Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Relly, James
RELLY, JAMES (1722?–1778), universalist, was born at Jeffreston, Pembrokeshire, about 1722 and educated at the Pembroke grammar school. An ungovernable youth of great bodily strength, he was apprenticed to a cow-farrier. It is reported that he joined some young fellows who planned to make game of George Whitefield, but Whitefield's preaching at once laid hold of him. This must have been about 1741, the date of Whitefield's first preaching tour in Wales. He made Whitefield's acquaintance, and became one of his preachers, as also did his brother John. His first station was at Rhyddlangwraig, near Narberth, Pembrokeshire, where he remained a few years. In 1747 he reported to Whitefield the result of a missionary tour to Bristol, Bath, Gloucestershire, and Birmingham. He broke with Whitefield on doctrinal grounds; his views on the certainty of salvation being regarded as antinomian. For some time he seems to have travelled as a preacher on his own account. In 1756 we find him at Carrickfergus, delivering, in opposition to John Wesley, a ‘pointless harangue about hirelings and false prophets.’ On 2 April 1761 Wesley writes of him and others as ‘wretches’ who ‘call themselves methodists,’ being really antinomian.
About this time Relly definitely adopted universalism, which he viewed as a logical consequence of the universal efficacy of the death of Christ. He settled in London as a preacher at Coachmakers' Hall, Addle Street, Wood Street. In 1764 a chancery action was brought against him by a Yorkshire lady, who had given him a sum of money and executed a deed securing to him an annuity of 5l. It was alleged that Relly had fraudulently obtained these benefits while the grantor was in a state of religious frenzy. Under an order of the court the deed was cancelled and the money refunded. Shortly afterwards Relly removed to a meeting-house in Bartholomew Close (formerly presbyterian), which had just been vacated by Wesley. Here he remained till midsummer 1769, when the lease expired. He then secured (October 1769) a meeting-house in Crosby Square (formerly presbyterian), where he continued to preach till his death, but his cause did not thrive, and he had no immediate successor in this country [see Winchester, Elhanan]. He made a convert, however, in 1770, of John Murray, who was the founder of the universalist churches in America. Relly is said to have shown much natural ability and a generous disposition, under a rough manner. He died on 25 April 1778, and was interred in the baptist burial-ground, Maze Pond, Southwark; the inscription on his tombstone represents him as ‘aged 56 years.’ Two elegies were written by admirers. He left a widow and one daughter, who was living in 1808 and had issue. John Relly Beard [q. v.] was named after him, but was not a descendant. Relly's portrait was twice engraved.He published, besides single sermons: 1. ‘Remarks on … A Dialogue between a True … and an Erroneous Methodist,’ &c., 1751, 8vo. 2. ‘Salvation completed … in Christ, as the Covenant of the People,’ &c., 1753, 8vo; later edit. 1762, 4to. 3. ‘The Tryal of Spirits,’ &c., 1756, 8vo. 4. ‘Union; or a Treatise of the Consanguinity … between Christ and His Church,’ &c., 1759, 8vo; later edits. 1760, 8vo, 1761, 8vo. 5. ‘Anti-Christ resisted,’ &c., 1761, 8vo. 6. ‘The Salt of the Sacrifice, or … Christian Baptism,’ &c. , 8vo. 7. ‘The Sadducee Detected,’ &c., 1764, 8vo [see Coppin, Richard]. 8. ‘An Elegy on … Whitefield,’ &c., 1770, 8vo. 9. ‘Epistles, or the Great Salvation Contemplated,’ &c., 1776, 8vo. 10. ‘Thoughts on the Cherubimical Mystery,’ &c., 1780, 8vo. In conjunction with his brother John, he published a volume of original ‘Christian Hymns, Poems, and Spiritual Songs,’ &c., 1758, 8vo. He edited also a collection of hymns, 1792, 12mo, and left manuscripts enumerated by Wilson, including a drama, ‘Prince Llewellyn.’ Most of his works are still kept in print in America. [Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1808, i. 358 sq., 1810, iii. 184, 385; Marsden's Dictionary of Christian Churches , pp. 853 sq.; Tyerman's Life of Wesley, 1870, i. 536 sq., ii. 240, 400.]