Posted by: stpowen | February 7, 2011

Learning The Lessons of History (1)

Learning the Lessons of History
The Salters’ Hall Synod of 1719

Henry Ford was quite forthright. “History,” he said, “is more or less bunk.” The Roman statesman Cicero had a very different view. “He who is ignorant of what happened before he was born,” he declared, “Is destined to remain always a child.”

What benefit is there in a knowledge of history? To know that there was such a thing as the Battle of Bosworth is hardly beneficial; to know that it was fought in 1485 rather than, say, 1785 is helpful, but still unlikely to be of great advantage in life. In order for that knowledge to be of any real assistance, one must know who were the parties that fought, the situation at the time and, most importantly, the circumstances of the nation before and after so that one may see how they were changed by the battle. Even then, it is doubtful that we can truly benefit unless we can spot the coming Bosworths in our own time and apply the lessons gleaned from history to our own day. The poet Coleridge wrote; “If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But……… the light that experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us.”

The story that I am going to relate concerns a rather obscure occurrence in Church history. To recount it purely as an item of antiquarian interest is of little worth, but if there are lessons that the Church can learn for our own day; if we will take warning and counsel from the lessons of history, then the goings-on in Salters’ Hall nearly three hundred years ago may be of the greatest benefit to us here and now. The light of history will then be a lantern on the prow to illuminate our voyage through the world.

The restoration of Charles II to the throne following the death of Cromwell was swiftly followed by the ejection of two thousand Puritan ministers from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity of 1662. The Five Mile Act of 1665 forbade the ejected ministers from living within five miles of their erstwhile parishes. These were the Non- Conformists, so-called because they refused to conform to the new Prayer Book which was published in that year. While this persecution led to these ministers starting up a number of dissenting churches, it led to a marked downturn in the doctrine and practice of the Anglican Church. Moreover, the growing elegance and profligacy of the Royal Court and the dissolute lives of large sections of the nobility led to a steep decline in morality. At the same time, the scientific discoveries of Newton, Boyle and others led many people to view the Universe as wholly mechanistic. Deism became the creed of many; God, they considered, may perhaps have kick-started the world into being, but after that, the laws of science governed the Cosmos and God was considered remote and disinterested in His creation. Deistical philosophers like Anthony Collins sought to exclude from Christianity any idea of the supernatural, teaching (1) that Christ was not a literal Messiah, but merely a product of ‘priest-craft’ and the fantasies of the early Church.

At the same time, commerce and speculation were becoming increasingly lucrative to many. The son of the firebrand Puritan preacher, Praisegod Barebones, became Nicholas Barbon, the property developer of London after the Great Fire. Everywhere there seemed to be financial opportunities, and religion took very much a back seat in the thoughts of those intent on making riches in the Here and Now. The decline in Christianity also led to a sharp decline in morality among the people. In 1689, imported liquor was banned and the English began enthusiastically to brew their own, chiefly gin. By the 1720s, every sixth house in London was a gin shop, and so greatly did this affect the health of the people that the population went into decline for a period. The famous series of prints by William Hogarth, Gin Lane, The Harlot’s Progress and The Rake’s Progress date from this time and illustrate remarkably the degradation into which the nation had fallen. As morality declined, so crime increased, and in desperation, the authorities imposed ever harsher penalties until as many as 160 crimes were made punishable by death- all in vain, for crime still increased inexorably. At the same time, there was a craze for gambling and an increase in obscenity on the stage and in literature. Sexually transmitted diseases became endemic. It was joked amongst high society that Parliament was preparing a bill to have the “not” taken out of the Commandments and inserted in the Creed.

The Dissenting churches at this time were divided into four camps, the ‘General’ or Arminian Baptists, the ‘Particular’ or Calvinistic Baptists, the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians. The first of these was already in decline, having lost many of its members to the Quakers. The Particular Baptists and Congregationalists weathered the times of persecution as best they could. Their leaders, like William Kiffin and John Bunyan, were occasionally imprisoned, but being single congregations and not requiring a hierarchical authority, they survived and even grew in secret through the reigns of Charles II and James II. Men like Kiffin and Bunyan for the Baptists, and John Owen for the Congregationalists, held to a firm Calvinism and a doctrine of a ‘gathered’ church. The Presbyterians were much the largest grouping, having comprised around 1,800 of the two thousand ministers ejected in 1662. They had hoped until 1660 to become the Established Church, but found life much more difficult after the Restoration. They were unable to maintain their system of sessions, Presbyteries, synods and assemblies. They found themselves in ‘gathered’ churches despite their doctrine of comprehensiveness. Their chief spokesman at this time, Richard Baxter, in his search for a comprehensive church settlement, adopted a modified form of Calvinism, which earned him the rebuke of John Owen and others. Almost before the ink was dry on the Westminster Confession, Baxter had declared that agreement on the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments were all that was necessary for Church unity. Thus, within a few years of its composition, the W.C.F. was being rejected by many Presbyterians.

The Glorious revolution of 1688 in which James II was replaced as monarch by his daughter, Mary and her husband, William, brought a measure of freedom to the dissenting churches. The Toleration Act of 1689 permitted orthodox dissenters who subscribed to the doctrinal articles of the Church of England to worship unhindered within their registered meeting-houses, though no public worship was permitted outside them. The Presbyterians, who had sought comprehensiveness, had to adjust to life as Dissenters. In 1691, a loose association, the “Happy Union,” between Congregationalists and Presbyterians was formed in London, but it was soon found that the Congregationalists held to a firmer form of Calvinism than their Presbyterian colleagues who were still much influenced by Baxter and his friend and successor, Daniel Williams. A nine-year pamphlet war broke out and caused much strain between the two parties of the “Happy Union.” The result of this was that the Presbyterians became entrenched in their ‘moderate’ Calvinism, which the Independents attacked as Arminianism or even Socinianism (2).

In the meantime, the downgrade in doctrine continued elsewhere. Even the more orthodox ministers of the established church, instead of calling in apostolic tones for repentance, reduced the Gospel to a mere reminding of man of his moral duty. Archbishop John Tillotson (1630-1698 ), in his sermon entitled, ‘The Wisdom of being Religious,’ wrote, “For to know our duty, is to know what it is to be God in goodness and pity, and patience, and clemency, in pardoning injuries, and passing by provocations; in justice and righteousness, in truth and faithfulness, and in hatred and detestation of the contrary of these. In a word, it is to know what is the good and acceptable will of God, what it is that he loves and delights in, and is pleased withal, and would have us do in order to our perfection and our happiness.”(3) The problem with all this, of course, is that it takes no account of the Fall nor of the natural depravity of Man. Left to himself, Man has neither the power not the inclination to obey his ‘duty.’ Such exhortations, therefore, fell still-born from the pulpit. Tillotson confused law and gospel, and had lost sight of Justification by Faith, which is the only hope of fallen men and women.

When the fallen state of man and his inability to keep God’s law is denied, then the need for a Saviour is inevitably downgraded. Who needs to be saved when you can do it all yourself? So it is not surprising that the Deity of Christ was the next doctrine to come under attack. Again, the first salvoes were fired by ‘free-thinking’ ministers of the Church of England but, sad to say, the Dissenting churches were not far behind. One cause of the problem was a man named William Whiston (1667-1752 ) who succeeded Sir Isaac Newton to the Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University. In those days, as now, people imagined that someone who was a clever scientist might have helpful things to say about religion. Then, as now, they were wrong. Whiston wrote a book called Primitive Christianity Revived in which he wrested the Scriptures shamelessly to fit it in with his scheme of theology as well as removing certain books of the Bible from his canon and inserting others. Chief among his heresies was an Arian interpretation of the Godhead; he taught that the Lord Jesus Christ was a created being. Whiston’s book brought him considerable notoriety, and finding himself censured by the Church of England, he removed himself to Paul’s Alley Baptist Church in London’s Barbican. That church’s previous minister, John Gale, had denied the doctrine of original sin, and its incumbent at this time was Dr James Foster who was widely regarded as a deist (4).

It should be said that the Paul’s Alley church was at this time ‘General’ or Arminian Baptist rather than ‘Particular’ or Calvinistic. It had been Calvinistic, but in 1695, the remnant of the Turner Hall congregation, a General Baptist group, joined it and it progressively took on an Arminian and then an Arian posture. Nonetheless, the reader may well be wondering how a man like Whiston was able to attach himself to a Baptist church. Did he not have to be baptized on his confession of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, and to give some account of his faith in Christ? Apparently not; it seems that Gale and Foster were only too pleased to welcome a fellow free-thinker into their ranks, and if it be asked how those gentlemen came to be ministers in a dissenting church, the reason will be forthcoming shortly.

Our story begins in Exeter, Devon in 1717. It involved two Presbyterian ministers, Joseph Hallett and James Peirce. Hallett was also the Principal of a Dissenting academy in the city. Over a period of time, these two gentlemen became enamoured of Whiston’s theories, especially his denial of the deity of Christ. Rather than give up their positions in their respective churches, Peirce and Hallett practised deception upon their congregations. Peirce wrote:-

“In conversation, I had always avoided such intricate points, and might easily do so still. But my chief concern was about my preaching and praying. Concerning the former, I was resolved to keep more close to the Scripture expressions than ever, and venture to say very little in my own words of a matter about which I was in such doubt myself. As to the latter, I could not find there was any occasion for making much alteration, whichever notion should appear like the truth. I was by this time thoroughly convinced that the common doctrine was not according to the Scriptures, and was settled in my present opinion, and from my first coming I avoided the common doxology.”

Yet at the same time, in a sermon on Presbyterian ordination, he declared, “Those who are admitted to the office should be believers. The necessity of this is very obvious- that which is necessary in a private Christian, to give him a right in the sight in the sight of God to the communion of the Church, must be for those who are admitted into the ministry- a profession of faith.

Peirce and Hallett were not allowed to carry on their deceptions for very long. Indeed, Hallett and his students did not long conceal their admiration for the theories of Whiston. As for Peirce, “There was a vacuity in his ministrations felt by all who looked for spiritual nourishment……many freely expressed their doubts as to the soundness of [his] views.”(5). As a result, Peirce was requested to preach a sermon on the deity of Christ, in which his teaching was, to say the least, ambiguous. Suddenly suspicion fell upon all the Dissenting ministers in Exeter and the surrounding areas. Only one Pastor, John Lavington, “seemed to adhere firmly to the Trinitarian system”(6).

In the event, seven Presbyterian ministers were invited to attend a meeting in Exeter with thirteen deputed laymen to establish the true state of affairs. The ministers were invited to declare their faith in the Trinity in the words of the First of the 39 Articles of the Church of England. Now here is going down to Egypt for help with a vengeance! What had happened to the Westminster Confession of Faith that Non-conformists needed to go to an Anglican document to prove their orthodoxy? It seems that it had already fallen into disuse. Peirce, Hallett and some others declined this proposal, protesting that the Scriptures alone were the true rule of faith. “Fair enough,” replied their inquisitors, “But what doctrine do you deduce from the Scriptures? Do you draw from the Bible the teachings that have been held by the Church from ancient times and taught by the Presbyterian Church of which you are ministers?” When the ministers again refused to make an explicit declaration of their faith, the meeting drew to a close and the congregations served by these men were split. Some declined to listen any longer to their teaching, but others, whether unaware of, or unconcerned by, the controversy, continued to hear them.

Since the matter had now reached something of an impasse, both sides now appealed for help to their colleagues in London. The debate had attracted the attention of the press and there began to be a general alarm among the dissenting churches at the spread of Unitarian doctrine. Various London ministers therefore drew up a paper on the matter and submitted it to the consideration of a committee composed of members of the three dissenting denominations (7). After much debate and several revisions of the paper, it was decided that the committee was unauthorized to send it to Exeter in its own name and so it was determined to call a meeting of all the non-conformist Ministers in London and to invite representatives from further afield.

The meeting took place at the Salters’ Hall, London on the 19th and 24th February, 1719. 110 Ministers attended, of whom 32 were Baptists, the majority of these representing Arminian churches. John Sharpe of Frome attended on behalf of the Particular Baptists in the West of England and told the meeting that, “If they broke up without coming to a declaration of their faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, it would be the greatest blow imaginable to the dissenting interest in the West Country” (8). Many others, however, took a different view. It was only a few years since the non-conforming churches had been subject to persecution, and as recently as 1714, a proposal had been put before Parliament to make anyone engaged as a school-master or instructor of youth conform to the 39 Articles of the Church of England (9). This Act was very close to being passed when Queen Anne died and Parliamentary business was disrupted for a period. Many dissenters therefore, however orthodox they might be in their theology, objected to having to subscribe to any man-made document, especially if it was a part of the despised 39 Articles.

So the discussions at Salters’ Hall, instead of seeking to pronounce on whether Unitarianism was Scriptural, focussed instead on whether it was right to require Ministers of Dissenting churches to subscribe to a confession of faith. In the course of the second day, it was proposed that the advice to be sent to Exeter should be accompanied by a declaration of the Assembly’s faith in the Trinity. Shute Barrington, the Parliamentary advocate of the Nonconformists though a complete sceptic, wrote this account of what happened next.

‘After a great deal of bustle, heat, invective and overbearing treatment, the question was, with great difficulty…….to be determined. On the appearance of hands, the affirmative with great triumph assumed the majority; but a division was insisted upon, and the negatives were to go up to the gallery. While this was doing, it was very indiscreetly called out by some person, “You that are against persecution come upstairs!” Which was pretty evenly balanced by one on the other side crying out. “You that are for the doctrine of the Trinity, stay below!”’

When the votes were counted, it was found that the proposal had failed by fifty-seven votes to fifty-three. It was determined that, “No human compositions, or interpretations of the doctrine of the Trinity, should be made a part of these articles of advice.” It should not be supposed that all fifty-seven of those who voted against the proposal (the ‘Non-subscribers’ as they came to be known) were Unitarians. Several were entirely orthodox, but could not bring themselves to impose a non-Biblical creed upon their fellows. So the old saying was proved true that ‘in order that evil may flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.’ According to Waddington, the non-subscribers celebrated their victory as ‘the triumph of liberty over oppression, of liberality over bigotry, of Divine authority over human usurpation and of the Sacred Scriptures over creeds and confessions’ (10). Events soon proved otherwise. It is recorded that twelve Particular Baptists voted for the proposal, three against. Most Congregationalists also voted in favour; most Presbyterians and General Baptists, against.

The ‘Subscribers,’ that is, those who voted in favour of a declaration of faith, did not take their defeat lying down. They returned to Salters’ Hall on 3rd March and unanimously resolved to adopt the words of the 1st Article of the Church of England and the answers to the 5th and 6th questions of the Catechism of the Westminster Confession as a form of words ‘on which the Scripture doctrine of the Trinity is professedly expressed.’ They attached this resolution to the advice they sent to the churches in Exeter, but by the time the counsel arrived, the erring Pastors had already been dismissed. The Ministers in the West of England had finally stirred themselves, and at a meeting in Exeter there were fifty-six subscribers and only nineteen non-subscribers, who included Peirce and Hallett. Seven local Presbyterian ministers were given the task of interviewing Peirce and having done so, they prepared a circular letter to the churches which included the following points:-

1. “That there are some errors in doctrine that are a sufficient foundation for the people to withdraw from the communion of those ministers holding such errors.”
2. “That denying the true and proper divinity of the Son of God- viz., that He is one God with the Father, is an error of that nature contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and the common faith of the Reformed Churches.”
3. “That where so dangerous an error is industriously propagated, to the overthrowing of the faith of many, we think it the indispensable duty of ministers (who are set for the faith of the gospel) earnestly to withstand it, and to give reasonable satisfaction to the people of their soundness in the faith. And we likewise judge it to be the duty of the people to hold fast the truth in love, avoiding anger, clamour and evil speaking, and to behave themselves with all charity and meekness, as becometh Christians.”

So Peirce and Hallett were forced out, but Peirce, with the assistance of his admirers, built a chapel (11), vehemently denouncing from its pulpit what he called the persecutions of the orthodox. He quickly established a congregation of up to 300. Despite the action of the Exeter churches, the failure of the Salters’ Hall synod to give a clear lead to orthodoxy led to a sort of open season for all sorts of heretical views. Letters and pamphlets were written that declared that every man was, in effect, entitled to become his own pastor and that churches should cater for every conceivable theological view. Presbyterian Matthew Twogood wrote to a fellow-minister:-

‘Though I believe with you the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity, as opposed to the Arian or Sabellian, as appearing to myself the most consistent to the sacred oracles, I am thoroughly persuaded that no Christians of any Denomination ought to be trusted with the power of imposing Creeds on others, being sensible that All, call them what you will, Trinitarians, Arians, Arminians, Calvinists, etc., from the inborn propensities of human nature, won’t fail more or less to abuse it; so, by the Grace of God, I propose henceforth to call no Man Master on earth.’

Twogood was orthodox in his beliefs, but others were quick to take advantage of his generous spirit. In 1735, James Strong of Ilminster published a revision of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly with a strong Arian bent. The following year, Samuel Bourn of Birmingham published An Address to Protestant Dissenters in which he suggested that adherence to the Westminster Catechism was due to ‘bigotry’ rather than to ‘reason’(13).

There seemed to be no leader of the Presbyterians at this time who would take a stand against the decline in doctrinal purity. The reason for this appears to be that their mouths were stuffed with money. Queen Anne had been a supporter of High Churchmanship and was bitterly opposed to the dissenters. However, when George I came to the throne it was quickly discovered that many high church Anglicans were supporters of the James the ‘Old Pretender,’ the son of James II who had been deposed in 1688 (14). His Prime Minister, Hugh Walpole, though an unbliever, thought that it would be wise to curry favour with the non-conformists. Rather than doing the right thing by repealing the Test Act, which kept dissenters out of the Universities and other parts of public life, Walpole instead sought to gain their support by bribery. From 1723, £500 a year was secretly paid out of the Treasury for the support of widows of dissenting ministers. A little later, a further £500 was paid ‘each half-year for assisting either ministers or their widows that wanted help, or to be applied to any such uses as the distributors thought to be most for their interest’ (15). Edward Calamy, one of the leaders of the Presbyterians who had been vocal in his call for the repeal of the Test Act, became, according to Waddington, ‘Dumb for a season.’ He had become one of the trustees of the Regium Donum or ‘King’s Bounty.’ There is no evidence that a condition of this bounty was silence on doctrinal matters, but it is very likely that Walpole requested the recipients to avoid contentious religious statements at such a delicate time.

The General (or Arminian) Baptists did no better than the Presbyterians. Although there had been a General Baptist Statement of Faith issued in 1678, it seems not to have had any great following among the churches and many of their churches followed Mathew Caffyn, their leading spokesman at this time into Unitarianism. Dan Taylor, a later leader of the General Baptists, wrote of his predecessors, ”They degraded Jesus Christ and He degraded them.”

The progress of Unitarianism was opposed, however, by the London Congregationalist, Thomas Bradbury (1677-1759); indeed, so vociferous was his opposition that he came to be nick-named by his contemporaries as ‘Make-a-noise Tom.’ In cooperation with other orthodox minsters, he gave no fewer than sixty lectures on the Divinity of Christ at the Pinner’s Hall, in which he declaimed against his opponents and called all true Christians to the battle. He earned for his efforts nothing but abuse from the Unitarians. Lord Barrington wrote to him, ”Your loose rhapsodies about a Redeemer and the divinity of Jesus Christ bespeaks (sic) more of a frenzy than a zeal from knowledge and rational conviction. That trifling talent which heretofore made you an object of ridicule and laughter, has now taken into it such a turn of the madman as reduces you to an object of compassion.” Bradbury remained undaunted. He had previously campaigned for freedom of worship for dissenters, but he regarded this battle as infinitely more important. ”The thoughts of losing by this case,” He wrote, ”are the joy of my soul. I have borne a testimony to the glory of a Redeemer in the liberties of His people, but I am now called to defend the dignity of His person. Whiggism, the principles of Dissenters, the rights of my country, the privileges of human nature, I can say are dear to me; but these are little to the divinity of a Saviour. I rejoice therefore, that I am counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus” (16).

In this struggle, Bradbury looked for support to his colleague Isaac Watts, the famous hymn-writer. Watts, a more peaceable man than Bradbury, tried to make an accommodation with the Unitarians by suggesting that perhaps the human nature of Christ might have been eternal as well as His Divine nature. Far from satisfying or convincing the Arians, they promptly claimed Watts as one of their own, much to his chagrin, and Bradbury was so incensed that he directed his literary fire away from the Unitarians for the moment and onto poor Watts. Indeed, Watts has been criticized for his efforts ever since and his orthodoxy questioned (17). His published works, however, do include many exhortations to his fellow-ministers to preach and to stand up for the truth. He wrote, for instance:-

’Is it so seasonable practice in this age, to neglect these evangelical themes, and to preach up virtue, without the special principles and motives with which Christ has furnished us, when there are such numbers amongst us who are fond of heathenism, who are endeavouring to introduce it again into a heathen country and to spread the poison of infidelity through a nation called by His name? If this be our practice, our hearers will begin to think indeed that infidels may have some reason on their side, and that the glorious doctrines of the Gospel of Christ are not so necessary as our fathers thought them, while they find no mention of them in the pulpit, no use for them in our discourses from week to week…….and yet we profess to preach for the salvation of souls. Will this be our glory- to imitate the heathen philosophers and to drop the Gospel of the Son of God? To be complimented by unbelievers as men of superior sense and as deep reasoners, while we abandon the faith of Jesus and starve the souls of our hearers, by neglecting to distribute to them this bread of life which came down from heaven? O let us who are His ministers remember the last words of our departing Lord; “Go, preach the Gospel to every nation; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned; and lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age.” Let us fulfil the command, let us publish the threatening with the promise, and let us wait for the attending blessing’ (18).

When we come to look at the Particular Baptists and their response to the events at Salters’ Hall , it seems that God raised up two champions for them at exactly the right time. The first of these was John Gill, who commenced his ministry at Horselydown, London in 1720. Much of the comment surrounding Gill today concerns his alleged hyper-Calvinism, but that falls outside the scope of this article. The fact is that he was a doughty defender of true Biblical doctrine and of experiential Christianity. At an early stage in his ministry he preached a series on the Song of Solomon, much to the disgust of William Whiston who had written that the Song should not be part of the Bible. Gill believed that the Song was among the most important books of the Bible for the exaltation of Christ. In 1728, as well as publishing An Exposition of the Book of Solomon’s Song, based on his sermons, he also took on the Deists such as Anthony Collins in his Prophecies of the Old Testament respecting the Messiah (19). The following year, sponsored by Christians from a variety of denominations, he emulated Thomas Bradbury by setting up a regular series of lectures at Great Eastcheap meeting house. This series, which continued for almost thirty years, included defences of the doctrines of the Trinity and of Justification which were later published as books. Along with his exposition of the whole Bible, perhaps Gill’s greatest contribution to the Unitarian debate is his massive four-volume work, The Cause of God and Truth, which although it is primarily a defense of the five points of Calvinism, also defends doctrinal Christianity against Unitarianism and Latitudinarianism (20).

Gill believed that it was essential for a church to have a firm statement of faith. However, although the 1689 Baptist Confession was still far from ancient, Gill clearly felt himself under no obligation to use it. Instead, he wrote one especially for his church in 1729, which has come down to us as the Goat Yard Declaration of Faith. It is much shorter than the 1689 Confession, but is strongly Trinitarian and professes a high Calvinism. Gill’s firm stand on doctrine gained him influence among several young evangelicals within the Church of England, including Augustus Toplady and James Hervey, and thus he may be said to have influenced the great Evangelical Awakening that began around 1738.

The other champion of the Particular Baptists following the Salters’ Hall affair was Bernard Foskett. This man is much less well-known than John Gill, because he has left no published works, but at the time his labours may have been, under God, even more important than those of Gill. Foskett became minister of Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol in 1720 and Principal of the Bristol Baptist Academy, at that time and for the rest of the Century, the only training establishment for Baptists in the world. He did not start the academy, but he set it on a firm doctrinal path by adopting the 1689 Confession. At the same time he reorganized the Western Association of Particular Baptists, making the 1689 Confession the mandatory standard. By the middle of the Century, almost half of the ministers in the Western Association had been trained at the Bristol Academy. Although some of his students, such as John Collett Ryland, were critical of his teaching (21), another, Benjamin Beddome, so admired him that he saddled one of his children with the name, Foskett. Foskett’s teaching cannot have been too bad since both these men were greatly used by God in their respective churches. John Rippon’s assessment of him may be accurate. “If it be conceded that Foskett’s method of education was limited rather than liberal, severe rather than enchanting, employing the memory rather than the genius, the reason more than the softer powers of the mind……in a word, if it be granted that Mr Foskett is not the first of tutors… is a debt of honour to acknowledge that some good scholars and several of our greatest ministers were educated by him” (22). There is a helpful article on Foskett by Robert Oliver in Reformed Baptist Theological Review Vol. III.2.


(1) A Discourse on Free Thinking (1713); A Discourse on the Grounds of the Christian Religion (1724).
(2) Isaac Chauncy, Neonomianism Unmasked, 1693.
(3) Taken from The Works of the Most Reverend John Tillotson, published in 1704. Emphases in the original.  Quoted in George Ella, John Gill and the Cause of God and Truth (Go Publications, 1995). 
(4) Whiston himself was no deist; indeed, he believed in a literal and early return of Christ; but he allowed his imagination free reign in his writings to the detriment of Scriptural truth.
(5) J.Waddington, Congregational History. Vol II
(6) Ibid.
(7) Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian.
(8) J.G.Fuller. A Brief History of the Western Association, 1843.
(9) The so-called Schism Act. When George I came to the throne, he found that the Dissenters were likely to be his allies against the Jacobites and so the Act was quietly forgotten.
(10) J.Waddington, op. cit.
(11) A successor to this chapel, built shortly after Peirce’s death, still stands today, though after many years of lying empty, it has now been refurbished and has become a public house.
(12) Quoted by Olive Griffiths, Religion and Learning, Cambridge, 1935.
(13) Here and elsewhere, I am indebted for much information to The Demise of English Presbyterianism, 1660-1760 by James Spalding (published in Church History, March 1959.
(14) The Bishop of Rochester was sent to the Tower of London and then banished in 1723 for ‘sedition.’
(15) Brief Statement of the Regium Donum by the Trustees. Quoted by J.Waddington, op cit.
(16) T. Bradbury, Answers to Reproaches, etc.
(17) No one could seriously imagine that Watts was anything other than a staunch Trinitarian. His hymns alone refute any other opinion. For example:-
“Almighty God, to Thee
Be endless honours done;
The undivided Three
And the mysterious One.
Where reason fails with all her powers,
There faith prevails and love adores.”
Watts would have been well-advised to follow his own counsel and refrain from speculation.
(18) Isaac Watts, Humble Attempt towards the Revival of Practical Religion among Christians, 1730.
(19) Deists do not tend to believe in inspired revelation.
(20) Latitudinarianism is the belief that doctrine is of minor importance. It was popular among many Anglicans at this time, as indeed it seems to be today.
(21) Ryland wrote in his diary, “Foskett should have spared no pains to educate our Souls to Grandeur and to have enriched and impregnated them with great and generous Ideas of God in his whole Natural and Moral character, relations and actions to us and the Universe. This was thy business, thy duty, thy honour, O Foskett! And this thou didst totally neglect.”
(22) Quoted by Norman Moon in an article on Foskett’s successor, Caleb Evans in Baptist Quarterly No. 24 (1971-72).

[To be comtinued]



  1. Dear Martin,
    You have worked very hard on your overview leading to the Salters’ Hall disaster, especially concerning the aims and and aftermath of the conference itself. However you have painted a most lop-sided picture of the preliminaries leading up to it and prepared the reader for believing that the rationalistic philosophies that sought to destroy Baptist witness in 1719 were forged on the Anglican anvil of Charles II and the confusion of the Church of England in his day. You must however go back to at least to 1640 to trace the true cause of the downgrading. Indeed, all that you see starting at the Restitution and Restoration, was well under way during the Cromwellian regime. Charles II was hardly a hiccup in this downgrading as his peace plans were rejected by Parliament, as those of Charles I had been rejected, and Scotland, after crowning him, did the Brutus on him. He had thus little power to do anything. What he did through Leighton was well-done.

    Once the Presbyterians were thrown out of Parliament, Cromwell got down to some real reform in both civil and ecclesiastical affairs and especially began the reformation of education in the early fifties which was in a very shoddy state indeed. The Hartlib circle, including some 50 real Puritan leaders, told the Saints’ Parliament that they were educating atheists. However, though Cromwell was harsh with his enemies, witnessed by the Irish and Scottish massacres, he let much of the country go to rack and ruin and ruined also his diplomatic chances on the Continent where he had the reputation of being a King-Killer and an enemy of Protestants. This latter criticism, of course, was not true. However, when he died, there was great rejoicing amongst both Reformed and Lutheran Protestants throughout Europe except in Sweden and Switzerland.

    The Trouble really started with the Barebones Parliament or, as it was more officially called, the Saints Parliament, established in July 1653. It was manned by 125 members for England, five for Scotland and six from Ireland, all hand-picked by Cromwell as Commander-in-Chief of the army. During this Parliament, great reforms were demanded but none of them were accepted. Instead, the members, all saints, merely bickered and quarelled over external issues, none of which were designed to put England back on the Christian map. Finally, the MPs boycotted Parliament, and in December of the same year, Cromwell, a very different Cromwell, instigated the First Protectorate Parliament and shortly afterwards took on all the trimmings of a King, though he titled himself His Highness Lord Protector. He wore royal regalia and gallivanted around in the Royal Carriage. He let the country go to the dogs, threw expensive parties with a hundred musicians blowing their trumpets until five o’clock in the morning with Knees-Up-Mother-Brown mixed dancing. All reforms were forgotten, his faithful advisors and closest friends had their pensions withdrawn or invested in crazy schemes, the sects abounded as well as an all-too-free press, women took over the ministry in many churches, even being elected as Cromwell’s advisors and Cromwell crept into the pages of William Lilly’s Astrologist Bible instead of the Word of God. He shocked his main ally Sweden.

    My own opinion after studying his life from original mss is that he became senile and demented, with which we older folk are highly sympathetic. However, reading dirty plays became the hobby of ‘sane’ men like William Prynne, probably the first man to call himself officially a ‘Puritan,’ (see his Pack of Old Puritans against the Engagement acceptance of the ‘Old Protestants) who made his living by forging works against godly Church of England men of the Reformation. We cannot blame the Anglicans for all this worldliness. They were outlawed in 1643.

    Concerning the Five Mile Act. This was enforced by the Revolutionary, Republican Parliament against ‘Dissenters’, they being, at that time, Episcopalians. Parliament refused to give up acts which they had previously established. This is why they would not accept Charles II’s Edict of Toleration because the rebel Parliament did not wish for a united Protestant Church but, then they were dominated by Presbyterians who taught that the Church was where the Presbytery was as the Presbytery was the Church. (See Byfield’s (a friend of reform) WA minutes.

    Can you prove that Newton was a Deist? Boyle certainly was not but stood four-square in the Hooker-Bacon tradition that Nye, Owen and Thomas Goodwin followed and Milton to a more limited extent. Give me one Boyle with all his warts for any fifty of your Prynnes any day.
    Deism burst out during the early part of the Usurpation and centred in Oxford not Lambeth. Remember, the first Enlightenment work was not German Reimarus’ but Scottish Rutherford’s Lex Rex. The Latitudinarians that troubled Salter’s Hall were mostly influenced by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Genevan theologians and Baptists. Your example of Tillotson has the wrong background. He was one of the hundreds of turncoats who left the Rebels against the C of E to make a career in the Anglican church. Anyway, his duty-faith Latitudinarian teaching has become the backbone of very much dissenting and Fullerite preaching. I can name you twelve leading Reformed men you are Tillotsonarians. So, too, your 2,000 ejected ministers have no historical backing. It was they who REJECTED the Church of England for grounds made clear in the Savoy Conference. Presbyterians and Congregationalists said that it was better not to ally with the Anglicans as they hated each other more than the Anglicans and could not be in any church with each other. Most, however, also left for purely political reasons as the Rebellion had politisised the Dissenters. However, research this period and I shall shake your hand for every rejecter of the Church of England you find who you can number as the eight hundredth or more. And this number includes the Americans who merely came over to help out until peace reigned and then went back home. The way ani-Episcopalians forge the 2,000 list reminds me of the forged lists of the pope. Traditions are their to be invented! Now look at the alleged 10,000 Anglicans who were really and truly ejected from the Church of England ministry and the universities, colleges and schools. I shall shake your hand for any minister whom you find who is numbered 7,000 or less. Even leading Presbyterians and Baptists accept a higher figure.

    I could go on for a whole book. What do these people learn at school these days? May this serve as a brief check on dissenting speculation. I have not time for more but have more constructive and perhaps useful work to do
    Yours in Christ,


  2. Many thanks for this. I look forward to the continuation.

  3. Hello George
    Thanks for your comments. Just a few points.

    Firstly, I never said that either Newton or Boyle was a deist. What I said was, ‘ At the same time, the scientific discoveries of Newton, Boyle and others led many people to view the Universe as wholly mechanistic. Deism became the creed of many.’ I believe that to be wholly acurate. Newton himself was a six-day Creationist to the best of my knowledge.

    With regard to the situation surrounding the Civil War, I know that you have researched this very fully. However, I find it hard to believe that too many evangelicals of that time would have been harking back to the golden ante-bellum days of Archbishop Laud. With regard to the ejected ministers, I hardly think that giving up their livings for a life of persecution would have been a career move of choice for most of them. I note that the Vicar of my home village of Woodbury, Devon, a man by the name of Samuel Fones, was one of those ejected. He was forced upon the charity of his former parishoners, who eventually built a Dissenting Chapel at Gulliford to which they walked rather than listen to Fones’ replacement.

    As for the Barebones Parliament, did not Cromwell turf it out, declaring of its members, ‘Ye are a factious crew, and enemies of all good government ; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would, like Esau, sell your country for a mess of potage, and like Judas, betray your God for a few pieces of money’ and a few more choice insults besides? Your picture of Cromwell is at variance with that of d’Aubigne and also of modern historians that I have read, but I will not say you are wrong because I have not studied that period extensively.

    My purpose was not to deal with the Civil War, nor with what the Scots call ‘the Killing Times’ of Charles II and his brother; nor even with the Glorious Revolution, but to try to glean lessons for the Church of today from the early 17th Century.

    I would add as a Parthian shot that it is clear that there was a serious downgrade in Anglican theology in the early 18th Century by the fact that the evangelical preaching of Whitefield and Wesley led to them having most Anglican churches in London closed to them. Also, as you well know, the Anglicans Hervey and Toplady, when they wanted to learn evangelical theology, did not go to any Anglican minister but to Baptist John Gill.

  4. Dear Martin,

    Thank you for balancing off my response to your remarks concerning the Usurpation. Your reaffirmed link between Newton and Boyle; a mechanical universe which neither taught; and deism, still leaves me wondering why you associated the three. You mentioned Newton’s orthodox Christian position but I find Boyle’s even ‘straighter’. He was a member of the Petty France group and an associate of the Invisible Society, an evangelical group of scholars who eventually established the Royal Society and urged Parliament to reform the scandalous state of education during the Commonwealth period which was designed to promote Atheism. His associates were such as Gough, Usher, Hall, Morten, Bedell, Nye and Thomas Goodwin who kept orthodoxy and Practical Divinity going through the Presbyterian Counter-Reformation. He was also a close associate of the Irish Evangelicals and Milton who called the Presbyterian sect ‘worse than Trent’ and ‘Priests writ large’. Indeed Boyle’s, Durie’s and Hartlib’s ideas of a Christo-centric education based on Romans 16:27 placed before the Saint’s Parliament were rejected. Since the nineteen fifties, we have been presented with a view of the Commonwealth period which is totally unbalanced, particularly the picture of Cromwell: a product of Carlyle and Scott than the man who was open enough to want himself described ‘warts and all’. Our modern ‘Reformed’ view of Cromwell excuses his negative warts and does not get to his heart and soul. A negative example of what I mean is found in Hetherington’s History of the Westminster Assembly which is very much make-believe. Anyone saying he thought it ‘impractical’ to study the main sources cannot be taken seriously but modern ‘Reformed’ men seem to swear by the book. A much better picture is painted by Shaw in his two volumed work as he sticks to original sources and quotes them at length. If you have a book that describes the WA in secondary terms – throw it away. We have so many original documents from the period that secondary literature does more harm than good.

    Admittedly, William Laud was a lonely figure, courted mainly by bootlickers who gained ordination from him and his few clergy friends, but later rejected and murdered him. Nor did many of them seek re-ordination when they turned coat and became Presbyterians. Of course, Laud’s trial was a farce, built on an appeal to the mob because the court would not give their full backing to Prynne’s forgeries and lies. Look how he re-wrote Laud’s diary which he had stolen and suppressed and the letters of Laud’s friends and many a noble true Puritan. Note, too, how Laud defended many a Calvinist and sought for a pan-European Protestant Church to stand as a bulwark against Rome. Read his works against the Jesuits for a good piece of Protestant thinking. Read his prayers and praise which remind you of Lawrence Andrews and James Hervey. Note, also, that Laud was more tolerant to non-Anglican foreign churches in England than his ‘colleagues’ were in France, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. He had nothing against ordained Presbyterians serving in the Church of England where there was a need but the Presbyterians outlawed the Episcopalians. True, he was a sticker for a simple, orderly dress in the face of Presbyterian foreign fashions, which seems to be the main argument held against him. My writings declare that I am no friend of Laud’s but we should be balanced in interpreting history. I need not list his failings as you have made those evident already.

    The three Fownes who rejected the C of E cannot balance off the thousands of Anglicans who were persecuted intensely for merely using parts of the Prayer Book in their private devotions. It was not the King’s Edict of Toleration, nor the Church who bent over backwards to welcome back the split-offs, nor the Declaration of Indulgences which persecuted. It was Parliament who was for neither King nor Church, full of laws made during the Commonwealth period. I presume who have been reading Calamy here whose account is brief and an over-simplification for propaganda purposes. Besides, I can hardly place you amongst the Calamyites as you have denounced them elsewhere. Compared to his Anglican colleagues during the Commonwealth, Samuel did very well indeed.

    You cannot put a fictitious Laud on one ante-bellum pan of the scales and the whole host of saints on the other and say that the ante-bellum saints were less saintly. Any way, the Saints’ Parliament disproves that theory.

    Again, what you say of Cromwell’s reaction to the withdrawal of the Saints in Parliament is reading history backwards. Nobody was as wrathful as Cromwell when the members’ representatives sought him out privately and unannounced in his home to tell him that they were throwing in the towel. Of course Cromwell gave them a piece of his mind. They burst his political bubble and failed to prepare the way for his legally becoming Protector and for the Millennium. You gave the result, I gave the cause.

    D’Aubingne must be supplemented by Firth, Buchan, Fraser, Buchan, Ashley and the Dutch, Swedish and French authors. Switzerland was the only European country who supported Cromwell though thick and thin until he dropped them in 1656. All these biographers have interpreted their findings differently. Few have given primary material which I have used. May I suggest you consult Abbott’s Bibliography of Oliver Cromwell here, and especially the private and official journals of Cromwell’s courtiers and ambassadors and the state records. I cannot vouch for Antonia Fraser’s claim that Bulstrode Whitelocke wished to teach Queen Christina’s ladies-in-waiting to dance in the English fashion but I have Whitelocke’s word for it that he danced with the Queen herself and told her that dancing was not frowned on in Cromwell’s England. We have also records of Cromwell’s men holding balls at their homes and the revelries I mentioned last.

    You know I am a Gillite through and through so your parting shot has rebounded, I hope doing no damage. Whitefield found his fellowship with all who loved the Lord. I would have kept Wesley from my pulpit, too. His scepticism and private character appal me. Not that I am any better but I need good mentors in the faith.


  5. Hello George,
    I have no knowledge of Boyle’s exact theological position so I’m glad to hear from you that he was entirely orthodox. I( understand that one of the original principles of the Royal Society, of which Newton and Boyle were founder members was that all scientific discoveries are to the glory of God in that they reveal more of His power and wisdom.

    My original point about Boyle and Newton was not concerning their own Christian status, but rather that, through no fault of theirs, their discoveries led others to believe that the Universe was wholly mechanistic and that God was not therefore actively involved in His creation.

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