Thomas Belsham (26 April 1750 –11 November 1829) was an English Unitarian minister
Belsham was born in Bedford, England, and was the elder brother of William Belsham, the English political writer and historian. He was educated at the dissenting academy at Daventry, where for seven years he acted as assistant tutor. After three years spent in a charge at Worcester, he returned as head of Daventry Academy, a post which he continued to hold till 1789, when, having adopted Unitarian principles, he resigned. With Joseph Priestley for colleague, he superintended during its brief existence the New College at Hackney, and was, on Priestley's departure in 1794, also called to the charge of the Gravel Pit congregation. In 1805, he accepted a call to the Essex Street Chapel,which was also headquarters and offices of the Unitarian Church under John Disney, there succeeding as minister Theophilus Lindsey who had retired and died three years later in 1808.
Belsham remained at Essex Street, in gradually failing health, until his death in Hampstead, on 11 November 1829.He was buried in Bunhill Fields burial ground, in the same tomb as Theophilus Lindsey. His joint executors were Thomas Field Gibson and his father.
Belsham's beliefs reflect that transition that the Unitarian movement was going through during his lifetime, particularly from the early Bible-fundamentalist views of earlier English Unitarians like Henry Hedworth (who introduced the word "Unitarian" into print in English from Dutch sources in 1673) and John Biddle, to the more Bible-critical positions of Priestley's generation. Belsham adopted critical ideas on the Pentateuch by 1807, the Gospels by 1819, and Genesis by 1821.Later, following Priestley, Belsham was to dismiss the virgin birth as "no more entitled to credit, than the fables of the Koran, or the reveries of Swedenborg." (1806)
Belsham's first work of importance, Review of Mr Wilberforces Treatise entitled Practical View (1798), was written after his conversion to Unitarianism. His most popular work was the Evidences of Christianity; the most important was his translation and exposition of the Epistles of St Paul (1822). He was also the author of a work on philosophy, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1801), which is entirely based on Hartley's psychology.
In 1812 Belsham published the Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A., his predecessor at Essex Street. This included a chapter titled "American Unitarianism" arguing that many American clergy entertained Unitarian views. The Calvinist minister Jedidiah Morse published the chapter separately, as part of his campaign against New England's liberal ministers—contributing to "the Unitarian Controversy" (1815) that eventually produced permanent schism among New England's Congregationalist churches.
His main Christological work was A Calm Inquiry into the Scripture Doctrine concerning the Person of Christ (1817).
Belsham was one of the most vigorous and able writers of his church, and the Quarterly Review and Gentlemans Magazine of the early years of the 19th century abound in evidences that his abilities were recognized by his opponents.
[Thomas Belsham et al.,] The New Testament, An improved version upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome's new translation with a corrected text and notes critical and explanatory. London: Richard Taylor & Co., 1808. Boston 1809.
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one entity, as opposed to the Trinity which in most other branches of Christianity defines God as one being in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. As is typical of dissenters, Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both existing and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God. Unitarian communities have developed in Britain, South Africa, India, Canada, the United States, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Japan.
Theophilus Lindsey was an English theologian and clergyman who founded the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in the country, at Essex Street Chapel.
Biblical Unitarianism encompasses the key doctrines of Nontrinitarian Christians who affirm the Bible as their sole authority, and from it base their beliefs that God the Father is a singular being, the only one God, and that Jesus Christ is God’s son, but not divine. The term "biblical Unitarianism" is connected first with Robert Spears and Samuel Sharpe of the Christian Life magazine in the 1880s. It is a neologism that gained increasing currency in nontrinitarian literature during the 20th century as the mainstream Unitarian churches moved away from belief in the Bible and, in the United States, towards merger with Universalism. It has been used since the late 19th century by conservative Christian Unitarians, and sometimes by historians, to refer to Scripture-fundamentalist Unitarians of the 16th–18th centuries. Its use is problematic in that Unitarians from the 17th to the 20th centuries all had attachment to the Bible, but in differing ways.
Unitarianism, as a Christian denominational family of churches, was first defined in Poland-Lithuania and Transylvania in the late 16th century. It was then further developed in England and America until the early 19th century, although theological ancestors are to be found as far back as the early days of Christianity. It matured and reached its classical form in the middle 19th century. Later historical development has been diverse in different countries.
John Simpson (1746–1812) was an English Unitarian minister and religious writer, known as a biblical critic. Some of his essays were very well known in the nineteenth century. Simpson was also known for his rejection of the literal existence of the devil, following on from writers like Arthur Ashley Sykes.
William Newcome was an Englishman and cleric of the Church of Ireland who was appointed to the bishoprics of Dromore (1766–1775), Ossory (1775–1779), Waterford and Lismore (1779–1795), and lastly to the Primatial See of Armagh (1795–1800).
John Disney (1746–1816) was an English Unitarian minister and biographical writer, initially an Anglican clergyman active against subscription to the Thirty Nine Articles.
John Lee, KC, was an English lawyer, politician, and law officer of the Crown. He assisted in the early days of Unitarianism in England.
Robert Spears was a British Unitarian minister who was editor of the confessedly "Biblical Unitarian" Christian Life weekly.
Richard Wright was an English Unitarian minister, and the itinerant missionary of the Unitarian Fund, a missionary society established in 1806.
The British and Foreign Unitarian Association was the major Unitarian body in Britain from 1825. The BFUA was founded as an amalgamation of three older societies: the Unitarian Book Society for literature (1791), The Unitarian Fund for mission work (1806), and the Unitarian Association for civil rights. Its offices were shared with the Sunday School Association at Essex Street, on the site of England's first Unitarian church. In 1928 the BFUA became part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, still the umbrella organisation for British Unitarianism, which has its headquarters, Essex Hall, in the same place in central London.
Essex Street Chapel, also known as Essex Church, is a Unitarian place of worship in London. It was the first church in England set up with this doctrine, and was established when Dissenters still faced legal threat. As the birthplace of British Unitarianism, Essex Street has particularly been associated with social reformers and theologians. The congregation moved west in the 19th century, allowing the building to be turned into the headquarters for the British and Foreign Unitarian Association and the Sunday School Association. These evolved into the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella organisation for British Unitarianism, which is still based on the same site, in an office building called Essex Hall. This article deals with the buildings, the history, and the current church, based in Kensington.
William Sturch (1753?–1838) was an English Unitarian theological writer.
Newcome Cappe, was an English unitarian divine. He served as the pastor of the York Unitarian Chapel, located in York, England. Cappe published various sermons and after his death his second wife, Catharine Cappe published many more.
Eliezer Cogan (1762–1855), was an English scholar and divine.
Henry Moore (1732–1802) was an English Unitarian minister and hymn-writer.
Edmund Butcher was an English Unitarian minister.
Israel Worsley (1768−1836) was an English Unitarian minister.
Elizabeth Rayner or Raynor, née Collier (1714–1800) was a British Unitarian benefactress.
John Kentish was an English Unitarian minister.