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COMPREHENDING THE SUBSTANCE OF SEVERAL REAL CONVERSATIONS WHICH THE AUTHOR HAD
FULLY TO STATE, AND FAIRLY TO ANSWER THE MOST COMMON OBJECTIONS THAT ARE BROUGHT
BY ELHANAN WINCHESTER.
GIHON, FAIRCHILD & Co.,
MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR,
REV. ELHANAN WINCHESTER, was born at Brookline, Mass., in 1751. He early evinced a contemplative mind, and, being of an awkward appearance, shunned the society peculiar to youth, and devoted his leisure moments to the acquirement of useful knowledge. At the age of five he was considered a good reader; and his taste for reading, together with the rapidity with which he prosecuted his studies, was soon observed by his associates and friends. Books of all kinds which fell in his way were read with avidity; but the Bible was his chief favourite. With its pages he was so familiar, that he was looked upon as a prodigy, for his knowledge of the Scriptures, and strength of memory.
When in his nineteenth year, he underwent what is called by the new lights and orthodox, "conviction and conversion," and soon after commenced preaching, without being received into the church after the usual form. On hearing of a revival in Canterbury, Con., he immediately visited that place, and was baptized by Elder Ebenezer Lyon, and admitted into the Free Will Baptist Church, of which Elder Lyon was pastor. In 1771 he removed to Rehoboth, Mass., and spent the year in its vicinity. His youth, memory, eloquence, and zeal, together with his singular dress and appearance, drew multitudes to his meetings. A revival followed, and a church was soon gathered, over which he was ordained by Elder Lyon. In the course of a short season, he renounced his Arminian sentiments, embraced the system of divinity advocated by Dr. Gill, and became one of the most thorough Calvinists in the country.
In 1772, at the request of his friends, he removed to Grafton, where he preached through the summer. In 1773 he removed to Hull, nine miles east of Boston. In the Autumn of 1774, he started on a journey to the Southern States. On arriving in Charleston, S. C., he soon received an invitation to settle with the Baptist Church at Welsh Neck, on the Great Pee Dee River, sixty miles from Georgetown, which he accepted, and returned to Grafton, Mass., for his family. In October of the next year, he returned with his family as far as Fairfax county, Va., where he was obliged to leave Mrs. W. on account of her ill health. He, however, proceeded on to the place of destination, where he spent the winter. In the Spring he returned for his lady, whom he had left in the charge of a friend, and learned on his arrival, that she was in her grave.
Instead of returning to the South, as he had designed, he came to Boston, and supplied for Dr. Stillman, at the first Baptist church, during the summer. Soon after this he was married to Miss Sarah Peck, of Rehoboth, Mass., and immediately returned to Welsh
Neck. A revival followed; Mrs. W. was among the number converted, and soon after sickened and died. Mr. W. was also brought to the side of the grave by sickness, but recovered. In 1778 he was married to Sally Luke, his third wife, for whom he cherished a great affection.
His attention was called to the subject of Universalism in this year, by reading Paul Seigvolk's works, entitled "The Everlasting Gospel," but was not fully converted. The arguments which he there saw, would occasionally arrest his attention, and disposed him to propose them to others, which, to his surprise, they could not answer. On mentioning the subject to another clergyman, he was in formed that the doctrine had been controverted in Virginia, but that the daring individual who had preached it was suddenly "cut off from the earth."
During this year he was made to drink deeply of the cup of sorrow, of which he had twice before partook. His third wife died. He was now more zealously engaged than ever, in preaching, and laboured among the slaves with great success, and very soon outgrew his Calvinistic principles, and preached a free salvation. In 1779 he visited New England, preaching on his way in many of the towns through which he passed, half inclined to Universalism, though considering himself its enemy. On the 7th of October, of this year, he arrived in Philadelphia, and commenced preaching to the Baptist church in that city, by their particular request. So great was the excitement produced by his labours, that the house could not contain the people; therefore the largest house in the city was procured, and was immediately filled to overflowing-the clergy of all denominations comprising a part of his congregations. Though all appeared satisfied with his labours, his own mind was not at rest. The subject of Universal Salvation continued to agitate his thoughts; and he found no quietude, until, by a candid and prayerful examination of the Bible, he became fully satisfied, that "God will have all men to be saved," and that "he doeth according to his will, in heaven and earth."
His change of opinion was soon noised abroad, and produced a great disaffection in many of his former friends. One minister, in particular, met him in the street and parted with him in these words: "If you embrace this sentiment, I shall no longer own you for a brother." And he was true to his word.
In 1781," on the first Sunday of April, Mr. Winchester was to preach at Germantown, about eight miles from Philadelphia, among the German Baptists, who hold the doctrine of Universal Restoration. As he was leaving the city on Saturday, he found that a number
cated his new sentiments. After preaching four years in this place, a hall was obtained, where he afterwards preached, located on the spot now covered by the Lombard Street Church; and subsequently the house now improved by the First Uuiversalist Society, was erected.
In July, 1794, he again arrived in America. During this and the succeeding year, he travelled in almost all parts of the country, labouring under a broken constitution, and an increasing asthma, which foretold a fatal termination.
of eminent ministers had just arrived from the country, on the private request of some of his opposers, to hold a public dispute with him. Giving them the liberty of his pulpit for the next day, he departed for the place of his appointment. During his absence, a report was industriously circulated, that he had fled to avoid an interview; and on Monday, when At Philadelphia, he resided in the house he returned, the delay occasioned by a funeral owned by his fourth wife, to whom he was that he was called to attend, encouraged his married in 1781, and whom he buried in less opposers, till they began to deceive them- than two years afterwards, “making him, at selves with that falsehood they had imposed the age of thirty-two, four times a widower." on others. The multitude was assembled in In 1784 he visited South Carolina, and was the meeting-house, impatiently waiting for the married to his fifth wife, "a desperate fury, dispute; his opposers were reproaching his whom he loved with a doting fondness." În friends with his flight, and clamourously vaunt- 1787 he visited England, very much to the suring over them, when Winchester entered with prise, and against the will of his New England a serene countenance, and took his seat. A friends, and there remained, preaching in sudden change came over the assembly; his various places for the space of six years and friends were relieved from their anxiety, and a half. While there he wrote and published they who had boasted so much in his absence, his Dialogues on the Universal Restorafeared to encounter him when present. His tion," his "Lectures on the Prophecies," and astonishing memory, which had already trea- Five Letters in Reply to Rev. Daniel sured up much of the Scriptures, was well Taylor's Sermon on Endless Misery." known, and his talents as a public speaker undoubted. The vote of the assembly was then read, by which the Rev. Mr. Boggs had been selected to dispute with Mr. Winchester. Mr. Boggs then arose, and thus addressed the people: "I am not prepared to dispute with Mr. Winchester. I have heard that he says it would take six weeks to canvass all the arguments fairly on both sides; and 1 suppose that he has been studying on the subject for a week or more, and I have not studied at all." Discovering that there was to be no debate, Mr. Winchester then begged the privilege of explaining and defending his own sentiments, for two hours, and finally for only one hour; but, as might have been anticipated, they who dared not meet him on equal ground, dared not allow him to exhibit his strength; his request was wholly refused. They felt, however, the necessity of providing some business worthy of the great preparations that had been made; and accordingly, when one of the ministers rose and said that their business was not to debate with Mr. Winchester, but to ask him whether he believed that bad men and angels would finally be restored; the rest immediately agreed, and insisted that the question should be put to him. "Do you believe in Universal Restoration?" Mr. Winchester's friends objected to his answering the question, unless he had leave to vindicate his sentiments; but he rose, and observing that he feared no use which could be made of his words, told them plainly, that he did believe the doctrine of Universal Restoration, and was willing to defend it. After some conversation, the ministers advised the church to obtain another pastor; and the matter was so managed, that though Mr. Winchester's adherents were at first.a majority of the society, the scale was soon turned against them, and they excluded him from the meeting house.
On the 22nd of April, he delivered a sermon in the hall of the Pennsylvania University, in which he, for the first time, publicly advo
In October, 1796, he made his first appearance in Hartford, Con., at the grave of a young man. The people were assembled around the grave, when they were surprised at the voice of a stranger, who, unasked, had taken the freedom to address them on the occasion. His language and manner were very affecting, and excited a general wish to hear him again. Accordingly, he gave one or two lectures during the week, and preached the next Sunday in the theatre. A respectable congregation was soon gathered, among which were some gentlemen of influence.
Thus he continued preaching, till about the 1st of April, 1797, when he delivered a sermon, under a strong impression that it was his last, from St. Paul's farewell address to the elders of the Ephesian Church. He never entered his desk again. His death was fast approaching, and he contemplated it with serenity and joy. On the morning of his decease, he requested two or three young ladies, who were sitting by him, to join in singing a hymn, observing at the same time, that he might expire before it should be finished. He began with them, but his voice soon faltered, and the torpor of death fell upon him. They were disconcerted and paused; but he reviving, encouraged them to proceed, and joined in the first line of each stanza, till he breathed no more. This was on the 18th of April, 1797, in the 47th year of his age.
His funeral was attended on the 21st, by a numerous concourse of afflicted friends and sympathizing spectators. The Rev. Dr. Strong preached the sermon from Heb. ix. 27, in which, though an opposer of his sentiments, he gave Mr. Winchester an excellent character, and bore a frank testimony to his final constancy in the doctrine which he had preached.