UU Minute #94

Caleb Rich

One Caleb Rich, born in Sutton, Massachusetts in 1750, was at first brought up Congregationalist. Later, his father became Baptist, and the family attended both churches.

Which religion – the Congregationalists or the Baptists – was the correct one? Which one would lead to salvation? Young Caleb had many discussions with friends and siblings about these questions. One day, a friend asked, simply, “How do we know either of them is right?”

This blew Caleb’s mind. That the Congregationalists and Baptists might both be wrong had never entered his head. Caleb Rich would later say:
“Never in my life had I heard anything from the lips of man that had such a deep and lasting impression on my mind.”
They could both be wrong. Any of us could be wrong. I could be wrong, realized Caleb.

As way leads on to way on the spiritual journey, Caleb Rich slowly found it less and less likely that God would send people to eternal damnation for having an incorrect opinion.

Caleb Rich found himself some years later in Warwick, Massachusetts, ministering a congregation and preaching Universalist ideas. Meanwhile, about 6 miles away, just over the state line in New Hampshire, on the Ballou farm, a teen-aged Hosea Ballou was himself beginning to wonder if it could really be true that God willed eternal damnation for most of the human race – as Hosea’s father believed.

Hosea scoured his Bible looking for confirmation. He found a number of passages that seemed to contradict what he’d been taught all his life – and none that said most of humanity was condemned to hell forever. Right about then, word started to drift over from Warwick that there was a minister there named Caleb Rich who was preaching a strange doctrine called Universalism.

NEXT: Hosea Ballou, part 2

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