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John Humphrey Noyes and His “Bible Communists”1
I. The Environment
Few things are more noticeable, among the advocates of perfectionism from the opening of the second third of the nineteenth century, than their extreme reluctance to accept the name of “Perfectionists.” Many things may no doubt have coöperated to produce this attitude. Its main occasion lay, however, in the association of the name with a particular body of perfectionists, then claiming the attention of the public, with which other perfectionists were very loath to be confused. How anxious they were not to be confused with this body may be measured by the vigor of the language in which, themselves perfectionists, they repudiate all connection with “Perfectionists.” Asa Mahan, for example, writing at the beginning of this period,2 intemperately declares that the doctrine he teaches “has absolutely nothing in common” with “Perfectionism,” “but a few terms derived from the Bible.” In order to distinguish his doctrine from “Perfectionism,” however, he requires to describe the rejected doctrine as “Perfectionism technically so called,” a mode of speech which already suggests that perfectionism, plainly understood, is—as it really is—common ground between the two. Possibly to atone for this necessary confession of general kinship, he sweepingly declares that “Perfectionism, technically so called,” is, in his judgment, “in the native and necessary tendencies of its principles, worse than the worst form of infidelity.” To William E. Boardman, writing twenty years later,3 the danger of confusion with this “Perfectionism” seems less imminent, and he is therefore able to speak of it with less passion. He is not the less determined, however, to separate himself decisively from it. This, it must be confessed, he does not accomplish, in every respect, without some apparent difficulty—describing its fundamental mystical doctrine of the indwelling Christ in terms which would not serve badly to describe the doctrine to which he himself ultimately came. It is, in point of fact, not the perfectionism of the rejected “Perfectionism” which offends him, any more than Mahan, but its antinomianism. And his real concern is to protest that not all perfectionism—not his own variety, for example—is chargeable with the antinomianism which men had been led to associate with the name through experience with the body of religionists who had arrogated to themselves, and had had accorded to them by common usage, the specific name of “Perfectionists.” How firmly this special body of perfectionists had attached the general descriptive name of “Perfectionists” to themselves as their particular designation (just as other bodies of religionists have laid claim to the names of “Christians,” “Disciples,” and the like as their specific names), is illustrated by the survival of this special use of the term, and that in an even narrower application, alongside of its more general employment, in the definition of the word “Perfectionist” (not usually of “Perfectionism”)4 in our current English dictionaries, as well as in our Religious Encyclopædias. A very good example is supplied by John Henry Blunt’s “Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties and Schools of Religious Thought” (1874). Under the head of “Perfectionists,” he describes only “a licentious American sect of Antinomian Communists.”5 All other perfectionists he classes under the head of “Perfectibilists,” a distinction in designation to which he did not succeed in giving currency.6
The particular sect to which thus the name of “Perfectionists” is reserved by Blunt is no more perfectionist than other perfectionist parties; nor did it arise under influences specifically different from those to which the perfectionist parties which have most sharply repudiated relationship with it owed their own origin, nor can it be represented as without some common interests with them. It differs from them, however, not merely in drawing off to itself and forming a separate sect instead of contenting itself with acting as leaven within existing churches; but also in the particular doctrinal system which it developed for itself, and which it utilized for the support and exposition not only of its perfectionism, but also of certain radical social theories, which, having the courage of its convictions, it presently put into practice up to a very bitter end. In this perfectionist sect, we have therefore the opportunity to observe a perfectionism working itself out in life under leadership strong enough to enable it to go its own way, along the lines of a development distinctly logical, although narrow and inconsiderate, untrammeled by considerations derived from tradition, whether religious, ethical, or social, and unaffected by the universal judgment of the community in which it lived. A great deal of ability was expended in the elaboration of its underlying religious and social theory; an incredible audacity was shown in putting this theory into practice; and a certain amount of temporary success attended the enterprise. But the thinking embodied in it was as grotesque as it was acute; it was astuteness rather than wisdom which presided over its social organization; and the experiment had fairly reached the end of its possibilities of persistence in about a third of a century. There is much to be learned from a study of it; there is nothing about it which can fairly be represented as edifying.
The “Perfectionists” or “Bible Communists,” as they otherwise called themselves, are only one of the many unwholesome products of the great religious excitement which swept over Western and Central New York in the late twenties and early thirties of the last century, finding its way in the early thirties also into New England and thence over the world. Albert Barnes defines a revival for us as “the simultaneous conversion of many souls to Christ”; adding, in order to give completeness to the description, “and a rapid advance in promoting the purity and zeal of Christians.”7 If this were a complete description of the phenomena which may display themselves in revivals, they would always be such unmixed blessings that they could scarcely be connected with an earthly origin; and they certainly could leave behind them nothing but good effects. In point of fact, however, human elements are always mixed with them; and these human elements may on occasion be so predominant that any divine ingredient which may be hidden in them may be negligible. Accordingly Albert Barnes proceeds at once to speak of them, as actually experienced, as also periods of religious “excitement”; and to liken this excitement in its nature and effects to the excitement which tears men in a political campaign or sweeps them off their feet on the approach of war. Here is something quite out of the focus of his former description; for excitement, even though religious, has no necessary relation, whether as cause, accompaniment, or effect, with the converting or reviving operations of the Spirit of God. “A revival or religious excitement,” Archibald Alexander tells us,8 “may exist and be very powerful, and affect many minds, when the producing cause is not the Spirit of God; and when the truth of God is not the means of the awakening.” “Religious excitements,” he accordingly adds, “have been common among Pagans, Mohammedans, heretics and Papists.” W. B. Sprague similarly warns us in the opening pages of his classical “Lectures on Revivals of Religion,”9 not to “mistake a gust of animal passion for the awakening or converting operations of God’s Holy Spirit.” Great excitement may no doubt attend a true revival, but it is not part and parcel of it; and it may be very great and yet there be no true revival at all. “It may be an excitement produced not by the power of divine truth, but by artificial stimulus applied to the imagination and the passions, for the very purpose of producing commotion both within and without.” Let us remember that God declares Himself the God of order, and that disorder can therefore never be the authentic mark of His working. If God is working where disorder is, it is in spite of the disorder, not because of it; the disorder is itself only the cause of evil. “A real work of the Spirit,” says Archibald Alexander,10 “may be mingled with much enthusiasm and disorder; but its beauty will be marred, and its progress retarded by every such spurious mixture.” “All means and measures which produce a high degree of excitement, or a great commotion of the passions,” he therefore advises, “should be avoided; because religion does not consist in these violent emotions, nor is it promoted by them; and when they subside, a wretched state of deadness is sure to succeed.… Fanaticism, however much it may assume the garb and language of piety, is its opposite.” “The Church,” he also says, “is not always benefited by what are termed revivals; but sometimes the effects of such commotions are followed by a desolation which resembles the track of the tornado. I have never seen so great insensibility in any people as in those who had been subjects of violent religious excitement; and I have never seen any sinners so bold and reckless in their impiety as those who had once been loud professors, and foremost in the time of revival.”
It is with these evils in mind that, in face of the possibility that a sinner here and there may nevertheless chance to be really converted through the action of this excitement, Joel Hawes of Hartford declares11 that “a sinner may be converted at too great an expense.” No more awful arraignment of the religious excitement, which sometimes accompanies and sometimes serves as a substitute for revivals, could be phrased. In point of fact such excitement has no Christian character whatever; its affinities are, as Archibald Alexander has already reminded us, with the universal religious phenomena which Elizabeth Robins sums up under the name of mænadism,12 a term which she defines broadly enough to make it include “all intoxicating, will-destroying excesses of religious fervor in which ‘the multitude’ have taken part.” When we remember the “exercises” which have often attended revivals and the moral delinquencies which have sometimes stained them, we shall be compelled with bowed heads to recognize that they too may be so perverted as to be included in her observation:—“It is a remarkable fact in the history of religion that men of widely differing creeds and countries have agreed in attaching a spiritual value to hysteria, chorea, and catalepsy on the one hand, and to a frenzy of cruelty and sensuality on the other. Diseased nerves and morals have often been ranked as the highest expression of man’s faith and devotion.”
The intrusion of this debasing excitement into revival movements, with the effect sometimes of destroying them altogether, sometimes of only greatly curtailing and marring their beneficent results, is ordinarily traceable to one or the other of two inciting causes. One of these is found in the character of the population among whom the revival is propagated; the other in the character of its promoters and the methods they employ in promoting it—methods better adapted to lash the nerves into uncontrollable agitation than to bring the sinner to intelligent trust in his Saviour. Both of these causes were present and operative in the great revival movement which swept over Western and Central New York in the late twenties and early thirties of the last century.
It has been thought that the character of the population of this region, derived from that of its first settlers, laid them particularly open to fanaticism. The earliest stratum of settlers, entering the Palmyra country from Vermont in the second decade of the nineteenth century, was, we are told, of “rather unsavory fame”; and although this stratum was overlaid in the next decade by a virile, intelligent, industrious class of settlers from Eastern New York and New England, the earlier settlers remained, and by mixture with the newer comers gave a psychological character and a psychological history of its own to this region. It has been, therefore, it is said, on the one hand “a center of sane and progressive social movements,” but on the other hand a veritable “hot-bed of fanaticism,” and the two tendencies have entered into every possible combination with one another, some of them startling enough. It seems hardly just, however, to ascribe the whole of the evil to the earlier and the whole of the good to the later immigration. There were many men of the highest character among the earlier immigrants, and the newcomers themselves brought with them that tendency to eccentricity of opinion and extremity of temper which seems to be in the New England blood, and which has made New England, along with its intellectual and moral leadership of the nation, also unhappily the fertile seed-plot of fads and extravagances. Central and Western New York was in effect only an extended, and, because of its isolation and the hardness of its pioneer life, in these respects, an intensified New England.13 The period, moreover, was one of universal excitability.14 “The great improvement in the mechanic arts, and the wide diffusion of knowledge,” says Albert B. Dod, writing in 1835, “have given a strong impulse to the popular mind; and everywhere the social mass is seen to be in such a state of agitation, that the lightest breath may make it heave and foam.” Men stood in a condition of permanent astonishment. Everything seemed possible. They did not know what would come next, and thought it might be anything. They lived on perpetual tiptoe. It would have been strange if a raw population like that of Central and Western New York had retained its balance in such a time. That it did not may be observed from the long list of fanaticisms into which it fell, some of which are alluded to by the writer on whom we were drawing at the opening of this paragraph; and the waves of most of which it sent washing back into the parent New England.
“The earliest agitation which helped to reveal the unfortunate strain in the blood,” he writes, “was the crusade against the Masonic Fraternity in 1826, originating in a wide-spread belief, unconfirmed by sound evidence, that one Morgan had been foully dealt with at the behest of the Order whose secrets he was accused of revealing. A single and mighty wave of indignation nearly obliterated the fraternity from that part of the United States. In the early forties the Rochester country was one of the two chief centres of the propaganda and excitement associated with the predictions of the Vermont farmer, William Miller, with respect to the approaching judgment and the destruction of the world. In western New York it became a thoroughly irrational epidemic. Men and women forsook their employments and gave themselves over to watchings and prayer. They hardly slept or ate, but in robes of white awaited the coming of the bridegroom. The result in very many cases was utter physical and mental exhaustion, ending in the horrors of insanity.… In the late forties the delusion of spiritualism entered upon its epidemic course with the ‘Rochester rappings’ of the Fox sisters. It spread by imitation to New England, and thence to Europe, and many of the phenomena attending it,—the trance, the vision, the convulsive movement, the involuntary dancing, the many indications of mental and nervous instability—had closest affinity to the extraordinary revival effects which we have elsewhere observed.… I wish to remark upon one other strange and base spiritual product of this unique population. Of course it is generally known that Mormonism had its beginning in this region, but it is not so generally understood, I think, that Mormonism was literally born and bred in the unhealthy revival atmosphere which has just been described.15 In fact the sect of so-called Latter-Day Saints might never have existed except for the extraordinary mental agitation about religious matters which pervaded Western New York in this period. Mormonism has two main roots, the one to be traced into the mental and nervous characteristics of the personality of Joseph Smith, Jr., the other into the revival environment in which he lived and moved—and neither is a sufficient explanation without the other.”16
A population like this could be trusted to produce spontaneously all the evil fruits of spurious religious excitement. In point of fact it did so. The writer upon whom we have been drawing, speaking of the period preceding that to which we wish to direct particular attention, points out that during it “an unbridled revival activity characterized the ordinary religious life of western New York.”
“Before Finney’s personality issued upon the scene,” he says,17 “before any particular individual assumed the leadership, this fanatical restlessness, this tendency to spiritual commotion, was in the mind of the population, and periodically broke forth in fantastic and exciting revival. There were whole stretches of country in those parts that for generations were known as the ‘burnt district,’ and which Finney found so blistered and withered by constant revival flame that no sprout, no blade of spiritual life, could be caused to grow.18 Only the apples of Sodom flourished in the form of ignorance, intolerance, a boasted sinlessness and a tendency to free-love and ‘spiritual affinities.’ ”
But this fanaticism-loving populace was not left to the spontaneous manifestation of its tendency to religious excitement. It was sedulously incited to it by its religious leaders, and naturally its last state was no better than the first. If anyone wishes to enjoy the illusion of actually “assisting” at an average revival meeting of this period, he has only to read Mrs. Trollope’s painfully realistic descriptions, alike of a town revival and of a camp meeting.19 Albert Barnes warns us,20 to be sure, against trusting the testimony of “the Trollopes, and the Fidlers, and the Martineaus”—“persons,” he says, “having as few qualifications for being correct reporters of revivals of religion as could be found in the wide world.”21 It would be absurd, of course, to resort to Mrs. Trollope for the religious interpretation of revival phenomena; but the general trustworthiness of her report of revival occurrences, actually witnessed by her, is unimpeachable, when allowance is once made for the one-sidedness of her observation, due to her unsympathetic attitude. She describes only what she saw; she does not herself generalize on it. But what she describes might be seen anywhere in the western country at the time, sometimes no doubt in less, often unfortunately in much more, offensive forms.
Of course we are not confined to the testimony of Mrs. Trollope and writers of her type to learn what revivals at this period were like. We have, for example, a very sympathetic summary account of them from the pen of Andrew Reed, one of two very competent observers sent in the early thirties by the Congregational Union of England and Wales, to visit the American churches.22 Reed does not doubt that the revivals were in themselves a work of God, the results of which by and large were for His glory.23 But neither is he able to close his eyes to the evils which accompanied them; especially the opportunity afforded by them and eagerly availed of, for vain, weak, and fanatical men to exploit for their own ends the emotional excitement which was aroused. That there were serious evils intrinsic in the very manner in which the revivals were conducted, he is compelled to recognize; but that, he says, was not after all the worst of it—“they seem to have the faculty of generating a spirit worse than themselves.” “Rash measures attract rash men,” he explains:24 “and their onward and devious path is tracked by the most unsanctified violence and reckless extravagance.” “They are liable to run out into wild fanaticism,” he explains further.25
“A revival is a crisis. It implies that a great mass of human passion that was dormant, is suddenly called into action. Those who are not moved to good will be moved to the greater evil. The hay, wood, and stubble, which are always to be found, even within the pale of the church, will enkindle, and flash, and flare. It is an occasion favourable to display, and the vain and presumptuous will endeavor to seize on it, and turn it to their own account. Whether such a state of general excitement is connected with worldly or religious objects, it is too much, and would argue great ignorance of human nature, to expect, that it should not be liable to excess and disorder.”26
These somewhat general reflections are brought nearer to the point of most interest to us by the testimony of James H. Hotchkin, the historian of Western New York, and a most cautious and sober-minded man, speaking directly out of his own experience.27 He, too, of course, is sympathetic to the revival movement in itself. But he feels constrained to note explicitly that “circumstances have occurred in connection with these revivals, which give the most painful exhibition of the wickedness and folly of man, when, leaving the divine word, he imagines himself wiser than God.” He is led by his experience to the generalization that “whenever the religious excitement has been strong, a spirit of fanaticism has been induced, and greatly hindered the good work, and marred its beauty.” He has observed further that these evils have been particularly apparent, when the revival-work was carried on, not by the settled ministry, but by outsiders called in because of some fancied particular adaptation to this work. No doubt there were among these “revival men” or “revival preachers” men of true piety, whose usefulness was demonstrated by the results of their labors. Of others, however, Hotchkin declares himself “constrained to believe, that, if they were not impostors, they must have been self-deceived fanatics”; and, certainly, he declares, “their operations and influences were destructive in a high degree, and brought discredit on the revival.” One and another of these men are mentioned and described; and it is pointed out that while mighty men in stirring up excitement, they failed, under the test of time, in bringing men really to Christ. Thus they proved themselves to be mere religious demagogues; for does not Gustave Le Bon tell us,28 when describing demagogues and their ways, that, “it is easy to imbue the mind of crowds with a passing opinion, but very difficult to implant therein a lasting belief”?
It is not, however, until we turn to the portion of his book in which Hotchkin records the life-histories of the individual churches that we realize the amount either of the excitement stirred up by these men or of the evil wrought by it. Yet, as he is speaking only of the Presbyterian churches, which suffered least of all the churches from this disease, we are looking through his eyes only at the outer fringes of the evil. Even in the Presbyterian churches it certainly was bad enough.29 One Augustus Littlejohn30 seems to have been the evil genius of the Presbytery of Angelica, one Luther Myrick31 of the Presbytery of Onondaga, one James Boyle32 of the Presbytery of Geneva. These were all famous revivalists, enjoying high favor not only in Western New York, but to the East as well, and running through great careers; and only when they had wrought their ruin, did they fall at last under the ban of the church they had distracted and whose people they had harassed and misled. It is appalling to observe the number of churches of which it is recorded that they were disturbed, injured, or destroyed by the activities of these men and their coadjutors. We need not repeat these records here: let that of Manlius Center Church serve as a single example—it was, we read,33 “torn to pieces, and became extinct, through the influence of Mr. Myrick and other errorists.” We prefer to transcribe merely the long record of the experiences of the church of Conhocton,34 as particularly instructive of the state of mind induced by the prevalent religious excitement.
“In the summer of 1832,” we read, “Rev. James Boyle held with this church a protracted meeting, which was continued through a number of days. The measures which were common with him and others of that class of evangelists were employed, and a state of high excitement was produced, and many professed to be converted, and no doubt some souls really were born again. A large number were received into the church, swelling its number to one hundred and ten members. It might seem that the days of the mourning of this church were now ended, and that she must now have acquired such a measure of strength as to be able in all future time to enjoy the stated ministrations of the gospel. But such was not the case. Very little pecuniary strength was acquired, a spirit of fanaticism was infused into the minds of many, and a state of preparation to be carried away with any delusion was induced. With respect to the converts, so called, the writer is unable to say what has become of them. He believes very few of them give satisfactory evidence of having been born again. In the winter of 1837–8, a very singular state of things existed. Mrs.——Conn, who had been a member of the church a number of years, and highly esteemed by some, at least, as a woman of piety and activity in promoting the cause of Christ, began to take a very conspicuous part in the meetings for social and religious worship. She professed to have special communications from God, and to know the secrets of the hearts of those with whom she was conversant. She assumed an authoritative position in the church, and gave out her directions as from God himself, denouncing as hypocrites in the church all who did not submit to her mandates. She predicted the speedy death, in the most awful manner, of particular individuals who opposed her authority, and manifested a most implacable rancor against all who did not acknowledge her inspiration. In her proceedings she was assisted by a young man, who for his misconduct had been excommunicated from the church of Prattsburgh. A number of the members of the church of Conhocton were carried away with this delusion, and acknowledged Mrs. Conn as one under the inspiration of the Almighty. So completely were they infatuated, that they seemed to suppose that their eternal salvation depended on the will of Mrs. Conn. They were ready to obey all her commands, and to assert as truth anything which she should order. Some of them became permanently deranged, and one or two families were nearly broken up. Nor was this delusion confined wholly to the church of Conhocton. Mrs. Conn and her coadjutor went into the county of Wyoming, and some in that region were brought under the delusion, and received her as a messenger sent from God. Whether to view Mrs. Conn as an impostor, a wild fanatic, or a deranged person, the writer will not assume the responsibility of determining. Many circumstances would favor the idea of imposture. The writer is informed that she has become a maniac. This circumstance may favor the idea of mental aberration. But the consequences to the church were most disastrous.”
One of the most distressing accompaniments of revival excitements has been a tendency which has often showed itself in connection with them to sexual irregularities. This tendency does not seem to find its account, solely at least, in the low level of culture of the populations which have furnished the materials on which these revivals chiefly worked. And it certainly is not to be confounded with the opportunity taken by evil-minded persons from the conditions created by the revivals for corrupt practices. The opportunity has been afforded and improved, the camp meetings of course supplying the most flagrant instances. R. Davidson, describing the great Kentucky revival at the opening of the century, feels bound to consecrate a section to the “too free communication of the sexes,” and, although he excuses himself from giving details on account of the delicacy of the subject, he tells us plainly that dissolute characters of both sexes frequented the camps “to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the prevailing license and disorder.”35 This, however, was only incidental to the revivals themselves. What needs to be recognized is that the nervous exaltation, which was the direct product of the revival methods too frequently employed, seems not merely to have broken down the restraints to the unchecked discharge of other than religious emotions, but to have opened the channels for their discharge, and even to have incited to it—so that, as W. Hepworth Dixon puts it in vivid phrase, “the passions seemed to be all unloosed, and to go astray without let or guide.”36 It was the participators in the revival excitement themselves who went astray. John Lyle, reviewing the case of the women who had been the subjects of the “falling exercise” prior to November, 1802, found several “by the most unequivocal proofs, to have since fallen still more wofully; no fewer than four individuals having transgressed in the most flagrant manner.”37
Occasion has of course been taken from such facts to confuse emotions which differ toto cœlo. There is actually a theory extant that the religious emotion is nothing but the sexual ecstasy misinterpreted,38 and it is quite common to represent “the human love passion and the spiritual love passion” as lying in particularly close contiguity, if not even as “delicately interwoven.”39 There is no justification for such representations. They rest on an incredible confusion of the movements of the human soul set in the midst between two environments, and accessible to influences alike from below and above. Not even all love of man is sex-love; no love of man is religious love; religious love is not the entirety of the religious emotion. We are in the presence here of nothing more mysterious than the obvious fact that man’s emotional nature is a unit, and violent emotional discharges may readily be deflected from one to another direction. The phenomenon we are witnessing is only the familiar one of the peril of abandoning control of ourselves. When once we drop the reins and give unbridled play to our passional movements, there is no telling what the end may be. We cannot act the mænad in religion and expect our mænadism to manifest itself nowhere else. If religion becomes synonymous to us with excess, all excess is very apt to come to seem to us religious. It is in this sense only that it is true, when Baring Gould declares that “spiritual exaltation runs naturally, inevitably, into licentiousness, unless held in the iron bands of discipline to the moral law.”40 Davenport’s wider generalization is truer:41 “Wherever reason is subordinated and feeling is supreme, the influence is always in the direction of the sweeping away of inhibitive control.”
It is, moreover, not merely into licentiousness that religious mænadism tends to run, but into all forms of lawless action. J. H. Noyes shows an insight unwonted to him, therefore, when he represents revivals—of course, as known to him, that is to say the revivals of “religious excitement”—as intrinsically subversive of the whole social as well as moral order. Defining them from the true mænadistic point of view, and even in language strongly reminiscent of heathen modes of speech, he declares42 that a revival is the actual intrusion of the power of God into human affairs: that is to say, says he, it is the entrance into the complex of active causes of “the actual Deity.” This entrance of “the actual Deity” into human life is conceived after the fashion of the intrusion of a universal natural force, only more powerful than other natural forces.43 Conservatives fancy that its operations are restricted to the conversion of souls. That, says Noyes, is absurd: you cannot cabin and crib such a force in that way. Once set in motion, “it goes, or tends to go, into all the affairs of life.” A revolution is really inaugurated in every revival, and if it does not overturn and reconstitute all the life of the world, that is only because its action is prematurely checked. “Revival preachers and Revival converts are necessarily in the incipient stage of a theocratic revolution; they have in their experience the beginning of a life under the Higher Law; and if they stop at internal religious changes, it is because the influence that converted them is suppressed.” The term “higher law” here is ominous: the first effect of revivals is conceived as emancipation from the laws which now govern life; and if redintegration follows it must be under a higher law than they. They do and always must leave social disintegration in their train.
The prominence particularly of sexual irregularities in the train of the revivals of “religious excitement” is probably in large part due, therefore, only to the large opportunities and immediate temptations to irregularities of this particular order offered by revival intimacies. The period in which the revivals of the late twenties and early thirties took place was, moreover, one of widespread unrest with respect to the relations of the sexes, and of relaxation of the strictness of traditional habits; and the communistic experiments incited in the middle years of the twenties by Robert Owen no doubt also brought their contribution to the result. With respect to these particular revivals, however, we must not underestimate the influence of the fantastic apocalyptical theories, by which a large part of their unhealthy excitement was produced, and which by persuading men that they no longer lived on the earthly plane or under earthly law, gave to sexual irregularities a religious sanction or even made them appear a religious duty. Being mænads, men and women committed adultery for the Kingdom of God’s sake—as the victims of the atrocious Cochrane were doing in Maine and New Hampshire a short decade before,44 and the associates of the unspeakable Matthias—himself a product of these revivals—were doing contemporaneously in New York and Sing Sing.45 Thus arose the shocking theory of “spiritual wives” which was intimately connected with the perfectionism that constituted, after all is said, the most unwholesome product of the revival excitement. There is no reason to suppose that the “spiritual wives” at the outset were anything other than the name, strictly taken, imports—intimate spiritual companions and fellow workers in a common task.46 The hot perfectionist, living in the new order, attached to himself a like-minded female companion who shared his labors at home and abroad; they lived together, traveled together, worked together, in a fellowship closer than and superseding that of husband and wife. It was a renewal of the “spiritual wives”—the agapetæ or virgines subintroductæ—of the early church;47 but it required only a few months to run through the development that its earlier model consumed some centuries in traversing. What was in the first instance only an incredible folly and dangerous fanaticism soon became an intolerable scandal and dissolute practice. “Spiritual wives” became carnal mistresses: here and there injured husbands avenged their wrongs by physical assaults upon the clerical offenders, and when the husband was complaisant the outraged community was apt to treat both legal and spiritual husband to a coat of tar and feathers and a ride on a rail.48 Though actually only sporadically practiced, the advocacy of this indecency was widespread in perfectionist circles. Its roots were planted in the prevalent notion that the “saints” had advanced beyond the legalities of the worldly order, and that it behooved them to be putting the freedom of the resurrection life into practice.
The perfectionism of which this deplorable practice was one of the fruits was pervasive, and everywhere it went it worked destruction. It was intensely individualistic in its temper and operated accordingly as a disintegrating force in the church organizations into which it found entrance. This effect was increased by its affiliation with a powerful unionistic movement which was vexing the churches of this region. Like other unionistic movements, this one also was much more effective for tearing down the existing organizations which stood in its way, than for realizing its own professed Utopian ends.49 At all events ruin marked the pathway along which the combined perfectionist-unionist forces moved. Here is a typical notice: “Rev. A. Hale, from the Black River Association, distracted the church with perfectionism, and Rev. Luther Myrick with unionism. Twenty male members broke away from the church at one time as perfectionists.”50 There was an active organization, vigorously at work among the churches, calling itself “The Central Evangelical Association of New York,” which consisted, as Hotchkin tells us,51 just of “a body of Perfectionists and Unionists.” The Synod of Geneva at its meeting in October, 1835, warned the ministers and churches under its charge against it, because, as it said, it “does not sustain the reputation of an orthodox body,” and “the course of proceeding adopted by most of their ministers is calculated to divide, corrupt, and distract the churches.” The Synod therefore declared that it deemed it “irregular for any minister or church in our connexion, to admit the ministers of said Association to their pulpits, or in any way to recognise them, or the churches organized by them, as in regular standing.”52 Such a deliverance was necessarily a mere brutum fulmen. Even had it taken a more authoritative form, it was locking the door after the horse had been stolen. Nor is it easy in any event to see how the closing of Presbyterian pulpits to perfectionist agitators could have been expected to protect the people from the flames of wild religious excitement flaring up hotly in churches of other connections half a block away. The communities were small, and the people therefore in close contact and intimate intercourse with one another; the religious excitement that was raging was the property of no one denomination, but pervaded all; it was the professed object of one of the most active organizations engaged in fostering it—and the actual effect of many with no official connection with that organization—to obliterate all dividing lines and to reduce the whole Christian body to an indiscriminate mass of fanaticism.
Certainly perfectionists swarmed over the land, drawing from all churches, forming none. No doubt the ever-present fact of Wesleyan Perfectionism lay in the background and supplied everywhere a starting-point and everywhere gave a certain dignity and stability to the movement. A number of the perfectionist leaders were of Methodist origin.53 But the most effective forces in the production of the prevalent perfectionism were derived from quite different quarters, particularly from the Pelagianizing theories of the will emanating from New Haven.54 The perfectionism actually developed55 ran, however, in point of fact, into mystical molds. “These Perfectionists,” as a contemporary writer56 very fairly puts it, “believe that they have the inward Christ—can do no wrong—that to the pure all things are pure—that Christ is responsible for all they do—and other such blasphemous absurdities.” Their chief or, at least, their most obvious, characteristic accordingly was less correctness in conduct than freedom in the Spirit. And this in fact constituted their main attraction to the populace. J. H. Noyes fully recognizes57 that “some doubtless joined the standard of Perfectionism, not because they loved holiness, but because they were weary of the restraints of the duty-doing churches. Perfectionism presented them a fine opportunity of giving full swing to carnality; and at the same time, of glorying over the ‘servants’ under law.” Nothing was further from their intention, of course, than to submit themselves to the restraints of organization. Each wished to be a law to himself—and as far as he could compass it, a law also to everybody else. They erected what Noyes calls “disunity”58 into a principle and denounced organization as in itself an evil—a slavery to which free men in the spirit would not submit. “To perfectionists generally,” writes William A. Hinds,59
“the idea of discipline, organization, submission one to another, was intolerable. Were they children of the convenant, that ‘gendereth to bondage’? they asked themselves, or were they called to ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free’? Were they not living in the very days foretold by the prophet, when all were ‘to know the Lord from the least unto the greatest,’ and when no one ‘should teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, Know the Lord’? ‘Perfectionists,’ said the eloquent James Boyle, ‘stand as independent of each other as they do of any anti-Christian churches—they will not be taught of each other, as they are all taught of God, nor will they acknowledge any man as a leader or chief or any thing of the kind.’ ”
Such extreme individualism as is here announced cannot really maintain itself in practice. The perfectionists, too, of course found leaders and showed sufficient coherence to hold conventions at which a common platform was proclaimed and joint undertakings inaugurated. Even centers of activity were formed from which perfectionist influences radiated after a fashion which suggested at least the beginnings of institutional organization. One of the earliest of them was established at the little cotton-mill village of Manlius, where the little Presbyterian Church (Manlius Center) was stamped out. Hiram Sheldon was recognized by the Manlius perfectionists as their leader and expositor, but there were associated with him such men as Jarvis Rider, Martin P. Sweet, and Erasmus Stone. In this coterie originated most of the extravagances which characterized the perfectionist movement. “At Manlius,” says Dixon,60 “the chosen took upon themselves the name of ‘Saints.’ Here they announced their separation from the world. Here they began to debate whether the old marriage vows would or would not be binding in the new heaven and the new earth.” It was Albany, however, which became the real distributing center of the movement at least for the East; and the house of the Misses Annesley there became the center of the center.61 Thence missionaries proceeded into New England and groups of perfectionists were established here and there—at Southampton, Brimfield, New Haven.62 At Albany, of course, the same ruin was wrought as elsewhere: the churches were greatly troubled. The Fourth Presbyterian Church, E. N. Kirk’s, was required to put into action extensive disciplinary proceedings;63 and even the classroom of the little theological seminary which E. N. Kirk had established was invaded by the fanaticism.64 We hear of its being carried from this center as far as the extreme western border of frontier Wisconsin.63
II. The Beginnings
It was into this atmosphere that John Humphrey Noyes was plunged by his conversion in August, 1831. He was an opinionated, self-assertive young man of twenty,65 who had been graduated from Dartmouth College the year before (1830), and meantime had been studying law in his brother-in-law’s office at Putney, where the family had been resident since 1823. The great revival of 1831 seems fairly to have rushed him off his feet. He took his conversion hard, yielding with difficulty; but when he yielded he yielded altogether. He himself sums up what happened in a rapid sentence, which is no more rapid, however, than the rush of the events it describes. “The great Finney revival found him,” he says of himself, “at twenty years of age, a college graduate, studying law, and sent him to study divinity, first at Andover and afterward at New Haven.”66 He entered the Seminary at Andover four weeks after his conversion, and in less than three months after it he had placed himself at the disposal of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. But nothing that organized Christianity could offer could satisfy his morbid appetite for excitement, and in a little more than two years more he had turned his back upon it all and was seeking thrills along a new path.
He has himself described for us the stages of his progress.
“After a painful process of conviction, in which the conquest of my aversion to becoming a minister was one of the critical points”—it is thus that he describes his conversion,67—“I submitted to God, and obtained spiritual peace. With much joy and zeal I immediately devoted myself to the study of the Scriptures, and to religious testimony in private and public. The year of 1831 was distinguished as ‘the year of revivals.’ New measures, protracted meetings, and New York evangelists had just entered New England, and the whole spirit of the people was fermenting with religious excitement. The millennium was supposed to be very near. I fully entered into the enthusiasm of the time; and seeing no reason why backsliding should be expected, or why the revival spirit might not be maintained in its full vigor permanently, I determined with all my inward strength to be ‘a young convert’ in zeal and simplicity forever. My heart was fixed on the millennium, and I resolved to live or die for it. Four weeks after my conversion I went to Andover and was admitted to the Theological Seminary.”
This was a typical conversion of the “revival-of-excitement” order, issuing not so much in sound religion as in restless activities, and filling the mind only with strong delusions—in this case chiliastic delusions—which prepare it for everything except sane religious development. It is interesting to observe that, as he tells us more than once, most of those who followed him in his further vagaries had begun with him in these. “Most of those,” he says, writing in 1847,68 “who have become Perfectionists”—he means the term in the narrow sense in which it describes only his own followers—“within the last ten years, had previously been converts and laborers in such revivals,” that is to say, had been victims, as he was, of the “revival of excitement.”
Of course no one in his inflamed state of mind could find satisfaction at Andover. The students there were merely Christians, and seemed to him from his exalted point of view a good deal less than what Christians should be. In the censoriousness which naturally accompanies such exaltation of spirit he accuses them of indifference, levity, jealousy, sensuality—of everything which as Christians they ought not to be. Only in a few who were touched with the enthusiasm of missions—Lyman, Munson, Tracy, Justin Perkins—did he find any congeniality of companionship. He was taken into a secret society which they maintained for mutual improvement, and learned from it a method of government by criticism which he afterwards employed in his communistic establishment.69 The classroom instruction, also, was not wholly without effect upon him; in particular Moses Stuart’s exegesis of the seventh chapter of Romans, and of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, supplied him with points of departure from which he afterward advanced to the two hinges on which his whole system turned. He remained at Andover, however, only the single session of 1831–32. The autumn of 1832 found him at the Divinity School at New Haven. His motive for making the change, he tells us, was that at Yale, he “could devote a greater part of his time to his favorite study of the Bible”; by which he appears to mean that the classroom work at Yale was less exigent than at Andover. In any case he preferred to prosecute his study of the Bible without, rather than under, the direction of, his teacher. “I attended lectures daily,” he writes, “and studied sufficiently to be prepared for examination; but my mind was chiefly directed with my heart to the simple treasures of the Bible. I went through the Epistles of Paul again and again, as I had gone through the Evangelists at Andover; and in the latter part of the time”—during which he was at Yale—“when I had begun to exercise myself in preaching, I was in the habit of preparing the matter of every sermon by reading the whole New Testament through with reference to the subject I had chosen.” He also found time for many external activities. He worked among the negroes of the town and took part in the organization of one of the earliest anti-slavery societies in this country. He even became instrumental in building up a struggling church. There were about a dozen “revivalists” in the city, he says, and their fervor attracted him. “For,” says he, “I was burning with the same zeal which I found in them (but nowhere else in the city) for the conversion of souls.” As they grew in number they had organized themselves as the “Free Church,” and, on Noyes’s recommendation, they now invited James Boyle to preach to them. He was thus provided with church associations of the hottest revivalistic character.70
These new associations were not calculated to moderate Noyes’s fanatical tendencies. The censoriousness which he had exhibited toward his fellow students at Andover he now turned upon Christendom at large. How many real Christians are there in Christendom? he asked himself; and he felt constrained to answer, Not many. From his higher vantage-ground he looked out upon Christianity, as exhibited in the churches, and found it fatally wanting. His missionary zeal naturally cooled: with all Christendom lying in the evil one, what were the heathen to him? He saw his task now in the Christianizing of nominal Christians; the lost condition, not of the heathen but of Christians, was heavy on his heart.71 And now his sedulous study of the Bible in careful seclusion from his natural advisers, began to bear fruit—though he did not get so far away from Moses Stuart as to impress us with the originality of his thought. In the summer after his first year at Yale—the summer of 1833—he settled it with himself that our Lord’s second advent had already taken place; that it took place, in fact, within a generation of His death. We say “he settled it with himself,” for his confidence in his new conclusion was characteristically perfect. “I no longer conjectured or believed in the inferior sense of these words,” he says, “but I knew that the time appointed for the Second Advent was within one generation from the time of Christ’s personal ministry.” Oddly enough he appears to have been led to this conclusion chiefly by John 21:22: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” “Here,” said he, “is an intimation by Christ himself that John will live till His Second Coming; the Bible is not a book of riddles; its hidden treasures are accessible to those who make the Spirit of Truth their guide; and how is it possible to reconcile this intimation with the accepted theory that Christ’s Second Coming is yet future?” If we are inclined to wonder a little at the mental struggles which Noyes seems to have undergone in reaching this conclusion, we should remind ourselves that it involved a very considerable revolution of thought for him; and revolutions of thought were not easy for Noyes. He had hitherto been, we must remember, a hot chiliast, looking for the Second Coming not only in the future, but in the immediate future; and expecting from it everything he was setting his hopes upon in his inflamed fancy. It was a great wrench to transfer this Second Coming back into the distant past, though, as we shall see, he managed to soften the blow by preserving his chiliastic hopes for the impending future and carrying only the Second Coming itself back into the past.
In August of this same summer (1833) he was licensed to preach by the New Haven West Association, and spent the six weeks that intervened before the reopening of the Seminary in the autumn, preaching in a little church in North Salem, New York. He was as yet not a perfectionist; only a fanatical chiliastic revivalist—if we can use the word “only” in such a connection. But perfectionism did not lie outside the horizon of his vision. Those “New York evangelists” who broke their way into New England in 1831—to whom he also had fallen a victim, and James Boyle among the others, who had been a Methodist and whom he had brought to New Haven, where he had formed with him a close intimacy—came from a region plowed and harrowed by perfectionism, and can scarcely have been ignorant of it; they may even have in their own persons borne more or less of its scars. He found also on his return to the Seminary some zealous young men, newly entered, who spurred him on to higher attainments in holiness. He diligently read such works as the “Memoirs” of James Brainerd Taylor72 and Wesley’s tract on “Christian Perfection.” He naturally found himself, therefore, through the autumn and early winter months making steady and accelerating progression toward perfect holiness. No lower attainment would satisfy him, and he became ever more and more eager to reach the goal; this effort, in the end, absorbed all his energies. At last the blessing came, and he received his “second conversion.”
He writes to his mother: “The burden of Christian perfection accumulated upon my soul, until I determined to give myself no rest while the possibility of the attainment of it remained doubtful. At last the Lord met me with the same promise that gave peace to my soul when first I came out of Egypt: ‘if thou wilt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ By faith I took the proffered boon of eternal life. God’s spirit sealed the act, and the blood of Christ cleansed me from all sin.” His “second conversion” consisted then in his pressing the promise of “salvation,” the assurance of “cleansing from all sin,” into a promise and assurance that the “salvation,” the “cleansing,” shall be completed as soon as begun, consuming no time and running through no process to the promised and assured end. The parallel between his first and second conversions was complete. Not only were both accomplished through the instrumentality of a single text—understood partly then, perfectly now—but in both cases alike he was driven by his temperament at once into publicity. The atmosphere of propaganda was his vital breath: he gave not a moment to meditation, testing, ripening. As, on his “first conversion,” he tells us that he “immediately” devoted himself (along with the study of Scripture) “to religious testimony in private and public”; so now, on the evening of the very day of his “second conversion,” he preached at the Free Church on the text, “He that committeth sin is of the devil,” and proclaimed the doctrine of perfect holiness—how such a man would do it from such a text we can well imagine. “The next morning,” we are availing ourselves now of W. A. Hinds’s narrative,73 “a theological student who heard the discourse of the previous evening came to labor with him, and asked him directly, ‘Don’t you commit sin?’ The answer was an unequivocal ‘No.’ The man stared as though a thunderbolt had fallen before him, and repeated his question, and got the same answer. Within a few hours word was passed through the college and the city, ‘Noyes says he is perfect!’ and immediately afterward it was reported that Noyes is crazy!”74
There is no mention made, in Noyes’s account of his “second conversion,” of any influences working on him in that direction from without. We have seen that there cannot have failed to be such. Noyes himself, however, speaks in this connection only of his study of perfectionist literature of the Wesleyan school; to which, no doubt, we must hence give much of the credit of the change in his views. The perfectionism which he adopted, however, when he worked himself through, was not specifically Wesleyan in type, but was rather of that mystical kind which was at the time prevalent in Western and Central New York. As there was nothing in Noyes’s previous intellectual history to prepare us for this particular mode of thinking, we naturally conjecture that he must have derived it from the New York men, channels of communication with whom, as we have seen, existed in abundance. A writer of the time, who shows himself in general very familiar with what was going on, tells us explicitly that he owed his indoctrination into perfectionism to one of the young men who had gone astray in E. N. Kirk’s school at Albany. “Chauncey E. Dutton,” we read,75 “had breathed the afflatus. In 1833 he left Albany and entered the theological department at New Haven, Connecticut. Here he infused the new enthusiasm into John H. Noyes, a young man from Putney, Vermont, with whom he had become familiar. Thus began the logos of New Haven Perfectionism.” The date is right, and the general circumstances; it was on his return to New Haven in the autumn of 1833, Noyes himself tells us, that he found a number of zealous young men just entering the Seminary, to whose “constant fellowship and conversation” he attributes, along with the Wesleyan literature which he read, his “progress towards holiness.” The difficulty lies in the absence of the name of Dutton from the general catalogue of the New Haven Divinity School, and indeed from that of the University also. It may be of course that a mistake has been made, only, in connecting Dutton with the institution as a pupil. There is no doubt that he was in New Haven not far from this time propagating his perfectionist faith. We find him there, for instance, only a couple of years or so later on this errand, and Noyes was in close intercourse with him a year earlier in Brimfield.76 The tone of Noyes’s reference both to him and to his companion in these ministries, Simon Lovett, however, leaves an impression that this intercourse with them belongs rather to 1835, and later, than to 1833–34. And we can scarcely avoid the feeling that he means us to gather that he was self-converted to his perfectionism.
Lyman H. Atwater, who was a fellow student of the next lower class with Noyes at Yale, seems to think of him merely as one of the Pelagianizing perfectionists who sprang up in his student days at New Haven under the teaching of Nathaniel W. Taylor. He is giving a general account of the rise of this class of perfectionists, and permits himself this bit of personal reminiscence:—77
“When we were students of theology, a little coterie, becoming wiser than their teachers or fellow students, strained the doctrine of ability beyond the scope contended for or admitted by its most eminent champions, to the length of maintaining, not only that all men can, but that some do, reach sinless perfection in this life, of which, so far as the students there were concerned, a trio or so were the principal confessors. The net result of the whole was that the leader, instead of going forward into the ministry, ran into various socialistic and free-love heresies, on the basis of which he founded the Putney and Oneida communities, over the latter of which he now presides. Other sporadic outbursts of the distemper appeared here and there in the Presbyterian and Congregational communions, or among separatists and come-outers from them, these often uniting with the radicals or advanced reformers of other communions.”
This statement informs us that Noyes was not the only student at New Haven at the time who lapsed into perfectionism, but had a few companions, or, we may possibly suppose, converts. That his perfectionism arose simply from an overstraining of the Taylorite doctrine of ability seems, however, from his own account of it, not altogether likely; and we may perhaps not improperly suspect that Atwater has merely included him in the general movement which he was describing, without stopping to inquire as to any special peculiarity he may have exhibited. He himself, in giving an account of his mental and spiritual growth leading up to his conversion to perfectionism, has nothing to say of N. W. Taylor; but speaks rather of John Wesley as a guide and instructor. There was no doubt a Taylorite element in his thought,78 which came out especially in his teaching as to the “first conversion” and as to the act of faith in general, concerning which he seems to have no other idea than that it is an act of our own in our own native powers.79 But he certainly did not find the account of the perfection to which he supposed himself to have attained on that fateful twentieth of February, 1834, in the sheer ability of his will to do what it chose, and therefore (if it chose) to be perfect. He referred it, on the contrary, directly to the effect of communion with Christ. The affinities of his doctrine, in other words, were less Pelagian than mystical. By “the apprehension” of the facts concerning Christ and His saving work—“his victory over sin and death, the judgment of the prince of this world, and the spiritual reconciliation of God with man”—he explains,80 believers are brought “into fellowship with Christ’s death and resurrection,” and made “partakers of his divine nature and his victory over the evil one.” “The gospel which I had received and preached,” he had written a few months earlier,81 speaking directly of what had happened on February 20, 1834, “was based upon the idea that faith identifies the soul with Christ, so that by his death and resurrection the believer dies and rises again, not literally, nor yet figuratively, but spiritually; and thus, so far as sin is concerned, is placed beyond the grave, in ‘heavenly places’ with Christ.” He goes on to say that three months later he felt compelled to extend this doctrine so as to make it include the redemption of the body as well as the soul—to abolish death as well as sin—by participation in Christ’s resurrection so that though we will “pass through the form of dying” (sad concession to the appearance of things!) we who are believers indeed will not really die. This doctrine, not only in form but in substance, is extremely mystical.
The effect of Noyes’s proclamation of his perfectionism was, naturally, the loss of the countenance of the several religious organizations with which he was connected. He was dismissed from the Divinity School and requested to withdraw altogether from the premises. The New Haven West Association, by which he had been licensed to preach the previous August, now recalled its license, “on account of his views on the subject of Christian perfection.”82 His church membership was still in the Congregational Church at Putney, and that church subsequently excluded him from fellowship “for heresy and breach of covenant”—supporting the charge apparently, however, by specifications which are drawn from his subsequent teaching.83 His real church home was, nevertheless, the Free Church at New Haven, and a vote was passed at once by that church requesting him to discontinue all communication with its members. He represents himself as feeling very isolated. “I had now lost,” he writes, “my standing in the Free Church, in the ministry, and in the college. My good name in the great world was gone. My friends were fast falling away. I was beginning to be indeed an outcast. Yet I rejoiced and leaped for joy. Sincerely I declared that ‘I was glad when I got rid of my reputation.’ Some persons asked me whether I should continue to preach, now that the clergy had taken away my license. I replied, ‘I have taken away their license to sin, and they keep on sinning; so, though they have taken away my license to preach, I shall keep on preaching.’ ” The isolation complained of, however, had of course only relation to, and meant no more than an enforced change in, his associates. There were plenty of perfectionists within reach, and they of the most aggressive character. Noyes was soon, if he were not already, in close intercourse with them. But there can be no doubt that the effect of the announcement of his new views was something of a surprise to him, and brought on a crisis in his career. He tells us that in conversation with his father one day, during the short interval between his conversion and his entering the Seminary at Andover, he had propounded an interpretation of some Scripture, concerning which the older man uttered a warning. “Take care,” said he, “that is heresy.” “Heresy or not,” rejoined the son, “it is true.” “But,” warned the father, “if you are to be a minister, you must think and preach as the rest of the ministers do; if you get out of the traces they will whip you in.” “Never!” rejoined the son hotly: “never will I be whipped by ministers or any body else into views that do not commend themselves to my understanding as guided by the Bible and enlightened by the Spirit.” Now that the crisis had come, the “fighting spirit” he had announced in this program did not fail him. He had so little thought of yielding to the admonitions of his mentors, that he rather threw himself unreservedly into the conflict and seized the reins of leadership of the perfectionist party. “I resolved,” he says, “to labor alone if necessary, to repair the breaches of our cause.”
The immediate fruits of his propaganda at New Haven were not altogether inconsiderable. He was able to count James Boyle himself among his converts; and the two together carried on for a time a vigorous literary campaign, including the publication from the summer of 1834 (the first number bears the date of August 20) of a monthly journal called The Perfectionist. A number of the members of the Free Church also left the church, and joined Noyes’s party. Some converts were made also here and there outside of New Haven, especially in New York. Every effort was made by Noyes to compact his followers into a definite sect with its own doctrinal platform and organization. It was in this that his peculiarity consisted. We have already had occasion to point out the extreme individualism of the perfectionists of his day. Noyes was determined that he at least should not stand off by himself, but should be the head of a body which reflected his thought and obeyed his will. Everywhere he asserted his leadership; and although he was able to make it good with the completeness which he desired over only a small coterie, a certain deference appears to have been shown him in a surprisingly widely extended circle. Looking back upon these early days from a point of sight thirty years later, he tells us how they then appeared to him.
“The term Perfectionist,” he tells us,84 “was applied to two classes who came out from the Orthodox churches at about the same period. They resembled each other in many respects (both classes apprehending alike the great truth, that the new covenant means salvation from sin, the security of believers, the substitution of grace for law and ordinances, etc.), but there was yet this fundamental and important distinction: one class appropriated these doctrines in the interest of individualism, the other in the interest of unity; one class scorned the idea of subordination and discipline, the other joyfully received the idea of organization, and were willing to submit to such discipline as organic harmony should require; one class were all leaders, a regiment of officers, many of whom were for a time eloquent champions of the new truths, but the majority of them rushed into excesses which dishonored the name Perfectionist; the other class, led by J. H. Noyes, have persevered in a course of self-improvement, overcoming many obstacles, and finally have developed a system of principles and a form of practical life which at least challenge the attention of the world.”
This formal difference—organized or unorganized—was not, however, the only thing which divided Noyes’s followers from outlying perfectionists. He was not only prepared to impose upon them his personal leadership, but his personal doctrinal views also. And, young man in his twenty-fourth year as he was, he had his doctrinal views even now in their formative ideas already in hand. They were evolved from the two fundamental assertions to which he had now attained—that Christ’s Second Coming took place in a.d. 70, and that no one living in sin is in the proper sense a Christian. Working out the details of his system rapidly from these two underlying principles, he as rapidly developed a very acute sense of the uniqueness of his “New Haven Perfectionism.” Consciousness of the points of agreement between his and other perfectionism grew faint: the settled persuasion that he, and he alone, possessed truth took possession of him. “New Haven Perfectionism,” he writes in his journal,85 “is a new religion … has affinity with no sect this side the primitive church.… As a system it is distinct from all the popular theologies.” And again:86 “New Haven Perfectionism is a doctrinal system, standing by itself, distinct from Wesleyan, New York, and Oberlin Perfectionism, as it is from non-resistance, ‘come-outism,’ etc.” … “Perfectionism in other places” than in Putney, “so far as I know, (individual instances excepted,) has been mixed up with New York fanaticism, Boyleism, Gatesism, non-resistance, etc.” His immediate purpose in these last words is not directly to assert doctrinal peculiarity (although that is asserted), but rather to repudiate any entanglement in the immoralities which persistent rumor was laying to the charge of perfectionists, at Southampton, Brimfield, and other places where the indecency of “spiritual wives” was in practice.
It is worth while to turn aside to point out that one of the peculiarities by which Noyes separated himself from the perfectionists of the time was that he did, in point of fact, keep himself free from complicity with this evil. He makes it quite clear that it was in his mind a characteristic of what he calls “New York Perfectionists,” and he declares with the utmost emphasis that he himself never gave it the least countenance. It was brought into New England from New York, he tells us, by Simon Lovett and Chauncey E. Dutton, who circulated at Southampton, Brimfield, and afterward at New Haven itself, as a sort of missionaries; and though beginning in mere “bundling,” passed on into actual licentiousness.87 As for himself, he asseverates that he had no connection with such things—whether at Brimfield, Rondout, or New York88—except to reprove them.89 It must not be imagined, however, that it was what we should call the immorality of the practice which kept Noyes thus free from this iniquity. He speaks of it as “licentiousness,” it is true; but he fully shared the “antinomianism” of which it was the expression. His chief concern was that the premature practice of this antinomianism should not prejudice the spread of the doctrine. And then again, the idea of spiritual wives did not go far enough to satisfy the demands of his antinomianism. It still was held in the bonds of law. He stood for promiscuity in principle. And spiritual wives are just as incongruous to the principle of promiscuity as are “legal wives”; they are “spiritual dualism.” “The only true foundation is that which Jesus Christ laid,” he writes, “when he said, that in the good time coming there will be no marriage at all”—meaning not that celibacy will rule, but “promiscuity.”90
Noyes himself tells us that he had already adopted this theory of promiscuity in general in May, 1834,91 that is to say, on the very heels of his “second conversion”—or conversion to perfectionism—and at the very beginning of his propaganda for the formation of a perfectionist sect. One gets the impression that it held from the first in his mind the place of an essential principle—we might even say of the essential principle—of his system, while the whole doctrinal elaboration led up to it and prepared the way for it.92 Meanwhile, however, he kept it in the background, putting it forward only tentatively and as men, having absorbed the doctrinal preparation, were able to bear it. As he himself expresses it:93 “I moulded it, protected it, and matured it from year to year; holding it always, nevertheless, as a theory to be realized in the future, and warning all men against premature action upon it.” How he was accustomed to propagate it is, no doubt, fairly illustrated by his circumspect and veiled, and yet perfectly clear, presentation of it in a letter written in January, 1837, to his friend David Harrison of Meriden, Connecticut—a letter which has acquired the name of “the Battle Axe Letter” from the circumstance that Harrison, acting on a suggestion of Noyes’s (who was eager to make quiet propaganda), showed it to Simon Lovett (who liked it), and Lovett showed it to Elizabeth Hawley,94 who sent it to Theophilus R. Gates,95 who published the salient parts of it in his paper The Battle Axe (August, 1837)—and thus forced Noyes’s hand, and drew him for the first time to make public acknowledgment of this central element of his teaching. In this letter he writes:—96
“I will write all that is in my heart on one delicate subject, and you may judge for yourself whether it is expedient to show this letter to others. When the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven, there will be no marriage. The marriage-supper of the Lamb is a feast at which every dish is free to every guest. Exclusiveness, jealousy, quarrelling, have no place there, for the same reason as that which forbids the guests at a thanksgiving dinner to claim each his separate dish, and quarrel with the rest for his rights. In a holy community there is no more reason why sexual intercourse should be restrained by law, than why eating and drinking should be; and there is as little occasion for shame in the one case as in the other. God has placed a wall of partition between the male and the female during the apostasy for good reasons, which will be broken down in the resurrection for equally good reasons; but woe to him who abolishes the law of apostasy before he stands in the holiness of the resurrection. The guests of the marriage supper may have each his favourite dish, each a dish of his own procuring, and that without the jealousy of exclusiveness. I call a certain woman my wife; she is yours; she is Christ’s; and in Him she is the bride of all saints. She is dear in the hand of a stranger, and according to my promise to her I rejoice. My claim upon her cuts directly across the marriage covenant of this world, and God knows the end.”
What is proclaimed here is complete promiscuity among the perfect; those that are perfect are already living the “resurrection life.” Noyes could not repudiate his letter, and, with characteristic courage, declared his purpose thenceforth to publish the doctrine taught in it from the housetop. But with his equally characteristic caution he kept it still in the background, and put in the front those doctrines which he appeared to value more and more, chiefly because they led up to this; but which meanwhile produced less scandal to talk about. A typical example of his dealing with the matter may be seen in the attempt which he makes in June, 1839,97 to explain to a correspondent how his brand of perfectionism differed from that of the Methodists, Friends, and Asa Mahan. They all agree, he says, that “perfect holiness is attainable in this life.” But the “Perfectionists”—that is, his own sect—are discriminated from the others by certain primary and also by certain secondary tenets. The primary ones he enumerates thus: “1. Their belief that perfect holiness, when attained, is forever secure.… 2. Their belief that perfect holiness is not a mere privilege, but an attainment absolutely necessary to salvation. Holding this belief they of course deny the name of Christian to all other sects.… 3. Their belief that the second coming of Christ took place at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem.” On this third point of doctrine he remarks: “Perfectionists insist upon this doctrine as the foundation of the two preceding”—that is to say it stood with them as the fundamental doctrine out of which all else is deduced. Out of it ultimately come then the “secondary consequences,” adherence to which also characterized “Perfectionists.” These he enumerates as “their ‘Antinomianism,’ their belief of a present resurrection, their peculiar views of the fashion of this world in respect to marriage, etc.” The promiscuity for which “Perfectionists” stand is not left here, it is true, unsuggested; but it is not obtruded. It is made a mere secondary result of their most fundamental doctrines.
We perceive that Noyes, beginning in 1834 as a perfectionist among perfectionists, had rapidly drifted into an attitude of open antagonism to all perfectionists except that small number who were willing to receive from him a totally new doctrinal and ethical system, and to subject themselves to his unquestioned authority. He no longer disagrees with them only in standing for organization over against their atomizing individualism; nor indeed only in reprobating the tendency to cloak licentiousness under a show of close spiritual relationship, which was showing itself among some of them. He declares them not really Christians, and he takes infinite satisfaction in pointing out his differences from them. He exhibits, indeed, a real predilection not only for explaining the differences between the several varieties of perfectionist teaching and his own, but in general for pointing out the defects in the teaching of all whom he supposes might be imagined to have been in any way before him advocates of holiness. As to the “ordinary class of pietists in the carnal churches,” no doubt, he considers it unnecessary to say anything.98 They are “confessors and professors of sin,” and therefore certainly not Christians. He adduces David Brainerd as a “fair specimen” of the “more distinguished spiritualists of the churches,” but thinks that enough has been said when it is said that “his general experience is in essence a transcript of the seventh chapter of Romans”—in which chapter is depicted, according to Noyes, a carnal not a spiritual condition. “It is evident,” he says, “that he was, through life, under conviction, panting after freedom from sin, but never reaching it.” With Brainerd, he classes Edwards, Payson, and “nearly all of those who have obtained the highest distinction for piety in the churches.” James Brainerd Taylor’s experience, as we have seen, he is willing to allow to have been “of a higher grade.” “He came apparently to the very borders of the gospel,” he says, and “saw clearly the privilege and glory of salvation from sin.” “He even confessed, at times, in a timid way, that he was free from sin,” and in doing so really “condemned the routine of sinning and repenting which was the only experience allowed or known in the churches before him.” His biographers, he asserts, “suppress the clearest part of his testimony in relation to his own salvation.” Nevertheless he was only “the John the Baptist of the doctrine of holiness” and, not knowing the gospel of the primitive church, “was not born of God in the Bible sense.” There is nothing better to say of the Mystics—Madame Guyon, William Law. They lose themselves in a “spiritual philosophy”: Law is the best and his “Address to the Clergy” his best book. It is he who is the real father of the semi-perfectionism which the Methodists profess. The Methodists—like the Moravians and Shakers—and Asa Mahan and his companions with them, fail because they make holiness not the main point of religion but an appendix to something else, and have denied or suppressed the most essential element of the new covenant, viz. “security.” Oberlin may stand as the illustration of a semi-perfectionism like this: it represents the stage a man comes to when, seeking holiness, he has a gleam of it—and stops.99 “We,” he says in another place,100 differentiating his “Perfectionists” from Wesleyans and Oberliners—“we believe in the ‘New Covenant,’ which enlists soldiers for life; or, in other words, for perpetual holiness.”
We must not exaggerate the success of the propaganda for his perfectionism which Noyes inaugurated at New Haven in the spring of 1834. Its success, although, as we have said, not inconsiderable, was not great; and what was gained at the outset was soon largely lost. It was not long before James Boyle cast off allegiance, and the converts from the Free Church also soon returned to it.101 Noyes himself remained in New Haven, after his adoption of perfectionism, only a year. When he left it, in February, 1835, never to return except on occasional visits, his departure bore a somewhat dramatic appearance. Simon Lovett, he tells us,102 had come “as a sort of missionary from the New York Perfectionists” to convert him to their ideas; but he on the contrary converted Lovett to some of his, “especially to the New Haven doctrine of the Second Coming.” Lovett took him, however, to Southampton and Brimfield to make him acquainted with the groups of perfectionists which had sprung up in those places under the New York propaganda. He won his triumphs among them also, he tells us. “Their leader, Tertius Strong, succumbed to my reasonings,” he says, “and soon the doctrine of the Second Coming, and what was called the ‘Eternal promise,’ were received on all sides with great enthusiasm.” But he did not like what he saw. There was “a seducing tendency to freedom of manners between the sexes,” and there was “a progressive excitement” manifesting itself. So he ran away—leaving without notice, on foot, “through snow and cold—below zero—to Putney, sixty miles distant.” Thus he escaped complicity, perhaps participation, in one of the wildest follies of the perfectionist orgies; and at the same time found a new scene for his work and a revised program for his labors. He did not at once, indeed, find the new way. A period of uncertainty intervened in which he spent himself endeavoring to repair the losses that had been suffered and to build up the broken fortunes of his party. He went from place to place on this errand. He was visited at Putney by old friends and fellow workers. Simon Lovett came on from Brimfield and joined him in his labors. Hard on his heels Charles H. Weld103 came, fresh from Theophilus R. Gates (who, he said, was “pure gold”), with letters in his hands from a New York priestess, a Mrs. Carrington, full of censures of Noyes’s “carnality and worldly wisdom.” Noyes describes this woman as “a lady living somewhere in the State of New York, who had recently been converted to perfectionism by Weld’s labors, and was soaring in the highest regions of ecstacy and boasting.” He no longer had any sympathy with mere perfectionists—with Weld he finally broke, apparently violently, and certainly permanently. He was meditating other things to which perfectionism was only a stepping stone. To these other things, however, perfectionism was a stepping stone—an indispensable stepping stone—and he now gave himself, having the new vision before his eyes, with all diligence to building it up in a form suitable for what was to come.
“At this time,” he says, “I commenced in earnest the enterprise of repairing the disasters of Perfectionism, and establishing it on a permanent basis, not by preaching and stirring up excitement over a large field, as had been done at the beginning, nor by labouring to reorganize and discipline broken and corrupted regiments, as I had done at different places, but by devoting myself to the patient instruction of a few simple-minded, unpretending believers, chiefly belonging to my father’s family. I had now come to regard the quality of the proselytes of holiness as more important than their quantity; and the quality which I preferred was not that meteoric brightness which I had so often seen miserably extinguished, but sober and even timid honesty. This I found in the little circle of believers at Putney; and the Bible School which I commenced among them in the winter of 1836–7 proved to be to me and to the cause of holiness the beginning of better days.”
Although the work in which Noyes now engaged himself took the form of a “Bible School,” neither his purpose nor his interest could any longer be described as theological or even as religious. That purpose and interest belonged to a transcended phase of his development. His teaching in the “Bible School,” we are told, sought chiefly to confirm the pupils in “the new doctrines of Salvation from Sin and the Second Coming of Christ,” and to draw corollaries from them “resulting in the discovery of many other doctrines at variance with the dogmas of the divinity doctors and commentators.”104 This is an euphemistic way of describing what was really being done. What was really being done was, by the constant inculcation, enforcement, elaboration, illustration, of Noyes’s fundamental doctrines of the emancipation of believers from all restrictions of law, and their imminent entrance into the “resurrection state” in which the selfishness of “exclusive marriage” should be done away, to supply his pupils with a religious basis for the practice of sexual promiscuity and to induce them to enter upon the practice of it without shock, when the time seemed to him to have come to introduce it. Meanwhile he tells us emphatically and with some iteration that, personally he “walked in all the ordinances of the law blameless”—“till 1846”; and that also his “face was set as a flint against laxity among the Saints”—again “till 1846.”105 His whole preoccupation was, however, all this time with sex. “I got the germ of my present theory of Socialism,” he writes in 1867106—meaning nothing other than his doctrine of promiscuity, which he speaks of as if it carried with it his entire socialistic theory—“very soon after I confessed Holiness, i.e. in May 1834. As that germ grew in my mind, I talked about it. It took definite form in a private letter in 1836. It got into print without my knowledge or consent in 1837. I moulded it, protected it, and matured it from year to year; holding it always, nevertheless, as a theory to be realized in the future, and warning all men against premature action upon it. I made ready for the realisation of it by clearing the field in which I worked of all libertinism, and by educating our Putney family in male continence107 and criticism.108 When all was ready, in 1846, I launched the theory into practice.”109
Of course Noyes—for that was his custom—rationalized his preoccupation with sex. That was, he said, his necessary preoccupation after doctrine had been disposed of. “The first thing to be done,” he writes more than once,110 “in an attempt to redeem man and reorganize society is to bring about reconciliation with God; and the second thing is to bring about a true union of the sexes. In other words, religion is the first subject of interest, and sexual morality the second, in the great task of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. Bible communists are operating in this order. Their main work from 1834 to 1846 was to develop the religion of the New Covenant and establish union with God. Their second work, in which they are now especially engaged, is the laying the foundation of a new state of society by developing the true theory of sexual morality.” When this passage was written, however—say in 1848—Noyes and his followers were not engaged in “developing the true theory of sexual morality,” if by that is meant working it out theoretically. That had been the work of the preceding period. They were now putting that developed theory of sexual morality into practice—and only in this practical sense “developing” it. Nor must the general terms in which the statement is thrown be permitted to throw the reader off of the real line of thought which is being followed. It is of course perfectly true that the two great objects of human regard are religion and morality, and the two matters of first consideration in the establishment of a sound social order are our relations to God and to one another. Since man has been made male and female, it may very properly be said also that, after religion, the family is the foundation stone of society. Precisely what Noyes was engaged in doing, however, was destroying the family. The problem he had set himself was nothing less than the reconstitution of human society without the family. It was precisely because of this that, in “the laying of the foundation of a new state of society,” he required first of all to “develop” a new “theory of sexual morality,” a theory of sexual morality, that is to say, which dispensed with the family. The theory which he developed was nothing other than that of sexual promiscuity—prudently regulated, no doubt, in its practice in the interest of the community, but not only distinctly but even dogmatically insisted upon. The development of this theory and its inculcation to his followers were actually his “main work” for ten years before 1846. Its practical application was equally actually his main work for the remainder of his active life. His mind was preoccupied thus for a whole half of a century with the details of the sexual life. The religious preoccupation was past: “The Berean,” which was published in 1847, but is made up of articles reprinted from the periodicals published from 1834 on, is its monument. The economic experiment on which he ultimately embarked was dependent on the narrower matter of sex-relations in which he saw its foundation stone: for all communism is wrecked on the family, and he perceived with the utmost clearness that he must be rid of the family if he was to have communism. Accordingly he constantly speaks of his “social theory” when he means nothing more than his “sexual theory,” and his book called “Bible Communism,” published in 1848, was nothing more than an elaborate plea for the practice of sexual promiscuity under the name of “entire community,” that is to say community not only in goods but also in women.111
III. The Structure
It was in May, 1846, so Noyes tells us,112 that “entire communism” was put into practice, and the association which had enjoyed hitherto only a progressively increasing community in goods, entered upon the enjoyment also of a community of women, and so became really “a common family.” From this time every man in the association—it consisted then of from thirty to forty members, but was destined to grow to over three hundred113—looked on every woman in it as his wife, and every woman looked on every man as her husband. When he wished to set this arrangement over against the “legality” of the exclusive “marriage of the world,” which he affirmed to be abrogated in the Kingdom of God, Noyes called it “free love.” When he wished, on the other hand, to defend it against the charge of “licentiousness,” he called it “pantagamy,” and insisted that it was as true a marriage as the “exclusive marriage of the world” itself—only “complex marriage” instead of selfish individual marriage. The enormity of the arrangement will perhaps be best apprehended when we remind ourselves that the community was intended to include, and did, in point of fact, from the beginning include, men and women united to one another by the ties of the closest kinship. A historian of the community, having in mind apparently only the law of promiscuity which reigned in it, cries out in shocked amazement that men of apparently reputable standing could be found, as they were found, to take their wives and daughters with them into such an arrangement. We do not touch the bottom of this degradation, however, until we recall that under this engagement the father at once himself became the husband of his daughters and his daughters the wives of their father. Children growing up in the community were—though they might be brother and sister—the prospective husbands and wives of one another, as well as of their own parents. Noyes himself took into the community with him from it first formation at Putney, not only his brother, who at once became therefore sharer with him in all his marital relations, but two sisters, who became at once therefore the wives of both himself and his brother.114 We do not affirm that marital rights were ever actually exercised in such cases. Of that we know and can know nothing. Respect for humanity leads us to suppose it incredible that it could have been brought to that pass. But it is of the utmost importance that we should fully realize that this is what Noyes’s pantogamy meant; that this pantogamy formed the very foundation stone of his whole system and was put fully into practice; that he was constant in proclaiming it and strict in enforcing it; and that he encouraged its free practice by teaching along with it that the sexual act was of no more significance than any other token of universal affection.
Noyes is insistent in pointing out that the freedom of intercourse inaugurated in his community was not absolutely unlimited in practice, and he appears to fancy that it may on this account escape the stigma of licentiousness and even perhaps of promiscuity. The limitations were, however, entirely of a prudential character, and had as one of their main purposes precisely to secure and maintain the practice of promiscuity. It is just here that the contrariety between his practice and Fourier’s fancies, which he much—and rightly—urged in other relations,115 comes most distinctly to view. Both insisted on promiscuity in the sexual relation. But with Fourier this promiscuity was a means to an end—the complete indulgence of passion; he sought, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it,116 “the greatest amount of kissing that the infirmity of human constitution admitted.” With Noyes, on the other hand, it was not the amount of the kissing which was the main concern, but its distribution; it was precisely promiscuity which was his end; and to secure that end everything else had to give way. For example, Fourier117 expected the young people to pair among themselves, of course purely spontaneously—if inclination led elsewhere, inclination naturally was to have its way; and he expected these young pairs to remain faithful to one another at least during the ardor of their first love—of course, again, only because natural inclination would so determine it. Noyes apparently did not doubt that Fourier was right in supposing that this would be the natural course of things. But there was nothing which he more sternly repressed than any tendency among young or old to monopolize one another, as he would say. When any such tendency manifested itself, he required each of those concerned to pair with someone else. We learn that much suffering was caused by the enforcement of this measure:118 it had no other end than the maintenance of promiscuity. It was his policy, also, to repress all direct courtship.119 Pairing was arranged through the intermediation of third parties, regularly the older female members of the community120 being called upon to perform this service. And it was a principle with Noyes to prevent ordinarily the pairing of the young with the young. Fourier suggests that it might happen now and then that a youth would take a fancy to, and obtain the favor of, a lady of mature age: indeed, as A. J. Booth tells us,121 he has recorded a thrilling incident “to illustrate how a youth, in all the ardor of virgin passion, may be irresistibly attracted by the personal charms of a lady more than one hundred years of age.” Noyes, on principle, required the young of both sexes to pair with the old, and discouraged the pairing of the young with the young.122 Thus, at least on paper, the sexual relations were in Noyes’s scheme governed strictly by a principle: there was no spontaneity about it; promiscuity in these relations was required and secured.123 The ultimate end, of course, was the safety of the community, which would be endangered by the formation of “monopolizing” attachments. The end of the safety of the community determined another of Noyes’s regulations—the universal practice, through the community, of his method of birth control.124 The care and expense of children would be a burden to the community, which would form a menace to its stability. Afterwards, when the community had passed through its tentative stage, the breeding of children—we use this phraseology advisedly—was undertaken on the most scientific principles. Not all the members of the community were permitted to produce children: certain ones were selected for breeding purposes, and paired with close attention to their mutual characteristics. Noyes calls this “Stirpiculture,” and wrote a pamphlet125 in the early seventies to explain its importance and the modes of its application. “Previous to about two years and a half ago,” he says in this pamphlet, “we refrained from the usual rate of child-bearing, for several reasons, financial and otherwise. Since that time we have made an attempt to produce the usual number of offspring to which people in the middle classes are able to afford judicious moral and spiritual care, with the advantage of a liberal education. In this attempt twenty-four men and twenty women have been engaged, selected from among those who have most thoroughly practiced our social theory.”
In one matter at least, connected with the restrictions placed on themselves by his followers in the practice of promiscuity, Noyes is far from candid. He wishes to obtain credit for them for confining their practice within the bounds of the community, and on this ground he invites us to look upon the compact which bound the community together as a true marriage—a “complex marriage,” no doubt, but none the less a marriage,126 and the community so bound together as a true family. “Our Communities,” he says,127 “are families, as distinctly bounded and separated from promiscuous society as ordinary households.” The bounding and separating of these communities from promiscuous society differed from the bounding and separating of families from that society, however, in being merely de facto, and, according to Noyes’s most fervent preaching, temporary, affording only samples of what was soon to become universal and preparing the way to it. The promiscuity practiced in these communities was therefore in principle universal, and was expected soon to become in fact universal. It is therefore thoroughly disingenuous to point to its momentary confinement to the communities as if that were of its essence, and on that ground to cloak the unbridled lasciviousness of this doctrine under such names as complex marriage and complex families. In point of fact, the fundamental doctrine which Noyes taught in this relation was pure, unbounded promiscuity; and all adaptations of this doctrine to community life were afterthoughts and were conceived by him as temporary expedients. What he discovered in the spring of 1834 was that in the kingdom of heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage whatever. What he declared in 1845128 was that “the abolishment of worldly restrictions on sexual intercourse, is involved in the anti-legality of the gospel,” because such restrictions are “incompatible with the state of perfected freedom towards which Paul’s gospel of ‘grace without law’ leads.” What he still teaches in 1870129 is that, as there is “no intrinsic difference between property in persons and property in things,” the community of goods inaugurated after Pentecost carries with it community of women. “The same spirit which abolished exclusiveness in regard to money,” he says, “would abolish, if circumstances allowed full scope to it, exclusiveness in regard to women and children. Paul expressly places property in women and property in goods in the same category, and speaks of them together, as ready to be abolished by the advent of the Kingdom of Heaven.” The restriction of this promiscuity to the community was to Noyes an evil, an evil to be overcome, and to the overcoming of which he looked forward with fervent hope. And it was not the restriction of its practice within the communities which made these communities attractive to him, but the practice of it there. He arraigns “the law of marriage,” because, as he says,130 it gives to sexual appetite only a scanty and monotonous allowance, and so produces the natural vices of poverty, contraction of taste and stinginess or jealousy.” He praises131 “a Community home in which each is married to all, and where love is honored and cultivated,” precisely because it “will be as much more attractive than an ordinary home, as the community out-numbers a pair”—which, put brutally, is just to say that the sexual satisfaction increases with numbers.132 Fourier himself, to whom confessedly the free gratification of passion was everything, could not have expressed his own principle with more frankness.133
Although this iniquity was put into practice in 1846, there seems to have been at first something tentative and veiled in the practice of it. Noyes’s own expression is that it was begun “cautiously.”134 Even when done in a corner, however, such a thing is not easy to hide. And it became increasingly evident, as time went on, that the people of Putney were, in a general way, aware of what was being done and were quite disinclined to permit it to be done among them. As the antagonism rose, Noyes and his followers braced themselves to meet it. The line taken was the bold one of asserting for themselves immediate divine guidance and sanction. They apparently hoped thus to overcome opposition by the dread authority of Deity itself: and they sank to the mountebank device of invoking pretended miracles in support of their assertion. The crisis drew on in the midsummer of 1847. On the evening of the first of June, we are told by one of their number,135 their leader startled his assembled disciples with the question: “Is not now the time for us to commence the testimony that the Kingdom of God has come—to proclaim boldly that God in His character of Deliverer, Lawgiver and Judge has come to this town and in this Association?” The significance of this question was twofold. What had been done more or less in secret was now to be proclaimed on the housetop, and the coming of the Kingdom of God was to be asserted because, in Noyes’s teaching, it was only in the Kingdom of God that such things were sanctioned—“woe to him,” he had cried in the Battle Axe Letter, “who abolishes the law of apostacy before he stands in the holiness of the resurrection.” The answer returned by his followers to his question was a unanimous affirmation. “It was seen that a new and further confession of truth was necessary; that it was the next thing before them in the course of progress to which they had been called. It was unạnimously adopted, therefore, as the confession and testimony of the believers assembled, that the Kingdom of God had come.” This, however was mere assertion; and the only proof of the assertion was that those who made it were living in sexual promiscuity—which was to them an evident concomitant of the entrance into the world of the new divine order, but which could scarcely be counted upon to impress the outside world in the same way. Hence the appeal to miracles.
The star case was the healing of Harriet A. Hall, a chronic invalid, by the combined ministrations of Noyes and Mary Cragin on June 22. The miracles, it will be noted, did not tarry when they were needed. The patient, says Noyes,136 “was completely bedrid, and almost blind, lying in nearly total darkness.” “From this state,” he declares, “she was raised instantly, by the laying on of hands, and by the word of command, into strength which enabled her to walk, to face the sun, to ride miles without inconvenience and with excessive pleasure.” “The cure of Mrs. Harriet A. Hall,” he asserts, “is as unimpeachable as any of the miracles of the primitive church.” On the contrary, it is as obvious a sham as any of the thousands and thousands of sham miracles which disgrace the annals of the church, and not of the church only but of every popular religious movement throughout the world—differing only from other sham miracles in bearing on its brow the brand of fraud, as many of them do not. The part taken by Mary Cragin137 in this miracle—and others—is so barefacedly that of a play-actor, that one wonders that so shrewd a man as Noyes permitted the details to be made public. Other miracles followed in rapid succession;138 and not content even with these, others still, alleged to have been wrought previously, were now brought forward and made public.139 But it was all in vain. The people were obdurate; and, having refused to believe Noyes and his followers, would not believe though many rose from their beds. Vigorous action was begun to rid the town of the scandal. Indignation meetings were held. The courts were set in motion; civil suits for damages were brought; the Grand Jury found a true bill and in the indictment thus made Noyes was arraigned on specific charges of adultery and held for trial on heavy bail. The result was, happily, the destruction of the obnoxious community at Putney. The suspension of the publication of the community’s journal—The Spiritual Magazine—was compelled.140 Immunity in the courts was bought only at heavy cost; the civil suits were satisfied by money payments out of court;141 before the criminal case came on, Noyes broke bail and fled beyond the jurisdiction of the court.142 The community itself began to scatter and in a year or so it was gone.143
It was not at all within the plans of the leaders of the Community, however, because they had been driven out of Putney, to pass out of existence. In the height of the storm at Putney, Noyes was busily preparing for the future. Not content with calling heaven to bear witness to him in manifest miracles, he was as diligently engaged during this fateful midsummer of 1847 in strengthening his interests among the children of men. He turned in his need to those “New York Perfectionists” from whom he had decisively separated himself, and whose ways he had never wearied of declaring not his ways. Nor did he turn in vain. He was treated by them with marked deference from the outset; and in the end he obtained from them the means for redintegrating his enterprise under better stars than ever. Already on July 3d we find him drawing up in an elaborate document “the testimony of the parties concerned “in his star miracle,” at the request and in presence of” the notorious John B. Foot, “for his private use”—from which it seems that Foot was at the time in Putney.144 And in the issue of The Spiritual Magazine for July 15, announcement was made of the holding of two Conventions of perfectionists in Central New York, in the approaching September, “called,” says Hinds,145 for “promoting unity and co-operation between the New York and Putney believers.” These Conventions were called by John B. Foot and John Corwin, and met, the earlier at Lairdsville, Oneida County, New York, on September 3, under the presidency of Jonathan Burt, and the latter at Genoa, Cayuga County, under the presidency of Foot. Noyes made them the occasion of a five weeks’ tour of electioneering character through the region and, of course, was present at both Conventions as the official representative of one of the parties whose coöperation it was their avowed purpose to promote. As a result a series of resolutions, drafted by a committee of which Noyes was chairman, was passed at the later Convention “without a dissenting vote.” These resolutions ran:146
“1. Resolved, That we will devote ourselves exclusively to the establishment of the kingdom of God; and as that kingdom includes and provides for all interests, religious, political, social and physical, that we will not join or co-operate with any other association. 2. Resolved, That as the kingdom of God is to have an extensive manifestation, and as that manifestation must be in some form of Association, we will acquaint ourselves with the principles of Heavenly Association, and train ourselves to conformity to them as fast as possible. 3. Resolved, That one of the leading principles of Heavenly Association, is the renunciation of exclusive claim to private property. 4. Resolved, That it is expedient immediately to take measures for forming a Heavenly Association in Central New York. 5. Resolved, That William H. Cook be authorized, on our behalf, to visit Perfectionists throughout the state, for the purpose of stirring up their minds in relation to Association, and ascertaining the amount of men and means that are in readiness for the enterprise.”
By these remarkable resolutions the perfectionists of Central New York not only committed themselves to communism in principle, but to the immediate establishment of a Communistic Association, and set measures on foot to carry out this declared purpose. We are told further that, on the passage of the resolutions, “with great fervor the strongest men of the convention came forward and pledged ‘their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor’ to the enterprise proposed in the resolutions, and for the establishment of the kingdom of God in the world.”147 Noyes’s appeal to men had been more successful than his appeal to God. He had secured from the New York Perfectionists action which looked to the mere transference of his establishment from Putney to New York. And that is indeed precisely what happened, but not with the smoothness and facility which appeared likely on a mere surface view of things.
For there was one thing on which Noyes had not been quite candid with his New York brethren, and allusion to which is entirely absent from the set of resolutions whose passage he had secured from them. This was his doctrine of sexual promiscuity—and the relation in which it stood, in his view, to the possible formation of a Communistic Society, such as he had now committed them to. As they became aware of these things their zeal in coöperating with him in the foundation of such a society vanished. A series of resolutions, introduced by Otis Sanford of Clinton, New York, having the design of expressing sympathy and coöperation with Noyes, was passed by the earlier—the Lairdsville—Conference, with cordial unanimity. In these, entire approbation was expressed of the “general course of the press at Putney,” and cordial coöperation with the Putney brethren in the circulation of their publications was promised.148 But Noyes is compelled to add to his report of this resolution:149 “After the close of the meetings, Otis Sanford, in consequence of discovering that I was the author of the ‘Battle Axe letter’ (which he had never seen before,) retracted his assent to these resolutions.” This is but a straw showing how the wind was veering around. The sentiments of the brethren, in point of fact, underwent nothing less than a revulsion, which wrecked the whole great project which had been entered upon. There were those among them who had been involved in the indecencies of “Spiritual Wifehood,” but complete sexual promiscuity and that as the very foundation-stone of their society of saints, was more than, with all their antinomian tendencies, they could stomach. As an eye-witness of what was happening writes:—“As soon as they heard of cross-fellowship, and the fact that their chosen apostle was under bonds for the charge of adultery,” they drew decisively back. And thus it was brought about that though by his visit to New York Noyes provided for the removal of his Community to that State, it was not with the support of the New York Perfectionists at large.
We must suppose that it was in very deep disappointment that Noyes returned to Putney. Certainly he returned to very great trouble. The people were inexorable: his Community was dispersed: the criminal suit against him was pending; there was no promise in the outlook. On the twenty-sixth of November he felt constrained to leave Putney forever, taking up his residence in New York City. Meanwhile, there were a few men in Central New York who, being like-minded with him, were not content to permit the resolutions passed at the September Conventions to fall wholly to the ground.150 They could do nothing so grandiose as was contemplated in those resolutions. But they were resolved to establish a community in a small way on some such lines. These men, Jonathan Burt, Joseph C. Ackley, Daniel P. Nash, united their interests and invited Noyes to join them. This he did about the first of February, 1848, and at once took the lead in the enterprise and, indeed, as was his wont, became the dictator. The members of the old Putney Community joined him, and by the first of March the Oneida Community was fully organized. In giving an account in his “History of American Socialisms”151 of the origins of the Community he wishes to trace them back alternately to impulses derived from the great revivals of 1831 and the experiments at Brook Farm. “Thus the Oneida Community,” he says, “really issued from a conjunction between the Revivalism of Orthodoxy and the Socialism of Unitarianism.” Then he descends to details: “In 1846, after the fire at Brook Farm, and when Fourierism was manifestly passing away, the little church at Putney began cautiously to experiment in Communism. In the fall of 1847, when Brook Farm was breaking up, the Putney Community was also breaking up, but in the agonies, not of death, but of birth. Putney conservatism expelled it, and a Perfectionist Community just begun at Oneida under the influence of the Putney school, received it.”
After a quarter of a century of successful development, the exodus could be described in this poetical language. It was anything but poetry at the time. Except the hospitable welcome of Jonathan Burt152 there was little that was inviting in the untamed woods and streams of Oneida Creek; and the first years of the Community’s residence there were comfortless and hard enough, but also on that very account bracing and disciplining. “At first,” says Hinds,153 “the Community buildings at Oneida consisted of two small frame dwellings, a log-hut, and an old saw mill, once owned by the Indians. It was a dozen years before their members got beyond the necessity of sleeping in garrets and out-houses. Though the means brought in by the members enabled them to live tolerably well at first, they soon learned to content themselves with the humblest fare.” The Community, however, grew rapidly in numbers and efficiency; and ultimately, in wealth. Beginning in the spring of 1848 with about forty members, by the first of the next year it had eighty-seven, which it doubled in the course of the year 1849: on February 20, 1851, there were two hundred and five members, in 1875 two hundred and ninety-eight, and in 1878 three hundred and six.154 Nearly a hundred and eight thousand dollars were brought in by the incoming members during the first nine years, of which something more than forty thousand were sunk in living, leaving the Community on January 1, 1857, with a capital of sixty-seven thousand dollars. Now, however, economic success began, and the industries of the Community became profitable. These were mainly concentrated in the business of the canning of fruits and vegetables, and the manufacture of silk and of steel traps.155 It is not necessary to dwell on these things. Information on the industrial side of the life of the Community is easily accessible and is indeed in the possession of all. Only enough is required to be said to secure that it should be well understood on the one hand that the Oneida Community became eminently successful in the economic and industrial aspects, and on the other that the development of the Community on this side represents a new phase of Noyes’s activities, peculiar to the Oneida period.
Although, of course, community of goods was a dogma with him from the beginning of his speculations, and he had put it into practice at Putney, as there was no necessity for the development of large industrial efficiency before the removal to Oneida, so there was no marked progress made toward it. There is no evidence that Noyes had specially engaged himself with the problems of economic and industrial life prior to his settlement at Oneida. At Oneida, however, he was faced with hard conditions, and, after a period of partial failure, conquered them. There is an appearance that perhaps as a result of this necessary engrossment with these problems, the center of his interests now changed, and that economic matters began to loom in his mind as intrinsically more important than the matters to which he had hitherto given himself with most predilection. Religion, sex, industry—it was along this line of advance that his mind seems to have moved; and as he appears to have come to value religion chiefly as a sanction to sexual promiscuity, so he appears to have come in the end to value sexual promiscuity mainly as a means to economic efficiency. Our meaning in saying this is not that he looked on his religious theories as the necessary foundation of his sexual theory, and on this sexual theory as the necessary foundation of any successful communism. That goes without saying. That was the very essence of his theorizing; and no doubt from the practical point of view, also, he was right—decent people could scarcely have been brought to follow his sexual practice save under the influence of some such religious fanaticism as he imbued them with, and very certainly no communism can stand save on the ruins of the institution of marriage. What we are saying, however, is nearly the opposite of this. It is that Noyes, as he appears at Putney to have lost interest in his religious fanaticism in his absorption in sexualism, so appears at Oneida to have to some extent lost interest in his sexualism in his absorption in his industrialism—necessary as each nevertheless was to the basis of the other. Revivalist, perfectionist, sensualist, economist—that seems to be the line of his development. Not that he ever formally abandoned either his fantastic religious theories or his gross sexual doctrine, but that, an industrial communism having been created on their foundation, and now actually existing, he seems to have come to fancy that it might continue to exist and to function without their aid.
In this he was certainly mistaken, as the event proved. It was precisely through its drawing back from these religious absurdities and sexual abominations that the community crumbled. It lasted just a generation—from 1848 to 1880: and that it was just a generation that it lasted was no accident. What it means is that it lasted so long as those were at the helm who had taken up the enterprise under the impulse of a strong fanaticism; and that it fell to pieces when the guidance came into the hands of a new generation which could not believe the things by which its fathers had lived. W. P. Garrison, writing in The Nation of September 4, 1879, p. 154, as the process of its dissolution was beginning, remarks with great weight:—
“That the split in regard to sexual relations has come with the second generation was only what was to be expected. Nothing but a Chinese wall and the adoption of a conventual stringency could have prevented it.… Nothing is surer than that the Oneida system of complex marriage was a reversion to barbarism—to ways repudiated by the race in its efforts to rise above the promiscuous intercourse of the brutes. All the attention it deserved at the hands of social philosophers was due to this fact, and to one other, that it was justified by an appeal to supernatural sanctions.… What is most surprising in Mr. Noyes’s message to the Community is his declaration that he did not regard the hitherto existing social arrangements as ‘essential parts’ of their profession as Christian Communists. He has been saying this, it appears, for a year past. But ten years ago, in his work on ‘American Socialisms,’ he still held to the doctrine laid down in his ‘Bible Communism’ in 1848, that ‘the restoration of true relations between the sexes is a matter second in importance only to the reconciliation of man to God,’ and that ‘the sin-system, the marriage-system, the work-system, and the death-system, are all one, and must be abolished together.’… Mr. Noyes has, we conceive, outlived his headship. His successor … is the self-appointed head of the party which has become dissatisfied with complex marriage. In other words, there is no real succession. A revolution has taken place: the Community as it was has suffered a mutilation which practically destroys its identity, and will by the coming historian be added to the list of extinct Utopias.”
What was happening in the Community could not easily be better described. Noyes was growing old, and was losing his hold on the Community. Murmurings and disputings were heard on every side. The younger members had become skeptical both of Noyes’s religious system and of his theory of sexual relationship,156 and restive under control exercised over them. It was clear that a change of some sort was imperative. Noyes sought it in the first instance by retiring from the headship of the Community and putting a younger and more vigorous man in his place. The man he chose for his successor was not unnaturally his own son, Theodore R. Noyes, and he may have hoped the more from the choice because this son was a leader of the disaffected party—certainly at least with reference to the religious aspects of it.157 The experiment was not successful, and Noyes was compelled to withdraw the appointment. The disaffection which had been smouldering was now in flames. There were some, no doubt, who were ready to acquiesce in any settlement commended to them by their “tried leader.” But there were now two embittered parties shut up together within the bonds of this “family.” The one “could see nothing but a skeptic in the man who had dared to develop the fruits of the spirit of Christ in any other way than through their prescribed methods of professing unqualified belief in some of the doctrines of traditional Christianity.”158 The other was made up of enthusiastic supporters of the younger Noyes, and some of these, offended by his enforced withdrawal from the leadership, themselves withdrew from the family.
At this period a new factor entered the situation—external opposition. The tardily begun and tardily culminating protest of the people of the State of New York against the toleration in their midst of such a moral offense as the Oneida Community constituted, had now at last reached the point of effective action. The soul of this protest had been for a number of years John W. Mears, then a professor in Hamilton College, and the credit of bringing it through many difficulties to a decisive issue belongs mainly to him. We may date the beginning of the end, doubtless, from the appointment by the Synod of Central New York in 1873 of a committee charged with the duty of conferring with other religious bodies and determining on what measures were feasible. And the end itself was foreshadowed when a Conference called by J. W. Mears, F. D. Huntington, E. O. Haven, A. F. Beard, and E. G. Thurber met on February 14, 1879, in the University Building at Syracuse, New York, “for the purpose,” as it brusquely reported in The Nation,159 “of breaking up the Oneida Community.” This brusque language does not unfairly represent the temper of the Convention. The Oneida Community was recognized as intolerable, and every sort of difficulty had been raised to dealing with it decisively. It sheltered itself under the constantly repeated assertion that no law existed under which it could be proceeded against: as the lawyers put it, you cannot prove adultery without first proving marriage, and the Oneida people were not generally married. Sentimental objections to proceeding against them were also diligently advanced. The Oneida people were good citizens, and good business men, and good neighbors, and good employers of labor; they were a model of order and sobriety and diligence: why disturb them? Their morality? Well, said The Nation,160 “the Oneida theory of the relation of the sexes is odious, no doubt, but it is the product of crackbrained biblical exegesis and is sincerely held, and the sheriff can hardly kill it.” All this was brushed aside by the Convention. Morality, it said, is worth as much to a community as business ability; and if no law exists by which an end can be put to such flagrant immorality as flaunts itself in the Oneida Community—why the sooner such a law is made the better. So it appointed a committee to see if new legislation was really needed to meet the case, and if so to set steps on foot to secure it. That committee met in June, enlarged its numbers and very obviously got to business. It had become clear to every eye that the Oneida Community was doomed.
This had already become so clear to Noyes himself before the Conference of February 19 met that he approached that Conference with a document, which he caused to be distributed among its members, in which he practically promised that the Community would adjust itself to any special legislation the Conference might secure. The Oneida Community should be compared with the Shakers, he pleaded, not the Mormons: its members “had always been peaceable subjects of civil authority, no seditious act ever having been charged upon them; they had never proposed to carry out their peculiar principles in defiance of the laws or of the public opinion of their neighbors; and if special legislation should be obtained unfavorable to them they would still be faithful to their record in submission to the ‘powers that be.’ ”161 Possibly the Conference took heart of grace from such a promise; at any rate its representatives proceeded on their way with increased activity. Noyes’s fear in February had increased by June—when the Conference’s Committee met—to a certain foreboding of evil, and that with reference to his own person as well as with reference to the Community. He fled beyond the jurisdiction of the New York Courts and took up his residence in Canada, where he resided for the rest of his life.162 From this safe retreat he immediately (August 25, 1879) proposed to the Community which he had left behind him a complete surrender of its obnoxious practices.
“I need hardly remind the Community,” he wrote,163 “that we have always claimed freedom of conscience to change our social practices, and have repeatedly offered to abandon the offensive part of our system of communism if so required by public opinion. We have lately pledged ourselves in our publications to loyally obey any new legislation which may be instituted against us. Many of you will remember that I have frequently said within the last year that I did not consider our present social arrangements an essential part of our profession as Christian Communists, and that we shall probably have to recede from them sooner or later. I think the time has come for us to act on these principles of freedom, and I offer for your consideration the following modifications of our practical platform.” The modifications thus intimated, he then propounds as follows:—
“I propose: (1) That we give up the practice of complex marriage, not as renouncing belief in the principles and prospective finality of that institution, but in deference to the public sentiment which is evidently rising against it. (2) That we place ourselves not on the platform of the Shakers, on the one hand, nor of the world on the other, but on Paul’s platform which allows marriage but prefers celibacy. To carry out this change, it will be necessary first of all that we should go into a new and earnest study of the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, in which Paul fully defines his position, and also that of the Lord Jesus Christ, in regard to the sexual relations proper for the Church in the presence of worldly institutions. If you accept these modifications, the Community will consist of two distinct classes—the married and the celibate—both legitimate, but the last preferred.” “What will become of communism after these modifications,” he now proceeds, “may be defined thus: (1) We shall hold our property and businesses in common, as now. (2) We shall live together in a common household and eat at a common table, as now. (3) We shall have a common children’s department, as now. (4) We shall have our daily evening meetings, and all of our present means of moral and spiritual improvement. Surely here is communism enough to hold us together and inspire us with heroism for a new career. With the breeze of general goodwill in our favour, which even Professor Mears has promised us on the condition of our giving up the ‘immoral features’ of our system, what new wonders of success may we not hope for in the years to come? For my part, I think we have great cause to be thankful for the toleration which has so long been accorded to our audacious experiment. Especially are we indebted to the authorities and people of our immediate neighbourhood for kindness and protection. It will be a good and gracious thing for us to relieve them at last of the burden of our unpopularity, and show the world that Christian Communism has self-control and flexibility enough to live and flourish without complex marriage.”
It must not be supposed from the tone of the preamble and appendix of this communication that Noyes was arguing with an unwilling Community, to secure if possible from it action to which it was indisposed. He was really yielding to what had become the general demand of the Community; but in doing so supplying them with a plausible account of their action, such as would as far as possible save their and his susceptibilities. The action of the Community on this proposal was so immediate as to appear eager. The same number of The American Socialist164 which prints the proposal prints also this action: “The above message was considered by the Oneida Community in full assembly, August 26, 1879, and its propositions accepted; and it is to be understood that from the present date the Community will consist of two classes of members, namely, celibates, or those who prefer to live a life of sexual abstinence, and the married, who practise only the sexual freedom which strict monogamy allows. The Community will now look for the sympathy and encouragement which have been so liberally promised in case this change should ever be made.”
By this action, naturally, the bottom was knocked out of the agitation against the Community. That agitation was directed solely against its “immoral features,” and these were now abandoned.165 But the bottom happily was by it knocked out of the Community also.166 It was precisely in its system of “complex marriage” that the coherence of the Community consisted; that was the cement which held it together. That gone, everything was gone. If Noyes cherished any real expectations that the Community would seek to prolong its existence on the new “social platform” which he outlined for it, he was quickly undeceived. No celibacy for it! Before the close of the year “in addition to those cases in which there was a resumption of former marriage relations there were twenty marriages in the Community,” and, the chronicler adds, “the work continued apace,” and in a few years “scarcely half a dozen” remained unmarried.167 And no more communism for it! The change here was scarcely more difficult to manage and was no less decisively carried through. By the end of the year 1880 all communistic features had been eliminated and the Community had become an ordinary joint-stock company, carrying on as such the large business enterprises which had been developed. Noyes himself, writing in 1885, enumerates for us the steps in the process by which his lifework was undone.168 “On the 20th of August, 1879, I proposed that the practice of Complex Marriage be given up; on the 26th my proposition was adopted by the Community unanimously; on the 28th it was published to the world; and was received by the press generally with commendation. From that time the proposal of a general change from Communism to private ownership and joint-stock began to be agitated in the Oneida Community. It was discussed carefully and peaceably; and after sixteen months of study and preparation of details Communism of property was given up, as complex marriage had been before it, and on the 1st of January, 1881, the joint-stock company called the Oneida Community, Limited, took the place of the Oneida Community.” There were naturally some in so large a community who regretted this final change and would fain have preserved, if not a completely communistic organization, yet as many communistic features in their organization as possible. But there seems to have been no doubt, either in the sentiment of the community at large or in the minds of their responsible leaders, that this was a case in which it is the first step that counts; and that the abandonment of “complex marriage” was in fact the abandonment of communism, and should be acted on as such.
In this they were undoubtedly right. It was in point of fact a part of their most intimate experience through a generation of communistic living that, while the obnoxious “mine” and “thine” continue valid in the most intimate relation of life, it is folly to speak of their abolition elsewhere. But though we may justly say that the experience of the Oneida Community provides an empirical demonstration of the theoretically obvious proposition that communism cannot exist apart from the aid of “complex marriage,” with all its accompaniments and consequences, it by no means follows that permanency can be secured to it merely by this outrage on the deepest instincts of human nature. There are other instincts of human nature also which communism outrages, and on which all attempts to establish a communistic society must ultimately be wrecked. Property itself, for example, upon which communism makes its most immediate assault, is just as much a law of nature—or, let us say, a law of God—is just as much an ineradicable instinct of man—as marriage, with which it is indeed inextricably involved. Goldwin Smith, in an illuminating page,169 instructs us to think of property not as an institution of human society, but as a fundamental condition of human life. “A state of things in which a man would not think that what he had made for himself was his own,” he remarks, “is unknown to experience and beyond the range of our conceptions.” The economical value of property may arise from the circumstance that it is “the only known motive power of production.” But the right of property does not rest on this consideration of expediency, but is intrinsic in the individual’s right to himself. This right he can never yield, and all attempts at communism, which are at bottom only attempts to deprive men of their ineradicable rights—to themselves and the fruits of their own activities—are bound to break to pieces in the end on these primeval instincts of the race. The persistence of the Oneida Community for a generation suggests nothing to the contrary. It was not a self-subsisting communistic state. Economically considered, it was only a limited commercial association, pooling its earnings and living parasitically on the surrounding community. It not only recruited itself steadily from outside, but it depended wholly on the wider community in which it was encysted for all the necessities of living—police protection, social intercourse, trade distribution, peace, and opportunity to labor. More. It obtained the raw material for its industries from outside; it found the market for its product outside; it even came, as it grew prosperous, to draw a large part of its labor, by which its product was made, from outside. It became in fact, in principle only an employer-manufacturing concern, whose earnings were enjoyed in common by the owners, instead of divided, in this ratio or another, among them in severalty. When the time came to convert it into a joint-stock company, nothing could have been easier. Its six hundred thousand dollars of invested capital needed merely to be distributed equitably in stock among the owners, and the thing was done.
It was Noyes’s contention that religion is the only foundation on which a stable communism can be reared. He does not seem to have been very exigent as to what the nature of this religion should be. The rôle which he assigned to it in his speculations170 was to chasten and discipline the spirit for the hardships and restrictions demanded by community life. What has wrecked the communistic societies which have sprung up so luxuriantly in America has been largely, he says, the influx into them of idle, selfish, designing men. “General depravity,” he says, is, according to the universal testimony of experience, “the villain of the whole story”—a truth much more profound than apparently he was intending to express. May it not be, he asks, that “the tests of earnest religion are just what are needed to keep a discrimination between the ‘noble and lofty souls’ and the scamps?” The function he wished religion to serve, thus, was to act as a sieve to strain out the unfit—and a great variety of religions might serve this purpose if only they were earnestly held. If a community could be formed of earnestly religious men only, he thought, there might be some hope of its members’ living in harmony. He contended, now, that these speculative views had been verified in practice. Looking over the whole list of communistic experiments in America he singles out those which have shown unusual vitality. There are only eight of them; all the rest have quickly died; these only have lived. And now, says Noyes,171 “the one feature which distinguishes these Communities from the transitory sort, is their religion; which in every case is of the earnest kind which comes by recognized afflatus, and controls all external arrangements.” He wishes to draw the induction that it is religion, and religion alone, which makes communism possible.
Goldwin Smith, in criticism, remarks172 that while it is true that all the communities thus singled out by Noyes were religious, yet the list thus singled out does not include all the communities which were religious. Others were religious too—and died. And he might have added, had he written a little later, that these eight have died too—for they are now all dead, except the Shakers, who have become moribund, and the Ephrata and Oneida communities, which survive only in the changed form of joint-stock companies. Goldwin Smith does add one other remark which is very much to the point. All eight of Noyes’s enduring communistic societies had one other thing in common besides religion, though Noyes does not note it. They all rejected marriage—“whereby,” Smith explains, “in the first place they are exempted from the disuniting influence of the separate family; and in the second place, they are enabled to accumulate wealth in a way which would be impossible if they had children to maintain.” Some of them were strict celibates, and the others discouraged marriage; and it is much more probable that what enabled them to endure longer than such experiments have ordinarily done was this complete or partial elimination of the particular obstacle that stands most in the way of communistic practice, rather than their religion—except so far, of course, as it was from their religion that they derived the sanction for their misprision of marriage. It was this function, as we have seen, that Noyes assigned to religion in his own communistic experiment. He was insistent, no doubt, that putting first things first, religion was first with him. His communism was not mere communism standing on the “ordinary platform of communism.” It was “Bible Communism,” and as such very distinct from the communism, for example, of “the infidels and Owenites of twenty years ago.”173 God was a party to their communism. “Their doctrine is that of community, not merely or chiefly with each other, but with God.” God as creator, is owner of all; every loyal citizen is joint-owner with God of all things.174 But he was not content with laying such a general religious foundation as this for their structure. He shaped his religious teaching so as to provide a particular religious sanction precisely for that community in wives which he rightly saw was the prime essential to the stability of any communistic establishment.
IV. The Doctrine
It will be well for us to obtain some sort of a connected view of the religious system which Noyes taught, as a whole.175
We have already had occasion to observe—what is obvious in itself and was very fully recognized by Noyes—that his religious system was determined by two fundamental doctrines. “The two corner-stones of doctrine, equally important, on which Communism rests,” we read,176 “are, the doctrine of Complete Regeneration, or Salvation from Sin, and the truth that the Second Coming of Christ, and the founding of his heavenly kingdom, took place 1800 years ago. The first furnishes the personal or experimental basis, the second, the historical and political.” The former of these determining doctrines is unduly subordinated to the latter in the following enunciation of the “most important articles of faith” held by the Communists—no doubt because this statement is drawn up from the point of view of their social or “political” theories, and is printed in the opening pages of Noyes’s formal exposition of those theories.177 Nevertheless, the most of what was really effective in Noyes’s faith appears in it, and it is worth quoting here for the pointed brevity of its enunciation of the elements of his faith with which it does deal:—
“We believe in the Bible as the text-book of the Spirit of truth; in Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God; in the Apostles and Primitive church, as the exponents of the everlasting gospel. We believe that the Second Advent of Christ took place at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem; that at that time there was a primary resurrection and judgment in the spiritual world; that the final kingdom of God then began in the heavens; that the manifestation of that kingdom in the visible world is now approaching; that its approach is ushering in the second and final resurrection and judgment; that a Church on earth is now rising to meet the approaching kingdom in the heavens, and to become its duplicate and representative; that inspiration or open communication with God and the heavens, involving perfect holiness, is the element of connection between the church on earth and the church in the heavens, and the power by which the kingdom of God is to be established and reign in the world.”
There is no lack of comprehensive statements of Noyes’s faith. He was rather fond of framing series of articles of faith or doctrinal theses. He prints, for example, in The Witness of August 20, 1837, a full systematic statement of “What we believe” in thirty-four articles, and again in The Perfectionist of February 22, 1845, fifty “Theses of the Second Reformation.”178 Each of these fairly covers the whole ground of his faith. We may, however, perhaps content ourselves, for such a general glance over the entire system, with the shorter series of articles printed in the preface to “The Berean.” These he speaks of as a “frank synopsis of the leading doctrines of this book”—the book itself being the “religious book of the Community,” from which Noyes advises us “the religious theories of the Community” may be best ascertained. A polemic form is given these articles, and in each instance the doctrine taught in the Community is set in its relations to the teachings of other bodies. We omit that feature of them and otherwise compress them; and so arrive at the following nine heads of doctrine which may be thought fairly to comprise in utmost brevity the system taught by Noyes. 1. God is not a Trinity, but a Duality—Father and Son: these two are co-eternal but not co-equal. This duality in the Godhead is imaged in the twofold personality of the first man, who was made male and female, and as Adam was to Eve, so is the Father to the Son. 2. God has foreordained all that comes to pass. Evil, however, was eternal, and hence does not fall under the divine foreordination. Its admission into God’s creation, nevertheless, was foreordained; and this was done because it was necessary for the judgment and destruction of the uncreated evil. The foreordination of the reprobation of some men and the salvation of others rests on foresight of their divergent conduct. 3. In consequence of Adam’s transgression all men are born under the spiritual power of Satan. But there are two essentially different classes of men. One class are of the very seed of Satan and in every sense depraved. The other class are only subjected to Satan’s evil influence and therefore instinctively respond to the word of God when it comes to them. 4. The Atonement is not legal but spiritual. The death of Christ does not satisfy the demands of the law in the place of sinners. It perfects Christ in all human sympathies; destroys the spiritual power of the devil in whom all men are held captive by nature; and delivers those whom He thus wakes and releases from the condemning sin-occasioning power of the law. 5. The motives of the law and a change of purpose in the creature are necessary preparations for the second birth. But the second birth itself is a change not of purpose or acts, but of spiritual condition. It is a divorce of the human spirit from the power of Satan, and a junction of it with the Spirit of God. It is a progressive work, in the double effects of outward cleansing brought about by external moral and spiritual influences, and the inward quickening communicated by the life of Christ through faith. 6. “We agree with the most ultra class of Perfectionists, that whoever is born of God is altogether free from sin.” But this complete freedom from sin is not ordinarily attained in the first stage of discipleship. Hence there is in the Church a class of persons called believers or disciples, but not “sons of God,” and they are not yet free from sin. 7. Whoever is born of God will infallibly persevere in holiness unto salvation. But believers who are not yet “sons of God” may fall away. 8. Christ’s Second Coming took place in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem, at the end of the time of the Jews. At that time those were judged who had been ripened for the harvest of history by the Old Testament dispensation and the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles. The formal judgment is yet to come, at the end of the times of the Gentiles, bearing the same relation to the period in which we live as that former judgment did to the precedent time. 9. Those that sow to the flesh shall reap eternal punishment.
It is in the vague generality given to them in such brief statements as this that Noyes’s doctrines appear to their best advantage. When taken up one by one and explicated in their details, their combined grotesque crudity and reckless extravagance are seen to pass all belief. He has not escaped wholly from the hands of his teachers. Nathaniel W. Taylor has given him the general method of his thinking; Moses Stuart has built the piers on which he supports his dogmas; the fanatical perfectionists of central and western New York have supplied to him their fundamental content. But he has rounded out the outline and filled in the chinks with material derived from the most outlandish sources, giving to the whole an aspect both fantastic and in the highest degree repellent. He has been most influenced by the Shakers; or it would be more correct to say that the whole formal nature of his system was borrowed from them. They taught, for instance, that God is a dual person, male and female; that Adam was also dual, having been made in God’s image; that all angels and spirits are also both male and female; and that the distinction of sex in mankind is eternal, inhering in the soul itself. They taught also that the Second Coming of Christ had already taken place, that the Church has been apostate since the primitive age and is only now, in themselves, being rebuilt; that the Kingdom of heaven and the personal rule of God is now in process of restoration; that the old law has been abolished; and the direct intercourse between heaven and earth has been renewed; that sinlessness of life is not only a possibility but an obligation; that the use of marriage has ceased; and that death itself has passed away and become only a change of dress, a shedding of the visible robe of the flesh and assumption of the invisible glory of the spirit. To every one of these items of Shaker teaching Noyes presents a clear counterpart. Sometimes he simply takes the Shaker doctrine over just as he found it. More frequently he tried to fit it into his own personal lines of thinking. But even when he most alters it—as in his transformation of their celibacy into his promiscuity—the genetic connection is not wholly obscured. He has not contented himself, however, with borrowing from the Shakers. He has not disdained to pick up fragments of notions from what appears to have been his student’s reading of the early history of the Church, and thus to embroider his doctrine with scraps of all sorts of outworn heresies. Thus, for example, he has thus given it especially the odd aspect of a revival of Gnostic Dualism.
The place which the dualistic principle takes in Noyes’s theological constructions is nothing less than astonishing. We have seen that, following the Shakers, he conceives God as “a dual being, consisting of the Father and the Word,”179 and if he does not go on with the Shakers and proclaim Him flatly, in His duality, “male and female,” he fails of this by the narrowest of margins. He speaks of the “law of duality” which is indicated in all nature and suggested by the creation of the first pair, and then of this law he declares that it “takes its rise from the constitution of God himself, who is dual—the Father and the Son—in whose image man was made, male and female, and of whose nature the whole creation is a reflection.”180 Nature being a reflection of the nature of God, we may of course learn what God’s nature is from nature. “If we reason,” says he,181 “from the seen to the unseen, assuming that the essential nature of the effect is in the cause, we have proof as broad as the universe, that the Godhead is a duality; for every link of the chain of productive life, in its whole visible extent from the lowest region of the vegetable kingdom, to the highest of the animal, is a duality. The distinction between male and female is as universal as vitality, and all visible evidence goes to prove that it is the indispensable condition of reproduction, i.e. of vital creation. If we find two elements in all the streams of life, why should we not infer that the same two elements are in the Fountain?” If this reasoning has any validity whatever, it proves not merely that there is a duality in the Divine Being, but that the duality takes the specific form of a differentiation into male and female. Accordingly we find Noyes saying: “We are led to the simple conclusion, that the uncreated Creator, the Head of the universe, like the head of mankind and the head of every family, though one, is yet ‘twain’ (Mark 10:8); in a word, that the creation has a Father and a Mother.”182 And his formal confession of faith runs:183 “We believe, not in the Trinity,184 nor in the Unity, but in the Duality of the Godhead; and that Duality in our view, is imaged in the twofold personality of the first man, who was made ‘male and female.’ Gen. 1:27.” He does, to be sure, add, “As Adam was to Eve, so is the Father to the Son; i.e. he is the same in nature, but greater in power and glory”; and this can hardly be understood otherwise than as confining the difference between the Father and Son substantially to one of “power and glory.” And, elsewhere, he certainly argues at considerable length for this general idea.185 Perhaps his most lucid explanation of his meaning, however, is conveyed in the following extended sentence:186 “I do regard the Father and the Son, as two Spirits, who bear a similar social (not physical) relation to each other as that which exists between man and woman, one of whom is greater than the other, (as the man is greater than the woman) who love each other and have pleasure in their fellowship, (as man and woman love and have pleasure in spiritual fellowship) who are the joint parents of all created things, (as man and woman are the joint parents of their offspring) who are thus the prototype in whose image Adam and Eve were made.” If this, however, be all that Noyes means, there certainly is less in his conclusion than in his premises.
If the sexual distinction in God may be understood, however, only of a differentiation in Him of those spiritual qualities and modes of action which we associate with the two sexes as known to us among men, the same cannot be said of any other living beings. All other living beings besides God are veritably male and female. This is true, for example, of the angels. “I confess,” writes Noyes,187 “I see nothing very horrible in the idea of there being sexual distinction in the angelic race. If the distinction of spirits, the twofold life, which I have described in what I have said of God, exists in the angelic nature, (as I believe it exists in every living thing, from God to the lowest vegetable,) I see no very alarming reason why that distinction should not be expressed in the bodily form of angels as well as men.” Of course this involves the assignment of a corporeal nature to angels, and this Noyes does without hesitation, and then proceeds to interpret Gen. 6:1, 2, Jude 6 f., of carnal sinning on their part. Not only does sex distinction thus exist in the angels, it persists also in the disembodied souls of men. The human soul is not in Noyes’s view, however, pure spirit—which itself is thought of by him after the analogy of what he calls “fluids,” that is to say the “imponderable fluids” of the old physicists—electricity, galvanism, magnetism, light, heat—and therefore at least after a material image. It is the product of the union of this spirit, of the increate spirit which is the breath of God, and the dust of the ground. It is thus, he says,188 “a modification of spirit, produced by union with a material body.” It takes the form of the body and its size and parts; and receives into itself some of the properties of matter. “As Adam’s body was spiritualized matter, so conversely Adam’s soul was materialized spirit.” The soul thus stands between spirit and matter. The materialization of the spirit in the soul gives it its individuality and immortality. Had it not been thus materialized, on the release of the spirit from the body, it would return to the abyss of life whence it came: but it has entered in the soul into a “materialized or partially indurated state,” and so persists in separation from the body. On the other hand, as the whole nature of God is in “the breath of God,” the spirit which enters into the composition of the soul of man is still “in communication with God, and assimilated to him.”
This dualism of sex, characterizing the mode of existence of all animal being, is, however, far from the whole of the dualism which Noyes teaches. Beneath it he discovers an underlying ontological dualism, according to which an Eternal God stands over against an eternal matter. And side by side with this (not identical with it) he discovers yet another eternal dualism, an ethical dualism dividing the realms of spirit itself between the principle of good (which is God) and the principle of evil (which is the devil). Creation with him is not ex nihilo, but out of preëxistent uncreated material; and if we ask him whence this material came, he claims the right to reply by another question—Whence did God come?189 All creation, however—if we can speak of creation when nothing is really originated—is from God: it is not parcelled out between God and the devil. Not that sin or death originated “in God, or in any of his works”; or that God has “by creation, by decree, or by permission given birth to” evil. “The ultimate cause of all evil is an uncreated evil being; as the ultimate cause of all good is an uncreated good being.”190 But evil enters the realm of created being subsequently to its creation, God permitting it so to enter into His creation because only in this field can He grapple with it and destroy it—an authentic Manichæan trait.191 By his fall Adam, who was a creature of God, came under a divided dominion. “The streams from the two eternal fountains flowed together in him. His spiritual nature was primarily good, as proceeding from God; but secondarily evil, as pervaded by the Devil.” It seems, however, that though propagating his offspring in his own likeness, the two elements of “his compound character” were distributed unevenly among them. God and the devil strove for mastery over them, and the result was two distinct classes of men, in one of which good, in the other evil, predominates.
“As the offspring of Adam’s body was twofold, distinguished into male and female, part following the nature of the primary, and part the nature of the secondary parent; so the offspring of his spiritual nature was twofold, distinguished like that nature, into good and evil, part following the character of the primary and part the character of the secondary spiritual element. In other words, Adam has two sorts of spiritual children—one of them like himself, primarily of God and secondarily of the Devil, of whom Abel was a specimen; the other, primarily of the Devil and secondarily of God, of whom Cain was a specimen. Thus mankind are divided spiritually into two classes of different original characters, proceeding respectively from uncreated good and evil.… The depravity of mankind, then, is of two sorts. The seed of the woman are depraved, as Adam was after the fall,—not in their original individual spirits which are of God, but by their spiritual combination with and subjection to the Devil.” “On the other hand, the seed of the serpent are depraved as Cain was,—not only by combination with and subjection to the Devil, but by original spiritual identity with him. They are not only possessed of the Devil, but are radically devils themselves.”192
There are thus two radically different kinds of men in the world, differing by nature, not by grace, and by their natural difference determining the difference which they manifest under grace. To put it shortly, the one kind of man is accessible to grace, the other intrinsically inaccessible to it. “There is an original difference in the characters of men—a difference which is not produced by the gospel, but which exists before the gospel is heard, and is in fact the cause of the different consequences resulting from the gospel in different persons.”193 The gospel no doubt is presented to all alike, but there are some who cannot receive it, while others are so far “honest and good” that the Word, when it comes to them, is gladly received. They are “not saved by nature, but they are adapted by nature to be saved by grace.”194 “Human nature,” says Noyes, reverting as is his wont to sexual imagery, “is a female which conceives and brings forth sin or righteousness, according as it has Satan or God for its husband”195—which is only a lame figure by which he means to say that those men who are in the deepest depths of their nature of God are “saved,” those who are in the deepest depths of their nature of the devil are “lost.” God, being a prudent person, does not attempt to save those who are by their very nature lost. The gospel, which is sent indiscriminately into the world, reaches them, of course, as well as others—though only to manifest, by its rejection, their real character. But in all the hidden operations of His Grace He confines Himself to those who are salvable, electing them to “salvation” and reprobating those whom He knows in His infinite foreknowledge to be inaccessible to His saving operations, to eternal misery.196
With this ontology behind him, Noyes’s soteriology naturally takes the form fundamentally of the destruction of the evil principle in the world. Christ came primarily to destroy the devil, and to deliver those who have been taken captive by him from his domination—that is to say, those of them who are capable of this deliverance. He does not bear our sins; He delivers us from sin. It is Satan, not He, who bears our sins. “The penalty of all sin is actually inflicted on the devil, who is actually the author of it. Here is no evasion—no substitution of an innocent person for the offender. The law has its course. Man is saved, not because God abrogates the law or evades it by a fiction, but because he rightfully imputes the sins of which men are the instruments, to the devil, as their real author.”197 If it be the devil, however, who expiates our sins, it is Christ who delivers us from them. He does this by entering by incarnation the very sphere in which sin reigns and bringing there “the strength of the Godhead” “into immediate contact with the strength of the devil, in the very field which was to be won.” A twofold effect was sought and was obtained. On the negative side men were to be freed from the dominion of the devil; on the positive, they were to be effectively united with God. In the place of the devil, God was to be brought into immediate control of their lives. In order to accomplish this double work Christ required not only to enter this world of living men but to follow men into the world of the dead where Satan “had his sanctuary.” Here His saving work culminated. For “the death of Christ was … a spiritual baptism into the devil, of which the corporeal crucifixion was only an index and consummation.”198 Or more fully stated: “Jesus Christ, by his death, entered into the vitals of the devil, and overcame him. He thus destroyed the central cause of sin. The effect of this act on them that believe, is to release them from the power of sin; and on them that believe not, to consign them with the devil to destruction.”199 Everything depends on faith; for faith is the vehicle by which Christ—not merely the word of Christ, but Christ Himself—is received into the soul. No doubt, this reception of Christ is mediated by the word, but the word is no mere series of sounds. “It is a fact well known to spiritualists, that the word of every spiritual being is an actual substance, sent forth from his inward center, carrying with it the properties of his life. It is also a known fact that the act of believing actually receives into the soul and spirit, the substance conveyed in the word believed. So that communication by word from one person to another, effects an actual junction of spirits, and conveys to the receiver a portion of the life and character of the communicator.”200 Thus by believing, we receive Christ, His “flesh and blood”—which does not mean His material body, but “a spiritual substance of which his material body was but the envelope”—His “soul and spirit,” belonging to “his preëxistent state,” “a spiritual body and a life within it.” Receiving this, “the believer becomes a son of God and partaker of the eternal life of the Father.” Our salvation shows itself in four great benefits which we enjoy: salvation from all sin; security from all future sin; deliverance from external law; independence of all human teaching. We have become one with Christ, and thereby are freed from the evil one, and these things are the mark of our emancipation. “We … say,” says Noyes,201 “none are, or have been, Christians, in the sense in which Paul was (if his state corresponded to his preaching,) who have not received perfect holiness, perfect security, perfect liberty, and perfect independence, by the blood of christ.”
“Holiness,” says Noyes,202 is “the principal object of the atonement.” Forgiveness is first in the order of time, but is only a means to the end of purification. “Dividing salvation into two great parts, viz., forgiveness of past sin, and purification from present sin, it is plainly implied in nearly all the declarations of the Bible touching the subject, that the latter part is the primary, and the former the secondary object of the work of Christ.”203 There is a sense, of course, in which such a statement might be accepted as substantially true: it is intended here, however, in the sense in which it is the common declaration of all perfectionists, and has as its end to convey the idea that enjoyment of the salvation from sin wrought out by Christ is just immediate entrance into a perfectly holy state. Noyes does not hold, to be sure, this proposition to be universally true. The Old Testament saints, for example, he teaches, did not receive their salvation until the coming of Christ; they lived not in fruition but in hope: they had not yet been born of God (Christ was the first-born Son of God), but were only heirs of a future Sonship—only prospectively children, experimentally merely servants. When Christ came, they received their perfect holiness—both those in this and those in the spiritual world together. The disciples of Christ and apostolic believers, similarly, did not receive their salvation until the Second Coming of Christ—which took place, according to Noyes, in a.d. 70.204 Hence the sins of Old Testament saints, disciples of Christ, apostolic believers are irrelevant as objections against the assertion that perfection is essential to the experience of salvation: we need not look for perfect men until after the Second Coming (a.d. 70).205 Somewhat inconsistently, however, a good deal of space is given to proving that Paul was perfect.206 Of course Noyes begins by setting aside Rom. 7:14 ff., Phil. 3:12 ff., 1 Cor. 9:27—this passage no doubt, rightly—2 Cor. 12:7, 1 Tim. 1:15, and ends with Paul’s assertions of his own integrity. Ritschl could not have done it better. There are visible in the apostolic church, he says in explanation, “two distinct classes of believers,” immature and mature (1 Cor. 2:6), and the mature, of whom Paul was one, were “perfectly holy.” This class grew in number and distinctness, “till at last, when John wrote his epistles, Perfectionism was fully developed, and had become the acknowledged standard of Christian experience.” Quoting the passages in 1 John which are ordinarily relied on in this sense, he comments:207 “If this is not Perfectionism, we know not how, by any human language, Perfectionism can be expressed.” There is left, he admits, “one little text” (1 John 1:8)—but when rightly understood this does not run athwart the others; it refers to pre-perfection sins. “We think it not uncharitable to say,” he remarks, “that they who persist in construing this verse as opposed to the doctrine of salvation from sin, and in regarding it as sufficient to offset all the plain assertions, scattered through the whole epistle, that perfect holiness is the only standard of true Christianity, belong to that class of persons who ‘strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.’ ”
It would be hoping too much to expect that Noyes could wholly escape the universal tendency of perfectionists to explain the perfection which they assert as something less than perfect. When answering objections to his doctrine,208 he tells us, for example, that to be perfectly holy is not necessarily to be free from infirmity. “We mean by perfect holiness,” he says—adding, “using the expression in its lowest sense,”—“simply that purity of heart which gives a good conscience.” This is a very ambiguous statement. Doubtless, taken strictly, the purity of heart which gives a good conscience is an absolutely pure heart—or else the conscience fails to accuse when accusation were fitting. But employing the language in its current meaning, something very far from perfect purity may be expressed by it. And that Noyes is employing the language in this lowered meaning an illustration he adduces in connection with it sufficiently proves. This is not, however, his ordinary manner of speaking of the perfection he asserts. It is rather characteristic of him to carry it to the height of its idea. In one passage,209 for example, he expounds 1 John 3:3–10 with a view to showing from the declaration, “he that committeth sin is of the devil,” that the real Christian never sins at all, seeing that one sin is enough to manifest an essentially devilish character. When asked “how much men may sin and yet be Christians,” he says: John answers that “men cannot sin at all and be Christians.” There is no middle ground: we are “either as righteous as Christ or as wicked as the devil.” “The children of God are perfectly holy. Sin, in every case, proves the subjects of it children of the devil.”210 John does not say, “He that committeth sin habitually is of the devil”; or, “He that committeth known sin is of the devil”; or, “He that committeth wilful sin is of the devil”; or, “He that committeth sin is of the devil while committing sin.” He says, “He that committeth sin is of the devil”; and we are to take the word of God just as it stands. “James spoke good philosophy when he said, ‘He that offendeth in one point, is guilty of all.’ ”211
This insistence on the perfection of perfection is not only the usual view which Noyes expresses, but it is the natural, or rather the necessary, one for him to take, on the ground of his mystical doctrine of the procuring cause of our perfection of life which we have already seen him expounding. “Christ liveth in me”—it is all summed up in that. “The necessary consequence of that condition,” he says,212 “is perfect holiness, because Christ is perfectly holy.” It belongs to the fundamental elements of his doctrine of salvation, that Christ has “destroyed the devil,” and secured to God—to Himself as the saving God—the entire control of the children of the woman, hitherto living under the divided rule of God and the devil. That is what salvation consists in; and that is the reason that salvation is in the complete meaning of these words, salvation from sin. It is possible that Noyes is not quite consistent with himself, however, when he seeks to answer the question: “How is this union, by which Christ dwells in the soul, and so saves it from sin, to be effected?” At the place at the moment before us, he replies, as we have already seen him elaborately arguing elsewhere, “The witnesses of the New Testament answer with one voice—by believing the gospel.”213 His prepossession at the moment, however, is to show that this faith is not exercised in our own strength, but is the gift of God. It is “an act of the heart of man, possible to all, and in the highest degree obligatory on all, but actually existing only where God in his sovereign mercy gives special grace.” “He has forgiven all, and sent the Spirit of grace to all, and so has left all utterly without excuse for remaining unreconciled; but he has given faith only to them whom he chose in Jesus Christ before the world began.”214 It may be this teaching which he has in mind when he protests against Dixon’s representation215 of his doctrine of how we arrive at salvation from sin. Dixon says in effect that he teaches that we have only to believe, and it is done. In the passages that have been before us Noyes apparently teaches just that. But he also teaches that we do not acquire holiness directly by faith; but it as well as faith is a gift of God.
For Noyes, like other perfectionists, has a first and a second conversion.216 Only he does not make the second a mere repetition of the first, seeking an additional blessing. It is a radically different transaction. The first is “an action or purpose of our own,” “a voluntary movement.” The second is an effect wrought on us. We do the one; we suffer the other. The one is “proximately our own work”; the second, “the operation of God.” By the first we become disciples; by the second the children of God. It is only by the second that we receive “deliverance from all sin”: and on this teaching it is quite true that we do not merely have to believe—and it is done. Deliverance from sin is a gift of God, given to none but believers, it is true, but not acquired by faith. The inevitable question is, of course, raised whether it is imperative that these two stages in the process of salvation from sin must be traversed, or we may pass “from a state of irreligion” directly to “perfect holiness.”217 The reply is that it is at least “a general principle” that “men by their first conversion are introduced to sinful discipleship,” and “reach perfect holiness only by a second conversion.” But it is added that the facts seem to require the admission “that some have passed directly from irreligion to perfect holiness.” This is translated in a new paragraph into the explanation that while in the order of nature a twofold process is necessary, the interval may be shortened so that to all intents and purposes no time intervenes. And it may be, it is added, that after a while this may become the regular experience. The height of the perfection thus secured, we must remind ourselves, is manifested not only in its completeness according to its idea, but also in its indefectibility. It is Noyes’s constant teaching—a teaching by which he differentiates his perfectionism from that of others—that perfection once secured is secure. Thus, for example, writing of the New Covenant,218 he tells us that, first it secures salvation from sin, interpreting this as “perfect sanctification,” and then secondly, “it secures salvation from sin forever”—adding further that this is really to speak repetitiously, “for salvation from sin, in the proper signification of the expression, is salvation from sin forever.” It is the characteristic of the new covenant, he says, that God secures the fulfillment of its requirements—disposing men’s hearts to fulfill them.
The second conversion is coincident—or rather is identical—with the second birth; by the one as by the other we are said to become the children of God and free from all sin.219 To become sons of God by this new birth means just what is meant by being united with Christ, as we have already seen that idea expounded. It is, now, Christ that lives in us, and it is no more we that live: all that we do He does through us, and thus our total life manifestation perfectly corresponds with His will. We are, as in this view we must be, just as perfect as Christ is. And of course we are just as spontaneous in our holy activities as He is. As it is absurd to suppose Him governed in His conduct by the precepts of an external law, so it is absurd to suppose us, His children, and the organs of His activities, to require or to be subject to an external law. The children of Christ, just because they are perfectly holy and perfectly secure in their holiness, are also emancipated from the law and need not that any should teach them. Of themselves they do that which is right. Noyes naturally desires not to be thought of as an antinomian. It is not antinomianism that he teaches, he says,220 but “anti-legality.” He believes that the law—the whole law, moral as well as ceremonial—has been abolished for the sons of God. But this does not mean that we have escaped beyond the government of God; it means only that the instrument through which He governs us has been changed—from law to grace. He even says that the “standard of holiness” which constitutes “the ultimate object of God’s government” has suffered no alteration. Only “the measures which God chooses to employ to effect that object” have been changed. The children of God neglect law not because they desire to be free to sin; but precisely because they have no desire to sin and do not require law to restrain them from it. It is the way of holiness, not of sin, that they pursue; and they pursue it because it has become their second nature and they cannot do otherwise. They do not transgress the law but have transcended it. They are not seeking “an easy method of escaping the necessity of works,” but have found “the only and the sure foundation of such works as will survive the fire of judgment.”221
Now, Noyes says,222 “regeneration or salvation from sin,” that is perfection, “is the incipient stage of the resurrection.” We are married to Christ, he reasons,223 and the status of the wife, of course, follows that of the husband: since Christ has risen from the dead, we therefore are living the resurrected life. We have passed from the carnal into the resurrection state; from this world into the heavenly world; our “state and relations are as fully changed, as the idea of a translation from earth to heaven demands.” “Believers by fellowship with Christ in his resurrection, are released from the beggarly elements and carnal ordinances of that worldly sanctuary which they have left.” We are freed, then, from sin; and we are freed from the law—for law “cannot carry its claims beyond death”; and we are freed, indeed, even from death itself—at first, from its sting, but not its form, since men were so far within the territory of him that has the power of death that they are slow to escape from its form; but this too is coming. “The intent of the Gospel,” we are told in another place,224 “was, and is, to take people out of this world into a state beyond death, in which the believer is spiritually with Christ in the resurrection, and hence is free from sin and law, and all the temporary relations of the mortal state.” The church has its “standing” therefore now “in a posthumous state”; a posthumous state which may also be called “the angelic state.” In this angelic state, as is natural, different conditions obtain from those of the carnal state in which we have hitherto lived, and “free social relations are to be inaugurated as soon as existing obligations can be disposed of.”
When he wrote these words, Noyes was thinking of the abolition of marriage in the “resurrection” or “angelic” state, in accordance with Matt. 22:23–30, which he absurdly reads as the proclamation of the reign of promiscuity in this state,225 thus throwing a lurid light on his contention that the abolishment of the law in the resurrection state is not that evil may be done, but that good may be done spontaneously. In this case at least the law is simply reversed and made to read, Thou shalt have thy neighbor’s wife. It is not, however, merely a relaxation of morals which Noyes finds in the “resurrected” state. He finds in it also, as has been already incidentally noted, nothing less than “the abolition of death” itself—although he recognizes that this is to come “as the last result of Christ’s victory over sin and the Devil.”226 And it is to be noted that it is precisely through the abolition of marriage—that is to say, the institution of promiscuity in the relations of the sexes—that the abolition of death is to come. “Death is to be abolished, and … to this end, there must be a restoration of true relations between the Sexes.”227 When what he has to say on this point is weighed, the underlying meaning appears to be that sexual promiscuity is absolutely essential to the existence of a communistic society, and the abolition of death is to result from the removal in a communistic society of the wearing evils which in the present mode of social organization bring men to exhaustion and death.228 Remove these evils which kill man, and man will cease to die. Communism, that is, is conceived as so great a panacea that it not only cures all the evils of life, but brings also immortality; and there seems to be no reason for a man to die in a communistic society. Running through the four great evils in which he sums up the curses which afflict life in our present social organization, Noyes says: “First we abolish sin”—that is by entering through faith into a perfect life; “then shame”—that is by practicing free love; “then the curse on woman of exhausting child-bearing”—that is by using his recipe for birth control; “then the curse on man of exhausting labor”—that is through community labor, in the attractive association of the sexes; “and so we arrive regularly at the tree of life.” All “the antecedents of death” are removed; and so, of course, death itself. “Reconciliation with God opens the way for the reconciliation of the sexes. Reconciliation of the sexes emancipates woman, and opens the way for vital society. Vital society increases strength, diminishes work, and makes labor attractive, thus removing the antecedents of death.” Perfectionism, free love, community in industry in happy association—take these things and you will not die. At the bottom lies nothing other than the amazing assumption that communistic association, if you can only achieve it, will bring immortality. All the other steps are only the means to communism.
We have permitted ourselves to be drawn aside from the purely theological aspects of this matter by Noyes’s own later mode of speaking of it. His doctrine of the abolition of death dates, however, from the spring of 1834, the period when he formed his theological system; and he wrote of it frequently before he became engrossed in the actual experiment of communism. He gives us a full account of the origin of it in his mind in an article written in 1844.229 On one occasion, he says, when he sat down to write, his mind wandered off to the subject of the resurrection. He explains:—“The gospel which I had received and preached was based on the idea that faith identifies the soul with Christ, so that by his death and resurrection the believer dies and rises again, not literally, nor yet figuratively, but spiritually; and thus, so far as sin is concerned, is placed beyond the grave, in ‘heavenly places’ with Christ.” This was the doctrine of the “New York Perfectionists,” and, carrying it beyond its application to the cessation of sin, they derived from it their notion of “spiritual wives” as Noyes was just at this moment deducing from it his notion of sexual promiscuity. But Noyes continues: “I now began to think that I had given this idea but half its legitimate scope. I had availed myself of it for the salvation of my soul. Why should it not be carried out to the redemption of the body? … The question came home with imperative force—‘Why ought I not to avail myself of Christ’s resurrection fully, and by it overcome death as well as sin?’… I sought that identity with Christ by which I might realize his emancipation from death, as well for my body as for my soul; that I might with him, see death behind me—the ‘debt of nature’ paid. What I sought I obtained.” He plays a little with the difference between “deliverance from the spiritual power of death,” and from “the act of dying.” He will not affirm that he will “never die.” But he asks, Why should he die? And he asserts that he is “not a debtor to the devil even in regard to the form of dying.” And “this I know,” he says, “that if I live till the kingdom of God comes, which I believe is near, I shall never die in fact or in form.” This was written in September, 1844; and on June 1, 1847, it was solemnly declared by Noyes and his whole community, by unanimous resolution “as the confession and testimony of the believers assembled,” precisely “that the Kingdom of God had come.” After that they were not to die.
The confidence of the possession of a deathless life, thus expressed, is grounded on a purely spiritual experience. The anticipation elaborately argued a generation later that the practice of communism would confer immortality on men, is drawn chiefly from materialistic considerations. Must we see in this difference an index of the downward growth through the years? Fantastic always, fanatic always, must we say of Noyes—he once was religious; now he is secularized? No doubt this was the direction of his growth. But there is a form of religion which is worse than any secularism: men’s religions are often their worst crimes. And there are forms of secularism which approach religion in their nobility—though Noyes’s secularism can hardly find a place among them. These are the salient facts to keep well in mind: All that was salacious in his secularism, Noyes found a sanction for in his religion; and all that was bad in his religion was already in it in 1834. We cannot think there ever was a time when Noyes’s influence was wholesome, or when it was creditable to his associates that they had attached themselves to him or found profit or pleasure in his teachings. That he did not draw men of light and leading to him causes us no surprise. What astonishes us is that men like Charles H. Weld and James Boyle were temporarily associated with him; and that even a William Lloyd Garrison found in him something to admire and imitate. A fact so remarkable ought not to be passed by without remark.230
Garrison appears to have been familiar with Noyes’s Perfectionist movement and an admiring reader of his journal practically from its beginning. Personal acquaintance was instituted when Noyes called on him at the anti-slavery office at Boston in March, 1837. In describing the interview, Noyes says that he “found Garrison, Stanton, Whittier, and other leading abolitionists warmly engaged in a dispute about political matters.” “I heard them quietly,” he continues, “and when the meeting broke up I introduced myself to Garrison. He spoke with interest of the Perfectionist; said his mind was heaving on the subject of Holiness and the Kingdom of Heaven, and he would devote himself to them as soon as he could get anti-slavery off his hands. I spoke to him especially on the subject of government, and found him, as I expected, ripe for the loyalty of heaven.” Noyes was not the man to fail to strike such iron when it was hot. He at once addressed Garrison a letter in which he sought to push home whatever advantage he had gained in the interview. In this letter he announced his emancipation from “all allegiance to the government of the United States,” and declared war upon it—“a country which, by its boasting hypocrisy,” he said, “has become the laughing-stock of the world, and by its lawlessness has fully proved the incapacity of man for self-government.” “My hope of the millennium,” he declared, “begins where Dr. Beecher’s expires—viz., at the overthrow of this nation.” The times seemed to him to be ripening to the issue; which would come in a “convulsion like that of France.” He calls therefore on the abolitionists to “abandon a government whose President has declared war upon them.” Then turning to the special fish he wished to fry, he adds:—“Allow me to suggest that you will set Anti-slavery in the sunshine only by making it tributary to Holiness; and you will most assuredly throw it into the shade which now covers Colonization if you suffer it to occupy the ground, in your own mind or in others’, which ought to be occupied by universal emancipation from sin.… I counsel you, and the people that are with you, if you love the post of honor—the forefront of the hottest battle of righteousness—to set your face toward perfect holiness. Your station is one that gives you power over the nations. Your city is on a high hill. If you plant the standard of perfect holiness where you stand, many will see and flow to it.”
That Garrison should have been affected by this empty rhetoric is astonishing; but he was, deeply and lastingly. Noyes’s phrases and representations lingered in his memory: he quoted from them publicly, and publicly spoke of their author as “an esteemed friend,” whose words had “deeply affected his mind.” He even made Noyes’s anti-government and perfectionist ideas his own. No wonder that the soberer friends of the anti-slavery agitation took alarm and sought to dissociate the movement from what were, and were likely to be, Garrison’s personal vagaries. And little wonder that those who already were full of outrage at Garrison’s “ultraisms,” attributed to him this further “ultraism”—his friend and mentor’s doctrine of sexual promiscuity. In doing this they were happily wrong. Garrison’s infatuation for Noyes had limits, and did not carry him into this cesspool. He repudiated the imputation with passion, and was led, in the end, to explain that his perfectionism was not the perfectionism of Noyes, but that of Asa Mahan, whose book on the “Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection” was opportunely published in 1839. He permits to appear in The Liberator in December, 1839, a communication in which it is said of him: “But some say he is a Perfectionist, and believes that, let him do what he will, it is no sin.—That is false. His views on the subject of holiness are in unison with those of Mr. Mahan.” That is to say, although asserting the attainability of perfection in this life, and the duty of all to attain it, he did not advance with Noyes to antinomian contentions. “If,” says he, writing in self-defense in 1841, “what we have heard of the sayings and doings of the perfectionists, especially those residing in Vermont, be true, they have certainly turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, and given themselves over to a reprobate mind.” But, he adds, “whatever may be the conduct of these perfectionists, the duty which they enjoin, of ceasing from all iniquity, at once and forever, is certainly what God requires, and what cannot be denied without extreme hardihood or profligacy of spirit. It is reasonable, and therefore attainable. If men cannot help sinning, then they are not guilty in attempting to serve two masters. If they can, then it cannot be a dangerous doctrine to preach; and he is a rebel against the government of God who advocates an opposite doctrine.” Thus, although Noyes contributed to that great accumulation of “ultraistic” notions which filled Garrison’s mind, he could not attach him to his “sect.” It is not without its interest, meanwhile, to find Garrison among the perfectionists, and indeed, to tell the whole truth, vigorously engaged in the perfectionist propaganda. It might almost be said that there was no “ultraism” current in his day which he did not in some measure embrace.231
1 Reprinted from Bibliotheca Sacra, lxxviii. 1921, pp. 37–72, 172–200, 319–375. cf. Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Perfectionism, Part Two, vol. 8, 217–332. https://faithsaves.net.
2 “Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection” (1839), ed. 7, 1844, pp. 70 ff.; cf. “Autobiography, Intellectual, Moral and Spiritual,” 1882, pp. 373–374, where the antinomianism of the “Perfectionists” is exhibited. C. G. Finney, “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” 1847, ii. p. 166, speaks of the “Perfectionists,” as “the sect called Antinomian Perfectionists,” and, “Memoirs,” 1876, p. 341, describes them as a body which taught “Christian perfection, in the antinomian sense of the term”; cf. “Lectures to Professing Christians” (1837), 1880, p. 358. Henry Cowles, “Holiness of Christians in the Present Life,” 1840, pp. 9 ff., separates himself decisively from “Antinomian Perfectionism.”
3 “The Higher Christian Life,” 1859, pp. 64 ff. Cf. Mrs. Boardman’s “Life and Labours of the Rev. W. E. Boardman,” 1887, pp. 52, 58, 135, 170.
4 The Oxford Dictionary includes this special sense also in the definition of “Perfectionism”; but not the Century, nor the Standard, nor Webster, nor Worcester.
5 He adds at the end of the article that the Princeites have some affinities with this sect. For the Princeites, see the article “Agapemone” in Hastings’s “Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics,” with its bibliography; W. H. Dixon, “Spiritual Wives,” 1868, i. pp. 226 ff.; and a series of articles in The British Weekly, beginning in the number for March 22, 1889 (v. no. 125, p. 341).
6 So also Otto Zöckler in Herzog-Hauck, “Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche,” ed. 3, xv. p. 130 (cf. the entry in “The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge”), and W. Köhler in Schiele und Zscharnack, “Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart,” iv. p. 1356.
7 “Sermons on Revivals,” 1841, p. 48. John Breckinridge, The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, October, 1832, pp. 460–461, reverses the emphasis: “It is the divine influence upon the mass—the popular and social application of religion. It is the Spirit of God awakening, at the same time, to holy love, and the harmonious action, the whole body of Christians in a particular place.… When the real spiritual church among a people experience this deep and simultaneous renovation, it is most properly styled a revival of religion.… As an inseparable concomitant of a Revival of Religion among a people, is the simultaneous conviction and conversion of many sinners.” Charles G. Finney, “Lectures on Revivals of Religion,” ed. 2, 1835, p. 437, says: “It is just as indispensable in promoting a revival, to preach to the church, and make them grow in grace, as it is to preach to sinners and make them submit to God.”
8 Letter of March 9, 1832, printed in W. B. Sprague, “Lectures on Revivals of Religion” (1833), ed. 2, 1850, pp. 229–235. C. G. Finney was quite aware that “excitement” had no converting effects. He chides people for supposing that when the excitement, with which revivals regularly began in his practice, subsided “the revival is on the decline”—“when, in fact,” he says, “with much less excited emotion, there may be vastly more real religion in the community” (“Views of Sanctification,” 1840, p. 19). He deliberately used excitement as an advertising agency (“Lectures on Revivals of Religion,” 1835, Lect. xiv.; cf. the caustic criticisms of Albert B. Dod in The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, October, 1835, pp. 632 ff.). “It seems sometimes to be indispensable,” he remarks in the “Views of Sanctification” (p. 19), “that a high degree of excitement should prevail for a time, to arrest public and individual attention, and to draw people off from other pursuits to attend to the concerns of their souls.” But so far from beneficial to the religious life is this excitement in itself, that if long continued, it would be destructive even to mental sanity: “the high degree of excitement which is sometimes witnessed in revivals of religion, must necessarily be short, or … the people must become deranged.” The revival does not consist in this state of exalted emotion, but “in conformity of the human will to the will of God.” Finney repeats all this in his “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” ed. 2, 1851, p. 170.
9 P. 11.
10 Loc. cit. Compare the remarkable testimony of the General Association of Congregational Churches in Connecticut in 1836 against itinerant lecturers assuming to instruct the people over whom they had not been called to be overseers, and itinerant evangelists rousing among them “public excitement” (“Minutes,” 1836, pp. 8, 20).
11 Sprague, as cited, p. 282. Lyman Beecher, in his famous letter of January, 1827, in “Letters of the Rev. Dr. Beecher and Rev. Mr. Nettleton, on the ‘New Measures’ in conducting Revivals of Religion,” 1828, p. 96, develops the idea. “The importance of the soul and of eternity is such,” says he, “as that good men in a revival are apt to feel no matter what is said or done, provided sinners are awakened and saved. But it ought to be remembered, that though the immediate result of some courses of conduct may be the salvation of some souls, the general and more abiding result may be the ruin of a thousand souls, destroyed by this conduct, to one saved by it; and destroyed by it as instrumentally in the direct and proper sense of the term, as any are saved by it.”
12 The Atlantic Monthly, lii. October, 1883, pp. 487–497.
13 John Bach McMaster, “A History of the People of the United States,” v. pp. 109, 120, points out that the Morgan excitement was limited to “the New England belt of emigration.” “The whole New England belt from Boston to Buffalo fairly teemed with anti-masonic newspapers.” This is a typical instance.
14 Frederick Morgan Davenport, “Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals,” 1905, pp. 183 ff.
15 As to Mormonism, John Humphrey Noyes himself (“Dixon’s Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 180), speaking of these revival excitements, says: “Mormonism, doubtless, came out of the same fertile soil. Joe Smith began his career in Central New York, among a population that was fermenting with the hope of the Millennium, and at a time when the great National Revival was going forth in its strength.” Noyes was himself a product of this “great National Revival.” Similarly, D. L. Leonard, writing the history of the fads and fanaticism of the time, says of Smith, that “in him were embodied the grossest type of Americanism and the most earthy and irrational impulses resulting from the intense revival fervor then prevalent” (“The Story of Oberlin,” 1898, p. 118).
16 Davenport, as cited, pp. 183–186.
17 Evans’ Mills is called by Finney himself “a burnt district.” “I found that region of the country,” he writes in his “Memoirs,” 1876, p. 78, “what, in the western phrase, would be called, ‘a burnt district.’ There had been, a few years previously, a wild excitement passing through that region, which they called a revival of religion, but which turned out to be spurious. I can give no account of it except what I heard from Christian people and others. It was reported as having been a very extravagant excitement; and resulted in a reaction so extensive and profound, as to leave the impression on many minds that religion was a mere delusion.”
18 The same figure of a “burnt district” is spontaneously used here too, to describe the effect of these later revivals. “Look at the present condition of the churches of western New York, which have become, in truth, ‘a people scattered and peeled,’ ” writes William L. Stone, “Matthias and His Impostures,” 1835, pp. 314 ff. “The time has not come to write the ecclesiastical history of the last ten years. And yet somebody should chronicle the facts now, lest in after times the truth, however correctly it may be preserved by tradition, should not be believed.… The writer entertains no doubt, that many true conversions have occurred under the system to which he is referring. But as with the ground over which the lightning has gone, scorching and withering every green thing, years may pass away before the arid waste of the church will be grown over by the living herbage.” This sad result of their labors was not hidden from Finney himself and his coadjutors in the fomenting of these “revivals of excitement.” James Boyle writes to Finney, December 25, 1834, to the following effect. “Let us look over the fields, where you and others and myself have labored as revival ministers, and what is now their moral state? What was their state within three months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields, and groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches had fallen—and fallen very soon after our first departure from among them” (The Literary and Theological Review, March, 1838, p. 66). Cf. what Asa Mahan says, below, Note 29.
19 “Domestic Manners of the Americans” (1832), 1901, chapters viii. and xv.; cf. also chapter xix. The camp meeting at its best is described with great vividness by Andrew Reed in pp. 183–205 of vol. i. of his and James Matheson’s “Narrative of the Visit to the American Churches, etc.,” 1835. Ill and good will count for much in the two descriptions, but not for all; and Reed is not blind to the possibilities of evil intrinsic in the circumstances and methods of such assemblies. On Camp Meetings, cf. S. C. Swallow, “Camp Meetings: Their Origin, History and Utility, also their Perversion,” 1878.
20 As cited, pp. 69–70.
21 Neither Isaac Fidler’s “Observations on Professions, Literature, Manners and Emigration, in the United States and Canada, made during a Residence there in 1832,” 1833—a book which can be described only as flat, stale, and unprofitable—nor either of Harriet Martineau’s two very informing books, “Society in America,” 1837, and “Retrospect of Western Travel,” 1838, contains any “reports of revivals of religion.” Albert Barnes’s coupling of them with Mrs. Trollope’s volume as possible sources of misinformation as to revivals is a purely rhetorical flight. Miss Martineau does, however, tell us (“Society in America,” ii. p. 344), in a few incidental words, what she thinks of “meetings for religious excitement.” “The spiritual dissipations indulged in by the religious world,” she pronounces more injurious to sound morals than any public amusements indulged in under modern conditions. “It is questionable,” she then adds, “whether even gross licentiousness is not at least equally encouraged by the excitement of passionate religious emotions, separate from action: and it is certain that rank spiritual vices, pride, selfishness, tyranny, and superstition, spring up luxuriantly in the hot-beds of religious meetings.” On the large literature of British criticism of American ways which sprang up after the War of 1812 and raged for a quarter of a century, see “The Cambridge History of American Literature,” i., 1917, pp. 205 ff., with the accompanying bibliography, pp. 468 ff.
22 “A Narrative of the Visit to the American Churches by the Deputation from the Congregational Union of England and Wales,” by Andrew Reed, D.D., and James Matheson, D.D., 1835, ii. pp. 7–50. An admirable review of this book by Charles Hodge, from the religious and theological point of view, will be found in The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, October, 1835, pp. 598 ff.; and it is well reviewed, from the general literary point of view, by W. B. O. Peabody, in The North American Review for October, 1835, pp. 489 ff.
23 A more judicious or generally sympathetic account of the revivals centering in 1831 could scarcely be found than that given by Lyman H. Atwater in his article on “Revivals of the Century,” The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review, v., 1876, pp. 703 ff. And Charles Hodge in his review of Reed and Matheson’s book in The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, October, 1835, pp. 598 ff., deals with the whole matter most judiciously.
24 P. 35.
25 Pp. 42–43.
26 When Charles Hodge, as cited, pp. 608 ff., traverses some of these judgments, he does so only on the understanding that they apply to revivals as such. As to the special revival movements of Western and Central New York of this period he is of the same mind with Reed.
27 “A History of the Purchase and Settlement of Western New York, and of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Presbyterian Church in that Section,” 1848, pp. 159 ff.
28 “The Crowd,” E. T. 1896, p. 162; cf. p. 58: “The art of appealing to crowds is no doubt of an inferior order, but it demands quite special aptitudes.” A correction of the over-exploitation of “crowd-psychology” (as in Davenport) may be found in Graham Wallas, “The Great Society,” 1914, pp. 115–138. On the general subject of “Crowd Psychology and Revivals,” see J. B. Pratt, “The Religious Consciousness,” 1920, pp. 165–194.
29 There is no more distressing description of the evil effects of these revivals on people, pastors, and evangelists, than that in Asa Mahan’s “Autobiography,” 1882, pp. 227 ff. The people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited. The pastors were shorn of all spiritual power. Of the evangelists he writes as follows:—“It is with pain that I refer to the evangelists of that era. Among them all—and I was personally acquainted with nearly every one of them—I cannot recall a single man, brother Finney and father Nash excepted, who did not after a few years lose his unction, and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor. The individual who, next to Mr. Finney, had the widest popularity and influence, when in the meridian of life, left the ministry, and lived and died a banker, manifesting no disposition to preach the gospel to any class of men. The individual who probably stood next to him, after a series of years of most successful labor, retired into the far Western States, and I could never learn even his whereabouts. One who was very constantly with Mr. Finney, and labored, for a time, as his successor in Chatham Street Chapel, in the City of New York, abandoned wholly the Evangelical faith. Another, a preacher of great power, first joined Noyes, the Free Lover, and then the infidel abolitionists of the Garrison school. What finally became of him I never learned. I refer to but one other case from the painful catalogue before me. This individual probably had as great power over his audiences as any that can be named, and multitudes were no doubt won to Christ through his influence.… The last time I met that evangelist … he told us … that he had just left a great revival and was on his way, for absolutely necessary rest, to visit his friends in Michigan. We afterwards learned that he was going as a fugitive from the legal liabilities of his vices, and he subsequently, I believe, led a kind of vagabond life.”—The first-mentioned of these evangelists we take to be Jedediah Burchard, a most ambiguous figure. The plain facts about him may be read in Hotchkin, as cited, p. 170, while the best that can be said of him is said by P. H. Fowler, “Historical Sketch of Presbyterianism within the Bounds of the Synod of Central New York,” 1877, p. 236. W. F. P. Noble’s account, “A Century of Gospel Work,” 1876, pp. 401 ff., is mere indiscriminate adulation. Cf. Finney, “Memoirs,” pp. 358 f. A very curious picture is given of Burchard at work in a little book published at Burlington, Vermont, in 1836, bearing the title: “Sermons, Addresses and Exhortations by Rev. Jedediah Burchard: with an Appendix,” by C. C. Eastman (12mo, pp. vi., 120), a very slashing review of which by Leonard Withington will be found in The Literary and Theological Review for June, 1836, pp. 228–236. The material for the book was obtained by stenographers working not only without Burchard’s permission but against his violent opposition. It seems that an earlier publication of similar character had been made by a Mr. Streeter of Woodstock. The sermons printed in Eastman’s volume, we are afraid, would no longer shock; and we wish to record to Burchard’s credit that he was no “Perfectionist.” To his young converts he says (p. 73): “You know who the perfectionists are. Strange that there are such beings, but it is so. In the judgment of charity, there are many who are sincere in this error. Now, my young friends, I wish to guard you particularly against everything of this kind.”
30 A concurrence of witnesses testifies to the ineffable vulgarity, fanaticism, and unsoundness of Littlejohn’s preaching, as well as to the coarseness of his manners and the impurity of his life. Nevertheless, he retained his connection with the Presbyterian Church until, tardily, on March 18, 1841, “he was, by the Presbytery of Angelica, deposed from the ministerial office, and excommunicated from the church, on account of grossly immoral conduct practised clandestinely, at various times through a long period” (Hotchkin, as cited, pp. 171, 172). Cf. also to the same effect, P. H. Fowler, as cited, pp. 235, note, 277; and the letter signed “Wyoming,” in The New York Evangelist, July 27, 1876, and reprinted thence in The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review, October, 1876, p. 713, note. James A. Miller, “The History of the Presbytery of Steuben,” 1897, pp. 15 f., draws on William Waith, “Recollections of an Emigrant’s Family,” for a description of Littlejohn. “He was a common laborer,” says Waith, “but was endowed with a natural eloquence which gave him the complete mastery over any group that he addressed. He would collect a gang of his fellow workmen and preach a funeral sermon over a dead horse, or dog, that would fill the eyes of his hearers with tears. This man professed conversion to Christianity, and began holding forth in school houses, or in churches to which pastors would admit him, and hearts were melted, and knees were bent in penitence, to such an extent that people thought this man ‘the great power of God.’ He offered himself as a candidate for the ministry; but the older heads of the presbytery … were unyielding in their opposition to his licensure. Littlejohn, however, went right on with his fervent appeals, and converts were multiplied within the parishes of the very pastors that opposed him.… The pressure upon the presbytery became so strong that any longer to refuse licensure appeared like fighting against God.” Miller himself continues the story: “In 1830 he was licensed. In 1833 a day was set for his ordination as an evangelist. When the day came there were charges against him of doctrinal unsoundness and imprudent conduct, and his ordination was postponed. A month later Geneva Synod criticised the method of his licensure and directed presbytery to re-examine him. Instead of re-examining him for licensure presbytery ordained him. This action Genesee Synod censured. Difficulties arose later between Littlejohn and his wife, but presbytery exonerated him from blame and highly commended his work as an evangelist. In 1839 there were charges against his character. Presbytery appointed a committee to investigate, but in 1840, before that committee reported, made him moderator. About the same time presbytery refused a request of Ontario Presbytery to investigate charges against Littlejohn—not even recording the charges on the minutes. The Synod of Genesee censured presbytery very sharply for making him moderator while charges were pending against him, and for passing over the request of Ontario Presbytery. After a good many other actions, in 1841 he was cited to answer definite charges of grossly immoral conduct. There was an exhaustive trial at Almond in March, 1841. At last presbytery saw him as he was, and unanimously deposed him from the ministry and excommunicated him from the church.” This assuredly is a case of all is not well that ends well.
31 The Presbytery of Cayuga, August, 1833, warned the churches under its care against employing Myrick because of the unsoundness of his doctrine and the evil practical effects of his preaching. It mentions that he was at the time under summons by his Presbytery (that of Oneida) for trial. Similar action was taken by the Presbytery of Onondaga; and both Presbyteries entered a complaint against him to the Presbytery of Oneida. Cf. Hotchkin, as cited, p. 173; Fowler, as cited, pp. 137, 278; and especially, James Wood, “Facts and Observations concerning the Organization and State of the Churches in the Three Synods of Western New York, etc.,” 1837, pp. 20–21. Myrick was a member of the Presbytery of Oneida from 1828 to 1844. The dealing of the Presbytery of Oneida with him showed the same general characteristics which marked the dealing of the Presbytery of Angelica with Littlejohn. It must have been quite clear from his first appearance before the Presbytery in 1825 as a candidate that he was not a suitable person to induct into the ministry. Yet the Presbytery carried him through his trials, ordained him over a congregation with a protesting minority, and when the inevitable charges were brought before it, dawdled with them; and finally, when at last, October 24, 1833, he was found guilty of both doctrinal errors (denying the doctrine of Perseverance, and asserting the doctrine of Perfection) and disorderly conduct (disorganizing churches, encouraging confusion in religious meetings, defaming the Presbyterian Church, slanderous and coarse language), removed the suspension imposed on him on his expressing sorrow for nothing but his “improper expressions.” Next spring (February 6, 1834) he asked to be dismissed to the Black River Association; but that body would not receive him; and he thereupon simply “withdrew from the fellowship of the Presbyterian Church” (June 24, 1834), and his name was erased from the roll. He retained his residence within the bounds of the Presbytery, a Congregationalist in affiliation, and gave himself to the propagation of his perfectionist doctrine. “He is the editor of a paper,” says Wood in 1837, “and by this means as well as by his preaching, is promulgating his pernicious doctrines—and I regret to add, they are embraced by a few in quite a number of churches, to the great grief and vexation of their brethren and pastors.” “He was an enthusiast, probably sincere,” Fowler sums up, “but wrought up to the point of derangement, and while gathering large assemblies and exciting them, his proper place was the asylum rather than the pulpit.” It is worth noting that one of his “methods” was to report (in The Evangelist or The Western Recorder) the results of the revivals carried on by him, quite without regard to the facts.
32 Of Boyle, Hotchkin (p. 171) says that almost every church in which he worked, though greatly enlarged in its membership by him, fell shortly into decay. He adds that he “lost his ministerial character,” was “deposed from the ministry and excommunicated from the church.” He “came to the Presbytery of Oneida” (as Fowler expresses it, p. 277) “with clean papers from the Methodist ministry,” and on those credentials was received as a member of the Presbytery. He was a member of the Presbytery of Oneida from 1827 to 1835—never through that period becoming a pastor of a church. In 1834 he was preaching for the Free Church of New Haven, and there imbibed perfectionist doctrines in the New Haven form. For these he was arraigned by the Presbytery in the spring of 1835 on the basis of “common fame.” The charges as formulated by the Presbytery having been all admitted by him, he was suspended from the ministry April 29, 1835. The erroneous teachings thus confessed by him are these: “That under the Gospel men are wholly sinful or wholly righteous”; “that there is no security of ultimate salvation without perfect freedom from sin”; “that a pardon through Jesus Christ which covers all past sin is inseparably connected with a perfect and perpetual sanctification of the soul”; “that the licensing and ordaining of ministers by Presbyteries, Associations, and Councils is an assumption of the high prerogatives of the Church.” These confessed teachings include the assertion of the notion of what is known as “the simplicity of moral action”—a man is always either as bad as he can be or as good as he can be; attach perfection immediately to justification—every saved soul is perfect; make this perfection indefectible; and assert what J. H. Noyes calls “disunionism”—the absolute independence of every minister of the word of all ecclesiastical authority. Boyle, a native of Lower Canada, was born and bred a Roman Catholic and after his career as Methodist, Presbyterian, and Perfectionist, came into connection with Gamaliel Bailey, Jr., and William Lloyd Garrison, and ran a notable course as Anti-Slavery Agitator. We find Garrison already printing in The Liberator of March 23, 1838, a letter from Boyle, which Garrison describes as “one of the most powerful epistles ever written by man,” on “Clerical Appeal, Sectarianism and True Holiness,” and another the next year “On Non-Resistance,—The ‘Powers that Be,’ Civil, Judicial and Ecclesiastical—Holiness.” The former was dated from Rome, Ohio, the latter from Cincinnati, where Boyle was already working on Bailey’s Philanthropist. In July, 1839, he became lecturing and financial agent of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, and we are told that Oliver Johnson said of him that “probably there was no man living whose religious views were more in harmony with Mr. Garrison’s.” For these facts see “William Lloyd Garrison: The Story of His Life Told by His Children,” ii. 1885, pp. 286–287. It will be seen from this that what Noyes called his “disunionism” became in fact the fundamental note of his thinking.
33 Hotchkin, as cited, p. 315.
34 Ibid., p. 470.
35 “History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky, etc.,” 1847, pp. 163–165. David Ramsay, “The History of South Carolina, 1670–1808,” 1808, 1809, ii. p. 36, note, says temperately:—“The effects of these camp-meetings were of a mixed nature. They were doubtless attended for improper purposes by a few licentious persons, and by others with a view of obtaining a handle to ridicule all religion.… The free intercourse of so great a number of all ages and sexes under cover of the night and the woods was not without its temptations.”
36 “New America,” ed. 4, 1867, ii. p. 146. The phrase occurs in a vivid description, which is also an arraignment, of the camp meeting, sensationally written, but not essentially untrue to fact. “In the revivalist camp,” he says, “men quarrel, and fight, and make love to their neighbours’ wives.” “ ‘I like to hear of a revival,’ said to me a lawyer of Indianapolis; ‘it brings on a crop of cases.’ ”
37 Davidson, as cited, pp. 163 f.
38 Theodore Schroeder has made himself the persistent advocate of this notion: cf. The American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education, iii. 1908, pp. 16 ff.; v. 1912, pp. 394 ff.; vi. 1913, pp. 59 ff.; vii. 1914, pp. 23 ff. E. D. Starbuck says: “In a certain sense the religious life is an irradiation of the reproductive instinct” (“Psychology of Religion,” 1899, p. 401). Cf. also G. Stanley Hall, “Adolescence,” ii. p. 301; J. B. Pratt, as cited, pp. 108 ff.
39 Davenport, as cited, p. 81, cf. p. 292. S. Baring Gould, “Freaks of Fanaticism,” 1891, p. 268, says extremely: “The religious passion verges so closely on the sexual passion that a slight additional pressure given to it bursts the partition, and both are confused in a frenzy of religious debauch.” This was already the theory of John Humphrey Noyes: “The tendency of religious unity,” says he, in “Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 31, “to flow into the channel of amativeness, manifests itself in revivals and in all the higher forms of spiritualism. Marriages or illegitimate amours usually follow religious excitements. Almost every spiritual sect has been troubled by amative tendencies. These facts are not to be treated as unaccountable irregularities, but as expressions of a law of human nature. Amativeness is in fact … the first and most natural channel of religious love.” “Religious love is very near neighbor to sexual love,” says he again, “and they always get mixed in the intimacies and social excitements of Revivals.” “The next thing a man wants,” he adds less appositely, “after he has found the salvation of his soul, is to find his Eve and his Paradise. Hence these wild experiments and terrible disasters” (W. H. Dixon, “Spiritual Wives,” ed. 2, 1868, ii. p. 177). “It is a very sad fact,” Dixon himself adds to this citation (p. 10), “which shows in what darkness men may grope and pine in this wicked world, that when these Perfect Saints were able to look about them in the new freedom of Gospel light, hardly one of the leading men among them could find an Eden at home, an Eve in his lawful wife.”
40 As cited, p. 14.
41 As cited, p. 28.
42 Dixon’s “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 176 f.
43 This materialistic mode of conceiving God appears to have been habitual with Noyes. Commenting with much commendation on Buchanan’s experiments in Animal Magnetism—in which he sees effects not differing in kind from Christ’s miracles—he says (“The Berean,” p. 77): “Perhaps in the progress of his investigation, Dr. Buchanan will find means to increase his nervous powers, either by self-training, or availing himself of the power of others. But he will never approach equality with Christ, as a practical neurologist, till he establishes communication with God, the great source of vital energy.… So long as mere human life is the fountain of magnetic influence, its effects will only be proportioned to the weakness of human nature.” God is a physical force which may conceivably be tapped and drawn upon by the practitioner of Animal Magnetism; and which, set at work in the world, will move blindly to this or that effect.
44 For a brief notice of Cochrane’s career, see W. L. Stone, “Matthias and His Impostures, etc.,” 1835, pp. 296 ff. (repeated in part in H. Eastman, “Noyesism Unveiled,” 1849, p. 400). The allusion in J. Brockway’s “A Delineation of the Characteristic Features of a Revival of Religion in Troy, in 1826 and 1827,” 1827, p. 59, seems to be to something in general similar:—“A sect started up, two or three years ago, in the eastern part of Vermont, putting defiance to all the laws of modesty and decency, breaking down all distinction of sex; they were too pure to be denied by any intercourse. The civil arm was stretched out to put a stop to this outrage on humanity; and the cry was reiterated … ‘persecution,’ ‘persecution.’ ” This was written too early to refer to Noyes and his Putney community.
45 The story of Matthias is told at length and very temperately by W. L. Stone, “Matthias and His Impostures, etc.,” 1835. See also the favorable review and abstract of Stone’s book by Edward Everett, The North American Review, xli. 1835, pp. 307 ff. It is told from a different point of view by G. B. Vale, “Fanaticism, its Sources and Influence Illustrated in the Case of Matthias, etc., a Reply to W. L. Stone,” 1835, and more recently by Theodore Schroeder in The American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education, 1913, pp. 59–65. Schroeder attaches a brief bibliography. There are very short notices of Matthias in Drake’s “Dictionary of American Biography,” and McClintock and Strong’s “Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature,” sub nom. “The imposture of Matthias, and the perfectionism of New Haven,” says Albert B. Dod (The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, October, 1835, p. 661), “are monster growths, in different directions, of the same monster trunk”—meaning the “revival of excitement,” or as he, following Stone, expresses it, “the spirit of fanaticism which has transformed so many Christian communities in the northern and western parts of New York, and states contiguous, into places of moral waste and spiritual desolation.”
46 This is the testimony of J. H. Noyes, in Dixon’s “Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 179:—“The original theory of the Saints, both at the East and the West, was opposed to actual intercourse of the sexes as ‘works of the flesh.’ They ‘bundled’ it is true, but only to prove by trial their power against the flesh; in other words, their triumphant Shakerism. Doctor Gridley, one of the Massachusetts leaders, boasted that ‘he could carry a virgin in each hand without the least stir of unholy passion!’ At Brimfield, Mary Lincoln and Maria Brown visited Simon Lovett in his room; but they came out of that room in the innocence of Shakerism.”
47 See especially H. Achelis, “Virgines Subintroductæ: Ein Beitrag zum vii Kapitel Des I Korintherbriefs,” 1902, or his article “Agapetæ” in Hastings’s “Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics,” i. pp. 177–180. Also Havelock Ellis, “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” vi. 1910, pp. 151 ff. or the abstract from him in Hastings, as cited, iii. p. 487.
48 The classical account of the matter is of course that of W. H. Dixon, “Spiritual Wives,” ed. 2, 1868, ii. This account is written in a sensational style, but in its substance is good contemporary history from the hands of eyewitnesses. J. H. Noyes in his “Dixon and His Copyists” (1871), ed. 2, 1874, p. 32, tells us that, except chapters vii., viii., and xxvi.–xxxi., which are Dixon’s, the whole of the contents of the book was supplied by himself or George Cragin, i.e. by intimate actors and witnesses in the occurrences described.
49 Cf. P. H. Fowler, as cited, pp. 137–138: “ ‘Unionism’ made high pretensions to piety and charity, but was bitter towards existing denominations, and fiercely assailed them and sent forth multitudes of extemporized preachers to spit venom upon them, and to strike silently at them; and the Presbyteries stripped it of its disguise and exposed its ugliness and mischievousness.”
50 Hotchkin, as cited, p. 314.
51 P. 313.
52 Hotchkin, as cited, p. 173.
53 Charles G. Finney, in his “Views of Sanctification,” 1840, p. 136, says: “So far as I can learn, the Methodists have been in a great measure if not entirely exempt from the errors held by modern perfectionists.” He is not in this, however, speaking of the sources upon which the Perfectionists drew for their membership, but of the teaching current in the Methodist Church in contrast with theirs. He does, however, add that “Perfectionists, as a body, and I believe with very few exceptions, have arisen out of those denominations that deny the doctrine of entire sanctification,”—and this doubtless was true of the perfectionists he had in mind, if taken as a general fact. It was not, however, the whole truth.
54 This is fully argued and illustrated by Joseph I. Foot, in “An Enquiry respecting the Theological Origin of Perfectionism, and its Correlative Branches of Fanaticism,” in The Literary and Theological Review, March, 1836, pp. 1–33. He declares that in point of fact the errors of “the New Dispensation” are practically confined to congregations in which “the New Divinity” had been taught, laying the stress especially on its assertion of human ability and its representation of regeneration, as “effected by ‘divine moral suasion,’ ”—that is to say on its Pelagianism. “We come then to the conclusion,” he sums up (p. 28), “that the system of light and motives, including its assumption respecting the human will, or heart, is the parent of perfectionism.” Similarly, Ebenezer H. Snowden, writing in 1837 (The Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine, iii. July, 1837, pp. 310 ff.), says of these perfectionists of Western New York that, “they are the results of the doctrine of man’s ability and the new measures,” and that, compared with them, “the Methodist perfectionists are very orthodox.” He describes them as mystical in doctrine, antinomian in practice, and disintegrating in their relation to the churches. They hold that “do what they may, they cannot sin; yea, that it is as impossible for them as for God himself.” They are guilty of “acts of the grossest sensuality,” justifying themselves “on the principle that they can do no wrong.” “They consider ministers nuisances, and churches useless, and that they ought to be torn down.” Hence Samuel J. Baird, “A History of the New School,” 1868, p. 224, says, speaking of Taylorism—“The system attained to its logical results in the perfectionism which sprang up, broadcast, as an after-crop, in Western New York.… If the divine commands are criteria of our ability, the words, ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,’ are an assurance that we can be perfect, as God.” Cf. Lyman H. Atwater, The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review, July, 1877, pp. 410 ff.
55 A good account of their origin and teaching is given by Joseph I. Foot in two publications, the one, a separate pamphlet entitled “Discourses on Modern Antinomianism, commonly called Perfectionism,” and the other an article in The Literary and Theological Review for December, 1834, pp. 554–583, bearing the caption: “ ‘The New Dispensation,’ or Modern Antinomianism, commonly called Perfectionism.” In the latter of these he sums up their doctrine under three heads: (1) They “do not regard the moral law as obligatory on believers”; they “affirm that ‘they have nothing to do and have already entered into rest.’ ” (2) They “profess to be personally united to Christ, or to the Holy Spirit.” “They interpret the phrase, ‘Christ is come in the flesh’ (in 1 Jno. 4:2) as denoting ‘his coming into their bodies, and being personally united to them.’ ” (3) They “declare themselves ‘to be perfect, to be as holy as God.’ ” They expressed their views as to their relation to Christ by the terms “communication,” or “commutation,” by which they meant such an exchange of character with Christ that “we become as completely holy as He, and He as completely sinful as we.” Another very prominent characteristic of their teaching was the profession to be so led by the Spirit as to supersede all dependence on the Word. “I have never known, or heard, of a disciple of the ‘New Dispensation,’ ” says Foot (p. 565), “who did not profess either to receive immediate revelations, or to be personally united to the Deity. In the latter case, though there evidently can be no need of such revelations, they are frequently claimed.… They … regard their own sayings and epistles, as of equal authority with those of the apostles. They even declare, that the apostolic writings pertain only to their own times, and are now superseded by modern revelations.” Asa Mahan, “Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection” (1839), ed. 7, 1844, pp. 70–73, gives rather a full account of their teachings. “(1) Perfectionism … in its fundamental principles, is the abrogation of all law … (2) In abrogating the moral law, as a rule of duty, Perfectionism abrogates all obligation of every kind. (3) Perfectionism is a ‘rest’ which suspends all efforts and prayer, even, for the salvation of the world. (4) Perfectionism substitutes the direct teaching of the Spirit, falsely called, in the place of the ‘word.’ (5) Perfectionism surrenders up the soul to blind impulse, assuming, that every existing desire or impulse is caused by the direct agency of the Spirit, and therefore to be gratified. (6) Perfectionism abrogates the Sabbath, and all the ordinances of the Gospel, and, in its legitimate tendencies, even marriage itself.” (7) Perfectionism by abrogating all law, abrogates all standards of conduct and accordingly demoralizes man. “(8) Perfectionism, in short, in its essential elements, is the perfection of licentiousness.” Compare the description of the system by Henry Cowles, “Holiness of Christians in the Present Life,” 1840, pp. 9 ff. The system, he says, “disclaims all obligation to obey the moral law,” substituting the law of love. It “supposes the Christian to receive Christ within him, in such a way, that henceforth Christ only acts within him; and whatever himself seems to do, Christ really does. Some even suppose their own individual being to be absorbed or merged into Christ, so that themselves, as distinct persons, have ceased to exist, and all that was themselves is now Christ.” It “either avowedly or virtually annihilates personal agency and responsibility.” “As a consequence, mental impressions, supposed to be from the Spirit of God, are deemed perfect truth and law, paramount even to the Bible itself.” “These principles lead more or less extensively, as the case may be, to the rejection of all Gospel ordinances, the disuse of prayer, and to all manner of licentiousness.” Compare also the vivid description of the Antinomian Perfectionists in Charles Fitch, “Views of Sanctification,” 1839, pp. 19 ff.
56 W. L. Stone, “Matthias and His Impostures, etc.,” 1835, p. 316.
57 “The Berean,” p. 460.
58 Cf. § 68 of “The Berean,” on “The Doctrine of Disunity,” in which he says (in “History of American Socialisms,” p. 623) he was aiming at “a theory that prevailed among Perfectionists, similar to Warren’s Individual Sovereignty.” Among the most influential of the advocates of the theory were James Boyle and Theophilus R. Gates, both of whom were closely associated with Noyes in the earlier stages of his development.
59 “American Communities,” revised edition, 1902, pp. 158–159.
60 “Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 9; cf. pp. 35, 48. On Hiram Sheldon and his work, compare H. Eastman, “Noyesism Unveiled,” 1849, p. 31, note.
61 Joseph I. Foot, “Discourses on Modern Antinomianism, commonly called Perfectionism,” 1834, p. iv., says: “This class of religionists is found in small numbers in various places in this state. Perhaps one of the churches in Albany and those in Rochester have been more annoyed by them than any others.” The occasion of his writing was the annoyance suffered from a small band of them in his own parish at Salina, Onondaga County. Cf. the general statement of C. G. Finney, “Memoirs,” 1876, p. 341: “About this time, the question of Christian perfection, in the antinomian sense of the term, came to be agitated a good deal at New Haven, at Albany, and somewhat in New York city.”
62 W. H. Dixon, “Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 35. Joseph I. Foot, as cited, p. 51, note: “Females sometimes accompany these itinerant errorists, and in other cases go alone, ‘to preach the Gospel,’ as they call their delusions. A woman recently sowed the seeds of this heresy in Brimfield, (Mass.), where they have sprung up, as in other places, and are likely to produce bitter fruit.”
63 Mrs. Boardman, “Life and Labours of the Rev. W. E. Boardman,” 1887, chapter iii., tells of living at Potosi, Wisconsin, in close intimacy with an elderly woman who was one of a number of persons who had been excluded from E. N. Kirk’s church in Albany on account of their perfectionism.
64 H. Eastman, as cited, p. 31, where “a gentleman residing in Central New York” is quoted as explaining that “the lumen of Eastern New York Perfectionism is referred to John B. Foote, a theological student in Kirk’s school, at Albany. Modest and timid to excess, the revival spirit soon impelled him with its deep-toned enthusiasm. Around him gathered the most devoted of the class. Mr. Kirk tried to quell the storm, but failed. The refractory students became the preachers of the new faith. To their labors most of the Perfectionism in Massachusetts and westward owes its existence.” An account is given of Kirk’s theological school in D. O. Mears, “Life of Edward Norris Kirk, D.D.,” 1877, pp. 85 f. Against some of the names of the students in Kirk’s private catalogue, we are told, is written, “Became a fanatic.” John Brownson Foote, after an exemplary youth, was graduated at Williams College in 1831, and shortly afterwards, says Calvin Durfee, “Williams Biographical Annals,” 1871, p. 460, was licensed to preach the gospel; but Durfee adds, apparently endeavoring to excuse the inexcusable, “Ere long he entered on an eccentric and wild career, which, in a man of his former habitual uprightness and sober good sense, could be accounted for only on the supposition that reason was dethroned.” A horrible account is given by Dixon, “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 75 ff.,—actually from the hand of Noyes—of a peculiarly obnoxious instance of the practice of “spiritual wives,” in which Foote was implicated—though not as a principal. He is here represented to have become “a convert to Hiram Sheldon’s doctrine of salvation from sin, and to the social theory which seems to have been connected in every man’s mind with that doctrine of the final establishment of heaven on earth”—phraseology which is very distinctly that of Noyes. At a little later date (1847) we find Foote and Noyes sharing the leadership in certain Conventions of the “Western division of Perfectionists,” at the head of which we are told that Foote had “for a considerable time” stood (Eastman as cited, pp. 140, 143).
63 Mrs. Boardman, “Life and Labours of the Rev. W. E. Boardman,” 1887, chapter iii., tells of living at Potosi, Wisconsin, in close intimacy with an elderly woman who was one of a number of persons who had been excluded from E. N. Kirk’s church in Albany on account of their perfectionism.
65 He was born at West Brattleboro, Vt., September 6, 1811, the eldest son and favorite child of John and Polly (Hayes) Noyes. John Noyes was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1795, served his college as a tutor, 1797–1799 (having Daniel Webster as a pupil), began to study for the ministry, but finally entered mercantile pursuits, served in 1816 as Representative in Congress from the Southern District of Vermont. Polly Noyes (an aunt of President Rutherford B. Hayes) is described as a woman of notably strong character and deep religious spirit.
66 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 614.
67 In his “Confessions of Religious Experience,” from which the extracts in the following pages, not otherwise credited, are also taken. The present one is also to be found in the “Hand-Book of the Oneida Community,” 1867, pp. 6 f.
68 “The Berean,” p. 242. See also “History of American Socialisms,” 1870, p. 614.
69 An account is given of this society and its practice of “mutual criticism” in The Congregational Quarterly for April, 1875, pp. 272–281; and the whole subject is dealt with at large in a pamphlet called “Mutual Criticism,” published by Noyes in 1876. Cf. also The Galaxy, xxii. 1876, pp. 815 ff.
70 The “Free Church” was organized August 31, 1831, but was long in getting upon its feet. According to the account in the “Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of Connecticut, etc.,” 1861, p. 440, it worshiped for the first two years of its existence in the Orange Street Chapel, and then for three years in “a large hall in the Exchange building”; and “from September, 1836, in a house of worship erected for it in Church Street” (for this house of worship, see Leonard Bacon, “Thirteen Historical Discourses, etc.,” 1839, p. 399). Noyes’s connection with the church, falling between the autumn of 1832 and the spring of 1834, was in its days of extreme weakness, when it was worshiping first in the Orange Street Chapel and then in the Exchange building. The church remained weak until 1848, when it moved once more—from Church Street to College Street. It was not able to settle a pastor (the Rev. Mr. Ludlow) until 1837. “For the first six years of its existence,” the “Contributions” above quoted record, “it had no pastor, but had the ministrations, for periods of from three to six months, of Revs. Waters Warren, Samuel Griswold, James Boyle, Dexter Clary, Austin Putnam, John Ingersoll, and the late N. W. Taylor, D.D.” Here are seven men to divide six years between. Boyle’s period of ministration to the church was necessarily short; and appears to have centered in the spring of 1834. He seems to have received no countenance from the Congregationalist authorities. In the “Minutes of the General Association of Congregationalist Churches in Connecticut,” this church appears as vacant for 1835 and 1836; the earlier “Minutes” are not accessible to us.
71 This is the way he puts it himself: “As I lost confidence in the religion around me, and saw more and more the need there was of a reconversion of most of those who professed Christianity, my outward-bound missionary zeal declined, and my heart turned toward thoughts, desires and projects of an internal reformation of Christendom. Quality of religion, instead of quantity, became my center of attraction.”
72 What is meant is the “Memoir of James Brainerd Taylor,” by John Holt Rice, D.D., and Benjamin Holt Rice, D.D., which was published in 1833, and therefore was a new book, just issued from the press when Noyes came back to New Haven in the autumn of 1833. He may have been the more attracted to it from the circumstance that the book was intended especially for theological students. This “Memoir” was supplemented by “A New Tribute to the Memory of James Brainerd Taylor,” 1838. Brief accounts of Taylor may be found in Appletons’ “Cyclopædia of American Biography,” vi. p. 45, and McClintock and Strong’s “Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature,” x. p. 231. Taylor was a young man of marked devoutness of spirit, who, having given himself to the (Congregational) ministry, was cut off before he could enter upon its work (1829). Noyes calls him “the John the Baptist of the doctrine of holiness,” who came “to the very borders of the Gospel,” “saw clearly the privilege and glory of salvation from sin,” and “even confessed, at times, in a timid way, that he was free from sin,”—but “did not know the Gospel of the primitive church, and was not born of God in the Bible sense.” That is to say, he had not received “the second conversion” into “holiness” (“The Berean,” § 39 pp. 271–272). Cf. Rice’s judicious account of Taylor’s attitude towards Christian attainments and the relation of this attitude to perfectionism in the “Memoir,” pp. 84–92. There is a contemporary appreciation of the Memoir in The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review of 1834, written by Henry Axtell; in it the message of Taylor and of the “Memoir” alike is held to be “eminent holiness is attainable on earth.” In C. G. Finney’s “Lectures to Professing Christians,” which were published in 1837 (ed. 1880, pp. 358–359), there is a passage curiously parallel to Noyes’s account, in which, telling of his own conversion to perfectionism, Finney says he read Wesley’s “Plain Account of Christian Perfection” and Taylor’s “Memoir,” and speaks of Taylor’s biographers’ concealing his tendency to perfectionism just as Noyes does.
73 “American Communities,” revised edition, 1902, p. 152. Hinds’s account of Noyes’s early experiences given in this edition of his book (that in the first edition is negligible) is derived from Noyes’s “Confessions of Religious Experience,” and is the best of the accessible accounts. We have been glad to check up our own by it and to follow its guidance with some closeness.
74 Noyes is careful to explain that his assertion of freedom from sin did not involve the claim that he was incapable of positive growth. “I certainly did not,” he says, “at this time regard myself as perfect in any such sense as excludes the expectation of discipline and improvement. On the contrary, from the very beginning my heart’s most earnest desire and prayer to God was that I might be made perfect by full fellowship with the sufferings of Christ; and from that time till now, all my tribulations have been occasions of thanksgiving, because I have regarded them as answers to that first prayer, and as pledges of God’s faithfulness in completing the work then begun. The distinction between being free from sin on the one hand, and being past all improvement on the other, however obscure it may be to some, was plain to me as soon as I knew by experience what freedom from sin really is. To those who endeavored to confound this distinction, and to crowd me into a profession of unimprovable perfection, I said: ‘I do not pretend to perfection in externals; I only claim purity of heart and the answer of a good conscience toward God. A book may be true and perfect in sentiment, and yet be deficient in grace of style and typographical accuracy.’ ”
75 Quoted in H. Eastman, “Noyesism Unveiled,” 1849, p. 31, note.
76 Noyes’s own testimony to this intercourse will be found in Dixon’s “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 36 and 46 (cf. also pp. 25, 30, 35, 40, 48).
77 The Presybterian Quarterly and Princeton Review, July, 1877, pp. 410, 411.
78 G. W. Noyes in his tract, “The Oneida Community: its Relation to Orthodoxy” (no date; but certainly after 1912), represents Noyes and Noyesism as definitely Taylorite. An annotator (“F. W. F.”), however, seeks to draw back a little.
79 He does not betray any tendency, however, to minimize the divine control of the will, so only it be allowed to be merely suasive in its mode. His formula here is “if a man’s own will goes with his acts, he is a free agent, however mighty may be the influences which persuade him” (“The Berean,” p. 173). He illustrates thus: “God dwelt in Christ, and determined all his actions. And yet was he not free?” “There is not a professor in all the churches, whether sincere or not, who does not expect to be kept from sin in heaven by the power of God.… This is acknowledged to be consistent with free agency.” One may ask whether something more than suasion is not suggested in this language. The doctrine, however, is the general Taylorite doctrine, and was made very familiar to the churches by its vigorous assertion by C. G. Finney.
80 The Perfectionist, February 22, 1845: “Theses of the Second Reformation,” Theses 29 and 30. Quoted by Eastman, as cited, p. 318.
81 The Perfectionist, September 7, 1844. Quoted by Eastman, as cited, p. 343.
82 “Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of Connecticut; prepared under the direction of the General Association,” 1861, pp. 328, 329.
83 H. Eastman, as cited, p. 29.
84 “Hand-Book of the Oneida Community,” 1867, p. 8.
85 The Perfectionist, iv. No. 4, quoted by Eastman, as cited, p. 79. We understand this to mean April, 1846.
86 Eastman, p. 80: this apparently belongs to 1842.
87 We are giving only the bare facts from the very interesting narrative printed in Dixon’s “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 34–47.
88 New York City seems to be meant, in contrast with Rondout; and no doubt it is the particular case of Abram C. Smith and Mary Cragin, told at great length by Mary Cragin’s husband and reprinted from his narrative by Dixon, “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 89 ff., which is in mind in both references.
89 “Dixon and His Copyists,” p. 20.
90 “Dixon and His Copyists,” p. 31. Cf. his letter to a Mr. Hollister, of July 2, 1839 (Eastman, as cited, pp. 86–87): “About three months from the time when I received Christ as a whole Savior, my mind was led into long and deep meditation on … the relation of the sexes. I then came to the conclusions in which I have since stood.… So I have testified for the past five years; and every day sinks me deeper and deeper in the certainty that these are the principles of God, and his heavenly hosts.”
91 “Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 183.
92 Cf. what he writes in The Spiritual Moralist of June 13, 1842 (Eastman, as cited, p. 89):—“In the winter of 1834, I abandoned the popular religious system in which I had been educated, and became a perfectionist. The change in my views at the time, was not confined to the subject of holiness, but extended to every department of theology and morals.… The subject of sexual morality was early forced upon my attention, by its close connection with those peculiar views of the law, of the leadings of the Spirit, and of the resurrection, which are among the principal elements of my testimony in the Perfectionist and in the Witness. Personal circumstances of an interesting character, the startling and in some instances the corrupt suggestions of men with whom I was then connected, and a variety of scandalous reports concerning the licentious doctrines and practices of certain Perfectionists, conspired to urge me to a thorough examination of the matter.… Under these circumstances, I meditated on the subject much of the time for two years. My mind was particularly exercised in relation to it during several long seasons of spiritual trial. In the winter of 1836–7 my views assumed a definite and satisfactory form.”
93 “Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 184.
94 On Elizabeth Hawley, see “Spiritual Wives,” ii. p. 46, as well as Eastman, as cited, p. 95.
95 Eastman, as cited, p. 98, says of Gates that he “was not, as Noyes asserts, a Perfectionist; but” he “certainly held doctrines in perfect keeping with the sentiments of the Battle Axe Letter, for he approved of, and published it.” Of Gates’s writings we have had the opportunity of consulting only two early books: “The Trials, Experience, Exercises of Mind, and First Travels of Theophilus R. Gates,” written by Himself, 1810; and “A Measuring Reed to Separate Between the Precious and the Vile” (1815), ed. 2, 1819. The former of these is a picaresque narrative of a boy’s religious experiences, as he travels on foot from New England to North Carolina and back. The latter is made up nearly entirely of quotations from standard divines on the works of an impenitent and the works of a penitent heart. It is not possible to obtain from either of them Gates’s matured opinions.
96 The whole letter is printed in “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 52 ff.: the portion which we quote is printed also at the opening of the excellent chapter on “The Battle Axe Letter and its History,” in H. Eastman’s “Noyesism Unveiled,” pp. 91 ff.
97 Eastman, as cited, pp. 364 f.
98 “The Berean,” Lecture 39, pp. 271 ff.
99 In “Dixon and His Copyists,” p. 39, Noyes warns us against the account given by Dixon (“New America,” ii. pp. 242 f.) of the relation between the views of Noyes and Oberlin. It is, he says, “a ludicrous historical jumble” in which the actual position of the two parties is reversed.
100 “Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 7. Cf. what is said in the “Hand-Book of the Oneida Community,” 1867, pp. 29–30:—“Wesley and his associates almost succeeded in re-opening the way of holiness; but they failed.… Perfect holiness was only a secondary appendage to Methodism, even in its best days.… Besides, Wesley, in denying the security of the higher class, left a dismal barrier at the upper end of the way of holiness, which broke the communication of his church with heaven. These remarks may be applied without much alteration to Oberlin Perfectionism, which, in respect to the secondary place of perfect holiness, the insecurity of the higher class of believers, and every other essential feature, is only an attempted repetition of the system of Wesley.”
101 Eastman, as cited, pp. 31, 32.
102 “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 34 ff.
103 Charles Huntington Weld, born 1799, graduated from Yale 1822, at Andover 1824–1826, agent of the American Bible Society in Mississippi 1830, preached at Manlius, New York, for a short period, and then resided at Belleville, died Hyde Park, Mass., 1871. He appears to have been a fanatic of the purest water and so unstable nervously that he fell into convulsions on any great excitement. Noyes describes his relations to him at great length: and his description is reprinted by Allan Estlake, “The Oneida Community,” 1900, pp. 22 ff. He was a licentiate of the Presbytery of Oneida from 1828 to 1836: but during the trial of James Boyle by that Presbytery in the spring of 1835 he became implicated in the same charges, and on March 10, 1836, wrote to the Presbytery returning his license as “being no longer in harmony with the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church.” His younger brother, Theodore D. Weld (who married Angelica Emily Grimke), is well known as an anti-slavery agitator. He was a convert of Finney’s, who gives a full account of the circumstances of his conversion in his “Memoirs,” 1876, pp. 184 ff. He too was a licentiate of the Presbytery of Oneida and entered on his preparation for the ministry at Lane Seminary. But “tearing away from his moorings under the anti-slavery excitement, he returned his license to the Presbytery, abandoned the church, discarded the supreme authority of the Bible, silenced his golden-mouthed speech, folded his eagle wing and lived in the solitude and muteness of a grave” (P. H. Fowler, “Historical Sketch of Presbyterianism within the Bounds of the Synod of Central New York,” 1877, p. 163).
104 Hinds, as cited, ed. 2, p. 156.
105 “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 182–183; “Dixon and His Copyists,” p. 7; “Bible Communism,” pp. 21, 23.
106 “Spiritual Wives,” ii. pp. 183, 184.
107 By “Male Continence” is meant an obnoxious method of birth control, on the invention of which Noyes greatly prided himself, and of all the most intimate details of which he speaks with the utmost nonchalance. It was required to be practiced in the Association, that promiscuity might be indulged while the burden of children—which no communism can live under—was avoided. Noyes shows a nice choice of words when he defends his community against the charge of “licentiousness,” but never, so far as we have observed, against that of “lasciviousness,” which is perhaps in any case the best word to use of its practices.
108 See Note 69 above.
109 In “Bible Communism,” 1853, pp. 21–23, Noyes goes over much of the same ground. The radical principles of his theory of the relation of the sexes, he says here, were “early deduced from the religious system evolved at New Haven in 1834, were avowed in print by J. H. Noyes in 1837,” and were subsequently discussed from time to time. “These principles, though avowed … in 1837, were not carried into action in any way by any of the members of the Putney Association till 1846.” They have, indeed, it is added, “never been carried into full practical embodiment, either at Putney or Oneida, but have been held by the Association, as the principles of an ultimate state, toward which society among them is advancing, slowly and carefully, with all due deference to sentiments and relations established by the old order of things.” All that is meant by the last sentence is that the promiscuity has been confined within the bounds of the association as yet, and has not yet become world-wide. We read (p. 22): “The Association, in respect to practical innovations, limits itself to its own family circle, not invading society around it, and not just or even legal complaint of such invasions can be found at Putney or Oneida.”
110 We are quoting from “Male Continence” (1872), ed. 2, 1877, p. 19, which itself quotes from “Bible Arguments,” 1848, p. 27. The same position is argued more fully, but in much the same language in “Bible Communism,” 1853, proposition 16, pp. 40 ff.
111 Cf. the statement in “History of American Socialisms,” p. 616: “As the early experiences of the Community were of two kinds, religious and social, so each of these experiences produced a book. The religious book, called The Berean, was printed at Putney in 1847, and consisted mainly of articles published in the periodicals of the Putney school during the previous twelve years. The socialistic book, called Bible Communism, was published in 1848, a few months after the settlement of Oneida, and was the frankest possible disclosure of the theory of entire Communism, for which the Community was then under persecution.”
112 “Dixon and His Copyists,” p. 20.
113 The numbers given are not always exactly the same: we are following here the Hand-Book of the Oneida Community for 1875. According to that Hand-Book the members on January 1, 1849, numbered 87; February 20, 1850, 172; year later, 205; in 1875, 298. Hinds, ed. 2, p. 175, gives the numbers, January 1, 1849, 87; January 1, 1850, 174; February 20, 1851, 205; in 1875, 298; in 1878, 306.
114 Of course his own wife and his brother’s wife and his two sisters’ husbands are to be added to this quartette, raising it to an octette, which constituted about a fourth (or a fifth) of the whole promiscuous community. Noyes was married on June 28, 1838, and he plumed himself vastly on having, in doing so, made it perfectly plain to his partner that the marriage was not to be interpreted as an “exclusive” union, but left room for the “complex marriage” into which he led her eight years later. We are not sure that he made it plain. The language in which he expresses himself in what is perhaps, on that hypothesis, the most remarkable proposal of marriage ever made, is studiedly ambiguous. We do not know how far the lady addressed was prepared by previous knowledge to interpret it in its extremest sense. In that sense, it is a repetition of the “Battle Axe Letter” of two years earlier. The proposal was made in a letter dated June 11, 1838, and may be read either in Eastman, as cited, pp. 133 ff., or in Dixon’s “New America,” ii. pp. 235 ff.
115 This contrariety is, for example, elaborately argued in “Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 7, where Fourier’s principle of “attraction” is rejected and the principle of “community of goods” is asserted over against it. The two systems, it is explained, begin at opposite ends. Fourier begins “with industrial organization and physical improvements, expecting that a true religion and the true relation of the sexes will be found out three or four hundred years hence.” Noyes begins “with religion and reconciliation of the sexes,” and expects “that industrial reform and physical improvement will follow”—and that speedily. This is said over again with even more elaboration and emphasis in “History of American Socialisms,” 1870, p. 630.
116 The Atlantic Monthly, October, 1883, p. 538. “It argued singular courage,” he says, speaking of Albert Brisbane’s advocacy of Fourierism—“the adoption of Fourier’s system, to even a limited extent, with his books lying before the world only defended by the thin veil of the French language. The Stoic said, Forbear; Fourier said, Indulge. Fourier was of the opinion of St. Evremond; abstinence from pleasure appeared to him a great sin.” “It was easy,” he says again, “to foresee the fate of this fine system in any serious and comprehensive attempt to set it on foot in this country. As soon as our people got wind of the doctrine of marriage held by this master, it would fall at once into the hands of a lawless crew, who would flock in troops to so fair a game, and like the dreams of poetic people on the first outbreak of the old French Revolution, so theirs would disappear in a slime of mire and blood.”
117 Fourier’s doctrine of the relation of the sexes is sufficiently explained at pp. 547 ff. of the very illuminating account of Fourier and his theories by Arthur J. Booth, printed in The Fortnightly Review, xii. 1872, pp. 530 ff. and 673 ff.
118 Cf. the statement in Charles Nordhoff, “The Communistic Societies of the United States,” 1874, pp. 276–277; also Estlake, p. 90.
119 The general situation brought it about, however, as Estlake, p. 90, naïvely puts it, that “life became a state of continuous courtship,” both women and men seeking always to attract one another.
120 Cf. Nordhoff, as cited, p. 276.
121 As cited, p. 549.
122 Cf. Nordhoff, p. 276; Estlake, pp. 54–55.
123 One saving clause was indeed admitted in his regulations: “persons are not obliged, under any circumstances, to receive the attentions of those whom they do not like” (Nordhoff, p. 276).
124 Cf. “Bible Communism,” chapter iv., and “History of American Socialisms,” p. 632.
125 “Essay on Scientific Propagation” (n.d.), pp. 32; Nordhoff conjectures “about 1873” for its date.
126 An odd formal inconsistency results from Noyes’s insistence, on the one hand, that all marriage is abolished in the Kingdom of Heaven in accordance with the Saviour’s declaration that there shall be no marriage or giving in marriage in it (e.g. “The Berean,” p. 431), and his equal insistence that the arrangements in his community amounted to and were in effect a binding marriage—only a “complex,” not an individual marriage.
127 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 639, cf. Hinds, ed. 2, p. 183.
128 “Bible Communism,” p. 52.
129 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 625.
130 Ibid., p. 628.
131 P. 634.
132 What is said in “Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 20, taken from The Circular, for 1852, is scarcely consistent with what is said in “History of American Socialisms,” 1870, pp. 628, 634, and is probably only an unconsidered apologetic assertion.
133 In “Bible Communism,” 1853, pp. 114 ff., we find a distinct minimizing of the sin of adultery.
134 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 616.
135 W. A. Hinds, ed. 2, pp. 169 ff.: we are drawing from his narrative.
136 The Spiritual Magazine, October 15, 1847, cited by Eastman, pp. 185 f. Cf. the full account of the details of the miracle by all the participants in it, in The Spiritual Magazine, September 15, 1847, transcribed by Eastman, pp. 187 ff.
137 Mary Cragin’s name should not be passed by without some notice. The accession of George Cragin and his wife (with a child) to Noyes’s community was obviously felt by Noyes himself and the community at large to be an event of great importance. Even in the brief account of the Community which he gives in his “History of American Socialisms,” he notes it. “Gradually a little school of believers gathered around him. His first permanent associates were his mother, two sisters, and a brother. Then came the wives of himself and his brother, and the husbands of his sisters. Then came George Cragin and his family from New York, and from time to time other families and individuals from various places” (p. 615). The Cragins are the only persons he mentions by name. Similarly Hinds, ed. 2, p. 157, after mentioning the accession of J. L. Skinner, who married one of Noyes’s sisters, adds: “The next important accession was that of the Cragin family, consisting of George Cragin and wife and child, in September, 1840. Mr. Cragin had been a merchant of New York City, the General Publishing Agent of the Advocate of Moral Reform, a co-laborer of John McDowall in reform work, and a revivalist under Chas. G. Finney. His wife had been a teacher and a Sunday-school worker in New York City and a zealous revivalist. Mr. Noyes never had more active and willing helpers.” We are not told here, however, the whole story or that part of it which connected these people with Noyes. This part is that, while still at work as revivalists in New York, they became perfectionists and accepted Noyes as their leader. Then they became inmates of the house at Rondout of Abram C. Smith, a fellow perfectionist of Methodist antecedents, who owned some such relation as their own to Noyes. Then Smith made Mary Cragin his “Spiritual Wife,” or, to be more explicit, his mistress. Noyes, in accordance with his custom in dealing with such cases, disapproved of the relation and sternly rebuked Smith. The result was that the Cragins found their way into Noyes’s community, where Mrs. Cragin occupied the position of matron. The whole sordid story was told at great length by Cragin himself in The Oneida Circular and has been made accessible to all by being reprinted (Noyes says, “with slight alterations”) in Dixon’s “Spiritual Wives.” The facts were, however, perfectly well known independently of Cragin’s narrative (cf. Eastman, p. 430). It seems probable that it is Mary Cragin whom Asa Mahan means when, in his “Autobiography,” 1851, p. 239, he tells of a “professedly Christian woman” in New York, in, say 1835, who told him: “I attend church, not from any good that I expect from the services, but as an example to others. These ministers cannot teach me: I understand the whole subject already.” She had, he says, “been very active and influential in the revivals.” “Years after that,” he adds, “I heard of her as a blubbering Perfectionist, practising, it was believed, the abominations of the sect.” With reference to John R. McDowall and The Advocate of Moral Reform, perhaps this notice by D. L. Leonard (“The Story of Oberlin,” 1898, p. 72, cf. p. 303) will be enough: “In 1830–4 McDowall undertook a well-meant but unwisely conducted work in behalf of fallen women in New York, which soon ended in failure and bitter sorrow to himself, but also out of which grew a widespread and lasting movement for ‘moral reform,’ whose equivalent is found in our day enfolded in the phrase, social purity.” For a contemporary estimate of this movement and its methods, see an article on “Moral Reform Societies” in The Literary and Theological Review, for December, 1836, pp. 614 ff.
138 Hinds, ed. 2, p. 170, writes thus: “Events followed this confession in quick succession of such a character as to convince those making it that the heavens had approved it, and welcomed them into new and more vital relations with their spiritual superiors; and they did not hesitate to make a present personal application of Christ’s promises of miraculous power to those who believed in him. Many of the Putney believers testified that they had personally experienced miraculous healing, with and without the laying on of hands.” Thus, as late as 1902, it was still claimed among Noyes’s followers that heaven had by visible testimonies set its seal of approval on the promiscuity at Putney!
139 The fullest and best account of the miracles of this date is given by Eastman, pp. 185 ff.; cf. also Hinds, ed. 2, p. 170. Also in general Nordhoff, p. 272.
140 Its publication was suspended, Nov. 23, 1847. We say suspended because it was soon resumed at Oneida Reserve. Noyes himself says in the issue of August 5, 1848 (Eastman, p. 55): “It is sufficient to say here, that the immediate cause of the suppression of our paper at Putney, was a resolution passed at an ‘indignation meeting’ of the citizens of that place, denouncing our publication as licentious, and requiring an immediate stoppage of our press.”
141 Eastman, p. 58.
142 Eastman, pp. 35 ff., gives a full account of the criminal proceedings against Noyes, and prints in full the court record.
143 Noyes and his friends naturally retorted on the Putney people with abuse. In the “Second Annual Report of the Oneida Association,” 1850, p. 23, it is declared that Putney does not present “an average specimen of the civilization of the country,” and “the transactions of 1847” are characterized as “foolish,” “mean,” and “brutal.” It was a ground of great congratulation to the Oneida people that they were able a few years later to find some sort of a footing in Putney again. Hinds, ed. 2, pp. 171–172, states the facts as follows: “In less than three years a colony of the Oneida Community was established at Putney, which was maintained there for five years, free from every disturbance, and many regrets were expressed when all the Community property there was sold and the final exodus of the Perfectionists took place.” An annotator of the pamphlet called “The Oneida Community; its Relation to Orthodoxy,” which appears to have been published about 1912, is not contented with so bare a statement. We read (p. 14):—“The inhabitants of Putney—ashamed of their bigotry and coming to appreciate the usefulness and exalted moral goodness of the Oneida Community—soon invited them back, and a branch of the Community thenceforth existed at Putney (as at other places) for some years, until a policy of concentration absorbed into the parent society at Oneida all the branches except the one at Wallingford (Connecticut).”
144 The document is published by Eastman, pp. 187–196.
145 Ed. 2, p. 173. The language of the call seems to have been “for the purpose of acquaintance, acknowledgment of each other, and co-operation” (Eastman, p. 140).
146 They are printed in full in Eastman, p. 142; and the first part of them in Hinds, ed. 2, pp. 173–174.
147 Hinds, ed. 2, p. 174.
148 Eastman, p. 141.
149 The Spiritual Magazine, October 1, 1847, as quoted by Eastman, p. 141.
150 “On the same day that the exodus from Putney commenced (November 26, 1847), practical movements were being made by Perfectionists of the same faith toward the formation of a Community at Oneida, Madison County, N. Y. The Putney exiles joined these brethren, and on the first day of the following March the Oneida Community was fully organized” (“Hand-Book of the Oneida Community,” 1867, p. 10).
151 Pp. 615–616.
152 “The gathering of the Community of Oneida was due to the hospitable invitation of Jonathan Burt, who possessed a few acres of land and a rude saw-mill on Oneida Creek” (“Oneida Community: 1848–1901” [n.d.], p. 6).
153 Ed. 2, pp. 175–176.
154 Ibid., p. 175.
155 Hinds, ed. 2, p. 189. Cf. further details of the work in 1868, “History of American Socialisms,” pp. 642 ff.
156 So we are explicitly told in an annotation to the extract from F.A. Bisbee’s article on “Communistic Societies in the United States” in The Political Science Quarterly for December, 1905, printed in G. W. Noyes’s “The Oneida Community: its Relation to Orthodoxy,” p. 15.
157 He himself tells us (The Nation, September 11, 1879, p. 173) that his father accused him of “Positivism”; and Estlake, pp. 9 ff., confirms this by telling us that he had passed “beyond the pale of certain phases of Christianity.”
158 Estlake, p. 13.
159 February 20, 1879, p. 128.
160 As quoted.
161 Hinds, ed. 2, p. 197.
162 He died, in Niagara Falls, Canada, April 13, 1886, aged 74. He was nearly 68 when he retired to Canada.
163 The American Socialist, August 28, 1879, quoted in Estlake, p. 36; cf. Hinds, ed. 2, p. 202.
164 August 28, 1879.
165 How the matter was looked at within the community may be perceived from the following passage from A. Estlake’s book, pp. 42–43: “There is no law under which the Oneida Community would have been interfered with, so they were safe from any action under existing statutes; but the Presbyterian Church, led on by Professor Mears of Hamilton College, who for years had been an unswerving foe to the Community, had organised a movement, with Bishop Huntington at its head, to obtain special legislation against them at Albany. If Mears had succeeded, it is impossible to conjecture how a band of unprincipled lawyers and politicians might have robbed the members, nor to what extent ruin and hardship might have been entailed upon the aged and children of the Community. It was the leader’s duty, therefore, to protect them in the best way that he could. Complications had arisen within the Community that rendered the task more difficult, but he completely disarmed the opposition from without by a graceful concession to public prejudice, and then prepared himself for consideration of the best plans that could be devised for the successful winding-up of the communistic experiment,—a winding-up which, in the very nature of things, had become inevitable.”
166 This was fully understood in the Community, and in the passage from Estlake, quoted in the immediately preceding note, is treated as intended. In winding up the Community, Noyes chose this method so as to obtain time and freedom for winding it up to the best advantage. Cf. Hinds, ed. 2, p. 205.
167 Hinds, ed. 2, p. 204.
168 Ibid., p. 206.
169 “Essays on Questions of the Day,” ed. 2, 1894, pp. 8 ff.
170 He has discussed the matter, e.g., in the forty-seventh chapter of his “History of American Socialisms,” pp. 646–657.
171 P. 655.
172 “Essays on Questions of the Day,” ed. 2, 1894, p. 372.
173 “Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 83.
174 Ibid., p. 11.
175 Noyes himself tells us (“History of American Socialisms,” p. 616) that the “religious theory” of the Community is best read in “The Berean,” 1847; and it emerges that the members of the Community looked upon “The Berean,” as little less than an inspired book (see, e.g., Eastman, p. 50). There is an excellent account of Noyes’s doctrinal system, derived from “The Berean,” in The New Englander, vi. 1848, pp. 177–194, by J. P. Warren. A useful account of it will be found also in Eastman, pp. 309 ff.
176 “Hand-Book of the Oneida Community,” 1867, p. 22.
177 Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 7.
178 These may both be read in Eastman, as cited, pp. 309 ff., 315 ff.; and the former of them is printed in C. G. Finney, “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” ii. 1847, pp. 167 ff.
179 The Perfectionist, February 22, 1845; Eastman, p. 315.
180 “Bible Communism,” 1853, p. 35.
181 Eastman, pp. 324–325.
182 Ibid., p. 324.
183 “The Berean,” p. v.; Eastman, p. 325.
184 The Holy Spirit, he says (“The Berean,” p. 79), is not a “distinct person” but “an emanation” from the Father and the Son.
185 “The Berean,” p. 488; The New Englander, as cited, p. 180.
186 Eastman, p. 325.
187 Eastman, p. 332.
188 “The Berean,” p. 57.
189 “The Berean,” p. 93. It is a crotchet in his doctrine of creation that he teaches, on the ground of Heb. 11:3, that it was wrought by faith on God’s part. His motive for this impossible interpretation of the passage was apparently to escape having to allow that “we understand by faith.” It is amazing that Thomas C. Upham repeats this absurd exegesis of Heb. 11:3 (“A Treatise on Divine Union,” 1857, pp. 32 ff.).
190 “The Berean,” pp. 97 ff.
191 In struggling with his incomplete theodicy Noyes sometimes speaks of a necessity being laid on God “by the existence of uncreated evil” to permit evil to invade His creation. He does nothing to show in what such a necessity is grounded, however, except by pointing to the exigencies of the conflict between good and evil.
192 “The Berean,” pp. 104 f.
193 Ibid., p. 112.
194 Ibid., p. 113.
195 Ibid., p. 115.
196 Ibid., pp. 106 f.
197 “The Berean,” pp. 127–128.
198 Ibid., pp. 122–123.
199 Ibid., p. 129.
200 Ibid., p. 136.
201 Ibid., p. 149.
203 Ibid., p. 150.
204 “The second coming,” says Noyes (“The Berean,” p. 288), “was an event in the spiritual, and not in the natural world.” It was a spiritual manifestation” (“Paul’s Prize,” p. 10). It means Christ’s “coming in the power of judgment, to reckon with, reward, and punish, those to whom he delivered the gospel at his first coming” (“The Berean,” p. 276). It is the “day of judgment for the primitive church and the Jewish nation”—not the final judgment, for there are two judgments corresponding to the two great human families, Jews and Gentiles. “The Bible describes two dispensations of Christ, two resurrections, two judgments, one of which is past, the other future” (p. 333). The common view, he says, sees only the future judgment; many perfectionists see only the past.
205 “The Berean,” p. 157.
206 Ibid., pp. 162 ff.
207 Ibid., p. 159.
208 Ibid., pp. 170 f.
209 Ibid., pp. 182 ff.
210 “The Berean,” p. 184.
211 Ibid., p. 187.
212 Ibid., p. 173.
214 Ibid., p. 176.
215 “New America,” ii. p. 227.
216 “The Berean,” pp. 237 ff.
217 Ibid., p. 238, note.
218 “The Berean,” pp. 142 ff.
219 Ibid., p. 226, e.g., the second birth is said to be a state of complete salvation from sin.
220 Ibid., p. 218.
221 Ibid., p. 178.
222 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 622, resuming “The Berean,” p. 383.
223 “The Berean,” p. 255.
224 “Bible Communism,” 1853, pp. 75 ff.
225 Ibid., pp. 26 ff.
226 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 623.
227 Ibid., p. 629, summarizing “Bible Communism.”
228 “History of American Socialisms,” p. 636.
229 The Perfectionist of September 7, 1844, quoted by Eastman, pp. 343 ff. Eastman gives a very full account of Noyes’s teaching on the subject.
230 For what follows we have drawn on the detailed narrative of “William Lloyd Garrison: The Story of His Life told by his Children,” ii., iii. 1885, 1889. The passages drawn upon may be easily turned up from the excellent indices. The narrative is fully documented and the references given. A brief summary account will be found in Goldwin Smith’s “The Moral Crusader, William Lloyd Garrison,” 1892, chapter ix.
231 Noyes made the freest possible use of the press for the exposition and propagation of his theories. He maintained a periodical practically continuously from the beginning to the end of his career. This periodical bore successively the following titles: The Perfectionist, 1834; The Witness, 1836–1843; The Perfectionist, 1843–1846; The Spiritual Magazine, 1847–1850; The Free Church Circular, 1850–1851; The Circular, 1851–1871; The Oneida Circular, 1871–1874; The American Socialist, from 1875. Of separate publications emanating from the Community, the following, most of them from the pen of Noyes himself, have met our eye:—“Paul Not Carnal, or Christianity Full Redemption from Sin, exhibited in an exposition of Romans 8:7–25,” 1834; “The Way of Holiness,” a Series of Papers published in The Perfectionist, 1838; “Salvation from Sin, the End of Christian Faith,” edition seen, 1876, but often before; “The Berean: a Manual for the Help of those who Seek the Faith of the Primitive Church,” 1847; “Confessions of John H. Noyes, Part First, or a Confession of Religious Experience,” 1849; “First Annual Report of the Oneida Association,” 1849; “Second Annual Report of the Oneida Association,” 1850; “Third Annual Report of the Oneida Association,” 1851; “Bible Communism; a Compilation from The Annual Reports and other Publications of the Oneida Association and its Branches; presenting, in connection with their History, a Summary View of their Religious and Social Theories,” 1853 (Noyes uniformly speaks of “Bible Communism” as published in 1848: the edition of 1853 is the only one we have seen); “Hand-Book of the Oneida Community; with a Sketch of its Founder, and an Outline of its Constitution and Doctrines,” 1867; “Male Continence,” 1872 (we have seen only the second edition, 1877); “Essay on Scientific Propagation” (n.d.); “History of American Socialisms,” 1870; “Dixon and His Copyists. A Criticism of the Accounts of the Oneida Community in ‘New America,’ ‘Spiritual Wives’ and Kindred Publications,” 1871; “Home-Talks by John Humphrey Noyes,” edited by Alfred Barron and George Noyes Miller; “Paul’s Prize,” reprint of a Home-Talk by J. H. Noyes (n.d.); “Hand-Book of the Oneida Community,” 1875; “Mutual Criticism,” 1876. There may be added the following:—“Faith Facts; or a Confession of the Kingdom of God and the Age of Miracles,” edited by George Cragin, 1850; “Favorite Hymns for Community Singing,” 1855; “The Trapper’s Guide,” by S. Newhouse and other Trappers and Sportsmen, 1867; “Oneida Community Cooking, or a Dinner without Meat,” by Harriet H. Skinner, 1873; “Oneida Community: 1848–1901” (n.d.); “The Oneida Community: its Relation to Orthodoxy: being an outline of the Religious and Theological Affinities of the Most Advanced Experiment in Applied Ethics ever made in any Age or Country,” by G. W. N[oyes], a member of the Oneida Community from Birth (n.d. but apparently 1912). The following accounts of the Oneida Community and discussions of the principles involved, seem to be the most worthy of note:—J. P. Warren, “Putney Perfectionism,” in The New Englander, vi. April, 1848, pp. 177–194. An excellent article. Hubbard Eastman, “Noyesism Unveiled: a History of the Sect Self-Styled Perfectionists; with a Summary View of their Leading Doctrines,” 1849. A good and informing book. William Hepworth Dixon, “New America,” ed. 4, 1857, ii. pp. 208–263; “Spiritual Wives,” 1868, ii. Brilliant and informing, but sensational and so far inexact. Goldwin Smith, “Essays on Questions of the Day, Political and Social,” ed. 2, 1894, pp. 361–384: “The Oneida Community and American Socialism,” reprinted from The Canadian Monthly of November, 1874, and included as an appendix. Charles Nordhoff, “The Communistic Societies of the United States, etc.,” 1875, pp. 257–301. Good account: a Bibliography, pp. 428–429. William Alfred Hinds, “American Communities,” 1878, pp. 117–140; superseded by revised edition enlarged, 1902, pp. 144–213. Hinds was a member of the Oneida Community from an early date and writes from its standpoint. The account in the first edition is negligible; that in the second is good and informing. Allan Estlake, “The Oneida Community. A Record of an Attempt to Carry out the Principles of Christian Unselfishness and Scientific Race-Improvement,” 1900. Estlake, like Hinds, was a member of the Community and writes from its standpoint; but his work is indefinitely less valuable than Hinds’s. Frederick A. Bushee, “Communistic Societies in the United States,” in The Political Science Quarterly for December, 1905. The brief biographical notices of Noyes in Appletons’ “Cyclopædia of American Biography, iv. p. 543, and “The National Cyclopædia of American Biography,” xi. p. 238, give an outline of his personal career: there are good brief accounts of the Community in “The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,” iii. p. 188, by W. H. Larrabee, and Hastings’s, “Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics,” iii. pp. 785 f., by R. Bruce Taylor. See also Otto Zöckler, in Herzog-Hauck, “Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche,” xv. p. 130; and W. Köhler in Schiele und Zscharnack, “Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart,” iv. p. 1356.