The Unitarians worship at Bowlalley Lane Chapel.
The Rev. J. M. Dixon is the Minister there, and as he cannot conveniently visit himself, or write an article upon his own chapel, we thought we would do it for him; because it does not seem fair that every minister in town should be visited and eulogised except himself.
It was very wet when we visited the church last Sunday evening, and that fact might partly account for the very miserably sparse congregation assembled within its walls. There were more pews than people, and in no pew did we observe two people together, every person was a whole and undivided unit, but that is not the reason these people are called Unitarian. We shall come to that by and by.
The manner in which the unitarian service is conducted does not differ much from that of most other dissenting bodies. Prayer books were plentifully scattered about, but they did not seem to be much used. The chapel is octagonal in shape like John O' Groat's House. A gallery may be said to run round seven sides of it, and on the eighth side are placed the organ and the minister's pulpit. Everything about the service seemed to indicate that the unitarians were a very orderly and contemplative body, and that they never give way to much religious enthusiasm.The choir consisted of three persons, two gentlemen and a young lady. The young lady had a very pure and sweet voice, and the hymns and chants were rendered in a very pleasing manner. The Rev. J. M. Dixon is a venerable looking grey bearded gentleman with a lofty forehead, and features indicating a mind of considerable culture, contemplation and benevolence. His style of addressing his congregation is calm, easy, singularly devoid of passion, and yet very forcible.
ln all his remarks during the reading of the scripture, and in the sermon also, he seemed to avoid all doctrinal discussion, and simply aimed at giving his people practical advice upon everyday matters. The tone of his discourse very much resembled the tone of our leading articles. He remarked, that the great moving infiuence of society in England, was a feverish pursuit of wealth. There was no God but money. Poverty was thought to be infamous. Nobody said so in so many words, but everybody acted so, and actions speak louder than words.
Even the clergy seemed as if they were principally engaged in a scramble for the best livings and the biggest salaries. We quite agree with Mr. Dixon, and like him we are doing our best to induce people to give up this mad race for wealth, and return to a love of the higher life, a love for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
The sermon was from the 10 chp. Proverbs 5 verse. Englishmen value all intellect and art by their money value, and not by their power to uplift and to bless. We lose the happiness of the now by our fever about tomorrow. There is a prevalent opinion that the man who gets rapidly rich, does not get rich honestly. In most cases this opinion is true, but there have been many noble examples to the contrary. A. T. Stewart of New York was one. He started in business in New York with a determination to be strictly upright in all his dealings. People soon found out that they had an honest man to deal with, and even rogues like to deal with honest men. Business increased and flourished, and A. T. Stewart died worth sixteen millions of dollars
The Unitarians have no creed or standard of faith. They all deny the Trinity, deny that the Supreme Being consists of three persons, each of whom is a separate object of worship. After this leading principle every unitarian seems to believe pretty much as he likes. One unitarian will not allow himself to be held responsible for the opinions of another. They first appeared in England shortly after the Reformation, and even Milton himself is said to have been almost of their belief. Their ideas made but little progress in England up to the commencement of the eighteenth century, when a good many presbyterians embraced their doctrines. They read the Bible as a book of high moral teaching, but deny the divinity of Jesus Christ.
ln their view he was the most perfect model of a man but his death was not a sacrifice offered in expiation for our sins, but the martyrdom of a first man in the cause of truth. In practice they make happiness consist in due performance of the duties of life, man is justified by his works and conscience alone. They maintain a belief in immortality, in a system of future rewards and punishments, and in universal restitution, "that not one soul will be destroyed, or cast as rubbish to the void, till God hath made the pile complete". Unitarianism therefore seems more a system of philosophy than of religion, it still however appears desirous to adhere to Christian forms.
A system of belief like this can never be expected to become popular. It is not strong enough for the popular mind. It appeals to a more cultivated intelligence than is found amongst the masses. A belief without a devil, and hell, and fire, and damnation loses all its stimulant. There is nothing to get excited over, and therefore we can never expect to see unitarianism prevalent amongst the masses of the people, at least not until there are great advances in their culture. Until then Mr. Dixon must be content to preach to a select few.
(This article has been copied from BELLMAN published in Hull on Saturday, November 20th 1880. I should like to express my thanks to George Watson for bringing this to my notice and loaning me a copy of the magazine. l was surprised by the poor attendance at Bowlalley Lane Chapel at this time as they were surely at the point of deciding to build the imposing new church on Park Street).
SUSAN RAETTIG (Archivist)
Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful