William Henry Furness, 1802 - 1896

William Henry Furness was a Unitarian clergyman, theologian, reformer, scholar, and author whose contributions to American Transcendentalism grew out of his passion for the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, his belief in the naturalness of the biblical miracles, and his faith in the power of intuition.  After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 1823, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he served as the pastor of the Unitarian Church from 1825 to 1875.  He early placed himself at the forefront of the Transcendentalist revolt with his controversial Remarks on the Four Gospels (1836).  In this book he argued against the traditional Unitarian position that the miracles of Jesus were stupendous supernatural productions necessary as proofs of the teachings contained in the Gospels.  Furness--though he did not deny the miracles--contended that they were by no means required as evidence of the truth of Christianity.  With support from Amos Bronson Alcott, George Ripley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Christopher Cranch, Convers Francis, and James Freeman Clarke, he maintained that, to the contrary, Christianity could stand very well on its own two feet without appeal to external "evidences"--as the true teaching of God is internal, unconditional, located deep within the human soul, and knowable directly by intuition.  Furness wrote numerous books and articles in which he demonstrated the humanity of Jesus and explained Christianity by natural rather than supernatural phenomena, and, in collaboration with Frederic Henry Hedge, he translated the prose and poetry of several major German writers.