This is the day that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devon, England, in 1772.

Coleridge represents the restless abandonment of truth in the pursuit of truth. He readily devoured those things that led men away from faith in God, only to return to the roots which he valued so little in earlier years. Philosophies, idealism, drugs, irresponsibility and self-will are readily evident in his life.

Samuel’s father was a vicar in the village church and master of the local grammar school. As the youngest of fourteen children young Coleridge failed to develop a good sense of financial management and responsibility. An avid reader he first set out to fulfil his father’s wish that he become a clergyman. Introduced to Unitarian ideas in his first year at Cambridge, Coleridge was immediately drawn to it, as he also was to the older sister of one of his friends.

Coleridge accumulated a large debt while at college, which his older brothers had to discharge for him. He was then distracted by Plato’s Republic, and idealistic notions of going to America to set up the ultimate republic in Pennsylvania with a fellow student named Southey. When Southey married, Coleridge wed the sister of Southey’s bride, Sarah, thus commencing an unhappy marriage that ultimately fell apart. Coleridge still loved his friend’s sister, who was engaged to another man.

Assisted by Wordsworth, Coleridge abandoned the idealised republic and set about writing poetry. The two men travelled to the continent where Coleridge learned German and began translation, while also coming under the influence of the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Jakob Boehme and G.E. Lessing.

When he returned to England in 1800, he settled with family and friends at Keswick. Over the next two decades Coleridge lectured on literature and philosophy, wrote about religious and political theory, spent two years on the island of Malta as a secretary to the governor in an effort to overcome his poor health and his opium addiction, and lived off financial donations and grants. Still addicted to opium, he moved in with the physician James Gillman in 1816. He continued to publish poetry and prose, notably Sibylline Leaves (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and Church and State (1830).

In secular circles he is remembered as being “in the first rank of English poets” and a leader of the British Romantic movement. He wrote such famous works as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

While his early life was scarred by a broken marriage, addiction to opium and Unitarian theology, the last 20 years of his life saw him back in the Anglican fold as a ‘practicing Churchman’.

He wrote Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, dealing primarily with the authority of Scripture. “For more than 1000 years,” Coleridge wrote, “the Bible has gone hand in hand with civilization, science, law … in short, with the moral and intellectual cultivation of the species, always supporting and often leading the way” (quoted in Our Roving Bible, page 142).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died at Highgate, London, on 23 July, 1834.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Sir John Bowring Provides Hymns and Controversy

This is the day Sir John Bowring was born into a Unitarian family at Exeter in 1792.

Educated in a Unitarian school, his early ambition was to become a Unitarian minister. It was not to be … “but he lived to become the most faithful and most honoured among Unitarian laymen” (Memorable Unitarians, page 290).

This particular ‘church’ denies the deity of the Lord Jesus … His atoning sacrifice … His bodily resurrection … His miracles.

He was destined by his family for a commercial career. He left school in 1805 to work with his father, a cloth merchant. In 1810 he began work in a London office where he was encouraged to develop his natural linguistic talents. His company sent him to represent them in Spain from 1813-16. On his return he set up his own business and married Mary Lewin, from a Unitarian family in Hackney. He was an active member of the Unitarian church at Hackney. Later he joined the circle around William J. Fox, who ministered in Finsbury. Bowring travelled extensively on business; then, as his commercial activities failed, he concentrated on writing.

Sir John was a man of amazing energy and a polymath, linguist, political economist, reformer, hymn writer, author and editor, Member of Parliament, and the most controversial Governor of Hong Kong. He was arguably the world’s greatest linguist of his day. He was appointed Governor of Hong Kong in 1854.

“His high-handed policy and his insolence in dealing with the Chinese people brought on the second Opium War” (The Gospel in Hymns, by Bailey, page 172).

Attempts were made upon his life and the arsenic placed in his bread resulted in his wife’s death. “He was the most-hated governor Hong Kong ever had.”

But his hymn is found in most hymn books:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time …

An apocryphal story tells of his visiting Macao and, seeing the cross still standing in a ruined church, he was inspired to pen his famous hymn.

But Bowring wrote the hymn in 1825 – and did not visit Macao for another 32 years.

Nor was it written from an evangelical viewpoint.

For much of his life Bowring was caught in controversy and was disliked for his determined attitudes. One who knew him described him as ‘a supreme charlatan and worse—a cheat, a liar, and, at least once, a swindler.’ Others saw him as ostentatious, self seeking, and obsequious. Nobody denied his talent, however, and many testified to his personal integrity in matters of conscience.

A year after the death of his first wife he married again, to a much younger woman, Deborah Castle, an active Unitarian from Bristol. She spurred him to renewed engagement in Unitarian work and social reform issues. She was herself a strong speaker and one of the earliest women members of the Council of the British & Foreign Unitarian Association (BFUA).

He continued in Unitarian activity, as arguably the most prominent Unitarian layman of his time.

On 23 November, 1872 Sir John Bowring died at his home, Claremont, Exeter, only a short distance from the house where he was born. None of his children followed his Unitarian faith.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Lyman Beecher Heads West to Train Evangelists

This is the day that … Lyman Beecher was born in Connecticut, in 1775.

He has been described as “the father of more brains than any other man in America”, a reference to his 13 children.  These included the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  As a matter of fact, “all his sons were well known as preachers” (Concise Universal Biography, page 222).

But Rev. Lyman Beecher was a giant among giants himself. He was educated at Yale in the days when it was barely above a secondary school in its facilities. The students were of dubious character at times.

Beecher was appalled by the example of his peers, but found his ideal in Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale. It was Dwight who stirred Yale into a religious fervor that led to many revivals in the next twenty-five years. Lyman graduated in 1797 and spent the next year in Yale Divinity School under the tutelage of Dwight as his mentor.

Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1797, he pastored three large churches (Litchfield, Connecticut; Boston; and Cincinatti), was well known as a revivalist, an educator and a social reformer.  He brought revival but also controversy. His preaching on temperance was just one of the themes that offended his parishioners at times.

He was one of the founders of the American Bible Society and President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinatti.

Initially he opposed Charles Finney’s new revival techniques and theology, but a few years later he admitted his worth and even invited Finney to hold meetings in Boston.  Lyman Beecher found himself in ‘hot water’ with his Presbyterian brethren who had little time for the famous revivalist.  After all, Finney taught “man was able to repent in response to God’s grace” (Dictionary of American Biography, page 38).

As a result Beecher was actually tried for heresy … but acquitted.

He was already one of America’s best known preachers by the age of 50, when he moved to Boston, seeking better payment for his skills and status.

His next move, to Cincinatti, was motivated by his concern to sure up protestant preaching where the Catholics and Unitarians had already made inroads. His years there were controversial. He used his Presidency of Lane Theological Seminary to train ministers to win the West for Protestantism.

An inveterate opponent of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism, it is said that one of his fiery sermons apparently helped incite a mob “that resulted in the burning of a convent”.

During those years he was charged with acts of heresy, slander and hypocrisy by opposing religious factions. He resigned from Lane in 1850 and went to live with his son, Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn, where he died on 10 January, 1863, after a long and stormy ministry.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Antoinette Brown America’s First Woman Minister

This is the day that … Antoinette Louisa Brown was ordained to the Christian ministry in America in 1853 … the first woman minister of a recognised denomination in the United States. The place was the First Congregational Church, Wayne County, New York.

Luther Lee, a Wesleyan Methodist, preached the ordination sermon on Galatians 3:28. The charge was given by Rev. Gerrit Smith, a Presbyterian.

Nicknamed “Nettie”, Antoinette was born the seventh of ten children on May 20, 1825, in a log cabin in Henrietta, New York. Her parents were Joseph, a farmer, and Abby (Morse) Brown. Brown spent her childhood in a fieldstone house near the site of the log cabin where she was born.

Her parents were very religious and, while she was a child, they were inspired by the Rev. Charles G. Finney and many of the revivals sweeping through upstate New York at that time. By the time she was nine she had spoken out publicly to proclaim her faith at the Congregational society and had been accepted by the elders there as a member.

Brown taught for a few years before deciding she wanted to continue her education. Her father financed her “literary course” at Oberlin College – “the first co-educational college in the world” – many of the students being converts of the evangelist, Charles G. Finney.

She graduated in 1847, and then wanted to pursue a theological degree. The faculty at Oberlin (as well as her family) were against this. Brown was adamant and finally, as a compromise, they allowed her to attend lectures and to accept invitations to preach. However, they did not give her a license to preach and she was not allowed to graduate once she had completed the course in 1850. She was later vindicated and in 1878 Oberlin granted her an honorary Master of Arts (A.M.) degree, and in 1908 they awarded her an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degree.

While a student at Oberlin, Brown became increasingly involved in the women’s rights, temperance, and anti-slavery movements.

Finney had been her Professor of Theology – “often putting names in a hat, drawing one out and asking that student to extemporise for as long as possible on the subject at hand”! Antoinette Brown found that such teaching methods sharpened her mind and skill as an orator.

After pastoring in Congregational churches for 15 years, she finally joined the Unitarians in 1878 … a ‘church’ that denies the deity of Christ and other fundamental doctrines.

She married Samuel Charles Blackwell and gave birth to seven children, two of whom died in infancy. She withdrew from public life while raising the children, but later returned to public lecturing, following a reversal in her husband’s fortunes.

She spent much of her life as an activist and speaker for women’s rights.

Antoinette Brown died on 5 November, 1921, at the age of 96.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Much Loved Wit

This is the day that … Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in 1809.

His father, Abiel Holmes, pastored the First Congregational Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and young Oliver grew up “in a library where he bumped about among books.”

And whilst still a youngster he would accompany his father in the horse and jig as they spent the weekend going to various preaching appointments. Along the way father Holmes indoctrinated his son with a rather stern Calvinism.

At the age of 10, however, Oliver “was still afraid of the devil, but the doctrines of transmitted sinfulness, justification, or sanctification, meant no more to him than the mystic syllables by which his friends counted each other out in their games” (Gospel in Hymns, page 520).

On entering Harvard University, from which he would graduate in arts and medicine, Oliver forsook the religion of his parents and embraced the Unitarian heresy. This teaching that reduced the Lord Jesus to a mere example and denied His substitutionary Atonement, was making powerful strides in America at this time.

Even Abiel Holmes was deposed from his church, and the Unitarians took over.

By the age of 29 Oliver was professor of anatomy and physiology at Dartmouth College. Then, in 1847, he went to Harvard Medical School, where he was professor for the next 35 years.

His book, The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, was first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly (1857). It brought him fame in the literary world.

“Essayist, novelist, poet, wit, humorist, humanist and the raciest of talkers, he became one of the best known and best loved men on both sides of the ocean (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 374).

He wrote a famous hymn in 1858:
Lord of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Centre and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!

O.W. Holmes died on 7 October, 1894. One writer tells us: “in his later years he fell back for spiritual comfort on the great evangelical hymns…”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.