The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 8. The Arian Controversy proper: Peirce and Hallett
But the Arian controversy, properly so-called, does not owe anything to Emlyn. It was, rather, opened by William Whiston’s Historical Preface (1710), prefixed to his Primitive Christianity (1711), and Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712). Although, however, Whiston finally joined the general baptists and claimed to have influenced Peirce of Exeter, the importance of this second controversy is, so far as dissent is concerned, rather practical or constitutional than literary. Among the dissenters, it assumed a particularly accentuated form of the subscription controversy. In 1717, James Peirce and Joseph Hallett, presbyterian ministers of Exeter, were taken to task locally for Arianism. In the Exeter assembly of May, 1719, an attempt to enforce subscription to the first of the thirty-nine articles brought about a split. In the same year, the matter came before the committee of the deputies of the three denominations of protestant dissenters at Salters’ hall meeting-house, London—the so-called Salters’ hall synod. Here, the question of subscription followed a clean-cut line of cleavage. The congregationalists, in the main, under the lead of Thomas Bradbury, insisted on subscription; the presbyterians, in the main, under the lead of John Shute Barrington, afterwards viscount Barrington, resisted the proposal as an unnecessary imposition of a creed. As a result, the whole body of dissent was divided into three parties—non-subscribers, subscribers and neutrals. The minority of subscribers, being defeated, withdrew from the synod and formed a distinct meeting under Bradbury, while the majority of non-subscribers despatched a letter of advice to Exeter, which, by virtue of its statement of reasons for non-subscribing, is regarded by unitarians as their charter of dogmatic freedom. The mere momentary controversy concerning these synod proceedings gave birth to more than seventy pamphlets.