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The Testimony of the Spirit, the Decline of Calvinism, and the Origins of Restoration Rational Religion



The mid-seventeenth century turn to moralism in English Protestant theology – exemplified here by ‘Ignorance’ in Bunyan's Pilgrim's progress – involved a clear rejection of the Calvinistic doctrine of the ‘internal testimony’ of Scripture. The upshot was the emergence of a religious impulse that emphasised the salience of a ‘rational account’ of Scripture's credibility. The shift is conventionally traced through Richard Hooker, William Chillingworth and the Cambridge Platonists. Hooker was, however, more Calvinist and Chillingworth more Laudian than has been recognised. The Cambridge Platonists and their ‘latitudinarian’ successors emerged from and were shaped by puritan culture.


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1 Bunyan, John, The pilgrim's progress from this world to that which is to come, London 1678 (Wing B.5557), 162.

2 See for instance the views attributed to ‘Asunetos’ (described on p.1 as ‘an ignorant man’) in Dent, Arthur, A plaine man's path-way to heaven, London 1601 (RSTC 6626), 1819. For Bunyan's familiarity with Dent see his Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, London 1666 (Wing B.5523), 4.

3 Bunyan, Pilgrim's progress, 204.

4 Idem, Grace abounding, 10.

5 Idem, Pilgrim's progress, 205.

6 ‘erit scilicet Justificatio ex operibus, quanquam sine operum merito … hoc praecipuum [est], & omnium maxime populare Adversariorum latibulum’: Tully, Thomas, Justificatio Paulina, Oxford 1674 (Wing T.3244), 44.

7 Quoted in Bunyan, John, A defence of the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ, London 1672 (Wing B.5507), 113.

8 For the classic exposition of this point see Allison, C. F., The rise of moralism: the proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter, New York 1966.

9 Bunyan, Pilgrim's progress, 206.

11 Ibid. 207.

12 Idem, Grace abounding, 33.

13 On the emergence of the concept see van den Belt, Henk, The authority of Scripture in Reformed theology: truth and trust, Leiden 2008. The fullest English discussion is Whitaker, William, Disputatio de sacra scriptura, London 1588 (RSTC 25366). For a semi-popular English-language account from Bunyan‘s generation see Ford, Thomas, Logos autopistos: or, Scriptures self-evidence, London 1667 (Wing F.1514).

14 Calvin, Jean, Institutio Christianae Religionis, Geneva 1559, bk i, ch. vii, para. 5.

15 Owen, John, Of the divine originall, authority, self-evidencing light and power of the Scripture, Oxford 1659 (Wing O.784), 90–1.

16 Bunyan, John, A vindication of the book called, some gospel-truths opened, London 1657 (Wing B.5606), 38.

17 Owen, John, The reason of faith, London 1677 (Wing 0.801), 2.

18 Ibid. 114.

19 Ibid. 171.

20 Ibid. 146–7.

21 Ibid. 90.

22 Ibid. 81.

23 Bunyan, Pilgrim's progress, 209.

24 Ibid. 232.

25 For a sense of the stability of the standard narrative, compare the chapter structure of Tulloch, John, Rational theology and Christian philosophy in England in the seventeenth century, Edinburgh 1872, with that of, for example, Beiser, F. C., The sovereignty of reason: the defense of rationality in the early English Enlightenment, Princeton 1996.

26 The Folger Library edition of the works of Richard Hooker, ed. Speed Hill, W., Cambridge, Ma 1977–98, v. 236.

28 Ibid. v. 70.

31 Ibid. v. 70–1.

32 Ibid. v. 71.

33 Ibid. v. 76.

34 Ibid. v. 71–2.

35 Ibid. v. 71.

36 Ibid. iv. 163.

37 Ibid. i. 231.

40 Ibid. i. 177.

41 Ibid. i. 179.

42 Ibid. i. 231.

43 Ibid. i. 232.

44 Ibid. iv. 108–9.

45 Covell, William, A just and temperate defence of the five books of ecclesiastical policie, London 1603 (RSTC 5881), 27, 29 (wrongly paginated 29, 25). For another view see Quantin, Jean-Louis, The Church of England and Christian antiquity: the construction of a confessional identity in the 17th century, Oxford 2009, 93–4.

46 Hooker, Works, i. 232–3.

47 Ibid. i. 232.

48 Laud, William, A relation of the conference between William Lawd … and Mr Fisher the Jesuite, London 1639 (RSTC 15298), 81.

49 Ibid. 81–2.

50 Ibid. 82.

51 Ibid. 80.

52 Ibid. 85.

53 Ibid. 80.

54 Ibid. 89.

55 On this see Cromartie, Alan, ‘The mind of William Laud’, in Prior, Charles W. A. and Burgess, Glenn (eds), England's wars of religion, revisited, Farnham 2011, 75100.

56 Chillingworth, William, The religion of Protestants a safe way to salvation, Oxford 1638 (RSTC 5138), 37.

57 Ibid. preface, section 2.

58 Ibid. 92.

59 Ibid. 54.

60 Ibid. 53.

61 Ibid. preface, sections 20–6.

62 On Chillingworth's motives for converting and also (probably) for re-converting see the important clarification by Quantin, Christian antiquity, 213–15. The question of the degree of weight that Chillingworth attributed to the Fathers is connected with the question of the relationship between his Religion of Protestants and his close friend Viscount Falkland's ‘A discourse of infallibility’, elaborately defended in Falkland, A discourse of infallibility with an answer to it: and his lordship's reply, London 1651 (Wing F.317). For apparent concessions of the utility of patristic study see Falkland, Discourse, sig. cv and p. 180. Falkland's attitudes were probably affected by his appeal to the early Fathers to give respectability to his Arminianism: Discourse, sig. c2v and pp. 108–9; Quantin, Christian antiquity, 218.

63 Maizeaux, Pierre Des, An historical and critical account of the life and writings of William Chillingworth, London 1725, 8.

64 Warren Chernaik, ‘Chillingworth, William’, ODNB, <>.

65 Mortimer, Sarah, Reason and religion in the English revolution: the challenge of Socinianism, Cambridge 2010, 68.

66 ‘Si veritatem disciplinae Christi ita omnibus manifestam esse volumus, ut oculis cerni, manibusque contrectari possit’: Joannes Volkelius, De vera religione libri quinque, Racoviae 1630, bk v, p. 377.

67 Chillingworth, Religion, preface, section 13.

69 Ibid. 85.

70 Ibid. 376.

71 Ibid. 379.

72 The Chillingworthian argument of Richard Baxter appeals exclusively to miracles: Addition to the saints everlasting rest, to be put before the first part, London 1651 (Wing B.1180B).

73 Chillingworth, Religion, 69.

74 Ibid. 63.

75 Laud, Relation, 81.

76 For acute remarks on Hammond's efforts to minimise the implications of Chillingworth's ideas see Quantin, Christian antiquity, 269–73. It is notable that Hammond's principal contribution to this debate took the form of a defence of the more patristically-minded Falkland: Hammond, Henry, A view of some exceptions which have been made by a Romanist to the Lord Viscount Falkland's Discourse of the infallibilitie of the Church of Rome, Oxford 1646 (Wing H.609).

77 Pearson, John, An exposition of the creed, London 1659 (Wing P.995), 79.

78 For their own account of what followed see Querela Cantabrigiensis, Cambridge 1647 (Wing B.1010).

79 The best introduction is still the preface to ‘Eight letters of Anthony Tuckney, and Dr Benjamin Whichcote’, printed as an appendix to Whichcote, Benjamin, Moral and religious aphorisms, ed. Salter, Samuel, London 1753.

80 The works of Symon Patrick, ed. Alexander Taylor, Oxford 1858, ix. 419.

81 Patrick Collinson, ‘Tuckney, Anthony’, ODNB, <>.

82 Whichcote, ‘Letters’, 37.

83 For a very public statement, addressed to a conservative but puritan House of Commons see Cudworth, Ralph, A sermon preached before the honourable House of Commons, Cambridge 1647 (Wing C.7469).

84 Whichcote, Letters’, 9n.

85 Ibid. 2.

86 Ibid. 38.

87 Ibid. 54.

88 Ibid. 24–5.

89 Ibid. 12.

90 Ibid. 115.

91 Ibid. 116.

92 Ibid. 48.

93 Ibid. 110.

94 Ibid. 111–12.

95 Burnet, Gilbert, A sermon preached at the funeral of the most reverend father in God John lord archbishop of Canterbury, London 1694 (Wing B.5902), 11.

96 For Tillotson's debt to Stillingfleet see Tillotson, John, The rule of faith, London 1666 (Wing T.1218), sig. A3.

97 In the first edition of his Irenicum, London 1660 (Wing S.5596), when he was rector of Sutton (a benefice to which he was appointed by the presbyterian Sir Roger Burgoyne). For unkind contemporary comment on his later change of heart see Barret, John, The rector of Sutton committed with the dean of St Paul's, London 1680 (Wing B.910A), and Alsop, Vincent, A reply to the reverend dean of St Paul's reflections on the rector of Sutton, London 1681 (Wing B.2919).

98 Stillingfleet, Origines sacrae, 250–1.

99 Ibid. 247. Contrast Chillingworth's appeal to ‘the highest degree of probability’: Religion, 224.

100 Stillingfleet, Origines sacrae, 246.

101 Idem, A rational account of the grounds of Protestant religion, London 1665 (Wing S.5624), 202–34.

102 For a useful list of names see John Spurr, ‘“Latitudinarianism” and the Restoration Church’, HJ xxxi (1988), 69. Spurr's article is a fine account of how they presented themselves, neglecting (as they did themselves) their godly origins.

103 Patrick, Works, ix. 432. For helpful remarks on the use of the term ‘Presbyterian’ see Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs: the entring book of Roger Morrice, 1677–91, ed. Mark Goldie, Woodbridge 2009, i. 149–61.

104 Confusingly, some of them favoured frequent communion (Spurr, ‘Latitudinarianism’, 179), but this was a mark of their retreat from Calvin's theory of ‘spiritual presence’, in part under the influence of Cudworth's A discourse concerning the true nature of the Lord's Supper, London 1642 (Wing C.7466), described by Joseph Glanvill as identifying ‘the genuine notion of the Sacrament’: Cope, J. I., ‘“The Cupri-Cosmits”: Glanvill on latitudinarian anti-enthusiasm’, Huntington Library Quarterly xvii (1954), 274. Frequent reception was desirable precisely because the object of the communion service was barely distinct from psychological reinforcement.

105 It is instructive to read through the twenty accounts of sermons that were preached by Tillotson in The diary of John Evelyn, ed. E. S. De Beer, Oxford 1955, iv, v. When Pepys first heard a sermon by Edward Stillingfleet, he found himself astonished by its religious power: ‘the most plain, honest, good, grave sermon, in the most unconcerned and easy yet substantial manner, that ever I heard in my life’: The diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Roger Latham, London 1970–83, vi. 87. He later devoted a day with a friend to ‘reading and discoursing over part of Mr Stillingfleete's Origines sacrae, wherein many things are very good – and some frivolous’ (vi. 297).

106 Spurr, ‘Latitudinarianism’, 62–4.

107 Noted in ODNB. Barlow's copy is the one available on Early English Books Online.

108 Fowler, Edward, The principles and practices of certain moderate divines of the Church of England (greatly misunderstood) truly represented and defended, London 1670 (Wing F.1711), 166.

109 Ibid. 55.

110 Idem, The design of Christianity, London 1671 (Wing F.1698), 137.

111 Bunyan, Defence, 13. This is the implied accusation that Ignorance responds to at n. 4 above.

112 Ibid. 109.

113 Ibid. 7.

114 Ibid. 111.

115 Ibid. 91.

116 Ibid. 73.

117 Baxter, Richard, How far holinesse is the design of Christianity, London 1671 (Wing B.1282); Keeble, N. H. and Nuttall, G. F., A calendar of the correspondence of Richard Baxter, Oxford 1991, ii. 116–17, 122–3, 124.

118 For these biographical details see John Spurr, ‘Fowler, Edward’, ODNB, < >.

119 [Fowler, Edward], An answer to the paper delivered by Mr Ashton at his execution, London 1690 (Wing F.1695), 23. For the same position with some differences of emphasis see also [Fowler, Edward], A vindication of the divines of the Church of England, who have sworn allegiance to K.William and Q.Mary, London 1689 (Wing F.1728).

120 Locke, John, An essay concerning human understanding, ed. Nidditch, Peter, Oxford 1975, 698.

121 Fowler, Edward, Reflections on a letter concerning enthusiasm, London 1709, 61.

122 This bears upon the prominence of latitudinarians in Royal Society science detected, for example, by Shapiro, Barbara: ‘Science, politics, and religion’, P&P no. 66 (Feb. 1975), 133–8.

123 Dirt wip't off: or, A manifest discovery of the gross ignorance, erroneousness, and most unchristian and wicked spirit of one John Bunyan, London 1672 (Wing F.1701).

The Testimony of the Spirit, the Decline of Calvinism, and the Origins of Restoration Rational Religion



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