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‘The Soul–Sleeping System’; Politics and Heresy in Eighteenth–Century England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 February 2009


Historians of eighteenth–century England have begun to reassess its relationship with the preceding century, creating in the process the now conventional periodisation of a ‘long eighteenth century’ from c. 1660 to 1832. Historical revisionism, however, needs constantly to be revised, and there remains the danger of creating too sharp a separation between this period and that which preceded it. This article aims to introduce just such a complicating factor by linking the turbulent theologies of the 1640s and 1650s with a particular strand of eighteenth century religious thought. This might be described as the legacy of ultra-Protestantism, the insistence on the priority of private judgement and the supremacy of Scripture which were allied with a suspicion of clericalism. Its survival among an articulate and academically well-placed group of eighteenth-century Anglican divines demonstrates that the attempt by the Restoration Church of England to distance itself from ultra-Protestantism was not uniformly successful; the problem of ‘heresy’ continued into a period of Anglican history more usually associated with comfortable doctrinal latitude.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1994

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I should like to thank the British Academy for its generous award of a postdoctoral fellowship. I am grateful to Mishtooni Bose, Scott Mandlebrote, Geoffrey Rowell, John Walsh and the referees for the JOURNAL for their comments and criticism.

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39 Ibid. xv. 241–9.

40 Ibid. xvi. 121–3, 371–5.

41 Ibid. xvi. ch. xxvii.

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56 Daniel Whitby, ‘Appendix to 2 Thessalonians, shewing that the endless miseries or torments of the wicked are well consistent, both with the justice, and the goodness of God’, in his A paraphrase and commentary on The New Testament, London 1703, ii. 418–28; George Whitefield, The eternity of hell torments, London 1738; William Whiston, The eternity of hell torments considered: or, a collection of texts of Scripture, and testimonies of the three first centuries, relating to them, London 1740; William Dodwell, The eternity of future punishment asserted and vindicated: in answer to Mr. Whiston's late treatise on that subject, Oxford 1743. More generally see D. P. Walker, The decline of hell: seventeenth-century discussions of eternal punishment, Chicago 1964, and Paul C. Davies, ‘The debate on eternal punishment in late seventeenthand eighteenth–century English literature’, Eighteenth–Century Studies iv (1970–1), 257–76.

57 The Gentleman's Magazine xxiv (1754), 518; xxvi (1756), 16–17, 173–6.

58 David Hartley, Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations, London 1749, ii. 382‐403.

59 Peter Stephen Goddard, The intermediate state of happiness or misery between death and the resurrection, proved from Scripture, London 1756.

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61 Thomas Morton, Queries addressed to the Reverend Doctor Law arch-deacon of Carlisle and Master of St. Peter's College in Cambridge: relative to what he has advanced on the soul of men, and a separate state: with a few remarks on the Reverend Mr. Peckard's observations on the doctrine of an intermediate state, Lincoln 1757, 1, 5–9.

62 Ibid. 45–6, 49–56.

63 Daniel Sturmy, Discourses on several subjects, but principally on the separate state of souls, Cambridge 1716; Morton, Queries, 38–9; Thomas Seeker, Lectures on the catechism of the Church of England, 2nd edn, London 1769, i. lecture 16, pp. 247–64. Cf. John Wesley's critique of Law in The good steward: a sermon, London 1769.

64 Blackburne, Short View, pp. xxxix, lx.

65 Ibid. 335, 342.