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The Non-subscribers and Nonconformity
The writer of what is known as the “ Palmer," or the London Manuscript," in Dr. Williams's Library, supplies a considerable amount of information on the affairs of this period ; he says-“ As to those ministers who appeared against what they called imposition' in the Salters' Hall controversy—that is, against declaring their faith as to one article of Christianity only (though never offered as a term of communion or of exercising the ministerial office),—and strenuously defended the right of private judgment, it might reasonably have been expected that the cause of Nonconformity would have received from them considerable encouragement; especially that they themselves, by their own example and practice, would have kept steady to it; but it proved the reverse, for of those nonsubscribing gentlemen and such as had imbibed their principles, there have been at least twenty persons who called themselves dissenting ministers conformed to the Church of England since 1718; and, if the laity had travelled the same road in an equal proportion, that interest would have received a greater shock. And here it is worthy of remark, that those gentlemen, who could not digest an article of faith, are on a sudden so enlightened, as to be convinced that it is their duty to sign thirty-nine, while those ministers that could honestly subscribe an article have to a man kept steady to the dissenting interest."
Calamy, referring to the conformity of the non-subscribers, says, “This was, by many, apprehended to have an odd aspect, and not to be very consistent”; he gives a list of the conforming ministers. Historical Account, ii. 503-504, 506.
STATISTICS OF NONCONFORMITY IN LONDON, AND IN ENGLAND AND
WALES-ENGLISH PRESBYTERIANS TEND TOWARDS ARIANISM-
DISSENTING INTEREST”-STRICKLAND GOUGH's Pam
-His EXPLANATION THE DECAY-DODDRIDGE AND WATTS DISPUTE THE FACTS_REPLY TO HIS PAMPHLET-PROPOSED REMEDIES—ABRAHAM TAYLOR ON SPIRITUAL DECLINEWATTS ON THE DECAY OF PRACTICAL RELIGION-REVIVAL OF SPIRITUAL LIFE—The King's HEAD SOCIETY-ITS ACADEMYFUND BOARD ACADEMY IN WESTERN ENGLAND-NORTHERN EDUCATION SOCIETY-ACADEMY AT HECKMONDWHIKE_SUNDAY EVENING SERVICES—CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES TOUCHED BY THE METHODIST REVIVAL.
known to be in existence illustrating the external growth or decay of Dissent in the country generally during the reign of George I. But in the Palmer MS., in Dr. Williams's Library, it is said that in
1 This document—to which reference has already been made (p. 539) -is dated Feb. 24, 1731-2 ; it was deposited in the Library by the Rev. Samuel Palmer, Feb. 13, 1800. The writer was a Nonconformist, “ who came from Northampton to reside in London.” The author entitles his sketch, A View of the Dissenting Interest in London of the Presbyterian and Independent Denominations from the year 1695 to the 25th of December, 1731 ; with a postscript of the present state of the Baptists. He deals with all the Churches of those orders in the City of London and the Bills of Mortality, and gives a detailed account of each with its ministers. It not always possible to reconcile the lists that he gives with his statistics ; but in cases of discrepancy his definite statements have been accepted.
1731—three years after the accession of George II.—the number of Presbyterian and Independent meeting-houses in London was 58,2 an increase of only one since 1695 ; 29 of them, however, had been enlarged or rebuilt, so as to accommodate 4,000 additional persons. Of the congregations 14 are said to have increased ; 15 to have declined ; and 20 had remained nearly as they were, five-and-thirty years before ; 12 congregations had become extinct; and 10 new congregations had been formed. The writer concludes that the number of Dissenters in London had not diminished, but had, perhaps, increased. The increase, however, had not corresponded to the increase of the population, which he estimates at about one-sixth.
An account of the Dissenting congregations in England and Wales, drawn up in 1772 by Josiah Thompson, a Baptist minister, probably shows with approximate accuracy the number that existed at the death of George II. in 1760. In England there were 1,092 congregations, of which 390 were Baptist and 702 Presbyterian and Independent. The numerical superiority of the Presbyterians had, however, by this time been lost ; it is probable that considerably more than half of the 702 congregations—perhaps 380—were Independent, and that most of the Independent congregations were larger than the Presbyterian. But the original contrast between the two denominations remained. Hereditary wealth and education were still with the Presbyterians ; Independents, generally, belonged to an inferior social rank.3
From the time of the Salters' Hall Controversy it became apparent that the Presbyterian ministers, and many of their Churches, were drifting fast into Arianism ; and from Arianism they went on to what was called Socinianism. In London, in Lancashire, in Cheshire, and throughout the West of England, minister after minister and Church after Church were swept away by the current. Here and there a Congregational
2 In 1695 there were 57, but the number of congregations was 60 : six congregations met in three meeting-houses.
3 Bogue and Bennett, History of Dissenters, iii. 329-330.
minister of a Congregational Church went with the stream. James Foster-one of the most famous preachers of those days—had received a large part of the theology of Socinus before he accepted in 1744 the pastorate of the historic Congregational Church that met in Pinners' Hall. He was succeeded in 1753 by Caleb Fleming, an avowed Socinian; at Fleming's death, in 1778, the Church ceased to exist."
But the great majority both of the Congregational ministers and of the Congregational Churches held fast to the Trinitarian faith. The principal cause of the difference between the fortunes of the two denominations lies in their polity. The Presbyterians trusted the management of their affairs to persons for whose religious life there was no guarantee—to trustees, subscribers, or seat-holders ; among the Independents the Church, consisting of those who had declared their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who had been received into communion on giving evidence that their faith was a real spiritual force and not a mere tradition, elected and, in extreme cases, dismissed the pastor. Evangelical doctrine in the preaching of the minister was secured by the presence of evangelical life in the people.
In many ways the departure of the Presbyterians from the evangelical faith contributed to the strength of the Independents. Sometimes, when an Arian was appointed to a Presbyterian pulpit, those of the people who held fast to the creed of their fathers joined the Independent congregation that was nearest to them. Sometimes the seceders founded a new Independent Church. In some cases, where a Presbyterian congregation had become almost extinct, an Independent Church was allowed to take possession of the meeting-house.
When a Presbyterian pulpit became vacant, and the majority of the subscribers or of the trustees were evangelical ; they were obliged, in order to obtain an evangelical minister, to send to one of the Independent Academies ; and with an
Let modest Foster, if he will, excel
Pope, Epilogue to the Satires, Dialogue I. See Wilson, Dissenting Churches, ii. 270-283, and the verses quoted by Stoughton, vi. 86–87, note.
6 Wilson, Dissenting Churches, ii. 283–289.
Independent minister, the congregation gradually came to accept the Independent polity.
The following figures taken from the Palmer MS.6 show the doctrinal position of the London ministers belonging to the principal Dissenting denominations in 1730 :
But though most of the Independents held fast to the Calvinistic faith, they were not wholly untouched by the rationalising spirit of their time. Thomas Bradbury, of Fetter Lane, was as robust, as fearless, as uncompromising, in his theology as in his politics. In Philip Doddridge, on the other hand, there is an illustration of the influence produced by the atmosphere of the age on the dogmatic attitude of a man whose religious life was deep and earnest, and whose creed in its substance was identical with that of the great Independents of the Commonwealth.10
6 See above, p. 540, note 1.
7 In the technical language of our own time, the “ Baxterians would be described as forming the Broad Church section of the Presbyterian denomination.
8 "Do not deserve any particular remark,” Palmer MS., f. 92. Skeats, Free Churches, 335, note, describes them as disorderly.” Skeats, it should be noticed, treats the list as if it referred to Churches ; but it refers to ministers.
9 One of these was Foster-afterwards minister of the Congregational Church in Pinners' Hall.
10 Whether it can be accurately said that Doddridge's creed was in its substance identical with that of the great Independents of the Commonwealth may be disputed. On one or two points there were