It is the 17th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1721.
Johann Sebastian Bach, as the director of music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, composed one of his most famous pieces. As Leopold and his realm were Calvinist, there was little room for musical adornment to the church services. And so Bach wrote other works for popular consumption. In 1721 he composed his "Six Concertos with Various Instruments." He dedicated the pieces to "His Royal Highness: Monseigneur Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg." These concertos would later take the name of the Margrave. Today we call them the "Brandenburg" concertos. However, Bach misunderstood His Royal Highnesses' actual title, which was not Margrave of Brandenburg but Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. However, the Brandenburg-Schwedt Concertos, or worse, the Schwedt Concertos, doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
In Britain, in 1721, the reign of the first foreign Hanoverian King, George I, coupled with an economic disaster with the South Sea Bubble, led to the rise of Robert Walpole in 1721 as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Walpole, who is considered one of the better British Prime Ministers, held the office for an unprecedented 20 years.
And once again, to make us all comfortable here in 2020, 1721 saw an outbreak of an infectious disease in Massachusetts. Smallpox (or variola) virus killed over 800, and a fierce debate took place over the viability of inoculation. We've mentioned this before. You might remember it was the Puritan Cotton Mather who argued vociferously for the use of advances in medical science.
And it was on this, the 17th of September in 1721, that one of the key figures of the 18th century regarding both the Great Awakening and Abolitionist movement was born. The theologian Samuel Hopkins was born in Connecticut and went on to study and work as an ordained congregationalist minister across New England. He was a friend and student of both Jonathan Edwards and Ezra Styles. Hopkins theology, which followed his mentor Edwards, was in line with the New Light theologians over against the Old Light theologians. Essentially, as the Great Awakening was spreading, many Puritan Congregationalists opposed the new theology and practice of some newer colonial ministers. The New Light theologians led by Edwards tended to be more open to the development and role of religious affections as well as socially more progressive. Samuel Hopkins was close to Edwards but lived and worked close to the Old Light theologian Ezra Styles. Despite the cordial relationship, they were portrayed as semi-fictional enemies in Harriet Beecher Stowe's "The Ministers Wooing."
Hopkins believed that the implications of the Gospel for the colonies included the emancipation of all slaves. Hopkins was perhaps the first congregational minister to make abolitionism an essential aspect of his work in the church. In 1776 he wrote, "A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans," in which he appealed to both the desired political freedom of the colonies and the Gospel by which he taught the equality of all people. In 1784 Hopkins led his congregation to vote to exclude any slaveholders from the congregation.
He had a reputation as a lousy preacher, and his abolitionist obsession and New Light tendencies were polarizing. "Hopkinism" became synonymous with New Light theology and abolitionism. Hopkins died, still an outspoken critic of slavery, in 1803. Born on this, the 17th of September, in 1721, Samuel Hopkins was 81 years old.
The reading for today comes from a contemporary of Hopkins. This is an excerpt from the poem "Slavery" by Hannah More. At the end of this poem, she, like Hopkins, ties the freedom of the Gospel with freedom from slavery.
And Thou! great source of Nature and of Grace,
Who of one blood didst form the human race,
Look down in mercy in thy chosen time,
With equal eye on Afric's suffering clime:
Disperse her shades of intellectual night,
Repeat thy high behest — Let there be light!
Bring each benighted soul, great God, to Thee,
And with thy wide Salvation make them free!
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who has composed his own "Schwedty" Concertos, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.