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John Murray and the Rock

After John Murray first preached Universalism in Thomas Potter’s meeting house in 1770, he went on to preach Universalism throughout the American colonies. He traveled for many miles telling crowds of people what he believed: that God was love, and that all people would go to heaven when they died.

In 1773, John Murray took a long trip through the colonies to preach Universalism. He went as far south as Maryland. He traveled through Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and all the north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, preaching the whole way. He’d stop in a city where he knew some people, find a place where he could preach, and then get lots of people to come hear him. But it wasn’t easy. There were many people who thought John Murray should not be allowed to preach Universalism. Sometimes people would try to interrupt him while he spoke. Sometimes someone might even try to throw him out of the building where he was speaking.

From New Hampshire he returned southwards to Boston. After so many months traveling, he decided to stay in Boston for a while. He began preaching in a church in School Street in Boston. The proprietors of the church, the lay leaders, had invited John Murray to preach there. But the minister, a man named Andrew Croswell, did not like John Murray, and did not like Universalism.
In November, John Murray began preaching Universalism in the School Street church. He preached one Sunday evening, and then he preached again on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening, someone threw water all over the audience who had gathered to hear him, and someone else threw an egg at John Murray (which didn’t hit). John Murray knew that Mr. Croswell had arranged for the water, and the egg. The very next day, Mr. Croswell wrote a nasty letter to the newspaper about John Murray. That was the last straw.

John Murray challenged Mr. Croswell to a debate the next Sunday evening. No more of this secret plotting by Mr. Croswell. The two of them would argue in public about whether or not Universalism was true.

The debate started, and a big crowd came out to hear them. Mr. Croswell said many nasty things to John Murray. At last Mr. Croswell demanded that John Murray prove the truth of Universalism. John Murray started a long explanation of how he proved that Universalism was true. But while John Murray was trying to explain Universalism, Mr. Croswell was kicking his legs, or pulling on his coat, or butting at him as hard as he could with his shoulder and saying over and over again, "Have done, have done; you have said enough; quite enough." The congregation noticed how rude Mr. Croswell was being, and they did not like it. Soon the debate ended, but Mr. Croswell remained just as nasty as ever.

At the next Sunday evening lecture on Universalism, a huge crowd had gathered in the School Street church. John Murray had a hard time pushing his way through the crowd to get to the pulpit. When he got there, he was almost overwhelmed by a terrible stench. Someone had sprinkled asafoetida, an extremely smelly herb, all over the pulpit. The smell was so bad that for a moment John Murray thought he would not be able to give his lecture. But he managed to recover, and began to speak.

As he began to speak, some of his enemies started to throw stones through the windows of the church. No one was injured, although everyone was so alarmed that it was almost impossible for the lecture to continue. Then someone threw a large rugged stone, weighing about a pound and a half, into the window behind John Muarry's back. It missed him; if it had hit him, it surely would have killed him. He bent down and picked up the rock, and showed it to the people who had gathered to hear him speak.

“This argument,” he said, waving the rock so everyone could see it, “is solid and weighty, but it is neither rational nor convincing.”

When the people in the church saw the rock, they urged him to give up.

“Pray leave the pulpit,” someone called out. “Your life is in danger!”

“That may be so,” said John Murray. “But not all the stones in Boston shall shut my mouth, or stop me from testifying what I believe to be true.”

And he did continue to preach the truth as he understood it, the truth of Universalism, for the rest of his life. He preached that love was the most powerful force in the universe, and that God was love;— and for saying that in public, he was threatened again and again with violence. In spite of the threats, he continued to speak what he knew to be true.

A few years later, he helped to found a Universalist church in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He married a woman named Judith Sargent. Both of them worked hard to make the new Universalist church a success. And it was successful; it was so successful that it still exists today, and it is still a Unitarian Universalist church.


Source: The Life of Rev. John Murray, by John Murray, ed. by Judith Sargent Murray.