Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 6. The “Happy Union,” and the Disruption between Independents and Presbyterians

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XVI. The Literature of Dissent

§ 6. The “Happy Union,” and the Disruption between Independents and Presbyterians

Although the deep underlying causes of this disruption were inherent in the life history of dissent, it was natural that the actual expression which the disintegrating principle took on should be one of controversy. The first form which this took was the so-called neonomian controversy. In 1690, the sermons of Tobias Crisp, a royalist but Calvinistic divine, were republished by his son with certain additional matter, to which he had obtained the imprimatur of several London dissenting ministers. The popularity of the book revived the spirit of the ultra-Calvinist section of dissent, at a time when Calvinism was losing its hold. To check the rising spirit of antinomianism which Crisp’s fantastic Calvinism encouraged, the presbyterian ministers of London deputed Daniel Williams to reply to the book. His reply, Gospel Truth stated and vindicated (1692), though moderate and non-partisan in tone, and aiming only at the establishment of a via media between legalism and antinomianism, merely increased the storm. Williams’s own orthodoxy was impeached, charges of neo-nomianism, of Arminianism and Socinianism were hurled against him by Stephen Lobb and by Isaac Chauncy, an independent, in his Neo-Nomianism Unmasked (1693), and Williams’s Defence (1693) failed to still the commotion. In the following year, Williams was prohibited from preaching his “turn” to the united ministers at the merchants’ lecture in Pinners’ hall. The presbyterians, accordingly, withdrew and established their own lecture at Salters’ hall, leaving the independents in possession of the Pinners’ hall lectures. In spite of all attempts at reconciliation, the dispute wrecked the “happy union” to which the independents’ self-defence, in their History of the Union (1698), and Williams’s own Peace with Truth, or an end to Discord (1699) only served as funeral elegies.