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An Original Letter of Remonstrance to Richard Baxter, on his treatment of the Unitarians: with some Account of Gilbert Clerke, the supposed Author..
HE following letter was lately
in Dr. Williams's Library. It is without an address, but it is evident that it was sent to Baxter. There is no date, and only the initials G. C. These appear to stand for Gilbert Clerke, with whose history, opinions and style, the letter perfectly agrees. The readers of the Monthly Repository will be pleased with this hitherto unpublished production of one of the early English Unitarians, which will, perhaps, be rendered still more interesting by such a brief account of the supposed author as the transcriber has been able to compile. Should any reader be able to give further information concerning this learned author, the communication of it to this work will be esteemed a favour, and will facilitate the inquiries of the present writer, who is making collections towards a history of English Unitarianism, the final use to be made of which will depend upon the ultimate success of his researches. GILBERT CLERKE was the son of John Clerke, school-master, of Uppingham, in the county of Rutland. He was admitted into Sidney College, Cambridge, in the year 1641, being then scarcely fifteen years of age. In 1648, he took the degree of M. A., and was made Fellow of the house. At the age of twenty-five, he received (1651) Presbyterian orders, and his allowance in the college was thereupon augmented, as the statutes require for those that are ordained priests. He was created proctor of the University the next year. He
left his Fellowship after the Comon
of conscience to take the degree of Bachelor of Divinity to which the statutes obliged him. On quitting the University, he retired, one authority says generally, into Northamptonshire, another says to Stamford, where, it is added, he lived long. By the death of his elder brother, about the time of his giving up his Fellowship, he came into possession of an estate of £40. per annum, which was looked upon by his friends as a providential blessing, he being thus saved from want.. He died some time between the years 1695 and 1698.†
Nelson gives this candid character of Clerke: "His learning lay chiefly in the mathematics, but he was also esteemed a very good Grecian, and a great scripturist. He chiefly consulted' the modern critics, when he read the Bible, not omitting the Polonians, or else trusted to his own invention and sagacity in that part of divinity, without ever advising with the ancients, of whom he had a very low esteem. He thought the controversy between us and the Church of Rome not worthy his study; because the errors of the Papists seemed to him so gross and palpable, as not to need it. He betook himself, therefore, to read the
Nelson, in his Life of Bishop Bull,
(8vo. 2nd edition, 1714,) p. 512, from whom the abové particulars are derived.
+ Grounds and Occasions of the Controversy, concerning the Unity of God, &c. By a Divine of the Church of England, 4to. 1698, p. 17. This is the 4th tract in the 5th volume of the old Unitarian Tracts, a volume exceedingly scarce, and until very lately hardly known to be in existence.
The writer ascertains this fact from a comparison of dates. Clerke's last known publication, to be presently specified, appeared in the year 1695, and the tract, just quoted, dated 1698, refers to him as amongst deceased Unitarians.
Socinian writers, whence he became, in the main, a Socinian; yet he did not symbolize with them in their errors, touching the Divine attributes; upon which account he would sometime say, he was no Socinian. Some, also, to whom he was personally known, have excepted the point of the Satisfaction, for he seemed, indeed, to have had some particular notions of his own about this matter. He was a man of an open and frank disposition, but withal too bold, and easily to be heated; otherwise, the conduct of his life was sober and regular, not ble mished with any remarkable immorality, but rather abounding with good works, which he earnestly pressed. He was very busy and zealous in de fending those new principles which he had taken up, and which the gross absurdities of the Antinomian system, then much in vogue, had probably contributed more than a little to fling him into."*
The "Divine of the Church of En gland" says, that he was "well known and esteemed by Dr. Cumberland, the Reverend Bishop of Peterborough, who used to speak of him by the name, of Honest Gilbert." +
Of his works, the following titles are known: De Plenitudine Mundi. Lond. 1660. 8vo.-De Restitutione Corporum. Lond. 1662. 8vo. The Spot Dial. Lond. 1687. 4to.
Distinct from these, probably, is another work referred to by Nelson, as follows: "He was for certain an excellent mathematician, his book upon Mr. Oughtred's Clavis being much valued by the ablest judges in that part of learning.” §
Two Latin tracts are all the theological works of Clerke that the present writer has discovered: they were published, with a third, by an anony mous hand, under the title, Tractatus Tres: Quorum qui prior Ante Nicenismus dicitur; is exhibet testimonia Patrum Ante-Nicenorum, in quibus elucet sensus Ecclesiæ Pri mævo-Catholicæ quoad Articulum de Trinitate. In secundo brevis Responsio ordinatur ad D. G. Bulli, Defensio
Nelson, ut sup. pp. 511, 512. + Grounds, &c. p. 17.
These are taken from Watt's Biblio
§ Nelson, p. 512.
nem Synodi Nicene, authore Gilberto Clerke, Anglo. Argumentum Postremi: vera et antiqua Fides de Divinitate Christi explicata et asserta, contra D. Bulli Judicium Ecclesiæ Catholicæ, &c. per Anonymum, Anno Domini, 1695.”
An answer to Clerke was found amongst Dr. Grabe's papers, in the hand-writing of Bishop Bull, and was published in the 3rd volume of Bull's Sermons and Discourses, (8vo. 1714,) entitled, Breves Animadversiones, &c., or, as the title of the translation, which precedes the Latin work in the vo lume, runs, "The Consubstantiality and the Coeternity of the Son of God with the Father, asserted; or some few Animadversions on a Treatise of Mr. Gilbert Clerke, entitled Ante-Nicenismus, so far as the said Author pretends to Answer Dr. George Bull's Defence of the Nicene Faith," &c.
Clerke published his name to his tracts, says Nelson, "as not being ashamed or afraid to own what he had written, because he took it to be the very cause of God and of his Unity against all sorts of Polytheists." The biographer adds, that the "three tracts came out together, that so the Unitarians might thereby take an occasion to boast of a complete answer in Latin" to all that Bishop Bull had written in the Trinitarian controversy.
such a man as 1, was about five yeares You may possibly remember ya since with you in your chamber, to expostulate with you about a passage in your Cure of Church Diviand Mahumetans together; now I sions, in which you joyned Socinians send this letter much upon ye same errand. Some are of opinion y you fleet in your Second Defence, & I have utterly overthrowne Dr. Stillingoccasional discourse with a Staffordam one of y. My meditations upon shire Divine & Dr. Templar's sermon (not long after I was with you) about episcopacy are very suitable to yours; wherein as I graunt not only Bishops, but Presbyters & Deacons too, in great churches if need be, so I
Ut sup. p. 501. + P. 502.
prove y' y Diocesses of ye primitive Bishops were not in Apostolical times, & but in few places long after, nor ought they to be now any greater than y' y people might have recourse to their Bishops and these to their people. I have asked some of about 60 yeares of age, & they have confessed that they never saw a Bishop in their lives, and yet I live not above halfe y length of ye diocesse fro Peterbo'roy. I denie not Arch-B. & primates as magistrates or y King's visitours, needing no other ordination than his majesties commission, nor president BP. by consent of ye church es, for order's sake as there may be occasion: so likewise upon those words, Dic ecclesiæ, &c., 1 prove y' a Catholique governing Church is a Popish chimera, impossible & contradictions, nor is there any such thing as national governing church, & to say, y people may not worship God, till whole nations are agreed in uniformity of doctrine, discipline, formes and rites, or no otherwise, is one of
were mainly intended against Antinomian imputation or satisfaction, & little against such as eyther of you mantaine. I well remember y' in some of your bookes you say y' many men are Antinomians, who would little be thought so. Dr. Stillingf: in a booke of the sufferings of Xt maketh a great bluster against them, after himselfe had yielded up ye maine fort contended for, himself denieing as to a rigorous legal satisfaction, both ye idem and tuntundem. But St., you may remember what a hideous name an Arminian was lately, & now they are ye prime sonnes of ye Church of England, & very few are now offended for difference in those opinions: why might not a little more time, bring y
Socinians. (who beleive in God through Xt as offering a sacrifice of suffering obedience for y sinnes of y world & as an exalted Saviour,) into some tolerable favour, if such as you did not so stigmatize ym? Some are so uncharitable or so ignorant as to say y' Socinians are scarce Xtians, although they beleive Jesus to be y Christ, and therefore in St. John's judgement are borne of God: they place y divinity of Xt in his unction, not much opposeing humane additions but as they obscure this or seeme to be inconsistent with it, and therefore in Justin Martyr's opinion may be reckoned amongst orthodox Christians. I have gone under y' name I confesse, but upon fuller acquaintance, I have not found much dislike from ye better sort, nor would any of our ministers scruple to gett me to preach for y", & therefore sure had somewhat a better opinion of me than a Mahumetan or an Atheist. As for their opinion about ye Trinity, wch hath given ye most offence, as I remember your selfe in your former answer to D'. Still: doth dislike ye damnatory part of ye Creed of Athanasias, so doth Mr. Alsop in his answer, so doth D'. Taylour in his Libertie of Proph:. And some divines of ye Church of England doe refuse to reade it. Can any thing be more certaine and evident than this, viz. yt ye Ffather is before ye Sonne and ye Sonne before ye Holy Spirit, who speaketh not of himselfe but what he heareth? Whatever quirks or scholastick niceties may be invented, such was y opinion of ye Antients, as a man so well versed
most injurious & factious principles in ye world. It hath been y sacrilegious practice of men to usurpe y words Bishop & Church, & then to load their adversaries with these great names.
But to come to the errand of this paper, I see y' both you & Dr. Still make no scruple to reckon Socinians (as they are commonly called, who owne not Socinus for a mas ter, but a fellow-servant,) with Turks, Atheists & Papists. You should doe well to consider of this point a little better than I doubt you have, before you censure so much upon impartial search you may find them to be (as I believe they are) y' best sort of Xtians & y best reformed, although Socinus had his errours, especially about God's prescience of future Contingents; & did not Luther erre fouly in the point of Consubstantiation? By such words you make people afraid to search into the truth, & bring ye professours of it under persecution; & you two are the more inexcusable, because y' in one of y cheife points which have given offence, you both differ very little from them. I am very well assured, y' their writings
in Antiquitie as you are cannot but
terie of godlinesse, as Tyndall st
fist doth affect an anadiplôsis; if so, those copies must needs be best wch, as Erasmus observes, reade thus, viz. that wch was made in him was life; and so Tertullian reades universally: but light & life are to be understood all over yt Gospel evangelically. Besides ye world yt was made or was making by him, v. 10, if it had not been long of themselves, was such as were capable of comprehending ye light, v. 5, of receiving him, v. 12, and knowing him, v. 11; ergo, ye Evangelist is not telling over againe ye glory of Moses his first creation, though he allude to yat wch was a type of this. As to ye word flesh, v. 14, was made flesh or was flesh, so Joach. Camerar. i. e. a mortal man, subject to humane infirmities and suffering in ye flesh: that word is so used by ye same evangelist, 1 Joh: iv. 2, Every spirit who confesseth Jesus Christ who came in flesh (so ye words should be translated, meaning sufferings, wch ye Gnostiques refused to undergoe): it is well knowne yt epithets conteine some reason appertaineing to ye subject unto wch they are joyned, and ye scope of ye place; but see Gal. iv. 13, 14, and many other places, especially 1 Tim. iii. ult. great is the mysterie of Godlinesse which was manifested in or by flesh, (see ye Syriack and vulgar Latin, Grotius, &c.) viz. by Xt and his apostles, in much infirmitie of ye flesh, as appeares by ye opposition, viz. justified in spirit, viz. by infinite miracles; wh mysterie of Godlinesse, though it was gloriously received, yet ye spirit spake expressely+yt it should be supplanted by a mysterie of iniquitie, and be as
basely deserted. And I thinke we are now upon a prime instance of apostacy, out of wch it must needs be hard to emerge till ye translations be amended. I say these words, Joh. viii. 58, should be thus rendred, before he be Abraham I am He, i. e. ye Messias yt should come into ye world, before ye prophecie conteined in Abraham's name concerning ye calling of ye Gentiles should be fulfilled; see ye use of yw ε in Joh. viii. 24, 28, & xiii. 19.
See ye Oxford Gr. Testam.
+ Sir, may I be so ffree with you as without censure of ffanaticism to tell you yt mostly since I saw you, with God's helpe, I have found out and given (as I am persuaded) very good proofe of very many types of this grand apostacy. I say in general that all the history of ye Old Test: is allegorical of ye great Providences of God concerning the church, symbolically as to things past, and so on typically to things future. Thus I say yt Samson with his three women were types of the apostolical, the imperial and the apostaticall states of ye church of ye New Test:. Gideon was a type of the apostles, and Abimelech of ye bishop of Rome so was Samson's companion,
How doe people runne away with it yt ye second person tooke our nature upon him, from Heb. ii. 16, He tooke not on him ye nature of Angels, which should be rendered, as in the margin, he taketh not hold of ye Angels. Ye like may be said of many other places as to translations or copies, wch make it hard to gett out of this part of the Babylonick captivity & may render ye carnal part of ye Protestants, who wilfully shutt their eyes against all further reformation, as the number of ye Beast, acting over ye second part to ye same tune.
Sr, I have not written those things (wch may be had better from Socinus contra Vujekum, Schlictingius, Crellius, &c.) to you to challenge you now in your old age, after so long prepossession; I hope the Lord will forgive you, considering how you come by your opinion & what good service you have otherwise done ye church by your unwearied labours in many particulars, & I doubt not but from sincere & candid principles. I suppose you doe not intend to challendge my Lords ye Bishops, but only to apologise & mollifie them a little, as I would doe you, if it may not cast too great an odium upon you to be, it may be, but a charitable inan to Socinians, of wch number yet I might perhaps fairly denie myself to be, I holding three persons in the Trinity, wch Socinus Judges xv. 2. The two golden calves, of ye patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople. But to speake much, I cannot now; and to say a little is to spoyle all. When this mysticall sense shall be throughly understood, farewell Pope. I do believe yt this sense of ye Old Test will be ye greatest demonstration in ye world against all atheists, infidels and papists. However, let not these things be any prejudice against what I have said in this paper.