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infinite goodness of God, and the merits of our Saviour. Here he answered, I do so: and I say, in the words of my Saviour, when I have done all, I am but an unprofitable servant. He was in such an agony of body for want of breath, that I did not think fit to speak more to him, but only gave him assurance of my earnest prayers for him, while he remained in this world. Then I took a solemn and affectionate farewell of him, and he of me.'”*
Mr. Firmin, although no writer himself, was a great encourager and publisher of the works of others, and had some concern in several volumes of Unitarian tracts, published about the time of the Revolution. His life, from which the above extracts are made, is worthy to be perused ; as also an admirable sermon, occasioned by his death, printed along with it.
In the year 1694 began the great contest concerning the Trinity, betwixt two celebrated doctors of the church, Sherlock and South ; each of them reputed and reputing himself orthodox, and each of them espoused by learned and powerful partisans.
Dr. Sherlock expressly asserted, that the three persons in the Trinity are three distinct, infinite Minds or Spirits, and three individual Substances. Dr. South held only one infinite eternal Mind or Spirit, with three Somethings that were not three
* Life of Mr. Firmin, p. 82.
distinct Minds or Substances, but three modes, faculties, attributes, relations, relative properties, subsistences, as they were variously denominated. Dr. Sherlock was accused, and with great justice, if words have any meaning, of polytheism, or holding three Gods. Dr. South, on the other hand, came under the imputation of explaining away the-Trinity, and falling into the Sabellian or Unitarian system : and accordingly some of the Socinians took advantage of the Doctor's explication of the doctrine of the church, and declared in their writings, that they should not be backward to give their approbation to the Liturgy and Articles, if that was the kind of Trinity which the language therein used was intended to inculcate.
The university of Oxford, to whom Sherlock was obnoxious on account of his political principles, declared for Dr. South ; and the vicechancellor and heads of colleges and halls, assembled November 25, 1695, passed this censure on the opposite doctrine, viz. -" That the assertion, there are three infinite, distinct Minds and Substances in the Trinity, is false, impious and heretical, contrary to the doctrine of the catholic church, and particularly to the received doctrine of the church of England.”
But this censure had no consequences. As · both parties made no scruple of using the common language of the church, and held thrce
Somewhats, they were never called in question, or their orthodoxy impeached. Only, the quarrel ran so high from the pulpit, that the state thought proper to interpose its authority to stop it; and accordingly an injunction came forth from his Majesty, King William, bearing date February 2, 1695, with directions to the archbishops and bishops to be observed in their respective dioceses. The two first of these were,
1. That no preacher whatsoever, in his sermon or lecture, do presume to deliver any other doctrine concerning the blessed Trinity, than what is contained in the holy scripture, [and is agreeable to the three creeds, and the thirty-nine articles).
2. That, in the explication of this doctrine, they carefully avoid all new terms, [and confine themselves to such ways of expression as have been commonly used in the church).
N. B. If the words hooked in a parenthesis had been omitted, there would have been a better and more lasting foundation laid for peace and truth.
These disputes among divines, their abuse of each other, and the strange distinctions and equivocation to which they were reduced to defend themselves, and maintain their directly contrary opinions, contributed much to the spreading of the
Unitarian doctrine:* yet it is to be feared, many were thereby indisposed to revealed religon itself, when they saw that its great doctors could not agree about the object of their worship, whether One Being, or Many:
Whoever would see to what extravagant positions, subversive of all religion and natural knowledge of God, men will let themselves be driven, rather than give up an hypothesis once espoused, needeth only to read “ Dr. Clarke's Observations on Dr. Waterland's second Defence of his Queries :" which, I believe, closed the controversy at that time, and ought to have closed it for ever.t
The Unitarian Christians were much affected by a shocking act of the state, which was suffered to pass in these early days of the revolution,
"lown I have been unsettled in my notions from the time I read Dr. Sherlock's book of the Trinity, which sufficiently discovered how far many were gone back towards polytheism: I lorg tried what I could do with some Sabel. lian turns, making out a Trinity of Somewhats in one single. mind. I found that, by the tritheistical scheme of Dr. Sherlock and Mr. Howe, I best preserved a Trinity, but I lost the Unity. By the Sabellian scheme of modes, subsistences and properties, &c. I best kept up the divine Unity; but then I had lost a Trinity, such as the Scriptures discover; so that I could not keep both in view at once." Emlyn's Works, Vol. I. p. 15.
† See also Emlyn, Vol. II. p. 451.
and which still remains an indelible reproach to it.
For, “ by 9 and 10 Wm. III. ch. 32,-If any person educated in, or having made profession of the Christian religion, shall be convicted in any of the courts of Westminster, or at the assizes, of denying any one of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be God, &c. he shall for the first offence, be judged incapable of any office; and for the second offence, shall be disabled to sue any action, or to be guardian, exen cutor, or administrator, or to take any legacy or deed of -gift, or to bear any office, civil or military, or benefice ecclesiastical for ever, and also shall suffer imprisonment for three years.”
If we reflect on that high estimation, in which the celebrated Dr. Clarke and his writings were held soon after this time, by many in high place, and in all places; and also how great a number have espoused his sentiment, or that of the Socinians, concerning our Saviour Christ, we shall not be able to think of the existence of such a law as this without horror. But that benevolence of the present times, which forbids the execution, should hasten the repeal of it.
It would carry us too far beyond our purpose, or here would be the place, in the beginning of the present century, to treat of Mr. Thomas Emlyn, an Englishman, minister of a congregation of Protestant Dissenters in. Dublin, who " so nobly