The Social Gospel Part 3 -- By: Alan H. Hamilton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 108:431 (Jul 1951)
Article: The Social Gospel Part 3
Author: Alan H. Hamilton


The Social Gospel
Part 3

Alan H. Hamilton

(Continued from the January-March Number, 1951)

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 44–49, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1–6 respectively.}

Development of the Social Gospel Movement

The social gospel movement is distinctly American. Its roots (as has been seen) lie deeply embedded in the past, and America’s past was Europe. But the peculiar combination of circumstances that finally resulted in this particular development within Protestantism was to be found only in America. It is exceedingly significant that what was to become the United States was settled by people motivated with an intense religious faith and a determination to build a political, economic and educational structure that would be harmonious with, and contributory to, that faith.

The Puritans had been familiar with a close relationship between church and state. Futhermore they were Calvinists, and Calvinism with its concept of the sovereignty of God properly extended the factor of religion to the least detail of life. As manifested in the Geneva of Calvin’s day his system of thought, carried to its logical extreme, was intensely social. It comprehended all of life, because all was included in the will of God. When moral obligations, for example, were not accepted voluntarily it became needful to force a recognition of the dignity of life upon the nonconformists, so that—in the words of Calvin—”they may have a sense of discretion in them and that they do not act like dogs and pigs.”

The tenets of Calvinism were afforded an almost unhampered application in the Puritan settlements of New England and, to some extent, in the Dutch of New York, the Baptist of Rhode Island, the Scotch-Irish of western Pennsylvania, the Episcopalian of Virginia and the Huguenot of the South. James Hayden Tufts is quite right in designating the supreme value which dominated the minds of the majority of Americans from that day a highly religious one:

“The answer to the question, what is more worth while? …would have naturally come in the phrase of the Westminster Assembly—’Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’“1 From the time of the first settlements onward to approximately 1760 Tufts believes that the religious or theological value predominated, lending its characteristic stamp to all of American life.

It was unavoidable that there should be those in the early colonies as well as in the later immigrations who were not motivated by the same high ideals as characterized t...

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