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Art. I.-Chillingworthi Novissima; or, the Sicknesse, Heresy,
Death, and Buriall of William Chillingworth, (in his own phrase) Clerk of Oxford, and, in the conceit of his fellow Souldiers, the Queen's Arch Engineer and Grand Intelligencer. Set forth in a Letter to his eminent and learned Friends ; a Relation of his Apprehension at Arundell; a Discovery of his Errours in a Briefe Catechism; and a short Oration at the Buriall of his Hereticall Book. By Francis Cheynell, late Fellow of Merton Colledge. Published by authority. London, 1644.
The period which extends from the Reformation to the Revolution forms a tract of historic territory, into which the prosecution of our retrospective wanderings often leads us. It is a period rich, indeed, in events, which no English mind can contemplate without emotions various, deep, and agitating.This, however, is not the only, nor, as it respects the purpose of our labours, the principal article of its wealth. It is rich, supereminently rich, in the phenomena which are developed and exhibited by the workings of the human mind. It has been well remarked by the historian, to the honour of the English character, that the wars between Charles and the Parliament, stained as they necessarily were by the blood of friends and fellow-citizens, were yet "less distinguished by atrocious deeds, either of treachery or cruelty, than were ever any intes
tine discords which had so long a continuance.” But there is a merit of a different and of a more positive nature, which equally distinguishes the period in question. Amidst the vast variety of minds wbich the circumstances of the times had roused into active exertion (and after the two houses had voted all conventions for neutrality illegal, not one individual but partook largely of the general bustle), the philosopher will, if we are not mistaken, find more of sterling strength of intellect, and more of sterling honesty of principle, than an equal portion of the annals of any other country can display. We acknowledge the severity and the extent of the ravages that were produced by the conflicting powers of fanaticism, and hypocrisy, and prejudice, and ambition. We feel, with keenness, all that nervous impatience of the mind, which is excited by a perusal of the history of any period of civil distraction : yet still we can single out from this particular tract of our own history many an instance of private worth, which the heart embraces with fondness, and on which the imagination loves to dwell. Nor do we confine this exception to the case of individual virtue, unconnected with the exercise of those mutual charities, which are the first to merge beneath the waves of civil contention. On the contrary, though the war was as much, if not more than as much, a war of religious as of political interests, -a circumstance which, while it accounts for the rancour and bad faith, of which we do find many instances in the period we are contemplating, enhances in a high degree the estimation with which we are to regard examples of the opposite conduct,---we think we are not mistaken in our position, that not a few minds escaped the general contagion, and still blossom in freshness on the page of the historian, amidst the scorched and gnarled branches of those sturdier plants, that withstood more angrily, but less effectually, the scathing power of the storm.
It would lead us far beyond our limits, and almost beside our subject, to attempt the more complete establishment of our opinion, by an enumeration of individual cases : but this much we deemed it necessary to say, in order to prepare for the fitting introduction of Master Francis Cheynell, the facetious author of the singular production before us. It is written in the very midst of the burning period of the parliamentary wars :it is composed by a determined religious opponent to the person whose last moments it professes to describe :-it is full to overflowing of bigotry and prejudice :-it is in some parts ludicrously extravagant in enthusiasm :—and yet we are almost ready to quarrel with ourselves for entertaining one hostile feeling against its honest author.
The name of Chillingworth has been written in association
To the eye
with terms of praise almost unqualified, by some of the most distinguished ornaments of English literature. Tillotson, and Locke, and Clarendon, have united in expressing their admiration of the high reasoning powers of this man, of whom we are informed by Anthony Wood, that " it was the current opinion of the university, that he and Lucius Lord Falkland had such extraordinary clear reason, that if the Great Turk or Devil were to be converted, they were able to do it.”
Not so easy, however, was it to convince the redoubtable Cheynell. Six years after the appearance of Chillingworth’s great work, The Religion of Protestants a safe Way to Salvation, Dr. Cheynell produced his Rise, Growth, and Danger of Sociniunism, in which he charged not Chillingworth alone, but Laud and Hales of Eton with this heresy. Unhappily for us, but most fortunately for Cheynell, his greatest opponent was now declining in life and strength, and the beginning of the following year closed the tomb over that body which had been animated by a spirit of the purest intelligence. What was the real strength of the grounds on which Chillingworth was charged with Socinianism, we know not. of Cheynell's mind, it might be demonstration enough of Chillingworth's Socinianism, that he had dared to assert the prerogative and power of reason in determining the limits of some points of our belief. With a strange confusion of mind, he has seized upon the word, tradition, which Chillingworth had used, somewhat incautiously, to express that kind of evidence on which our belief of the authenticity of the Scriptures is founded, and forthwith charges upon him the sin of advocating tradition, in the sense in which our Saviour himself condemns it, as the means through which the Pharisees made the word of God of none effect. Perhaps this single misapprehension of Cheynell may furnish a principle on which to explain all the absurdities of the absurd catechism with which this little volume is closed. One of the questions of this same catechism, with the answer to it, “ collected,” as Cheynell expresses it, “out of Mr. C.'s works,” we will here extract, and then proceed to the former and more interesting part of the book. 'We must first premise, that Cheynell professes to “ collect” his imaginary catechism out of Chillingworth's works ; but to each brief answer he appends a brief annotation, in manner and form following.
“ Q. But if this great point must be tried by reason, what reason can you produce to prove the Scripture to be the word of God?
“An. There is as good reason for it, as there is to believe other stories or matters of tradition: he requires men to yield just such a kind or degree of assent to the gospel of Christ, as they yield to other stories or matters of tradition, (chap i. p. 37,) for God desires us only
to believe the conclusion as much as the premises deserve, (ib. sect. 8, p. 36.) And the Chronicle of England, joined with the general tradition of our acquaintance, deserves as much credit, in Mr. Chillingworth's conceit, as the gospel of Christ; for his words are these, (chap. ii. sect. 159, p. 116, 117,) We have, I believe, as great reason to believe there was such a man as Henry the Eighth, King of Eng: land, as that Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate. The Lord rebuke that spirit of error, which moved the great men of Oxford to license this blasphemy! What have I no more reason to believe the three persons in the Holy Trinity, speaking in their glorious Gospel to my heart and conscience, than I have to believe Stowe's Chronicle, or the general tradition of my own acquaintance, or some such other fallible testimony!!!"
And thus triumphantly does the learned doctor lay his proud adversary prostrate.
Towards the close of the year 1643, after having, in the course of the autumn, accompanied the royal army to the siege of Gloucester, where he advised and directed the making of certain engines, after the manner of testudines cum pluteis, (of which engines we shall find Cheynell often reminding us) for assaulting the town, Chillingworth went with the Lord Hopton “ to Arundel castle in Sussex, and choosing to repose himself in that garrison, on account of an indisposition, occasioned by the severity of the season, he was taken prisoner, Dec. 9, by the parliamentary forces under Sir W. Waller, when the castle surrendered.” Here Cheynell accidentally met him; and at this period commences the “ brief and plain relation” which he has left us of what passed between himself and his antagonist.
Before, however, we proceed to the work itself, it will be proper to lay before our readers a very brief sketch of the life of our author.
Francis Cheynell, the son of a physician, was born at Oxford in 1608. He became a member of that university in 1623. In 1629, he was, by the interest of his mother, at that time widow of Abbot Bishop of Salisbury, elected probationer's fellow of Merton College. Having taken orders, and officiated for some time in Oxford, he, in 1640, when the church began to be attacked, took the parliamentarian side. He embraced the covenant, was made one of the assembly of divines in 1643, and was frequently appointed to preach before the parliament. His great popularity with his party seems to have had its due effect upon his vanity, and accordingly we find him in his interviews with Chillingworth, which, as we have observed, happened about this time, treating his adversary with a condescension and self-complacency, which, to those who can estimate the vast superiority of Chillingworth's mind and prin