UU Minute #85

George de Benneville, part 2

After his last-minute reprieve from execution, George de Benneville, still just 20 years old, moved to Germany for the next 18 years, studying medicine along with doing preaching tours through Germany and Holland. Toward the end of this period of German residence, when he had been treating patients as a doctor for about a year, he himself fell very ill. In a high fever, he felt himself die, and his spirit depart from his body. He was escorted through heaven, and then purgatory. As he later wrote: "I took it so to heart that I believed my happiness would be incomplete while one creature remained miserable." One of his escorts assured him that all creatures would be restored to happiness without exception.

When he awoke, he was in a coffin, having been declared dead 42 hours before. He sat up to speak and flabbergasted mourners helped him out of the coffin. He returned to life with a renewed mission to preach "the universal and everlasting gospel of boundless, universal love for the entire human race."

The next year, 1741, when de Benneville was 38, he sailed for America to bring the universalist gospel to this country. De Benneville settled in Oley, Pennsylvania where he worked as a physician and apothecary, while also continuing his Universalist preaching. Thus he lived and worked -- married and raised a family -- for 52 more years, until his death in 1793 at age almost 90.

“Honor the ocean of love” became his signature slogan. Though he was not a settled minister or the founder of churches, George de Benneville is often called the first preacher of Universalism in America, and he was an important early influence on its development.

NEXT: Universalism: James Relly to John Murray

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