John Henry Overton.

The English church, from the accession of George I. to the end of the eighteenth century (1714-1800) online

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J. listorg of the ©uglisk (Elmrch

Edited by the late Very Rev. \V. R. W. Stephens, D.D.. F.S.A.,

Dean of Winchester,

and the Rev. William Hunt, D.Litt.








(17 14-1800)


Rev. Canon JOHN H. OVERTON, D.D.




I 906

y^// ricrhts resefveJ

V. 7










Interest in the history of the English Church has been steadily
increasing of late years^ since t/ie great importance of the Church
as a factor in the develop77iejit of the ?iational life a?id character
from the earliest times lias cofue to he more fully and clearly
recognised. But side by side with this increase of inte7'est in the
history of our Church, the want has been felt of a more complete
presentment of it than has hitherto been attempted. Certain
portio7tSj indeed, have been ivritten zvith a fulness and accuracy
that leave 7iothing to be desired ; but 77iany others have been dealt
with, if at all, only in 77ia7iuals and text-books which are generally
dull by reason of excessive compression, or in sketches which,
however b7-illiant and suggestive, a7-e not histories. What see77ied
to be wanted was a continuous and adequate history in volu7nes
of a moderate size and price, based up07i a ca7'eful study of original
authorities and the best a7icient and 7nodern writers. On the
other ha7id, the 77iass of 77iaterial which research has 7iow placed
at the disposal of the scholar seemed to render it i77iprobable that
a7iy one would venture to undertake such a history si7igle-handed,
or that, if he did, he would live to co7nplete it. The best way,
therefore, of 7neeting the difficulty seemed to be a division of
labour amongst several co7npetent scholars, agreed in their general
principles, each being responsible for a period to which he has


devoted special attention^ and all working in correspondence
through the medium of an editor or editors^ whose business it
should be to guard against errors, contradictions, overlapping,
and repetitiojt ; but, consistency a?td continuity being so far
secured, each writer should have as free a hand as possible.
Such is the plan upon which the present history has been pro-
jected. It is proposed to carry it on far enough to include at
least the Evangelical Movement in the eighteenth century. The
whole work will consist of seven ^ crown octavo books uniform in
outward appearance, but necessarily varying some^vhat in length
and price. Each book can be bought separately, and will have
its own index, together with any tables or maps that 7nay be

I am thankful to have secured as 7ny co-editor a scholar who
is eminently qualified by the remarkable extent and accuracy of
his knowledge to render me assistance, without which, amidst
the pressure of many other duties, I could scarcely have ventured
upon a work of this magnitude,


The Deanery, Winchester,
20thfuly 1S99.

* An eighth volume dealing with '* The English Church in the Nine-
teenth Century " has since been added.


According to present arrangements the work will be dis
tributed amongst the following writers : —

I. The English Church from its Foundation to the Norman

Conquest, by the Rev. W. Hunt, D.Litt. Ready.
II. The English Church from the Norman Conquest to
the Accession of Edward I., by Dean Stephens, D.D.

III. The English Church in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth

Centuries, by the Rev. W. W. Capes, M.A., late
Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford. Ready.

IV. The English Church in the Sixteenth Century from the

Accession of Henry VHL to the Death of Mary, by
James Gairdner, C.B., Hon. LL.D., Edinburgh.
V. The English Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and
James L, by W. H. Frere. Ready.

VI. 'i'he English Church from the Accession of Charles I.
to the Death of Anne, by the Rev. William Holden
Hutton, B.D., Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford.

Vn. The English Church from the Accession of George T.

to the End of the Eighteenth Century, by the late

Rev. Canon Overton, D.D., and the Rev. Frederic

Relton, A.K.C. Ready.
Vni. The English Church in the Nineteenth Centur}', by F.

W. Cornish, M.A., Vice-Provost of Eton College. In



When Canon Overton died he left behind him the rough
draft of this volume. It was contained in three small octavo
note-books, and written in pencil. There were a few notes
on the opposite blank pages as to amplifications or modifica-
tions to be made in the final revision, and references to
quotations from his own or other books which he intended
to insert in full. These quotations for the most part, owing
to considerations of space, it has been found necessary
either materially to curtail or altogether to omit. What
would have been the ultimate form in which his book as
thus planned, partly on paper and partly only by reference,
would have been sent by him to press it is impossible
even to conjecture. The plan on which he had worked
was unfortunately not that of the other volumes of this
series. It comprised four long chapters, dealing with the
four periods into which he divided his work, and supplemental
chapters on General Church Life, Missionary and Colonial
Work, and the relations with Sister Churches. The difficulty
that I had to contend with all through has, therefore, been to
preserve so much of his work as was possible, and in the
order in which he had sketched it, and at the same time to
break it up into a number of short and more or less self-con-
tained chapters. Canon Overton, moreover, had not, in this
instance, departed from his favourite method of writing history,
namely, that of dealing with the lives of the great men of the


time rather than writing a consecutive narrative of events and
tendencies. It was found impossible, without so obliterating
his work as to make the retention of his name as joint-author
an anomaly, to depart from this method. What has been
done is to add to his material certain sections with which he
had either not dealt at all or but only partially, and in some
cases to rewrite whole sections, retaining his phraseology
wherever possible, and modifying his order and arrangement.
I have not willingly parted with a line, scarcely a word, of
what he had written. As the work now stands, therefore, it
is a distinctly composite production. Some is wholly his,
some wholly mine, and the able hand of the Editor has been
exercised freely on both. I am solely responsible for the lists
of Authorities at the end of the chapters. I could not now,
without reference to the documents in their respective stages,
distinguish always accurately between these three, and the
"higher criticism" would fail to disentangle the various con-
tributions of O. and R. and H. I did make a rough calculation
of the relative amount of each, and it might be expressed by
the formula Oa^Ri^H^.

Since Canon Overton and his colleague C. J. Abbey first
drew the attention of the thoughtful to the problems of our
eighteenth-century Church life, a gradual change has come
over our judgments upon it. The more it is studied the
more full of life it is found to be. Not perhaps our kind of
life, but life nevertheless. Every investigation that is made
into the annals of a diocese or a parish reveals this more and
more. The day is not yet when the full history can be written.
Much spade work has still to be done before the foundations
can be fully explored. Local and diocesan records need
to be investigated and their results tabulated before any
trustworthy verdict can be pronounced upon the religious life
of the Church as a whole. Overton's and Abbey's work was
pioneer work, and much more of the same kind is required.

In one respect a very severe restraint has had to be


exercised. Tempting and congenial as the subject is, there
was no space in which to treat of the secular literature of the
time. The poetry, the essays, the novels especially, have
been passed over, though their influence upon the thought
and life of the age was enormous. Chapters might be written
thereon. The contemporary life of the Church of Ireland
was sketched by Dr. Overton, but that too had to be omitted.
I have to thank my eldest son, the Rev. B. F. Relton, B.A.,
late Scholar of St. John's College, Oxford, for invaluable help
in the way of research and verification, without which the
growing claims of a town parish would have prevented my
making much progress. To the Rev. Dr. Hunt I must express
my deep sense of obligation for much guidance and patience.
I can only conclude in the words of one whose life began
towards the close of the century —

" What is writ is writ ;
Would it were worthier."




Introduction ....... i

FIRST PERIOD, 17 14-1738


The Bangorian Controversy and the Silencing of Con-
vocation . . . , . .11

The Trinitarian and Deistic Controversies . . 30

The Answer to Deism ...... 40


Jacobites and Non-Jurors — Beginnings of Spiritual

Revival ....... 57


SECOND PERIOD, 1 738-1 760


The Early Phases of the Wesleyan Movement . . 72

Potter, Gibson, and Sherlock .... 90

Benson, Butler, and Secker • . . . . 107

Bishop Wilson ....... 125

The Later Work of William Law — The Early Evangelicals 137

THIRD PERIOD, 1 760-1 789


Warburton, Hurd, and Lowth . . ., .158


The Evangelical Clergy . . . . .173

Minor Currents up to 1789 ..... 197



FOURTH PERIOD, 1789-1800

General Influences— The Growth of Toleration 218

The Later Evangelicals ..... 230

Closing Years of the Century . . . .251

General Church Life ...... 267

Church Fabrics and Services ..... 287

The Sunday School Movement .... 298


Colonial and Missionary Work .... 306


Relations with Sister Churches .... 346

APPENDIX I . . . . . • -359
APPENDIX II . . . - . . .361



The time is now past when the period from the death of
Queen Anne down to the end of the eighteenth century, if
not to the beginning of the Oxford Movement, was
regarded as practically a blank page in English g^tYml^te
Church history. It has at last been recognised that
a period which produced such clergymen as Joseph Butler
and Daniel Waterland, William Law. and Samuel Horsley, and
such lay churchmen as Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson,
William Wilberforce and William Stevens, must have bten at
any rate a period worth studying. It is true that a lover of
the English Church cannot study it without a blush. It is a
period, for instance, of lethargy instead of activity,
of worldliness instead of spirituality, of self-seeking ^|"teJistkr'
instead of self-denial, of grossness instead of refine-
ment. There was a grovelling instead of a noble conception
of the nature and function of the Church as a Christian
society, an ignoring instead of a conscientious and worthy
carrying out of the plain system of the Church, work neglected
instead of work well done. All this meets him at every turn.
But there is another side to the picture. The enemies
of the faith from all quarters were fairly grappled with and
fairly vanquished by its defenders. Never, perhaps,
during the whole course of English Church history ' ^' ^
was the victory in such contests so obviously on the Christian
side. If the general type of character was, on the one hand,
coarse and gross, it was, on the other hand, manly and robust ;
moreover, if the majority were "of the earth, earthy," the



minority afforded some of the noblest specimens of the
Christian character the world has ever seen ; and finally, the
history is, as a whole, the history of a rise, not of a fall ; of
a rise so gradual as to be almost imperceptible, so slow that
when we come to the end of the period we do not seem to
have risen very much above the level from which we started,
but still distinctly a rise. The study of it, therefore, is
encouraging, and not depressing. We close the page with
a sure conviction that better times were at hand. And the
event proved that this was in fact the case.

If it is true that the " eighteenth century is the best period
from which to begin the study of contemporary English
history," to no department of our history does this
^'"'hfstSy.''^' saying apply more forcibly than to that of the
English Church. That sober and somewhat in-
elastic spirit which to this day forms alike the strength and
weakness of the Englishman is really a survival of the spirit
which found its expression in the abhorrence of what used
to be called " enthusiasm," and which must still be
^pibd!°" reckoned with in the introduction of any innova-
tion either in Church or in State, and especially in
the Church. It did not exist to anything like the same extent
before the eighteenth century, which this volume covers ;
and so by making a leap, say, from the Caroline to the
Oxford divines, we miss the clue which guides us to a right
understanding of many a problem in later Church history.
The feeling which stigmatised Bishop Butler as " a papist "
because he put up a cross of white marble above the altar
in his palace chapel at Bristol, where it remained until it
was destroyed with the chapel and palace during the Reform
riots in 1831 ; and because he dwelt on the importance of
"external religion"; and which dubbed Bishop Beilby Porteus
" a Methodist " because he strove to revive the observance of
Good Friday, has by no means died out. A prosaic element
was introduced into English theology in the eighteenth
century, and it has continued prosaic ever since. To this
very day the writings of such men as Henry More, John
Smith, William Law, in his later stage, Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, apart from his poetry, and others who represent
the Platonic as distinguished from the Aristotelian type of


mind, the mystical as distinguished from the practical
temperament, have never been popular in England. But
it was not so before the Georgian era. There is a tender-
ness, a delicacy about the theology of the seventeenth
century which is wholly wanting in that of the eighteenth,
and has hardly yet been restored in that of the twentieth.

Again, great questions were discussed in the eighteenth
century much more fully than they were in earlier periods.
Underlying all such questions as, Did Christ leave ^

•^ ^ . ^ , - . , , Fundamental

one representative on earth ? or, in other words, questions
Should the whole Church be in subjection to one ^'^'^"^^'^•
external authority ? which was the root of the Papal Contro-
versy ; What is the true internreLation of Holy Scripture in
such and such matters ? which '•'\ rC the one question between
the Anglicans and the Presbyterians — the questions in dispute
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — were the deeper
questions, What were the true nature and character of our
Blessed Saviour ? which lay at the root of the Arian, Socinian,
and Unitarian Controversies ; and. What was the true character
of the Holy Scriptures as a revelation from God ? which was
at the root of the great Deistic Controversy. These vital
questions were not thoroughly threshed out until the period
with which this volume deals, and for that reason alone it
would be an important epoch.

The subject is one which lends itself more readily to the
essay-like than to the historical or chronological mode of treat-
ment, and it will be observed that most writers upon
it have adopted that method. Neither the volumes ^e t°o^rk.^
of W. E. H. Lecky, nor those of Sir Leslie Stephen,
nor those of C. J. Abbey and his colleague (Canon Overton) can
conscientiously be called narrative history ; and Archdeacon
Perr}^ frankly owns that he is compelled to make an exception
to his general rule in treating this portion of Church history,
because "the history of the Church of England during the
eighteenth century cannot well be written in the way of a
chronicle preserving an exact order in the sequence of events.
The external and political history of the Church has but little
connexion with its internal and more real history, and to
relate both of these together is liable to produce confusion."

The drawback to this method is that it is apt to produce


essays or papers which may form material for history rather
than history itself; and the readers of a series which is called
*' A History of the English Church " naturally expect to find
narrative history in it. It is purposed in the present volume
to make a sort of compromise by dividing the eighty-six years
into four well-defined periods, and then to treat of subjects
within those periods rather than to attempt a formal chronicle.
Since the average length of each period will be less than a
quarter of a century, the consecutive order which a reader
is entitled to expect in anything that calls itself a history will,
perhaps, be sufficiently presented by such a method.

I. The First Period embraces twenty-four years, from the
accession of George 1. in 1714 to the "conversion" of John
. Wesley in i738,Tor;"in other words, to the beginning
■ of the Evangelical revival. This is obviously the
proper date with which to begin a new period. For not only
was the Evangelical revival, from one point of view, by far
the most important feature in the religious history of the
eighteenth century, but it marks a change from what was an
appeal mainly to the head to what was an appeal mainly to
the heart, from the intellectual to the emotional. Both
appeals are necessary, and they came in the order named.
The Evangelical revival could never have been the force it
was unless it had been preceded by the work which was done
most effectually by those who placed Christianity upon a
thoroughly firm intellectual basis. Such men as Butler and
Waterland and Conybeare and Law not only paved the way
for the Wesleys and Whitefield, for Newton, Venn, and Cecil,
but rendered their mission possible ; and as the former group
could never have done the work of the latter, so neither
could the latter have ever done the work of the former. The
one set lacked the fire of energy, the other intellectual equip-
ment. Scant justice has been done to the splendid array of
writings in defence of Christianity which appeared between
17 14 and 1738. They embraced, among others,

Its literature. ' T, ..^ ' .^ ., ,,.■',. . /- U7 • ., t^ • ■ •,

Daniel Waterland s Vindication of Cnrisfs Divinity
(17 19), Second Vindication of Chris fs Divinity {i '12 -7,), Further
Vindication of Chris fs Divinity (1724), his Case of A?'ian
Subscription (1721), and Supplement (1722), and his Im-
i)orta?tce of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity asserted (1734) ;


Joseph Butler's Fifteen Sermons preached at the Rot/s Chapel
(17 20), and the Ana/ogy of Religion^ Natural and Ret'ealed, to
thi' Constitution and Course of Nature (1736); Thomas
Sherlock's Use and hitent of Prophecy (1725), and his Tryal
of the Witnesses of the Resurrectiofi of Jesus Christ (1729);
John Conybeare's Defence of Revealed Religion (1732); George
Berkeley's Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher (1732);
William Law's Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor (17 17),
his~rVzJ(? of Reason, or N^afural Religion fairly and fully stated
(1731); and the First Part of William Warburton's Divine
Legation of Moses (1737). It may be -doubted whether, in
the whole course of the long history of the Church oi^- England,
from the close of the seventh to the beginning of the twentieth
century, any single quarter of a cient wo^ould be found in
which so many first-class works of the i*? hest kmd on con-
troversial divinity, or what would now be called Apologetics,
were written.

The First Period includes the Bangorian Controversy,
ending in the virtual silencing of Convocation, the later stages
of the Non-Juror Controversy, the Jacobite Controversy, ending
with the trial and banishment of Bishop Atterbury, the
greater part of the Trinitarian, Arian, and Deistic Contro-
versies, the very interesting correspondence of Archbishop
Wake with the Gallican Church and of the Non-Jurors with
the Greek Church, and the curious relation of Queen Caroline
to the Church. It is certainly fraught with interest, though,
alas ! much of it is a melancholy interest, for we shall have to
trace the rapid decay of practical activity and of spirituality,
the falling off both in the number and in the attractiveness
of church services, the alienation between the higher and the
lower clergy, and the baneful operation of State influence
upon the Church.

II. The Second Period, from 1738 to 1760, includes the
rise and early history of the Methodist movement, which
entered upon a new phase in 1760, when the
Sacraments began to be administered in Methodist ^^perS"'^
chapels. It is, however, the men, who were all
professedly churchmen, and the general stirring up of the
dry bones which they caused, rather than the Methodist, as
distinguished from the Evangelical movement, which fall


within the province of a writer on the Church of England.
Any history of the kind which did not give full prominence
lodis ^° ^^ names of John and Charles Wesley, George
■ Whitefield, John Fletcher, and other leaders (and
especially to the first named) would be absurdly defective. It
may, however, be fairly contended that as an organised system
Methodism never was a Church movement, and but for the
commanding influence of its great founder, would never have
retained so long as it did the continually loosening tie which,
' I a sort of way, bound it to the Church. From this point
of vipw, the later Methodism of John Wesley belongs no
more to .^ history of the Church of England than, say, the
Hutchinsonianism of William Jones of Nayland. The two
men — Wesley ana;^ j^^^-are most interesting men, and the
two subjects — Mel?..^aism and Hutchinsonianism — are inter-
esting subjects, but neither of them is strictly matter for a
Church of England history. Wesley himself may have in-
"tended his united societies to have been merely an expansion
of the religious societies with which he had been familiar
from his childhood, and which were handmaids of the Church,
but did one in ten thousand among the rapidly increasing
Methodists ever regard them in that light ?

The reader will, therefore, find little in these pages about
the marvellous organisation which Wesley either originated or
adopted, not because it is a thing of naught, but simply
because it is not a part of the particular subject of this book.
For the same reason Whitefi eld's efforts, under the patronage
of Lady Huntingdon, are lightly passed over, because they
had even less connexion with the Church of England than
the Wesleyan societies ; Whitefield himself being far less of a
churchman than either of the brothers Wesley. On the other
hand, much more might be said, than is usually done in this
connexion in describing these movements, concerning the
prelates who were brought into contact with them — Gibson
and Potter and, above all, that trio who were bound together
almost all their lives long by the closest bonds, Butler, Seeker,
and Benson. To this period belongs also what is called the
Anti-subscription movement, which was fraught with imminent
danger to the Church ; but, as it happily found quiet solution,
it will not require to be dwelt upon at any great length. It


is during this period that the Church seems to have reached
its nadir. Whatever the after effects of Methodism upon it,
the immediate results were only to stir up a violent hostility,
which was deploral)le, but not altogether unnatural or un-
reasonable : and, apart from Methodism, the influences which
affected the Church at this period were debasing.

Online LibraryJohn Henry OvertonThe English church, from the accession of George I. to the end of the eighteenth century (1714-1800) → online text (page 1 of 36)