GAY, EBENEZER (15 August 1696, Dedham, MA-18 March 1787, Hingham, MA). Education: A.B., Harvard College, 1714. Career: Minister, Hingham, MA. 1717-87.
Ebenezer Gay was an important early exponent of Arminianism, the eighteenth-century form of religious liberalism in America. He graduated from Harvard in 1714 and thereafter began ministry at the church in Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1717, where he remained until his death in 1787-a ministry of nearly seventy years. Gay was a close associate of Charles Chauncy and an opposer of the Great Awakening, but he was less inclined to engage in theological controversy than Chauncy. He advanced liberal ideas not by attacks on the old Calvinism, but simply by omitting any references in his preaching to key Calvinist doctrines such as election to grace and original sin. Gay was an important exponent of 'supernatural rationalism," a theology that insisted that the revealed religion of the Bible and the natural religion of rational speculation and scientific observation were in no sense incompatible. His Dudleian Lecture at Harvard in 1759, National Religion, as Distinguish'd from Revealed, set out the arguments for a religion derived from human reason and the evidences of nature. This religion was also commensurate with human moral capacity. Gay, with other eighteenth-century liberals such as Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew, helped lay the ground work for the liberalism of William Ellery Channing and his associates in the nineteenth century.
A. Natural Religion, as Distinguish'd from Revealed, Dudlcian Lecture (Boston. 1759).
B. AAUP, 1-7; DAB 7, 194-95; Heralds I, 1-19; Conrad Wright, The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America (Boston, 1955); James W. Jones, The Shattered Synthesis: New England Puritanism before the Great Awakening (New Haven. 1973); Robert J. Wilson Ill, The Benevolent Deity: Ebenezer Gay and the Rise of Rational Religion in New England, 1697-1787 (Philadelphia, 1984).