The Anglican Alternative

Calvinists who worried about Arminians worried also about Anglicans. The anti-Calvinist temper in the Church of England after the Restoration meant that Anglican missionaries to America would have little respect for Calvinist doctrine. The first Anglican commissary to Maryland, Thomas Bray (1656-1730) organized in 1698 a Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which sent to America books that prominently included alternatives to Calvinist thought. Three years later, Bray organized a Society for the Propaga tion of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which sent missionaries whose instructions included admonitions to teach in the rational style prevalent in England. They were to begin ''with the principles of natural Religion,'' appealing to reason and conscience, before proceeding to show the necessity of revelation and the proofs that validated the Christian scriptures. The tone was to be reasonable, moderate, and judicious, and these were not traits that Bray associated with Calvinism.14

Arriving in 1699, Bray remained in Maryland only three months, so he can hardly be called a colonial theologian, but he wrote treatises — such as A Short Discourse Upon the Doctrine of our Baptismal Covenant (i696) — designed to be read aloud in the American plantations, and he laid out a position that would continue to find adherents in later colonial Anglican thought. Bray was a covenant theologian who thought that to know the covenant of grace was to grasp ''the whole tenor of Christianity,'' but his was no Calvinist covenant. Entry into it came through baptism, and every baptized church member who continued to profess true religion and obey the laws of the gospel remained within it. Bray thought, therefore, that justification required both faith and obedience; for him the doctrine of grace meant that God provided assistance, chiefly in the sacraments, through which Christians could conform to the Christian religion and obey its laws. What distinguished the covenant of grace from the covenant with Adam was that Christ's atonement ensured that God would accept ''imperfect Righteousness'' as fulfilling its conditions, and Bray also had no doubt that a moral life was a covenantal condition: to implant morality, he wrote, ''was the great Design of our Saviour's Coming into the World.''15

Among eighteenth-century Anglicans in the middle and southern colonies, Calvinist theology never prevailed against the theological temper that Bray represented. When the revivalist George Whitefield, who was both Anglican and Calvinist, toured South Carolina, his most vigorous critic was the Anglican commissary, Alexander Garden (1685-1756), who cast his criticism as a refutation of the whole ''Calvinistical scheme.'' In his Six Letters to Whitefield, Garden argued that even the doctrine of justification by faith alone presupposed good works as a ''condition'' of justification, since the epistle of James described faith without works as dead. Garden observed in his Doctrine of Justification that he assigned no ''merit'' to either good works or faith. Only the mediation of Christ had saving merit, but since justifying faith preceded justification, and since justifying faith necessarily entailed good works, then good works also had to precede justification. Infants might be justified through baptism, but for adults justification was conditional on both faith and good works.16

Equally troubling to Garden was Whitefield's doctrine of regeneration as a sudden act of the Spirit upon a passive subject. For Garden, the new birth was a lifelong process, beginning at baptism and advancing by degrees of faith, repentance, and obedience by means of the ''gradual co-operating Work of the Holy Spirit.'' The whole economy of grace, he thought, ''is an Oeconomy of Co-operation'' between the Spirit and sinful but reasonable human agents. Such a theology, he believed, represented the best insights of both ''natural reason and the written Word of God.''17

Within a decade of Garden's clash with Whitefield, Samuel Quincy, priest at St. Philips in Charlestown, South Carolina, espoused a full-blown Anglican theology of virtue. In his Twenty Sermons (1750) Quincy presented Christianity as a rational religion consisting ''principally in moral Goodness.'' ''The whole of Religion'' comprised duties to God, self, and neighbor, and the saving work of Christ perfected only those who obeyed the laws of God as ''absolutely necessary to Salvation.'' For Quincy, morality became the criterion of doctrine: a belief that failed to ''promote every virtuous and good Disposition'' was ''false and counterfeit.''18

Such views found wide acceptance among Anglican clergy in the southern colonies. When the Anglican revivalist Devereux Jarratt (1733-1801) became the rector of Bath Parish in Virginia in 1764, his preaching conveyed Calvinist views of sinfulness, free grace, and regeneration. Even though he rejected the doctrine of predestination, he found that these views brought opposition and reproach from the Anglican clergy of the colony, who called him a fanatic because of his revivalism and a Presbyterian because of his belief in the ''utter inability'' of men and women to ''restore themselves to the favor and image of God, which were lost by the fall, by anything they could either do or suffer.'' Like the Congregationalist Arminians, most Anglican clergy worried that Calvinism hindered the nurturing of virtue.19

Anglicans in New England, especially, spoke for a minority who often felt aggrieved at Calvinist dominance. For them it was a signal victory when, in 1722, the seven-member faculty of Yale College converted from Congregationalism to the Church of England. Four had second thoughts, but three sailed to England to receive Anglican orders. Their conversions had more to do with church order than with the order of salvation, but Calvinist clergy found the root of the crisis in ''Arminian books.'' One of the converts replied that ''we hold no doctrines now but what were held and taught in our Church long before Arminius was heard of,'' but to New England Calvinists the Anglicans were Arminians, which meant that they were concerned more with ethics than with faith.20

The Yale converts included Samuel Johnson (1696-1772), who would be come the most erudite colonial Anglican theologian of the eighteenth century. After his ordination, he spent his career as the rector in Stratford, Connecticut, and after 1754 as the first president of King's College in New York (later Columbia). As early as 1714 he had begun to seek an alternative to ''rigid Calvinistical notions,'' and when English friends of Yale sent the college a library of new books, he and his friends read Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Robert Boyle, the theologians Daniel Whitby and John Tillotson, the philosophers John Locke and John Norris, and other representatives of what Johnson called the ''New Learning.''21

When Johnson joined the Yale converts, he was concerned mainly about the order of the church, and he inaugurated a tradition of ''high church'' thought in Connecticut that endured into the mid-nineteenth century. Its defining themes included the arguments that a true church required episcopal authority; that the three orders of bishop, priest, and deacon were essential for its proper order; and that salvation normally required participation in the sacramental means of grace. An admirer of Archbishop William Laud in England, Johnson attempted to translate the high church theories associated with Laud and his followers to the American colonial setting. This entailed a sacramental piety in which church membership came through baptism (rather than through a prior covenant that the sacrament merely sealed) and the Eucharist offered a real, albeit spiritual, communion with the body and blood of Christ.22

In New England, however, Anglican loyalties also suggested disdain for Calvinist theology. The Anglican polemicist John Checkley had published in 1720 his Choice Dialogues against the doctrines of election and predestination, and in 1733, Johnson published his own criticism of ''the Calvinistic doctrine of absolute predestination and reprobation.'' In three letters to the Congregationalists of his town, published between 1733 and 1737, he began more than a decade of anti-Calvinist polemics, culminating in 1745 in his Letter from Aristocles to Authades Concerning the Sovereignty and the Promises of God, which led to a long pamphlet debate with the Presbyterian revivalist Jonathan Dickinson. His critics labeled him an Arminian. He repudiated the label, but he could not escape it, since by now it served to connote almost any detour from Calvinist orthodoxy.23

After transferring his allegiance to the Church of England, Johnson still believed in original sin (though without imputed guilt), still affirmed Christ's atonement (though denying that it was only for the elect), still insisted on inward regeneration (though viewing it now as a gradual change), and still thought repentance impossible without grace. But he objected to the doctrine of ''God's eternal, arbitrary and absolute determination of the everlasting fate of his creatures, from his own mere motion, and without any consideration of their good or ill behavior.'' It contradicted his understanding of God as a benevolent moral governor; it seemed to make sin necessary and so blameless; and it left no room ''for either virtue or vice.''24

He believed that God had issued one decree: the righteous would be happy and the wicked miserable. Their own free choices as ''self-exerting and self-determining agents'' determined their fate. Only through grace could there be sensibility of guilt and a striving for something better, but this was a common grace bestowed on all humankind, and only those who responded rightly could rely on ''the promises of divine efficacious aid or special grace.''25

To preserve his confidence in divine benevolence, Johnson abandoned the belief that salvation came only through conscious faith in Christ: ''Is he the God of Christians only?'' The issue had been raised by English deists, who thought it unjust that God would condemn the many souls who never heard of Jesus, and by i747, when Johnson discussed the question in his letter to Dickinson, a number of theologians in England were responding to the deists by emphasizing the broader possibilities for salvation implicit even in the Christian revelation. Johnson found biblical warrant for his position in Romans 2: ''the doers of the law'' would be justified. ''As they have only the light of nature to guide them,'' he wrote, ''so God will expect only such a conformity to it as their abilities and circumstances will admit of.''26

His understanding of divine mercy led Johnson to say that the true glory of God — and God's ''great end'' — was human happiness. The aim was that human beings might be happy as long as they obeyed the divine laws. The Calvinist view that God's end was the divine glory now struck him as implying a ''selfish'' God. For him, God created the world because of an ''earnest desire'' to extend happiness to others, as would befit an ethical God. Happiness had long been a guiding theme in Christian theology. Augustine assumed that men and women necessarily sought it; Thomas Aquinas thought of it as the proper good of every intelligent being; and Calvin believed that the highest happiness came through trust in God. Calvinists spoke often of happiness as one of the ends of creation, but they subordinated it to the supreme end of God's glory. It was this contrast between human happiness and divine glory that Johnson now rejected. The aim of a practical theology, he thought, was to point out the means to happiness.27

When Johnson spoke of theology as practical, he meant that its purpose was ethical. He sometimes defended his theology by arguing that his ''amiable apprehensions'' of God would serve better than Calvinist theology to encourage holiness. The ''general drift'' of the Bible was to excite the pursuit of virtue, and the defect of Calvinism was that its determinism undercut ethics. His preoccupation with virtue led him in 1746 to publish his Ethices Elementa, a text in moral philosophy defending a "rationalist" ethical theory that had been used to counter such moral "voluntarists" as Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who derived morality from either arbitrary divine commands or prudential social agreements. This ethical rationalism had emerged with the Cambridge Platonists, and Johnson admired the argument of John Norris and Ralph Cudworth that immutable moral truths, reflecting eternal essences within the divine nature, were accessible through an intellectual insight into "the truth and reality of things."28

He read also other ethical rationalists, especially Samuel Clarke and William Wollaston. Clarke's Boyle Lectures on Natural Religion in 1705 rooted morality in the necessary and eternal "relations" that different things bear to one another. To act rightly was to act in a "fitting" manner — a manner in accord with the true "nature of things." Against Hobbes, Clarke contended that no social compact or sovereign command could make an unfitting action right. The obligation to refrain from murder, for example, arose from the nature of human beings as creatures made in the image of God, created to live in community, sharing similar wants and desires, needing mutual help, and maintaining expectations of fair treatment. To murder was to contradict these truths about human beings. Such a contradiction would prevent the happiness that God had designed for the creation. Wollaston's Religion of Nature Delineated (1724) carried the rationalist ethic to its logical conclusion: to be virtuous, he thought, was to act according to the truth.29

The leading motif of Johnson's Ethices Elementa was the claim that moral good consisted in "freely choosing and acting conformable to the truth and natures of things,'' and he cited both Clarke and Wollaston throughout. On occasion he used the language of "moral sense'' popularized by Francis Hutch-eson in Glasgow, who wanted to ground morality not in reason, which Hutch-eson viewed as merely sagacity in pursuing an end, but in moral feelings that provided a more reliable perception of the good. But Johnson thought that the primary ethical task was to discover the truth about ourselves, to consider ourselves "as we are'' in our relations to God, self, and each other.30

He differed from his British predecessors in two ways. Far more than Clarke, he saw individual happiness as the overriding purpose of ethical propriety. "The great end of my being,'' he wrote, "is that my rational and immortal nature might be completely and endlessly happy.'' Far more than Wollaston, he circumscribed the reach of reason. He described ethics as "the religion of nature,'' but he insisted that its truths and duties would never have been "obvious to our weak reason, without revelation.'' When he argued that ethics was rational, therefore, he meant that its truths were "founded in the first principles of reason and nature,'' not that reason alone could have discovered them. Johnson assured Benjamin Colman, who urged him to state the point more clearly, that neither he nor Wollaston could have reached their conclusions ''without the help of revelation.'' Nonetheless, the Calvinist Joseph Bellamy, a student of Jonathan Edwards, thought that Johnson failed to reconcile his grounding of ethics in reason and nature with his claim that moral obligations originated in the revealed command of God.31

In addition to his interest in ethics, he had, from his student years, been concerned about a broad range of theological and philosophical questions, and between 1714 and 1731 he drew up three encyclopedic outlines of the arts. They revealed a special fascination with the philosophy of George Berkeley (1685-1753). The dean of Derry in Ireland, Berkeley came to Rhode Island in 1729 and spent two years in Newport. Johnson read his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), and Berkeley's sojourn in America allowed the two men to talk and correspond. Johnson became a proponent of Berkeley's ''immaterialist hypothesis,'' and in 1752 he published his Elementa Philosophica, in which he expounded a Berkeleyan theory of reality.32

During the same period he read widely in the antideist debates. Anthony Collins's Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion (1724) disturbed him, though he thought that both Samuel Clarke and the English Bishop Edward Chandler had written convincing refutations. He pondered Thomas Woolston's theory that the miracle stories were allegories, though he believed that Bishop Richard Smallbrooke had confuted it. He also read Matthew Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), along with Bishop John Conybeare's refutation of it. His conclusion was that ''the mere light of nature uninstructed'' could not have discovered even the truths of natural religion.33

What he found in Berkeley's thought, however, was a way to envision the divine presence in the cosmos depicted by eighteenth-century natural philosophy: ''it not only gave new incontestable proofs of a deity, but moreover the most striking apprehensions of his constant presence with us and inspection over us, and of our entire dependence on him and infinite obligations to his most wise and almighty benevolence.'' For some, eighteenth-century natural philosophy suggested a contrary vision, a cosmos of material atoms related to each other in mechanistic relations of cause and effect. For some, in fact, John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) appeared to support this mechanistic theory, for Locke described a world in which the ''primary qualities'' of matter were solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, and number. The mind's ideas of solidity or extension, therefore, represented the world as it really was.34

Locke saw that we perceive more than solid, extended particles. We also have ''ideas'' (that is, perceptions) of colors, tastes, and other sensations. But he described these qualities as "secondary," partly because they varied in accord with the minds that perceived them and partly because they were not essential to a mechanical system. One way to read Locke was to view his epistemology as implying a world of matter and force. Locke thought, to be sure, that the mind also had "ideas of reflection" that allowed it to observe its own activity as spirit, and that it enjoyed intuitive evidence for an eternal, most-powerful, most-knowing God. He made room for spirits and Spirit. But Berkeley thought he failed to see that spirit was all in all.35

In Berkeley's view, Locke failed to make the case for his distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Since the supposedly primary qualities of solidity and extension, for instance, were accessible only through our ideas of them, why assume that they had a primacy over color or pain? In Berkeley's view, moreover, Locke's theory of knowledge led also to skepticism. If ideas merely represented their objects, the mind had no way to compare its ideas with the objects they supposedly represented. Maybe the ideas deceived. In his view, finally, Locke was not sufficiently empirical, for when Locke assumed that ideas of primary qualities represented material substances, he went beyond experience. By Locke's own theory, the mind had immediate access only to its ideas. Since we cannot think of anything as existing unperceived (for to think of it at all we have to perceive it at least mentally), why assume that anything exists apart from its being perceived? It made more sense to Berkeley to think that reality consisted of ideas and the spirits that perceived them.36

Berkeley assured Johnson that he accepted most of Newton's science. His point was that the Newtonian scheme required no material substances. It required only consistent natural phenomena and laws that described their activities. Berkeley's philosophy could explain both the phenomena and the laws. Since to be (esse) was to be perceived (percipi) or to be a perceiver, and since the world continued in being even when finite spirits did not perceive it, there had to be a Mind, omnipresent and ever active, whose perceptions maintained it. This world "would shrink to nothing, if not upheld and preserved in being by the same force that first created it."37

What attracted Johnson was the thought that "ideas" — the immediate objects of experience — depended on the incessant agency of God. He also liked Berkeley's contention that minds had, in addition to sensory ideas, "notions" of spiritual objects — conceptions of mathematical truths, or justice, or mental operations — for this also suggested to him "the universal presence and action of the Deity.'' Johnson explained these "notions" with a theory of "intellectual light'' derived from the Cambridge Platonists, especially Ralph Cudworth, the French monk Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715), and the Catholic Archbishop of Cambrai, François Fénelon (1651-1715).38

By "intellectual light'' he seems to have in mind three distinct mental activities. It referred, first, to the mind's awareness of itself and of other minds, including its awareness of its own existence as the necessary condition of its thoughts. The light also denoted for Johnson the medium "by which'' the mind could know "the objects of pure intellect,'' the first principles that did not come through sensory experience, including mathematical and logical truths. Such truths, being necessary and eternal, entailed for him "the necessary existence of an eternal mind'' and the certainty of our communion with it. And the light meant, third, the standard "whereby" created minds could recognize a true statement as true, or a good act as good, or a beautiful object as beautiful — mental acts that presupposed the prior presence in the mind of a standard of truth, goodness, and beauty. This third point linked Johnson, through Fénelon and the Cambridge Platonists, with Augustine and with Neo-platonic thought.39

Johnson's discussion of the intellectual light revealed the theological motivation behind his philosophy. For Johnson the intellectual light revealed our "entire dependence'' on the Mind that contained all the eternal and necessary truths, the Mind whose true ideas served as the standard of truth. Everything bespoke the divine presence. Nature was a language through which God communicated to the creatures without ceasing.40

Toward the end of his life, Johnson became entranced with the theology of John Hutchinson (1674-1737) in England, who taught that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament contained all the truths of science and philosophy and proved the inconsistency of Newton. Hutchinson's Moses' Principia (1724) persuaded him to expend his considerable energies on the study of the Hebrew language. But the core of his theology resided in his earlier reflections on the church, natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics, and these interests showed his similarities to the "catholick" Calvinists and Congregationalist Arminians. Especially in his handbook on ethics, he displayed the expanding interest in the place of virtue within the Christian life. To some ministers in New England, however, it seemed that careless talk about virtue threatened the integrity of Calvinist truth. Their fears found expression in their defense of New England revivalism.41

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