Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index

High Churchmanship, as it was commonly understood in Queen Anne's reign, did not possess many attractive features. Its nobler and more spiritual elements were sadly obscured amid the angry strife of party warfare, and all that was hard, or worldly, or intolerant in it was thrust into exaggerated prominence. Indeed, the very terms 'High' and 'Low' Church must have become odious in the ears of good men who heard them bandied to and fro like the merest watchwords of political faction.

It is a relief to turn from the noise and virulence with which so-called Church principles were contested in Parliament and Convocation, in lampoons and pamphlets, in taverns and coffee-houses, from Harley and Bolingbroke, from Swift, Atterbury, and Sacheverell, to a set of High Churchmen, belonging rather to the former than to the existing generation, whose names were not mixed up with these contentions, and whose pure and primitive piety did honour to the Church which had nurtured such faithful and worthy sons. If, at the opening of the eighteenth century, the English Church derived its chief lustre from the eminent qualities of some of the Broad Church bishops, it must not be forgotten that it was also adorned with the virtues of men of a very different order of thought, as represented by Ken and Nelson, Bull and Beveridge. Some of them, it is true, had been unable to take the oaths to the recently established Government, and were therefore, as by a kind of accident, excluded, if not from the services, at all events from the ministry of the National Church. But none as yet ventured to deny that, saving the question of political allegiance, they were thoroughly loyal alike to its doctrine and its order.

It is proposed in this chapter to make Robert Nelson the central figure, and to group around him some of the most distinguished of his Juror and Nonjuror friends. A special charm lingers around the memory of Bishop Ken, but his name can scarcely be made prominent in any sketch which deals only with the eighteenth century. He lived indeed through its first decade, but his active life was over before it began. Nelson, on the other hand, though he survived him by only four years, took an active part throughout Queen Anne's reign in every scheme of Church enterprise. He was a link, too, between those who accepted and those who declined the oaths. Even as a member of the Nonjuring communion he was intimately associated with many leading Churchmen of the Establishment; and when, to his great gratification, he felt that he could again with an easy conscience attend the services of his parish church, the ever-widening gap that had begun to open was in his case no hindrance to familiar intercourse with his old Nonjuring friends.

Greatly as Robert Nelson was respected and admired by his contemporaries, no complete record of his life was published until the present century. His friend Dr. Francis Lee, author of the 'Life of Kettlewell,' had taken the work on hand, but was prevented by death from carrying it out. There are now, however, three or four biographies of him, especially the full and interesting memoir published in 1860 by Mr. Secretan. It is needless, therefore, to go over ground which has already been completely traversed; a few notes only of the chief dates and incidents of his life may be sufficient to introduce the subject.

Robert Nelson was born in 1656. In his early boyhood he was at St. Paul's School, but the greater part of his education was received under the guidance of Mr. Bull, afterwards Bishop of St. Davids, by whose life and teaching he was profoundly influenced. The biography of his distinguished tutor occupied the labour of his last years, and was no doubt a grateful offering to the memory of a man to whom he owed many of his best impressions. About 1679 he went to London, where he became intimate with Tillotson, then Dean of Canterbury. In later years this intimacy was somewhat interrupted by great divergence of views on theological and ecclesiastical subjects; but a strong feeling of mutual respect remained, and, in his last illness, Tillotson was nursed by his friend with the most affectionate love, and died in his arms. In 1680 Nelson went to France with Halley, his old schoolfellow and fellow member of the Royal Society, and during their journey watched with his friend the celebrated comet which bears Halley's name. While in Paris he received the offer of a place in Charles II.'s Court, but took the advice of Tillotson, who said he should be glad 'if England were so happy as that the Court might be a fit place for him to live in.'[1] He therefore declined the offer, and travelled on to Rome, where he made the acquaintance of Lady Theophila Lucy and married her the next year. It was no light trouble to him that on their return to London she avowed herself a Romanist. Cardinal Howard at Rome, and Bossuet at Paris, had gained her over to their faith, and with the ardour of a proselyte she even entered, on the Roman side, into the great controversy of the day. Robert Nelson himself was entirely unaffected by the current which just at this time seemed to have set in in favour of Rome. He maintained, indeed, a cordial friendship with Bossuet, but was not shaken by his arguments, and in 1688 published, as his first work, a treatise against transubstantiation. Though controversy was little to his taste, these were times when men of earnest conviction could scarcely avoid engaging in it.[2] Nelson valued the name of Protestant next only to that of Catholic, and was therefore drawn almost necessarily into taking some part in the last great dispute with Rome.[3] But polemics would be deprived of their gall of bitterness if combatants joined in the strife with as much charity and generosity of feeling as he did.[4]


From the first Nelson felt himself unable to transfer his allegiance to the new Government. The only question in his mind was whether he could consistently join in Church services in which public prayers were offered in behalf of a prince whose claims he utterly repudiated. He consulted Archbishop Tillotson on the point; and his old friend answered with all candour that if his opinions were so decided that he was verily persuaded such a prayer was sinful, there could be no doubt as to what he should do. Upon this he at once joined the Nonjuring communion. He remained in it for nearly twenty years, on terms of cordial intimacy with most of its chief leaders. When, however, in 1709, Lloyd, the deprived Bishop of Norwich, died, Nelson wrote to Ken, now the sole survivor of the Nonjuring bishops, and asked whether he claimed his allegiance to him as his rightful spiritual father. As regards the State prayers, time had modified his views. He retained his Jacobite principles, but considered that non-concurrence in certain petitions in the service did not necessitate a prolonged breach of Church unity. Ken, who had welcomed the accession of his friend Hooper to the see of Bath and Wells, and who no longer subscribed himself under his old episcopal title, gave a glad consent, for he also longed to see the schism healed. Nelson accordingly, with Dodwell and other moderate Nonjurors, rejoined the communion of the National Church.

It is much to Robert Nelson's honour that in an age of strong party animosities he never suffered his political predilections to stand in the way of union for any benevolent purpose. He had taken an active interest in the religious associations of young men which sprang up in London and other towns and villages about 1678, a time when the zeal of many attached members of the Church of England was quickened by the dangers which were besetting it. A few years later, when 'Societies for the Reformation of Manners' were formed, to check the immorality and profaneness which was gaining alarming ground, he gave his hearty co-operation both to Churchmen and Dissenters in a movement which he held essential to the welfare of the country. Although a Jacobite and Nonjuror, he was enrolled, with not a few of the most distinguished Churchmen of the day, among the earliest members of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge at its formation in 1699; and long before his re-entering into the Established communion we find him not only a constant attendant, but sometimes chairman at its weekly meetings. He took a leading part in the organisation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in 1701, and sat at its board in friendly conference with Burnet and many another whose very names were odious to his Nonjuring friends. And great as his disappointment must have been at the frustration of Jacobite hopes in the quiet accession of George I., the interest and honourable pride which he felt in the London charity schools so far triumphed over his political prejudices that he found pleasure in marshalling four thousand of the children to witness the new sovereign's entry, and to greet him with the psalm which bids the King rejoice in the strength of the Lord and be exceeding glad in His salvation.

In such works as these--to which must be added his labours as a commissioner in 1710 for the erection of new churches in London, his efforts for the promotion of parochial and circulating clerical libraries throughout the kingdom, for advancing Christian teaching in grammar schools, for improving prisons, for giving help to French Protestants in London and Eastern Christians in Armenia--Robert Nelson found abundant scope for the beneficent energies of his public life. The undertakings he carried out were but a few of the projects which engaged his thoughts. If we cast our eyes over the proposed institutions which he commended to the notice of the influential and the rich, it is surprising to see in how many directions he anticipated the philanthropical ideas of the age in which we live. Ophthalmic and consumptive hospitals, and hospitals for the incurable; ragged schools; penitentiaries; homes for destitute infants; associations of gentlewomen for charitable and religious purposes; theological, training, and missionary colleges; houses for temporary religious retirement and retreat--such were some of the designs which, had he lived a few years longer, he would certainly have attempted to carry into execution.[5]

He was no less active with his pen in efforts aimed at infusing an earnest spirit of practical piety, and bringing home to men's thoughts an appreciative feeling of the value of Church ordinances. He published his 'Practice of True Devotion' in 1698, an excellent work, which attracted little attention when it first came out, but reached at least its twenty-second edition before the next century was completed. His treatise on the 'Christian Sacrifice' appeared in 1706, his 'Life of Bishop Bull' in 1713; but it is by his 'Festivals and Fasts' that his name has been made familiar to every succeeding generation of Churchmen. Its catechetical form, and the somewhat formal composure of its style, did not strike past readers as defects. It certainly was in high favour among English Churchmen generally. Dr. Johnson said of it in 1776 that he understood it to have the greatest sale of any book ever printed in England except the Bible.[6] In the first four years and a half after its issue from the press more than 10,000 copies were printed.[7]


Robert Nelson died in the January of 1715, a man so universally esteemed that it would be probably impossible to find his name connected in any writer with a single word of disparagement. It would be folly to speak of one thus distinguished by singular personal qualities as if he were, to any great extent, representative of a class. If the Church of England had been adorned during Queen Anne's reign by many such men, it could never have been said of it that it failed to take advantage of the signal opportunities then placed within its reach. Yet his views on all Church questions, and many of the characteristic features of his character, were shared by many of his friends both in the Established Church and among the Nonjurors. He survived almost all of them, so that with him the type seemed nearly to pass away for a length of time, as if the spiritual atmosphere of the eighteenth century were uncongenial to it. His younger acquaintances in the Nonjuring body, however sincere and generous in temperament, were men of a different order. It was but natural that, as the schism became more pronounced and Jacobite hopes more desperate, the Church views of a dwindling minority should become continually narrower, and lose more and more of those larger sympathies which can scarcely be altogether absent in any section of a great national Church.

First in order among Nelson's friends--not in intimacy, but in the affectionate honour with which he always remembered him--must be mentioned Bishop Ken. He was living in retirement at Longleat; but Nelson must have frequently met him at the house of their common friend Mr. Cherry of Shottisbrooke,[8] and they occasionally corresponded. Nelson may have been the more practical, Ken the more meditative. The one was still in the full vigour of his benevolent activity while the other was waiting for rest, and soothing with sacred song the pains which told of coming dissolution. In his own words, to 'contemplate, hymn, love, joy, obey,' was the tranquil task which chiefly remained for him on earth. But they were congenial in their whole tone of thought. Their views on the disputed questions of the day very nearly coincided. Nelson, as might be expected of a layman who throughout his life had seen much of good men of all opinions, was the more tolerant; but both were kindly and charitable towards those from whom they most differed, and both were attached with such deep loyalty of love to the Church in whose bosom they had been nurtured that they desired nothing more than to see what they believed to be its genuine principles fully carried out, and could neither sympathise with nor understand religious feelings which looked elsewhere for satisfaction. Both were unaffectedly devout, without the least tinge of moroseness or gloom. Nelson specially delighted in Ken's morning, evening, and midnight hymns. He entreated his readers to charge their memory with them. 'The daily repeating of them will make you perfect in them, and the good fruit of them will abide with you all your days.'[9] He subjoined them to his 'Practice of True Devotion;' and Samuel Wesley tells us that he personally knew how much he delighted in them. It was with these that--

    He oft, when night with holy hymns was worn, Prevented prime and wak'd the rising morn.[10]

He has made use of many of Ken's prayers, together with some from Taylor, Kettlewell, and Hickes, in his 'Companion for the Festivals and Fasts.' There is an intensity and effusion of spirit in them, in which his own more studied compositions are somewhat wanting.

Among the other Nonjuring bishops Nelson was acquainted with, but not very intimately, were Bancroft and Frampton. The former he loved and admired; and spoke very highly of his learning and wisdom, his prudent zeal for the honour of God, his piety and self-denying integrity.[11] The little weaknesses and gentle intolerances of the good old man were not such as he would censure, nor would he be altogether out of sympathy with them. Bishop Frampton was in a manner an hereditary friend. He had gone out to Aleppo as a young man, half a century before, in capacity of chaplain of the Levant Company, at the urgent recommendation of John Nelson, father of Robert,[12] who had the highest opinion of his merits. From his cottage at Standish in Gloucestershire, where he had retired after his deprivation, he occasionally wrote to Robert Nelson, and must have often heard of him from John Kettlewell, the intimate and very valued friend of both. He was a man who could not fail to be esteemed[13] and loved by all who had the privilege of his acquaintance. He had been a preacher of great fame, whom people crowded to hear. Pepys said of him that 'he preached most like an apostle that he ever heard man;'[14] and Evelyn, noting in his diary that he had been to hear him, calls him 'a pious and holy man, excellent in the pulpit for moving the affections.' His letters, of which several remain, written to Ken, Lloyd, and Sancroft, about the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, give the idea of a man of unaffected humility and simple piety, of a happy, kindly disposition, and full of spirit and innocent mirth. Though he could not take the oaths, he regularly communicated at the parish church.[15] Controversy he abhorred; it seemed to him, he said to Kettlewell, as if the one thing needful were scarcely heard, amidst the din and clashings of _pros_ and _cons_, and he wished the men of war, the disputants, would follow his friend's example, and beat their swords and spears into ploughshares and pruning hooks.[16]

John Kettlewell died in 1695, to Nelson's great loss, for he was indeed a bosom friend. Nelson had unreservedly entrusted him with his schemes for doing good, his literary projects, his spiritual perplexities, and 'the nicest and most difficult emergencies of his life; such an opinion had he of his wisdom, as well as of his integrity.'[17] More than once, observes Dr. Lee, he said how much gratitude he owed to Kettlewell for his good influence, sometimes in animating him to stand out boldly in the cause of religion, sometimes in concerting with him schemes of benevolence, sometimes in suggesting what he could best write in the service of the Church. They planned out together the 'Companion for the Festivals and Fasts;' they encouraged one another in that gentler mode of conducting controversy which must have seemed like mere weakness to many of the inflamed partisans of the period. Nelson proposed to preserve the memory of his friend in a biography. He carefully collected materials for the purpose, and though he had not leisure to carry out his design, was of great assistance to Francis Lee in the life which was eventually written.[18]


Bishop Ken used to speak of Kettlewell in terms of the highest reverence and esteem. In a letter to Nelson, acknowledging the receipt of some of Kettlewell's sermons, which his correspondent had lately edited, he calls their author 'as saintlike a man as ever I knew;'[19] and when, in 1696, he was summoned before the Privy Council to give account for a pastoral letter drawn up by the nonjuring bishops on behalf of the deprived clergy, he spoke of it as having been first proposed by 'Mr. Kettlewell, that holy man who is now with God.'[20] There can be no doubt he well merited the admiration of his friends. Perhaps the most beautiful element in his character was his perfect guilelessness and transparent truth. Almost his last words, addressed to his nephew, were 'not to tell a lie, no, not to save a world, not to save your King nor yourself.'[21] He had lived fully up to the spirit of this rule. Anything like show and pretence, political shifts and evasions, dissimulations for the sake of safety or under an idea of doing good--'acting,' as he expressed it, 'deceitfully for God, and breaking religion to preserve religion,' were things he would never in the smallest degree condescend to. In no case would he allow that a jocose or conventional departure from accuracy was justifiable, and even if a nonjuring friend, under the displeasure, as might often be, of Government, assumed a disguise, he was uneasy and annoyed, and declined to call him by his fictitious name.[22] Happily, perhaps, for his peace of mind, his steady purpose 'to follow truth wherever he might find it,'[23] without respect of persons or fear of consequences, though it led to a sacrifice, contentedly, and even joyfully borne, of worldly means, led him no tittle astray from the ancient paths of orthodoxy. Like most High Churchmen of his day, he held most exaggerated views as to the duty of passive obedience, a doctrine which he held to be vitally connected with the whole spirit of Christian religion. He sorely lamented 'the great and grievous breach' caused by the nonjuring separation,[24] and earnestly trusted that a time of healing and reunion might speedily arrive; and though he adhered staunchly to the communion of the deprived bishops, whom he held to be the only rightful fathers of the Church, and believed that there alone he could find 'orthodox and holy ministrations,'[25] he never for an instant supposed that he separated himself thereby from the Church of England, in which, he said in his dying declaration, 'as he had lived and ministered, so he still continued firm in its faith, worship, and communion.'[26] Such was Kettlewell, a thorough type of the very best of the Nonjurors, a man so kindly and large-hearted in many ways, and so open to conviction, that the term bigoted would be harshly applied to him, but whose ideas ran strongly and deeply in a narrow channel. He lived a life unspotted from the world; nor was there any purer and more fervent spirit in the list of those whose active services were lost to the Church of England by the new oath of allegiance.

Henry Dodwell was another of Robert Nelson's most esteemed friends. After the loss of his Camdenian Professorship of History, he lived among his nonjuring acquaintances at Shottisbrooke, immersed in abstruse studies. His profound learning--for he was acknowledged to be one of the most learned men in Europe[27]--especially his thorough familiarity with all precedents drawn from patristic antiquity, made him a great authority in the perplexities which from time to time divided the Nonjurors. It was mainly to him that Nelson owed his return to the established Communion. Dodwell had been very ardent against the oaths; when he conceived the possibility of Ken's accepting them, he had written him a long letter of anxious remonstrance; he had written another letter of indignant concern to Sherlock, on news of his intended compliance.[28] But his special standing point was based upon the argument that it was schism of the worst order to side with bishops who had been intruded by mere lay authority into sees which had other rightful occupiers. When, therefore, this hindrance no longer existed, he was of opinion that political differences, however great, should be no bar to Church Communion, and that the State prayers were no insurmountable difficulty. Nelson gladly agreed, and the bells of Shottisbrooke rang merrily when he and Dodwell, and the other Nonjurors resident in that place, returned to the parish church.[29]

Dodwell is a well-known example of the extravagances of opinion, into which a student may be led, who, in perfect seclusion from the world, follows up his views unguided by practical considerations. Greatly as his friends respected his judgment on all points of precedent and authority, they readily allowed he had more of the innocency of the dove than the wisdom of the serpent.[30] His faculties were in fact over-burdened with the weight of his learning, and his published works, which followed one another in quick succession, contained eccentricities, strange to the verge of madness. A layman himself, he held views as to the dignities and power of the priesthood, of which the 'Tatler'[31] might well say that Rome herself had never forged such chains for the consciences of the laity as he would have imposed. Starting upon an assumption, common to him with many whose general theological opinions he was most averse to, that the Divine counsels were wholly beyond the sphere of human faculties, and unimpeded therefore by any consideration of reason in his inferences from Scripture and primitive antiquity, he advanced a variety of startling theories, which created some dismay among his friends, and gave endless opportunity to his opponents. Much that he has written sounds far more like a grave caricature of high sacerdotalism, after the manner of De Foe's satires on intolerance, than the sober conviction of an earnest man.[32] It is needless to dwell on crotchets for which, as Dr. Hunt properly observes, nobody was responsible but himself.[33] Ken, who had great respect for him--'the excellent' Mr. Dodwell, as he calls him--remarked of his strange ideas on the immortality of the soul, that he built high on feeble foundations, and would not have many proselytes to his hypotheses.[34] The same might be said of much else that he wrote on theological subjects. As for nonjuring principles, he was so wedded to them that he could see nothing but deadly schism outside the fold over which 'our late invalidly deprived fathers' presided. It only, as orthodox and unschismatic, 'was entitled to have its communions and excommunications ratified in heaven.'[35] No wonder he longed to see union restored, that so he might die in peace.[36]

With the ever understood proviso that they could not fall in with many of his views, Nelson and most of his friends loved Mr. Dodwell and were proud of him. They admired his great learning, his fervent and ascetic piety, his deep attachment to the doctrine and usages of the English Church, and many attractive features in personal character. 'He was a faithful and sincere friend,' says Hearne, 'very charitable to the poor (notwithstanding the narrowness of his fortune), free and open in his discourse and conversation (which he always managed without the least personal reflection), courteous and affable to all people, facetious upon all proper occasions, and ever ready to give his counsel and advice, and extremely communicative of his great knowledge.'[37] Although a man of retiring habits and much personal humility, he was bold as a lion when occasion demanded, and never hesitated to sacrifice interest of any kind to his sincere, but often strangely contracted ideas of truth and duty. It was his lot to suffer loss of goods under either king, James II. and William. Under the former he not only lost the rent of his Irish estates,[38] but had his name[39] on the murderous act of attainder to which James, to his great disgrace, attached his signature in 1689. Under the latter he was deprived of his preferment in Oxford, and under a harsher rule might have incurred yet graver penalties. 'He has set his heart,' said William of him, 'on being a martyr, and I have set mine on disappointing him.'[40] He died at Shottisbrooke in 1711.


After Kettlewell's death, no one was so intimate with Robert Nelson as Dr. George Hickes. They lived near together[41] in Ormond Street, and for the last eleven years of Nelson's life met almost daily. In forming any estimate of Hickes's character, the warm-hearted esteem with which Nelson regarded him[42] should not be lost sight of. Whatever were his faults, he must have possessed many high qualities to have thus completely won the heart of so good a man. The feeling was fully reciprocated; and those who knew with what intensity of blind zeal Hickes attached himself to the interests of his party, must have been surprised that this intimacy was not interrupted even by his sore disappointment at Nelson's defection from the nonjuring communion. In Hickes there was nothing of the calm and tempered judgment which ruled in Nelson's mind. From the day that he vacated his deanery, and fixed up his indignant protest in Worcester Cathedral,[43] he threw his heart and soul into the nonjuring cause. Unity might be a blessing, and schism a disaster; but it is doubtful whether he would have made the smallest concession in order to attain the one, or avoid the other. Even Bishop Ken said of him that he showed zeal to make the schism incurable.[44] A good man, and a scholar of rare erudition, he possessed nevertheless the true temper of a bigot. In middle life he had been brought into close acquaintance with the fanatic extravagances of Scotch Covenanters, his aversion to which might seem to have taught him, not the excellence of a more temperate spirit, but the desirability of rushing toward similar extremes in an opposite direction. He delighted in controversy in proportion to its heat, and too often his pen was dipped in gall, when he directed the acuteness and learning which none denied to him against any who swerved, this way or that, from the narrow path of dogma and discipline which had been marked with his own approval. Tillotson was 'an atheist,'[45] freethinkers were 'the first-born sons of Satan,' the Established Church was 'fallen into mortal schism,'[46] Ken, for thinking of reunion, was 'a half-hearted wheedler,'[47] Roman Catholics were 'as gross idolaters as Egyptian worshippers of leeks,'[48] Nonconformists were 'fanatics,' Quakers were 'blasphemers.'[49] From the peaceful researches, on which he built a lasting name, in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian antiquities, he returned each time with renewed zest to polemical disputes, and found relaxation in the strife of words. It was no promising omen for the future of the nonjuring party, that the Court of St. Germains should have appointed him and Wagstaffe first bishops of that Communion. The consecration was kept for several years a close secret, and Robert Nelson himself may probably have been ignorant[50] of the high dignity to which 'my neighbour the Dean' had attained.

One other of Nelson's nonjuring friends must be mentioned. Francis Lee, a physician, had been a Fellow of St. John's, Oxford, but was deprived for declining the oaths. At the end of the seventeenth century, after travelling abroad, he joined[51] one of those societies of mystics which at that time abounded throughout Europe. A long correspondence with Dodwell ensued, and convinced at last that he had been in error, he not only left the brotherhood and its presiding 'prophetess' (it appears to have been a society of a somewhat fanatical order), but published in 1709, under the title of 'A History of Montanism, by a Lay Gentleman,' a work directed against fanaticism in general. He writes it in the tone of one who has lately recovered from a sort of mental fever which may break out in anyone, and sometimes becomes epidemic, inflaming and throwing into disorder certain obscure impulses which are common to all human nature.[52] He became intimate with Nelson, and subscribes one of his letters to him, 'To the best of friends, from the most affectionate of friends.'[53] He helped him in his devotional publications; took in hand, at his instigation, and from materials which Nelson and Hickes had collected, the life of Kettlewell; and took an active part in furthering the benevolent schemes in which his friend was so deeply interested. It was he who suggested[54] to him the founding of charity schools after the model of the far-famed orphanage and other educational institutions lately established by Francke and Spener at Halle, the centre of German pietism. In other ways we see favourable traces of his earlier mystical associations. He had been cured of fanaticism; but the higher element, the exalted vein of spiritual feeling, remained, and perceptibly communicated itself to Nelson, whose last work--a preface to Lee's edition of Thomas a Kempis--is far more in harmony with the general tone of mystical thought than any of his former writings. During the last few months of Nelson's life, they were much together. One of the very last incidents in his life was a drive with Lee in the park, when they watched the sun 'burst from behind a cloud, and accepted it for an emblem of the eternal brightness that should shortly break upon him.'[55]

Nelson was more or less intimate with several other Nonjurors; such as were Francis Cherry, of Shottisbrooke, a generous and popular country gentleman, whose house was always a hospitable refuge for Nonjurors and Jacobites;[56] Brokesby, Mr. Cherry's chaplain, author of the 'Life of Dodwell,' and of a history of the Primitive Church, to whom Nelson owed much valuable help in his 'Festivals and Fasts;' Jeremy Collier, whom Macaulay ranks first among the Nonjurors in ability; Nathanael Spinckes,[57] afterwards raised to the shadowy honours and duties of the nonjuring episcopate, Nelson's trustee for the money bequeathed by him to assist the deprived clergy; and lastly, Charles Leslie, an ardent and accomplished controversialist, whom Dr. Johnson excepted from his dictum that no Nonjuror could reason.[58] It may be added here, that when Pepys, author of the well-known 'Diary,' cast about in 1703, the last year of his life, for a spiritual adviser among the nonjuring clergy, Robert Nelson was the one among his acquaintances to whom he naturally turned for information.

The decision of many a conscientious man hung wavering for a long time on the balance as he debated whether or not he could accept the new oath of allegiance. Friends, whose opinions on public matters and on Church questions were almost identical, might on this point very easily arrive at different determinations. But the resolve once made, those who took different courses often became widely separated. Many acquaintances, many friendships were broken off by the divergence. Some of the more rigid Nonjurors, headed by Bancroft himself, went so far as to refuse all Church communion with those among their late brethren who had incurred the sin of compliance; and it was plainly impossible to be on any terms of intimacy with one who could be welcomed back into the company of the faithful only as 'a true penitent for the sin of schism.'[59] There were some, on the other hand, who were fully aware of the difficulties that beset the question, and had not a word or thought of condemnation for those who did not share in the scruples they themselves felt. They could not take the oath, but neither did they make it any cause of severance, or discontinue their attendance at the public prayers. But for the most part even those Nonjurors who held no extreme views fell gradually into a set of their own, with its own ideas, hopes, prejudices, and sympathies. They could scarcely help making a great principle of right or wrong of that for which most of them had sacrificed so much. It was intolerable, after loss of home and property in the cause, as they believed, of truth and duty, to be called factious separatists, authors of needless schism. Hence, in very self-defence, they were driven to attach all possible weight to the reasons which had placed them, loyal Churchmen as they were, in a Nonconformist position, to rally round their own standard, and to strive to the utmost of their power to show that it was they, and not their opponents, not the Jurors but the Nonjurors, who were the truest and most faithful sons of the Anglican Church. Under such circumstances, the gap grew ever wider which had sprung up between themselves and those who had not scrupled at the oath. Even between such friends as Ken and Bull, Nelson and Tillotson, a temporary estrangement was occasioned. But Robert Nelson was not of a nature to allow minor differences, however much exaggerated in importance, to stand long in the way of friendship or works of Christian usefulness. He lived chiefly in a nonjuring circle; but even during the years when he wholly absented himself from parochial worship, he was on friendly and even intimate terms with many leading members of the establishment, and their active co-operator in every scheme for extending its beneficial influences.

First in honour among his conforming friends stood Bishop Bull, his old tutor and warm friend, to whom he always acknowledged a deep debt of gratitude. Three years after his death Nelson published his life and works, shortening, it is said, his own days by the too assiduous labour which he bestowed upon the task. But it was a work of love which he was exceedingly anxious to accomplish. In the preface, after recording his high admiration of his late friend's merits, he solemnly ends with the words, 'beseeching God to enable me to finish what I begin in His name, and dedicate it to His honour and glory.'[60]


Both in his lifetime and afterwards, Bull has always been held in deserved repute as one of the most illustrious names in the roll of English bishops. Nelson called him 'a consummate divine,' and by no means stood alone in his opinion. Those who attach a high value to original and comprehensive thought will scarcely consider him entitled to such an epithet. He was a man of great piety, sound judgment, and extensive learning, but not of the grasp and power which signally influences a generation, and leaves a mark in the history of religious progress. He loved the Church of England with that earnestness of affection which in the seventeenth century specially characterised those who remembered its prostration, and had shared its depressed fortunes. Dr. Skinner, ejected Bishop of Oxford, had admitted him into orders at the early age of twenty-one. The Canon, he said, could not be strictly observed in such times of difficulty and distress. They were not days when the Church could afford to wait for the services of so zealous and able an advocate. He proved an effective champion, against all its real and presumed adversaries--Puritans and Nonconformists, Roman Catholics, Latitudinarians and Socinians. An acute controversialist, skilled in the critical knowledge of Scripture, thoroughly versed in the annals of primitive antiquity, he was an opponent not lightly to be challenged. A devoted adherent of the English Church, scrupulously observant of all its rites and usages, and convinced as of 'a certain and evident truth that the Church of England is in her doctrine, discipline, and worship, most agreeable to the primitive and apostolical institution,'[61] his only idea of improvement and reform in Church matters was to remove distinct abuses, and to restore ancient discipline. Yet he was not so completely the High Churchman as to be unable to appreciate and enter to some extent into the minds of those who within his own Church had adopted opposite views. He used to speak, for example, with the greatest respect of Dr. Conant, a distinguished Churchman of Puritan views, who had been his rector at Exeter College, and whose instructions and advice had made, he said, very deep impression on him.[62] So, on the other hand, although a strenuous opponent of Rome, he did not fail to discriminate and do justice to what was Catholic and true in her system. And it tells favourably for his candour, that while he defended Trinitarian doctrine with unequalled force and learning, he should have had to defend himself against a charge of Arian tendencies,[63] simply because he did not withhold authorities which showed that the primitive fathers did not always express very defined views upon the subject. His most notable and unique distinction consisted in the thanks he received, through Bossuet, from the whole Gallican Church, for his defence of the Nicene faith; his most practical service to religion was the energetic protest of his 'Harmonia Apostolica' in favour of a healthy and fruitful faith in opposition to the Antinomian doctrines of arbitrary grace which, at the time when he published his 'Apostolic Harmony,' had become most widely prevalent in England.

Bull had been ordained at twenty-one; he was consecrated, in 1705, Bishop of St. Davids, at the almost equally exceptional age of seventy. He succeeded a bad man who had been expelled from his see for glaring simony; and it was felt, not without justice, that the cause of religion and the honour of the Episcopate would gain more by the elevation of a man of the high repute in which Bull was universally held, than it would lose by the growing infirmities of his old age. He accepted the dignity with hesitation, in hopes that his son, the Archdeacon of Llandaff, who however died before him, would be able greatly to assist him in the discharge of his duties. But as he was determined that if he could not be as active as he would wish, he would at all events reside strictly in his diocese, he saw little or no more of his friend Nelson, of whom he had said that 'he scarce knew any one in the world for whom he had greater respect and love.'[64] During the first four years of the century there had been a frequent correspondence between them on the subject of his controversy with Bossuet, with whom Nelson had long been in the habit of interchanging friendly courtesies. The Bishop of Meaux had written, in 1700, to Nelson, expressing admiration of Bull's work on the Trinity, and wonder as to what he meant by the term 'Catholic,' and why it was that, having such respect for primitive antiquity, he remained nevertheless separated from the unity of Rome. Bull wrote in answer his 'Corruptions of the Church of Rome,' and sent the manuscript of it to Nelson in 1704. It did not, however, reach Bossuet, who died that year. Bishop Bull followed him in 1709.

Nelson was well acquainted, though scarcely intimate, with Bishop Beveridge, Bull's contemporary at St. Asaph. The two prelates were men of much the same stamp. Both were divines of great theological learning; but while Bull's great talents were chiefly conspicuous in his controversial and argumentative works, Beveridge was chiefly eminent as a student and devotional writer. His 'Private Thoughts on Religion and Christian Life,' and his papers on 'Public Prayer' and 'Frequent Communions,' have always maintained a high reputation. Like Bull, he was profoundly read in the history of the primitive Church, but possessed an accomplishment which his brother bishop had not, in his understanding of several oriental languages. Like him, he had been an active and experienced parish clergyman, and, like him, he was attached almost to excess to a strict and rigid observance of the appointed order of the English Church. It was to him that Dean Tillotson addressed the often quoted words, 'Doctor, Doctor, Charity is above rubrics.'[65] Yet it must not be inferred therefore, that he was stiffly set against all change. In a sermon preached before Convocation at their very important meeting of 1689, he had remarked of ecclesiastical laws other than those which are fundamental and eternal, 'that they ought not indeed to be altered without grave reasons; but that such reasons were not at that moment wanting. To unite a scattered flock in one fold under one shepherd, to remove stumbling-blocks from the path of the weak, to reconcile hearts long estranged, to restore spiritual discipline to its primitive vigour, to place the best and purest of Christian societies on a base broad enough to stand against all the attacks of earth and hell--these were objects which might well justify some modification, not of Catholic institutions, but of national and provincial usages.'[66]

Beveridge was one of the bishops for whom the moderate Nonjurors had much regard. In most respects he was of their school of thought; and although, like Wilson of Sodor and Man, and Hooper of Bath and Wells, he had no scruple, for his own part, to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, he fully understood the reasonings of those who had. He greatly doubted the legality and right of appointing new bishops to sees not canonically vacant, so that when he was nominated in the place of Ken, he after some deliberation declined the office. He and Nelson saw a good deal of each other. They were both constant attendants at the weekly meetings of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, an association which Beveridge zealously promoted,[67] and to which he left the greater part of his property. The minutes of the society refer to private consultations between him and Nelson for arranging about a popular edition in Welsh of the Prayer-book, and to the bishop distributing largely in his diocese a translation of Nelson's tract on Confirmation. They also frequently met at the committees of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In his 'Life of Bull' Nelson speaks in terms of much admiration for Beveridge, whom he calls 'a pattern of true primitive piety.' He praises his plain and affecting sermons; and says that 'he had a way of gaining people's hearts and touching their consciences which bore some resemblance to the apostolical age,' and that he could mention many 'who owed the change of their lives, under God, to his instructions.'[68] Like Bull and Ken, the latter of whom was born in the same year with him, his life belongs chiefly to the history of the preceding century, for he died in 1707; his short episcopal career however lay, as was the case with Bull, only in the first decade of the eighteenth.

Sharp, Archbishop of York, must by no means be omitted from the list of Robert Nelson's friends, the more so as he was mainly instrumental in overcoming the scruples which for many years had deterred Nelson from the communion of the national Church. 'It was impossible,' writes the Archbishop's son, 'that such religious men, who were so intimate with each other, and spent many hours together in private conversation, should not frequently discuss the reasons that divided them in Church communion.'[69] Sharp's diary shows that early in 1710 they had many interviews on the subject. His arguments prevailed; and he records with satisfaction that on Easter Day that year his friend, for the first time since the Revolution, received the Communion at his hands. The Archbishop was well fitted to act this part of a conciliator. In the first place, Nelson held him in high esteem as a man of learning, piety, and discernment, 'who fills one of the archiepiscopal thrones with that universal applause which is due to his distinguishing merit.'[70] This general satisfaction which had attended his promotion qualified him the more for a peacemaker in the Church. At a time when party spirit was more than usually vehement, it was his rare lot to possess in a high degree the respect and confidence of men of all opinions. From his earliest youth he had learnt to appreciate high Christian worth under varied forms. His father had been a fervent Puritan, his mother a strenuous Royalist; and he speaks with equal gratitude of the deep impressions left upon his mind by the grave piety of the one, and of the admiration instilled into him by the other of the proscribed Liturgy of the English Church. He went up to Cambridge a Calvinist; he learnt a larger, a happier, and no less spiritual theology under the teaching of More and Cudworth. His studies then took a wide range. He delighted in imaginative literature, especially in Greek poetry, became very fairly versed in Hebrew and the interpretation of the Old Testament, took much pleasure in botany and chemistry, and was at once fascinated with the Newtonian philosophy. He was also an accomplished antiquary. At a later period, as rector of St. Giles in the Fields, and Friday lecturer at St. Lawrence Jewry, he gained much fame as one of the most persuasive and affecting preachers of his age. Tillotson and Clagett were his most intimate friends; and among his acquaintances were Stillingfleet, Patrick, Beveridge, Cradock, Whichcot, Calamy, Scot, Sherlock, Wake, and Cave, including all that eminent circle of London clergy who were at that time the distinguishing ornament of the English Church, and who constantly met at one another's houses to confer on the religious and ecclesiastical questions of the day. There was perhaps no one eminent divine, at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century, who had so much in sympathy with men of either section of the English Church. He was claimed by the Tories and High Churchmen; and no doubt, on the majority of subjects his views agreed with theirs, particularly in the latter part of his life. But his opinions were very frequently modified by a more liberal training and by more generous and considerate ideas than were common among them. He voted with them against occasional Conformity, protested against any enfeebling of the Test Acts, and took, it must be acknowledged, a far from tolerant line generally in the debates of 1704-9 relating to the liberties of Dissenters. On the other hand, he indignantly resented the unworthy attempt of the more extreme Tories to force the occasional Conformity Act through the House of Lords by 'tacking' it to a money bill. He expressed the utmost displeasure against anything like bitterness and invective; he had been warmly in favour of a moderate comprehension of Dissenters, had voted that Tillotson should be prolocutor when the scheme was submitted to Convocation, and had himself taken part of the responsibility of revision. As in 1675 he had somewhat unadvisedly accepted, in the discussion with Nonconformists, the co-operation of Dodwell, so, in 1707, he bestowed much praise on Hickes' answer to Tindal (sent to him by Nelson) on behalf of the rights of the Christian priesthood. But Dodwell's Book of Schism maintained much more exclusive sentiments than Sharp's sermon on Conscience, of which it was professedly a defence; nor could the Archbishop by any means coincide in the more immoderate opinions of the hot-tempered nonjuring Dean. And so far from agreeing with Hickes and Dodwell, who would acknowledge none other than Episcopal Churches, he said that if he were abroad he should communicate with the foreign Reformed Churches wherever he happened to be.[71] On many points of doctrine he was a High Churchman; he entirely agreed, for example, with Nelson and the Nonjurors in general, in regretting the omission in King Edward's second Prayer-book of the prayer of oblation.[72] He bestowed much pains in maintaining the dignity and efficiency of his cathedral;[73] but, with a curious intermixture of Puritan feeling, told one of his Nonconformist correspondents that he did not much approve of musical services, and would be glad if the law would permit an alteration.[74] In regard of the questions specially at issue with the Nonjurors, he heartily assented for his own part to the principles of the Revolution, maintaining 'for a certain truth that as the law makes the king, so the same law extends or limits or transfers our obedience and allegiance.'[75] This being the case, it may at first appear unintelligible that an ardent nonjuring champion of passive obedience and non-resistance should assert that 'by none are these truly Catholic doctrines more openly avowed than by the present excellent metropolitan of York.'[76] But Dodwell was correct. Archbishop Sharp, with perfect consistency, combined with Whig politics the favourite High Church tenet of the Jacobean era. He strenuously maintained the duty of passive obedience, not however to the sovereign monarch, but to the sovereign law.[77] At the same time he felt much sympathy with the Nonjurors, and was sometimes accused of Jacobitism because he would not drop his acquaintance with them, nor disguise his pity for the sacrifices in which their principles involved them. When a choice was given him of two or three of the sees vacated by the deprivation of the nonjuring bishops, he declined the offer. He would not allow that there had been any real unlawfulness or irregularity in their dispossession, but as a matter of personal feeling he disliked the idea of accepting promotion under such circumstances. Although therefore, in many ways, he differed much in opinion from the Nonjurors, he possessed in a great degree their attachment and respect. Robert Nelson was neither the only one of them with whom he was on terms of cordial friendship, nor was he by any means the only one whom he persuaded to return to the Established Communion.


Bishop Smalridge of Bristol should be referred to, however briefly, in connection with the truly worthy man who is the main subject of this paper. He was constantly associated with Nelson in his various works of charity, especially in forwarding missionary undertakings, in assisting Dr. Bray's projects of parochial lending libraries, and as a royal commissioner with him for the increase of church accommodation. Nelson bequeathed to him his Madonna by Correggio 'as a small testimony of that great value and respect I bear to his lordship;'[78] and to his accomplished pen is owing the very beautiful Latin epitaph placed to his friend's memory in St. George the Martyr's, Queen Square.[79] Under the name of 'Favonius,' he is spoken of in the 'Tatler' in the warmest language of admiring respect, as a very humane and good man, of well-tempered zeal and touching eloquence, and 'abounding with that sort of virtue and knowledge which makes religion beautiful.'[80] Bishop Newton has also spoken very highly of him, and adds that he was a man of much gravity and dignity and of great complacency and sweetness of manner. In reference to this last feature of his character, it was said of him, when he succeeded Atterbury as Dean of Carlisle, that he carried the bucket to extinguish the fires which the other had kindled. His political sympathies, however, accorded with those of Atterbury, and brought him into close relation with the Nonjurors. Although he had submitted to the new Constitution, he was a thorough Jacobite in feeling. His Thirtieth of January sermons were sometimes marked with an extravagance of expression[81] foreign to his usual manner; and he and Atterbury, with whom he had recently edited Lord Clarendon's History, were the only bishops who refused to sign the declaration of abhorrence of the Rebellion of 1715.[82]

Smalridge and Nelson had a mutual friend,[83] whom they both highly valued, in Dr. Ernest Grabe, a Prussian of remarkable character and great erudition, who had settled in England under the especial favour of King William. Dissatisfied as to the validity of Lutheran orders, he had at first turned his thoughts to Rome, not unaware that he should find in that Church many departures from the simplicity of the early faith, but feeling that it possessed at all events that primitive constitution which he had learnt to consider essential. He was just about to take this step, when he met with Spener, the eminent leader of the German Pietists, to whom he communicated his difficulties, and who pointed out to him the Church of England as a communion likely to meet his wants. He came to this country[84] at the end of the seventeenth century, received a royal pension, took priest's orders, and continued with indefatigable labour his patristic studies. It became the great project of his life to maintain a close communication between the English and Lutheran Churches,[85] to bring about in Prussia a restoration of episcopacy, and to introduce there a liturgy composed upon the English model. It cannot be said that the general course of theological thought in England was at this time very congenial to his aspirations; but his great learning and the earnest sincerity of his ideas were widely appreciated, and within a somewhat confined circle of High Churchmen and Nonjurors he was cordially welcomed, and his services highly valued. He pushed his conformity to what he considered the usages of the Primitive Church to the verge of eccentricity. Yet 'indeed,' says Kennet, without any sympathy in his practices, but with a kindly smile, 'his piety and our charity may cover all this.'[86]

Dr. Thomas Bray may stand as a fit representative of another class of Nelson's friends and associates. So far from agreeing with Nelson in his Nonjuring sentiments, the prospect of the constitutional change had kindled in him enthusiastic expectations. 'Good Dr. Bray,' remarks Whiston, 'had said how happy and religious the nation would become when the House of Hanover came, and was very indignant when Mr. Mason said that matters would not be mended.'[87] He accepted a living which had been vacated by a Nonjuring clergyman, but spent alike his clerical and private means in the benevolent and Christian hearted schemes to which the greater part of his life was dedicated.[88] It is not the purpose of this chapter to discuss the missionary and other philanthropical activities which at the close of the seventeenth and the opening of the eighteenth centuries resulted in the formation of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and other kindred associations. It may be sufficient here to repeat the warm-hearted encomium of his fellow labourer in this noble work:--'I am sure he has been one of the greatest instruments for propagating Christian knowledge this age has produced. The libraries abroad, our society (the S.P.C.K.), and the Corporation (the S.P.G.), are owing to his unwearied solicitations.'[89] In organising the American Church, in plans for civilising and christianising the Indians, in establishing libraries for the use of missionaries and the poorer clergy in the colonies, on shipboard, in seaport towns, and in the secluded parishes of England and Wales, in translations of the Liturgy and other devotional books, in the reformation of prisons, in measures taken for the better suppression of crime and profligacy,--Bray and Nelson, with General Oglethorpe and other active coadjutors, helped one another with all their heart. They met in the board-room of the two great societies, in one another's houses, and sometimes they may have talked over their projects with Bishop Ken at the seat of their generous supporter, Lord Weymouth.[90]

The names of many other men, more or less eminent in their day for piety or learning, might be added to the list of those who possessed and valued Robert Nelson's friendship; among them may be mentioned--Dr. John Mapletoft, with whom he maintained a close correspondence for no less than forty years: a man who had travelled much and learnt many languages, a celebrated physician, and afterwards, when he took orders, an accomplished London preacher; Francis Gastrell, Bishop of Chester, Mapletoft's son-in-law;[91] Sir Richard Blackmore, another physician of note, and, like Mapletoft, most zealous in all plans for doing good, but whose unlucky taste for writing dull verses brought down upon him the unmerciful castigation of the wits; John Johnson of Cranbrook, with whose writings on the Eucharistic Sacrifice Nelson most warmly sympathised; Edmund Halley, the mathematician, his school playmate and life-long friend; Ralph Thoresby, an antiquarian of high repute, a moderate Dissenter in earlier life, a thoughtful and earnest Churchman in later years, but who throughout life maintained warm and intimate relations with many leading members of either communion; Dr. Charlett, Master of University College, Oxford; Dr. Cave, the well-known writer of early Church History, to whose literary help he was frequently indebted; John Evelyn; Samuel, father of John and Charles Wesley, whose verses, written on the fly-leaf of his copy of the 'Festivals and Fasts,' commemorative of his attachment to Nelson and of his reverence for his virtues, used to be prefixed to some editions of his friend's works; nor should the list be closed without the addition of the name of the eminent Gallican bishop Bossuet, with whom he had become acquainted in France, and had kept up the interesting correspondence already noticed in connection with Bishop Bull.

The group composed of Nelson and his friends, of whom he had many, and never lost one, would be pleasant to contemplate, if for no other reason, yet as the picture of a set of earnest men, united in common attachment to one central figure, varying much on some points of opinion, but each endeavouring to live worthily of the Christian faith. From one point of view the features of dissimilarity among his friends are more interesting than those of resemblance. A Churchman, with whom Jurors and Nonjurors met on terms of equal cordiality, who was intimate alike with Tillotson and Hickes--whose love for Ken was nowise incompatible with much esteem for Kidder, the 'uncanonical usurper' of his see--and who consulted for the advancement of Christian knowledge as readily with Burnet, Patrick, and Fowler, as with Bull, Beveridge, and Sharp--represents a sort of character which every national Church ought to produce in abundance, but which stands out in grateful relief from the contentions which embittered the first years of the century and the spiritual dulness which set in soon afterwards.


Yet, though Robert Nelson had too warm a heart to sacrifice the friendship of a good man to any difference of opinion, and too hearty a zeal in good works to let his personal predilections stand in the way of them, he belonged very distinctively to the High Church party. Some of his best and most prominent characteristics did not connect him with one more than with another section of the Church. The philanthropical activity, which did so much to preserve him from narrowness and intolerance, was, as Tillotson has observed, one of the most redeeming features of the period in which he lived;[92] the genial serenity of his religion is like the spirit that breathed in Addison. But all his deeper sympathies were with the High Churchmen and Nonjurors--men who had been brought up in that spirit of profound attachment to Anglo-Catholic theology and feeling which was prominent among Church of England divines in the age that preceded the Commonwealth.

The Church party of which, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Nelson and his friends were worthy representatives, was rapidly losing strength. Soon after his death it had almost ceased to exist as a visible and united power. The general tone of feeling in Church matters became so unfavourable to its continued vigour, that it gradually dwindled away. Not that there was no longer a High Church, and even a strong High Church party. There has been no period in the history of the Reformed English Church in which the three leading varieties of opinion, so familiar to us at the present day, may not be distinctly traced. The eighteenth century is certainly no exception; from its first to its last year so-called High Churchmen were abundant everywhere, especially among the clergy. But they would scarcely have been recognised as such by Nelson, or by those with whom he chiefly sympathised. The type became altered, and not for the better. A change had already set in before the seventeenth century closed; and when in quick succession Bull and Beveridge, Ken and Nelson, passed away, there were no new men who could exactly supply their places. The High Churchmen who belonged more distinctly to Queen Anne's reign, and those of the succeeding Georgian era, lacked some of the higher qualities of the preceding generations. They numbered many worthy, excellent men, but there was no longer the same depth of feeling, the same fervour, the same spirit of willing self-denial, the same constant reference to a supposed higher standard of primitive usage. Their High Churchmanship took rather the form of an ecclesiastical toryism, persuaded more than ever of the unique excellence of the English Church, its divinely constituted government, and its high, if not exclusive title to purity and orthodoxy of doctrine. The whole party shared, in fact, to a very great extent in the spiritual dulness which fell like a blight upon the religious life of the country at large. A secondary, but still an important difference, consisted in the change effected by the Revolution in the relation between the Church and the Crown. The harsh revulsion of sentiment, however beneficial in its ultimate consequences, could not fail to detract for the time from that peculiar tone of semi-religious loyalty which in previous generations had been at once the weakness and the glory of the English Church.

The nonjuring separation was a serious and long-lasting loss to the Church of England; a loss corresponding in kind, if not in degree, to what it might have endured, if by a different turn of political and ecclesiastical circumstances, the most zealous members of the section headed by Tillotson and Burnet had been ejected from its fold. It is the distinguishing merit of the English Church that, to a greater extent probably than any other religious body, it is at once Catholic and Protestant, and that without any formal assumption of reconciling the respective claims of authority and private judgment, it admits a wide field for the latter, without ceasing to attach veneration and deference to primitive antiquity and to long established order. It is most true that 'the Church herself is greater, wider, older than any of the parties within her;'[93] but it is no less certain, that when a leading party becomes enfeebled in character and influence, as it was by the defection to the Nonjurors of so many learned and self-sacrificing High Churchmen, the diminution of vital energy in the whole body is likely to be far more than proportionate to the number of the seceders, or even to their individual weight.

Judged by modern feeling, there might seem no very apparent reason why the Nonjurors should have belonged nearly, if not quite exclusively, to the same general school of theological thought. In our own days, the nature of a man's Churchmanship is no key whatever to his opinions upon matters which trench on politics. High sacramental theories, or profound reverence for Church tradition and ancient usage, or decided views as to the exclusive rights of an episcopally ordained ministry, are almost as likely to be combined with liberal, or even with democratic politics, as with the most staunch conservative opinions. No one imagines that any possible change of constitutional government would greatly affect the general bias, whatever it might be, of ecclesiastical thought. But the Nonjurors were all High Churchmen, and that in a much better sense of that word than when, in Queen Anne's time, Tory and High Church were in popular language convertible terms. And though they were not by any means the sole representatives of the older High Church spirit--for some who were deeply imbued with it took the oath of allegiance with perfect conscientiousness, and without the least demur--yet in them it was chiefly embodied. Professor Blunt remarks with much truth, that to a great extent they carried away with them that regard for primitive times, which with them was destined by degrees almost to expire.[94] If the Nonjurors were nearly allied with the Jacobites on the one side, they were also the main supporters of religious opinions which were in no way related with one dynasty of sovereigns rather than with another, but which have always formed a very important element of English Church history, and could not pass for the time into comparative oblivion without a corresponding loss.

The doctrines of non-resistance and passive obedience, in defence of which so much was once written, and so many sacrifices endured, are no longer heard of. It is difficult now to realise with what passionate fervour of conviction these obsolete theories were once maintained by many Englishmen as a vital portion, not only of their political, but of their religious creed. Lord Chancellor Somers, whose able treatise upon the Rights of Kings brought to bear against the Nonjurors a vast array of arguments from Reason, Scripture, History, and Law, remarked in it that there were some divines of the Church of England who instilled notions of absolute power, passive obedience, and non-resistance, as essential points of religion, doctrines necessary to salvation.[95] Put in this extreme form, the belief might have been repudiated; but undoubtedly passages may be quoted in great abundance from nonjuring and other writers which, literally understood, bear no other construction. At all events, sentiments scarcely less uncompromising were continually held, not by mere sycophants and courtiers, but by many whose opinions were adorned by noble Christian lives, willing self-sacrifice, and undaunted resolution. Good Bishop Lake of Chichester said on his death-bed that 'he looked upon the great doctrine of passive obedience as the distinguishing character of the Church of England,'[96] and that it was a doctrine for which he hoped he could lay down his life. Bishop Thomas of Worcester, who died the same year, expressed the same belief and the same hope. Robert Nelson spoke of it as the good and wholesome doctrine of the Church of England, 'wherein she has gloried as her special characteristic.... Papists and Presbyterians have both been tardy on these points, and I wish the practice of some in the Church of England had been more blameless,'[97] but he was sure that it had been the doctrine of the primitive Christians, and that it was very plainly avowed both by the Church and State of England. Sancroft vehemently reproved 'the apostacy of the National Church'[98] in departing from this point of faith. Even Tillotson and Burnet[99] were at one time no less decided about it. The former urged it upon Lord Russell as 'the declared doctrine of all Protestant Churches,' and that the contrary was 'a very great and dangerous mistake,' and that if not a sin of ignorance, 'it will appear of a much more heinous nature, as in truth it is, and calls for a very particular and deep repentance.'[100] Just about the time when the new oath of allegiance was imposed, the doctrine of non-resistance received the very aid it most needed, in the invention of a new term admirably adapted to inspire a warmer feeling of religious enthusiasm in those who were preparing to suffer in its cause. The expression appears to have originated with Kettlewell, who had strongly felt the force of an objection which had been raised to Bishop Lake's declaration. It had been said that to call this or that doctrine the distinguishing characteristic of a particular Church was so far forth to separate it from the Church Catholic. Kettlewell saw at once that this argument wounded High Churchmen in the very point where they were most sensitive, and for the future preferred to speak of non-resistance as characteristically 'a Doctrine of the Cross.'[101] The epithet was quickly adopted, and no doubt was frequently a source of consolation to Nonjurors. At other times it might have conveyed a painful sense of disproportion in its application to what, from another point of view, was a mere political revolution. But with them passive obedience and divine right had been raised to the level of a great religious principle for which they were well content to be confessors. It must have added much to the moral strength of the nonjuring separation. Argument or ridicule would not make much impression upon men who had always this to fall back upon, that 'non-resistance is after all too much a doctrine of the Cross, not to meet with great opposition from the prejudices and passions of men. Flesh and blood and corrupt reason will set up the great law of self-preservation against it, and find a thousand absurdities and contradictions in it.'[102] How thoroughly Kettlewell's term was adopted, and how deeply the feeling which it represented was cherished by the saintliest of the High Churchmen of that age, is nowhere more remarkably instanced than in some very famous words of Bishop Ken. In that often quoted passage of his will where he professed the faith in which he died, the closing words refer to the Church of England 'as it stands distinguished from all Papal and Puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.' The special interpretation to be placed upon the final clause somewhat jars upon the ear, although not without interest in illustrating the strong religious principle which forbade the transfer of his political allegiance. Dr. Lee, who had excellent opportunities of knowing, says, 'there cannot remain any manner of doubt'[103] that Ken used the expression with particular reference to the sense in which his friend Kettlewell had used it.


When once the Hanoverian succession was established, the doctrine of a divine right of kings, with the theories consequent upon, it, passed gradually away; and many writers, forgetting that it was once a generally received dogma in Parliament as in Convocation, in the laws as much as in the homilies, have sought to attach to the Church of England the odium of servility and obsequiousness for its old adherence to it. But as the tenet died not without honour, dignified in many instances by high Christian feeling, and noble sacrifice of worldly interest, so also it had gained much of its early strength in one of the most important principles of the Reformation. When England rejected the Papacy, the Church, as in the old English days before the Conquest, gathered round its sovereign as the emblem and as the centre of its national independence. Only the tie was a personal one; much in the same way as the Pope had been far more than an embodied symbol of Church authority. The sovereign represented the people, but no one then spoke of 'sovereignty residing in the whole body of the people,'[104] or dreamt of asserting that the supremacy of the King was a fiction, meaning only the supremacy of the three estates.[105] So it long continued, especially in the Church. Ecclesiastical is ever wont to lag somewhat in the rear of political improvement. In the State, the personal supremacy of the sovereign, though a very strong reality in the hands of the Tudors, had been tutored into a moderately close conformity with the wishes of the popular representatives. In the Church, the same process was going on, but it was a far more gradual one; and the spirit of loyal deference which long remained unaltered in the one, gained increasing strength in the other. Upon the reaction which succeeded after the Commonwealth, the Church, as it had been ever faithful to the royal fortunes in their time of reverse, shared to the full in the effusion with which the nation in general greeted the return of monarchy, and was more than ever dazzled by the 'divinity which hedges round a King.' But under James II., the Church had cause to feel the perils of arbitrary power as keenly, or even more keenly than the nation in its civil capacity. By a remarkable leading of events, the foremost of the High Church bishops found themselves, amid the acclamations of the multitude, in the very van of a resistance which was indeed in a sense passive, but which plainly paved the way to active resistance on the part of others, and which, as they must themselves have felt, strained to the utmost that doctrine of passive obedience which was still dear to them as ever. Some even of the most earnest champions of the divine right of kings were at last compelled to imagine circumstances under which the tenet would cease to be tenable. What if James should propose to hand over Ireland to France as the price of help against his own people? Ken, it is said, acknowledged that under such a contingency he should feel wholly released from his allegiance.

The revolution of 1688 dissipated the halo which had shed a fictitious light round the throne. Queen Anne may have flattered herself that it was already reviving. George I. in his first speech to parliament laid claim to the ancient prestige of it. The old theories lingered long in manor-houses and parsonages, and among all whose hearts were with the banished Stuarts. But they could not permanently survive under such altered auspices; and a sentiment which had once been of real service both to Church and State, but which had become injurious to both, was disrooted from the constitution and disentangled from the religion of the country. The ultimate gain was great; yet it must be acknowledged that at the time a great price was paid for it. In the State, there was a notable loss of the old loyalty, a blunting in public matters of some of the finer feelings, an increase among State officers of selfish and interested motives, a spirit of murmuring and disaffection, a lowering of tone, an impaired national unity. In the Church, as the revulsion was greater, and in some respects the benefit greater, so also the temporary loss was both greater and more permanent. The beginning of the eighteenth century saw almost the last of the old-fashioned Anglicans, who dated from the time of Henry VIII.--men whose ardent love of what they considered primitive and Catholic usage had no tinge of Popery, and whose devoted attachment to the throne was wholly free from all unmanly servility. The High Church party was deprived of some of the best of its leaders, and was altogether divided, disorganised, and above all, lowered in tone; and the whole Church suffered in the deterioration of one of its principal sections.

In relation both to Nonjurors and to persons who, as a duty or a necessity, had accepted the new constitution, but were more or less Jacobite in their sympathies, a question arose of far more than temporary interest. It is one which frequently recurs, and is of much practical importance, namely, how far unity of worship implies, or ought to imply, a close unity of belief; and secondly, how far a clergyman is justified in continuing his ministrations if, agreeing in all essentials, he strongly dissents to some particular petitions or expressions in the services of which he is constituted the mouthpiece. The point immediately at issue was whether those who dissented from the State prayers could join with propriety in the public services. This was very variously decided. There were some who denied that this was possible to persons who had any strict regard to consistency and truth.[106] How, said they, could they assist by their presence at public prayers which were utterly contradictory to their private ones? Many Nonjurors therefore, and many who had taken the oath on the understanding that it only bound them to submission, absented themselves entirely from public worship, or attended none other than nonjuring services. There was a considerable party, headed unfortunately by Bancroft himself, whose regret at the separation thus caused was greatly tempered by a kind of exultation at being, as they maintained, the 'orthodox and Catholic remnant' from which the main body of the English Church had apostatised.[107] Far different were the feelings of those whose opinions on the subject were less strangely exaggerated. If they joined the nonjuring communion, and forsook the familiar parish church, they did so sadly and reluctantly, and looked forward in hope to some change of circumstances which might remove their scruples and end the schism. It was thoroughly distasteful to men like Ken, Nelson, and Dodwell, to break away from a communion to which they were deeply attached, and which they were quite persuaded was the purest and best in Christendom. When the new Government was fairly established, when the heat of feeling was somewhat cooled by time, when the High Church sympathies of Anne had begun to reconcile them to the new succession, and when the last of the ejected bishops had withdrawn all claim on their obedience, many moderate Nonjurors were once more seen in church. They agreed that the offence of the State prayers should be no longer an insuperable bar.[108] They could at all events sufficiently signify their objection to the obnoxious words by declining to say Amen, or by rising from their knees, or by various other more or less demonstrative signs of disapprobation. Some indeed of the Nonjurors, among whom Bishop Frampton was prominent, and a great number of Jacobites, had never from the first lent any countenance to the schism, and attended the Church services as heretofore. The oath of allegiance being required before a clergyman could take office, it is of course impossible to tell whether any nonjuring clergyman would have consented to read, as well as to listen to, the State prayers. But there was undoubtedly a large body of Jacobite clergymen who in various ways reconciled this to their conscience. Their argument, founded on the sort of provisional loyalty due to a _de facto_ sovereignty, was a tolerably valid one in its kind; a far more important one, in the extent and gravity of its bearings, was that which met the difficulty in the face. It was that which rests on the answer to the question whether a clergyman is guilty of insincerity, either in reality or in semblance, in continuing to read a service to part of which he strongly objects, though he is completely in accord with the general tone and spirit of the whole. The answer must evidently be a qualified one. Nothing could be worse for the interests of religion, than that its ministers should be suspected of saying what they do not mean; on the other hand, unless a Church concedes to its clergy a sufficiently ample latitude in their mode of interpreting its formularies, it will greatly suffer by losing the services of men of independent thought or strongly marked religious convictions. Among clergymen who submitted to the reigning powers, though their hopes and sympathies were centred at St. Germains, the alternative of either reading the State prayers or relinquishing office in the English Church must have been singularly embarrassing. To offer up a prayer in which the heart wholly belies the lip is infinitely more repugnant to religious and moral feeling than to put a legitimate, though it may not be the most usual, interpretation on words which contain a disputed point of doctrine or discipline. Yet, from another point of view, it was quite certain that as little weight as possible ought to be attached to a quasi-political difference of opinion which in itself was no sort of interruption to that confidence and sympathy in religious matters which should subsist between pastor and people. It was a great strait for a conscientious man to be placed in, and a difficulty which might fairly be left to the individual conscience to solve.

As for those Nonjurors and Jacobites who joined as laymen in the public services, undeterred by prayers which they objected to, it is just that question of dissent within, instead of without the Church, which has gained increased attention in our own days. When Robert Nelson was in doubt upon the subject, and asked Tillotson for his advice, the Archbishop made reply, 'As to the case you put, I wonder men should be divided in opinion about it. I think it plain, that no man can join in prayers in which there is any petition which he is verily persuaded is sinful. I cannot endure a trick anywhere, much less in religion.[109] This honest and outspoken answer was however extremely superficial, and, coming from a man of so much eminence, must have had an unfortunate effect in extending the nonjuring schism. Although his opinion was perfectly sound under the precise terms in which it is stated, the whole force of it rests on the word 'sinful.' If any word is used which falls the least short of this, Tillotson's remark becomes altogether questionable. Of course no one can be justified in countenancing what 'he is verily persuaded is sinful.' From this point of view, there were some Nonjurors to whom separation from the National Church was a moral necessity. Those among them, for instance, who drew up, or cordially approved, the 'Form for admitting penitents,' in which the sorrow-stricken wanderer in ways of conformity returns humblest thanks for his return from wrong to right, from error to truth, from schism to unity, from rebellion to loyalty--in a word, 'from the broad into the narrow way which leadeth to eternal life,'[110]--how could they be justified in anything short of separation? They could no more continue to attend their parish church, than one who had been a Roman Catholic could attend the mass if he had become persuaded it was rank idolatry, or a former Protestant his old place of worship when convinced that it was a den of mortal heresy. But between Nonjurors of the stern uncompromising type, and those semi-Jacobites who gave the allegiance of reason to one master, and that of sentiment to another, there were all grades of opinion; and to all except the most extreme among them the propriety of attending the public prayers was completely an open question. Tillotson ought to have known his old friend Nelson better, than to conceive it possible that a man of such deep religious feeling, and such sensitive honour, could be doubtful what to do, unless it might fairly be considered doubtful. His foolish commonplace appears indeed to have been sufficient to turn the scale. Nelson, almost immediately after receiving this opinion, decided on abandoning the national communion, though he took a different and a wiser view at a later period.

The circumstances of the time threw into exaggerated prominence the particular views entertained by Nelson's Juror and Nonjuror friends on the disputed questions connected with transferred allegiance. But, great as were the sacrifices which many of them incurred on account of these opinions,--great as was the tenacity with which they clung to them, and the vehemence with which they asserted them against all impugners--great, above all, as was the religious and spiritual importance with which their zeal for the cause invested these semi-political doctrines, yet it is not on such grounds that their interest as a Church party chiefly rests. No weight of circumstances could confer a more than secondary value on tenets which have no permanent bearing on the Christian life, and engage attention only under external and temporary conditions. The early Nonjurors, and their doctrinal sympathisers within the National Church, were a body of men from whom many in modern times have taken pleasure in deriving their ecclesiastical pedigree, not as upholders of nearly obsolete opinions about divine right and passive obedience, but as the main link between the High Churchmen of a previous age and their successors at a much later period. To the revivers in this century of the Anglo-Catholic theology, it seemed as though the direct succession of sound English divines ended with Bull and Beveridge, was partially continued, as by a side line, in some of the Nonjurors, and then dwindled and almost died out, until after the lapse of a hundred years its vitality was again renewed.


On points of doctrine and discipline the early Nonjurors differed in nothing from the High Churchmen whose communion they had deserted. Some of them called themselves, it is true, 'the old Church of England,' 'the Catholic and faithful remnant' which alone adhered to 'the orthodox and rightful bishops,' and bitter charges, mounting up to that of apostacy, were directed against the 'compliant' majority. But, wide as was the gulf, and heinous as was the sin by which, according to such Nonjurors, the Established Church had separated itself from primitive faith, the asserted defection consisted solely in this, that it had committed the sin of rebellion in forsaking its divinely appointed King, and the sin of schism in rejecting the authority of its canonical bishops. No one contended that there were further points of difference between the two communions. Dr. Bowes asked Blackburn, one of their bishops, whether 'he was so happy as to belong to his diocese?' 'Dear friend,' was the answer, 'we leave the sees open that the gentlemen who now unjustly possess them, upon the restoration, may, if they please, return to their duty and be continued. We content ourselves with full episcopal power as suffragans.' The introduction, however, in 1716, of the distinctive 'usages' in the communion service contributed greatly to the farther estrangement of a large section of the Nonjurors; and those who adopted the new Prayer-book drawn up in 1734 by Bishop Deacon, were alienated still more. The only communion with which they claimed near relationship was one which in their opinion had long ceased to exist. 'I am not of your communion,' said Bishop Welton on his death-bed, in 1726, to the English Chaplain at Lisbon, whose services he declined. 'I belong to the Church of England as it was reformed by Archbishop Cranmer.'[111] Thus too, when Bishop Deacon's son, a youth of little more than twenty, suffered execution for his share in the Jacobite rising of 1745, his last words upon the scaffold were that he died 'a member not of the Church of Rome, nor yet of that of England, but of a pure Episcopal Church, which has reformed all the errors, corruptions, and defects that have been introduced into the modern Churches of Christendom.'[112] Yet the divergence of these Nonjurors from the National Church was, after all, far more apparent than real. It was only a very small minority, beginning with Deacon and Campbell, who outstepped in any of their ideas the tone of feeling which had long been familiar to many of the High Church party. Ever since the reign of Edward VI. the Church of England had included among its clerical and lay members some who had not ceased to regret the changes which had been made in the second Liturgy issued in his reign, and who hoped for a restoration of the rubrics and passages which had been then expunged. Some of the practices and expressions which, after the first ten or twenty years of the eighteenth century, were looked upon as all but confined to a party of Nonjurors, had been held almost as fully before yet the schism was thought of.

This was certainly the case in regard of those 'usages' which related to the sacrificial character of the Eucharist and to prayers for the dead. Dr. Hickes complained in one of his letters that the doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice had disappeared from the writings even of divines who had treated on the subject.[113] How far this was correct became, four years later, a disputed question. Bishop Trimnell declared it was a doctrine that had never been taught in the English Church since the Reformation.[114] John Johnson, on the other hand, vicar of Cranbrook, who had originated the controversy by a book in which he ardently supported the opinion in question, affirmed that no Christian bishop before Trimnell ever denied it.[115] Evidently it was a point which had not come very prominently forward for distinct assertion or contradiction, and one in which there was great room for ambiguity. To some it seemed a palpably new doctrine, closely trenching on a most dangerous portion of the Romish system, and likely to lead to gross superstition. To others it seemed a harmless and very edifying part of belief, wholly void of any Romish tendencies, and plainly implied, if not definitely expressed, in the English Liturgy. Most of the excellent and pious High Churchmen who have been spoken of in this paper treasured it as a valued article of their faith. Kettlewell used to dilate on the great sacrificial feast of charity.[116] Bull used constantly to speak of the Eucharist as no less a sacrifice commemorative of Christ's oblation of Himself than the Jewish sacrifices had been typical of it.[117] Dodwell, ever fruitful in learned instances, not only brought forward arguments from Scripture and the Fathers, but adduced illustrations from the bloodless sacrifices of Essenes and Pythagoreans.[118] Robert Nelson, after the example of Jeremy Taylor in his 'Holy Living and Dying,' introduced the subject in a more popular and devotional form in his book upon the Christian Sacrifice.[119] Archbishop Sharp regretted that a doctrine which he considered so instructive had not been more definitely contained in the English Liturgy, and preferred the Communion office of King Edward VI.'s Service Book.[120] Beveridge argued that if the Jews were to be punctual and constant in attending their sacrifices, how much more should Christians honour by frequent observance the great commemorative offering which had been instituted in their place, and contained within itself the benefits of them all.[121]

Some observations of a somewhat similar kind may be made in regard of prayers for the departed, another subject which the English Church has wisely left to private opinion. The nonjuring 'usages,' on the other hand, restored to the Liturgy the clauses which the better judgment of their ancestors had omitted. Some went farther, and insisted that 'prayer for their deceased brethren was not only lawful and useful, but their bounden duty.'[122] All of them, however, without exception, contested with perfect sincerity that their doctrine on these points was not that of Rome, and that they entirely repudiated, as baseless and unscriptural, the superstructure which that Church has raised upon it. The nonjuring separation drew away from the National Church many who as a matter of private opinion had held the tenet without rebuke; and although, in the middle of the eighteenth century, John Wesley stoutly defended it,[123] and Dr. Johnson always argued for its propriety and personally maintained the practice,[124] an idea gained ground that it was wholly unauthorised by the English Church and contrary to its spirit. But at the opening of the century it appears to have been a tenet not unfrequently maintained, especially among High Churchmen, whether Jurors or Nonjurors. Dr. I. Barrow, says Hearne, 'was mighty for it.'[125] In the form of prayer for Jan. 30th, 1661, there was a perfectly undisguised prayer of this kind, drawn up apparently by Archbishop Juxon.[126] It had however only the authority of the Crown, and was expunged in the authorised form of prayer for 1662. Archbishop Wake said he did not condemn the practice,[127] and Bishop Smalridge, already spoken of in the list of Robert Nelson's friends, is said to have been in favour of it.[128] So was Robert Nelson himself. After describing the death of his old and honoured friend Bishop Bull, he adds in reference to him and to his wife who had died previously: 'The Lord grant unto them that they may find mercy of the Lord in that day.'[129] Bishop Ken may be quoted to the same effect. Writing to Dr. Nicholas in October 1677, of the death of their friend Mr. Coles, 'cujus anima,' he continues, 'requiescat in pace.'[130] Dr. Ernest Grabe and Dean Hickes, two more of R. Nelson's intimate associates, were also accustomed to pray for those in either state.[131]

The Nonjurors and High Churchmen in general, no less than the rest of their countrymen, were stout Protestants, and gloried in the name. High Churchmen had stood in the van of that great contest with Rome which had so occupied the thoughts of theological writers and the whole English people during the later years of the preceding century, and the remembrance of which was still fresh. The acrimony of argument had been somewhat abated by the very general respect entertained in England for the great Gallican divines, Pascal, Fénelon, and Bossuet. Among the Nonjurors it was further softened by political and social considerations. English Roman Catholics were almost all Jacobites, and were therefore in close sympathy with them on a matter of very absorbing interest. But although these influences tended to remove prejudices, the gap that separates Anglican and Roman divinity remained wide as ever. When the Nonjurors, or a large section of them, cut themselves away from the National Church, they did not in their isolation look towards Rome. Even the most advanced among their leaders proved, by the energy with which they continued the Protestant controversy, how groundless was the charge sometimes brought against them, that they had adopted Popish doctrines.

It cannot be wondered at, that members of the nonjuring communion felt very keenly the isolated, and, so to say, the sectarian condition in which they were placed. There were few words dearer to them than that word 'Catholic,' which breathes of loving brotherhood in one great Christian body. And yet outside their own scanty fold they were repelled on every side. They had been ardently attached to the English Church, and had thought that whatever its imperfections might be in practice, its theory, at all events, approached to perfection. But now, to the minds of many of them, the ideal had passed away, or had become a shadow. Since, then, the Church in which they had been brought up had failed them, where should they find intercommunion and sympathy? Not among English Nonconformists. Although they might have been willing at one time to concede much to Nonconformist scruples, yet even as fellow-members in one national Church they would have represented opposite poles of ecclesiastical sentiment; and without such a mutual bond of union, the interval which separated Dissenters and Nonjurors was wider than ever it had been. To come to any terms with Rome was quite out of the question. Such an alliance would indeed be, as Kettlewell expressed it, 'concordia discors.'[132] Could they then combine with Lutherans or other foreign Protestants? This at one time seemed possible. English High Churchmen, Juror and Nonjuror, were inclined to be lenient to deficiencies abroad, in order and ritual, of which they would have been wholly intolerant at home. Even Dodwell, a man of singularly straitened and rigid views, thought the prospect not unhopeful. One condition, however, they laid down as absolutely indispensable--the restoration of a legitimate episcopate. But the chief promoters of the scheme died nearly coincidently; political questions of immediate concern interfered with its farther consideration, and thus the project was dropped. The Scotch Episcopal Church remained as a communion with which English Nonjurors could fraternise. Ken and Beveridge and Kettlewell, and English High Churchmen in general, had long regarded that Church with compassion, sympathy, and interest. Dr. Hickes, the acknowledged leader of the thorough Nonjurors, had become, as chaplain to the Earl of Lauderdale, well acquainted with its bishops; a large proportion of its clergy were Jacobites and Nonjurors; and, like themselves, they were a depressed and often persecuted remnant. The intimacy, therefore, between the Scotch Episcopalians and many of the English Nonjurors became, as is well known, very close.


There was, however, one other great body of Christians towards whom, after a time, the nonjuring separatists turned with proposals of amity and intercommunion. This was the Eastern Church. Various causes had contributed to remove something of the obscurity which had once shrouded this vast communion from the knowledge of Englishmen. As far back as the earlier part of Charles I.'s reign, the attention of either party in the English Church had been fixed for a time on the overtures made by Cyrillus Lukaris,[133] patriarch, first of Alexandria, and then of Constantinople, to whom we owe the precious gift of the 'Alexandrian manuscript' of the Scriptures. Archbishop Abbot, a Calvinist, and one of the first representatives of the so-called Latitudinarian party, had been attracted by the inclinations evinced by this remarkable man towards the theology of Holland and Geneva. His successor and complete opposite, Archbishop Laud, had been no less fascinated by the idea of closer intercourse with a Church of such ancient splendour and such pretensions to primitive orthodoxy. At the close of the seventeenth century this interest had been renewed by the visit of Peter the Great to this island. With a mind greedy after all manner of information, he had not omitted to inquire closely into ecclesiastical matters. People heard of his conversations on these subjects with Tenison and Burnet,[134] and wondered how far a monarch who was a kind of Pope in his own empire would be leavened with Western and Protestant ideas. In learned and literary circles too the Eastern Church had been discussed. The Oxford and Cambridge Platonists, than whom England has never produced more thoughtful and scholarlike divines, had profoundly studied the Alexandrian fathers. Patristic reading, which no one could yet neglect who advanced the smallest pretensions to theological acquirements, might naturally lead men to think with longing of an ideal of united faith 'professed' (to use Bishop Ken's familiar words) 'by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West.'[135] Missionary feeling, which at the beginning of the eighteenth century was showing so many signs of nascent activity, had not failed to take notice of the gross ignorance into which many parts of Greek Christendom had fallen.[136] Henry Ludolph, a German by birth, and late secretary to Prince George of Denmark, on his return to London in 1694 from some lengthened travels in Russia, and after further wanderings a few years later in Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Holy Land, persuaded some English Churchmen to publish an impression of the New Testament in modern Greek, which was dispersed in those countries through the Greeks with whom Ludolph kept up a correspondence.[137] In 1701 University men at Cambridge, when Bentley was Vice-Chancellor, were much interested by the visit of Neophytos, Archbishop of Philippopolis, and Exarch of Thrace. He was presented with a Doctor of Divinity's degree, and afterwards made a speech in Hellenistic Greek.[138] About the same time the minutes of the Christian Knowledge Society make report of a Catechism drawn up for Greek Churchmen by Bishop Williams of Chichester, and translated from the English by some Greeks then studying at Oxford.[139] This little colony of Greek students had been established in 1689, through the cordial relations then subsisting between Archbishop Sancroft and Georgirenes, Metropolitan of Samos, who had recently been a refugee in London. It was hoped that by their residence at Oxford they would be able to promote in their own country a better understanding of 'the true doctrine of the Church of England.' They were to be twenty in number, were to dwell together at Gloucester Hall (afterwards Worcester College), be habited all alike in the gravest sort of habit worn in their own country, and stay at the University for five years.[140] Robert Nelson, ever zealous and energetic in all the business of the society, would naturally feel particularly interested in the condition of Eastern Christians on account of the business connection with Smyrna in which his family had been prosperously engaged. We are told of his showing warm sympathy in the wish of the Archbishop of Gotchau in Armenia to get works of piety printed in that language.[141] Similar interest would be felt by another leader of the early Nonjurors, Frampton, Bishop of Gloucester, who in his earlier years had served as chaplain at Aleppo, and had formed a familiar acquaintance with some of the most learned patriarchs and bishops of the Eastern Church.[142] The man, however, who at the beginning of the eighteenth century must have done most to turn attention towards the Eastern Church, was Dr. Grabe, who has been already more than once spoken of as held in great esteem by the Nonjuring and High Church party. He had found the Anglican Church more congenial to him on the whole than any other, but it shared his sympathies with the Lutheran and the Greek. He was a constant daily attendant at the English, and more especially the nonjuring services, but for many years he communicated exclusively at the Greek Church. He also published a 'Defensio Græcæ Ecclesiæ.'[143] Thus, in many different ways, the Oriental Church had come to be regarded, especially by the more studious of the High Church clergy, in quite another light from that of Rome.

In 1716 Arsenius, Metropolitan of Thebais, came to London on a charitable mission in behalf of the suffering Christians of Egypt. It will be readily understood with what alacrity a number of the Scotch and English Nonjurors seized the opportunity of making 'a proposal for a concordat betwixt the orthodox and Catholic remnant of the British Churches and the Catholic and Apostolic Oriental Church.' The correspondence, of which a full account is given in Lathbury's History of the Nonjurors,[144] although in many respects an interesting one, was wholly abortive. There appears indeed to have been a real wish on the part of Peter the Great and of some of the patriarchs to forward the project; but the ecclesiastical synod of Russia was evidently not quite clear from whom the overtures proceeded. Their answers were directed 'To the Most Reverend the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Great Britain, our dearest brothers,' and, somewhat to the dismay of the Nonjurors, copies of the letters were even sent by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to Archbishop Wake. Above all, the proposals were essentially one-sided. The nonjuring bishops, while remaining perfectly faithful to their principles, were willing to make large concessions in points which involved no departure from what they considered to be essential truths. The Patriarchs would have been glad of intercommunion on their own terms, but in the true spirit of the Eastern Church, would concede nothing. It was 'not lawful either to add any thing or take away any thing' from 'what has been defined and determined by ancient Fathers and the Holy Oecumenical Synods from the time of the apostles and their holy successors, the Fathers of our Church, to this time. We say that those who are disposed to agree with us must submit to them, with sincerity and obedience, and without any scruple or dispute. And this is a sufficient answer to what you have written.' Perhaps the result might not have been very different, even if the overtures in question had been backed by the authority of the whole Anglican Church--a communion which at this period was universally acknowledged as the leader of Protestant Christendom. And even if there were less immutability in Eastern counsels, Bishop Campbell and his coadjutors could scarcely have been sanguine in hoping for any other issue. Truth and right, as they remarked in a letter to the Czar, do not depend on numbers; but if the Oriental synod were thoroughly aware how exceedingly scanty was 'the remnant' with which they were treating, and how thoroughly apart from the main current of English national life, it was highly improbable that they would purchase so minute an advance towards a wider unity by authorising what would certainly seem to them innovations dangerously opposed to all ancient precedent. It must be some far greater and deeper movement that will first tempt the unchanging Eastern Church to approve of any deviation from the trodden path of immemorial tradition.

There was great variety of individual character in the group of Churchmen who have formed the subject of this chapter. They did not all come into contact with one another, and some were widely separated by the circumstances of their lives. The one fact of some being Jurors and some Nonjurors was quite enough in itself to make a vast difference of thoughts and sympathies among those who had taken different sides. But they were closely united in what they held to be the divinely appointed constitution of the Church. All looked back to primitive times as the unalterable model of doctrine, order, and government; all were firmly persuaded that the English Reformation was wholly based on a restoration of the ancient pattern, and had fallen short of its object only so far forth as that ideal had as yet been unattained; all looked with suspicion and alarm at such tendencies of their age as seemed to them to contradict and thwart the development of these principles. They were good men in a very high sense of the word, earnestly religious, bent upon a conscientious fulfilment of their duties, and centres, in their several spheres, of active Christian labours. Ken, Nelson, and Kettlewell, among Nonjurors--Bull, Beveridge, and Sharp, among those who accepted the change of dynasty--are names deservedly held in special honour by English Churchmen. Their piety was of a type more frequent perhaps in the Church of England than in some other communions, very serious and devout, but wholly free from all gloom and moroseness; tinged in some instances, as in Dodwell, Ken, and Hooper, with asceticism, but serene and bright, and guarded against extravagance and fanaticism by culture, social converse, and sound reading. Such men could not fail to adorn the faith they professed, and do honour to the Church in which they had been nurtured. At the same time, some of the tenets which they ardently maintained were calculated to foster a stiffness and narrowness, and an exaggerated insistence upon certain forms of Church government, which contained many elements of real danger. Within the National Church there was a great deal to counterbalance these injurious tendencies and check their growth. The Latitudinarian party, whose faults and temptations lay in a very opposite direction, was very strong. Ecclesiastical as well as political parties were no doubt strongly defined, and for a time strongly antagonistic. But wherever in a large body of men different views are equally tolerated, opinions will inevitably shade one into another to a great extent, and extreme or unpractical theories will be tempered and toned down, or be regarded at most as merely the views of a minority. Among the Nonjurors Henry Dodwell, for example, was a real power, as a man of holy life and profound learning, whose views, although carried to an extreme in which few could altogether concur, were still in general principle, and when stated in more moderate terms, those of the great majority of the whole body. As a member, on the other hand, of the National Church, his goodness and erudition were widely respected, but his theoretical extravagances were only the crotchets of a retired student, who advanced in their most extreme form the opinions of a party.

But, Jurors or Nonjurors, the very best men of the old High Church party certainly exhibited a strong bearing towards the faults of exclusiveness and ecclesiasticism. It was a serious loss to the English Church to be deprived of the services of such men as Ken and Kettlewell, but it would have been a great misfortune to it to have been represented only by men of their sentiments. Their Christianity was as true and earnest as ever breathed in the soul; nevertheless, there was much in it that could not fail to degenerate in spirits less pure and elevated than their own. They were apt to fall into the common error of making orthodoxy a far more strait and narrow path than was ever warranted by any terms of the Church apostolic or of the Church of their own country. Its strict limits, on all points which Scripture has left uncertain, had been, as it appeared to them, providentially maintained throughout the first three centuries. Then began a long period of still increasing error; until the time of reformation came, and the Church of England fulfilled its appointed task of retracing the old landmarks, and restoring primitive truth to its ancient purity. Allowing for such trifling modifications as the difference of time and change of circumstances absolutely necessitated, the Anglican was in their estimation the Ante-Nicene Church revived. If, in the doctrine, order, and government of the English Church there was anything which would not have approved itself to the early fathers and to the first Councils, it was so far forth a falling short of its fundamental principles. They were persuaded that at all events there was nowhere outside its borders such near approach to this perfection. As for other religious bodies, the degree of their separation from the spirit and constitution of the English Church might be fairly taken as the approximate measure of their departure from the practice of primitive antiquity. Romanism, Latitudinarianism, Mysticism, Calvinism, Puritanism--whatever form dissent might take from what they believed to be the true principles of the English Church, it was, as such, a departure from Catholic and orthodox tradition, it was but one or another phase of the odious sin of schism.

The High Anglican custom of appealing to early ecclesiastical records as an acknowledged standard of authority on all matters which Scripture has left uncertain, necessarily led this section of the English Church to repeat many of the failings as well as many of the virtues which had characterised the Church of the third and fourth centuries. It copied, for instance, far too faithfully, the disposition which primitive ages had early manifested, to magnify unduly the spiritual power and prerogatives of the priesthood. No doubt the outcry against sacerdotalism was often perverted to disingenuous uses. Many a hard blow was dealt against vital Christian doctrine under the guise of righteous war against the exorbitant pretensions of the clergy. But Sacerdotalism certainly attained a formidable height among some of the High Churchmen of the period, both Jurors and Nonjurors. Dodwell, who declined orders that he might defend all priestly rights from a better vantage ground, did more harm to the cause he had espoused than any one of its opponents, by fearlessly pressing the theory into consequences from which a less thorough or a more cautious advocate would have recoiled with dismay. Robert Nelson's sobriety of judgment and sound practical sense made him a far more effective champion. He too, like Dodwell, rejoiced that from his position as a layman he could without prejudice resist what he termed a sacrilegious invasion of the rights of the priests of the Lord.[145] The beginning of the eighteenth century was felt to be a time of crisis in the contest which, for the last three or four hundred years, has been incessantly waged between those whose tendency is ever to reduce religion into its very simplest elements, and those, on the other hand, in whose eyes the whole order of Church government and discipline is a divinely constituted system of mysterious powers and superhuman influences. It is a contest in which opinions may vary in all degrees, from pure Deism to utter Ultramontanism. The High Churchmen in question insisted that their position, and theirs only, was precisely that of the Church in early post-Apostolic times, when doctrine had become fully defined, but was as yet uncorrupted by later superstitions. It was not very tenable ground, but it was held by them with a pertinacity and sincerity of conviction which deepened the fervour of their faith, even while it narrowed its sympathies and cramped it with restrictions. A Church in which they found what they demanded; which was primitive and reformed; which was free from the errors of Rome and Geneva; which was not only Catholic and orthodox on all doctrines of faith, but possessed an apostolical succession, with the sacred privileges attached to it; which was governed by a lawful and canonical episcopate; which was blessed with a sound and ancient liturgy; which was faithful (many Nonjurors would add) to its divinely appointed king; such a Church was indeed one for which they could live and die. So far it was well. Their love for their own Church, and their perfect confidence in it, added both beauty and character to their piety. The misfortune was, that it left them unable to understand the merits of any form of faith which rejected, or treated as a thing indifferent, what they regarded as all but essential.


Fervid as their Christianity was, it was altogether unprogressive in its form. It was inelastic, incompetent to adapt itself to changing circumstances. Some of their leaders were inclined at one time to favour a scheme of comprehension. It is, however, impossible to believe they would have agreed to any concession which was not evidently superficial. They longed indeed for unity; and there is no reason to believe that they would have hesitated to sacrifice, though it would not be without a pang, many points of ritual and ceremony if it would further so good an end. But in their scheme of theology the essentials of an orthodox Church were numerous, and they would have been inflexible against any compromise of these. To abandon any part of the inheritance of primitive times would be gross heresy, a fatal dereliction of Christian duty. No one can read the letters of Bishop Ken without noticing how the calm and gentle spirit of that good prelate kindles into indignation at the thought of any departure from the ancient 'Depositum' of the Church. He did not fail to appreciate and love true Christian piety when brought into near contact with it, even in those whose principles, in what he considered essential matters, differed greatly from his own. He was on cordial, and even intimate terms of friendship, for example, with Mr. Singer, a Nonconformist gentleman of high standing, who lived in the neighbourhood of Longleat. But this only serves to illustrate that there is an unity of faith far deeper than very deeply marked outward distinctions, a bond of Christian communion which, when once its strength is felt, is stronger than the strongest theories. Where the stiffness of his 'Catholic and orthodox' opinions was not counteracted or mitigated by feelings of warm personal respect, Ken could only view with unmixed aversion the working of principles which paid little regard to Church authority and attached small importance to any part of a Church system that did not clearly rest on plain words of Scripture. No one, reading without farther information the frequent laments made in Ken's letters and poems, that his flock had been left without a shepherd, that it was no longer folded in Catholic and hallowed grounds, and that it was fed with empoisoned instead of wholesome food, would think how good a man his successor in the see of Bath and Wells really was. Bishop Kidder was 'an exemplary and learned man of the simplest and most charitable character.'[146] Robert Nelson had strongly recommended him to Archbishop Tillotson. But he held a Low Church view of the Sacraments; he was inclined to admit, on what some considered too lenient terms, Dissenters of high character into the ministry of the English Church; his reverence for primitive tradition was slight; he had no respect for doctrines of passive obedience and divine right. In Ken's eyes he was therefore a 'Latitudinarian Traditour.' The deprived bishop had no wish to resume his see. It was more than once offered to him in Queen Anne's reign, when the oath of allegiance would no longer have been an insuperable obstacle. But throughout the life of his first successor his anxiety about his former diocese was very great, and his satisfaction was extreme when Kidder was succeeded by Hooper, a bishop of kindred principles to his own. And Ken was in these respects a fair representative of many who thought with him. To them the Christian faith, not in its fundamentals only, but in all the principal accessories of its constitution and government, was stereotyped in forms which could not be departed from without heresy or schism. There was scarcely any margin left for self-adaptation to changed requirements and varied modes of thought, no ready scope for elasticity and development. As Christianity had been left in the age of the first three councils, so it was to remain until the end of time. The first reformers had reformed it from its corruptions once and for all. The guardians of its purity had only to walk loyally in their steps, carry out their principles, and not be misled by any so-called reformer of a later day, whose meddling hands would only have marred the finished beauty of an accomplished work of restoration.

Such opinions, when rich in vitality and warmth of conviction, have a very important function to fulfil. Admirably adapted to supply the spiritual wants of a certain class of minds, they represent one very important side of Christian truth. Good men such as those who have been the subject of this chapter are, in the Church, much what disinterested and patriotic Conservatives are in the State. It is their special function to resist needless changes and a too compliant subservience to new or popular ideas, to maintain unbroken the continuity of Christian thought, to guard from disparagement and neglect whatever was most valuable in the religious characteristics of an earlier age. Theirs is a school of thought which has neither a greater nor a less claim to genuine spirituality than that which is usually contrasted with it. Only its spirituality is wont to take, in many respects, a different tone. Instead of shrinking from forms which by their abuse may tend to formalism, and simplifying to the utmost all the accessories of worship, in jealous fear lest at any time the senses should be impressed at the expense of the spirit, it prefers rather to recognise as far as possible a lofty sacramental character in the institutions of religion, to see a meaning, and an inward as well as an outward beauty, in ceremonies and ritual, and to uphold a scrupulous and reverential observance of all sacred services, as conducing in a very high degree to spiritual edification. Churchmen of this type may often be blind to other sides of truth; they may rush into extremes; they may fall into grave errors of exclusiveness and prejudice. But if they certainly cannot become absolutely predominant in a Church without serious danger, they cannot become a weak minority without much detriment to its best interests. And since it is hopeless to find on any wide scale minds so happily tempered as to combine within themselves the best characteristics of different religious parties, a Church may well be congratulated which can count among its loyal and attached members many men on either side conspicuous for their high qualities.

The beginning of Queen Anne's reign was in this respect a period of great promise. Not only was the Church of England popular and its opponents weak, but both High and Low Churchmen had leaders of distinguished eminence. Tillotson and Stillingfleet had passed away, but the Low Church bishops, such as Patrick and Fleetwood, Burnet, Tenison, and Compton, held a very honourable place in general esteem. The High Churchmen no longer had Lake and Kettlewell, but Bull and Beveridge, Sharp, and Ken, and Nelson were still living, and held in high honour. This latter party had been rent asunder by the nonjuring schism. The breach, however, was not yet irreparable; and if it could be healed, and the cordial feeling could be restored which, under the influence of common Protestant sympathies, had begun to draw the two sections of the Church together, the National Church might seem likely to root itself more deeply in the attachment of the people than at any previous time since the Reformation. These fair promises were frustrated, and the opportunity lost. Before many years had passed there was a perceptible loss of tone and power in the Low Church party, when King William's bishops had gradually died off. Among High Churchmen, weakened by the secession, the growth of degeneracy was still more evident. The contrast is immense between the lofty-minded and single-hearted men who worked with Ken and Nelson and the factious partisans who won the applause of 'High Church' mobs in the time of Sacheverell. Perhaps the Church activity which, at all events in many notable instances, distinguished the first few years of the eighteenth century, is thrown into stronger relief by the comparative inertness which set in soon afterwards. For a few years there was certainly every appearance of a growing religious movement. Church brotherhoods were formed both in London and in many country towns and villages, missions were started, religious education was promoted, plans for the reformation of manners were ardently engaged in, churches were built, the weekly and daily services were in many places frequented by increasing congregations, and communicants rapidly increased. It might seem as if the Wesleyan movement was about to be forestalled, in general character though not in detail, under the full sanction and direction of some of the principal heads of the English Church: or as if the movement were begun, and only wanted such another leader as Wesley was. There was not enough fire in Robert Nelson's character for such a part. Yet, had he lived a little longer, the example of his deep devotion and untiring zeal might have kindled the flame in some younger men of congenial but more impetuous temperament, whose zeal would have stirred the masses, and left a deep mark upon the history of the age.

As it was, things took a different course. The chief promoters of these noble efforts died, and much of their work died with them. Or it may be that the times were not yet ripe for such a revival. It may even have been better in the end for English Christianity, that no special period of religious excitement should interfere with the serious intellectual conflict, in which all who could give any attention to theology were becoming deeply interested. Great problems involved in the principles of the Reformation, but obscured up to that time by other and more superficial controversies, were being everywhere discussed. An interval of religious tranquillity amounting almost to stagnation may have been not altogether unfavourable to a crisis when the fundamental axioms of Christianity were being reviewed and tested. And, after all, dulness is not death. The responsibilities of each individual soul are happily not dependent upon unusual helps and extraordinary opportunities. Yet great efforts of what may be called missionary zeal are most precious, and fall like rain upon the thirsty earth. It is impossible not to feel disappointment that the practical energies which at the beginning of the eighteenth century seemed ready to expand into full life should have proved comparatively barren of permanent results. But though the effort was not seconded as it should have been, none the less honour is due to the exemplary men who made it. It was an effort by no means confined to any one section of the Church. There were few more earnest in it than many of the London clergy who had worked heart and soul with Tillotson. But wherever any great religious undertaking, any scheme of Christian benevolence, was under consideration, wherever any plan was in hand for carrying out more thoroughly and successfully the work of the Church, there at all events was Robert Nelson, and the pious, earnest-hearted Churchmen who enjoyed his friendship.