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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.