UU Minute #86

Universalism: James Relly to John Murray

In 18th-century Britain, Methodism originated as a revival movement within the Church of England. Among the itinerant preachers conducting revival meetings along with John Wesley and George Whitefield was one James Relly from Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Relly had decided to become a revival preacher when he was age 20, after hearing George Whitefield preach. But Relly’s theology began to drift away from Wesley and Whitefield. James Relly was finding his way to Universalism. He was increasingly captivated by the words of Romans 5:18:
“Therefore just as one man’s [i.e., Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s [i.e., Jesus’] act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
If all had sinned in Adam, then all were saved in Jesus. All.

That was the basic reasoning of Relly's book, Union: or A Treatise of Consanguinity and Affinity between Christ and His Church, published 1759. The book, reissued many times, made James Relly well known in both Britain and America. A sect of Rellyites emerged. One day a zealously anti-Rellyite young preacher named John Murray called upon a Rellyite disciple to convince her of her error. Much to Murray’s confusion, the woman confounded him with her logic. He found himself forced to yield more and more ground. Her name is lost to us, but through her effect on John Murray, she is a key figure in Universalist history.

John Murray and his wife went to hear James Relly preach. Murray would later write, “I was astonished to witness in so bad a man so much apparent devotion.”

Soon John Murray was a Rellyite and a Universalist.

NEXT: John Murray, part 1

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