Upon such levels the discussion proceeded, the skill and adroitness of the heretics contrasting with the obvious perplexity of the orthodox, who soon fell to accusing one another of stumbling into erroneous statements. Dons, deans, and even bishops joined in the fray, and some of them, notably Dr. Sherlock, Master of the Temple, got into sad trouble with their brethren. Finally, the clergy were forbidden to prolong the discussion, which indeed promised little satisfaction to any but the heretics who enjoyed the difficulties of the orthodox champions. The traditional formularies were there, and these must suffice. In the presence of the restrictions imposed by the Toleration Act speculation outside the Church turned towards ’Deism’—perhaps the best modern equivalent would be ‘Natural Religion.’ Speculation inside the Church had to accommodate itself to the creeds and articles, and thus there grew up an Arianism among the clergy which was really largely diffused and produced some important books. One of these was Dr. Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712), a work which appears to have helped many a clergyman to ease his conscience while reciting the authorized Trinitarian expressions, though in substance his opinions were no less heretical than those for which men had suffered under the law.
A contemporary case of such suffering was that of Thomas Emlyn (1663-1711), an Irish clergyman who was sentenced at Dublin in 1703 to imprisonment which lasted for two years. This gross treatment, excited keen criticism at home and in the American colonies, whither our attention must soon turn. Emlyn was the first minister to call himself a ‘Unitarian,’ but under the pressure of the times, and in accordance with the spirit of Clarke and the other Arianizing clergy, he found it expedient to declare himself a ‘true Scriptural Trinitarian.’
It is estimated that about a thousand Meeting Houses were erected by Dissenters in the twenty years following the passing of the Toleration Act. After the death of Queen Anne others were built, but in no great numbers. The prevailing impression of the state of religion in England during the first half of the eighteenth century is a gloomy one. Formalism and apparently an insincere repetition of the doctrinal phrases imposed by the law was but too evident in the State Church. Dissent had its bright features, but these grew dim as years went on. It must be admitted that the odds were heavy against that party. Without conforming no one could be appointed to public office, and the ‘occasional conformity’ of sharing the communion service at an established church now and again in order to qualify was at length forbidden by the Act of 1711. The sons of the Dissenting gentry and manufacturers were excluded from the universities, and though a shift was made by ‘Academies’ here and there, the excellence