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Tract Societies

society, religious, methodist, concern and church

TRACT SOCIETIES. The circulation of religious appeals in writing preceded the inven tion of printing and was used by Wyclif and other reformers at times and places when and where open preaching might have been too perilous. The printing-press made it possible to multiply such appeals and it was largely used for this purpose in the religious controversies of the 16th and 17th centuries. The 17th cen tury and the beginning of the 18th witnessed the organization of several societies within the Church of England for promoting Christian knowledge and "the dispersion both at home and abroad of Bibles and tracts of religion.* It was not, however, until 1750 that members of different Protestant denominations united in London to form the "Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge Among the Poor? This and other societies with a similar object circu lated many religious hooks and tracts. • In the United States the Methodist Book Concern, established in Philadelphia, issued its first publication in 1789, and removed to New York in 1804. In 1822 a bindery was estab lished and in 1824 a printing office was added. The division of the Methodist Church on the slavery issue led to the establishment of a separate hook concern at Nashville, Tenn., by the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The publications of the Book Concern are of three classes — first; the bound volumes, denomina tional papers and some pamphlets ; second, those of the Methodist Episcopal Sunday School Union, and third, those of the Methodist Epis copal Tract Society. The Concern has developed far beyond the "tract society,* being now a large religious publishing house. The salaries of bishops and other expenses of the Methodist Episcopal Church are paid out of the profits of tire Book Concern.

The American Tract Society was founded in the spring of 1825. In this society Christians of various Protestant denominations united to publish and circulate °whatever would best diffuse a knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ as the redeemer of sinners and promote the interests of vital godliness and sound the material circulated to be such as would re ceive the approbation of all evangelical Chris tians. The society established a system of colportage, gave wide circulation to tracts and sought to place Christian literature in every family. Periodicals were established for young and old and the- needs of the large foreign population were met by religious publications in their own languages. The society has contrib uted from its earnings nearly II,000,000 to assist missionaries abroad in printing books approved by the society. In donations and legacies the society has received over $7,000,000 and has expended that amount in its gratuitous work, besides printing and circulating over 800, 000,000 tracts, pamphlets, books and periodicals, many of which were sold. Among the nationali ties reached in their own languages by publica tions of the American Tract Society are the Swedish, Danish, French, Spanish, Dutch, Ital ian, Portuguese, Polish, Bohemian, Hebrew, German-Hebrew, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Fin nish, Welsh and Armenian. It has furnished religious reading matter to the American soldiers in large quantities. Besides the Ameri can Tract Society, every important denomina tion has an organization for the circulation of its denominational literature.