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Heresy, The Social Order, and English Deism

  • Roger L. Emerson (a1)


Two recent essays dealing with Deism and the religious environment from which it emerged in England have done something to correct accounts which emphasize the philosophic, scientific, or latitudinarian background of English Deism. I refer to Gerald C. Brauer's “Puritan Mysticism and the Development of Liberalism,” Church History, Vol. XIX (September, 1950), and to George L. Mosse's “Puritan Radicalism and the Enlightenment,” Church History, Vol. XXIX (December, 1960). Both articles argue that there were current in 17th century Puritanism elements which could lead to Deism and which “helped to prepare the English scene for the arrival and triumph of liberalism” and Deism.



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1. Braner, loe. cit., p. 161; cf. Bolt, Leo F., “Puritanism, Capitalism, Democracy, and the New Science,” American Historical Review, LXIII, No. 1 (10 1967), pp. 1827, for a discussion of other works touching on Puritanism and rationalism.

2. Cohn, Norman in The Pursuit of he Millenium (New York, 1961), has pointed out that many accounts of the Ranters and antinomians, even though written by their enemies, are reliable. Edwards and his friends, while they are bitter in their condemnations, seem to have reported the heresies without great distortions. Cf. Cohn, op. oit., Appendix: The “Free Rpirit” in Cromwell's Engiand, pp. 321–78, passim.

3. Henry More, the Cambridge Platonist, was not far from this way of thinking. In the introduction to the posthumously published translation of An Account of Virtue (1690) he notes that “Virtue, Grace and the Divine Life… they are all but one and the same thing.” Later (p. 7) he calls the “Boniform Faculty” one of “divine Composition and supernatural Texture.” In More's system it is a means by which we share in supreme goodness, just as Reason allows us to participate in “That Beason or Law eternai which is registered n the Mind Diuine” (p. 15). More, unlike the enthusiasts, never mistook his partial understanding, which must always be limited by man's faculties, for the absolute truth immediately given and completely intuited. His friend Arnie Conway who, like him, began with an interest in Plationism and Descartes, ended as a Quaker. Natural reason and the inner light were nearly the same for her in the end. Cf. Nicolson, M. H., Conway Letters, The Correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway (London, 1930).

4. E.g. Vicars, John (16041660), The Schismatick Sifted (1646); Cranford, James (1592–1657), Haereseo-Machia; Hodges, Thomas (fi. 1646), The Growth and Spreading of Heresie; Paggitt, Ephraim (1575–1647), Heresiographie (1645).

5. A Testirmony to the Truth of Jesus Christ, and to the Bolemn League and Covenant, 12. 14, 1647.

6. Ibid., pp. 8f.

7. Ibid., p. 15.

8. Ibid., p. 19; the works alluded to here are analyzed by Frank, Joseph in The Levellera (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 4044, and in Brailsford's, H. N.The Levellers and the English Revolution (London, 1961), pp. 4951, 6271, 379–90.

9. DNB, Paul Best; cf. MeLaelilan, H. T., Socinianisn in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 1951), PP. 150–60. DNB, John Biddle; Wilbur, E. M., A History of Unitaranism (Cambridge, 1952), pp. 193208; MeLachian, op. cit., pp. 90–3, 134–8, 165–87, 190–216; Whitelock, Bulatrode, Memorias of English Affairs from the Beginning of the Reign of Charles the First to the Happy Restoration of King Charles the Second (Oxford, 1953), II, 208ff; IV, 160.

10. DNB, Biokard Coppin.

11. Evelyn's, John reaction to these men is of interest, vide The History of Religion: A Rational Account of the True Religion (London, 1850), II, 245. Coppe's, A Fiery Flying Roil…with Another Flying Roll… (1649).

13. Ibid., pp. 366f.

14. Ibid., p. 378.

15. Muggleton, Ludowieke, A True Interpretation of All the Chief Texts and Mysterious Baying by Ludowi eke Muggleton, one of the two last commissioned Witnesses and Prophets of the onely high, immortal, glorious God, Jesus Christ (1655), p. 29.

16. Loc. cit. This develops into an argument against Quakers who have gained only the negative rational insight.

17. Winstanley, Gerrard, The Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. Sabine, G. H. (New York, 1965), p. 424; p. 141f: “They that will observe God's Ordinances, must walk in the light of pure Reason, or according to the command or example of Reason's Scriptures, in the very letter of them, without making inferences or constructions; for he that gives liberty to do so gives liberty to alter the Scriptures.”

18. Ibid., p.427.

19. Ibid., p. 66—from Sabine's introduction.

20. Ibid., p. 209.

21. Knox, R. N. discusses this development in Enthusiasm (New York, 1961), p. 151; cf. Tolles, P. B., Meeting House and Counting House (Durham, 1963) pp. 209211.

22. Fox, George, The Journal of George Fox, ed. Jones, R. M. (New York, 1963), p. 481.

23. Hickeringill, Edmund, The Vindications of the Character of Priestcraft, 2nd ed. (London, 1708), p. 8. For details on his life see DNB.

24. Hickeringill, Edmund, Priest-Cfaft, its Character and Consequences, Part II, 3rd ed. (London, 1708), p. 22.

25. Edmund, Hickeringill, The Ceremony Monger (Edinburgh, 1689), P. 44.

26. Hickeringill, Edmund, Priest-Craft, Part I, p. 2.

27. The Druids were a favorite example of John Toland. Cf. Toland's, A Collection of Several Pieces of Mr. Toland, I, 8.

28. Hickerinill, Edmund, The Black Nen-Conformist Discover' in More Naked Truth (London 1682). The introduction contains such passages as Truth is always prevalent and strongest at long run, if it be not smothered by an Inquisition or a Jayl…”

29. Hickeringill, Edmund, Vindication, p. 59. Cf. Hiekeringill's, Rehearsal Transposed (1673).

30. A recent essay by Frank, Joseph, “John Milton's Movement toward Déism” (Journal of British Studies, No. 1, 1961, pp. 3851) suggests that Milton's beliefs were drifting in a similar direction.

31. Supra note 15; Hailer, William (ed.), Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution 1638–1647 (New York, 1965), pp. 3854.

32. Ibid., p. 96f.

33. Cited by Hailer, loc. cit.

34. Gregg, Pauline, Free-born John: A Biography of John Litburne (London, 1961), p. 113.

35. Ashley, Maurice, Major Wildman (London, 1947), cf. pp. 911; Burnet, Gilbert, History of My Own Times, ed. Airy, O. (London, 1897), I, 172.

36. Cf. DNE, Henry Marten.

37. DNB, Edwand Sexby.

38. Brailsford, op. cit., Chapter 32.

39. Calvert supported the “good old cause” in both its religious and political forms.

40. Brailsford, loc. cit. Iris Morley seems to have believed that Monmouth's Rebellion marked the end of the Leveller influence, Cf. A Thousand Lives (London, 1954), pp. 101, 220. The Green Ribbon Club contained some members who were rationalists in religion as well as politics—but not lower class. Shaftesbury and Thomas Shadwell might be cited as examples.

41. Their late 17th and 18th century followers were predominantly deistie in outlook. Robbins', CarolineThe Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman (Cambridge, 1961), contains not only a list of republicans but also a nearly complete tally of the important deistic writers of the period.

42. Burnet, op. cit., p. 98f.

43. Apocalypsie was often bound with another widely circulated pamphlet by Ross, Pansebia or a View of all the Religions in the World (1653).

44. Bunyan, John, The Holy War (New York, 1905), p. 147.

45. Stephens, op. cit., pp. 68f.

46. Ibid., p. 18.

47. Ibid., p. 20.

48. Halyburton, Thomas, The Works of (Glasgow 1833), pp. 276281: in Halyburton's Works consist of several pieces published posthumously in 1714. His polemical work on Deism, , Natural Religion Insufficient, was probably written in 1705 or 1706 since it criticizes the Deism of Charles Gildon who ceased being a deist in 1705, publishing a recantation inspired by the writings of the “high-flyer” Charles Leslie.

49. “A Turncoat of the Times” (1661) set the pattern which others were to follow until their theme was classically expressed in “The Vicar of Bray,” (c. 1689), the usual version of which dates from the first year of the reign of George I.

50. Ward tended to make Deism a mark of republicanism and Leslie had no qualms about saying that: There is a set of Men amongst Us who are Visibly Driving on (whether themselves know it or not) the Ruin of these Nations; by setting up the Principles and carrying on the same Pretence, which began and at last c.ompleated the Bloody Revolution of Forty-One, with the Destruction of the Church, the King, and the Laws.” (Carsandra, p. 7). Among the principles Leslie ascribed to these men were the “radical power of the people,” balanced powers in the constitution, and religious views that were heretical. Evans', AbelThe Apparition (1710) also made Ned Ward's association of Deism with a club to celebrate the anniversary of the beheading of Charles I. In Evans'verses one of the poet's enemies is accused of admiration for “Democracy” and Milton is lumped together with Hobbes, Blount, Vanini, Spinoza, and Tindal as a deist.

51. Edwards, John, Some Thoughts Concerning the Several Causes and Occasions of Atheism (1695), p. 28. Among the causes he listed were the multiplication of sects which engenders doubts, “Cheats and Delusions,” and hypocrisy which is the result of the support given to religious impostors by the knowing. While he was too conservative a thinker to discriminate deists from atheists, the tone of hi arguments suggests that he has no real atheists in mind; the publication date marks out Blount and the Socinians as his likely targets—along with Jeremy Taylor, John Locke, and Arthur Bury (the Unitarian), who are mentioned by name. In tracing the causes of atheism he does seem to point to the Commonwealth and its “melancholiac excesses.”

52. Howe, John, The Living Temple, Part I (London, 1675), p. 222; Cudworth, Ralph, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678) (London, 1842), ed. Harrison, J., I, 267; Casaubon, Meric, Of Credulity and Incredulity (1668), p. 223. Cassubon's Treatise Concerning Enthusiasm and Of Credulity were sometimes bound together. One deals with the madness of the sectaries, the other with the response of “wits” to religious enthusiasm. Casaubon specifically mentions deists as among these wits (p. 223).

53. Vide Baxter, Richard, Appendix to the Reasons of the Christian Religion (1671); Stillingfleet, Edward, A Letter to a Deist (1677). Both men were conscious of the dependence of Deism on the Court and London wits, but Stillingfleet knew that it is the religion of men more sober than Rochester, Sedley, Etherege, and Savile.

54. Gordon, Thomas, A Vindication of the Quakere (1730), reprinted in A Cordial for Low Spirits, Vol. II (London, 1763).

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