Charles J. Abbey and John H. Overton
Although this edition has been shortened to about half the length of the original one, it is essentially the same work. The reduction has been effected, partly by the omission of some whole chapters, partly by excisions. The chapters omitted are those upon the Jacobites, the Essayists, Church Cries, and Sacred Poetry—subjects which have only a more or less incidental bearing on the Church history of the period. The passages excised are, for the most part, quotations, discursive reflections, explanatory notes, occasional repetitions, and, speaking generally, whatever could be removed without injury to the general purpose of the narrative. There has been no attempt at abridgment in any other form.
The authors are indebted to their reviewers for many kind remarks and much careful criticism. They have endeavoured to correct all errors which have been thus pointed out to them.
As the nature of this work has sometimes been a little misapprehended, it
should be added that its authors at no time intended it to be a regular
history. When they first mapped out their respective shares in the joint
undertaking, their design had been to write a number of short essays relating
to many different features in the religion and Church history of
Some years have elapsed since the authors of this work first entertained the
idea of writing upon certain aspects of religious life and thought in the
Eighteenth Century. If the ground is no longer so unoccupied as it was then, it
appears to them that there is still abundant room for the book which they now
lay before the public. Their main subject is expressly the
They desire to be responsible each for his own opinions only, and therefore the initials of the writer are attached to each chapter he has written.
The claim which the intellectual and religious life of
In the following chapters there will be only too frequent occasion to refer
to a somewhat corresponding state of things in the religious life of the
country. For two full centuries the land had laboured under the throes of the
Reformation. Even when William III. died, it could scarcely be said that
It will not, however, be forgotten that twice in successive generations the
Church of England had been deprived, through misfortune or through folly, of
some of her best men. She had suffered on either hand. By the ejection of 1602,
through a too stringent enforcement of the new Act of Uniformity, she had lost
the services of some of the most devoted of her Puritan sons, men whose views
were in many cases no way distinguishable from those which had been held
without rebuke by some of the most honoured bishops of
But this listlessness in most branches of practical religion must partly be attributed to a cause which gives the history of religious thought in the eighteenth century its principal importance. In proportion as the Church Constitution approached its final settlement, and as the controversies, which from the beginning of the Reformation had been unceasingly under dispute, gradually wore themselves out, new questions came forward, far more profound and fundamental, and far more important in their speculative and practical bearings, than those which had attracted so much notice and stirred so much excitement during the two preceding centuries. The existence of God was scarcely called into question by the boldest doubters; or such doubts, if they found place at all, were expressed only under the most covert implications. But, short of this, all the mysteries of religion were scrutinized; all the deep and hidden things of faith were brought in question, and submitted to the test of reason. Is there such a thing as a revelation from God to men of Himself and of His will? If so, what is its nature, its purposes, its limits? What are the attributes of God? What is the meaning of life? What is man's hereafter? Does a divine spirit work in man? and if it does, what are its operations, and how are they distinguishable? What is spirit? and what is matter? What does faith rest upon? What is to be said of inspiration, and authority, and the essential attributes of a church? These, and other questions of the most essential religious importance, as the nature and signification of the doctrines of the Trinity, of the Incarnation of Christ, of Redemption, of Atonement, discussions as to the relations between faith and morals, and on the old, inevitable enigmas of necessity and liberty, all more or less entered into that mixed whirl of earnest inquiry and flippant scepticism which is summed up under the general name of the Deistic Controversy. For it is not hard to see how intimately the secondary controversies of the time were connected with that main and central one, which not only engrossed so much attention on the part of theologians and students, but became a subject of too general conversation in every coffee-house and place of public resort.
In mental, as well as in physical science, it seems to be a law that force cannot be expended in one direction without some corresponding relaxation of it in another. And thus the disproportionate energies which were diverted to the intellectual side of religion were exercised at some cost to its practical part. Bishops were writing in their libraries, when otherwise they might have been travelling round their dioceses. Men were pondering over abstract questions of faith and morality, who else might have been engaged in planning or carrying out plans for the more active propagation of the faith, or a more general improvement in popular morals. The defenders of Christianity were searching out evidences, and battling with deistical objections, while they slackened in their fight against the more palpable assaults of the world and the flesh. Pulpits sounded with theological arguments where admonitions were urgently needed. Above all, reason was called to decide upon questions before which man's reason stands impotent; and imagination and emotion, those great auxiliaries to all deep religious feeling, were bid to stand rebuked in her presence, as hinderers of the rational faculty, and upstart pretenders to rights which were not theirs. 'Enthusiasm' was frowned down, and no small part of the light and fire of religion fell with it.
Yet an age in which great questions were handled by great men could not be
either an unfruitful or an uninteresting one. It might be unfruitful, in the
sense of reaping no great harvest of results;
and it might be uninteresting, in respect of not having much to show upon the
surface, and exhibiting no great variety of active life. But much good fruit
for the future was being developed and matured; and no one, who cares to see
how the present grows out of the past, will readily allow that the religious
thought and the religious action of the eighteenth century are deficient in
interest to our times. Our debt is greater than many are inclined to
acknowledge. People see clearly that the Church of that age was, in many
respects, in an undoubtedly unsatisfactory condition, sleepy and full of
abuses, and are sometimes apt to think that the Evangelical revival (the
expression being used in its widest sense) was the one redeeming feature of it.
And as in theological and ecclesiastical thought, in philosophy, in art, in
poetry, the general tendency has been reactionary, the students and writers of
the eighteenth century have in many respects scarcely received their due share
of appreciation. Moreover, negative results make little display. There is not
much to show for the earnest toil that has very likely been spent in arriving
at them; and a great deal of the intellectual labour of the last century was of
this kind. Reason had been more completely emancipated at the Reformation than
it was at first at all aware of. Men who were engaged in battling against
certain definite abuses, and certain specified errors, scarcely discovered at
first, nor indeed for long afterwards, that they were in reality contending
also for principles which would affect for the future the whole groundwork of
religious conviction. They were not yet in a position to see that henceforward
authority could take only a secondary place, and that they were installing in its
room either reason or a more subtle spiritual faculty superior even to reason
in the perception of spiritual things. It was not until near the end of the
seventeenth century that the mind began to awaken to a full perception of the
freedom it had won—a freedom far more complete in principle than was as
yet allowed in practice. In the eighteenth century this fundamental postulate
of the Reformation became for the first time a prominent, and, to many minds,
an absorbing subject of inquiry. For the first time it was no longer disguised
from sight by the incidental interest of its side issues. The assertors of the
supremacy of reason were at first arrogantly, or even insolently,
self-confident, as those who were secure of carrying all before them.
Gradually, the wiser of them began to feel that their ambition must be largely
moderated, and that they must be content with far more negative results than
they had at first imagined. The question came to be, what is reason unable to
do? What are its limits? and how is it to be supplemented? An immensity of
learning, and of arguments good and bad, was lavished
on either side in the controversy between the deists and the orthodox. In the
end, it may perhaps be said that two axioms were established, which may sound
in our own day like commonplaces, but which were certainly very insufficiently
realised when the controversy began. It was seen on the one hand that reason
was free, and that on the other it was encompassed by limitations against which
it strives in vain. The Deists lost the day. Their objections to revelation
fell through; and Christianity rose again, strengthened rather than weakened by
their attack. Yet they had not laboured in vain, if success may be measured,
not by the gaining of an immediate purpose, but by solid good effected, however
contrary in kind to the object proposed. So far as a man works with a
single-hearted desire to win truth, he should rejoice if his very errors are
made, in the hands of an overruling
The Evangelical revival, both that which is chiefly connected with the name of the Wesleys and of Whitefield, and that which was carried on more exclusively within the Church of England, closely corresponded in many of its details to what had often occurred before in the history of the Christian Church. But it had also a special connection with the controversies which preceded it. When minds had become tranquillised through the subsidence of discussions which had threatened to overthrow their faith, they were the more prepared to listen with attention and respect to the stirring calls of the Evangelical preacher. The very sense of weariness, now that long controversy had at last come to its termination, tended to give a more entirely practical form to the new religious movement. And although many of its leaders were men who had not come to their prime till the Deistical controversy was almost over, and who would probably have viewed the strife, if it had still been raging, with scarcely any other feeling than one of alarmed concern, this was at all events not the case with John Wesley. There are tolerably clear signs that it had materially modified the character of his opinions. The train of thought which produced the younger Dodwell's 'Christianity not Founded upon Argument'—a book of which people scarcely knew, when it appeared, whether it was a serious blow to the Deist cause, or a formidable assistance to it—considerably influenced Wesley's mind, as it also did that of William Law and his followers. He entirely repudiated the mysticism which at one time had begun to attract him; but, like the German pietists, who were in some sense the religious complement of Rationalism, he never ceased to be comparatively indifferent to orthodoxy, so long as the man had the witness of the Spirit proving itself in works of faith. In whatever age of the Church Wesley had lived, he would have been no doubt an active agent in the holy work of evangelisation. But opposed as he was to prevailing influences, he was yet a man of his time. We can hardly fancy the John Wesley whom we know living in any other century than his own. Spending the most plastic, perhaps also the most reflective period of his life in a chief centre of theological activity, he was not unimpressed by the storm of argument which was at that time going on around him. It was uncongenial to his temper, but it did not fail to leave upon him its lasting mark.
The Deistical and other theological controversies of the earlier half of the century, and the Wesleyan and Evangelical revival in its latter half, are quite sufficient in themselves to make the Church history of the period exceedingly important. They are beyond doubt its principal and leading events. But there was much more besides in the religious life of the country that is well worthy of note. The Revolution which had so lately preceded the opening of the century, and the far more pregnant and eventful Revolution which convulsed Europe at its close, had both of them many bearings, though of course in very different ways, upon the development of religious and ecclesiastical thought in this country. One of the first and principal effects of the change of dynasty in 1688 had been to give an immense impetus to Protestant feeling. This was something altogether different in kind from the Puritanism which had entered so largely into all the earlier history of that century. It was hardly a theological movement; neither was it one that bore primarily and directly upon personal religion. It was, so to say, a strategical movement of self defence. The aggression of James II. upon the Constitution had not excited half the anger and alarm which had been caused by his attempts to reintroduce Popery. And now that the exiled King had found a refuge in the court of the monarch who was not only regarded as the hereditary enemy of England, but was recognised throughout Europe as the great champion of the Roman Catholic cause, religion, pride, interest, and fear combined to make all parties in England stand by their common Protestantism. Not only was England prime leader in the struggle against Papal dominion; but Churchmen of all views, the great bulk of the Nonconformists, and all the reformed Churches abroad, agreed in thinking of the English Church as the chief bulwark of the Protestant interest.
Projects of comprehension had ended in failure before the eighteenth century
opened. But they were still fresh in memory, and men who had taken great
interest in them were still living, and holding places of honour. For years to
come there were many who greatly regretted that the scheme of 1689 had not been
carried out, and whose minds constantly recurred to the possibility of another
opportunity coming about in their time. Such ideas, though they scarcely took
any practical form, cannot be left out of account in the Church history of the
period. In the midst of all that strife of parties which characterised Queen
Anne's reign, a longing desire for Church unity was by no means absent. Only
these aspirations had taken by this time a somewhat altered form. The history
of the English Constitution has ever been marked by alternations, in which
Conservatism and attachment to established authority have sometimes been
altogether predominant, at other times a resolute, even passionate contention
for the security and increase of liberty. In Queen Anne's reign a reaction of
the former kind set in, not indeed by any means universal, but sufficient to
contrast very strongly with the period which had preceded it. One of the
symptoms of it was a very decided current of popular feeling in favour of the
Church. People began to think it possible, or even probable, that with the
existing generation of Dissenters English Nonconformity would so nearly end, as
to be no longer a power that would have to be taken into any practical account.
Concession, therefore, to the scruples of 'weak brethren' seemed to be no
longer needful; and if alterations were not really called for, evidently they would be only useless and unsettling. In
this reign, therefore, aspirations after unity chiefly took the form of
friendly overtures between Church dignitaries in
To return to the beginning of the period under review. 'Divine right,' 'Passive obedience,' 'Non-resistance,' are phrases which long ago have lost life, and which sound over the gulf of time like faint and shadowy echoes of controversies which belong to an already distant past. Even in the middle of the century it must have been difficult to realise the vehemence with which the semi-religious, semi-political, doctrines contained in those terms had been disputed and maintained in the generation preceding. Yet round those doctrines, in defence or in opposition, some of the best and most honourable principles of human nature used to be gathered—a high-minded love of liberty on the one hand, a no less lofty spirit of self-sacrifice and loyalty on the other.
The open or half-concealed Jacobitism which, for many years after the
Revolution, prevailed in perhaps the majority of eighteenth-century parsonages
could scarcely fail of influencing the English Church at large, both in its
general action, and in its relation to the
State. This influence was in many respects a very mischievous one. In country
parishes, and still more so in the universities, it fostered an unquiet
political spirit which was prejudicial both to steady pastoral work and to the
advancement of sound learning. It also greatly disturbed the internal unity of
the Church, and that in a manner peculiarly prejudicial to its well-being.
Strong doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences within a Church may do much
more good in stirring a wholesome spirit of emulation, and in keeping thought
alive and preventing a Church from narrowing into a sect, than they do harm by
creating a spirit of division. But the semi-political element which infused its
bitterness into Church parties during the first half of the eighteenth century,
had no such merit. It did nothing to promote either practical activity or
theological inquiry. Under its influence High and
More than this, Jacobitism brought the
The public relations of civil society towards religion attracted in the eighteenth century—especially in the earlier part of it—very universal attention. Of the various questions that come under this head, there was none of such practical and immediate importance as that which was concerned with the toleration of religious differences. The Toleration Act had been carried amid general approval. There had been little enthusiasm about it, but also very little opposition. Though it fell far short of what would now be understood by tolerance, it was fully up to the level of the times. It fairly expressed what was thoroughly the case; that the spirit of intolerance had very much decreased, and that a feeling in favour of religious liberty was decidedly gaining ground. Meanwhile, in King William's reign, and still more so in that of his successor, there was a very strongly marked contention and perplexity of feeling as to what was really meant by toleration, and where its limits were to be fixed. Everybody professed to be in favour of it, so long as it was interpreted according to his own rule. The principle was granted, but there were few who had any clear idea as to the grounds upon which they granted it, and still fewer who did not think it was a principle to be carefully fenced round with limitations. The Act of Toleration had been itself based in great measure upon mere temporary considerations, there being a very strong wish to consolidate the Protestant interest against Papal aggression. Its benefits were strictly confined to the orthodox Protestant dissenters; and even they were left under many oppressive disabilities. A great principle had been conceded, and a great injustice materially abated. Henceforth English Dissenters, whose teachers had duly attested their allegiance, and duly subscribed to the thirty-six doctrinal articles of the Church of England, might attend their certified place of worship without molestation from vexatious penal laws. It was bare toleration, accorded to certain favoured bodies; and there for a long time it ended. Two wide-reaching limitations of the principle of tolerance intervened to close the gate against other Nonconformists than these. Open heresy could not be permitted, nor any worship that was adjudged to be distinctly prejudicial to the interests of the State. No word could yet be spoken, without risk of heavy penalty, against the received doctrine of the Trinity. Nonjurors and Scotch Episcopalians could only meet by stealth in private houses. As for Romanists, so far from their condition being in any way mitigated, their yoke was made the harder, and they might complain, with Rehoboam's subjects, that they were no longer chastised with whips, but with scorpions. William's reign was marked by a long list of new penal laws directed against them. There were many who quoted with great approval the advice (published in 1690, and republished in 1716) of 'a good patriot, guided by a prophetic spirit.' His 'short and easy method' was, to 'expel the whole sect from the British dominions,' and, laying aside 'the feminine weakness' of an unchristian toleration, 'once for all, to clear the land of these monsters, and force them to transplant themselves.' Much in the same way there were many good people who would have very much liked to adopt violent physical measures against 'freethinkers' and 'atheists.' Steele in the 'Tatler,' Budgell in the 'Spectator,' and Bishop Berkeley in the 'Guardian,' all express a curious mixture of satisfaction and regret that such opinions could not be summarily punished, if not by the severest penalties of the law, at the very least by the cudgel and the horsepond. Whiston seems to have thought it possible that heterodox opinions upon the mystery of the Trinity might even yet, under certain contingencies, bring a man into peril of his life. In a noticeable passage of his memoirs, written perhaps in a moment of depression, he speaks of learning the prayer of Polycarp, 'if it should be my lot to die a martyr.' The early part of the eighteenth century abounds in indications that amid a great deal of superficial talk about the excellence of toleration the older spirit of persecution was quite alive, ready, if circumstances favoured it, to burst forth again, not perhaps with firebrand and sword, but with the no less familiar weapons of confiscations and imprisonment. Toleration was not only very imperfectly understood, even by those who most lauded it, but it was often loudly vaunted by men whose lives and opinions were very far from recommending it. In an age notorious for laxity and profaneness, it was only too obvious that great professions of tolerance were in very many cases only the fair-sounding disguise of flippant scepticism or shallow indifference. The number of such instances made some excuse for those who so misunderstood the Christian liberalism of such men as Locke and Lord Somers, as to charge it with irreligion or even atheism.
Nevertheless the growth of toleration was one of the most conspicuous marks
of the eighteenth century. If one were to judge only from the slowness of
legislation in this respect, and the grudging reluctance with which it conceded
to Nonconformists the first scanty instalments of complete civil freedom, or
from the words and conduct of a considerable number of the clergy, or from
certain fierce outbursts of mob riot against Roman Catholics, Methodists, and
Jews, it might be argued that if toleration did indeed advance, it was but at
tortoise speed. In reality, the advance was very great. Mosheim, writing before
the middle of the century, spoke of the 'unbounded liberty' of religious
thought which existed in
A crowd of writers, of every variety of opinion, had something to write or
say on the subject of Church establishments. But until the time of Priestley
few ever disputed the advantages derivable from a
In casting a general glance over the history of the
The Sacheverell 'phrensy,' and the circumstances which led to the
prorogation of Convocation, are less satisfactory incidents in the Church
history of Queen Anne's reign. In either case we find ourselves in the very
midst of that semi-ecclesiastical, semi-political strife, which is so
especially jarring upon the mind, when brought into connection with the true
interests of religion. In either case there is an uncomfortable feeling of
being in a mob. There is little greater edification in the crowd of excited
clergymen who collected in the Jerusalem Chamber, than in the medley throng
which huzzaed round Westminster Hall and behind the wheels of Sacheverell's chariot.
The Lower House of Convocation evidently contained a great many men who had
been returned as proctors for the clergy, not so much for the higher
qualifications of learning, piety, and prudence, as for the active part they
took in Church politics. There were some excellent men in it, and plenty of a kind of zeal; but the general
temper of the House was prejudiced, intemperate, and inquisitorial. The Whig
bishops, on the other hand, in the Upper House were impatient of opposition,
and often inconsiderate and ungracious to the lower clergy. Such, for example,
were just the conditions which brought out the worse and disguised the more
excellent traits of Burnet's character. It is not much to be wondered at, that
many people who were very well affected to the Church thought it no great evil,
but perhaps rather a good thing, that Convocation should be permanently
suspended. Reason and common sense demand that a great Church should have some
sort of deliberative assembly. If it were no longer what it ought to be, and
the reason for this were not merely temporary, a remedy should have been found
in reform, not in compelled silence. But even in the midst of the factions
which disturbed its peace and hindered its usefulness, Convocation had by no
means wholly neglected to deliberate on practical matters of direct religious
concern. And unless its condition had been indeed degenerate, there can be
little doubt that it would have materially assisted to keep up that healthy
current of thought which the stagnation of Church spirit in the Georgian age so
sorely needed. The history, therefore, of Convocation in Queen Anne's reign,
turbulent as it was, had considerable interest of its own. So also the
Sacheverell riots (for they deserve no more honourable name) have much historical
value as an index of feeling. Ignorance and party faction, and a variety of
such other unworthy components, entered largely into them. Yet after every
abatement has been made, they showed a strength of popular attachment to the
Church which is very noteworthy. The undisputed hold it had gained upon the
masses ought to have been a great power for good, and it has been shown that
there was about this time a good deal of genuine activity stirring in the
The first twenty years of the period include also a principal part of the
history of the Nonjurors. Later in the century, they had entirely drifted away
from any direct association with the Established Church. Their numbers had
dwindled; and as there seemed to be no longer any tangible reason for their
continued schism, sympathy with them had also faded away. There are some
interesting incidents in their later history, but these are more nearly related
to the annals of the Episcopal Church of Scotland than
to our own. Step by step in the earlier years of the century the ties which
linked them with the
One more characteristic feature of the early part of the century must be
mentioned. The essayists belong not only to the social history of the period,
but also to that of the Church. Few preachers were so effective from their
pulpits as were Addison and his fellow-contributors in the pages of the
'Spectator' and other kindred serials. It was not only in those Saturday papers
which were specially devoted to graver musings that they served the cause of
religion and morality. They were true sons of the Church; and if they did not
go far below the surface, nor profess to do more as a rule than satirise
follies and censure venial forms of vice, their tone was ever that of Christian
moralists. They did no scanty service as mediators, so to say, between religion
and the world. This phase of literature lived on later into the century, but it
became duller and less popular. It never again was what it had been in
After Queen Anne's reign, the main interest of
It is unquestionable that Hoadly's influence upon his generation was great. Some, looking upon the defects of the period that followed, have thought of that influence as distinctly injurious. They have considered that it strongly conduced to a negligent belief and indifference to the specific doctrines of Christian faith, making men careless of truth, so long as they thought themselves to be sincere; also that it loosened the hold of the Church on the people by impairing respect for authority, and by tending to reduce all varieties of Christian faith to one equal level. It is a charge which has some foundation. The religious characteristics of the age, whatever they were, were independent in the main of anything the Whig bishop did or wrote. Still, he was one of those representative men who give form and substance to a great deal of floating thought. He caught the ear of the public, and engrossed an attention which was certainly very remarkable. In this character as a leader of religious thought he was deficient in some very essential points. He was too much of a controversialist, and his tone was too political. There was more light than heat in what he wrote. So long as it was principally a question of right reason, of sincerity, or of justice, he deserved much praise, and did much good. In all the qualities which give fire, energy, enthusiasm, he was wanting. The form in which his religion was cast might suit some natures, but was too cold and dispassionate for general use. It fell in only too well with the prevailing tendencies of the times. It might promote, under favouring circumstances, a kind of piety which could be genuine, reflective, and deeply impressed by many of the divine attributes, but which, in most cases, would need to be largely reinforced by other properties not so easily to be found in Hoadly's writings—tenderness, imagination, sympathy, practical activity, spiritual intensity.
The rise and advance of Methodism, and its relationship with the
Treatises on the evidences of Christianity constitute a principal part of
the theological literature of the eighteenth century. No systematic record of
the religious history of that period could omit a careful survey of what was
said and thought on a topic which absorbed so great an amount of interest. But
if the subject is not entered into at length, a writer upon it can do little
more than repeat what has already been concisely and comprehensively told in
Mr. Pattison's well-known essay. The authors, therefore, of this work have felt
that they might be dispensed from devoting to it a separate chapter. Many
incidental remarks, however, which have a direct bearing upon the search into
evidences will be found scattered here and there in the course of this work.
The controversy with the Deists necessitated a perpetual reference to the grounds upon which belief is based both
in the Christian revelation, and in those fundamental truths of natural
religion upon which arguers on either side were agreed. A great deal also,
which in the eighteenth century was proscribed under the name of 'enthusiasm'
was nothing else in reality than an appeal of the soul of man to the evidence
of God's spirit within him to facts which cannot be grasped by any mere
intellectual power. By the greater part of the writers of that period all
reference to an inward light of spiritual discernment was regarded with utter
distrust as an illusion and a snare. From the beginning to the end of the
century, theological thought was mainly concentrated on the effort to make use
of reason—God's plain and universal gift to man—as the one divinely
appointed instrument for the discovery or investigation of all truth. The
examination of evidences, although closely connected with the Deistical
controversy, was nevertheless independent of it. Horror of fanaticism, distrust
of authority, an increasing neglect of the earlier history of Christianity, the
comparative cessation of minor disputes, and the greater emancipation of reason
through the recent Act of Toleration, all combined to encourage it. Besides
this, physical science was making great strides. The revolution of ideas
The evidence writers did a great work, not lightly to be disparaged. The results of their labours were not of a kind to be very perceptible on the surface, and are therefore particularly liable to be under-estimated. There was neither show nor excitement in the gradual process by which Christianity regained throughout the country the confidence which for a time had been most evidently shaken. Proofs and evidences had been often dinned into careless ears without much visible effect, and often before weary listeners, to whom the great bulk of what they heard was unintelligible and profitless. Very often in the hands of well-intentioned, but uninstructed and narrow-minded men, fallacious or thoroughly inconclusive arguments had been confidently used, to the detriment rather than to the advantage of the cause they had at heart. But at the very least, a certain acquiescence in the 'reasonableness of Christianity,' and a respect for its teaching, had been secured which could hardly be said to have been generally the case about the time when Bishop Butler began to write. Meanwhile the revived ardour of religion which had sprung up among Methodists and Evangelicals, and which at the end of the century was stirring, in different forms but with the same spirit, in the hearts of some of the most cultivated and intellectual of our countrymen, was a greater practical witness to the living power of Christianity than all other evidences.
In quite the early part of the period with which these chapters deal there was, as we have seen, a considerable amount of active and hopeful work in the Church of England. The same may be said of its closing years. The Evangelical movement had done good even in quarters where it had been looked upon with disfavour. A better care for the religious education of the masses, an increased attention to Church missions, the foundation of new religious societies, greater parochial activity, improvement in the style of sermons, a disposition on the part of Parliament to reform some glaring Church abuses—all showed that a stir and movement had begun, which might be slow to make any great advance, but which was at all events promising for the future. Agitation against slavery had been in great part a result of quickened Christian feeling, and, in a still greater degree, a promoting cause of it. And when the French Revolution broke out, it quickly appeared how resolutely bent the vast majority of the people were to hold all the more firmly to their Christianity and their Church. Some of the influences which in the early part of the century had done so much to counteract the religious promise of the time, were no longer, or no longer in the same degree, actively at work. There was cause, therefore, for confident hope that the good work which had begun might go on increasing. How far this was the case, and what agencies contributed to hinder or advance religious life in the Church of England and elsewhere, belongs to the history of a time yet nearer to our own.
Bishops, both as fathers of the Church and as holding high places, and
living therefore in the presence of the public, cannot, without grave injury
not to themselves only, but to the body over which they preside, suffer their
names to be in any way mixed up with the cabals of self-interest and faction.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Episcopal bench numbered among
its occupants many men, both of High and Low Church views, who were distinctly
eminent for piety, activity, and learning. And throughout the century there
were always some bishops who were thoroughly worthy of their high post. But
towards the middle of it, and on to its very close, there was an undoubted
lowering in the general tone of the Episcopal order. Average men, who had
succeeded in making themselves agreeable at Court, or who had shown that they
could be of political service to the administration of the time, too often
received a mitre for their reward. Amid the general relaxation of principle
which by the universal confession of all contemporary writers had pervaded
society, even worthy and good men seem to have condescended at times to a
discreditable fulsomeness of manner, and to an immoderate thirst for
preferments. There were many scandals in the Church which greatly needed
reform, but none which were so keenly watched, or which did so much to lower
its reputation, as unworthy acts of subserviency on
the part of certain bishops. The evil belonged to the individuals and to the
period, not by any means to the system of a
Throughout the whole of the eighteenth century, almost all writers who had
occasion to speak of the general condition of society joined in one wail of
lament over the irreligion and immorality that they saw around them. This
complaint was far too universal to mean little more than a general, and
somewhat conventional tirade upon the widespread corruption of human nature.
The only doubt is whether it might not in some measure have arisen out of a
keener perception, on the part of the more cultivated and thoughtful portion of
society, of brutal habits which in coarser ages had been passed over with far
less comment. Perhaps also greater liberty of thought and speech caused
irreligion to take a more avowed and visible form. Yet even if the severe
judgment passed by contemporary writers upon the spiritual and moral condition
of their age may be fairly qualified by some such considerations, it must
certainly be allowed that religion and morality were, generally speaking, at a
lower ebb than they have been at many other periods. For this the
High Churchmanship, as it was commonly understood in Queen Anne's reign, did
not possess many attractive features. Its nobler and more spiritual elements
were sadly obscured amid the angry strife of party warfare, and all that was
hard, or worldly, or intolerant in it was thrust into exaggerated prominence.
Indeed, the very terms 'High' and 'Low' Church must have become odious in the
ears of good men who heard them bandied to and fro like the merest watchwords
of political faction. It is a relief to turn from the noise and virulence with
which so-called Church principles were contested in Parliament and Convocation,
in lampoons and pamphlets, in taverns and coffee-houses, from Harley and
Bolingbroke, from Swift, Atterbury, and Sacheverell, to a set of High
Churchmen, belonging rather to the former than to the existing generation,
whose names were not mixed up with these contentions, and whose pure and
primitive piety did honour to the Church which had nurtured such faithful and
worthy sons. If, at the opening of the eighteenth century, the
It is proposed in this chapter to make Robert Nelson the central figure, and to group around him some of the most distinguished of his Juror and Nonjuror friends. A special charm lingers around the memory of Bishop Ken, but his name can scarcely be made prominent in any sketch which deals only with the eighteenth century. He lived indeed through its first decade, but his active life was over before it began. Nelson, on the other hand, though he survived him by only four years, took an active part throughout Queen Anne's reign in every scheme of Church enterprise. He was a link, too, between those who accepted and those who declined the oaths. Even as a member of the Nonjuring communion he was intimately associated with many leading Churchmen of the Establishment; and when, to his great gratification, he felt that he could again with an easy conscience attend the services of his parish church, the ever-widening gap that had begun to open was in his case no hindrance to familiar intercourse with his old Nonjuring friends.
Greatly as Robert Nelson was respected and admired by his contemporaries, no complete record of his life was published until the present century. His friend Dr. Francis Lee, author of the 'Life of Kettlewell,' had taken the work on hand, but was prevented by death from carrying it out. There are now, however, three or four biographies of him, especially the full and interesting memoir published in 1860 by Mr. Secretan. It is needless, therefore, to go over ground which has already been completely traversed; a few notes only of the chief dates and incidents of his life may be sufficient to introduce the subject.
Robert Nelson was born in 1656. In his early boyhood he was at
From the first Nelson felt himself unable to transfer his allegiance to the
new Government. The only question in his mind was whether he could consistently
join in Church services in which public prayers were offered in behalf of a
prince whose claims he utterly repudiated. He consulted Archbishop Tillotson on
the point; and his old friend answered with all candour that if his opinions
were so decided that he was verily persuaded such a prayer was sinful, there
could be no doubt as to what he should do. Upon this he at once joined the
Nonjuring communion. He remained in it for nearly twenty years, on terms of
cordial intimacy with most of its chief leaders. When, however, in 1709, Lloyd,
the deprived Bishop of Norwich, died, Nelson wrote to Ken, now the sole
survivor of the Nonjuring bishops, and asked whether he claimed his allegiance to
him as his rightful spiritual father. As regards the State prayers, time had
modified his views. He retained his Jacobite principles, but considered that
non-concurrence in certain petitions in the service did not necessitate a
prolonged breach of Church unity. Ken, who had welcomed the accession of his
friend Hooper to the see of Bath and Wells, and who no longer subscribed
himself under his old episcopal title, gave
a glad consent, for he also longed to see the schism healed. Nelson
accordingly, with Dodwell and other moderate Nonjurors, rejoined the communion
It is much to Robert Nelson's honour that in an age of strong party
animosities he never suffered his political predilections to stand in the way
of union for any benevolent purpose. He had taken an active interest in the
religious associations of young men which sprang up in
In such works as these—to which must be added his labours as a commissioner in 1710 for the erection of new churches in London, his efforts for the promotion of parochial and circulating clerical libraries throughout the kingdom, for advancing Christian teaching in grammar schools, for improving prisons, for giving help to French Protestants in London and Eastern Christians in Armenia—Robert Nelson found abundant scope for the beneficent energies of his public life. The undertakings he carried out were but a few of the projects which engaged his thoughts. If we cast our eyes over the proposed institutions which he commended to the notice of the influential and the rich, it is surprising to see in how many directions he anticipated the philanthropical ideas of the age in which we live. Ophthalmic and consumptive hospitals, and hospitals for the incurable; ragged schools; penitentiaries; homes for destitute infants; associations of gentlewomen for charitable and religious purposes; theological, training, and missionary colleges; houses for temporary religious retirement and retreat—such were some of the designs which, had he lived a few years longer, he would certainly have attempted to carry into execution.
He was no less active with his pen in efforts aimed at infusing an earnest
spirit of practical piety, and bringing home to men's thoughts an appreciative
feeling of the value of Church ordinances. He published his 'Practice of True
Devotion' in 1698, an excellent work, which attracted little attention when it
first came out, but reached at least its twenty-second edition before the next
century was completed. His treatise on the 'Christian Sacrifice' appeared in
1706, his 'Life of Bishop Bull' in 1713; but it is by his 'Festivals and Fasts'
that his name has been made familiar to every succeeding generation of
Churchmen. Its catechetical form, and the somewhat formal composure of its
style, did not strike past readers as defects. It certainly was in high favour
among English Churchmen generally. Dr. Johnson said of it in 1776 that he
understood it to have the greatest sale of any book ever printed in
Robert Nelson died in the January of 1715, a man so universally esteemed that it would be probably impossible to find his name connected in any writer with a single word of disparagement. It would be folly to speak of one thus distinguished by singular personal qualities as if he were, to any great extent, representative of a class. If the Church of England had been adorned during Queen Anne's reign by many such men, it could never have been said of it that it failed to take advantage of the signal opportunities then placed within its reach. Yet his views on all Church questions, and many of the characteristic features of his character, were shared by many of his friends both in the Established Church and among the Nonjurors. He survived almost all of them, so that with him the type seemed nearly to pass away for a length of time, as if the spiritual atmosphere of the eighteenth century were uncongenial to it. His younger acquaintances in the Nonjuring body, however sincere and generous in temperament, were men of a different order. It was but natural that, as the schism became more pronounced and Jacobite hopes more desperate, the Church views of a dwindling minority should become continually narrower, and lose more and more of those larger sympathies which can scarcely be altogether absent in any section of a great national Church.
First in order among Nelson's friends—not in intimacy, but in the affectionate honour with which he always remembered him—must be mentioned Bishop Ken. He was living in retirement at Longleat; but Nelson must have frequently met him at the house of their common friend Mr. Cherry of Shottisbrooke, and they occasionally corresponded. Nelson may have been the more practical, Ken the more meditative. The one was still in the full vigour of his benevolent activity while the other was waiting for rest, and soothing with sacred song the pains which told of coming dissolution. In his own words, to 'contemplate, hymn, love, joy, obey,' was the tranquil task which chiefly remained for him on earth. But they were congenial in their whole tone of thought. Their views on the disputed questions of the day very nearly coincided. Nelson, as might be expected of a layman who throughout his life had seen much of good men of all opinions, was the more tolerant; but both were kindly and charitable towards those from whom they most differed, and both were attached with such deep loyalty of love to the Church in whose bosom they had been nurtured that they desired nothing more than to see what they believed to be its genuine principles fully carried out, and could neither sympathise with nor understand religious feelings which looked elsewhere for satisfaction. Both were unaffectedly devout, without the least tinge of moroseness or gloom. Nelson specially delighted in Ken's morning, evening, and midnight hymns. He entreated his readers to charge their memory with them. 'The daily repeating of them will make you perfect in them, and the good fruit of them will abide with you all your days.' He subjoined them to his 'Practice of True Devotion;' and Samuel Wesley tells us that he personally knew how much he delighted in them. It was with these that—
He oft, when night with holy hymns was worn,Prevented prime and wak'd the rising morn.
He has made use of many of Ken's prayers, together with some from Taylor, Kettlewell, and Hickes, in his 'Companion for the Festivals and Fasts.' There is an intensity and effusion of spirit in them, in which his own more studied compositions are somewhat wanting.
Among the other Nonjuring bishops Nelson was acquainted with, but not very
intimately, were Bancroft and Frampton. The former he loved and admired; and
spoke very highly of his learning and wisdom, his prudent zeal for the honour
of God, his piety and self-denying integrity.
The little weaknesses and gentle intolerances of the good old man were not such
as he would censure, nor would he be altogether out of sympathy with them.
Bishop Frampton was in a manner an hereditary friend. He had gone out to
John Kettlewell died in 1695, to Nelson's great loss, for he was indeed a bosom friend. Nelson had unreservedly entrusted him with his schemes for doing good, his literary projects, his spiritual perplexities, and 'the nicest and most difficult emergencies of his life; such an opinion had he of his wisdom, as well as of his integrity.' More than once, observes Dr. Lee, he said how much gratitude he owed to Kettlewell for his good influence, sometimes in animating him to stand out boldly in the cause of religion, sometimes in concerting with him schemes of benevolence, sometimes in suggesting what he could best write in the service of the Church. They planned out together the 'Companion for the Festivals and Fasts;' they encouraged one another in that gentler mode of conducting controversy which must have seemed like mere weakness to many of the inflamed partisans of the period. Nelson proposed to preserve the memory of his friend in a biography. He carefully collected materials for the purpose, and though he had not leisure to carry out his design, was of great assistance to Francis Lee in the life which was eventually written.
Bishop Ken used to speak of Kettlewell in terms of the highest reverence and esteem. In a letter to Nelson, acknowledging the receipt of some of Kettlewell's sermons, which his correspondent had lately edited, he calls their author 'as saintlike a man as ever I knew;' and when, in 1696, he was summoned before the Privy Council to give account for a pastoral letter drawn up by the nonjuring bishops on behalf of the deprived clergy, he spoke of it as having been first proposed by 'Mr. Kettlewell, that holy man who is now with God.' There can be no doubt he well merited the admiration of his friends. Perhaps the most beautiful element in his character was his perfect guilelessness and transparent truth. Almost his last words, addressed to his nephew, were 'not to tell a lie, no, not to save a world, not to save your King nor yourself.' He had lived fully up to the spirit of this rule. Anything like show and pretence, political shifts and evasions, dissimulations for the sake of safety or under an idea of doing good—'acting,' as he expressed it, 'deceitfully for God, and breaking religion to preserve religion,' were things he would never in the smallest degree condescend to. In no case would he allow that a jocose or conventional departure from accuracy was justifiable, and even if a nonjuring friend, under the displeasure, as might often be, of Government, assumed a disguise, he was uneasy and annoyed, and declined to call him by his fictitious name. Happily, perhaps, for his peace of mind, his steady purpose 'to follow truth wherever he might find it,' without respect of persons or fear of consequences, though it led to a sacrifice, contentedly, and even joyfully borne, of worldly means, led him no tittle astray from the ancient paths of orthodoxy. Like most High Churchmen of his day, he held most exaggerated views as to the duty of passive obedience, a doctrine which he held to be vitally connected with the whole spirit of Christian religion. He sorely lamented 'the great and grievous breach' caused by the nonjuring separation, and earnestly trusted that a time of healing and reunion might speedily arrive; and though he adhered staunchly to the communion of the deprived bishops, whom he held to be the only rightful fathers of the Church, and believed that there alone he could find 'orthodox and holy ministrations,' he never for an instant supposed that he separated himself thereby from the Church of England, in which, he said in his dying declaration, 'as he had lived and ministered, so he still continued firm in its faith, worship, and communion.' Such was Kettlewell, a thorough type of the very best of the Nonjurors, a man so kindly and large-hearted in many ways, and so open to conviction, that the term bigoted would be harshly applied to him, but whose ideas ran strongly and deeply in a narrow channel. He lived a life unspotted from the world; nor was there any purer and more fervent spirit in the list of those whose active services were lost to the Church of England by the new oath of allegiance.
Henry Dodwell was another of Robert Nelson's most esteemed friends. After the loss of his Camdenian Professorship of History, he lived among his nonjuring acquaintances at Shottisbrooke, immersed in abstruse studies. His profound learning—for he was acknowledged to be one of the most learned men in Europe—especially his thorough familiarity with all precedents drawn from patristic antiquity, made him a great authority in the perplexities which from time to time divided the Nonjurors. It was mainly to him that Nelson owed his return to the established Communion. Dodwell had been very ardent against the oaths; when he conceived the possibility of Ken's accepting them, he had written him a long letter of anxious remonstrance; he had written another letter of indignant concern to Sherlock, on news of his intended compliance. But his special standing point was based upon the argument that it was schism of the worst order to side with bishops who had been intruded by mere lay authority into sees which had other rightful occupiers. When, therefore, this hindrance no longer existed, he was of opinion that political differences, however great, should be no bar to Church Communion, and that the State prayers were no insurmountable difficulty. Nelson gladly agreed, and the bells of Shottisbrooke rang merrily when he and Dodwell, and the other Nonjurors resident in that place, returned to the parish church.
Dodwell is a well-known example of the extravagances of opinion, into which a student may be led, who, in perfect seclusion from the world, follows up his views unguided by practical considerations. Greatly as his friends respected his judgment on all points of precedent and authority, they readily allowed he had more of the innocency of the dove than the wisdom of the serpent. His faculties were in fact over-burdened with the weight of his learning, and his published works, which followed one another in quick succession, contained eccentricities, strange to the verge of madness. A layman himself, he held views as to the dignities and power of the priesthood, of which the 'Tatler' might well say that Rome herself had never forged such chains for the consciences of the laity as he would have imposed. Starting upon an assumption, common to him with many whose general theological opinions he was most averse to, that the Divine counsels were wholly beyond the sphere of human faculties, and unimpeded therefore by any consideration of reason in his inferences from Scripture and primitive antiquity, he advanced a variety of startling theories, which created some dismay among his friends, and gave endless opportunity to his opponents. Much that he has written sounds far more like a grave caricature of high sacerdotalism, after the manner of De Foe's satires on intolerance, than the sober conviction of an earnest man. It is needless to dwell on crotchets for which, as Dr. Hunt properly observes, nobody was responsible but himself. Ken, who had great respect for him—'the excellent' Mr. Dodwell, as he calls him—remarked of his strange ideas on the immortality of the soul, that he built high on feeble foundations, and would not have many proselytes to his hypotheses. The same might be said of much else that he wrote on theological subjects. As for nonjuring principles, he was so wedded to them that he could see nothing but deadly schism outside the fold over which 'our late invalidly deprived fathers' presided. It only, as orthodox and unschismatic, 'was entitled to have its communions and excommunications ratified in heaven.' No wonder he longed to see union restored, that so he might die in peace.
With the ever understood proviso that they could not fall in with many of
his views, Nelson and most of his friends loved Mr. Dodwell and were proud of
him. They admired his great learning, his fervent and ascetic piety, his deep
attachment to the doctrine and usages of the
After Kettlewell's death, no one was so intimate with Robert Nelson as Dr.
George Hickes. They lived near together in
One other of Nelson's nonjuring friends
must be mentioned. Francis Lee, a physician, had been a Fellow of St. John's,
Nelson was more or less intimate with several other Nonjurors; such as were Francis Cherry, of Shottisbrooke, a generous and popular country gentleman, whose house was always a hospitable refuge for Nonjurors and Jacobites; Brokesby, Mr. Cherry's chaplain, author of the 'Life of Dodwell,' and of a history of the Primitive Church, to whom Nelson owed much valuable help in his 'Festivals and Fasts;' Jeremy Collier, whom Macaulay ranks first among the Nonjurors in ability; Nathanael Spinckes, afterwards raised to the shadowy honours and duties of the nonjuring episcopate, Nelson's trustee for the money bequeathed by him to assist the deprived clergy; and lastly, Charles Leslie, an ardent and accomplished controversialist, whom Dr. Johnson excepted from his dictum that no Nonjuror could reason. It may be added here, that when Pepys, author of the well-known 'Diary,' cast about in 1703, the last year of his life, for a spiritual adviser among the nonjuring clergy, Robert Nelson was the one among his acquaintances to whom he naturally turned for information.
The decision of many a conscientious man hung wavering for a long time on the balance as he debated whether or not he could accept the new oath of allegiance. Friends, whose opinions on public matters and on Church questions were almost identical, might on this point very easily arrive at different determinations. But the resolve once made, those who took different courses often became widely separated. Many acquaintances, many friendships were broken off by the divergence. Some of the more rigid Nonjurors, headed by Bancroft himself, went so far as to refuse all Church communion with those among their late brethren who had incurred the sin of compliance; and it was plainly impossible to be on any terms of intimacy with one who could be welcomed back into the company of the faithful only as 'a true penitent for the sin of schism.' There were some, on the other hand, who were fully aware of the difficulties that beset the question, and had not a word or thought of condemnation for those who did not share in the scruples they themselves felt. They could not take the oath, but neither did they make it any cause of severance, or discontinue their attendance at the public prayers. But for the most part even those Nonjurors who held no extreme views fell gradually into a set of their own, with its own ideas, hopes, prejudices, and sympathies. They could scarcely help making a great principle of right or wrong of that for which most of them had sacrificed so much. It was intolerable, after loss of home and property in the cause, as they believed, of truth and duty, to be called factious separatists, authors of needless schism. Hence, in very self-defence, they were driven to attach all possible weight to the reasons which had placed them, loyal Churchmen as they were, in a Nonconformist position, to rally round their own standard, and to strive to the utmost of their power to show that it was they, and not their opponents, not the Jurors but the Nonjurors, who were the truest and most faithful sons of the Anglican Church. Under such circumstances, the gap grew ever wider which had sprung up between themselves and those who had not scrupled at the oath. Even between such friends as Ken and Bull, Nelson and Tillotson, a temporary estrangement was occasioned. But Robert Nelson was not of a nature to allow minor differences, however much exaggerated in importance, to stand long in the way of friendship or works of Christian usefulness. He lived chiefly in a nonjuring circle; but even during the years when he wholly absented himself from parochial worship, he was on friendly and even intimate terms with many leading members of the establishment, and their active co-operator in every scheme for extending its beneficial influences.
First in honour among his conforming friends stood Bishop Bull, his old tutor and warm friend, to whom he always acknowledged a deep debt of gratitude. Three years after his death Nelson published his life and works, shortening, it is said, his own days by the too assiduous labour which he bestowed upon the task. But it was a work of love which he was exceedingly anxious to accomplish. In the preface, after recording his high admiration of his late friend's merits, he solemnly ends with the words, 'beseeching God to enable me to finish what I begin in His name, and dedicate it to His honour and glory.'
Both in his lifetime and afterwards, Bull has always been held in deserved
repute as one of the most illustrious names in the roll of English bishops.
Nelson called him 'a consummate divine,' and by no means stood alone in his
opinion. Those who attach a high value to original and comprehensive thought
will scarcely consider him entitled to such an epithet. He was a man of great
piety, sound judgment, and extensive learning, but not of the grasp and power
which signally influences a generation, and leaves a mark in the history of
religious progress. He loved the Church of England with that earnestness of
affection which in the seventeenth century
specially characterised those who remembered its prostration, and had shared
its depressed fortunes. Dr. Skinner, ejected Bishop of
Bull had been ordained at twenty-one; he was consecrated, in 1705, Bishop of St. Davids, at the almost equally exceptional age of seventy. He succeeded a bad man who had been expelled from his see for glaring simony; and it was felt, not without justice, that the cause of religion and the honour of the Episcopate would gain more by the elevation of a man of the high repute in which Bull was universally held, than it would lose by the growing infirmities of his old age. He accepted the dignity with hesitation, in hopes that his son, the Archdeacon of Llandaff, who however died before him, would be able greatly to assist him in the discharge of his duties. But as he was determined that if he could not be as active as he would wish, he would at all events reside strictly in his diocese, he saw little or no more of his friend Nelson, of whom he had said that 'he scarce knew any one in the world for whom he had greater respect and love.' During the first four years of the century there had been a frequent correspondence between them on the subject of his controversy with Bossuet, with whom Nelson had long been in the habit of interchanging friendly courtesies. The Bishop of Meaux had written, in 1700, to Nelson, expressing admiration of Bull's work on the Trinity, and wonder as to what he meant by the term 'Catholic,' and why it was that, having such respect for primitive antiquity, he remained nevertheless separated from the unity of Rome. Bull wrote in answer his 'Corruptions of the Church of Rome,' and sent the manuscript of it to Nelson in 1704. It did not, however, reach Bossuet, who died that year. Bishop Bull followed him in 1709.
Nelson was well acquainted, though scarcely intimate, with Bishop Beveridge,
Bull's contemporary at St. Asaph. The two prelates were men of much the same
stamp. Both were divines of great theological learning; but while Bull's great
talents were chiefly conspicuous in his controversial and argumentative works,
Beveridge was chiefly eminent as a student and devotional writer. His 'Private
Thoughts on Religion and Christian Life,' and his papers on 'Public Prayer' and
'Frequent Communions,' have always maintained a high reputation. Like Bull, he
was profoundly read in the history of the primitive Church, but possessed an
accomplishment which his brother bishop had not, in his understanding of
several oriental languages. Like him, he had been an active and experienced
parish clergyman, and, like him, he was attached almost to excess to a strict
and rigid observance of the appointed order
Beveridge was one of the bishops for whom the moderate Nonjurors had much regard. In most respects he was of their school of thought; and although, like Wilson of Sodor and Man, and Hooper of Bath and Wells, he had no scruple, for his own part, to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, he fully understood the reasonings of those who had. He greatly doubted the legality and right of appointing new bishops to sees not canonically vacant, so that when he was nominated in the place of Ken, he after some deliberation declined the office. He and Nelson saw a good deal of each other. They were both constant attendants at the weekly meetings of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, an association which Beveridge zealously promoted, and to which he left the greater part of his property. The minutes of the society refer to private consultations between him and Nelson for arranging about a popular edition in Welsh of the Prayer-book, and to the bishop distributing largely in his diocese a translation of Nelson's tract on Confirmation. They also frequently met at the committees of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In his 'Life of Bull' Nelson speaks in terms of much admiration for Beveridge, whom he calls 'a pattern of true primitive piety.' He praises his plain and affecting sermons; and says that 'he had a way of gaining people's hearts and touching their consciences which bore some resemblance to the apostolical age,' and that he could mention many 'who owed the change of their lives, under God, to his instructions.' Like Bull and Ken, the latter of whom was born in the same year with him, his life belongs chiefly to the history of the preceding century, for he died in 1707; his short episcopal career however lay, as was the case with Bull, only in the first decade of the eighteenth.
Sharp, Archbishop of York, must by no means be omitted from the list of
Robert Nelson's friends, the more so as he was mainly instrumental in
overcoming the scruples which for many years had deterred Nelson from the
communion of the national Church. 'It was impossible,' writes the Archbishop's
son, 'that such religious men, who were so intimate with each other, and spent
many hours together in private conversation, should not frequently discuss the
reasons that divided them in Church communion.'
Sharp's diary shows that early in 1710 they had many interviews on the subject.
His arguments prevailed; and he records with satisfaction that on Easter Day
that year his friend, for the first time since the Revolution, received the
Communion at his hands. The Archbishop was well fitted to act this part of a
conciliator. In the first place, Nelson held him in high esteem as a man of
learning, piety, and discernment, 'who fills one of the archiepiscopal thrones
with that universal applause which is due to his distinguishing merit.' This general satisfaction which
had attended his promotion qualified him the more for a peacemaker in the
Church. At a time when party spirit was more than usually vehement, it was his
rare lot to possess in a high degree the respect and confidence of men of all
opinions. From his earliest youth he had learnt to appreciate high Christian
worth under varied forms. His father had been a fervent Puritan, his mother a
strenuous Royalist; and he speaks with equal gratitude of the deep impressions
left upon his mind by the grave piety of the one, and of the admiration
instilled into him by the other of the proscribed Liturgy of the
Bishop Smalridge of
Smalridge and Nelson had a mutual friend,
whom they both highly valued, in Dr. Ernest Grabe, a Prussian of remarkable
character and great erudition, who had settled in
Dr. Thomas Bray may stand as a fit representative of another class of
Nelson's friends and associates. So far from agreeing with Nelson in his
Nonjuring sentiments, the prospect of the constitutional change had kindled in
him enthusiastic expectations. '
The names of many other men, more or less eminent in their day for piety or learning, might be added to the list of those who possessed and valued Robert Nelson's friendship; among them may be mentioned—Dr. John Mapletoft, with whom he maintained a close correspondence for no less than forty years: a man who had travelled much and learnt many languages, a celebrated physician, and afterwards, when he took orders, an accomplished London preacher; Francis Gastrell, Bishop of Chester, Mapletoft's son-in-law; Sir Richard Blackmore, another physician of note, and, like Mapletoft, most zealous in all plans for doing good, but whose unlucky taste for writing dull verses brought down upon him the unmerciful castigation of the wits; John Johnson of Cranbrook, with whose writings on the Eucharistic Sacrifice Nelson most warmly sympathised; Edmund Halley, the mathematician, his school playmate and life-long friend; Ralph Thoresby, an antiquarian of high repute, a moderate Dissenter in earlier life, a thoughtful and earnest Churchman in later years, but who throughout life maintained warm and intimate relations with many leading members of either communion; Dr. Charlett, Master of University College, Oxford; Dr. Cave, the well-known writer of early Church History, to whose literary help he was frequently indebted; John Evelyn; Samuel, father of John and Charles Wesley, whose verses, written on the fly-leaf of his copy of the 'Festivals and Fasts,' commemorative of his attachment to Nelson and of his reverence for his virtues, used to be prefixed to some editions of his friend's works; nor should the list be closed without the addition of the name of the eminent Gallican bishop Bossuet, with whom he had become acquainted in France, and had kept up the interesting correspondence already noticed in connection with Bishop Bull.
The group composed of Nelson and his friends, of whom he had many, and never lost one, would be pleasant to contemplate, if for no other reason, yet as the picture of a set of earnest men, united in common attachment to one central figure, varying much on some points of opinion, but each endeavouring to live worthily of the Christian faith. From one point of view the features of dissimilarity among his friends are more interesting than those of resemblance. A Churchman, with whom Jurors and Nonjurors met on terms of equal cordiality, who was intimate alike with Tillotson and Hickes—whose love for Ken was nowise incompatible with much esteem for Kidder, the 'uncanonical usurper' of his see—and who consulted for the advancement of Christian knowledge as readily with Burnet, Patrick, and Fowler, as with Bull, Beveridge, and Sharp—represents a sort of character which every national Church ought to produce in abundance, but which stands out in grateful relief from the contentions which embittered the first years of the century and the spiritual dulness which set in soon afterwards.
Yet, though Robert Nelson had too warm a heart to sacrifice the friendship
of a good man to any difference of opinion, and too hearty a zeal in good works
to let his personal predilections stand in the way of them, he belonged very
distinctively to the
The Church party of which, at the beginning of the eighteenth century,
Nelson and his friends were worthy representatives, was rapidly losing
strength. Soon after his death it had almost ceased to exist as a visible and
united power. The general tone of feeling in Church matters became so
unfavourable to its continued vigour, that it gradually dwindled away. Not that
there was no longer a
The nonjuring separation was a serious and long-lasting loss to the Church of England; a loss corresponding in kind, if not in degree, to what it might have endured, if by a different turn of political and ecclesiastical circumstances, the most zealous members of the section headed by Tillotson and Burnet had been ejected from its fold. It is the distinguishing merit of the English Church that, to a greater extent probably than any other religious body, it is at once Catholic and Protestant, and that without any formal assumption of reconciling the respective claims of authority and private judgment, it admits a wide field for the latter, without ceasing to attach veneration and deference to primitive antiquity and to long established order. It is most true that 'the Church herself is greater, wider, older than any of the parties within her;' but it is no less certain, that when a leading party becomes enfeebled in character and influence, as it was by the defection to the Nonjurors of so many learned and self-sacrificing High Churchmen, the diminution of vital energy in the whole body is likely to be far more than proportionate to the number of the seceders, or even to their individual weight.
Judged by modern feeling, there might seem no very apparent reason why the
Nonjurors should have belonged nearly, if not quite exclusively, to the same
general school of theological thought. In our own days, the nature of a man's
Churchmanship is no key whatever to his opinions upon matters which trench on
politics. High sacramental theories, or profound reverence for Church tradition
and ancient usage, or decided views as to the exclusive rights of an
episcopally ordained ministry, are almost as likely to be combined with
liberal, or even with democratic politics, as with the most staunch
conservative opinions. No one imagines that any possible change of
constitutional government would greatly affect the general bias, whatever it
might be, of ecclesiastical thought. But the Nonjurors were all High Churchmen,
and that in a much better sense of that word than when, in Queen Anne's time,
The doctrines of non-resistance and passive obedience, in defence of which
so much was once written, and so many sacrifices endured, are no longer heard
of. It is difficult now to realise with what passionate fervour of conviction these
obsolete theories were once maintained by many Englishmen as a vital portion,
not only of their political, but of their religious creed. Lord Chancellor
Somers, whose able treatise upon the Rights of Kings brought to bear against
the Nonjurors a vast array of arguments from
Reason, Scripture, History, and Law, remarked in it that there were some
divines of the Church of England who instilled notions of absolute power,
passive obedience, and non-resistance, as essential points of religion,
doctrines necessary to salvation.
Put in this extreme form, the belief might have been repudiated; but
undoubtedly passages may be quoted in great abundance from nonjuring and other
writers which, literally understood, bear no other construction. At all events,
sentiments scarcely less uncompromising were continually held, not by mere
sycophants and courtiers, but by many whose opinions were adorned by noble
Christian lives, willing self-sacrifice, and undaunted resolution.
When once the Hanoverian succession was established, the doctrine of a
divine right of kings, with the theories consequent upon, it, passed gradually
away; and many writers, forgetting that it was once a generally received dogma
in Parliament as in Convocation, in the laws
as much as in the homilies, have sought to attach to the Church of England the
odium of servility and obsequiousness for its old adherence to it. But as the
tenet died not without honour, dignified in many instances by high Christian
feeling, and noble sacrifice of worldly interest, so also it had gained much of
its early strength in one of the most important principles of the Reformation.
The revolution of 1688 dissipated the halo which had shed a fictitious light
round the throne. Queen Anne may have flattered herself that it was already
reviving. George I. in his first speech to parliament laid claim to the ancient
prestige of it. The old theories lingered long in manor-houses and parsonages,
and among all whose hearts were with the banished Stuarts. But they could not
permanently survive under such altered auspices; and a sentiment which had once
been of real service both to Church and State, but which had become injurious
to both, was disrooted from the constitution and disentangled from the religion
of the country. The ultimate gain was great; yet it must be acknowledged that
at the time a great price was paid for it. In the State, there was a notable
loss of the old loyalty, a blunting in public matters of some of the finer
feelings, an increase among State officers of selfish and interested motives, a
spirit of murmuring and disaffection, a lowering of tone, an impaired national
unity. In the Church, as the revulsion was greater, and in some respects the benefit
greater, so also the temporary loss was both greater and more permanent. The
beginning of the eighteenth century saw almost the last of the old-fashioned
Anglicans, who dated from the time of Henry VIII.—men whose ardent love
of what they considered primitive and Catholic usage had no tinge of Popery,
and whose devoted attachment to the throne was wholly free from all unmanly
In relation both to Nonjurors and to persons who, as a duty or a necessity,
had accepted the new constitution, but were more or less Jacobite in their
sympathies, a question arose of far more than temporary interest. It is one
which frequently recurs, and is of much practical importance, namely, how far
unity of worship implies, or ought to imply, a close unity of belief; and
secondly, how far a clergyman is justified in continuing his ministrations if,
agreeing in all essentials, he strongly dissents to some particular petitions
or expressions in the services of which he is constituted the mouthpiece. The
point immediately at issue was whether those who dissented from the State
prayers could join with propriety in the public services. This was very
variously decided. There were some who
denied that this was possible to persons who had any strict regard to
consistency and truth.
How, said they, could they assist by their presence at public prayers which
were utterly contradictory to their private ones? Many Nonjurors therefore, and
many who had taken the oath on the understanding that it only bound them to submission,
absented themselves entirely from public worship, or attended none other than
nonjuring services. There was a considerable party, headed unfortunately by
Bancroft himself, whose regret at the separation thus caused was greatly
tempered by a kind of exultation at being, as they maintained, the 'orthodox
and Catholic remnant' from which the main body of the English Church had
apostatised. Far different were the feelings
of those whose opinions on the subject were less strangely exaggerated. If they
joined the nonjuring communion, and forsook the familiar parish church, they
did so sadly and reluctantly, and looked forward in hope to some change of
circumstances which might remove their scruples and end the schism. It was
thoroughly distasteful to men like Ken, Nelson, and Dodwell, to break away from
a communion to which they were deeply attached, and which they were quite
persuaded was the purest and best in Christendom. When the new Government was
fairly established, when the heat of feeling was somewhat cooled by time, when
the High Church sympathies of Anne had begun to reconcile them to the new
succession, and when the last of the ejected bishops had withdrawn all claim on
their obedience, many moderate Nonjurors were once more seen in church. They
agreed that the offence of the State prayers should be no longer an insuperable
bar. They could at all events
sufficiently signify their objection to the obnoxious words by declining to say
Amen, or by rising from their knees, or by various other more or less
demonstrative signs of disapprobation. Some indeed of the Nonjurors, among whom
Bishop Frampton was prominent, and a great number of Jacobites, had never from
the first lent any countenance to the schism, and attended the Church services
as heretofore. The oath of allegiance being required before a clergyman could
take office, it is of course impossible to tell whether any nonjuring clergyman
would have consented to read, as well as to listen to, the State prayers. But
there was undoubtedly a large body of Jacobite clergymen who in various ways
reconciled this to their conscience. Their argument, founded on the sort of
provisional loyalty due to a de facto sovereignty, was a tolerably valid one in its kind; a far more important
one, in the extent and gravity of its bearings, was that which met the
difficulty in the face. It was that which rests on the answer to the question
whether a clergyman is guilty of insincerity, either in reality or in
semblance, in continuing to read a service to part of which he strongly
objects, though he is completely in accord with the general tone and spirit of
the whole. The answer must evidently be a qualified one. Nothing could be worse
for the interests of religion, than that its ministers should be suspected of
saying what they do not mean; on the other hand, unless a Church concedes to
its clergy a sufficiently ample latitude in their mode of interpreting its
formularies, it will greatly suffer by losing the services of men of
independent thought or strongly marked religious convictions. Among clergymen
who submitted to the reigning powers, though their hopes and sympathies were
centred at St. Germains, the alternative of either reading the State prayers or
relinquishing office in the
As for those Nonjurors and Jacobites who joined as laymen in the public
services, undeterred by prayers which they objected to, it is just that
question of dissent within, instead of without the Church, which has gained
increased attention in our own days. When Robert Nelson was in doubt upon the
subject, and asked Tillotson for his advice, the Archbishop made reply, 'As to
the case you put, I wonder men should be divided in opinion about it. I think
it plain, that no man can join in prayers in which there is any petition which
he is verily persuaded is sinful. I cannot endure a trick anywhere, much less
in religion. This honest and outspoken answer
was however extremely superficial, and, coming from a man of so much eminence,
must have had an unfortunate effect in extending the nonjuring schism. Although
his opinion was perfectly sound under the precise terms
in which it is stated, the whole force of it rests on the word 'sinful.' If any
word is used which falls the least short of this, Tillotson's remark becomes
altogether questionable. Of course no one can be justified in countenancing
what 'he is verily persuaded is sinful.' From this point of view, there were
some Nonjurors to whom separation from the
The circumstances of the time threw into exaggerated prominence the particular views entertained by Nelson's Juror and Nonjuror friends on the disputed questions connected with transferred allegiance. But, great as were the sacrifices which many of them incurred on account of these opinions,—great as was the tenacity with which they clung to them, and the vehemence with which they asserted them against all impugners—great, above all, as was the religious and spiritual importance with which their zeal for the cause invested these semi-political doctrines, yet it is not on such grounds that their interest as a Church party chiefly rests. No weight of circumstances could confer a more than secondary value on tenets which have no permanent bearing on the Christian life, and engage attention only under external and temporary conditions. The early Nonjurors, and their doctrinal sympathisers within the National Church, were a body of men from whom many in modern times have taken pleasure in deriving their ecclesiastical pedigree, not as upholders of nearly obsolete opinions about divine right and passive obedience, but as the main link between the High Churchmen of a previous age and their successors at a much later period. To the revivers in this century of the Anglo-Catholic theology, it seemed as though the direct succession of sound English divines ended with Bull and Beveridge, was partially continued, as by a side line, in some of the Nonjurors, and then dwindled and almost died out, until after the lapse of a hundred years its vitality was again renewed.
On points of doctrine and discipline the early Nonjurors differed in nothing
from the High Churchmen whose communion they had deserted. Some of them called
themselves, it is true, 'the old Church of England,' 'the Catholic and faithful
remnant' which alone adhered to 'the orthodox and rightful bishops,' and bitter
charges, mounting up to that of apostacy, were directed against the 'compliant'
majority. But, wide as was the gulf, and heinous as was the sin by which,
according to such Nonjurors, the Established Church had separated itself from
primitive faith, the asserted defection consisted solely in this, that it had
committed the sin of rebellion in forsaking its divinely appointed King, and
the sin of schism in rejecting the authority of its canonical bishops. No one
contended that there were further points of difference between the two
communions. Dr. Bowes asked
This was certainly the case in regard of those 'usages' which related to the
sacrificial character of the Eucharist and to prayers for the dead. Dr. Hickes
complained in one of his letters that the doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice
had disappeared from the writings even of divines who had treated on the
subject. How far this was correct became,
four years later, a disputed question. Bishop Trimnell declared it was a
doctrine that had never been taught in the
Some observations of a somewhat similar kind may be made in regard of
prayers for the departed, another subject which the
The Nonjurors and High Churchmen in general, no less than the rest of their
countrymen, were stout Protestants, and gloried in the name. High Churchmen had
stood in the van of that great contest with
It cannot be wondered at, that members of the nonjuring communion felt very
keenly the isolated, and, so to say, the sectarian condition in which they were
placed. There were few words dearer to them than that word 'Catholic,' which
breathes of loving brotherhood in one great Christian body. And yet outside
their own scanty fold they were repelled on every side. They had been ardently
attached to the
There was, however, one other great body of Christians towards whom, after a
time, the nonjuring separatists turned with proposals of amity and
intercommunion. This was the Eastern Church. Various causes had contributed to
remove something of the obscurity which had once shrouded this vast communion
from the knowledge of Englishmen. As far back as the earlier part of Charles
I.'s reign, the attention of either party in the English Church had been fixed
for a time on the overtures made by Cyrillus Lukaris,
patriarch, first of Alexandria, and then of Constantinople, to whom we owe the
precious gift of the 'Alexandrian manuscript' of the Scriptures. Archbishop
Abbot, a Calvinist, and one of the first representatives of the so-called
Latitudinarian party, had been attracted by the inclinations evinced by this
remarkable man towards the theology of
In 1716 Arsenius, Metropolitan of Thebais, came to
There was great variety of individual character in the group of Churchmen
who have formed the subject of this chapter. They did not all come into contact
with one another, and some were widely separated by the circumstances of their
lives. The one fact of some being Jurors and some Nonjurors was quite enough in
itself to make a vast difference of thoughts and sympathies among those who had
taken different sides. But they were closely united in what they held to be the
divinely appointed constitution of the Church. All looked back to primitive
times as the unalterable model of doctrine, order, and government; all were
firmly persuaded that the English Reformation was wholly based on a restoration
of the ancient pattern, and had fallen short of its object only so far forth as
that ideal had as yet been unattained; all looked with suspicion and alarm at
such tendencies of their age as seemed to them to contradict and thwart the development
of these principles. They were good men in a very high sense of the word,
earnestly religious, bent upon a conscientious fulfilment of their duties, and
centres, in their several spheres, of active Christian labours. Ken, Nelson,
and Kettlewell, among Nonjurors—Bull, Beveridge, and Sharp, among those
who accepted the change of dynasty—are names deservedly held in special
honour by English Churchmen. Their piety was
of a type more frequent perhaps in the Church of England than in some other
communions, very serious and devout, but wholly free from all gloom and
moroseness; tinged in some instances, as in Dodwell, Ken, and Hooper, with
asceticism, but serene and bright, and guarded against extravagance and
fanaticism by culture, social converse, and sound reading. Such men could not
fail to adorn the faith they professed, and do honour to the Church in which
they had been nurtured. At the same time, some of the tenets which they
ardently maintained were calculated to foster a stiffness and narrowness, and
an exaggerated insistence upon certain forms of Church government, which
contained many elements of real danger. Within the
But, Jurors or Nonjurors, the very best men of the old
The High Anglican custom of appealing to early ecclesiastical records as an
acknowledged standard of authority on all matters which Scripture has left
uncertain, necessarily led this section of the
Fervid as their Christianity was, it was altogether unprogressive in its
form. It was inelastic, incompetent to adapt itself to changing circumstances.
Some of their leaders were inclined at one time to favour a scheme of
comprehension. It is, however, impossible to believe they would have agreed to
any concession which was not evidently superficial. They longed indeed for
unity; and there is no reason to believe that they would have hesitated to
sacrifice, though it would not be without a pang, many points of ritual and
ceremony if it would further so good an end. But in their scheme of theology
the essentials of an orthodox Church were numerous, and they would have been
inflexible against any compromise of these. To abandon any part of the
inheritance of primitive times would be gross heresy, a fatal dereliction of Christian duty. No one can read the
letters of Bishop Ken without noticing how the calm and gentle spirit of that
good prelate kindles into indignation at the thought of any departure from the
ancient 'Depositum' of the Church. He did not fail to appreciate and love true
Christian piety when brought into near contact with it, even in those whose
principles, in what he considered essential matters, differed greatly from his
own. He was on cordial, and even intimate terms of friendship, for example,
with Mr. Singer, a Nonconformist gentleman of high standing, who lived in the
neighbourhood of Longleat. But this only serves to illustrate that there is an
unity of faith far deeper than very deeply marked outward distinctions, a bond of
Christian communion which, when once its strength is felt, is stronger than the
strongest theories. Where the stiffness of his 'Catholic and orthodox' opinions
was not counteracted or mitigated by feelings of warm personal respect, Ken
could only view with unmixed aversion the working of principles which paid
little regard to Church authority and attached small importance to any part of
a Church system that did not clearly rest on plain words of Scripture. No one,
reading without farther information the frequent laments made in Ken's letters
and poems, that his flock had been left without a shepherd, that it was no
longer folded in Catholic and hallowed grounds, and that it was fed with
empoisoned instead of wholesome food, would think how good a man his successor
in the see of Bath and Wells really was. Bishop Kidder was 'an exemplary and
learned man of the simplest and most charitable character.' Robert Nelson had strongly
recommended him to Archbishop Tillotson. But he held a Low Church view of the
Sacraments; he was inclined to admit, on what some considered too lenient
terms, Dissenters of high character into the ministry of the
Such opinions, when rich in vitality and warmth of conviction, have a very important function to fulfil. Admirably adapted to supply the spiritual wants of a certain class of minds, they represent one very important side of Christian truth. Good men such as those who have been the subject of this chapter are, in the Church, much what disinterested and patriotic Conservatives are in the State. It is their special function to resist needless changes and a too compliant subservience to new or popular ideas, to maintain unbroken the continuity of Christian thought, to guard from disparagement and neglect whatever was most valuable in the religious characteristics of an earlier age. Theirs is a school of thought which has neither a greater nor a less claim to genuine spirituality than that which is usually contrasted with it. Only its spirituality is wont to take, in many respects, a different tone. Instead of shrinking from forms which by their abuse may tend to formalism, and simplifying to the utmost all the accessories of worship, in jealous fear lest at any time the senses should be impressed at the expense of the spirit, it prefers rather to recognise as far as possible a lofty sacramental character in the institutions of religion, to see a meaning, and an inward as well as an outward beauty, in ceremonies and ritual, and to uphold a scrupulous and reverential observance of all sacred services, as conducing in a very high degree to spiritual edification. Churchmen of this type may often be blind to other sides of truth; they may rush into extremes; they may fall into grave errors of exclusiveness and prejudice. But if they certainly cannot become absolutely predominant in a Church without serious danger, they cannot become a weak minority without much detriment to its best interests. And since it is hopeless to find on any wide scale minds so happily tempered as to combine within themselves the best characteristics of different religious parties, a Church may well be congratulated which can count among its loyal and attached members many men on either side conspicuous for their high qualities.
The beginning of Queen Anne's reign was
in this respect a period of great promise. Not only was the Church of
As it was, things took a different course. The chief promoters of these
noble efforts died, and much of their work died with them. Or it may be that
the times were not yet ripe for such a revival. It may even have been better in
the end for English Christianity, that no special period of religious
excitement should interfere with the serious intellectual conflict, in which
all who could give any attention to theology were becoming deeply interested.
Great problems involved in the principles of the Reformation, but obscured up
to that time by other and more superficial controversies, were being everywhere
discussed. An interval of religious tranquillity amounting almost to stagnation
may have been not altogether unfavourable to a crisis when the fundamental
axioms of Christianity were being reviewed and tested. And, after all, dulness
is not death. The responsibilities of each individual soul are happily not
dependent upon unusual helps and extraordinary opportunities. Yet great efforts
of what may be called missionary zeal are most precious, and fall like rain
upon the thirsty earth. It is impossible not to feel disappointment that the
practical energies which at the beginning of the eighteenth century seemed
ready to expand into full life should have proved comparatively barren of
permanent results. But though the effort was not seconded as it should have
been, none the less honour is due to the exemplary men who made it. It was an
effort by no means confined to any one section of the Church. There were few
more earnest in it than many of the
Of the many controversies which were rife during the first half of the eighteenth century, none raised a question of greater importance than that which lay at the root of the Deistical controversy. That question was, in a word, this—How has God revealed Himself—how is He still revealing Himself to man? Is the so-called written Word the only means—is it the chief means—is it even a means at all, by which the Creator makes His will known to His creatures? Admitting the existence of a God—and with a few insignificant exceptions this admission would have been made by all—What are the evidences of His existence and of His dealings with us?
During the whole period of pre-reformation Christianity in England, and during the century which succeeded the rupture between the Church of England and that of Rome, all answers to this question, widely though they might have differed in subordinate points, would at least have agreed in this—that some external authority, whether it were the Scripture as interpreted by the Church, or the Scripture and Church traditions combined, or the Scripture interpreted by the light which itself affords or by the inner light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, was necessary to manifest God to man. The Deists first ventured to hint that such authority was unnecessary; some even went so far as to hint that it was impossible. This at least was the tendency of their speculations; though it was not the avowed object of them. There was hardly a writer among the Deists who did not affirm that he had no wish to depreciate revealed truth. They all protested vigorously against the assumption that Deism was in any way opposed to Christianity rightly understood. 'Deism,' they said, 'is opposed to Atheism on the one side and to superstition on the other; but to Christianity—true, original Christianity—as it came forth from the hands of its founder, the Deists are so far from being opposed, that they are its truest defenders.' Whether their position was logically tenable is quite another question, but that they assumed it in all sincerity there is no reason to doubt.
It is, however, extremely difficult to assert or deny anything respecting
the Deists as a body, for as a matter of fact they had no corporate existence.
The writers who are generally grouped under the name wrote apparently upon no
preconcerted plan. They formed no sect, properly so-called, and were bound by
no creed. In this sense at least they were genuine 'freethinkers,' in that they
freely expressed their thoughts without the slightest regard to what had been
said or might be said by their friends or foes. It was the fashion among their
contemporaries to speak of the Deists as if they were as distinct a sect as the
Quakers, the Socinians, the Presbyterians, or any other religious denomination.
But we look in vain for any common doctrine—any common form of worship
which belonged to the Deists as Deists. As a rule, they showed no desire to
separate themselves from communion with the
The Deistical writers attracted attention out of all proportion to their literary merit. The pulpit rang with denunciations of their doctrines. The press teemed with answers to their arguments. It may seem strange that a mere handful of not very voluminous writers, not one of whom can be said to have attained to the eminence of an English classic, should have created such a vast amount of excitement. But the excitement was really caused by the subject itself, not by the method in which it was handled. The Deists only gave expression—often a very coarse and inadequate expression—to thoughts which the circumstances of the times could scarcely fail to suggest.
The Scriptures had for many years been used to sanction the most diametrically opposite views. They had been the watchword of each party in turn whose extravagances had been the cause of all the disasters and errors of several generations. Romanists had quoted them when they condemned Protestants to the stake, Protestants when they condemned Jesuits to the block. The Roundhead had founded his wild reign of fanaticism on their authority. The Cavalier had texts ready at hand to sanction the most unconstitutional measures. 'The right divine of kings to govern wrong' had been grounded on Scriptural authority. All the strange vagaries in which the seventeenth century had been so fruitful claimed the voice of Scripture in their favour.
Such reckless use of Scripture tended to throw discredit upon it as a revelation from God; while, on the other hand, the grand discoveries in natural science which were a distinguishing feature of the seventeenth century equally tended to exalt men's notions of that other revelation of Himself which God has made in the Book of Nature. The calm attitude of the men of science who had been steadily advancing in the knowledge of the natural world, and by each fresh discovery had given fresh proofs of the power, and wisdom, and goodness of God, stood forth in painful contrast with the profitless wranglings and bitter animosities of Divines. Men might well begin to ask themselves whether they could not find rest from theological strife in natural religion? and the real object of the Deists was to demonstrate that they could.
Thus the period of Deism was the period of a great religious crisis in
It is hardly necessary to remark that Deism was not a product of the eighteenth century. The spirit in which Deism appeared in its most pronounced form had been growing for many generations previous to that date. But we must pass over the earlier Deists, of whom the most notable was Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and come at once to a writer who, although his most notorious work was published before the seventeenth century closed, lived and wrote during the eighteenth, and may fairly be regarded as belonging to that era.
No work which can be properly called Deistical had raised anything like the excitement
which was caused by the anonymous publication in 1696 of a short and incomplete
treatise entitled 'Christianity not Mysterious, or a Discourse showing that
there is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason nor above it, and that no
Christian Doctrine can properly be called a Mystery.' In the second edition,
published the same year, the author discovered himself to be a young Irishman
of the name of John Toland, who had been brought up a Roman Catholic. Leland
passes over this work with a slight notice; but it marked a distinct epoch in
Deistical literature. For the first time, the secular arm was brought to bear
upon a writer of this school. The book was presented by the Grand Jury of
Middlesex, and was burnt by the hands of the hangman in
Toland being a vain man rather enjoyed this notoriety than otherwise; but if his own account of the object of his publication be correct (and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity), he was singularly unsuccessful in impressing his real meaning upon his contemporaries. He affirmed that 'he wrote his book to defend Christianity, and prayed that God would give him grace to vindicate religion,' and at a later period he published his creed in terms that would satisfy the most orthodox Christian.
For an explanation of the extraordinary discrepancy between the avowed object of the writer and the alleged tendency of his book we naturally turn to the work itself. After stating the conflicting views of divines about the Gospel mysteries, the author maintains that there is nothing in the Gospel contrary to reason nor above it, and that no Christian doctrine can be properly called a mystery. He then defines the functions of reason, and proceeds to controvert the two following positions, (1) that though reason and the Gospel are not in themselves contradictory, yet according to our conception of them they may seem directly to clash; and (2) that we are to adore what we cannot comprehend. He declares that what Infinite Goodness has not been pleased to reveal to us, we are either sufficiently capable of discovering ourselves or need not understand at all. He affirms that 'mystery' in the New Testament is never put for anything inconceivable in itself or not to be judged by our ordinary faculties; and concludes by showing that mysteries in the present sense of the term were imported into Christianity partly by Judaisers, but mainly by the heathen introducing their old mysteries into Christianity when they were converted.
The stir which this small work created, marks a new phase in the history of Deism. Compared with Lord Herbert's elaborate treatises, it is an utterly insignificant work; but the excitement caused by Lord Herbert's books was as nothing when compared with that which Toland's fragment raised. The explanation may perhaps be found in the fact that at the later date men's minds were more at leisure to consider the questions raised than they were at the earlier, and also that they perceived, or fancied they perceived, more clearly the drift of such speculations. A little tract, published towards the end of the seventeenth century, entitled 'The Growth of Deism,' brings out these points; and as a matter of fact we find that for the next half century the minds of all classes were on the alert—some in sympathy with, many more in bitter antagonism against Deistical speculations. In his later writings, Toland went much further in the direction of infidelity, if not of absolute Atheism, than he did in his first work.
The next writer who comes under our notice was a greater man in every sense of the term than Toland. Lord Shaftesbury's 'Miscellaneous Essays,' which were ultimately grouped in one work, under the title of 'Characteristics of Men and Manners, &c.,' only bear incidentally upon the points at issue between the Deists and the orthodox. But scattered here and there are passages which show how strongly the writer felt upon the subject. Leland was called to account, and half apologises for ranking Shaftesbury among the Deists at all. And there certainly is one point of view from which Shaftesbury's speculations may be regarded not only as Christian, but as greatly in advance of the Christianity of many of the orthodox writers of his day. As a protest against the selfish, utilitarian view of Christianity which was utterly at variance with the spirit displayed and inculcated by Him 'who pleased not Himself,' Lord Shaftesbury's work deserves the high tribute paid to it by its latest editor, 'as a monument to immutable morality and Christian philosophy which has survived many changes of opinion and revolutions of thought.' But from another point of view we shall come to a very different conclusion.
Shaftesbury was regarded by his contemporaries as a decided and formidable
adversary of Christianity. Pope told Warburton,
that 'to his knowledge "The Characteristics" had done more harm to
Revealed Religion in
A careful examination of Shaftesbury's writings can hardly fail to lead us to the same conclusion. He writes, indeed, as an easy, well-bred man of the world, and was no doubt perfectly sincere in his constantly repeated disavowal of any wish to disturb the existing state of things. But his reason obviously is that 'the game would not be worth the candle.' No one can fail to perceive a contemptuous irony in many passages in which Shaftesbury affirms his orthodoxy, or when he touches upon the persecution of the early Christians, or upon the mysteries of Christianity, or upon the sacred duty of complying with the established religion with unreasoning faith, or upon his presumed scepticism, or upon the nature of the Christian miracles, or upon the character of our Blessed Saviour, or upon the representation of God in the Old Testament, or upon the supposed omission of the virtue of friendship in the Christian system of ethics.
It is needless to quote the passages in which Shaftesbury, like the other
Deists, abuses the Jews; neither is it necessary to dwell upon his strange
argument that ridicule is the best test of truth. In this, as in other parts of
his writings, it is often difficult to see when he is writing seriously, when ironically.
Perhaps he has himself furnished us with the means of solving the difficulty.
'If,' he writes, 'men are forbidden to speak their minds seriously on certain subjects, they will do it
ironically. If they are forbidden to speak at all upon such subjects, or if
they find it really dangerous to do so, they will then redouble their disguise,
involve themselves in mysteriousness, and talk so as hardly to be understood or
at least not plainly interpreted by those who are disposed to do them a
mischief.' The general tendency, however,
of his writings is pretty clear, and is in harmony with the Deistical theory
that God's revelation of Himself in Nature is certain, clear, and sufficient
for all practical purposes, while any other revelation is uncertain, obscure,
and unnecessary. But he holds that it would be unmannerly and disadvantageous
to the interests of the community to act upon this doctrine in practical life.
'Better take things as they are. Laugh in your sleeve, if you will, at the
follies which priestcraft has imposed upon mankind; but do not show your bad
taste and bad humour by striving to battle against the stream of popular
opinion. When you are at
It must be confessed that such low views of religion and morality are strangely at variance with the exalted notions of the disinterestedness of virtue which form the staple of one of Shaftesbury's most important treatises. To reconcile the discrepancy seems impossible. Only let us take care that while we emphatically repudiate the immoral compromise between truth and expediency which Shaftesbury recommends, we do not lose sight of the real service which he has rendered to religion as well as philosophy by showing the excellency of virtue in itself without regard to the rewards and punishments which are attached to its pursuit or neglect.
The year before 'The Characteristics' appeared as a single work (1713), a small treatise was published anonymously which was at first assigned to the author of 'Christianity not Mysterious,' and which almost rivalled that notorious work in the attention which it excited, out of all proportion to its intrinsic merits. It was entitled 'A Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers,' and was presently owned as the work of Anthony Collins, an author who had previously entered into the lists of controversy in connection with the disputes of Sacheverell, Dodwell, and Clarke. 'The Discourse of Freethinking' was in itself a slight performance. Its general scope was to show that every man has a right to think freely on all religious as well as other subjects, and that the exercise of this right is the sole remedy for the evil of superstition. The necessity of freethinking is shown by the endless variety of opinions which priests hold about all religious questions. Then the various objections to Freethinking are considered, and the treatise ends with a list and description of wise and virtuous Freethinkers—nineteen in number—from Socrates to Tillotson.
In estimating the merits of this little book, and in accounting for the excitement which it produced, we must not forget that what may now appear to us truisms were 170 years ago new truths, even if they were recognised as truths at all. At the beginning of the eighteenth century it was not an unnecessary task to vindicate the right of every man to think freely; and if Collins had performed the work which he had taken in hand fully and fairly he might have done good service. But while professedly advocating the duty of thinking freely, he showed so obvious a bias in favour of thinking in a particular direction, and wrested facts and quoted authorities in so one-sided a manner, that he laid himself open to the just strictures of many who valued and practised equally with himself the right of freethinking. Some of the most famous men of the day at once entered into the lists against him, amongst whom were Hoadly, Swift, Whiston, Berkeley, and above all Bentley. The latter, under the title of 'Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,' wrote in the character of a German Lutheran to his English friend, Dr. Francis Hare, 'Remarks on a Discourse on Freethinking.' Regarded as a piece of intellectual gladiatorship the Remarks are justly entitled to the fame they have achieved. The great critic exposed unmercifully and unanswerably Collins's slips in scholarship, ridiculed his style, made merry over the rising and growing sect which professed its competency to think de quolibet ente, protested indignantly against putting the Talapoins of Siam on a level with the whole clergy of England, 'the light and glory of Christianity,' and denied the right of the title of Freethinkers to men who brought scandal on so good a word.
Bentley hit several blots, not only in Collins, but in others of the 'rising and growing sect.' The argument, e.g., drawn from the variety of readings in the New Testament, is not only demolished but adroitly used to place his adversary on the horns of a dilemma. Nothing again, can be neater than his answer to various objections by showing that those objections had been brought to light by Christians themselves. And yet the general impression, when one has read Collins and Bentley carefully, is that there is a real element of truth in the former to which the latter has not done justice; that Bentley presses Collins's arguments beyond their logical conclusion; that Collins is not what Bentley would have him to be—a mere Materialist—an Atheist in disguise; that Bentley's insinuation, that looseness of living is the cause of his looseness of belief, is ungenerous, and requires proof which Bentley has not given: that the bitter abuse which he heaps upon his adversary as 'a wretched gleaner of weeds,' 'a pert teacher of his betters,' 'an unsociable animal,' 'an obstinate and intractable wretch,' and much more to the same effect, is unworthy of a Christian clergyman, and calculated to damage rather than do service to the cause which he has at heart.
Collins himself was not put to silence. Besides other writings of minor importance, he published in 1724 the most weighty of all his works, a 'Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion.' The object of this book is to show that Christianity is entirely founded on the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, and then to prove that these prophecies were fulfilled not in a literal, but only in a typical or secondary sense. Novelty, he argues, is a weighty reproach against any religious institution; the truth of Christianity must depend upon the old dispensation; it is founded on Judaism. Jesus makes claim to obedience only so far as He is the Messias of the Old Testament; the fundamental article of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah, and this can only be known out of the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament is the only canon of Christians; for the New Testament is not a law book for the ruling of the Church. The Apostles rest their proof of Christianity only on the Old Testament. If this proof is valid, Christianity is strong and built upon its true grounds; if weak, Christianity is false. For no miracles, no authority of the New Testament can prove its truth; miracles can only be a proof so far as they are comprehended in and exactly consonant with the prophecies concerning the Messias. It is only in this sense that Jesus appeals to His miracles. Christianity, in a word, is simply the allegorical sense of the Old Testament, and therefore may be rightly called 'Mystical Judaism.'
As all this bore the appearance of explaining away Christianity altogether, or at least of making it rest upon the most shadowy and unsubstantial grounds, there is no wonder that it called forth a vehement opposition: no less than thirty-five answerers appeared within two years of its publication, among whom are found the great names of T. Sherlock, Zachary Pearce, S. Clarke, and Dr. Chandler. The latter wrote the most solid and profound, if not the most brilliant work which the Deistical controversy had yet called forth.
But the strangest outcome of Collins's famous book was the work of Woolston,
an eccentric writer who is generally classed among the Deists, but who was in
fact sui generis. In the Collins Controversy, Woolston appears as a
moderator between an infidel and an apostate, the infidel being Collins, and
the apostate the Church of England, which had left the good old paths of
allegory to become slaves of the letter. In this, as in previous works, he
rides his hobby, which was a strange perversion of patristic notions, to the
death; and a few years later he returned to the charge in one of the wildest,
craziest books that ever was written by human pen. It was entitled 'Six
Discourses on the Miracles,' and in it the literal interpretation of the New
Testament miracles is ridiculed with the coarsest blasphemy, while the mystical
interpretations which he substitutes in its place read like the disordered
fancies of a sick man's dream. He professes simply to follow the fathers,
ignoring the fact that the fathers, as a rule, had grafted their allegorical
interpretation upon the literal history, not substituted the one for the other.
Woolston was the only Deist—if Deist he is to be called,—who as yet
had suffered anything like persecution; indeed, with one exception, and that a
doubtful one, he was the only one who ever did. He was brought before the
King's Bench, condemned to pay 25l. for each of his Six Discourses, and
to suffer a year's imprisonment; after which he was only to regain his liberty
upon finding either two securities for 1,000l. or four for 500l.;
as no one would go bail for him, he remained in prison until his death in 1731.
The punishment was a cruel one, considering the state of the poor man's mind,
of the disordered condition of which he was himself conscious. If he deserved
to lose his liberty at all, an asylum would have been a more fitting place of
confinement for him than a prison. But if we regard his writings as the
writings of a sane man, which, strange to say, his contemporaries appear to
have done, we can hardly be surprised at the fate he met with. Supposing that any
blasphemous publication deserved punishment—a supposition which in
Woolston's days would have been granted as a matter of course—it is
impossible to conceive anything more outrageously blasphemous than what is
found in Woolston's wild book. The only strange part of the matter was that it
should have been treated seriously at all. 30,000 copies of his discourses on
the miracles were sold quickly and at a very
dear rate; whole bales of them were sent over to
The works of Woolston were, however, in one way important, inasmuch as they called the public attention to the miracles of our Lord, and especially to the greatest miracle of all—His own Resurrection. The most notable of the answers to Woolston was Thomas Sherlock's 'Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus.' This again called forth an anonymous pamphlet entitled 'The Resurrection of Jesus considered,' by a 'moral philosopher,' who afterwards proved to be one Peter Annet. In no strict sense of the term can Annet be called a Deist, though he is often ranked in that class. His name is, however, worth noticing, from his connection with the important and somewhat curiously conducted controversy respecting the Resurrection, to which Sherlock's 'Tryal of the Witnesses' gave both the impulse and the form. Annet, like Woolston, was prosecuted for blasphemy and profanity; and if the secular arm should ever be appealed to in such matters, which is doubtful, he deserved it by the coarse ribaldry of his attacks upon sacred things.
It has been thought better to present at one view the works which were written on the miracles. This, however, is anticipating. The year after the publication of Woolston's discourses, and some years before Annet wrote, by far the most important work which ever appeared on the part of the Deists was published. Hitherto Deism had mainly been treated on its negative or destructive side. The mysteries of Christianity, the limitations to thought which it imposes, its system of rewards and punishments, its fulfilment of prophecy, its miracles, had been in turn attacked. The question then naturally arises, 'What will you substitute in its place?' or rather, to put the question as a Deist would have put it, 'What will you substitute in the place of the popular conception of Christianity?' for this alone, not Christianity itself, Deism professed to attack. In other words, 'What is the positive or constructive side of Deism?'
This question Tindal attempts to answer in his 'Christianity as old as the Creation.' The answer is a plain one, and the arguments by which he supports it are repeated with an almost wearisome iteration. 'The religion of nature,' he writes, 'is absolutely perfect; Revelation can neither add to nor take from its perfection.' 'The law of nature has the highest internal excellence, the greatest plainness, simplicity, unanimity, universality, antiquity, and eternity. It does not depend upon the uncertain meaning of words and phrases in dead languages, much less upon types, metaphors, allegories, parables, or on the skill or honesty of weak or designing transcribers (not to mention translators) for many ages together, but on the immutable relation of things always visible to the whole world.' Tindal is fond of stating the question in the form of a dilemma. 'The law of nature,' he writes, 'either is or is not a perfect law; if the first, it is not capable of additions; if the last, does it not argue want of wisdom in the Legislator in first enacting such an imperfect law, and then in letting it continue thus imperfect from age to age, and at last thinking to make it absolutely perfect by adding some merely positive and arbitrary precepts?' And again, 'Revelation either bids or forbids men to use their reason in judging of all religious matters; if the former, then it only declares that to be our duty which was so, independent of and antecedent to revelation; if the latter, then it does not deal with men as rational creatures. Everyone is of this opinion who says we are not to read Scripture with freedom of assenting or dissenting, just as we judge it agrees or disagrees with the light of nature and reason of things.' Coming more definitely to the way in which we are to treat the written word, he writes: 'Admit all for Scripture that tends to the honour of God, and nothing which does not.' Finally, he sums up by declaring in yet plainer words the absolute identity of Christianity with natural religion. 'God never intended mankind should be without a religion, or could ordain an imperfect religion; there must have been from the beginning a religion most perfect, which mankind at all times were capable of knowing; Christianity is this perfect, original religion.'
In this book Deism reaches its climax. The sensation which it created was greater than even Toland or Collins had raised. No less than one hundred and fifteen answers appeared, one of the most remarkable of which was Conybeare's 'Defence of Revealed Religion against "Christianity as old as the Creation."' Avoiding the scurrility and personality which characterised and marred most of the works written on both sides of the question, Conybeare discusses in calm and dignified, but at the same time luminous and impressive language, the important question which Tindal had raised. Doing full justice to the element of truth which Tindal's work contained, he unravels the complications in which it is involved, shows that the author had confused two distinct meanings of the phrase 'natural reason' or 'natural religion,' viz. (1) that which is founded on the nature and reason of things, and (2) that which is discoverable by man's natural power of mind, and distinguishes between that which is perfect in its kind and that which is absolutely perfect. This powerful work is but little known in the present day. But it was highly appreciated by Conybeare's contemporaries, and the German historian of English Deism hardly knows how to find language strong enough to express his admiration of its excellence.
But Tindal had the honour of calling forth a still stronger adversary than Conybeare. Butler's 'Analogy' deals with the arguments of 'Christianity as old as the Creation' more than with those of any other book; but as this was not avowedly its object, and as it covered a far wider ground than Tindal did, embracing in fact the whole range of the Deistical controversy, it will be better to postpone the consideration of this masterpiece until the sequel.
By friend and foe alike Tindal seems to have been regarded as the chief exponent of Deism. Skelton in his 'Deism revealed' (published in 1748) says that 'Tindal is the great apostle of Deism who has gathered together the whole strength of the party, and his book is become the bible of all Deistical readers.' Warburton places him at the head of his party, classifying the Deists, 'from the mighty author of "Christianity as old as the Creation," to the drunken, blaspheming cobbler who wrote against Jesus and the Resurrection.' The subsequent writers on the Deistical side took their cue from Tindal, thus showing the estimation in which his book was held by his own party.
Tindal was in many respects fitted for the position which he occupied. He was an old man when he wrote his great work, and had observed and taken an interest in the whole course of the Deistical controversy for more than forty years. He had himself passed through many phases of religion, having been a pupil of Hickes the Nonjuror, at Lincoln College, Oxford, then a Roman Catholic, then a Low Churchman, and finally, to use his own designation of himself, 'a Christian Deist.' He had, no doubt, carefully studied the various writings of the Deists and their opponents, and had detected the weak points of all. His book is written in a comparatively temperate spirit, and the subject is treated with great thoroughness and ability. Still it has many drawbacks, even from a literary point of view. It is written in the wearisome form of dialogue, and the writer falls into that error to which all controversial writers in dialogue are peculiarly liable. When a man has to slay giants of his own creation, he is sorely tempted to make his giants no stronger than dwarfs. To this temptation Tindal yielded. His defender of orthodoxy is so very weak, that a victory over him is no great achievement. Again, there is a want of order and lucidity in his book, and not sufficient precision in his definitions. But the worst fault of all is the unfairness of his quotations, both from the Bible and other books.
Perhaps one reason why, in spite of these defects, the book exercised so vast an influence is, that the minds of many who sympathised with the destructive process employed by preceding Deists may have begun to yearn for something more constructive. They might ask themselves, 'What then is our religion to be? And Tindal answers the question after a fashion. 'It is to be the religion of nature, and an expurgated Christianity in so far as it agrees with the religion of nature.' The answer is a somewhat vague one, but better than none, and as such may have been welcomed. This, however, is mere conjecture.
Deism, as we have seen, had now reached its zenith; henceforth its history is the history of a rapid decline. Tindal did not live to complete his work; but after his death it was taken up by far feebler hands.
Dr. Morgan in a work entitled 'The Moral Philosopher, or a Dialogue between Philalethes a Christian Deist, and Theophanes a Christian Jew,' follows closely in Tindal's footsteps. Like him, he insists upon the absolute perfection of the law or religion of nature, of which Christianity is only a republication. Like him, he professes himself a Christian Deist and vigorously protests against being supposed to be an enemy to Christianity. But his work is inferior to Tindal's in every respect. It is an ill-written book. It is mainly directed against the Jewish economy. But Morgan takes a far wider range than this, embracing the whole of the Old Testament, which he appears to read backward, finding objects of admiration in what are there set before us as objects of reprobation and vice versa.
But though Morgan deals mainly with the Old Testament, he throws considerable doubt in his third volume upon the New. The account given of the life of Christ, still more, that of His Resurrection, and above all, the miracles wrought by His apostles, are all thrown into discredit.
On the whole, this book marks a distinct epoch in the history of English Deism. There is little indeed said by Morgan which had not been insinuated by one or other of his predecessors, but the point to be marked is that it was now said, not merely insinuated. The whole tone of the book indicates 'the beginning of the end' not far distant, that end being what Lechler calls 'the dissolution of Deism into Scepticism.'
But there is yet one more author to be noticed whose works were still written in the earlier vein of Deism. So far Deism had not found a representative writer among the lower classes. The aristocracy and the middle class had both found exponents of their views; but Deism had penetrated into lower strata of society than these, and at length a very fitting representative of this part of the community appeared in the person of Thomas Chubb. Himself a working man, and to a great extent self-educated, Chubb had had peculiar opportunities of observing the mind of the class to which he belonged. His earlier writings were not intended for publication, but were written for the benefit of a sort of debating club of working men of which he was a member. He was with difficulty persuaded to publish them, mainly through the influence of the famous William Whiston, and henceforth became a somewhat voluminous writer, leaving behind him at his death a number of tracts and essays, which were published together under the title of 'Chubb's Posthumous Works.' In his main arguments Chubb, like Morgan, follows closely in the wake of Tindal. But his view of Deism was distinctly from the standpoint of the working man. As Morgan had directed his attention mainly to the Old Testament, Chubb directed his mainly to the New. Like others of his school, he protests against being thought an enemy to Christianity. His two works 'The True Gospel of Jesus Christ asserted,' and 'The True Gospel of Jesus Christ vindicated,' give the best exposition of Chubb's views. 'Our Lord Jesus Christ' he writes, 'undertook to be a reformer, and in consequence thereof a Saviour. The true Gospel is this: (1) Christ requires a conformity of mind and life to that eternal and unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things, and makes that the only ground of divine acceptance, and the only and sure way to life eternal. (2) If by violation of the law they have displeased God, he requires repentance and reformation as the only and sure ground of forgiveness. (3) There will be a judgment according to works. This Gospel wrought a change which by a figure of speech is called "a new birth"' (§ 13). Like Tindal, he contrasts the certainty of natural with the uncertainty of any traditional religion. He owns 'the Christian revelation was expedient because of the general corruption; but it was no more than a publication of the original law of nature, and tortured and made to speak different things.' He repeats Tindal's objection to the want of universality of revealed religion on the same grounds. His chief attacks were, as has been said, made upon the New Testament. He demurs to the acceptance of the Gospels as infallibly true.
Chubb expresses just those difficulties and objections which would naturally have most weight with the more intelligent portion of the working classes. Speculative questions are put comparatively in the background. His view of the gospel is just that plain practical view which an artisan could grasp without troubling himself about transcendental questions, on the nice adjustment of which divines disputed. 'Put all such abstruse matters aside,' Chubb says in effect to his fellow-workmen, 'they have nothing to do with the main point at issue, they are no parts of the true Gospel.' His rocks of offence, too, are just those against which the working man would stumble. The shortcomings of the clergy had long been part of the stock-in-trade of almost all the Deistical writers. Their supposed wealth and idleness gave, as was natural, special offence to the representative of the working classes. He attacks individual clergymen, inveighs against the 'unnatural coalition of Church and State,' and speaks of men living in palaces like kings, clothing themselves in fine linen and costly apparel, and faring sumptuously.
The lower and lower-middle classes have always been peculiarly sensitive to the dangers of priestcraft and a relapse into Popery. Accordingly Chubb constantly appealed to this anti-Popish feeling.
Chubb, being an illiterate man, made here and there slips of scholarship, but he wrote in a clear, vigorous, sensible style, and his works had considerable influence over those to whom they were primarily addressed.
The cause of Deism in its earlier sense was now almost extinct. Those who were afterwards called Deists really belong to a different school of thought. A remarkable book, which was partly the outcome, partly, perhaps, the cause of this altered state of feeling, was published by Dodwell the younger, in 1742. It was entitled 'Christianity not founded on argument,' and there was at first a doubt whether the author wrote as a friend or an enemy of Christianity. He was nominally opposed to both, for both the Deists and their adversaries agreed that reason and revelation were in perfect harmony. The Deist accused the Orthodox of sacrificing reason at the shrine of revelation, the Orthodox accused the Deist of sacrificing revelation at the shrine of reason; but both sides vehemently repudiated the charge. The Orthodox was quite as anxious to prove that his Christianity was not unreasonable, as the Deist was to prove that his rationalism was not anti-Christian.
Now the author of 'Christianity not founded on argument' came forward to prove that both parties were attempting an impossibility. In opposition to everything that had been written on both sides of the controversy for the last half century, Dodwell protested against all endeavours to reconcile the irreconcilable.
His work is in the form of a letter to a young
Such is the substance of this remarkable work. He hit, and hit very forcibly, a blot which belonged to almost all writers in common who took part in this controversy. The great deficiency of the age—a want of spiritual earnestness, an exclusive regard to the intellectual, to the ignoring of the emotional element of our nature—nowhere appears more glaringly than in the Deistical and anti-Deistical literature. What Dodwell urges in bitter irony, John Wesley urged in sober seriousness, when he intimated that Deists and evidence writers alike were strangers to those truths which are 'spiritually discerned.'
There is yet one more writer who is popularly regarded not only as a Deist,
but as the chief of the Deists—Lord Bolingbroke, to whom Leland gives
more space than to all the other Deists put together. So far as the eminence of
the man is concerned, the prominence given to him is not disproportionate to
his merits, but it is only in a very qualified sense that Lord Bolingbroke can
be called a Deist. He lived and was before the public during the whole course of
the Deistical controversy, so far as it belongs to the eighteenth century; but
he was known, not as a theologian, but first as a brilliant, fashionable man of
pleasure, then as a politician. So far as he took any part in religious matters
at all, it was as a violent partisan of the established faith and as a
persecutor of Dissenters. It was mainly through his instrumentality that the
iniquitous Schism Act of 1713 was passed. In the House of Commons he called it
'a bill of the last importance, since it concerned the security of the Church
of England, the best and firmest support of the monarchy.' In his famous letter
to Sir W. Wyndham, he justified his action in regard to this measure, and the
kindred bill against occasional conformity, on purely political grounds. He
publicly expressed his abhorrence of the so-called Freethinkers, whom he
stigmatised as 'Pests of Society.' But in a letter to Mr. Pope, he gave some intimation of his real sentiments, and at
the same time justified his reticence about them. 'Let us,' he writes, 'seek
truth, but quietly, as well as freely. Let us not imagine, like some who are
called Freethinkers, that every man who can think and judge for himself, as he
has a right to do, has therefore a right of speaking any more than acting according
to freedom of thought.' Then, after expressing sentiments which are written in
the very spirit of Deism, he adds, 'I neither expect nor desire to see any
public revision made of the present system of Christianity. I should fear such
an attempt, &c.' It was accordingly not until after his death that his
theological views were fully expressed and published. These are principally
contained in his 'Philosophical Works,' which he bequeathed to David Mallet
with instructions for their publication; and Mallet accordingly gave them to
the world in 1754.
What his motives, however, were, can only be a matter of conjecture; let us proceed to examine the opinions themselves. They are contained mainly in a series of essays or letters addressed by him to his friend Pope, who did not live to read them; and they give us in a somewhat rambling, discursive fashion, his views on almost all subjects connected with religion. Many passages have the genuine Deistical ring about them. Like his precursors, he declares that he means particularly to defend the Christian religion; that genuine Christianity contained in the Gospels is the Word of God. Like them, he can scarcely find language strong enough to express his abhorrence of the Jews and the Old Testament generally. Like them, he abuses divines of all ages and their theological systems in the most unmeasured terms. It is almost needless to add that, in common with his predecessors, he contemptuously rejects all such doctrines as the Divinity of the Word, Expiation for Sin in any sense, the Holy Trinity, and the Efficacy of the Sacraments.
In many points, however, Lord Bolingbroke goes far beyond his predecessors. His 'First Philosophy' marks a distinct advance or decadence, according to the point of view from which we regard it, in the history of Freethinking. Everything in the Bible is ruthlessly swept aside, except what is contained in the Gospels. S. Paul, who had been an object of admiration to the earlier Deists, is the object of Bolingbroke's special abhorrence. And not only is the credibility of the Gospel writers impugned, Christ's own teaching and character are also carped at. Christ's conduct was 'reserved and cautious; His language mystical and parabolical. He gives no complete system of morality. His Sermon on the Mount gives some precepts which are impracticable, inconsistent with natural instinct and quite destructive of society. His miracles may be explained away.'
It may be said, indeed, that most of these tenets are contained in the germ in the writings of earlier Deists. But there are yet others of which this cannot be said.
Bolingbroke did not confine his attacks to revealed religion. Philosophy fares as badly as religion in his estimate. 'It is the frantic mother of a frantic offspring.' Plato is almost as detestable in his eyes as S. Paul. He has the most contemptuous opinion of his fellow-creatures, and declares that they are incapable of understanding the attributes of the Deity. He throws doubt upon the very existence of a world to come. He holds that 'we have not sufficient grounds to establish the doctrine of a particular providence, and to reconcile it to that of a general providence;' that 'prayer, or the abuse of prayer, carries with it ridicule;' that 'we have much better determined ideas of the divine wisdom than of the divine goodness,' and that 'to attempt to imitate God is in highest degree absurd.'
There is no need to discuss here the system of optimism which Lord Bolingbroke held in common with Lord Shaftesbury and Pope; for that system is consistent both with a belief and with a disbelief of Christianity, and we are at present concerned with Lord Bolingbroke's views only in so far as they are connected with religion. From the extracts given above, it will be seen how far in this system Deism had drifted away from its old moorings.
After Bolingbroke no Deistical writing, properly so called, was published in
First among such is the immortal work of Bishop Butler. Wherever the English
language is spoken,
Next in importance to
But, at any rate, we have Warburton's own authority for saying that his book had special reference to the Deists or Freethinkers (for the terms were then used synonymously).
He begins the dedication of the first edition of the first three books to the Freethinkers with the words, 'Gentlemen, as the following discourse was written for your use, you have the best right to this address.'
The argument of the 'Divine Legation' is stated thus by Warburton himself in syllogistic form:—
'I. Whatsoever Religion and Society have no future state for their support,
must be supported by an extraordinary
'The Jewish Religion and Society had no future state for their support.
'Therefore, the Jewish Religion and Society was supported by an
'II. It was universally believed by the ancients on their common principles of legislation and wisdom, that whatsoever Religion and Society have no future state for their support, must be supported by an extraordinary Providence.
'Moses, skilled in all that legislation and wisdom, instituted the Jewish Religion and Society without a future state for its support.
The work is a colossal monument of the author's learning and industry: the range of subjects which it embraces is enormous; and those who cannot agree with his conclusions either on the main argument, or on the many collateral points raised, must still admire the vast research and varied knowledge which the writer displays. It is, however, a book more talked about than read at the present day. Indeed, human life is too short to enable the general reader to do more than skim cursorily over a work of such proportions. Warburton's theory was novel and startling; and perhaps few even of the Deistical writers themselves evoked more criticism and opposition from the orthodox than this doughty champion of orthodoxy. But Warburton was in his element when engaged in controversy. He was quite ready to meet combatants from whatever side they might come; and, wielding his bludgeon with a vigorous hand, he dealt his blows now on the orthodox, now on the heterodox, with unsparing and impartial force. Judged, however, from a literary point of view, 'The Divine Legation' is too elaborate and too discursive a work to be effective for the purpose for which it was written; and most readers will be inclined to agree with Bentley's verdict, that the writer was 'a man of monstrous appetite but bad digestion.'
Of a very different character is the next work to be noticed, as one of
enduring interest on the Deistical controversy. Bishop Berkeley's 'Alciphron,
or the Minute Philosopher,' is one of the few exceptions to the general
dreariness and unreadableness of controversial
writings in the dialogistic form. The elegance and easiness of his style, and
the freshness and beauty of his descriptions of natural scenery by which the
tedium of the controversy is relieved, render this not only a readable, but a
fascinating book, even to the modern reader who has no present interest in the
controversial question. It is, however, by no means free from the graver errors
incident to this form of writing. Like Tindal, he makes his adversaries state
their case far too weakly. But, worse than this, he puts into their mouths
arguments which they would never have used, and sentiments which they never
held and which could not be fairly deduced from their writings. Not that Bishop
Berkeley ever wrote with conscious unfairness. The truly Christian, if somewhat
eccentric character of the man forbids such a supposition for one moment. His
error, no doubt, arose from the vagueness with which the terms Deist,
Freethinker, Naturalist, Atheist, were used indiscriminately to stigmatise men
of very different views. There was, for example, little or nothing in common
between such men as Lord Shaftesbury and Mandeville. The atrocious sentiment of
the 'Fable of the Bees,' that private vices are public benefits, was not the
sentiment of any true Deist. Yet Shaftesbury and Mandeville are the two writers
who are most constantly alluded to as representatives of one and the same
system, in this dialogue. Indeed the confusion here spoken of is apparent in
The principle upon which
It is somewhat discouraging to an aspirant after literary immortality, to reflect that in spite of the enormous amount of learned writing which the Deistical controversy elicited, many educated people who have not made the subject a special study, probably derive their knowledge of the Deists mainly from two unpretentious volumes—Leland's 'View of the Deistical Writers.'
Leland avowedly wrote as an advocate, and therefore it would be unreasonable
to expect from him the measured judgment of a philosophical historian. But as
an advocate he wrote with great fairness,—indeed, considering the
excitement which the Deists raised among their contemporaries, with wonderful
fairness. It is not without reason that he boasts in his preface, 'Great care
has been taken to make a fair representation of them, according to the best judgment
I could form of their designs.' But, besides the fact that the representations
of a man who holds a brief for one side must necessarily be taken cum grano,
Leland lived too near the time to be able to view his subject in the 'dry
light' of history. 'The best book,' said Burke in 1773, 'that has ever been
written against these people is that in which the author has collected in a
body the whole of the Infidel code, and has brought their writings into one
body to cut them all off together.' If the subject was to be dealt with in this
trenchant fashion, no one could have done it more honestly than Leland has
done. But the great questions which the Deists raised cannot be dealt with thus
summarily. Perhaps no book professedly written 'against these people' could
possibly do justice to the whole case. Hence those who virtually adopt Leland
as their chief authority will at best have but a one-sided view of the matter.
Leland was a Dissenter; and it may be remarked in passing, that while the
The attitude towards Deism of the authors hitherto named is unmistakable. But there are yet two great names which cannot well be passed over, and which both the friends and foes of Deism have claimed for their side. These are the names of Alexander Pope and John Locke. The former was, as is well known, by profession a Roman Catholic; but in his most elaborate, if not his most successful poem, he has been supposed to express the sentiments of one, if not two, of the most sceptical of the Deistical writers. How far did the author of the 'Essay on Man' agree with the religious sentiments of his 'guide, philosopher and friend,' Viscount Bolingbroke? Pope's biographer answers this question very decisively. 'Pope,' says Ruffhead, 'permitted Bolingbroke to be considered by the public as his philosopher and guide. They agreed on the principle that "whatever is, is right," as opposed to impious complaints against Providence; but Pope meant, because we only see a part of the moral system, not the whole, therefore these irregularities serving great purposes, such as the fuller manifestation of God's goodness and justice, are right. Lord Bolingbroke's Essays are vindications of providence against the confederacy between Divines and Atheists who use a common principle, viz. that of the irregularities of God's moral government here, for different ends: the one to establish a future state, the others to discredit the being of a God.' 'Bolingbroke,' he adds, 'always tried to conceal his principles from Pope, and Pope would not credit anything against him.' Warburton's testimony is to the same effect. 'So little,' he writes, 'did Pope know of the principles of the "First Philosophy," that when a common acquaintance told him in his last illness that Lord Bolingbroke denied God's moral attributes as commonly understood, he asked Lord Bolingbroke whether he was mistaken, and was told he was.'
On the other hand, there are the letters from Bolingbroke to Pope quoted above; there is the undoubted fact that Pope, Shaftesbury, and Bolingbroke so far agreed with one another that they were all ardent disciples of the optimistic school; and, it must be added, there is the utter absence of anything distinctively Christian in that poem in which one would naturally have expected to find it. For, to say the least of it, the 'Essay on Man' might have been written by an unbeliever, as also might the Universal Prayer. The fact seems to have been that Pope was distracted by the counter influences of two very powerful but two very opposite minds. Between Warburton and Bolingbroke, the poet might well become somewhat confused in his views. How far he would have agreed with the more pronounced anti-Christian sentiments of Bolingbroke which were addressed to him, but which never met his eye, can of course be only a matter of conjecture. It is evident that Bolingbroke himself dreaded the influence of Warburton, for he alludes constantly and almost nervously to 'the foul-mouthed critic whom I know you have at your elbow,' and anticipates objections which he suspected 'the dogmatical pedant' would raise.
However, except in so far as it is always interesting to know the attitude of any great man towards contemporary subjects of stirring interest, it is not a very important question as to what were the poet's sentiments in reference to Christianity and Deism. Pope's real greatness lay in quite another direction; and even those who most admire the marvellous execution of his grand philosophical poem will regret that his brilliant talents were comparatively wasted on so uncongenial a subject.
Far otherwise is it with the other great name which both Deists and orthodox claim as their own. What was the relationship of John Locke, who influenced the whole tone of thought of the eighteenth century more than any other single man, to the great controversy which is the subject of these pages? On the one hand, it is unquestionable that Locke had the closest personal connection with two of the principal Deistical writers, and that most of the rest show unmistakable signs of having studied his works and followed more or less his line of thought. Nothing can exceed the warmth of esteem and love which Locke expresses for his young friend Collins, and the touching confidence which he reposes in him. Nor was it only Collins' moral worth which won Locke's admiration; he looked upon him as belonging to the same school of intellectual thought as himself, and was of opinion that Collins would appreciate his 'Essay on the Human Understanding' better than anybody. Shaftesbury was grandson of Locke's patron and friend. Locke was tutor to his father, for whom he had been commissioned to choose a wife; and the author of 'The Characteristics' was brought up according to Locke's principles. Both Toland's and Tindal's views about reason show them to have been followers of Locke's system; while traces of Locke's influence are constantly found in Lord Bolingbroke's philosophical works. Add to all this that the progress and zenith of Deism followed in direct chronological order after the publication of Locke's two great works, and that in consequence of these works he was distinctly identified by several obscure and at least one very distinguished writer with 'the gentlemen of the new way of thinking.'
But there is another side of the picture to which we must now turn. Though Locke died before the works of his two personal friends, Collins and Shaftesbury, saw the light, Deism had already caused a great sensation before his death, and Locke has not left us in the dark as to his sentiments on the subject, so far as it had been developed in his day. Toland used several arguments from Locke's essay in support of his position that there was nothing in Christianity contrary to reason or above it. Bishop Stillingfleet, in his 'Defence of the Mysteries of the Trinity,' maintained that these arguments of Toland's were legitimate deductions from Locke's premisses. This Locke explicitly denied, and moreover disavowed any agreement with the main position of Toland in a noble passage, in which he regretted that he could not find, and feared he never should find, that perfect plainness and want of mystery in Christianity which the author maintained. He also declared his implicit belief in the doctrines of revelation in the most express terms.
It was not, however, his essay, but his treatise on the 'Reasonableness of Christianity,' published in 1695 (the year before the publication of Toland's famous work), which brought Locke into the most direct collision with some of the orthodox of his day. The vehement opposition which this little work aroused seems to have caused the author unfeigned surprise.—'When it came out,' he writes, 'the buzz and flutter and noise which it made, and the reports which were raised that it subverted all morality and was designed against the Christian religion ... amazed me; knowing the sincerity of those thoughts which persuaded me to publish it, not without some hope of doing some service to decaying piety and mistaken and slandered Christianity. In another passage he tells us expressly that it was written against Deism. 'I was flattered to think my book might be of some use to the world; especially to those who thought either that there was no need of revelation at all, or that the revelation of Our Saviour required belief of such articles for salvation which the settled notions and their way of reasoning in some, and want of understanding in others, made impossible to them. Upon these two topics the objections seemed to turn, which were with most assurance made by Deists not against Christianity, but against Christianity misunderstood. It seemed to me, there needed no more to show the weakness of their exceptions, but to lay plainly before them the doctrines of our Saviour as delivered in the Scriptures.' The truth of this is amply borne out by the contents of the book itself.
It is not, however, so much in direct statements of doctrine as in the whole tenour and frame of his spirit, that Locke differs 'in toto' from the Deists: for Locke's was essentially a pious, reverent soul. But it may be urged that all this does not really touch the point at issue. The question is, not what were Locke's personal opinions on religious matters, but what were the logical deductions from his philosophical system. It is in his philosophy, not in his theology, that Locke's reputation consists. Was then the Deistical line of argument derived from his philosophical system? and if so, was it fairly derived? The first question must be answered decidedly in the affirmative, the second not so decidedly in the negative.
That Locke would have recoiled with horror from the conclusions which the Deists drew from his premisses, and still more from the tone in which those conclusions were expressed, can scarcely be doubted. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they were so drawn. That Toland built upon his foundation, Locke himself acknowledges. Traces of his influence are plainly discernible in Collins, Tindal—of whom Shaftesbury calls Locke the forerunner,—Morgan, Chubb, Bolingbroke, and Hume.
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the opponents of Deism built upon Locke's foundation quite as distinctly as any of the Deists did. After his death, it was soon discovered that he was a Christian. The orthodox Conybeare was not only an obvious follower of Locke, but has left on record a noble testimony to his greatness and his influence: 'In the last century there arose a very extraordinary genius for philosophical speculations; I mean Mr. Locke, the glory of that age and the instructor of the present.' Warburton was an equally enthusiastic admirer of our philosopher, and expressed his admiration in words very similar to the above. Benson the Presbyterian told Lardner that he had made a pilgrimage to Locke's grave, and could hardly help crying, 'Sancte Johannes, ora pro nobis;' and innumerable other instances of the love and admiration which Christians of all kinds felt for the great philosopher might be quoted.
The question then arises, Which of the two parties, the Deists or their adversaries, were the legitimate followers of Locke? And the answer to this question is, 'Both.' The school of philosophy of which Locke was the great apostle, was the dominant school of the period. And even in the special application of his principles to religion, it would be wrong to say that either of the two parties wholly diverged from Locke's position. For the fact is, there were two sides to Locke's mind—a critical and rationalising side, and a reverent and devotional side. He must above all things demonstrate the reasonableness of the Christian religion, thereby giving the key-note to the tone of theology of the eighteenth century; but in proving this point, he is filled with a most devout and God-fearing spirit. His dislike of all obscurity, and, in consequence, his almost morbid shrinking from all systematizing and from the use of all technical terms, form his point of contact with the Deists. His strong personal faith, and his reverence for the Holy Scripture as containing a true revelation from God, bring him into harmony with the Christian advocates. No abuse on the part of the clergy, no unfair treatment, could alienate him from Christianity. One cannot help speculating how he would have borne himself had he lived to see the later development of Deism. Perhaps his influence would have had a beneficial effect upon both sides; but, in whatever period his lot had been cast it is difficult to conceive Locke in any other light than that of a sincere and devout Christian.
The early period of the eighteenth century was a period of controversy of all kinds, and of controversy carried on in a bitter and unchristian spirit; and of all the controversies which arose, none was conducted with greater bitterness than the Deistical. The Deists must bear the blame of setting the example. Their violent abuse of the Church, their unfounded assertions that the clergy did not really believe what they preached, that the Christian religion as taught by them was a mere invention of priestcraft to serve its own ends, their overweening pretensions contrasted with the scanty contributions which they actually made either to theology or to philosophy or to philology,—all this was sufficiently provoking.
But the Christian advocates fell into a sad mistake when they fought against them with their own weapons. Without attempting nicely to adjust the degree of blame attributable to either party in this unseemly dispute, we may easily see that this was one evil effect of the Deistical controversy, that it generated on both sides a spirit of rancour and scurrility.
Again, the Deists contributed in some degree, though not intentionally, towards encouraging the low tone of morals which is admitted on all sides to have been prevalent during the first half of the eighteenth century. It was constantly insinuated that the Deists themselves were men of immoral lives. This may have been true of individual Deists, but it requires more proof than has been given, before so grave an accusation can be admitted against them as a body.
But if the restrictions which Christianity imposes were not the real objections to it in the minds of the Deistical writers, at any rate their writings, or rather perhaps hazy notions of those writings picked up at second-hand, were seized upon by others who were glad of any excuse for throwing off the checks of religion. The immorality of the age may be more fairly said to have been connected with the Deistical controversy than with the Deists themselves. It is not to be supposed that the fine gentlemen of the coffee-houses troubled themselves to read Collins or Bentley, Tindal or Conybeare. They only heard vague rumours that the truths, and consequently the obligations of Christianity were impugned, and that, by the admission of Christian advocates themselves, unbelief was making great progress. The roués were only Freethinkers in the sense that Squire Thornhill in the 'Vicar of Wakefield' was.
Another ill effect was, that it took away the clergy from a very important part of their practical work. There was something much more attractive to a clergyman in immortalising his name by annihilating an enemy of the Faith, than in the ordinary routine of parochial work.
Not, however, that the clergy as a rule made Deism a stepping-stone to
preferment. It would be difficult to point to a single clergyman who was
advanced to any high post in the Church in virtue of his services against
Deism, who would not have equally deserved and in all probability obtained
preferment, had his talents been exerted in another direction. The talents of
such men as
The effects, however, of the great controversy were not all evil. If such sentiments as those to which the Deists gave utterance were floating in men's minds, it was well that they should find expression. A state of smouldering scepticism is always a dangerous state. Whatever the doubts and difficulties might be, it was well that they should be brought into the full light of day.
Moreover, if the Deists did no other good, they at least brought out the full strength of the Christian cause, which otherwise might have lain dormant. Although much of the anti-Deistical literature perished with the occasion which called it forth, there is yet a residuum which will be immortal.
Again, the free discussion of such questions as the Deists raised, led to an ampler and nobler conception of Christianity than might otherwise have been gained. For there was a certain element of truth in most of the Deistical writings. If Toland failed to prove that there were no mysteries in Christianity, yet perhaps he set men a-thinking that there was a real danger of darkening counsel by words without knowledge, through the indiscriminate use of scholastic jargon. If Collins confounded freethinking with thinking in his own particular way, he yet drew out from his opponents a more distinct admission of the right of freethinking in the proper sense of the term than might otherwise have been made. If Shaftesbury made too light of the rewards which the righteous may look for, and the punishments which the wicked have to fear, he at least helped, though unintentionally, to vindicate Christianity from the charge of self-seeking, and to place morality upon its proper basis. If Tindal attributed an unorthodox sense to the assertion that 'Christianity was as old as the Creation,' he brought out more distinctly an admission that there was an aspect in which it is undoubtedly true.
One of the most striking features of this strange controversy was its sudden
collapse about the middle of the century. The whole interest in the subject
seems to have died away as suddenly as it arose fifty years before. This change
of feeling is strikingly illustrated by the flatness of the reception given by
the public to Bolingbroke's posthumous works in 1754. For though few persons
will be inclined to agree with Horace Walpole's opinion that Bolingbroke's
'metaphysical divinity was the best of his writings,' yet the eminence of the
writer, the purity and piquancy of his style, the real and extensive learning
which he displayed, would, one might have imagined, have awakened a far greater
interest in his writings than was actually shown. Very few replies were written
to this, the last, and in some respects, the most important—certainly the
most elaborate attack that ever was made upon popular Christianity from the
Deistical standpoint. The 'five pompous quartos' of the great statesman attracted
infinitely less attention than the slight, fragmentary treatise of an obscure
Irishman had done fifty-eight years before.
And after Bolingbroke not a single writer who can properly be called a Deist
How are we to account for this strange revulsion of feeling, or rather this marvellous change from excitement to apathy? One modern writer imputes it to the inherent dulness of the Deists themselves; another to their utter defeat by the Christian apologists. No doubt there is force in both these reasons, but there were other causes at work which contributed to the result.
One seems to have been the vagueness and unsatisfactoriness of the constructive part of the Deists' work. They set themselves with vigour to the work of destruction, but when this was completed—what next? The religion which was to take the place of popular Christianity was at best a singularly vague and intangible sort of thing. 'You are to follow nature, and that will teach you what true Christianity is. If the facts of the Bible don't agree, so much the worse for the facts.' There was an inherent untenableness in this position. Having gone thus far, thoughtful men could not stand still. They must go on further or else turn back. Some went forward in the direction of Hume, and found themselves stranded in the dreary waste of pure scepticism, which was something very different from genuine Deism. Others went backwards and determined to stand upon the old ways, since no firm footing was given them on the new. There was a want of any definite scheme or unanimity of opinion on the part of the Deists. Collins boasted of the rise and growth of a new sect. But, as Dr. Monk justly observes, 'the assumption of a growing sect implies an uniformity of opinions which did not really exist among the impugners of Christianity.'
The independence of the Deists in relation to one another might render it difficult to confute any particular tenet of the sect, for the simple reason that there was no sect: but this same independence prevented them from making the impression upon the public mind which a compact phalanx might have done. The Deists were a company of Free Lances rather than a regular army, and effected no more than such irregular forces usually do.
And here arises the question, What real hold had Deism upon the public mind
at all? There is abundance of contemporary evidence which would lead us to
believe that the majority of the nation were fast becoming unchristianised.
Bishop Butler was not the man to make a statement, and especially a statement
of such grave import, lightly, and his account of the state of religion is melancholy
indeed. 'It is come,' he writes, 'I know not how, to be taken for granted, by
many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry, but
that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly, they
treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people
of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of
mirth and ridicule, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the
world.' Archbishop Wake's testimony is
so is Bishop Warburton's, so is Dean Swift's. Voltaire declared that there was
only just enough religion left in
In the face of such testimony it seems a bold thing to assert that there was a vast amount of noise and bluster which caused a temporary panic, but little else, and that after all Hurd's view of the matter was nearer the truth. 'The truth of the case,' he writes, 'is no more than this. A few fashionable men make a noise in the world; and this clamour being echoed on all sides from the shallow circles of their admirers, misleads the unwary into an opinion that the irreligious spirit is universal and uncontrollable.' A strong proof of the absence of any real sympathy with the Deists is afforded by the violent outcry which was raised against them on all sides. This outcry was not confined to any one class or party either in the political or religious world. We may not be surprised to find Warburton mildly suggesting that 'he would hunt down that pestilent herd of libertine scribblers with which the island is overrun, as good King Edgar did his wolves,' or Berkeley, that 'if ever man deserved to be denied the common benefits of bread and water, it was the author of a Discourse of Freethinking,' and that 'he should omit no endeavour to render the persons (of Freethinkers) as despicable and their practice as odious in the eye of the world as they deserve.' But we find almost as truculent notions in writings where we might least expect them. It was, for example, a favourite accusation of the Tories against the Whigs that they favoured the Deists. 'We' (Tories), writes Swift, 'accuse them [the Whigs] of the public encouragement and patronage to Tindal, Toland, and other atheistical writers.' And yet we find the gentle Addison, Whig as he was, suggesting in the most popular of periodicals, corporal punishment as a suitable one for the Freethinker; Steele, a Whig and the most merciful of men, advocating in yet stronger terms a similar mode of treatment; Fielding, a Whig and not a particularly straitlaced man, equally violent.
This strong feeling against the Deists is all the more remarkable when we
remember that it existed at a time of great religious apathy, and at a time
when illiberality was far from being a besetting fault. The dominant party in
the Church was that which would now be called the
The Deists themselves appear to have been fully aware of the unpopularity of
their speculations. They have been accused, and not without reason, of
insinuating doubts which they dared not
express openly. But then, why dared they not express them? The days of
persecution for the expression of opinion were virtually ended. There were
indeed laws still unrepealed against blasphemy and contempt of religion, but
except in extreme cases (such as those of Woolston and Annet), they were no
longer put into force. Warburton wrote no more than the truth when he addressed
the Freethinkers thus: 'This liberty may you long possess and gratefully
acknowledge. I say this because one cannot but observe that amidst full
possession of it, you continue with the meanest affectation to fill your
prefaces with repeated clamours against difficulties and discouragements
attending the exercise of freethinking. There was a time, and that within our
own memories, when such complaints were seasonable and useful; but happy for
you, gentlemen, you have outlived it.'
They had outlived it, that is to say, so far as legal restrictions were
concerned. If they did meet with 'difficulties and discouragements,' they were
simply those which arose from the force of public opinion being against them.
But be the cause what it may, the result is unquestionable. 'The English Deists
wrote and taught their creed in vain; they were despised while living, and
consigned to oblivion when dead; and they left the Church of England unhurt by
It was in
'Latitudinarian' is not so neutral a term as could be desired. It conveys an
implication of reproach and suspicion, by no means ungrounded in some
instances, but very inappropriate when used of men who must count among the
most distinguished ornaments of the
There were many faulty elements in the Latitudinarianism of the eighteenth
century. Those who dreaded and lamented its advances found it no difficult task
to show that sometimes it was connected with Deistical or with Socinian or
Arian views, sometimes with a visionary enthusiasm, sometimes with a weak and
nerveless religion of sentiment. They could point also to the obvious fact that
thorough scepticism, or even mere irreligion, often found a decent veil under
plausible professions of a liberal Christianity. There were some, indeed, who,
in the excitement of hostility or alarm, seemed to lose all power of ordinary
discrimination. Much in the same way as every 'freethinker' was set down as a
libertine or an atheist, so also many men of undoubted piety and earnestness
who had done distinguished services in the Christian cause, and who had greatly
contributed to raise the repute of the English Church, were constantly ranked
as Latitudinarians in one promiscuous class with men to whose principles they
were utterly opposed. But, after making all allowance for the unfortunate
confusion thus attached to the term, the fact remains that the alarm was not
unfounded. Undoubtedly a lower form of Latitudinarianism gained ground, very deficient
in some important respects. Just in the same way as, before the middle of the
century, a sort of spiritual inertness had enfeebled the vigour of High
Churchmen on the one hand and of Nonconformists on the other, so also it was
with the Latitude men. After the first ten or fifteen years of the century the
For, whatever may have been its deficiencies, there was no religious movement of such lasting importance as that which from the latter part of the seventeenth until near the end of the eighteenth century was being carried on under the opprobrium of Latitudinarianism. The Methodist and Evangelical revival had, doubtless, greater visible and immediate consequences. Much in the same way, some of the widespread monastic revivals of the Middle Ages were more visible witnesses to the power of religion, and more immediately conducive to its interests, than the silent current of theological thought which was gradually preparing the way for the Reformation. But it was these latter influences which, in the end, have taken the larger place in the general history of Christianity. The Latitudinarianism which had already set in before the Revolution of 1688, unsatisfactory as it was in many respects, probably did more than any other agency in directing and gradually developing the general course of religious thought. Its importance may be intimated in this, that of all the questions in which it was chiefly interested there is scarcely one which has not started into fresh life in our own days, and which is not likely to gain increasing significance as time advances. Church history in the seventeenth century had been most nearly connected with that of the preceding age; it was still directly occupied with the struggles and contentions which had been aroused by the Reformation. That of the eighteenth century is more nearly related to the period which succeeded it. In the sluggish calm that followed the abatement of old controversies men's minds reverted anew to the wide general principles on which the Reformation had been based, and, with the loss of power which attends uncertainty, were making tentative efforts to improve and strengthen the superstructure. 'Intensity,' as has been remarked, 'had for a time done its work, and was now giving place to breadth; when breadth should be natural, intensity might come again.' The Latitude men of the last age can only be fairly judged in the light of this. Their immediate plans ended for the most part in disappointing failure. It was perhaps well that they did, as some indeed of the most active promoters of them were fain to acknowledge. Their proposed measures of comprehension, of revision, of reform, were often defective in principle, and in some respects as one-sided as the evils they were intended to cure. But if their ideas were not properly matured, or if the time was not properly matured for them, they at all events contained the germs of much which may be realised in the future. Meanwhile the comprehensive spirit which is absolutely essential in a national Church was kept alive. The Church of England would have fallen, or would have deserved to fall, if a narrow exclusiveness had gained ground in it without check or protest.
It is proposed to invite, in this chapter, a more particular attention to
the writings of Archbishop Tillotson. He lived and died in the seventeenth
century, but is an essential part of the Church history of the eighteenth. The
most general sketch of its characteristics would be imperfect without some
reference to the influence which his life and teaching exercised upon it.
Hallam contrasts the great popularity of his sermons for half a century with
the utter neglect into which they have now fallen, as a remarkable instance of
the fickleness of religious taste.
Something must certainly be attributed to change of taste. If Tillotson were
thoroughly in accord with our own age in thought and feeling, the mere
difference of his style from that which pleases the modern ear would prevent
his having many readers. He is reckoned diffuse and languid, greatly deficient
in vigour and vivacity. How different was the tone of criticism in the last
age! Dryden considered that he was indebted for his good style to the study of
Robert Nelson spoke of them as the best standard of the English language.
But it was not the beauty and eloquence of language with which Tillotson was at one time credited that gave him the immense repute with which his name was surrounded; neither is it a mere change of literary taste that makes a modern reader disinclined to admire, or even fairly to appreciate, his sermons. He struck the key-note which in his own day, and for two generations or more afterwards, governed the predominant tone of religious reasoning and sentiment. In the substance no less than in the form of his writings men found exactly what suited them—their own thoughts raised to a somewhat higher level, and expressed just in the manner which they would most aspire to imitate. His sermons, when delivered, had been exceedingly popular. We are told of the crowds of auditors and the fixed attention with which they listened, also of the number of clergymen who frequented his St. Laurence lectures, not only for the pleasure of hearing, but to form their minds and improve their style. He was, in fact, the great preacher of his time. Horace Walpole, writing in 1742, compared the throngs who flocked to hear Whitefield to the concourse which used to gather when Tillotson preached. The literature of the eighteenth century abounds in expressions of respect for his character and admiration of his sermons. Samuel Wesley said that he had brought the art of preaching 'near perfection, had there been as much of life as there is of politeness and generally of cool, clear, close reasoning and convincing arguments.' Even John Wesley puts him in the very foremost rank of great preachers. Robert Nelson specially recommended his sermons to his nephew 'for true notions of religion. 'I like,' remarked Sir Robert Howard, 'such sermons as Dr. Tillotson's, where all are taught a plain and certain way of salvation, and with all the charms of a calm and blessed temper and of pure reason are excited to the uncontroverted, indubitable duties of religion; where all are plainly shown that the means to obtain the eternal place of happy rest are those, and no other, which also give peace in the present life; and where everyone is encouraged and exhorted to learn, but withal to use his own care and reason in working out his own salvation.' Bishop Fleetwood exclaims of him that 'his name will live for ever, increasing in honour with all good and wise men.' Locke called him 'that ornament of our Church, that every way eminent prelate.' In the 'Spectator' his sermons are among Sir Roger de Coverley's favourites. In the 'Guardian' Addison tells how 'the excellent lady, the Lady Lizard, in the space of one summer furnished a gallery with chairs and couches of her own and her daughter's working, and at the same time heard Dr. Tillotson's sermons twice over.' In the 'Tatler' he is spoken of as 'the most eminent and useful author of his age.' His sermons were translated into Dutch, twice into French, and many of them into German. Even in the last few years of the eighteenth century we find references to his 'splendid talents.'
But, as a rule, the writers of the eighteenth century seem unable to form
anything like a calm estimate of the eminent bishop. Many were lavish in their
encomiums; a minority were extravagant in censures and expressions of dislike.
His gentle and temperate disposition had not saved him from bitter invectives in his lifetime, which did not cease after
his death. He was set down by his opponents as 'a freethinker.' In the violent
polemics of Queen Anne's reign this was a charge very easily incurred, and,
once incurred, carried with it very grave implications. By what was apt to seem
a very natural sequence Dean Hickes called the good primate in downright terms
an atheist. Charles Leslie speaks of him as
'that unhappy man,'
and said he was 'owned by the atheistical wits of all
The foregoing instances may serve to illustrate the important place which
Tillotson held in the religious history of the eighteenth century. They may
suffice to show that while there was an extraordinary diversity of opinion as
to the character of the influence he had exercised—while some loved and
admired him and others could scarcely tolerate the mention of him—all
agreed that his life and writings had been a very important element in
directing the religious thought of his own and the succeeding age. His
opponents were very willing to acknowledge that he was greatly respected by
Nonconformists. Why not? said they, when he and his party are half
Presbyterians, and would 'bring the Church into the Conventicle or the
Conventicle into the Church.' They allowed still more readily
that he was constantly praised by Rationalists and Deists. Collins put a
formidable weapon into their hands when he called Tillotson 'the head of all
But they also had to own that in authority as well as in station he had been
eminently a leader in the
A study of Tillotson's writings ought to throw light upon the general tendency of religious thought which prevailed in England during the half-century or more through which their popularity lasted; for there can be no doubt that his influence was not of a kind which depends on great personal qualities. He was a man who well deserved to be highly esteemed by all with whom he came in contact. But in his gentle and moderate disposition there was none of the force and fire which compels thought into new channels, and sways the minds of men even, against their will. With sound practical sense, with pure, unaffected piety, and in unadorned but persuasive language, he simply gave utterance to religious ideas in a form which to a wide extent satisfied the reason and came home to the conscience of his age. Those, on the other hand, who most distrusted the direction which such ideas were taking, held in proportionate aversion the primate who had been so eminent a representative of them.
Tillotson was universally regarded both by friends and foes as 'a Latitude man.' His writings, therefore, may well serve to exemplify the moderate Latitudinarianism of a thoughtful and religious English Churchman at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Perhaps the first thing that will strike a reader of his works is the constant appeal on all matters of religion to reason. That Christianity is 'the best and the holiest, the wisest and the most reasonable religion in the world;' that 'all the precepts of it are reasonable and wise, requiring such duties of us as are suitable to the light of nature, and do approve themselves to the best reason of mankind'—such is the general purport of the arguments by which he most trusts to persuade the heart and the understanding. And how, on the other hand, could he better meet the infidelity of the age than by setting himself 'to show the unreasonableness of atheism and of scoffing at religion?' If the appeal to reason will not persuade, what will?
The primary and sovereign place assigned to reason in Tillotson's conception of man as a being able to know and serve God involved some consequences which must be mentioned separately, though they are closely connected with one another.
It led him, if not to reject, at all events to regard with profound distrust all assumptions of any gift of spiritual discernment distinguishable from ordinary powers of understanding. Tillotson's view was that the Spirit of God enlightens the human mind only through the reason, so that the faith of Abraham, for example, 'was the result of the wisest reasoning.' He allows that the spiritual presence may act upon the reason by raising and strengthening the faculty, by making clear the object of inquiry, by suggesting arguments, by holding minds intent upon the evidence, by removing the impediments which hinder assent, and especially by making the persuasion of a truth effectual on the life. This, however, is the very utmost that Tillotson could concede to those who dwell upon the presence within the soul of an inward spiritual light.
Tillotson gave great offence to some of his contemporaries by some expressions he has used in relation to the degree of assurance which is possible to man in regard of religious truths. He based all assent upon rational evidence. But he unhesitatingly admitted that mathematics only admit of clear demonstration; in other matters proof consists in the best arguments that the quality and nature of the thing will bear. We may be well content, he said, with a well-grounded confidence on matters of religious truth corresponding to that which is abundantly sufficient for our purposes in the conduct of our most important worldly interests. A charge was thereupon brought against him of authorising doubt and opening a door to the most radical disbelief. The attack scarcely deserved Tillotson's somewhat lengthy defence. He had but re-stated what many before him had observed as to the exceptional character of demonstrative evidence, and the folly of expecting it where it is plainly inapplicable. A religious mind, itself thoroughly convinced, may chafe against possibility of doubt, but may as well complain against the conditions of human nature. Yet the controversy on this point between Tillotson and his opponents is instructive in forming a judgment upon the general character of religious thought in that age. Tillotson appears, on the one hand, to have been somewhat over-cautious in disclaiming the alleged consequences of his denial of absolute religious certainty. He allows the theoretical possibility of doubt, but speaks as if it were essentially unreasonable. He shows no sign of recognising the sincere faith that often underlies it; that prayerful doubt may be in itself a kind of prayer; that its possibility is involved in all inquiry; that there is such a thing as an irreligious stifling of doubt, resulting in a spiritual and moral degradation; that doubt may sometimes be the clear work of the Spirit of God to break down pride and self-sufficiency, to force us to realise what we believe, to quicken our sense of truth, and to bid us chiefly rest our faith on personal and spiritual grounds which no doubts can touch. In this Tillotson shared in what must be considered a grave error of his age. Few things so encouraged the growth of Deism and unbelief as the stiff refusal on the part of the defenders of Christianity to admit of a frequently religious element in doubt. There was a general disposition, in which even such men as Bishop Berkeley shared, to relegate all doubters to the class of Deists and 'Atheists.' Tillotson strove practically against this fatal tendency, but his reasonings on the subject were confused. He earned, more perhaps than any other divine of his age, the love and confidence of many who were perplexed with religious questionings; but his arguments had not the weight which they would have gained if he had acknowledged more ungrudgingly that doubt must not always be regarded as either a folly or a sin.
Tillotson had learnt much from the Puritan and Calvinistic teaching which,
instilled into him throughout his earlier years, had laid deep the foundations
of the serious and fervent vein of piety conspicuous in all his life and
writings. He had learnt much from the sublime Christian philosophy of his
eminent instructors at
Tillotson could not adopt as unreservedly as he did his pervading tenet of the reasonableness of Christianity without yielding to reason all the rights due to an unquestioned leader. Like Henry More, he would have wished to take for a motto 'that generous resolution of Marcus Cicero,—rationem, quo ea me cunque ducet, sequar.' 'Doctrines,' he said, 'are vehemently to be suspected which decline trial. To deny liberty of inquiry and judgment in matters of religion, is the greatest injury and disparagement to truth that can be, and a tacit acknowledgment that she lies under some disadvantage, and that there is less to be said for her than for error.' 'Tis only things false and adulterate which shun the light and fear the touchstone.' He has left a beautiful prayer which his editor believed he was in the habit of using before he composed a sermon. In it he asks to be made impartial in his inquiry after truth, ready always to receive it in love, to practise it in his life, and to continue steadfast in it to the end. He adds, 'I perfectly resign myself, O Lord, to Thy counsel and direction, in confidence that Thy goodness is such, that Thou wilt not suffer those who sincerely desire to know the truth and rely upon Thy guidance, finally to miscarry.'
These last words are a key to Tillotson's opinion upon a question about which,
in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, there was much animated
controversy—in what light sincere error should be regarded. If free
inquiry on religious subjects is allowable and right, is a man to be held
blameless if he arrives at false conclusions in respect of the fundamental
articles of faith? That the answer to be given might involve grave issues continually appeared in discussion alike with
Roman Catholics and with Deists. The former had no stronger argument against
liberty of private judgment than to ask how those who freely granted it could
pass any moral censure upon the heresies which might constantly result from it.
The latter insisted that, whether they were right or wrong, no Protestant had
any title to hold them in the slightest degree blameable before God or man for
any opinions which were the result of conscientious research. Much was written
on the subject by theologians of the generation which succeeded next after
Tillotson, as for instance by Hoadly, Sykes,
There was no reservation in Tillotson's mind as to the general right of private judgment. 'Any man that hath
the spirit of a man must abhor to submit to this slavery not to be allowed to
examine his religion, and to inquire freely into the grounds and reasons of it;
and would break with any Church in the world upon this single point; and would
tell them plainly, "If your religion be too good to be examined, I doubt
it is too bad to be believed."'
He grounded the right on three principles.
The first was, that essentials are so plain that every man of ordinary
capacities, after receiving competent instruction, is able to judge of them.
This, he added, was no new doctrine of the Reformation, but had been expressly
owned by such ancient fathers as St. Chrysostom and
Tillotson, however, did not omit to add four cautions as to the proper limits within which the right of private judgment should be exercised. (1) A private person must only judge for himself, not impose his judgment on others. His only claim to that liberty is that it belongs to all. (2) The liberty thus possessed does not dispense with the necessity of guides and teachers in religion; nor (3) with due submission to authority. 'What by public consent and authority is determined and established ought not to be gainsaid by private persons but upon very clear evidence of the falsehood or unlawfulness of it; nor is the peace and unity of the Church to be violated upon every scruple and frivolous pretence.' (4) There are a great many who, from ignorance or insufficient capacity, are incompetent to judge of any controverted question. 'Such persons ought not to engage in disputes of religion; but to beg God's direction and to rely upon their teachers; and above all to live up to the plain dictates of natural light, and the clear commands of God's word, and this will be their best security.'
There has probably been no period in which liberty of thought on religious
subjects has been debated in this country so anxiously, so vehemently, so
generally, as in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. The Reformation
had hinged upon it; but general principles were then greatly obscured in the
excitement of change, and amid the multiplicity of secondary questions of more
immediate practical interest. For a hundred and fifty years after the first
In calling upon all men to test their faith by their reason, Tillotson had to explain the relations of human reason to those articles of belief which lie beyond its grasp. There was the more reason to do this, because of the difficulties which were felt, and the disputes which had arisen about 'mysteries' in religion. Undoubtedly it is a word very capable of misuse. 'Times,' says the author last quoted, 'unfruitful in theological knowledge are ever wont to fall back upon mystery and upon the much abused demand of "taking the reason prisoner to the obedience of faith."' With some, religion has thus been made barren and ineffectual by being regarded as a thing to be passively accepted without being understood. Among others, it has been degraded into superstition by the same cause. When an appetite for the mysterious has been cherished, it becomes easy to attribute spiritual results to material causes, to the confusion of the first principles alike of morality and of knowledge. Some, through an ambition of understanding the unintelligible, have wasted their energies in a labyrinth of scholastic subtleties; others have surrendered themselves to a vague unpractical mysticism.
But, whatever may have been the errors common in other ages, it was certainly no characteristic of the eighteenth century to linger unhealthily upon the contemplation of mysteries. The predominant fault was one of a directly opposite nature. There was apt to be an impatience of all mystery, a contemptuous neglect of all that was not self-evident or easy to understand. 'The Gospel,' it was said, 'professes plainness and uses no hard words.' Whatever was obscure was only the imperfection of the old dispensation, or the corruption of the new, and might be excluded from the consideration of rational beings. Even in the natural world there was most mystery in the things which least concern us; Divine providence had ordered that what was most necessary should be least obscure. Much too was added about the priestcraft and superstition which had commonly attended the inculcation of mysterious doctrines. In all such arguments there was a considerable admixture of truth. But in its general effect it tended greatly to depress the tone of theological thought, to take away from it sublimity and depth, and to degrade religion into a thing of earth. Even where it did not controvert any of the special doctrines of revealed religion, it inclined men to pass lightly over them, or at all events to regard them only in their directly practical aspects, and so to withdraw from the soul, as if they were but idle speculations, some of the most elevating subjects of contemplation which the Christian faith affords. Such reasoners were strangely blind to the thought that few could be so inertly commonplace in mind and feeling, as to rest satisfied with being fired to virtuous deeds by the purely practical side of transcendental truths, without delighting in further reflection on the very nature of those mysteries themselves. Nor did they at all realise, that independently of any direct results in morality and well-being, it is no small gain to a man to be led by the thought of Divine mysteries to feel that he stands on the verge of a higher world, a higher nature, of which he may have scarcely a dim perception, but to which creatures lower than himself in the scale of being are wholly insensible. There was little feeling that truths which baffle reason may be, and must be, nevertheless accordant with true reason. It was left to William Law, a writer who stood much apart from the general spirit of his age, to remark: 'This is the true ground and nature of the mysteries of Christian redemption. They are, in themselves, nothing else but what the nature of things requires them to be ... but they are mysteries to man, because brought into the scheme of redemption by the interposition of God to work in a manner above and superior to all that is seen and done in the things of this world.'
Nothing very instructive or suggestive must be looked for from Tillotson on the subject of Divine mysteries. He was too much of an eighteenth-century man, if it may be so expressed, to be able to give much appreciative thought to anything that lay beyond the direct province of reason. Yet, on the other hand, he was too deeply religious, and too watchful an observer, not to perceive that the unspiritual and sceptical tendencies of his age were fostered by the disparagement of all suprasensual ideas. The consequence is, that he deals with the subject without ease, and with the air of an apologist. This remark does not so much relate to the miracles. Upon them he constantly insists as a very material part of distinctly rational evidence. But mysteries, apart from any evidential character which they may possess, he clearly regards almost entirely in the sense of difficulties, necessary to be believed, but mere impediments to faith rather than any assistance to it. 'Great reverence,' he says, 'is due to them where they are certain and necessary in the nature and reason of the thing, but they are not easily to be admitted without necessity and very good evidence.' He is not sure whether much that seems mysterious may not be in some degree explained as compliances, for the sake of our edification, with human modes of thought. On the whole, he is inclined to reduce within as narrow a compass as possible the number of tenets which transcend our faculties of reason, to receive them, when acknowledged, with reverential submission, but to pass quickly from them, as matters in which we have little concern, and which do not greatly affect the practical conduct of life. His extreme distaste for anything that appeared to him like idle speculation or unprofitable controversy, often blinded him in a very remarkable degree to the evident fact, that the very same mysterious truths which have given occasion to many futile speculations, many profitless disputes, are also, in every Christian communion, rich in their supply of Christian motives and practical bearings upon conduct.
Tillotson's opinions on points of doctrine were sometimes attacked with a bitterness of rancour only to be equalled by the degree of misrepresentation upon which the charges were founded. Leslie concludes his indictment against him and Burnet by saying that 'though the sword of justice be (at present) otherwise employed than to animadvert upon these blasphemers, and though the chief and father of them all is advanced to the throne of Canterbury, and thence infuses his deadly poison through the nation,' yet at least all 'ought to separate from the Church communion of these heretical bishops.' Yet, if we examine the arguments upon which this invective is supported, and compare with their context the detached sentences which his hot-blooded antagonist adduces, we shall find that Tillotson maintained no opinion which would not be considered in a modern English Churchman to be at all events perfectly legitimate. Had his opponents been content to point out serious deficiencies in the general tendency of his teaching, they would have held a thoroughly tenable position. When they attempted to attach to his name the stigma of specific heresies, they failed. He thought for himself, and sometimes very differently from them, but never wandered far from the paths of orthodoxy. Accusations of Socinianism were freely circulated both against him and Burnet, on grounds which chiefly serve to show within what narrow grooves religious thought would have been confined by the objectors. Burnet, whose theological discourses received Tillotson's hearty commendation, has fully stated what appears to have been the less clearly conceived opinion of the archbishop. There was no tincture of Arianism in it; he showed on the contrary, with much power, the utter untenability of that hypothesis. The worship of Christ, he said, is so plainly set forth in the New Testament, that not even the opposers of His divinity deny it; yet nothing is so much condemned in Scripture as worshipping a creature. 'We may well and safely determine that Christ was truly both God and Man.' But he held that this true Divinity of Christ consisted in 'the indwelling of the Eternal Word in Christ,' which 'became united to His human nature, as our souls dwell in our bodies and are united to them.' As Leslie said, he did in effect explain the doctrine of the Trinity as three manifestations of the Divine nature. 'By the first, God may be supposed to have made and to govern all things; by the second, to have been most perfectly united to the humanity of Christ; and by the third, to have inspired the penmen of the Scriptures and the workers of miracles, and still to renew and fortify all good minds. But though we cannot explain how they are Three and have a true diversity from one another, so that they are not barely different names and modes; yet we firmly believe that there is but one God.' A jealous and disputatious orthodoxy might be correct in affirming that this exposition of the Trinity was a form of Sabellianism, and one which might perhaps be accepted by some of the Unitarians. It is stated here rather to show on what scanty grounds the opponents of the 'Latitudinarian bishops' founded one of their chief accusations of Socinian heresy.
But this was only part of the general charge. It was also said that Tillotson was a 'rank Socinian' in regard of his views upon the doctrine of the satisfaction made by Christ for the sins of men. The ground of offence lay in his great dislike for anything which seemed to savour less of Scripture than of scholastic refinements in theology. He thought it great rashness to prescribe limits, as it were, to infinite wisdom, and to affirm that man's salvation could not possibly have been wrought in any other way than by the incarnation and satisfaction of the Son of God. A Christian reasoner may well concede that he can form no conjecture in what variety of modes redeeming love might have been manifested. He has no need to build theories upon what alone is possible, when the far nobler argument is set before him, to trace the wisdom and the fitness of the mode which God's providence actually has chosen. Tillotson raised no question whatever as to the manner in which redemption was effected, but stated it in exactly such terms as might have been used by any preacher of the day. For example: 'From these and many other texts it seems to be very plain and evident, that Christ died for our sins, and suffered in our stead, and by the sacrifice of Himself hath made an atonement for us and reconciled us to God, and hath paid a price and ransom for us, and by the merits of his death hath purchased for us forgiveness of sins.'
Nevertheless the charge was brought against him, as it was in a less degree
against Burnet and other Low Churchmen of this time, of 'disputing openly
against the satisfaction of Christ.' This deserves some explanation. For though
in the mere personal question there can be little historical interest, it is
instructive, as illustrating an important phase of religious thought. The
charge rested on three or four different grounds. There was the broad general
objection, as it seemed to some, that Tillotson was always searching out ways
of bringing reason to bear even on Divine mysteries, where they held its
application to be impertinent and almost sacrilegious. His refusal, already
mentioned, to allow that the sacrifice of Christ's death was the only
conceivable way in which, consistently with the Divine attributes, sin could be
forgiven, was a further cause for displeasure. It did not at all fall in with a
habit which, both in pulpit and in argumentative divinity, had become far too
customary, of speaking of the Atonement with a kind of legal, or even
mathematical exactness, as of a debt which nothing but full payment can cancel,
or of a problem in proportion which admits only of one solution. Then, although
Tillotson defended the propriety of the term 'satisfaction,' he had observed
that the word was nowhere found in Scripture, and would apparently have not
regretted its disuse. It was a graver proof of doctrinal laxity, if not of
heresy, in the estimation of many, that although for his own part he always
spoke of Christ suffering 'in our stead,' he had thought it perfectly
immaterial whether it were expressed thus or
'for our benefit.' It was all 'a perverse contention which signified just
nothing.... For he that dies with an intention to do that benefit to another as
to save him from death, doth certainly, to all intents and purposes, die in his
place and stead.'
Certainly, in these words Tillotson singularly underrated a very important
difference. Our whole conception of the meaning of Redemption, that most
fundamental doctrine of all Christian theology, is modified by an acceptance of
the one rather than of the other expression. In our own days one interpretation
is considered as legitimate in the
Another cause which stirred great animosity against Tillotson as a theological writer consisted in his partial acceptance of that principle of 'accommodation' which was afterwards made so much use of by Semler and many other German writers. Thus, the natural love of mystery which, in man's unenlightened state, had been fruitful in fantastical and unworthy superstitions, was gently guided to the contemplation of a mystery of godliness—God manifested in the flesh—so great, so wonderful, so infinite in mercy, as to 'obscure and swallow up all other mysteries.' The inclination of mankind to the worship of a visible and sensible Deity was diverted into its true channel by the revelation of one to whom, as the 'brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person,' divine worship might be paid 'without danger of idolatry, and without injury to the divine nature.' The apotheosis of heroes, the tendency to raise to semi-divine honours great benefactors of the race, was sublimely superseded by the exaltation to the right hand of the Majesty on high of one who is not half but wholly infinite, and yet true man and the truest benefactor of our race; One that 'was dead and is alive again, and lives for evermore.' The religious instinct which craved for mediation and intercession was gratified, and the worship of saints made for the future inexcusable, by the gift of one Mediator between God and men, a perpetual advocate and intercessor. It was the same, Tillotson added, with sacrifice. On this point he dilated more at length. The sacrificial character, he said, of the atonement was not to be explained in any one manner. To open a way of forgiveness which would at the same time inspire a deep feeling of the guilt and consequences of sin, and create a horror of it, which would kindle fervent love to the Saviour, and pity for all in misery as He had pity on us; these are some of the effects which the sacrifice of Christ is adapted to fulfil, and there may be other divine counsels hidden in it of which we know little or nothing. But he thought that further explanation might be found in a tender condescension to certain religious ideas which almost everywhere prevailed among mankind. Unreasonable as it was to suppose that the blood of slain animals could take away sin, sacrifice had always been resorted to. Perhaps it implied a confession of belief that sin cannot be pardoned without suffering. Whatever the ground and foundation may have been, at all events, both among Jews and heathens, it was an established principle that 'without shedding of blood there is no remission.' God's providence may be deemed to have adapted itself to this general apprehension, not in order to countenance these practices, but for the future to abolish them, deepening at the same time and spiritualising the meaning involved in them. 'Very probably in compliance with this apprehension of mankind, and in condescension to it, as well as for other weighty reasons best known to the divine wisdom, God was pleased to find out such a sacrifice as should really and effectually procure for them that great blessing of the forgiveness of sins which they had so long hoped for from the multitude of their own sacrifices.'
It is curious to see in what sort of light these not very formidable speculations were construed by some of Tillotson's contemporaries. 'He makes,' says Leslie, 'the foundation of the Christian religion to be some foolish and wicked fancies, which got into people's heads, he knows not and says no matter how; and instead of reforming them, and commanding us to renounce and abhor them, which one would have expected, and which Christ did to all other wickedness, the doctor's scheme is, that God, in compliance with them, and to indulge men in these same wild and wicked fancies, did send Christ, took His life, and instituted the whole economy of the Christian religion.' The construction put upon the Archbishop's words is curious but deplorable. It is not merely that it exemplifies, though not in nearly so great a degree as other passages which might be quoted, the polemical virulence which was then exceedingly common, and which warped the reasoning powers of such men of talent and repute as Leslie. The encouragement which attacks made in this spirit gave to the Deism and infidelity against which they were directed, was a far more permanent evil. Much may be conceded to the alarm not unnaturally felt at a time when independent thought was beginning to busy itself in the investigation of doctrines which had been generally exempt from it, and when all kinds of new difficulties were being started on all sides. But the many who felt difficulties, and honestly sought to find a solution of them, were constantly driven into open hostility by the unconciliatory treatment they met with. Their most moderate departures from the strictest path of presumed orthodox exposition were clamorously resented; their interpretations of Christian doctrine, however religiously conceived, and however worthy of being at least fairly weighed, were placed summarily under a ban; and those Church dignitaries in whom they recognised some sort of sympathy were branded as 'Sons of Belial.' There can be no doubt that at the end of the seventeenth, and in the earlier part of the eighteenth centuries, many men, who under kindlier conditions would have been earnest and active Churchmen, were unconsciously forced, by the intolerance which surrounded them, into the ranks of the Deists or the Unitarians.
In the general charge preferred against Tillotson of dangerous and heretical opinion there was yet another item which attracted far more general attention than the rest. 'This new doctrine,' says Leslie, 'of making hell precarious doth totally overthrow the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ.' Of this particular inference, which would legitimately follow only upon a very restricted view of the meaning of atonement, there is no need of speaking. But the opinion itself, as stated in Tillotson's sermon on what was often described as 'the dispensing power,' is so important that any estimate of his influence upon religious thought would be very imperfect without some mention of it. There are many theological questions of great religious consequence which are discussed nevertheless only in limited circles, and are familiar to others chiefly in their practical applications. The future state is a subject in which everyone has such immediate personal concern, that arguments which seem likely to throw fresh light upon it, especially if put forward by an eminent and popular divine, are certain to obtain very wide and general attention. Tillotson's sermon not only gave rise to much warm controversy among learned writers, but was eagerly debated in almost all classes of English society.
Perhaps there has never been a period
in Christian history when the prospects of the bulk of mankind in the world
beyond the grave have been enwrapped in such unmitigated gloom in popular
religious conception, as throughout the Protestant countries of
Nothing can be more confirmatory of what has been said than the writings of Tillotson himself. His much-famed sermon 'On the Eternity of Hell Torments' was preached in 1690 before Queen Mary, a circumstance which gave occasion to some of the bitterest of his ecclesiastical and political opponents to pretend that it was meant to assuage the horrors of remorse felt by the Queen for having unnaturally deserted her father. His departure, however, from what was considered the orthodox belief was cautious in the extreme. He acknowledged indeed that the words translated by eternal and 'everlasting' do not always, in Scripture language, mean unending. But on this he laid no stress. He did not doubt, he said, that this at all events was their meaning wherever they occurred in the passages in question. He mentioned, only to set aside the objection raised by Locke and others, that death could not mean eternal life in misery. He thought the solemn assertion applied typically to the Israelites, and confirmed (to show its immutability) by an oath that they should not 'enter into his rest,' entirely precluded Origen's idea of a final restitution. He even supposed, although somewhat dubiously, that 'whenever we break the laws of God we fall into his hands and lie at his mercy, and he may, without injustice, inflict what punishment on us he pleases,' and that in any case obstinately impenitent sinners must expect his threatenings to be fully executed upon them. But in this lay the turning-point of his argument. 'After all, he that threatens hath still the power of execution in his hand. For there is this remarkable difference between promises and threatenings—that he who promiseth passeth over a right to another, and thereby stands obliged to him in justice and faithfulness to make good his promise; and if he do not, the party to whom the promise is made is not only disappointed, but injuriously dealt withal; but in threatenings it is quite otherwise. He that threatens keeps the right of punishing in his own hands, and is not obliged to execute what he hath threatened any further than the reasons and ends of government do require.' Thus Nineveh was absolutely threatened; 'but God understood his own right, and did what he pleased, notwithstanding the threatening he had denounced.' Such was Tillotson's theory of the 'dispensing power,' an argument in great measure adopted from the distinguished Arminian leader, Episcopius, and which was maintained by Burnet, and vigorously defended by Le Clerc. It was not, however, at all a satisfactory position to hold. Intellectually and spiritually, its level is a low one; and even those who have thought little upon the subject will feel, for the most part, as by a kind of instinct, that this at all events is not the true explanation, though it may contain some germs of truth. To do reasonable justice to it, we must take into account the conflicting considerations by which Tillotson's mind was swayed. No one could appeal more confidently and fervently than he does to the perfect goodness of God, a goodness which wholly satisfies the human reason, and supplies inexhaustible motives for love and worship. We can reverence, he said, nothing but true goodness. A God wanting in it would be only 'an omnipotent evil, an irresistible mischief.'
But side by side with this principal current of thought was another. Dismayed at the profligacy and carelessness he saw everywhere around him, he was evidently convinced that not fear only, but some overwhelming terror was absolutely necessary for even the tolerable restraint of human sin and passion. 'Whosoever,' he said, 'considers how ineffectual the threatening even of eternal torments is to the greatest part of sinners, will soon be satisfied that a less penalty than that of eternal sufferings would to the far greater part of mankind have been in all probability of little or no force.'
The result, therefore, of this twofold train of thought was this—that when Tillotson had once disburdened himself of a conviction which must have been wholly essential to his religious belief, and upon which he could not have held silence without a degrading feeling of insincerity, he then felt at liberty to suppress all further mention of it, and to lay before his hearers, without any qualification, in the usual language of his time, that tremendous alternative which he believed God himself had thought it necessary to proclaim. Probably Tillotson's own mind was a good deal divided on the subject between two opinions. In many respects his mind showed a very remarkable combination of old and new ideas, and perceptibly fluctuated between a timid adherence to tradition and a sympathy with other notions which had become unhappily and needlessly mixed up with imputations of Deism. In any case, what he has said upon this most important subject is a singular and exaggerated illustration of that prudential teaching which was a marked feature both in Tillotson's theology and in the prevailing religious thought of his age.
In spite of what Tillotson might perhaps have wished, the suggestions hazarded in his thirty-fifth sermon made an infinitely greater impression than the unqualified warnings contained in the hundreds which he preached at other times. It seems to have had a great circulation, and probably many and mixed results. So far as it encouraged that abominable system, which was already falling like a blight upon religious faith, of living according to motives of expedience and the wiser chance, its effects must have been utterly bad. It may also have exercised an unsettling influence upon some minds. Although Tillotson was probably entirely mistaken in the conviction, by no means peculiar to him, that the idea of endless punishment adds any great, or even any appreciable, force to the thought of divine retribution awaiting unrepented sin, yet there would be much cause for alarm if (as might well be the case) the ignorant or misinformed leaped to the conclusion that the Archbishop had maintained that future, as distinguished from endless punishments, were doubtful. We are told that 'when this sermon of hell was first published, it was handed about among the great debauchees and small atheistical wits more than any new play that ever came out. He was not a man of fashion who wanted one of them in his pocket, or could draw it out at the coffee-house.' In certain drawing-rooms, too, where prudery was not the fault, there were many fashionable ladies who would pass from the scandal and gossip of the day to applaud Tillotson's sermon in a sense which would have made him shudder. Nothing follows from this, unless it be assumed that the profligates and worldlings of the period would have spent a single hour, not to say a life, differently, had he never preached the sermon which they discredited with their praise. It is possible, however, that through misapprehension, or through the disturbing effects upon some minds, quite apart from rational grounds, of any seeming innovation upon accustomed teaching, there may have been here and there real ground for the alarm which some very good people felt at these views having been broached. It must be acknowledged that Tillotson's theory of a dispensing power is not only unsatisfactory on other grounds, but possesses a dangerous quality of expansibility. However much he himself might protest against such a view, there was no particular reason why the easy and careless should not urge that God might perchance dispense with all future punishment of sin, and not only with its threatened endlessness.
Tillotson's theological faults were of
a negative, far rather than of a positive character. The constant charges of
heresy which were brought against him were ungrounded, and often serve to call
attention to passages where he has shown himself specially anxious to meet
Deistical objections. But there were deficiencies and omissions in his teaching
which might very properly be regarded with distrust and alarm. In the
generality of his sermons he dwells very insufficiently upon distinctive
Christian doctrine. His early parishioners of Keddington, in
Throughout the eighteenth century the prudential considerations against
which Shaftesbury and a few others protested weighed like an incubus both upon
religion and on morals. 'Oh Happiness! our being's end and aim,' was the seldom failing refrain,
echoed in sermons and essays, in theological treatises and ethical studies. And
though the idea of happiness varies in endless degrees from the highest to the
meanest, yet even the highest conception of it cannot be substituted for that
of goodness without great detriment to the religion or philosophy which has
thus unduly exalted it. When Tillotson, or Berkeley,
or Bishop Butler, or William Law, as well as Chubb
and Tindal, spoke of happiness as the
highest end, they meant something very different from 'the sleek and sordid
epicurism, in which religion and a good conscience have their place among the
means by which life is to be made more comfortable.'
William Law's definition of happiness as 'the satisfaction of all means,
capacities, and necessities, the order and harmony of his being; in other
words, the right state of a man,'
has not much in common with the motives of expedience urged by Bentham and
Paley, utilitarian systems, truly spoken of as 'of the earth, earthy.' But, in any case, even the
highest conception of the expedient rests on a lower plane of principle than
the humblest aspiration after the right. The expedient and the right are not
opposites; they are different in kind.
They may be, and ought to be, blended as springs of action. No scheme of
morals, and no practical divinity can be wholly satisfactory in which virtue
and holiness are not equally mated with prudence and heavenly wisdom, each
serving but not subservient to the other. 'Art thou,' says Coleridge, 'under
the tyranny of sin—a slave to vicious habits, at enmity with God, and a skulking
fugitive from thine own conscience? Oh, how idle the dispute whether the
listening to the dictates of prudence from prudential and self-interested
motives be virtue or merit, when the not listening is guilt, misery, madness,
The self-love which
But when the idea of goodness is subordinated to the pursuit of happiness,
the evil effects are soon manifest. It is not merely that 'Epicureanism
popularised inevitably turns to vice.'
Whenever in any form self-interest usurps that first place which the Gospel
assigns to 'the
Utilitarianism or eudæmonism has no sort of intrinsic connection with a latitudinarian theology, especially when the word 'latitudinarian' is used, as in this chapter, in a general and inoffensive sense. In this century, and to some extent in the last, many of its warmest opponents have been Broad Churchmen. But prudential religion, throughout the period which set in with the Revolution of 1688, is closely associated with the name of Tillotson. It is certainly very prominent in his writings. His keen perception of the exceeding beauty of goodness might have been supposed sufficient to guard him from dwelling too much upon inferior motives. Tillotson, however, was very susceptible to the predominant influences of his time. If he was a leader of thought, he was also much led by the thought of others. There were three or four considerations which had great weight with him, as they had with almost every other theologian and moralist of his own and the following age. One, which has been already sufficiently discussed, was that feeling of the need of proving the reasonableness of every argument, which was the first result of the wider field, the increased leisure, the greater freedom of which the reasoning powers had become conscious. It is evident that no system of morality and practical religion gives so much scope to the exercise of this faculty as that which pre-eminently insists upon the prudence of right action and upon the wisdom of believing. Then again, the profligate habits and general laxity which undoubtedly prevailed to a more than ordinary extent among all classes of society, seem to have created even among reformers of the highest order a sort of dismayed feeling, that it was useless to set up too high a law, and that self-interest and fear were the two main arguments which could be plied with the best hopes of success. Thirdly, a very mistaken notion appears to have grown up that infidelity and 'free-thinking' might be checked by prudent reflections on the safeness of orthodoxy and the dangers of unbelief. Thought is not deterred by arguments of safety; and a sceptic is likely to push on into pronounced disbelief, if he commonly hears religion recommended as a matter of policy.
In all these respects Tillotson did but take the line which was characteristic of his age—of the age, that is, which was beginning, not of that which was passing away. Something, too, must be attributed to personal temperament. He carried into the province of religion that same benign but dispassionate calmness of feeling, that subdued sobriety of judgment, wanting in impulse and in warmth, which, in public and in private life, made him more respected as an opponent than beloved as a friend. To weigh evidence, to balance probabilities, and to act with tranquil confidence in what reason judged to be the wiser course, seemed to him as natural and fit in spiritual as in temporal matters. This was all sound in its degree, but there was a deficiency in it, and in the general mode of religious thought represented by it, which cannot fail to be strongly felt. There is something very chilling in such an appeal as the following: 'Secondly, it is infinitely most prudent. In matters of great concernment a prudent man will incline to the safest side of the question. We have considered which side of these questions is most reasonable: let us now think which is safest. For it is certainly most prudent to incline to the safest side of the question. Supposing the reasons for and against the principles of religion were equal, yet the danger and hazard is so unequal, as would sway a prudent man to the affirmative.' It must not be inferred that nobler and more generous reasonings in relation to life and goodness do not continually occur. But the passage given illustrates a form of argument which is far too common, both in Tillotson's writings and throughout the graver literature of the eighteenth century. Without doubt it did much harm. So long as moralists dwelt so fondly upon self-interest and expedience, and divines descanted upon, the advantages of the safe side; so long as the ideal of goodness was half supplanted by that of happiness; so long as sin was contemplated mainly in its results of punishment, and redemption was regarded rather as deliverance from the penalties of sin than from the sin itself, Christianity and Christian ethics were inevitably degraded.
Many of the subjects touched upon in this chapter have little or no
connection with Latitudinarianism, so far as it is synonymous with what are now
more commonly called Broad Church principles. But in the eighteenth century
'reasonableness' in religious matters, although a characteristic watchword of
the period in general, was especially the favourite term, the most congenial
topic, upon which Latitudinarian Churchmen loved to dwell. The consistency of
the Christian faith with man's best reason was indeed a great theme, well
worthy to engage the thoughts of the most talented and pious men of the age.
And no doubt Tillotson and many of his contemporaries and successors amply
earned the gratitude, not only of the
The Latitudinarian section of the Church of England won its chief fame, during the years that immediately followed the Revolution of 1688, by its activity in behalf of ecclesiastical comprehension and religious liberty. These exertions, so far as they extend to the history of the eighteenth century, and were continued through that period, will be considered in the following chapter.
The Latitudinarianism which occupies so conspicuous and important a place in English ecclesiastical history during the half century which followed upon the Revolution of 1688 has been discussed in some of its aspects in the preceding chapter. It denoted not so much a particular Church policy as a tone or mode of thought, which affected the whole attitude of the mind in relation to all that wide compass of subjects in which religious considerations are influenced by difference of view as to the province and authority of the individual reason.
But that which gave Latitudinarianism its chief notoriety, as well as its
name, was a direct practical question. The term took its origin in the efforts
made in William and Mary's reign to give such increased latitude to the
formularies of the
The inclusiveness of the Reformed Church of England has never been altogether one-sided. It has always contained within its limits many who were bent on separating themselves by as wide an interval as possible from the Church of Rome, and many on the other hand who were no less anxious that the breach of unity should not be greater than was in any way consistent with spiritual independence and necessary reforms. The Reformation undoubtedly derived the greater part of its force and energy from the former of these two parties; to the temperate counsels of the latter it was indebted for being a movement of reform rather than of revolution. Without the one, religious thought would scarcely have released itself from the strong bonds of a traditional authority. Without the other, it would have been in danger of losing hold on Catholic belief, and of breaking its continuity with the past. Without either one or the other, the English Church would not only have lost the services of many excellent men, but would have been narrowed in range, lowered in tone, lessened in numbers, character, and influence. To use the terms of modern politics, it could neither have spared its Conservatives, though some of them may have been unprogressive or obstructionist, nor its Liberals, although the more advanced among them were apt to be rash and revolutionary.
At the opening of the eighteenth century, all notions of a wider
comprehension in favour of persons who dissented in the direction of
Some time after the death of Bossuet, the renewed resistance which was being
The correspondence between the English primate and the doctors of the
Sorbonne is an episode which stands by itself, quite apart from any other
incidents in the Church history of the time. It bears a superficial resemblance
to the overtures made by some of the English and Scotch Nonjurors to the
Eastern Church. There was, however, an essential difference between them.
Without any dishonour to Nonjuring principles, and without passing any judgment
upon the grounds of their separation, it must be acknowledged that those of
them who renounced the communion of the
Archbishop Wake, had he lived in more favourable times, would have been well
fitted, both by position and character, for this work of mutual conciliation.
His disposition toward the foreign Protestant Churches was of the most friendly
kind. In a letter to Le Clerc on the subject,
he deprecated dissension on matters of no essential moment. He desired to be on
terms of cordial friendship with the Reformed Churches, notwithstanding their
points of difference from that of
After the suppression of the Gallican liberties, the hostility between the
Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches was for a long time wholly unbroken. The
theological controversy had abated. Pamphlet no longer followed upon pamphlet,
and folio upon folio, as when, a few years before, every writer in divinity had
felt bound to contribute his quota of argument to the voluminous stock, and
when Tillotson hardly preached a sermon without some homethrust at Popery. But
the general fear and hatred of it long continued unmitigated. So long,
particularly, as there was any apprehension of Jacobite disturbances, it always
seemed possible that Romanism might yet return with a power of which none could
guess the force. Additions were still made to the long list of penalties and
disabilities attached to Popish recusancy; and when, in 1778, a proposition was
brought forward to abate them, it is well known what a storm of riot arose in
It might be thought that in the dull ebb-tide of spiritual energies which
set in soon after the beginning of the eighteenth century, and prevailed
wherever the Methodist movement did not reach, Rome, with her strong
organisation and her experienced Propaganda, had as great a field before her as
Wesley had,—that she would have made
rapid advance in spite of all disabilities,—and that, in consequence, the
Protestant fears, which had been subsiding into indifference, would have arisen
again in full force. But
Until the last decade of the century, Roman Catholics were rarely spoken of
in any other spirit than as the dreaded enemies of Protestantism. There was
very little recognition of their being far more nearly united to us by the tie
of a common Christianity, than separated by the differences in it. A man who
was not a professed sceptic needed to be both more unprejudiced and more
courageous than his neighbours, to speak of Roman Catholics with tolerable
charity. In this, as in many other points, Bishop Berkeley was superior to his
age. He ventured to propose that Roman Catholics should be admitted to the
Dr. Johnson, a man of a very different order of mind, may be mentioned as
another who joined a devoted attachment to the Church of England with a candid
and kindly spirit towards Roman Catholics. Perhaps his respect for authority,
and the tinge of superstition in his temperament, predisposed him to sympathy.
In any case, his masculine intellect brushed away with scorn the prejudices,
exaggerations, and misconstructions which beset popular ideas upon the subject.
He took pleasure in dilating upon the substantial unity that subsisted between
them and denominations which, in externals, were separated from them by a very
wide interval. 'There is a prodigious difference,' he would say, 'between the
external form of one of your Presbyterian Churches in
Many of the speeches made in favour of relief, at the time of the Irish and English Emancipation Acts, were couched in terms which betoken a marked departure from the bitterness of tone which had long been customary. When the French Revolution broke out, the reaction became, for an interval, in many quarters far stronger still. In the presence of anti-Christian principles exultingly avowed, and triumphantly defiant, it seemed to many Christians that minor differences, which had seemed great before, dwindled almost into insignificance before the light of their common faith. Moreover, there was a widespread feeling of deep sympathy with the wrongs and sufferings of the proscribed clergy. 'Scruples about external forms,' said Bishop Horsley before the House of Lords, 'and differences of opinion upon controvertible points, cannot but take place among the best Christians, and dissolve not the fraternal tie; none, indeed, at this season are more entitled to our offices of love than those with whom the difference is wide in points of doctrine, discipline, and external rites,—those venerable exiles, the prelates and clergy of the fallen Church of France, endeared to us by the edifying example they exhibit of patient suffering for conscience sake.' Horsley's words were far from meeting with universal approval. There were some fanatics, Hannah More tells us, who said it was a sin to oppose God's vengeance against Popery, and succour the priests who it was His will should starve. And real sympathy, even while the occasion of it lasted, was very often, as may well be imagined, mixed with feelings of apprehension. These refugees might be only too grateful. Thinking that salvation was obtainable only in their own Church, was it not likely they would use their utmost art to extend this first of blessings to those who had so hospitably protected them? Thus interest was blended with anxiety in the nation which gave welcome to the emigrants. But interest there certainly was, and considerable abatement in the bitterness of earlier feeling.
The relations of the Church of England with other Reformed bodies abroad and
at home had been, since James II.'s time, a question of high importance. Burnet
justly remarks of the year 1685, that it was one of the most critical periods
in the whole history of Protestantism. 'In February, a king of
From the very beginning of the Reformation it had been a vexed question how
far the cause of the Reformed Church of England could be identified with that
of other communions which had cast off the yoke of
The relations, however, of
No doubt the differences between the Reformed Churches of England and the
Continent were very considerable. Yet, with the one discreditable exception
just referred to, there had been much comity and friendliness in all personal
relations between their respective members; and the absence of sympathy on many
points of doctrine and discipline was not
so great as to preclude the possibility of closer union and common action in
any crisis of danger. Before the end of the seventeenth century such a crisis
seemed, in the opinion of many, to have arrived. The Protestant interest
There is nothing which tends to promote so kindly a feeling towards its objects as self-denying benevolence. This had been elicited in a very remarkable degree towards the refugees who found a shelter here after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Londoners beheld with a sort of humorous dismay the crowd of immigrants who came to settle among them.
Hither for God's sake and their own they fled;Some for religion came, and some for bread.Four hundred thousand wooden pair of shoes,Who, God be thanked, had nothing left to lose,To heaven's great praise, did for religion fly,To make us starve our poor in charity.
But these poverty-stricken exiles were received with warm-hearted sympathy. No previous brief had ever brought in such large sums as those which throughout the kingdom were subscribed for their relief; nor, if the increase of wealth be taken into account, has there been any greater display of munificence in our own times. Churchmen of all views came generously forward. If here and there a doubt was raised whether these demonstrations of friendliness might not imply a greater approval of their opinions than really existed, compassion for sufferers who were not fellow-Christians only, but fellow-Protestants, quickly overpowered all such hesitation. Bishop Ken behaved in 1686 with all his accustomed generosity and boldness. In contravention of the King's orders, who had desired that the brief should be simply read in churches without any sermon on the subject, he ventured in the Royal Chapel to set forth in affecting language the sufferings they had gone through, and to exhort his hearers to hold, with a like unswerving constancy, to the Protestant faith. He issued a pastoral entreating his clergy to do the utmost in their power for 'Christian strangers, whose distress is in all respects worthy of our tenderest commiseration.' For his own part, he set a noble example of liberality in the gift of a great part of 4000l. which had lately come into his possession. We are told of Rainbow, Bishop of Carlisle, that in a similar spirit he gave to French Protestants large sums, and bore 'his share with other bishops in yearly pensions' to some of them.
The burst of general sympathy evoked in favour of the French refugees
happened just at a time when Churchmen of all views were showing a more or less
hearty desire that the Church of England might be strengthened by the adhesion
of many who had hitherto dissented from it. Sancroft was as yet at one with
Tillotson in desiring to carry out a Comprehension Bill, and was asking
Dissenters to join with him 'in prayer for an universal blessed union of all
Reformed Churches at home and abroad.'
Undoubtedly there was a short interval, just before the Nonjuring secession, in
which the minds not only of the so-called Latitudinarians, but of many eminent
High Churchmen, were strongly disposed to make large concessions for the sake
of unity, and from a desire of seeing England definitely at the head of the
Protestant cause alike in England and on the Continent. They could not but
agree with the words of Samuel Johnson—as good and brave a man as the
great successor to his name—that 'there could not be a more blessed work
than to reconcile Protestants with Protestants.'
But the opportunity of successfully carrying into practice these aspirations
soon passed away, and when it became evident that there could be no change in
the relations of the English Church towards Nonconformity, interest in foreign
Protestantism began to be much less universal than it had been. The clergy
especially were afraid—and there was justification for their
alarm—that some of the oldest and most characteristic features of their
Church were in danger of being swept away. They had no wish to see in
Thus, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, while there was a very
general wish that the English Church should take its place at the head of a
movement which would aim at strengthening and consolidating the Protestant
cause throughout Europe, there was much doubt how far such a project could be
carried out consistently with the spirit and principles of the Church. The
hopes of High Churchmen in this direction were based chiefly on the anticipation that the reformed churches
abroad might perhaps be induced to restore Episcopacy. It was with this view
that Dodwell wrote his 'Parænesis to Foreigners' in 1704. A year or two
afterwards, events occurred in
With the earlier years of the century all ideas of a closer relationship
between English and foreign Protestantism than had existed heretofore passed
away. The name of Protestant was still as cherished in popular feeling as ever
it had been; but soon after the beginning of the Georgian period little was
heard, as compared with what lately had been the case, of the Protestant cause
or the Protestant interest. In truth, when minds were no longer intent upon immediate dangers, the bond was severed
which had begun to keep together, notwithstanding all differences, the Reformed
In 1751 an Act was brought forward for the general naturalisation of foreign
Protestants resident in
The remarks that have been made in this chapter upon the relations of the
English Church in the eighteenth century, especially in its earlier years,
towards Rome on the one hand and the foreign Reformed Churches on the other,
began with a reference to those principles of Church comprehensiveness which,
however imperfectly understood, lay very near the heart of many distinguished
Churchmen. But all who longed to see the Church of England acting in the free
and generous spirit of a great national Church were well aware that there was a
wider and more important field at home for the exercise of those principles. It
was one, however, in which their course seemed far less plain. Many who were
very willing to acknowledge that wide differences of opinion or practice
constituted no insuperable bar to a close friendly intercourse between Churches
of different countries, regarded those same variations in quite another light
when considered as occasions of schism among separatists at home. Archbishop
Sharp, for example, willingly communicated with congregations of foreign Protestants,
wherever he might be travelling on the Continent, but could discuss no terms of
conciliation with English Dissenters which were not based upon a relinquishment
The Latitudinarian party in the
The force of such arguments was vividly felt by the whole of that Latitudinarian
party in the Church, which numbered at the end of the seventeenth century so
many distinguished names. There was a time when some of the
The Baptists showed little or no disposition to come to an agreement with
the Church. They were at this time a declining sect,
who held little intercourse with other Dissenters, and were much engaged in
petty but very acrimonious controversies among themselves. They had been
divided ever since 1633 into two sections, the Particular and General Baptists.
The former of the two were Calvinists of the most rigorous and exclusive type,
often conspicuous by a fervent but excessively narrow form of piety, and illiterate
almost on principle on account of their disparagement of what was called 'human
learning.' The General Baptists, many of
whom merged, early in the eighteenth century, into Unitarians, were less
exclusive in their views. But the Baptists generally viewed the
Unitarians have always differed from one another so very widely, that they
can hardly be classed or spoken of under one name. Their opinions have always
varied in every possible degree, from such minute departure from generally
received modes of expression in speaking of the mystery of the Godhead, as
needs a very microscopic orthodoxy to detect, down to the barest and most
explicit Socinianism. There were some who charged with Unitarianism Bishop Bull, whose learned defence of the
Nicene faith was famous throughout all Europe. There were many who made it an
accusation against Tillotson,
and the whole
of the Low or Latitudinarian party in the
Church of England. The Roman Controversialists of the seventeenth century used
to go further still, and boldly assert
that to leave Rome was to go to Socinianism; and the Calvinists, on their side,
would sometimes argue that 'Arminianism was a shoeing horn to draw on
A great number of the Unitarians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
were themselves scarcely distinguishable from the orthodox. 'For peace sake
they submit to the phrase of the Church, and expressly own Three Persons,
though they think the word person not so proper as another might be. If the
Three Persons should be defined by three distinct minds and spirits, or
substances, the Unitarian will be lost; but if person be defined by mode,
manifestation, or outward relation, he will be acquitted.... They believe all
the articles of the Apostles' Creed.... They believe the law of Christ
contained in the four gospels to be the only and everlasting rule, by which
they shall be judged hereafter.... They thankfully lay hold of the message of
Redemption through Christ.'
Some of the Unitarians, we are told, even excommunicated and deposed from the
ministry such of their party as denied that divine worship was due to Christ. Of Unitarians such as these, if
they can be called by that name, and not rather Arians or Semi-Arians, the
words of Dr. Arnold may properly be quoted: 'The addressing Christ in the
language of prayer and praise is an essential part of Christian worship. Every
Christian would feel his devotions incomplete, if this formed no part of them.
This therefore cannot be sacrificed; but we are by no means bound to inquire
whether all who pray to Christ entertain exactly the same ideas of His nature.
I believe that Arianism involves in it some very erroneous notions as to the
object of religious worship; but if an Arian will join in our worship of
Christ, and will call Him Lord and God, there is neither wisdom nor charity in
insisting that he shall explain what he means by these terms; nor in
questioning the strength and sincerity of his faith in his Saviour, because he
makes too great a distinction between the Divinity of the Father and that which
he allows to be the attribute of the Son.'
This was certainly the feeling of Tillotson
and many other eminent men of the same school. If an Unitarian chose to
conform, as very many are accustomed to do, they gladly received him as a
fellow worshipper. Thomas Firmin the
philanthropist, leader of the Unitarians of his day was a constant attendant at
Little need be said, in this connexion, of the Quakers. Towards the end of the seventeenth century they increased in wealth and numbers, and had begun to hold far more mitigated tenets than those of a previous age. For this they were much indebted to Robert Barclay, who wrote his 'Apology' in Latin in 1676, and translated it with a dedication to Charles II. in 1678. A few Churchmen of pronounced mystical opinions were to some extent in sympathy with them; but, as a rule, both among Conformists and Nonconformists they were everywhere misunderstood, ridiculed, and denounced. If it had not been so, their vehement repudiation of all intervention of the State in religious matters would have compelled them to hold aloof from all overtures of comprehension, even if any had been proffered to them.
The Nonconformists, therefore, who in the latter part of the seventeenth century might have been attached by a successful measure of comprehension to the National Church, were the Presbyterians—at that time a large and influential body—a considerable proportion, probably, of the Independents, and individual members of other denominations. The most promising, though not the best known scheme, appears to have been that put forward by the Presbyterians, and earnestly promoted by Sir Matthew Hale, Bishop Wilkins, and others, in 1667. Assent only was to be required to the Prayer Book; certain ceremonies were to be left optional; clergymen who had received only Presbyterian ordination were to receive, with imposition of the bishop's hands, legal authority to exercise the offices of their ministry, the word 'legal' being considered a sufficient salvo for the intrinsic validity of their previous orders; 'sacramentally' might be added after 'regenerated' in the Baptismal service, and a few other things were to be made discretional. Here was a very tolerable basis for an agreement which might not improbably have been carried out, if the House of Commons had not resolved to pass no bill of comprehension in that year.
Even this scheme, however, had one essential fault common to it with the projects which were brought forward at a somewhat later period. No measure for Church comprehension on anything like a large scale is ever like to fulfil its objects, unless the whole of the question with all its difficulties is boldly grasped and dealt with in a statesmanlike manner. Nonconformist bodies, which have grown up by long and perhaps hereditary usage into fixed habits and settled frames of thought, or whose strength is chiefly based upon principles and motives of action which are not quite in accordance with the spirit of the larger society, can never be satisfactorily incorporated into a National Church, unless the scheme provides to a great extent for the affiliation and maintenance in their integrity of the existing organisations. The Roman Church has never hesitated to utilise in this sort of manner new spiritual forces, and, without many alterations of the old, to make new additions to her ecclesiastical machinery at the risk of increasing its complexity. The Church of England might in this respect have followed the example of her old opponent to very great advantage. But neither in the plan of 1689, nor in any of those which preceded or followed it during the period which elapsed between the Act of Uniformity and the close of the century, was anything of the kind attempted.
Much, no doubt, could be done and was proposed to be done, in the way of removing from public services, where other words, not less to the purpose and equally devotional, could be substituted for them, some expressions which gave offence and raised scruples. Where this can be done without loss, it must needs be a gain. A concession to scruples which in no way impairs our perception of Christian truth, is a worthy sacrifice to Christian charity. Such a work, however, of revision demands much caution and an exceptional amount of sound discretion. Least of all it can be done in any spirit of party. In proposing a change of expression which would be in itself wholly unobjectionable, the revisers have not only to consider the scruples of those whom they wish to conciliate; they must respect even more heedfully, feelings and sentiments which they may not themselves share in, but which are valued by one or another party already existing in the Church. A revision conducted by the moderates of a Church would plainly have no right to meet scruples and objections on the part of Puritans, outside their Communion, only by creating new scruples and objections among High Churchmen within it; just as, reversely, it would be equally unjustifiable to conciliate High Sacramentalists, or the lovers of a grander or more touching ceremonial, who hovered on the borders of a Church, by changes which would be painful to its Puritan members already domiciled within it. When men of all the leading parties in a Church are sincerely desirous (as they ought, and, under such contingencies, are specially bound to be,) of removing unnecessary obstacles to Church Communion, the work of revision will be comparatively easy; and changes, which to unwilling minds would be magnified into alarming sacrifices, will become peace offerings uncostly in themselves, and willingly and freely yielded. Much then can be done in this way, but only where the changes, however excellent and opportune in themselves, are promoted not merely by a party, but by the Church in general.
Alterations, however, of this kind, although they may constitute a very important part of a measure of Church comprehension, will rarely, if ever, prove sufficient to fulfil in any satisfactory manner the desired purpose. It would be simply ruinous to the vitality of any Church to be neutral and colourless in its formularies. Irritating and polemical terms may most properly be excluded from devotional use; but no Church or party in a Church which has life and promise in it will consent, in order to please others, to give up old words and accustomed usages which give distinctiveness to worship and add a charm to the expression of familiar doctrines.
One, therefore, of two things must be done as a duty both to the old and to
the incoming members. Either much must be left optional to the clergy, or to
the clergy acting in concert with their congregations, or else, as was before
said, the National Church must find scope and room for its new members, not as
a mere throng of individuals, but as corporate bodies, whose organisations may
have to be modified to suit the new circumstances, but not broken up. When it
is considered how highly strict uniformity was valued by the ruling powers at
the end of the seventeenth century, the ample discretionary powers that were
proposed to be left are a strong proof how genuine in many quarters must have
been the wish to effect a comprehension. The
difficulties, however, which beset such liberty of option were obvious, and the
opponents of the bill did not fail to make the most of them. It was a subject
which specially suited the satirical pen and declamatory powers of Dr. South.
He was a great stickler for uniformity; unity, he urged, was strength; and
therefore he insisted upon 'a resolution to keep all the constitutions of the
Church, the parts of the service, and the conditions of its communion entire,
without lopping off any part of them.' 'If any be indulged in the omission of
the least thing there enjoined, they cannot be said to "speak all the same
thing."' And then, in more forcible language, he descanted upon what he
called 'the deformity and undecency' of difference of practice. He drew a vivid
picture how some in the same diocese would use the surplice, and some not, and
how there would be parties accordingly. 'Some will kneel at the Sacrament, some
stand, some perhaps sit; some will read this part of the Common Prayer, some
that—some, perhaps, none at all.' Some in the pulpits of our churches and
cathedrals 'shall conceive a long crude extemporary prayer, in reproach of all
the prayers which the Church with such admirable prudence and devotion hath
been making before. Nay, in the same cathedral you shall see one prebendary in
a surplice, another in a long coat, another in a short coat or jacket; and in
the performance of the public services some standing up at the Creed, the
Gloria Patri, and the reading of the Gospel; and others sitting, and perhaps
laughing and winking upon their fellow schismatics, in scoff of those who
practise the decent order of the Church.' Irreconcilable parties, he adds, and
factions will be created. 'I will not hear this formalist, says one; and I will
not hear that schismatic (with better reason), says another.... So that I dare
avouch, that to bring in a comprehension is nothing else but, in plain terms,
to establish a schism in the Church by law, and so bring a plague into the very
bowels of it, which is more than sufficiently endangered already by having one
in its neighbourhood; a plague which shall eat out the very heart and soul, and
consume the vitals and spirit of it, and this to such a degree, that in the compass
of a few years it shall scarce have any being or subsistence, or so much as the
face of a National Church to be known by.'
South's sermon was on the appropriate text, 'not give place, no, not for an
hour.' His picture was doubtless a highly exaggerated one. The discretionary
powers which some of the schemes of comprehension proposed to give would not
have left the Church of England a mere scene of confusion, an unseemly
But even if the schemes for comprehension had been thoroughly sound in principle, and less open to objection, the favourable opportunity soon passed by. While there yet lingered in men's minds a feeling of uneasiness and regret that the Restoration of 1660 should have been followed by the ejection of so many deserving clergy; while the more eminent and cultured of the sufferers by it were leavening the whole Nonconformist body with principles and sentiments which belong rather to a National Church than to a detached sect; while Nonconformity among large bodies of Dissenters was not yet an established fact; while men of all parties were still rejoicing in the termination of civil war, in the conspicuous abatement of religious and political animosities, and in the sense of national unity; while Protestants of all shades of opinion were knit together by the strong band of a common danger, by the urgent need of combination against a foe whose advances threatened the liberties of all; while High Churchmen like Ken and Sancroft were advocating not toleration only, but comprehension; while the voices of Nonconformists joined heartily in the acclamations which greeted the liberation of the seven bishops; while the Upper House of Convocation was not yet separated from the Lower, nor the great majority of the bishops from the bulk of the clergy, by a seemingly hopeless antagonism of Church principles; while High Churchmen were still headed by bishops distinguished by their services to religion and liberty; and while Broad Churchmen were represented not only by eminent men of the type of Stillingfleet and Tillotson, Burnet, Tenison and Compton, but by the thoughtful and philosophic band of scholars who went by the name of the Cambridge Platonists—under circumstances such as these, there was very much that was highly favourable to the efforts which were being made in favour of Church comprehension. These efforts met at all times with strong opposition, especially in the House of Commons and among the country clergy. But a well-considered scheme, once carried, would have been welcomed with very general approval, and might have been attended with most beneficial results.
The turn taken by the Revolution of 1688 destroyed the prospect of bringing
these labours to a really successful issue. They were pushed on, as is well
known, with greater energy than ever. They could not, however, fail of being
infected henceforth with a partisan and political spirit which made it very
doubtful whether the ill consequences of an Act of Comprehension would not have
more than counterbalanced its advantages. The
Thus, before the eighteenth century had yet begun, the hopes which had been cherished by so many excellent men on either side of the line which marked off the Nonconformists from their conforming friends, had at length almost entirely vanished. The scheme of 1689, well-meaning as it was, lacked in a marked degree many of the qualities which most deserve and command success. But when once William and Mary had been crowned, and the spirit of party had become strong, the best of schemes would have failed.
Church comprehension never afterwards became, in any direct form, a question
for much practical discussion. The interest which the late efforts had excited
lingered for some time in the minds, both of those who had promoted the measure
and of those who had resisted it. There was much warm debate upon the subject
in the Convocation of 1702. Sacheverell and the bigots of his party in 1709
lashed themselves into fury at the very thought that comprehension could be
advocated. It was treachery, rank and inexcusable; it was bringing the Trojan
horse into the
In the middle of the century—at a time when, except among the
Methodists, religious zeal seemed almost extinct, and when (to use
'Those,' wrote Mosheim in 1740, 'who are best acquainted with the state of
the English nation, tell us that the Dissenting interest declines from day to
day, and that the cause of Nonconformity owes this gradual decay in a great
measure to the lenity and moderation that are practised by the rulers of the
No doubt the friendly understanding which widely existed about this time
between Churchmen and Dissenters contributed to such a result. Herring, for
instance, of Canterbury, Sherlock of London, Secker of Oxford, Maddox of
Worcester, as well as Warburton, who was then preacher at Lincoln's Inn,
Hildersley afterwards Bishop of Sodor and Man, and many other eminent Churchmen, were all friends or
correspondents with Doddridge, the genial and liberal-minded leader of the
Congregationalists, the devout author of 'The Rise and Progress of Religion in
the Soul.' Much the same might be said of Samuel Chandler, the eminent
Presbyterian minister. An old school fellow of Secker and
Such was the frequent relation between the
No practical results ensued upon these conversations. They are interesting, and to some extent they were characteristic of the time. It is not known whether Herring and his brethren on the Episcopal bench suggested any practical measure of the kind to the Ministry then in power. If they had done so, the suggestion would have met with no response. 'I can tell you,' said Warburton, 'of certain science, that not the least alteration will be made in the Ecclesiastical system. The present ministers were bred up under, and act entirely on, the maxims of the last. And one of the principal of theirs was, Not to stir what is at rest.' Pelham was a true disciple of Sir Robert Walpole, without his talent and without his courage—a man whose main political object was to glide quietly with the stream, and who trembled at the smallest eddies. He was the last man to give a moment's countenance to any such scheme, if it were not loudly called for by a large or powerful section of the community. This was far from being the case. Indifference was too much the prevailing spirit of the age to allow more than a very negative kind of public feeling in such a matter. A carefully planned measure, not too suggestive of any considerable change, would have been acquiesced in by many, but enthusiastically welcomed by very few, while beyond doubt there would have been much vehement opposition to it.
Or, if circumstances had been somewhat different, and Herring and Sherlock,
After all, the greatest question which arose in the eighteenth century in
connection with Church Comprehension was that which related to the Methodist
movement. Not that the word 'Comprehension' was ever used in the discussion of
it. In its beginnings, it was essentially an agitation which originated within
Comprehension had always related to Dissenters. The term, therefore, could hardly be used in reference to men who claimed to be thorough Churchmen, who attended the services of the Church, loved its Liturgy, and willingly subscribed to all its formularies. The Methodist Societies bore a striking resemblance to the Collegia Pietatis established in Germany by Spener about 1670, which, at all events in their earlier years, simply aimed at the promotion of Christian holiness, while they preserved allegiance to the ecclesiastical order of the day; or we may be reminded of that Moravian community, by which the mind of Wesley was at one time so deeply fascinated, whose ideal, as Matter has observed, was to be 'Calviniste ici, Luthérienne là; Catholique partout par ses institutions épiscopales et ses doctrines ascétiques, et pourtant avant tout Chrétienne, et vraiment apostolique par ses missions.' 'At a very early period of the renewed Moravian Church,' writes the translator of Schleiermacher's Letters, 'invitations were sent from various quarters of Europe for godly men to labour in the National Churches. These men did not dispense the Sacraments, but visited, prayed, read the Bible, and kept meetings for those who, without leaving the National Churches, sought to be "built up in communion" with right-minded pious persons.' These words are exactly parallel to what Wesley wrote in one of his earlier works, and requoted in 1766. 'We look upon ourselves not as the authors or ringleaders of a particular sect or party, but as messengers of God to those who are Christians in name, but heathens in heart and life, to lead them back to that from which they are fallen, to real genuine Christianity.' His followers, he added, in South Britain, belong to the Church of England, in North Britain to the Church of Scotland. They were to be careful not to make divisions, not to baptize, nor administer the Lord's Supper.
The difficulties in the way of comprehending within the
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, when projects of Church
Comprehension had come to an end, a great deal of angry controversy in
Parliament, in Convocation, and throughout the country at large was excited by
the practice of occasional conformity. Never was a question more debased by
considerations with which it ought not to have had anything to do. In itself it
seemed a very simple one. The failure of the schemes for Comprehension had left
in the ranks of Nonconformity a great number of moderate Dissenters—Presbyterians
and others—who were separated from the Low Churchmen of the day by an
exceedingly narrow interval. Many of them were thoroughly well affected to the
The symbols of atoning graceAn office key, a pick-lock to a place,
A blot that will be still a blot, in spiteOf all that grave apologists may write;And though a bishop toil to cleanse the stain,He wipes and scours the silver cup in vain.
This Act, thus originated, which lingered in the Statute Book till the reign of George IV., which even thoroughly religious men could be so blinded by their prejudices as to defend, and which even such friends of toleration as Lord Mansfield could declare to be a 'bulwark of the Constitution,' put occasional conformity into a very different position from that which it would naturally take. Henceforth no Dissenter could communicate in the parish churches of his country without incurring some risk of an imputation which is especially revolting to all feelings alike of honour and religion. He might have it cast in his teeth that he was either committing or countenancing the sacrilegious hypocrisy, the base and shuffling trick, of communicating only to qualify for office.
It is needless here to enter into the details of the excited and
discreditable agitation by which the custom of occasional conformity was at
length, for a time, defeated. The contest may be said to have begun in 1697,
when Sir Humphrey Edwin, upon his election as Lord Mayor, after duly receiving
the Sacrament according to the use of the Church of England, proceeded in state
to the Congregational Chapel at Pinner's Hall.
Exactly the same thing recurred in 1701, in the case of Sir T. Abney. The practice thus publicly
illustrated was passionately opposed both by strict Dissenters and by strict
Churchmen. De Foe, as a representative of the former, inveighed against it with
great bitterness, as perfectly scandalous, and altogether unjustifiable. The High Church party, on their
side, reprobated it with no less severity. A bill to prevent the practice was
at once prepared. In spite of the strength of the Tory and
Nothing could well be more alien—it may be rather said, more repugnant—to the general tenor of present thought and feeling than this controversy of a past generation. Its importance, as a question of the day, mainly hinged upon the Test Act; and there is no fear of history so repeating itself as to witness ever again the operation of a law consigned, however tardily, to such well-merited opprobrium. Unquestionably, when Dissenters received the Sacrament in the parish churches, the motive was in most cases a secular one. 'It is manifest,' says Hoadly, 'that there is hardly any occasional communicant who ever comes near the Church but precisely at that time when the whole parish knows he must come to qualify himself for some office.' This was a great scandal to religion; but it was one the guilt of which, in many, if not in most cases, entirely devolved upon the authors and promoters of the test. As the writer just quoted has elsewhere remarked, a man might with perfect integrity do for the sake of an office what he had always held to be lawful, and what some men whom he much respected considered to be even a duty. It was a very scandalous thing for a person who lived in constant neglect of his religious duties to come merely to qualify. But plainly this was a sin which a Conformist was quite as likely to commit as a Nonconformist.
The imposition of a test on all accounts so ill-advised and odious in
principle was the more unfortunate, because, apart from it, occasional
conformity, though it would never have attracted any considerable attention,
might have been really important in its consequences. Considered in itself,
without any reference to external and artificial motives, it had begun to take
a strong hold upon the minds of many of the most exemplary and eminent
Nonconformists. When the projects of comprehension failed, on which the moderates in Church and Dissent had set
their heart, the Presbyterian leaders, and some of the Congregationalists,
turned their thoughts to occasional conformity as to a kind of substitute for
that closer union with the
There were of course many men of extreme views on either side to whom, if there had been no such thing as a Test Act, the practice of occasional conformity was a sign of laxity, wholly to be condemned. It was indifference, they said, lukewarmness, neutrality; it was involving the orthodox in the guilt of heresy; it was a self-proclaimed confession of the sin of needless schism. Sacheverell, in his famous sermon, raved against it as an admission of a Trojan horse, big with arms and ruin, into the holy city. It was the persistent effort of false brethren to carry the conventicle into the Church, or the Church into the conventicle. 'What could not be gained by comprehension and toleration must be brought about by moderation and occasional conformity; that is, what they could not do by open violence, they will not fail by secret treachery to accomplish.' Much in the same way, there were Dissenters who would as soon hear the mass as the Liturgy, who would as willingly bow themselves in the house of Rimmon as conform for an hour to the usages of the English Church; and who, 'if you ask them their exceptions at the Book, thank God they never looked at it.' By a decree of the Baptist conference in 1689, repeated in 1742, persons who on any pretext received the Sacrament in a parish church were to be at once excommunicated.
But, had it not been for the provisions of the Test Act, extreme views on
the subject would have received little attention, and the counsels of men like
Baxter, Bates, and Calamy would have gained a far deeper, if not a wider, hold
on the minds of all moderate Nonconformists. The practice in question did, in
fact, point towards a comprehension of which the Liberal Churchmen of the time
had as yet no idea, but one which might have been based on far sounder
principles than any of the schemes which had hitherto been conceived. Under
kindlier auspices it might have matured into a system of auxiliary societies
affiliated into the National Church, through which persons, who approved in a
general way of the doctrine and order of the Prayer Book and Articles, but to
whom a different form of worship was more edifying or attractive, might be
retained by a looser tie within the established communion. A comprehension of
this kind suggests difficulties, but certainly they are not insurmountable. It
is the only apparent mode by which High Anglicans, and those who would
otherwise be Dissenters, can work together harmoniously, but without suggestion
of compromise, as brother Churchmen. And in a great Church there should be
abundant room for societies thus incorporated into it, and functions for them
to fulfil, not less important than those
which they have accomplished at the heavy cost of so much disunion, bitterness,
and waste of power. If, at the opening of the eighteenth century, the test had
been abolished, and occasional conformity, as practised by such men as Baxter
and Bates, instead of being opposed, had been cordially welcomed, and its
principles developed, the
A chapter dealing in any way with Latitudinarianism in the last century
would be incomplete if some mention were not made of discussions which, without
reference to the removal of Nonconformist scruples, related nevertheless to the
general question of the revision of Church formularies. Even if the Liturgy had
been far less perfect than it is, and if abuses in the
Revision of the Liturgy, although
occasionally discussed, cannot be said to have been an eighteenth-century
question. Subscription, on the other hand, as required by law to the
Thirty-nine Articles, received a great deal of anxious attention. This was
quite inevitable. Much had been said and written on the subject in the two
previous centuries; but until law, or usage so well established and so well
understood as to take the place of law, had interpreted with sufficient
plainness the force and meaning of subscription, the subject was necessarily
encompassed with much uneasiness and perplexity. Through a material alteration
in the law of the
Dr. Jortin, in a treatise which he published about the middle of the last century, summed up under four heads the different opinions which, in his time, were entertained upon the subject. 'Subscription,' he said, 'to the Articles, Liturgy, &c., in a rigid sense, is a consent to them all in general, and to every proposition contained in them; according to the intention of the compiler, when that can be known, and according to the obvious usual signification of the words. Subscription, in a second sense, is a consent to them in a meaning which is not always consistent with the intention of the compiler, nor with the more usual signification of the words; but is consistent with those passages of Scripture which the compiler had in view. Subscription, in a third sense, is an assent to them as to articles of peace and conformity, by which we so far submit to them as not to raise disturbances about them and set the people against them. Subscription, in a fourth sense, is an assent to them as far as they are consistent with the Scriptures and themselves, but no further. Jortin's classification might perhaps be improved and simplified; but it serves to indicate in how lax a sense subscription was accepted by some—the more so, as it was sometimes, in the case, for instance, of younger undergraduates, evidently intended for a mere declaration of churchmanship—and how oppressive it must have been to the minds and consciences of others. From the very first this ambiguity had existed. There can, indeed, be no doubt that the original composers of the Articles cherished the vain hope of 'avoiding of diversities of opinion,' and intended them all to be understood in one plain literal sense. Yet, in the prefatory declaration, His Majesty 'takes comfort that even in those curious points in which the present differences lie, men of all sorts take the Articles of the Church of England to be for them,' even while he adds the strangely illogical inference that 'therefore' no man is to put his own sense or meaning upon any of them.
Those who insisted upon a stringent and literal interpretation of the Articles were able to use language which, whatever might be the error involved in it, could not fail to impress a grave sense of responsibility upon every truthful and honourable man who might be called upon, to give his assent to them. 'The prevarication,' said Waterland, 'of subscribing to forms which men believe not according to the true and proper sense of words, and the known intent of imposers and compilers, and the subtleties invented to defend or palliate such gross insincerity, will be little else than disguised atheism.' Winston, and other writers, such as Dr. Conybeare, Dean Tucker, and others, spoke scarcely less strongly. It is evident, too, that where subscription was necessary for admission to temporal endowments and Church preferment, the candidate was more than ever bound to examine closely into the sincerity of his act.
But the answer of those who claimed a greater latitude of interpretation was obvious. 'They,' said Paley, 'who contend that nothing less can justify subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles than the actual belief of each and every separate proposition contained in them must suppose the Legislature expected the consent of ten thousand men, and that in perpetual succession, not to one controverted position, but to many hundreds. It is difficult to conceive how this could be expected by any who observed the incurable diversity of human opinions upon all subjects short of demonstration.' Subscription on such terms would not only produce total extinction of anything like independent thought, it would become difficult to understand how any rational being could subscribe at all. Practically, those who took the more stringent view acted for the most part on much the same principles as those whom they accused of laxity. They each interpreted the Articles according to their own construction of them. Only the one insisted that the compilers of them were of their mind; the others simply argued that theirs was a lawful and allowable interpretation. Bishop Tomline expressed himself in much the same terms as Waterland had done; but was indignantly asked how, in his well-known treatise, he could possibly impose an altogether anti-Calvinistic sense upon the Articles without violation of their grammatical meaning, and without encouraging what the Calvinists of the day called 'the general present prevarication.' A moderate Latitudinarianism in regard of subscription was after all more candid, as it certainly was more rational. Nor was there any lack of distinguished authority to support it. 'For the Church of England,' said Chillingworth, 'I am persuaded that the constant doctrine of it is so pure and orthodox, that whosoever believes it, and lives according to it, undoubtedly he shall be saved, and that there is no error in it which may necessitate or warrant any man to disturb the peace or renounce the communion of it. This, in my opinion, is all intended by subscription.' Bramhall, Stillingfleet, Sanderson, Patrick, Fowler, Laud, Tillotson, Chief Justice King, Baxter, and other eminent men of different schools of thought, were on this point more or less agreed with Chillingworth. Moreover, the very freedom of criticism which such great divines as Jeremy Taylor had exercised without thought of censure, and the earnest vindication, frequent among all Protestants, of the rights of the individual judgment, were standing proofs that subscription had not been generally considered the oppressive bondage which some were fain to make it.
Nevertheless, the position maintained by Waterland, by Whiston, by
Blackburne, and by some of the more ardent Calvinists, was strong, and felt to
be so. In appearance, if not in reality,
there was clearly something equivocal, some appearance of casuistry and
reserve, if not of insincerity, in subscribing to formularies, part of which
were no longer accepted in the spirit in which they had been drawn up, and with
the meaning they had been originally intended to bear. The Deistical and Arian
controversies of the eighteenth century threw these considerations into more
than usual prominence. Since the time of Laud, Arminian had been so generally
substituted for Calvinistical tenets in the Church of England, that few persons
would have challenged the right of subscribing the Articles with a very
different construction from that which they wore when the influence of Bucer
and Peter Martyr was predominant, or even when Hales and Ward, and their fellow
Calvinists, attended in behalf of England at the Synod of Dort. On this point,
at all events, it was quite unmistakable that the Articles (as Hoadly said) were by public authority allowed
a latitude of interpretation. But it was not quite easy to see where the bounds
of this latitude were to be drawn, unless they were to be left to the
individual conscience. And it was a latitude which had become open to abuse in
a new and formidable way. Open or suspected Deists and Arians were known to
have signed the Articles on the ground of general conformity to the
Thus the attempt to abolish subscription failed, and under circumstances
which showed that the Church had escaped a serious danger. But the difficulty
which had led many orthodox clergymen to join, not without risk of obloquy, in
the petition remained untouched. It was, in fact, aggravated rather than not;
for 'Arian subscription' had naturally induced a disposition, strongly
expressed in some Parliamentary speeches, to reflect injuriously upon that
reasonable and allowed latitude of construction without which the Reformed
Church of England would in every generation have lost some of its best and
ablest men. Some, therefore, were anxious that the articles and Liturgy should be
revised; and a petition to this effect was presented in 1772 to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Among the other
names attached to it appears that of Beilby Porteus, afterwards Bishop of
London and a principal supporter of the Evangelical party. Some proposed that
the 'orthodox Articles' only—by which they meant those that relate to the
primary doctrines of the Christian creed—should be subscribed to; some thought that it would be
sufficient to require of the clergy only an unequivocal assent to the Book of
Common Prayer. It seems strange that while abolition of subscription was
proposed by some, revision of the Articles by others, no one, so far as it
appears, proposed the more obvious alternative of modifying the wording of the
terms in which subscription was made. But nothing of any kind was done. The
bishops, upon consultation, thought it advisable to leave matters alone. They
may have been right. But, throughout the greater part of the century, leaving
alone was too much the wisdom of the leaders and rulers of the
In all the course of its long history, before and after the Reformation, the
National Church of England has never, perhaps, occupied so peculiarly isolated
a place in Christendom as at the extreme end of the last century and through
the earlier years of the present one. At one or another period it may have been
more jealous of foreign influence, more violently antagonistic to Roman
Catholics, more intolerant of Dissent, more wedded to uniformity in doctrine
and discipline. But at no one time had it stood, as a Church, so distinctly
apart from all other Communions. If the events of the French Revolution had
slightly mitigated the antipathy to Roman Catholicism, there was still not the
very slightest approximation to it on the part of the highest Anglicans, if any
such continued to exist. The Eastern Church, after attracting a faint curiosity
through the overtures of the later Nonjurors, was as wholly unknown and
unthought of as though it had been an insignificant sect in the furthest wilds
Perhaps, in the order of that far-reaching
In an age which above all things prided itself upon its reasonableness, it would have been strange indeed if that doctrine of Christianity which is objected to by unbelievers as most repugnant to reason, had not taken a prominent place among the controversies which then abounded in every sphere of theological thought. To the thoughtful Christian, the question of questions must ever be that which forms the subject of this chapter. It is, if possible, even a more vital question than that which was involved in the Deistical controversy. The very name 'Christian' implies as much. A Christian is a follower of Christ. Who, then, is this Christ? What relation does He bear to the Great Being whom Christians, Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics alike adore? What do we mean when we say that He is the Son of God Incarnate? That He is still present with his Church through his Holy Spirit? These are only other forms of putting the question, What is the Trinity? The various answers given to this question in the eighteenth century form an important part of the ecclesiastical history of the period.
The subject carries us back in thought to the earliest days of Christianity. During the first four centuries, the nature of the Godhead, and the relation of the Three Persons of the Trinity to each other, were directly or indirectly the causes of almost all the divisions which rent the Church. They had been matters of discussion before the death of the last surviving Apostle, and the three centuries which followed his decease were fruitful in theories upon the subject. These theories reappear with but little alteration in the period which comes more immediately under our present consideration. If history ever repeats itself, it might be expected to do so on the revival of this discussion after an abeyance of many centuries. For it is one of those questions on which modern research can throw but little light. The same materials which enabled the inquirer of the eighteenth century to form his conclusion, existed in the fourth century. Moreover, there was a tendency in the discussions of the later period to run in an historical direction; in treating of them, therefore, our attention will constantly be drawn to the views of the earlier thinkers. With regard to these, it will be sufficient to say that their speculations on the mysterious subject of the Trinity group themselves under one or other of these four heads.
1. The view of those who contend for the mere humanity of Christ—a view which, as will be seen presently, is often claimed by Unitarians as the earliest belief of Christendom.
2. The view of those who deny the distinct personality of the Second and Third Persons of the Blessed Trinity. This was held with various modifications by a great variety of thinkers, but it passes under the general name of Sabellianism.
3. The view of those who hold that Christ was something more than man, but less than God; less than God, that is, in the highest, and indeed the only proper, sense of the word God. This, like the preceding view, was held by a great variety of thinkers, and with great divergences, but it passes under the general name of Arianism.
4. The view of those who hold that 'there is but one living and true God,' but that 'in the Unity of this Godhead there are three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.' This view is called by its advocates Catholicism, for they hold that it is, and ever has been, the doctrine of the Universal Church of Christ; but, inasmuch as the admission of such a name would be tantamount to giving up the whole point in question, it is refused by its opponents, who give it the name of Athanasianism.
Before the publication of Bishop Bull's first great work in 1685, no
controversial treatise on either side of the question—none, at least, of
any importance—was published in this country, though there had of course
been individual anti-Trinitarians in
A few words on the 'Defensio Fidei Nicænæ' will be a fitting introduction to the account of the controversy which belongs properly to the eighteenth century. Bishop Bull's defence was written in Latin, and was therefore not intended for the unlearned. It was exclusively confined to this one question: What were the views of the ante-Nicene Fathers on the subject of the Trinity, and especially on the relation of the Second to the First Person? But though the work was addressed only to a very limited number of readers, and dealt only with one, and that a very limited, view of the question, the importance of thoroughly discussing this particular view can scarcely be exaggerated for the following reason. When, the attention of any one familiar with the precise definitions of the Catholic Church which were necessitated by the speculations of Arians and other heretics is called for the first time to the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers, he may be staggered by the absence of equal definiteness and precision in them. Bishop Bull boldly met the difficulties which might thus occur. He minutely examined the various expressions which could be wrested into an anti-Trinitarian sense, showing how they were compatible with the Catholic Faith, and citing and dwelling upon other expressions which were totally incompatible with any other belief. He showed that the crucial test of orthodoxy, the one single term at which Arians and semi-Arians scrupled—that is, the Homoousion or Consubstantiality of the Son with the Father—was actually in use before the Nicene Council, and that it was thoroughly in accordance with the teaching of the ante-Nicene Fathers. This is proved, among other ways, by the constant use of a simile which illustrates, as happily as earthly things can illustrate heavenly, the true relation of the Son to the Father. Over and over again this is compared by the early fathers to the ray of light which proceeding from the sun is a part of it, and yet without any division or diminution from it, but actually consubstantial with it. He fully admits that the early fathers acknowledged a certain pre-eminence in the First Person, but only such a pre-eminence as the term Father suggests, a pre-eminence implying no inequality of nature, but simply a priority of order, inasmuch as the Father is, as it were, the fountain of the Deity, God in Himself, while the Son is God of God, and, to recur to the old simile incorporated in the Nicene Creed, Light of Light.
Bishop Bull's two subsequent works on the subject of the Trinity ('Judicium Ecclesiæ Catholicæ' and 'Primitiva et Apostolica Traditio') may be regarded as supplements to the 'Defence.' The object of the 'Judicium' was to show, in opposition to Episcopius, that the Nicene fathers held a belief of Our Lord's true and proper divinity to be an indispensable term of Catholic communion; his latest work was directed against the opinion of Zuicker that Christ's divinity, pre-existence, and incarnation were inventions of early heretics.
It is somewhat remarkable that although in the interval which elapsed
between the publication of these and of his first work the Trinitarian
Chillingworth, in his Intellectual System, propounded a theory on the Trinity which savoured of Arianism; Burnet and Tillotson called down the fiercest invectives from that able controversialist Charles Leslie, for 'making the Three Persons of God only three manifestations, or the same Person of God considered under three different qualifications and respects as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,' while Burnet argued that the inhabitation of God in Christ made Christ to be God.
Thus at the close of the seventeenth century the subject of the Trinity was agitating the minds of some of the chief divines of the age. It must be observed, however, that so far the controversy between theologians of the first rank had been conducted within the limits of the Catholic Faith. They disputed, not about the doctrine of the Trinity itself, but simply about the mode of explaining it.
Still these disputes between English Churchmen strengthened the hands of the
anti-Trinitarians. These latter represented the orthodox as divided into
Tritheists and Nominalists, and the press teemed with pamphlets setting forth
with more or less ability the usual arguments against the Trinity. These were
for the most part published anonymously; for their publication would have
brought their writers within the range of the law, the Act of 1689 having
expressly excluded those who were unsound on the subject of the Trinity from
the tolerated sects. One of the most famous tracts, however, 'The Naked
Gospel,' was discovered to have been written by Dr. Bury, Rector of Exeter
Thus the question stood at the commencement of the eighteenth century. In one sense the controversy was at its height; that is to say, some of the ablest writers in the Church had written or were writing upon the subject; but the real struggle between the Unitarians (so called) and the Trinitarians had hardly yet begun, for under the latter term almost all the disputants of high mark would fairly have come.
The new century found the pen of that doughty champion of the Faith, Charles Leslie, busy at work on the Socinian controversy. His letters on this subject had been begun some years before this date; but they were not finally completed until the eighteenth century was some years old. Leslie was ever ready to defend what he held to be the Christian faith against all attacks from whatever quarter they might come. Deists, Jews, Quakers, Romanists, Erastians, and Socinians, all fell under his lash; his treatise on the last of these, being the first in order of date, and by no means the last in order of merit among the eighteenth-century literature on the subject of the Trinity, now comes under our notice.
Although his dialogue is nominally directed only against the Socinians, it is full of valuable remarks on the anti-Trinitarians generally; and he brings out some points more clearly and forcibly than subsequent and more voluminous writers on the subject have done. For example, he meets the old objection that the doctrine of the Trinity is incredible as involving a contradiction, by pointing out that it rests upon the fallacy of arguing from a nature which we know to quite a different nature of which we know little or nothing. The objection that the Christian Trinity was borrowed from the Platonists he turns against the objectors by asking, 'What is become of the master argument of the Socinians that the Trinity is contradictory to common sense and reason?—Yet now they would make it the invention of the principal and most celebrated philosophers, men of the most refined reason.'
On the whole this is a very valuable contribution to the apologetic literature on the subject of the Trinity, for though Leslie, like his predecessors, sometimes has recourse to abstruse arguments to explain the 'modes' of the divine presence, yet he is far too acute a controversialist to lay himself open, as Sherlock and South had done, to imputations of heresy on any side; and his general method of treating the question is lucid enough, and full of just such arguments as would be most telling to men of common sense, for whom rather than for profound theologians the treatise was written.
About the same time that this treatise was published, there arose what was intended to be a new sect, or, according to the claims of its founders, the revival of a very old one—a return, in fact, to original Christianity. The founder or reviver of this party was William Whiston, a man of great learning, and of a thoroughly straightforward and candid disposition, but withal so eccentric, that it is difficult sometimes to treat his speculations seriously. His character was a strange compound of credulity and scepticism. He was 'inclined to believe true' the legend of Abgarus' epistle to Christ, and Christ's reply. He published a vindication of the Sibylline oracles 'with the genuine oracles themselves.' He had a strong faith in the physical efficacy of anointing the sick with oil. But his great discovery was the genuineness and inestimable value of the Apostolical Constitutions and Canons. He was 'satisfied that they were of equal value with the four Gospels;' nay, 'that they were the most sacred of the canonical books of the New Testament; that polemical controversies would never cease until they were admitted as the standing rule of Christianity.' The learned world generally had pronounced them to be a forgery, but that was easily accounted for. The Constitutions favoured the Eusebian doctrines, and were therefore repudiated of course by those who were interested in maintaining the Athanasian heresy.
Whiston had many missions to fulfil. He had to warn a degenerate age against the wickedness of second marriages; he had to impress upon professing Christians the duty of trine immersion and of anointing the sick; he had to prepare them for the Millennium, which, according to his calculations when he wrote his Memoirs, was to take place in twenty years from that time. But his great mission of all was to propagate Eusebianism and to explode the erroneous notions about the Trinity which were then unhappily current in the Church. His favourite theory on this subject may be found in almost all his works; but he propounded it in extenso in a work which he entitled 'Primitive Christianity revived.' Whiston vehemently repudiated the imputation of Arianism. He called himself an Eusebian, 'not,' he is careful to tell us, 'that he approved of all the conduct of Eusebius of Nicomedia, from whom that appellation was derived; but because that most uncorrupt body of the Christian Church which he so much approved of had this name originally bestowed upon them, and because 'tis a name much more proper to them than Arians.' Whiston formed a sort of society which at first numbered among those who attended its meetings men who afterwards attained to great eminence in the Church; among others, B. Hoadly, successively Bishop of Bangor, Hereford, Salisbury and Winchester, Rundle, afterwards Bishop of Derry, and then of Gloucester, and Dr. Samuel Clarke. But Whiston was a somewhat inconvenient friend for men who desired to stand well with the powers that be. They all fell off lamentably from the principles of primitive Christianity,—Hoadly sealing his defection by the crowning enormity of marrying a second wife.
Poor Whiston grievously lamented the triumph of interest over truth, which these defections implied. Neither the censures of Convocation nor the falling off of his friends had any power to move him. He still continued for some time a member of the Church of England. But his character was far too honest and clear-sighted to enable him to shut his eyes to the fact that the Liturgy of the Church was in many points sadly unsound on the principles of primitive Christianity. To remedy this defect he put forth a Liturgy which he termed 'The Liturgy of the Church of England reduced nearer to the Primitive Standard.' It was in most respects precisely identical with that in use, only it was purged from all vestiges of the Athanasian heresy. The principal changes were in the Doxology, which was altered into what he declares was its original form, in the prayer of St. Chrysostom, in the first four petitions of the Litany, and one or two others, and in the collect for Trinity Sunday. The Established Church was, however, so blind to the truth that she declined to adopt the proposed alterations, and Whiston was obliged to leave her communion. He found a home, in which, however, he was not altogether comfortable, among the General Baptists.
The real reviver of modern Arianism in
We may take the appearance of Dr. Clarke's book as the commencement of a new era in this controversy, which after this time began to reach its zenith. Various opponents at once arose, attacking various parts of Dr. Clarke's scheme. Dr. Wells complained that he had taken no notice of the Old Testament, that he had failed to show how the true sense of Scripture was to be ascertained, and that he had disparaged creeds, confessions of faith, and the testimony of the fathers; Mr. Nelson complained, not without reason, of his unfair treatment of Bishop Bull; Dr. Gastrell pointed out that there was only one out of Dr. Clarke's fifty-five propositions to which an Arian would refuse to subscribe.
These and others did good service on particular points; but it remained for Dr. Waterland to take a comprehensive view of the whole question, and to leave to posterity not only an effective answer to Dr. Clarke, but a masterly and luminous exposition, the equal to which it would be difficult to find in any other author, ancient or modern. It would be wearisome even to enumerate the titles of the various 'Queries,' 'Vindications,' 'Replies,' 'Defences,' 'Answers to Replies,' which poured forth from the press in luxurious abundance on either side of the great controversy. It will be sufficient to indicate generally the main points at issue between the combatants.
Dr. Clarke then, and his friends (who all wrote more or less under his inspiration), maintained that the worship of God is in Scripture appointed to one Being, that is, to the Father personally. That such worship as is due to Christ is the worship of a mediator and cannot possibly be that paid to the one supreme God. That all the titles given to the Son in the New Testament, and all powers ascribed to Him, are perfectly well consistent with reserving the supremacy of absolute and independent dominion to the Father alone. That the highest titles of God are never applied to the Son or Spirit. That the subordination of the Son to the Father is not merely nominal, consisting in the mere position or order of words, which in truth of things is a co-ordination; but that it is a real subordination in point of authority and dominion over the universe. That three persons, that is, three intelligent agents in the same individual, identical substance, is a self-evident contradiction, and that the Nicene fathers, by the term Homoousion, did not mean one individual, identical substance. That the real difficulty in the conception of the Trinity is not how three persons can be one God, for Scripture nowhere expresses the doctrine in those words; and the difficulty of understanding a Scripture doctrine ought not to lie wholly upon words not found in Scripture, but how and in what sense, consistently with everything that is affirmed in Scripture about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, it is still certainly and infallibly true that to us there is but 'one God the Father' (I Cor. viii. 6). That as to the claims of the Holy Ghost to be worshipped on an equality with the Father, there is really no one instance in Scripture of any direct act of adoration or invocation being paid to Him at all.
Such is the outline of the system of which Dr. Clarke was the chief exponent. The various arguments by which it was supported will be best considered in connection with that great writer who now comes under our notice—Dr. Waterland. Among the many merits of Waterland's treatment of the subject, this is by no means the least—that he pins down his adversary and all who hold the same views in any age to the real question at issue. Dr. Clarke, for example, admitted that Christ was, in a certain sense, Creator. 'Either, then,' argues Waterland, 'there are two authors and governors of the universe, i.e. two Gods, or not. If there are, why do you deny it of either; if not, why do you affirm it of both?' Dr. Clarke thought that the divinity of Christ was analogous to the royalty of some petty prince, who held his power under a supreme monarch. 'I do not,' retorts Waterland, 'dispute against the notion of one king under another; what I insist upon is that a great king and a little king make two kings; (consequently a supreme God and an inferior God make two Gods).' Dr. Clarke did not altogether deny omniscience to be an attribute of Christ, but he affirmed it to be a relative omniscience, communicated to him from the Father. 'That is, in plain language,' retorted Waterland, 'the Son knows all things, except that He is ignorant of many things.' Dr. Clarke did not altogether deny the eternity of the Son. The Son is eternal, because we cannot conceive a time when He was not. 'A negative eternity,' replies Waterland, 'is no eternity; angels might equally be termed eternal.'
One point on which Waterland insists constantly and strongly is that the scheme of those who would pay divine honours to Christ, and yet deny that He is very God, cannot escape from the charge of polytheism. 'You are tritheists,' he urges, 'in the same sense as Pagans are called polytheists. One supreme and two inferior Gods is your avowed doctrine; that is, three Gods. If those texts which exclude all but one God, exclude only supreme deities, and do not exclude any that are not supreme, by such an interpretation you have voided and frustrated every law of the Old Testament against idolatry.' Dr. Clarke and his friends distinguished between that supreme sovereign worship which was due to the Father only, and the mediate, relative, inferior worship which was due to others. 'What authority,' asks Waterland, 'is there in Scripture for this distinction? What rules are there to regulate the intention of the worshipper, so as to make worship high, higher, or highest as occasion requires? All religious worship is determined by Scripture and antiquity to be what you call absolute and sovereign.' 'Scripture and antiquity generally say nothing of a supreme God, because they acknowledge no inferior God. Such language was borrowed from the Pagans, and then used by Christian writers. So, too, was the notion of "mediatorial worship" borrowed from the Pagans, handed on by Arians, and brought down to our own times by Papists.'
But Dr. Clarke and his friends maintained that they were not Arians, for they did not make Christ a creature. 'Impossible,' replies Dr. Waterland; 'you assert, though not directly, yet consequentially, that the Maker and Redeemer of the whole world is no more than a creature, that He is mutable and corruptible; that He depends entirely upon the favour and good pleasure of God; that He has a precarious existence and dependent powers, and is neither so perfect in His nature nor exalted in privileges but that it is in the Father's power to create another equal or superior. There is no middle between being essentially God and being a creature.' Dr. Clarke cannot find a medium between orthodoxy and Arianism. He has declared against the consubstantiality and proper divinity of Christ as well as His co-eternity. He cannot be neutral. In condemning Arians he has condemned himself. Nay, he has gone further than the Arians. 'Sober Arians will rise up in judgment and condemn you for founding Christ's worship so meanly upon I know not what powers given after His resurrection. They founded it upon reasons antecedent to His incarnation, upon His being God before the world, and Creator of the world of His own power.'
Waterland showed his strength in defence as well as in attack. He boldly grappled with the difficulties which the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity unquestionably involves, and his method of dealing with these difficulties forms not the least valuable part of his writings on the subject.
Into the labyrinths, indeed, of metaphysical speculation he distinctly declined to follow his opponents. They, as well as he, acknowledged, or professed to acknowledge, the force of the testimony from Scripture and the fathers. He is ready to join issue on this point, 'Is the Catholic doctrine true?' but for resolving this question he holds that we must have recourse to Scripture and antiquity. 'Whoever debates this question should forbear every topic derived from the nature of things, because such arguments belong only to the other question, whether the doctrine be possible, and in all reason possibility should be presupposed in all our disputes from Scripture and the fathers.' He consistently maintains that our knowledge of the nature of God is far too limited to allow us to dogmatise from our own reason on such a subject. 'You can never fix any certain principles of individuation, therefore you can never assure me that three real persons are not one numerical or individual essence. You know not precisely what it is that makes one being, one essence, one substance.' There are other difficulties in the nature of the Godhead quite as great as any which the doctrine of the Trinity involves. 'The Omnipresence, the Incarnation, Self-existence, are all mysteries, and eternity itself is the greatest mystery of all. There is nothing peculiar to the Trinity that is near so perplexing as eternity.' And then he finely adds: 'I know no remedy for these things but a humble mind. If we demur to a doctrine because we cannot fully and adequately comprehend it, is not this too familiar from a creature towards his Creator, and articling more strictly with Almighty God than becomes us?'
Is the Trinity a mysterious doctrine? 'The tremendous Deity is all over mysterious, in His nature and in His attributes, in His works and in His ways. If not, He would not be divine. If we reject the most certain truths about the Deity, only because they are incomprehensible, when everything about Him must be so of course, the result will be Atheism; for there are mysteries in the works of nature as well as in the Word of God.'
If it be retorted, Why then introduce terms and ideas which by your own admission can only be imperfectly understood? Why not leave such mysteries in the obscurity in which they are shrouded, and not condemn those who are unable to accept without understanding them? The reply is, 'It is you and not we who are responsible for the discussion and definition of these mysteries. The faith of the Church was at first, and might be still, a plain, simple, easy thing, did not its adversaries endeavour to perplex and puzzle it with philosophical niceties. Early Christians did not trouble their heads with nice speculations about the modus of the Three in One.' 'All this discourse about being and person is foreign and not pertinent, because if both these terms were thrown out, our doctrine would stand just as before, independent of them, and very intelligible without them. So it stood for about 150 years before person was heard of in it, and it was later before being was mentioned. Therefore, if all the objection be against these, however innocent, expressions, let the objectors drop the name and accept the thing.' It was no wish of Waterland to argue upon such mysteries at all. 'Perhaps,' he says, 'after all, it would be best for both of us to be silent when we have really nothing to say, but as you have begun, I must go on with the argument.... It is really not reasoning but running riot with fancy and imagination about matters infinitely surpassing human comprehension. You may go on till you reason, in a manner, God out of His attributes, and yourself out of your faith, and not know at last when to stop.' These are weighty and wise words, and it would be well if they were borne in mind by disputants on this profound mystery in every age. But while deprecating all presumptuous prying into the secret nature of God, Waterland is perfectly ready to meet his adversaries on that ground on which alone he thinks the question can be discussed.
Summing up and setting in one compendious view all that the modern Arians taught in depreciation of Christ, Waterland showed that in spite of their indignation at being represented as teaching that Christ was a mere creature, they yet clearly taught that He was 'brought into existence as well as any other creature, that He was precarious in existence, ignorant of much more than He knows, capable of change from strength to weakness, and from weakness to strength; capable of being made wiser, happier, and better in every respect; having nothing of his own, nothing but what He owes to the favour of His lord and governor.' By the arguments which they used to prove all this, they put a most dangerous weapon into the hands of Atheists, or at least into the hands of those who denied the existence of such a God as is revealed to us in Holy Scripture. 'Through your zeal against the divinity of the Son, you have betrayed the cause to the first bold Marcionite that shall deny the eternal Godhead of the Father and the Son, and assert some unknown God above both. The question was, whether a particular Person called the Father be the Eternal God. His being called God would amount to nothing, that being no more than a word of office. His being Creator, nothing; that you could elude. His being Jehovah, of no weight, meaning no more than a person true and faithful to his promises. Almighty is capable of a subordinate sense. The texts which speak of eternity are capable of a subordinate sense. The term "first cause" is not a Scriptural expression.'
Waterland boldly faces the objection
against the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity which was derived from certain
texts of Scripture which taken by themselves might seem to favour the Arian
view. How, for example, it was asked, could it be said that all power was given
unto Christ (Matt, xxviii. 18), and that all things were put under His feet
after His Resurrection (Eph. i. 22), if He was Lord long before? 'The Logos,'
replies Waterland, 'was from the beginning Lord over all, but the God man (Θεάνθρωπος)
was not so till after the Resurrection. Then He received in that capacity what
He had ever enjoyed in another; He received full power in both natures which He
had heretofore only in one.'
The passage on which the Arians insisted most of all, and which they constantly
asserted to be by itself decisive of the whole question, is 1 Corinthians viii.
6. There, they asserted, the Son is excluded in most express words from being
one with the Supreme God. Dr. Clarke told Waterland in downright terms that 'he
should be ashamed when he considered that he falsified
To turn now from Scripture to antiquity. The question as to what was the opinion of the ante-Nicene fathers had been so thoroughly handled by Bishop Bull, that Waterland (his legitimate successor) had no need to enter upon it at large over again. But Bishop Bull had done his work too well to suit the theory of Dr. Clarke and his friends. Although the latter professed to find in the early fathers a confirmation of their views, yet from a consciousness, perhaps, of the unsatisfactoriness of this confirmation they constantly depreciate the value of patristic evidence. In connection, therefore, with the subject of the Trinity, Waterland clearly points out what is and what is not the true character of the appeal to antiquity. The fathers are certain proofs in many cases of the Church's doctrine in that age, and probable proofs of what that doctrine was from the beginning. In respect of the latter they are inferior additional proofs when compared with plain Scripture proof; of no moment if Scripture is plainly contrary, but of great moment when Scripture looks the same way, because they help to fix the true interpretation in disputed texts. Waterland, however, would build no article of faith on the fathers, but on Scripture alone. If the sense of Scripture be disputed, the concurring sentiments of the fathers in any doctrine will be generally the best and safest comments on Scripture, just as the practice of courts and the decisions of eminent lawyers are the best comments on an Act of Parliament made in or near their own times, though the obedience of subjects rests solely on the laws of the land as its rule and measure. To the objection that interpreting Scripture by the ancients is debasing its majesty and throwing Christ out of His throne, Waterland replies in somewhat stately terms, 'We think that Christ never sits more secure or easy on His throne than when He has His most faithful guards about Him, and that none are so likely to strike at His authority or aim at dethroning Him as they that would displace His old servants only to make way for new ones.' But this respect for the opinion of antiquity in no way involved any compromise of the leading idea of all eighteenth-century theology, that it should follow the guidance of reason. Reason was by no means to be sacrificed to the authority of the fathers. Indeed, 'as to authority,' he says, 'in a strict and proper sense I do not know that the fathers have any over us; they are all dead men; therefore we urge not their authority but their testimony, their suffrage, their judgment, as carrying great force of reason. Taking them in here as lights or helps is doing what is reasonable and using our own understandings in the best way.' 'I follow the fathers,' he adds, 'as far as reason requires and no further; therefore, this is following our own reason.' In an age when patristic literature was little read and lightly esteemed this forcible, and at the same time highly reasonable, vindication of its importance had a value beyond its bearing upon the doctrine of the Trinity, in connection with which the subject was introduced by our author.
Here our notice of the points at issue between Dr. Waterland and the modern Arians, so far as they concerned the truth of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, may fitly close. But there was yet another question closely connected with the above which it concerned the interests of morality, no less than of religion, thoroughly to sift. It was no easy task which Dr. Clarke and his friends undertook when they essayed to prove from Scripture and antiquity that the Son and Holy Ghost were not one with the supreme God. But they attempted a yet harder task than this. They contended that their views were not irreconcilable with the formularies and Liturgy of the Church of England. The more candid and ingenuous mind of Whiston saw the utter hopelessness of this endeavour. It was, he says, an endeavour 'to wash the blackmore white,' and so, like an honest man as he was, he retired from her communion. Dr. Clarke could not, of course, deny that there was at least an apparent inconsistency between his views and those of the Church to which he belonged. One of the chapters in his 'Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity' is devoted to a collection of 'passages in the Liturgy which may seem in some respects to differ from the foregoing doctrine.' But he and his friends were 'ready to subscribe any test containing nothing more than is contained in the Thirty-nine Articles;' their avowed principle being that 'they may do it in their own sense agreeably to what they call Scripture.' In his 'Case of Arian Subscription' Dr. Waterland had no difficulty in showing the utter untenableness of this position. He maintained that 'as the Church required subscription to her own interpretation of Scripture, so the subscriber is bound to that and that only.' 'The rules,' he says, 'for understanding what her sense is are the same as for understanding oaths, laws, &c.—that is, the usual acceptation of words, the custom of speech at the time being, the scope of the writer from the controversies then on foot,' &c. It is but a shallow artifice for fraudulent subscribers to call their interpretation of Scripture, Scripture. The Church has as good a right to call her interpretation Scripture. Let the Arian sense be Scripture to Arians; but then let them subscribe only to Arian subscriptions.
The case of Arian subscriptions was really part of a larger question. There were some who, without actually denying the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity, doubted whether it was of sufficient importance or clearly enough revealed to make it a necessary article of the Christian faith. These were sometimes called Episcopians, a name derived from one Episcopius, an amiable and not unorthodox writer of the seventeenth century, who was actuated by a charitable desire to include as many as possible within the pale of the Christian Church, and to minimize the differences between all who would, in any sense, own the name of Christians. The prevalence of such views in Dr. Waterland's days led him to write one of his most valuable treatises in connection with the Trinitarian controversy. It was entitled, 'The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity Asserted,' and was addressed to those only who believed the truth of the doctrine but demurred to its importance. Waterland concludes this work, which is rather a practical than a controversial treatise, with some wise words of caution to those persons of 'more warmth than wisdom,' who from a mistaken liberality would make light of heresy.
It is now time to close this sketch of the method in which this great writer—one of the few really great divines who belong to the eighteenth century—handled the mysterious subject of the Trinity. Not only from his profound learning and acuteness, but from the general cast of his mind, Waterland was singularly adapted for the work which he undertook. To treat this subject of all subjects, the faculties both of thinking clearly and of expressing thoughts clearly are absolutely essential. These two qualifications Dr. Waterland possessed in a remarkable degree. He always knew exactly what he meant, and he also knew how to convey his meaning to his readers. His style is nervous and lucid, and he never sacrifices clearness to the graces of diction. His very deficiencies were all in his favour. Had he been a man of a more poetical temperament he might have been tempted, like Platonists and neo-Platonists, to soar into the heights of metaphysical speculations and either lose himself or at least render it difficult for ordinary readers to follow him. But no one can ever complain that Dr. Waterland is obscure. We may agree or disagree with his views, but we can never be in doubt what those views are. Had Waterland been of a warmer and more excitable temperament he might have been tempted to indulge in vague declamation or in that personal abusiveness which was only too common in the theological controversies of the day. Waterland fell into neither of these snares; he always argues, never declaims; he is a hard hitter in controversy, but never condescends to scurrilous personalities. The very completeness of his defence of the doctrine of the Trinity against Arian assailants furnishes, perhaps, the reason why this part of his writings has not been so widely and practically useful as it deserves to be. He so effectually assailed the position of Dr. Clarke and his friends that it has rarely been occupied by opponents of the Catholic doctrine in modern days.
It has been thought desirable to present the great controversy in which Drs. Clarke and Waterland were respectively the leaders in one uninterrupted view. In doing so the order of events has been anticipated, and it is now necessary to revert to circumstances bearing upon the subject of this chapter which occurred long before that controversy closed.
Dr. Clarke's 'Scripture Doctrine' was published in 1712; Dr. Waterland did not enter into the arena until 1719; but five years before this latter date, Dr. Clarke was threatened with other weapons besides those of argument. In 1714, the Lower House of Convocation made an application to the Upper House to notice the heretical opinions of Dr. Clarke on the subject of the Trinity. They submitted to the bishops several extracts, and also condemned the general drift of the book. The danger of ecclesiastical censures drew from Dr. Clarke a declaration in which he promised not to preach any more on such subjects, and also an explanation which almost amounted to a retractation; this he immediately followed by a paper delivered to the Bishop of London, half recanting and half explaining his explanations. These documents appear to have satisfied nobody except perhaps the bishops. The Lower House resolved 'that the paper subscribed by Dr. Clarke and communicated by the bishops to the Lower House doth not contain in it any recantation of the heretical assertions, &c., nor doth give such satisfaction for the great scandal occasioned by the said books as ought to put a stop to further examination thereof;' while his outspoken friend, Whiston, wrote to him, 'Your paper has occasioned real grief to myself and others, not because it is a real retractation, but because it is so very like one, yet is not, and seems to be penned with a plain intention only to ward off persecution,' and told him face to face that 'he would not have given the like occasion of offence for all the world.' However, the bishops were satisfied and the matter proceeded no further.
Subsequently Dr. Clarke was taken to task by his diocesan, the Bishop of London, for altering the doxology into an accordance with Arianism. He was neither convinced nor silenced by Waterland; and though his influence may (as Van Mildert tells us) have perceptibly declined after the great controversy was closed, he was not left without followers, and maintained a high reputation which survived him. He was for many years known among a certain class of admirers as 'the great Dr. Clarke.' Among those who were at least interested in, if not influenced by the doctor was Queen Caroline, the clever wife of George II.
Nor was the excitement caused by the speculations of Dr. Clarke on the
doctrine of the Trinity confined to the Church of England alone. It was the
occasion of one of the fiercest disputes that ever arose among Nonconformists.
This, indeed, was the general course inside as well as outside the Church. The very name of Arian almost died out, and the name of Socinian took its place. The term Socinian is, however, misleading. It by no means implies that those to whom it was given agreed with the doctrine of Faustus Socinus. It was often loosely and improperly applied on the one hand to many who really believed more than he did, and on the other to many who believed less. In fact, the stigma of Socinianism was tossed about as a vague, general term of reproach in the eighteenth century, much in the same way as 'Puseyite,' 'Ritualist,' and 'Rationalist' have been in our own day. This very inaccurate use of the word Socinian may in part be accounted for by remembering that one important feature in the system of Socinus was his utter denial of the doctrine of the atonement or satisfaction made by Christ in any sense. 'Christ,' he said, 'is called a mediator not because He made peace between God and man, but because He was sent from God to man to explain the will of God and to make a covenant with them in the name of God. A mediator (a medio) is a middle person between God and man.' Now there is abundance of evidence that before and at the time of the Evangelical revival in the Church of England, this doctrine of the atonement had been, if not denied, at least practically ignored. Bishop Horsley, in his Charge in 1790, complains of this; and in the writings of the early Evangelical party we find, of course, constant complaints of the general ignoring of these doctrines. Now it is probable that the term Socinian was often applied to those who kept these doctrines in the background, and not, indeed, applied altogether improperly; only, if we assume that all those who were termed Socinians disbelieved in the true divinity or personality of the Son and the Holy Ghost, we shall be assuming more than was really the case.
On the other hand, many were called Socinians who really believed far less than Socinus and the foreign Socinians did. It is true that Socinus 'regarded it as a mere human invention, not agreeable to Scripture and repugnant to reason, that Christ is the only begotten Son of God, because He and no one besides Him was begotten of the divine substance;' but he also held that 'Scripture so plainly attributes a divine and sovereign power to Christ as to leave no room for a figurative sense.' And the early Socinians thought that Christ must not only be obeyed but His assistance implored, and that He ought to be worshipped, that 'invocation of Christ or addressing prayers to Him was a duty necessarily arising from the character He sustained as head of the Church;' and that 'those who denied the invocation of Christ did not deserve to be called Christians.'
Let us now return to the history of our own Socinians, or, as they preferred to be called, Unitarians; we shall soon see how far short they fell in point of belief of their foreign predecessors. The heresy naturally spread more widely among Nonconformists than it could in the Church of England. As the biographer of Socinus remarks, 'The Trinitarian forms of worship which are preserved in the Church of England, and which are so closely incorporated with its services, must furnish an insuperable objection against conformity with all sincere and conscientious Unitarians.' If the common sense and common honesty of Englishmen revolted against the specious attempts of Dr. Clarke and his friends to justify Arian subscription, a much more hopeless task would it have been to reconcile the further development of anti-Trinitarian doctrines with the formularies of the Church.
At the same time it must be admitted that the cessation or abatement of anti-Trinitarian efforts in the Church after the death of Dr. Clarke is not to be attributed solely to the firmness and earnestness of Churchmen's convictions on this subject. It arose, in part at least, from the general indisposition to stir up mooted questions. Men were disposed to rest satisfied with 'our happy establishment in Church and State;' and it was quite as much owing to the spiritual torpor which overtook the Church and nation after the third decade of the eighteenth century, as to strength of conviction, that the Trinitarian question was not further agitated.
Among the Nonconformists, and especially among the Presbyterians, the case was different. The Arianism which led to the Salters' Hall conference drifted by degrees into Unitarianism pure and simple. Dr. Lardner was one of the earliest and most distinguished of those who belonged to this latter school. He passed through the stage of Arianism, but the mind of the author of 'The Credibility of Gospel History' was far too clear and logical to allow him to rest there, and he finally came to the conclusion that 'Jesus Christ was a mere man, but a man with whom God was, in a peculiar and extraordinary manner.' This is not the place to refer to the various Nonconformists, such as Caleb Fleming, Hugh Farmer, James Foster, Robert Robinson, John Taylor, and many others who diverged more or less from the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. But the views of one Nonconformist whose name is a household word in the mouth of Churchmen and Dissenters alike, and some of whose hymns will live as long as the English language lives, claim at least a passing notice.
Isaac Watts belonged to the Independents, a sect which in the first half of the eighteenth century was less tainted with Socinianism than any of 'the three denominations.' His 'Treatise on the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity,' and that entitled 'The Arian invited to the Orthodox Faith,' were professedly written in defence of the Catholic doctrine. The former, like most of Dr. Watts's compositions, was essentially a popular work. 'I do not,' he writes, 'pretend to instruct the learned world. My design here was to write for private and unlearned Christians, and to lead them by the fairest and most obvious sense of Scripture into some acquaintance with the great doctrine of the Trinity.' In some respects his work is very effective. One point especially he brings out more forcibly than almost any other writer of his day. It is what he calls 'the moral argument' for the Trinity. There is real eloquence in his appeal to the 'great number of Christians who, since the Apostles, under the influence of a belief in the Divinity of the Son and the Spirit, have paid divine honours to both, after they have sought the knowledge of the truth with the utmost diligence and prayer; when they have been in the holiest and most heavenly frames of spirit, and in their devoutest hours; when they have been under the most sensible impressions of the love of the Father and the Son, and under the most quickening influences of the Blessed Spirit himself; in the devotions of a death-bed, and in the songs and doxologies of martyrdom.' 'Now can we,' he asks, 'suppose that in such devout and glorious seasons as these, God the Father should ever thus manifest His own love to souls that are degrading Him by worshipping another God? That Christ Jesus should reveal Himself in His dying love to souls that are practising idolatry and worshipping Himself instead of the true God?'
But there are other passages of a very different tendency, in which Dr. Watts virtually gives up the whole point at issue, and apparently without being conscious that he is doing so. On the worship of the Holy Ghost, for example, he writes. 'There is great silence in Scripture of precepts or patterns of prayer and praise to the Holy Spirit.' 'Therefore,' he thinks, 'we should not bind it on our own consciences or on others as a piece of necessary worship, but rather practise it occasionally as prudence and expediency may require.' On the famous question of the Homoousion, he thinks 'it is hard to suppose that the eternal generation of the Son of God as a distinct person, yet co-equal and consubstantial or of the same essence with the Father, should be made a fundamental article of faith in the dawn of the Gospel.' He is persuaded therefore 'that faith in Him as a divine Messiah or all-sufficient and appointed Saviour is the thing required in those very texts where He is called the Son of God and proposed as such for the object of our belief; and that a belief of the natural and eternal and consubstantial sonship of Christ to God as Father was not made the necessary term or requisite of salvation;' neither can he 'find it asserted or revealed with so much evidence in any part of the Word of God as is necessary to make it a fundamental article of faith.' And once more, on the Personality of the Holy Ghost, he writes: 'The general and constant language of Scripture speaks of the Holy Ghost as a power or medium of divine operation.' Some places may speak of him as personal, but 'it was the frequent custom of Jews and Oriental nations to speak of powers and qualities under personal characters.' He can find 'no plain and express instance in Holy Scripture of a doxology directly and distinctly addressed to the Holy Spirit,' and he thinks the reason of this may be 'perhaps because he is only personalised by idioms of speech.'
Now anyone who has studied the course of the Trinitarian controversy will see at once that an anti-Trinitarian would require no further concessions than these to prove his point quite unanswerably. The amiable design of Dr. Watts's second treatise was 'to lead an Arian by soft and easy steps into a belief of the divinity of Christ,' but if he granted what he did, the Arian would have led him, if the controversy had been pushed to its logical results.
To return to the Church of England. About the middle of the eighteenth century there was a revival of one phase of the Trinitarian controversy. A movement arose to procure the abolition of subscription to the Articles and Liturgy. The spread of Unitarian opinions among the clergy is said to have originated this movement, though probably this was not the sole cause. One of the most active promoters of this attempt was Archdeacon Blackburne; he was supported by Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, who boldly avowed that his object was to open the door for different views upon the Trinity in the Church. His own views on this subject expressed in a treatise entitled 'An Essay on Spirit' were certainly original and startling. He held that the Logos was the Archangel Michael, and the Holy Spirit the angel Gabriel!
This treatise and that of Blackburne, entitled 'The Confessional,' called forth the talents of an eminent Churchman in defence of the received doctrine of the Trinity—Jones of Nayland. His chief work on the subject was entitled 'The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity,' and was drawn up after the model of Dr. Clarke's famous book, to which, indeed, it was partly intended to be an antidote. It was written on the principle that Scripture is its own best interpreter, and consisted of a series of well-chosen texts marshalled in order with a brief explanation of each, showing its application to the doctrine of the Trinity. On one point Jones insists with great force, viz., that every article of the Christian faith depends upon the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity; and he illustrates this by applying it to 'our creation, redemption, sanctification, resurrection, and glorification by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.' Jones did, perhaps, still more useful if less pretentious work in publishing two little pamphlets, the one entitled 'A Letter to the Common People in Answer to some Popular Arguments against the Trinity,' the other 'A Preservative against the Publications dispersed by Modern Socinians.' Both of these set forth the truth, as he held it, in a very clear and sensible manner, and at a time when the Unitarian doctrines were spreading widely among the multitudes who could not be supposed to have either the time or the talents requisite to grapple with long, profound, and elaborate arguments, they were very seasonable publications.
But the most curious contribution which Jones made to the Trinitarian controversy was a pamphlet entitled 'A Short Way to Truth, or the Christian Doctrine of a Trinity in Unity, Illustrated and Confirmed from an Analogy in the Natural Creation.' He shows that the powers of nature by which all natural life and motion are preserved are three—air, fire, and light. That these three thus subsisting together in unity are applied in Scripture to the Three Persons of the Divine Nature, and that the manifestations of God are always made under one or other of these signs. These three agents support the life of man. There is a Trinity in the body (1) the heart and blood-vessels; (2) the organs of respiration; (3) the nerves, the instruments of sensation; these three departments are the three moving principles of nature continually acting for the support of life. 'Therefore,' he concludes, 'as the life of man is a Trinity in Unity, and the powers which act upon it are a Trinity in Unity, the Socinians being, in their natural capacity, formed and animated as Christians, carry about with them daily a confutation of their own unbelief.'
In the year 1782, the Trinitarian controversy received a fresh impulse from the appearance in it of a writer whose eminence in other branches of knowledge lent an adventitious importance to what he wrote upon this subject. In that year, Dr. Priestley published his 'History of the Corruptions of Christianity,' which, as Horsley says, was 'nothing less than an attack upon the creeds and established discipline of every church in Christendom.' Foremost among these corruptions were both the Catholic doctrine of our Lord's divinity and the Arian notion of His pre-existence in a state far above the human.
The great antagonist of Dr. Priestley was Dr. Horsley, who, first in a Charge to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of St. Albans, and then in a series of letters addressed to Priestley himself, maintained with conspicuous ability the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.
An able modern writer says that the Unitarian met at the hands of the bishop much the same treatment as Collins had received from Bentley. But the comparison scarcely does justice either to Horsley or Priestley. From a purely intellectual point of view it would be a compliment to any man to compare him with 'Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,' but the brilliant wit and profound scholarship displayed in Bentley's remarks on Collins were tarnished by a scurrility and personality which, even artistically speaking, injured the merits of the work, and were quite unworthy of being addressed by one gentleman (not to say clergyman) to another. Horsley's strictures are as keen and caustic as Bentley's; but there is a dignity and composure about him which, while adding to rather than detracting from the pungency of his writings, prevent him from forgetting his position and condescending to offensive invectives. Priestley, too, was a more formidable opponent than Collins. He was not only a man who by his scientific researches had made his mark upon his age, but he had set forth Unitarianism far more fully and powerfully than Collins had set forth Deism. Still he unquestionably laid himself open to attack, and his opponent did not fail to take advantage of this opening.
Horsley distinctly declines to enter into the general controversy as to the truth or possibility of the Christian Trinity. Everything, he thinks, that can be said on either side has been said long ago. But he is ready to join issue with Priestley on the historical question. This he feels it practically necessary to do, for 'the whole energy and learning of the Unitarian party is exerted to wrest from us the argument from tradition.'
He shows, then, that so far from all the Church being originally Unitarian, there was no Unitarian before the end of the second century, when Theodotus, 'the learned tanner of Byzantium,' who had been a renegade from the faith, taught for the first time that His humanity was the whole of Christ's condition, and that He was only exalted to Heaven like other good men. He owns that the Cerinthians and Ebionites long before that had affirmed that Jesus had no existence previous to Mary's conception, and was literally and physically the carpenter's son, and so asserted the mere humanity of the Redeemer, 'but,' he adds, 'they admitted I know not what unintelligible exaltation of His nature upon His Ascension by which He became no less the object of worship than if His nature had been originally divine.' He acknowledges that the Cerinthian Gnostics denied the proper divinity of Christ, but, he adds very pertinently, 'if you agree with me in these opinions, it is little to your purpose to insist that Justin Martyr's reflections are levelled only at the Gnostics.'
Like Waterland, and indeed all defenders of the Catholic doctrine, Horsley fully admits the difficulties and mysteriousness of his subject, 'but,' he asks, 'is Christianity clear of difficulties in any of the Unitarian schemes? Hath the Arian hypothesis no difficulty when it ascribes both the first formation and perpetual government of the Universe not to the Deity, but an inferior being? In the Socinian scheme is it no difficulty that the capacity of a mere man should contain that wisdom by which God made the universe?'
Horsley rebukes his opponent in severe and dignified language for presuming to write on a subject on which, by his own confession, he was ignorant of what had been written. In reply to a passage in Horsley's 'Charge,' in which it was asserted that Priestley's opinions in general were the same as those propagated by Daniel Zuicker, and that his arguments were in essential points the same as Episcopius had used, Priestley had said that he had never heard of Zuicker, and knew little of Episcopius; he also let slip that he had only 'looked through' the ancient fathers and the writings of Bishop Bull, an unfortunate phrase, which Horsley is constantly casting in his teeth. On the positive proofs of his own position, Horsley cites numerous passages from the ante-Nicene fathers. He contends that in the famous passage of Tertullian on which Priestley had laid so much stress, Tertullian meant by 'idiotæ,' not the general body of unlearned Christians, but some stupid people who could not accept the great mystery which was generally accepted by the Church. He shows that the Jews in Christ's time did believe in a Trinity, and expected the Second Person to come as their Messiah. He maintains that when Athanasius spoke of Jews who held the simple humanity of Christ, he meant what he said, viz., Jews simply, not Christian Jews, as Priestley asserted.
There is a fine irony in some of his remarks on Priestley's interpretations
of Scripture. 'To others,' he says in his 'Charge,' 'who have not the sagacity
to discern that the true meaning of an inspired writer must be the reverse of
the natural and obvious sense of the expressions which he employs, the force of
the conclusion that the Primitive Christians could not believe our Lord to be a
mere man because the Apostles had told them He was Creator of the Universe
(Colossians i. 15, 17) will be little understood.'
In the famous text which speaks of Christ as 'come in the flesh,' for 'come in
the flesh' Priestley substitutes 'come of the flesh.' 'The one,' says
Horsley, 'affirms an Incarnation, the other a mortal extraction. The first is
One of the most important and interesting parts of Horsley's letters was
that in which he discussed the old objection raised by Priestley that the
Christian doctrine of the Trinity was borrowed from Plato. There is, and Horsley
does not deny it, a certain resemblance between the Platonic and the Christian
theories. The Platonist asserted three Divine hypostases, the Good Being (τἀγαθόν),
the word or reason (λόγος
or νοῦς), and the Spirit (ψυχή) that actuates or
influences the whole system of the Universe (anima mundi), which had all
one common Deity (τὸ θείον),
and were eternal and necessarily existent.
Horsley can see no derogation to Christianity in the resemblance of this theory
to that of the Christian Trinity. He thinks that the advocates of the Catholic
Faith in modern times have been too apt to take alarm at the charge of
Platonism. 'I rejoice,' he says, 'and glory in the opprobrium. I not only
confess, but I maintain, not a perfect agreement, but such a similitude as
speaks a common origin, and affords an argument in confirmation of the Catholic
doctrine for its conformity to the most ancient and universal traditions.' For was this idea of a Triad
peculiar to Plato? or did it originate with him? 'The Platonists,' says
Horsley, 'pretended to be no more than expositors of a more ancient doctrine
which is traced from Plato to Parmenides; from Parmenides to his master of the
Pythagorean sect; from the Pythagoreans to Orpheus, the earliest of Grecian
mystagogues; from Orpheus to the secret lore of Egyptian priests in which the
foundations of the Orphic theology were laid. Similar notions are found in the
Persian and Chaldean theology; even in Roman superstition from their Trojan
ancestors. In Phrygia it was introduced by Dardanus, who carried it from
Not, of course, that Horsley approved of the attempts made at the close of the second century to meet the Platonists half-way by professing that the leading doctrines of the Gospel were contained in Plato's writings. He strongly condemned, e.g., the conceit of the Platonic Christians that the external display of the powers of the Son in the business of Creation is the thing intended in Scripture language under the figure of his generation. 'There is no foundation,' he thinks, 'in Holy Writ, and no authority in the opinions and doctrines of preceding ages. It betrayed some who were most wedded to it into the use of very improper language, as if a new relation between the First and Second Persons took place when the creative powers were first exerted.' He condemns 'the indiscretion of presuming to affix a determinate meaning upon a figurative expression of which no particular exposition can be drawn safely from Holy Writ.' 'But,' he adds, 'the conversion of an attribute into a person, whatever Dr. Priestley may imagine, is a notion to which they were entire strangers.' On the main question of the Trinity he asserts, in opposition to Dr. Priestley, that they were quite sound.
Adopting the same line of argument which Leslie had used before him, Horsley dexterously turns the supposed resemblance between Platonism and Christianity, which, as has been seen, he admits, into a plain proof that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be such a contradiction as the Unitarians represented it to be.
The controversy between Priestley and Horsley brings us nearly to the close
of the eighteenth century. There had been a considerable secession of English
clergymen to the Unitarians,
and Horsley's masterly tracts were a very opportune defence of the Catholic
doctrine. On one point he and his adversary thoroughly concurred—viz.,
that there could be no medium between making Christ a mere man and owning Him
to be in the highest sense God. Arianism in its various forms had become by
this time well-nigh obsolete in
And first as to the nomenclature. The name claimed by the anti-Trinitarians has, for want of a better, been perforce adopted in the foregoing pages. But in calling them Unitarians, we must do so under protest. The advocates of the Catholic doctrine might with equal correctness be termed, from one point of view, Unitarians, as they are from another point of view termed Trinitarians. For they believe in the Unity of God as firmly as they believe in the Trinity. And they hold that there is no real contradiction in combining those two subjects of belief; because the difficulty of reconciling the Trinity with the Unity of the Godhead in reality proceeds simply from our human and necessary incapacity to comprehend the nature of the union. Therefore they cannot for a moment allow to disbelievers in the Trinity the title of Unitarians, so as to imply that the latter monopolise the grand truth that 'the Lord our God is one Lord.' They consent reluctantly to adopt the term Unitarian because no other name has been invented to describe the stage at which anti-Trinitarians had arrived before the close of the eighteenth century. These latter, of course, differed essentially from the Arians of the earlier part of the century. Neither can they be properly termed Socinians, for Socinus, as Horsley justly remarks, 'though he denied the original divinity of Our Lord, was nevertheless a worshipper of Christ, and a strenuous asserter of his right to worship. It was left to others,' he adds, 'to build upon the foundation which Socinus laid, and to bring the Unitarian doctrine to the goodly form in which the present age beholds it.' Indeed, the early Socinians would have denied to Dr. Priestley and his friends the title of Christians, and would have excommunicated them from their Society. 'Humanitarians' would be a more correct designation; but as that term is already appropriated to a very different signification, it is not available. For convenience' sake, therefore, the name of Unitarians must be allowed to pass, but with the proviso that so far from its holders being the sole possessors of the grand truth of the unity of the Godhead, they really, from the fact of their denying the divinity of two out of the three Persons in the Godhead, form only a very maimed and inadequate conception of the one God.
The outcry against all mystery, or, to use a modern phrase, the spirit of rationalism, which in a good or bad sense pervaded the whole domain of religious thought, orthodox and unorthodox alike during the eighteenth century, found its expression in one class of minds in Deism, in another in anti-Trinitarianism. But though both disavowed any opposition to real Christianity, yet both in reality allow no scope for what have been from the very earliest times to the present day considered essential doctrines of the Gospel. If the Deist strikes at the very root of Christianity by questioning the evidence on which it rests, no less does the Unitarian divest it of everything distinctive—of the divine condescension shown in God taking our nature upon Him, of the divine love shown in God's unseen presence even now in His Church by His Holy Spirit. Take away these doctrines, and there will be left indeed a residuum of ethical teaching, which some may please to call Christianity if they will; but it differs as widely from what countless thousands have understood and still understand by the term, as a corpse differs from a living man.
Few things are more prominent in the religious history of
Enthusiasm no longer bears quite the same meaning that it used to do. A change, strongly marked by the impress of reaction from the prevailing tone of eighteenth-century feeling, has gradually taken place in the usual signification of the word. In modern language we commonly speak of enthusiasm in contrast, if not with lukewarmness and indifference, at all events with a dull prosaic level of commonplace thought or action. A slight notion of extravagance may sometimes remain attached to it, but on the whole we use the words in a decidedly favourable sense, and imply in it that generous warmth of impetuous, earnest feeling without which few great things are done. This meaning of the word was not absolutely unknown in the eighteenth century, and here and there a writer may be found to vindicate its use as a term of praise rather than of reproach. It might be applied to poetic rapture with as little offence as though a bard were extolled as fired by the muses or inspired by Phoebus. But applied to graver topics, it was almost universally a term of censure. The original derivation of the word was generally kept in view. It is only within the last one or two generations that it has altogether ceased to convey any distinct notion of a supernatural presence—an afflatus from the Deity. But whereas the early Alexandrian fathers who first borrowed the word from Plato and the ancient mysteries had Christianised it and cordially adopted it in a favourable signification, it was now employed in a hostile sense as 'a misconceit of inspiration.' It thus became a sort of byeword, applied in opprobrium and derision to all who laid claim to a spiritual power or divine guidance, such as appeared to the person by whom the term of reproach was used, fanatical extravagance, or, at the least, an unauthorised outstepping of all rightful bounds of reason. Its preciser meaning differed exceedingly with the mind of the speaker and with the opinions to which it was applied. It sometimes denoted the wildest and most credulous fanaticism or the most visionary mysticism; on the other hand, the irreligious, the lukewarm, and the formalist often levelled the reproach of enthusiasm, equally with that of bigotry, at what ought to have been regarded as sound spirituality, or true Christian zeal, or the anxious efforts of thoughtful and religious men to find a surer standing ground against the reasonings of infidels and Deists.
A word which has not only been strained by constant and reckless use in religious contests, but is also vague in application and changeable in meaning, might seem marked out for special avoidance. Yet it might be difficult to find a more convenient expression under which to group various forms of subjective, mystic, and emotional religion, which were in some cases strongly antagonistic to one another, but were closely allied in principle and agreed also in this, that they inevitably brought upon their supporters the unpopular charge of enthusiasm. All were more or less at variance with the general spirit of the century. But, in one shape or another, they entered into almost every religious question that was agitated; and, in many cases, it is to the men who in their own generation were called mystics and enthusiasts that we must chiefly turn, if we would find in the eighteenth century a suggestive treatment of some of the theological problems which are most deeply interesting to men of our own time.
When Church writers no longer felt bound to exert all their powers of argument against Rome or rival modes of Protestantism, and when disputes about forms of government, rites, and ceremonies, and other externals of religion ceased to excite any strong interest, attention began to be turned in good earnest to the deeper and more fundamental issues involved in the Reformation. There arose a great variety of inquiries as to the principles and grounds of faith. Into all of these entered more or less directly the important question, How far man has been endowed with a faculty of spiritual discernment independent of what is properly called reason. It was a subject which could not be deferred, although at this time encompassed by special difficulties and beset by prejudices. The doctrine of 'the inner light' has been in all ages the favourite stronghold of enthusiasts and mystics of every kind, and this was more than enough to discredit it. All the tendencies of the age were against allowing more than could be helped in favour of a tenet which had been employed in support of the wildest extravagances, and had held the place of highest honour among the opinions of the early Quakers, the Anabaptists, the Muggletonians, the Fifth Monarchy men, and other fanatics of recent memory. Did not the very meaning of the word 'enthusiasm,' as well as its history, point plainly out that it is grounded on the belief in such inward illumination? And who, with the examples of the preceding age before him, could foretell to what dangerous extremes enthusiasm might lead its excited followers? Whenever, therefore, any writers of the eighteenth century had occasion to speak of man's spiritual faculties, one anxiety was constantly present to their minds. Enthusiasm seemed to be regarded with continual uneasiness, as a sort of unseen enemy, whom an incautious expression might let in unawares, unless they watchfully guarded and circumscribed the province which it had claimed as so especially its own.
It is certainly remarkable that a subject which excited so much apprehension
should have entered, nevertheless, into almost every theological discussion.
Yet it could not be otherwise. Controversy upon the grounds of faith and all
secondary arguments and inferences connected with it gather necessarily round
four leading principles—Reason, Scripture, Church Authority, Spiritual
Illumination. Throughout the century, the relation more particularly of the
last of these principles to the other three, became the real, though often
unconfessed centre alike of speculation and of practical theology. What is this
mystic power which had been so extravagantly asserted—in comparison with
which Scripture, Reason, and Authority had been almost set aside as only lesser
lights? Is there indeed such a thing as a Divine illumination, an inner light,
a heavenly inspiration, a directing principle within the soul? If so—and
that there is in man a spiritual presence of some kind no Christian
doubts—what are its powers? how far is it a rule of faith? What is its
rightful province? What are its relations to faith and conscience? to Reason,
Scripture, Church Authority? Can it be implicitly trusted? By what criterion
may its utterances be distinguished and tested? Such, variously stated, were
the questions asked, sometimes jealously and with suspicion, often from a
sincere, unprejudiced desire to ascertain the truth, and often from an
apprehension of their direct practical and devotional value. The inquiry,
therefore, was one which formed an important element both in the divinity and
philosophy of the period, and also in its popular religious movements. It was
discussed by Locke and by every succeeding writer who, throughout the century,
endeavoured to mark the powers and limits of the human understanding. It
entered into most disputes between Deists and evidence writers as to the
properties of evidence and the nature of Reasonable Religion. It had to do with
debates upon inspiration, upon apostolic gifts, upon the Canon of Scripture, with
controversies as to the basis of the English Church and of the Reformation
generally, the essentials and nonessentials of Christianity, the rights of the
individual conscience, toleration, comprehension, the authority of the Church,
the authority of the early fathers. It had immediate relation to the
speculations of the Cambridge Platonists, and their influence on
eighteenth-century thought, upon such subjects as those of immutable morality
and the higher faculties of the soul. It was conspicuous in the attention
But it is time to enter somewhat further into detail on some of the points briefly suggested. Reference was made to the Cambridge Platonists, for although they belong to the history of the seventeenth century, some of their opinions bear too directly on the subject to be entirely passed over. Moreover, Cudworth's 'Immutable Morality' was not published till 1731, at which time it had direct reference to the controversies excited by Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees.' The popularity also of Henry More's writings continued into the century after his death, and a new edition of his 'Discourse of Enthusiasm' appeared almost simultaneously with writings of Lord Shaftesbury, Dr. Hickes, and others upon the same subject. It might have been well if the works of such men as H. More and Cudworth, J. Smith and Norris, had made a deeper impression on eighteenth-century thought. Their exalted but restrained mysticism and their lofty system of morality was the very corrective which the tone of the age most needed. And it might have been remembered to great advantage, that the doctrine of an inner light, far from being only the characteristic tenet of the fanatical disciples of Fox and Münzer, had been held in a modified sense by men who, in the preceding generation, had been the glory of the English Church—a band of men conspicuous for the highest culture, the most profound learning, the most earnest piety, the most kindly tolerance. Cudworth, at all events, held this view. Engaged as he was, during a lengthened period of intellectual activity, in combating a philosophical system which, alike in theology, morals, and politics, appeared to him to sap the foundations of every higher principle in human nature, he was led by the whole tenour of his mind to dwell upon the existence in the soul of perceptions not derivable from the senses, and to expatiate on the immutable distinctions of right and wrong. Goodness, freed from all debasing associations of interest and expedience, such as Hobbes sought to attach to it, was the same, he was well assured, as it had existed from all eternity in the mind of God. To a mind much occupied in such reflections, and nurtured in the sublime thoughts of Plato, the doctrine of an inner light naturally commended itself. All goodness of which man is capable is a participation of the Divine essence—an effluence, as it were, from God; and if knowledge is communicable through other channels than those of the outward senses, what is there which should forbid belief in the most immediate intercourse between, the soul and its Creator, and in a direct intuition of spiritual truth? We may attain a certain comprehension of the Deity, 'proportionate to our measure; as we may approach near to a mountain, and touch it with our hands, though we cannot encompass it all round and enclasp it within our arms.' In fact, Cudworth's general train of reasoning and of feeling brought him into great sympathy with the mystics, though he was under little temptation of falling into the extravagances which had lately thrown their special tenets into disrepute. He did not fail, indeed, to meet with some of the customary imputations of enthusiasm, pantheism, and the like. But an ordinary reader will find in him few of the characteristic faults of mystic writers and many of their merits. In him, as in his fellow Platonists, there is little that is visionary, there is no disparagement of reason, no exaggerated strain of self-forgetfulness. On the other hand, he resembles the best mystics in the combination of high imaginative with intellectual power, in warmth of piety, in fearlessness and purity of motive. He resembles them too in the vehemence with which he denies the liberty of interpreting Scripture in any sense which may appear to attribute to God purposes inconsistent with our moral perceptions of goodness and justice—in his horror of the more pronounced doctrines of election—in his deep conviction that love to God and man is the core of Christianity—in his disregard for controversy on minor points of orthodoxy, and in the comprehensive tolerance and love of truth and liberty which should be the natural outgrowth of such opinions.
The other Cambridge Platonist whose writings may be said to have a distinct bearing on the subject and period before us, is Henry More. Even if there were no trace of the interest with which his works continued to be read in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, it would still seem like an omission if his treatise upon the question under notice were passed over. For perhaps there never was an author more qualified than he was to speak of 'enthusiasm' in a sympathetic but impartial spirit. He felt himself that the subject was well suited to him. 'I must,' he said, 'ingenuously confess that I have a natural touch of enthusiasm in my complexion, but such, I thank God, as was ever governable enough, and have found at length perfectly subduable.' He was in truth, both by natural temperament and by the course which his studies had taken, thoroughly competent to enter into the mind of the mystics and enthusiasts against whom he wrote. It was perhaps only his sound intellectual training, combined with the English attribute of solid practical sense, that had saved him from running utterly wild in fanciful and visionary speculations. As it is, he has been occasionally classed among the so-called Theosophists, such as Paracelsus and Jacob Behmen. His exuberant imagination delighted in subjects which, since his time, have been acknowledged to be closed to all efforts of human reason, and have been generally abandoned to the dreams of credulity and superstition. He revelled in ingenious conjectures upon the condition of the soul in the intermediate state after death, upon the different stages and orders of disembodied spirits, and upon mysterious sympathies between mind and matter. We have continually to remember that he wrote before the dawn of the Newtonian philosophy, if we would appreciate his reasonings and guesses about strange attractions and affinities, which pointed as he thought to an incorporeal soul of the world, or spirit of nature, acting as 'a great quartermaster-general of Providence' in directing relations between the spiritual and material elements of the universe.
Such was Henry More in one side of his character. The counterbalancing principle was his unwavering allegiance to reason, his zealous acknowledgment of its excellence as a gift of God, to be freely used and safely followed on every subject of human interest. He held it to be the glory and adornment of all true religion, and the special prerogative of Christianity. He nowhere rises to greater fervour of expression than where he extols the free and devotional exercise of reason in a pure and undefiled heart; and he is convinced of the high and special spiritual powers which under such conditions are granted to it. 'I should commend to them that will successfully philosophise the belief and endeavour after a certain principle more noble and inward than reason itself, and without which reason will falter, or at least reach but to mean and frivolous things. I have a sense of something in me while I thus speak, which I must confess is of so retruse a nature that I want a name for it, unless I should adventure to term it Divine sagacity, which is the first rise of successful reason.... All pretenders to philosophy will indeed be ready to magnify reason to the skies, to make it the light of heaven, and the very oracle of God: but they do not consider that the oracle of God is not to be heard but in his Holy Temple, that is to say, in a good and holy man, thoroughly sanctified in spirit, soul, and body.'
Believing thus with all his heart both in the excellence of reason and in a true inspiration of the spirit granted to the pure in heart, but never dissociating the latter from the former; well convinced that 'Christian religion is rational throughout,' and that the suggestions of the Holy Spirit are in all cases agreeable to reason—More wrote with much force and beauty of argument his 'Exorcism of Enthusiasm.' He showed that to abandon reason for fancy is to lay aside the solid supports of religion, to trust faith to the mere ebb and flow of 'melancholy,' and so to confirm the sceptic in his doubts and the atheist in his unbelief. He dwelt upon the unruly power of imagination, its deceptive character, its intimate connection with varying states of physical temperament—upon the variety of emotional causes which can produce quakings and tremblings and other convulsive forms of excitement—upon the delusiveness of visions, and revelations, and ecstasies, and their near resemblance to waking dreams—upon the sore temptations which are apt to lead into sin those who so closely link spirituality with bodily feelings, making religion sensual. He warned his readers against that sort of intoxication of the understanding, when the imagination is suffered to run wild in allegorical interpretations of Scripture, in fanciful allusions, in theories of mystic influences and properties which carry away the mind into wild superstitions and Pagan pantheism. He spoke of the self-conceit of many fanatics, their turbulence, their heat and narrow scrupulosity, and asked how these things could be the fruits of heavenly illumination. He suggested as the proper remedies against enthusiasm, temperance (by which he meant temperate diet, moderate exercise, fresh air, a due and discreet use of devotion), humility, and the sound tests of reason—practical piety, and service to the Church of God. Such is the general scope of his treatise; but the most interesting and characteristic portion is towards the close and in the Scholia appended to it, in which he speaks of 'that true and warrantable enthusiasm of devout and holy souls,' that 'delicious sense of the Divine life' which the spirit of man is capable of receiving. If space allowed, one or two fine passages might be quoted in which he describes these genuine emotions. He has also some good remarks upon the value, within guarded limits, of disturbed and excited religious feelings in rousing the soul from lethargy, and acting as external aids to dispose the mind for true spiritual influences.
Henry More died the year before King William's accession. But his opinions
were, no doubt, shared by some of the best and most cultivated men in the
When once the genius of Locke was in the ascendant, more spiritual forms of philosophy fell into disrepute. Descartes, Malebranche, Leibnitz were considered almost obsolete; More and Cudworth were out of favour: and there was but scanty tolerance for any writer who could possibly incur the charge of transcendentalism or mysticism. It is not that Cartesian or Platonic, or even mystic opinions, are irreconcileable with Locke's philosophy. When he spoke of sensation and reflection as the original sources of all knowledge, there was ample room for innate ideas, and for intuitive perceptions, under the shelter of terms so indefinite. Moreover, the ambiguities of expression and apparent inconsistencies of thought, which stand out in marked contrast to the force and lucidity of his style, are by no means owing only to his use of popular language, and his studied avoidance of all that might seem to savour of the schools. His devout spirit rebelled against the carefully defined limits which his logical intellect would have imposed upon it. He could not altogether avoid applying his system to the absorbing subjects of theology, but he did so with some unwillingness and with much reserve. Revelation, once acknowledged as such, was always sacred ground to him; and though he often appears to reduce all evidence to the external witness of the senses, there is something essentially opposed to materialistic notions, in his feeling that there is that which we do not know simply by reason of our want of a new and different sense, by which, if we had it, we might know our souls as we know a triangle. Locke would have heartily disowned the conclusions of many who professed themselves his true disciples, and of many others whose whole minds had been trained and formed under the influences of his teaching, and who insisted that they were but following up his arguments to their legitimate consequences. The general system was the same; but there was nothing in common between the theology of Locke and Toland's repudiation of whatever in religion transcended human reason, or Bolingbroke's doubts as to the immortality of the soul, or the pronounced materialism of Hartley and Condillac, or the blank negative results at which Hume arrived.
But though Locke and multitudes of his admirers were profoundly Christian in their belief, the whole drift of his thought tended to bring prominently forward the purely practical side of religion and the purely intellectual side of theology, and to throw into the background, and reduce to its narrowest compass, the more entirely spiritual region which marks the contact of the human with the Divine. Its uncertain lights and shadows, its mysteries, obscurities, and difficulties, were thoroughly distrusted by him. He did not—a religious mind like his could not—deny the existence of those feelings and intuitions which, from their excessive prominence in that school, may be classed under the name of mystic. But he doubted their importance and dreaded their exaggerations. Not only could they find no convenient place, scarcely even a footing, in his philosophical system, but they were out of accord with his own temperament and with the opinions, which he was so greatly contributing to form, of the age in which he lived. They offended against his love of clearness, his strong dislike of all obscurity, his wish to see the chart of the human faculties mapped out and defined, his desire to translate abstract ideas into the language of sound, practical, ordinary sense, divested as far as could be of all that was open to dispute, and of all that could in any way be accounted visionary. His perpetual appeal lay to the common understanding, and he regarded, therefore, with much suspicion, emotions which none could at all times realise, and which to some minds were almost, or perhaps entirely unknown. Lastly, his fervent love of liberty indisposed him to admissions which might seem to countenance authority over the consciences of men on the part of any who should assert special claims to spiritual illumination.
Locke struck a keynote which was harped upon by a host of theologians and moralists after him, whenever, as was constantly the case, they had occasion to raise their voice against that dreaded enemy, enthusiasm. There were many who inveighed against 'the new modish system of reducing all to sense,' when used to controvert the doctrines of revelation. But while with vigour and success they defended the mysteries of faith against those who would allow nothing but what reason could fairly grasp, and while they dwelt upon the paramount authority of the Spirit which inspired Holy Scripture, they would allow no sort of spiritual influence to compete with reason as a judge of truth. Reason, it was perpetually argued, is sufficient for all our present needs. Revelation is adequately attested by evidence addressed to the reason. We need no other proof or ground of assent; at all events, none other is granted to us. It was not so indeed in the first age of the Church. Special gifts of spiritual knowledge and illumination were then given to meet special requirements. The Holy Spirit was then in very truth immediately present in power, the greatest witness to the truth, and its direct revealer to the hearts of men. Many of the principal preachers and theological writers of the eighteenth century dwell at length upon the fulness of that spiritual outpouring. But it is not a little remarkable to notice with what singular care they often limit and circumscribe its duration. A little earlier or a little later, but, at all events, at the end of a generation or two after the first Christian Pentecost, a line of demarcation was to be drawn and jealously guarded.
In the second book of Warburton's 'Doctrine of Grace' there is a singular instance of apparent incapacity on the part of a most able reasoner to acknowledge the possible existence in his own day of other spiritual influences than those which, in the most limited sense of the word, may be called ordinary. He is speaking of the splendour of the gifts which shed their glory upon the primitive Church and afterwards passed away. He dwells with admiration upon the sudden and entire changes which were made in the dispositions and manner of those whom the Holy Spirit had enlightened. Sacred antiquity, he says, is unmistakeable in its evidence on this point, and even the assailers of Christianity confessed it. Conversions were effected among early Christians such as could not be the result of mere rational conviction. It is utterly impossible for the magisterial faculty of reason to enforce her conclusions with such immediate power, and to win over the will with such irresistible force, as to root out at once inveterate habits of vice. 'To what must we ascribe so total a reform, but to the all-powerful operation of grace?' These remarks are true enough; but it seems incredible that, writing in the very midst of an extraordinary religious outburst, he should calmly assume the impossibility in other than primitive times of such sudden changes from irreligion to piety, and should even place the miraculous conversions of apostolic times at the head of an argument against Methodist enthusiasts. Well might Wesley remark with some surprise, 'Never were reflections more just than these,' and go on to show that the very same changes were constantly occurring still.
In truth, it may be said without any disparagement of a host of eminent
English divines of the eighteenth century, that their entire sympathies were
with the reasonable rather than with the spiritual side of religion. Their
ideal of Christian perfection was in many respects an elevated one, but
absolutely divested of that mystic element which in every age of the Church has
seemed to be inseparable from the higher types of saintliness. If we may judge
from the treatises of Lord Lyttelton and Dean Graves, the character even of the
apostles had to be carefully vindicated from all suspicion of any taint of enthusiasm
if they were to maintain their full place of reverence as leaders and princes
of the Christian army. Only it must not be supposed that this religious
characteristic of the age was by any means confined to the sceptical and
indifferent on the one hand, or to persons
of a sober and reflective spirit on the other. It was almost universal. John
Wesley, for example, repeatedly and anxiously rebuts the charges of enthusiasm
which were levelled upon him from all sides. He would have it understood that
he had for ever done with enthusiasm when once he had separated from the
Moravians. The same shrinking from the name, as one of opprobrium, is shown by
Dr. Watts; and one of the greatest troubles
in Hannah More's life seems to have been her annoyance, that she and other
faithful members of the
The eighteenth century was indeed an age when sober reason would hear of no competitor, and whose greatest outburst of religious zeal characteristically took its name from the well-ordered method with which it was organised. It will not, however, be inferred that enthusiasm, as the word was then commonly understood, scarcely existed. On the contrary, the vigour and constancy of the attack points with sufficient clearness to the evident presence of the enemy. In fact, although the more exaggerated forms of mysticism and fanaticism have never permanently thriven on English soil, there has never been an age when what may be called mystical religion has not had many ardent votaries. For even the most extravagant of its multiform phases embody an important element of truth, which cannot be neglected without the greatest detriment to sound religion. Whatever be its particular type, it represents the protest of the human soul against all that obscures the spirituality of belief. But of all the accidents and externals of religion, there is not one, however important in itself, which may not be made unduly prominent, and under such circumstances interfere between the soul and the object of its worship. It will be readily understood, therefore, upon how great a variety of grounds that protest may be based, how right and reasonable it may sometimes be, but also how easily it may itself run into excess, and how quickly the understanding may lose its bearings, when once, for fear of the abuse, it begins to dispense with what was not intended to check, but to guide and regulate the aspirations of the Spirit. Mystical and enthusiastical religion, whether in its sounder or in its exaggerated and unhealthy forms, may be a reaction against an over-assertion of the powers of reason in spiritual matters and questions of evidence, or against the undue extension, in subjects too high for it, of the domain of 'common sense;' or it may be a vindication of the spiritual rights of the uneducated against the pretensions of learning; or an assertion of the judgment and conscience of the individual against all tyranny of authority. It may be a protest against excessive reverence for the letter of Holy Scripture as against the Spirit which breathes in it, against all appearance of limiting inspiration to a book, and denying it to the souls of living men. It may express insurrection against all manner of formalism, usages which have lost their significance, rites which have ceased to edify, doctrines which have degenerated into formulas, orthodoxy which has become comparatively barren and profitless. It may represent a passionate longing to escape from party differences and sectarian strife into a higher, purer atmosphere, where the free Spirit of God bloweth where it listeth. It often owes its origin to strong revulsion against popular philosophies which limit all consciousness to mere perceptions of the senses, or against the materialistic tendencies which find an explanation for all mysteries in physical phenomena. It may result from endeavours to find larger scope for reverie and contemplation, or fuller development for the imaginative elements of religious thought. It may be a refuge for spirits disgusted at an unworthy and utilitarian system of ethics, and at a religion too much degraded into a code of moral precepts. All these tendencies, varying in every possible degree from the healthiest efforts after greater spirituality of life to the wildest excesses of fanatical extravagance, may be copiously illustrated from the history of enthusiasm. The writers of the eighteenth century were fully alive to its dangers. It was easy to show how mystical religion had often led its too eager, or too untaught followers into the most mischievous antinomianism of doctrine and life, into allegorising away the most fundamental grounds of Christianity, and into the vaguest Pantheism. They could produce examples in abundance of bewildered intellects, of 'illuminations' obscurer than any darkness, of religious rapture, in its ambitious distrust of reason, lapsing into physical agencies and coarse materialism. They could hold up, in ridicule or warning, profuse illustrations of exorbitant spiritual pride, blind credulity, infatuated self-deceit, barefaced imposture. It was much more congenial to the prevalent temper of the age to draw a moral from such perversions of a tone of feeling with which there was little sympathy, than to learn a useful lesson from the many truths contained in it. Doubtless, it is not easy to deal with principles which have been maintained in an almost identical form, but with consequences so widely divergent, by some of the noblest, and by some of the most foolish of mankind, by true saints and by gross fanatics. The contemporaries of Locke, Addison, and Tillotson, trained in a wholly different school of thought, were ill-fitted to enter with patience into such a subject, to see its importance, to discriminate its differences, and to solve its perplexities.
At the opening of the eighteenth century, the elements of enthusiasm were
too feeble to show themselves in any acknowledged form either in the Church of
England or in the leading Nonconformist bodies. In
It is needless to dwell with Leslie on the wild heretical opinions into which the over-strained spirituality of the disciples of Fox and Penn had led them. Certainly, the interval between them and other Christian communities had sometimes been so wide that there was some justification for the assertions made on either side, that the name of Christian could not be so widely extended as to be fitly applied to both. Archbishop Dawes, for example, in the House of Lords, roundly refused them all claim to the title; and there were thousands of Quakers who would retaliate the charge in terms of the most unsparing vigour. To these men, all the Gospel was summed up in the one verse that tells how Christ is the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Leslie was able to produce quotations in plenty from acknowledged authorities among them which allegorised away all belief in a personal Saviour, and which bade each man seek within himself alone for the illuminating presence of his Christ and God.
It was well that the special dangers to which Quakerism and other forms of
mysticism are liable should be brought clearly and openly into view. But after
all it is not from the extravagances and perversions of a dogma that the main
lesson is to be learnt. With the Bible open before them, and with hearts alive
to the teachings of holiness, the generality of religious-minded Quakers were
not likely to be satisfied with what Warburton rightly called not so much a religion as 'a divine philosophy, not fit
for such a creature as man,'
nor with a religious vocabulary summed up, as a writer in the 'Tatler'
humorously said, in the three words, 'Light,' 'Friend,' and 'Babylon.' There was no reason why the
worship of the individual should not be very free from the prevalent errors of
the sect, and be in a high sense pure and Christian. For the truths which at
one time made Quakerism so strong are wholly separable, not only from the superficial
eccentricities of the system, but from its gravest deficiencies in form and
doctrine. There is nothing to forbid a close union of the most intensely human
and personal elements of Christian faith with that refined and pervading sense
of a present life-giving Spirit which was faithfully borne witness to by
Quakers when it was feeblest and most neglected elsewhere. If Quaker
principles, instead of being embodied in a strongly antagonistic form as tenets
of an exclusive and often persecuted sect,
had been transfused into the general current of the national religious life,
they would at once have escaped the extravagances into which they were led, and
have contributed the very elements of which the spiritual condition of the age
stood most in need. Not only in the moderate and constantly instructive pages
of Barclay's 'Apology' for the Quakers, but also in the hostile expositions of
their views which we find in the works of Leslie and their other opponents, there
is frequent cause for regret that so much suggestive thought should have become
lost to the Church at large. The Quakers were accustomed to look at many
important truths in somewhat different aspects from those in which they were
commonly regarded; and the Church would have gained in power as well as in
comprehension, if their views on some points had been fully accepted as
legitimate modes of orthodox belief. English Christianity would have been
better prepared for its formidable struggle with the Deists, if it had freely
allowed a wider margin for diversity of sentiment in several questions on which
Quaker opinion almost universally differed from that of the Churchmen of the
age. It was said of Quakers that they were mere Deists, except that they hated
reason. The imputation might not
unfrequently be true; for a Quaker consistently with his principles might reject some very essential features of
Christianity. Often, on the other hand, such a charge would be entirely
erroneous, for, no less consistently, a Quaker might be in the strictest sense
of the word a thorough and earnest Christian. But in any case he was well armed
against that numerous class of Deistical objections which rested upon an
exclusively literal interpretation of Scripture. This is eminently observable
in regard of theories of inspiration. To Quakers, as to mystical writers in
general, biblical infallibility has never seemed to be a doctrine worth
contending for. They have always felt that an admixture of human error is
perfectly innocuous where there is a living spirit present to interpret the
teaching of Scripture to the hearts of men. But elsewhere, the doctrine of
unerring literal inspiration was almost everywhere held in its straitest form.
Leslie, for example, quotes with horror a statement of Ellwood, one of his
Quaker opponents, that
There were other ways in which profound confidence in direct spiritual guidance shielded Quakers from perplexities which shook the faith of many. They had been among the first to turn with horror from those stern views of predestination and reprobation which, until the middle of the seventeenth century, had been accepted by the great majority of English Protestants without misgiving. It was doctrine utterly repugnant to men whose cardinal belief was in the light that lighteth every man. The same principle kept even the most bigoted among them from falling into the prevalent opinion which looked upon the heathen as altogether without hope and without God in the world. They, almost alone of all Christian missionaries of that age, pointed their hearers (not without scandal to their orthodox brethren) to a light of God within them which should guide them to the brighter radiance of a better revelation. Nor did they scruple, to assert that 'there be members of this Catholic Church both among heathens, Jews, and Turks, men and women of integrity and simplicity of heart, who, though blinded in some things of their understanding, and burdened with superstition, yet, being upright in their hearts before the Lord, ... and loving to follow righteousness, are by the secret touches of the holy light in their souls enlivened and quickened, thereby secretly united to God, and thereby become true members of this Catholic Church.' Such expressions would be generally assented to in our day, as embodying sound and valuable truths, which cannot be rejected on account of errors which may sometimes chance to attend them. At the beginning of the eighteenth century there were few, except Quakers, who were willing to accept from a wholly Christian point of view the element of truth contained in the Deistical argument of 'Christianity as old as the Creation.'
Somewhat similar in kind was the protest of the Quakers against dogmatism as
to the precise nature of the Atonement,
and against unspiritual and, so to say, physical interpretations put upon
passages in Scripture which speak of the efficacy of the blood of Christ. On
this ground also they, and the mystic school in general, were constantly
inveighed against as mere Deists. Yet the rigid definitions insisted upon by
many of the Reformers were much at variance with the wider views held in
earlier and later times. It is at all events certain that, both within and without
The Quakerism, which at the end of the seventeenth and at the beginning of the eighteenth century was strong in numbers and in religious influence, has claimed our attent