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Prefatory Note.

William Sherlock, father of Dr Thomas Sherlock, an eminent bishop of London, was himself distinguished as an author, and mingled deeply in the controversies of his day. His strictures on Owen’s work on Communion with God appeared in 1674, after that work had been seventeen years before the public. It seems to have been Sherlock’s first appearance in authorship; and some of his subsequent treatises such as those on Providence and on Death afford a better specimen of his abilities. They are destitute of evangelical principle and feeling, and imbued throughout with a freezing rationalism of tone; but, nevertheless, contain some views of the Divine administration, acutely conceived and ably stated. He became rector of St George, Botolph Lane, received a prebend in St Paul’s, and was appointed Master of the Temple about 1684. His conduct at the Revolution was not straightforward, and laid him open to the reproaches of the Jacobites, who blamed him for deserting their party. There was a controversy of some importance between him and Dr South. The latter, on the ground of some expressions in the work by the former on the Trinity (1690), accused him of Tritheism. Sherlock retorted by accusing his critic of Sabellianism. He died in 1707, at the age of sixty-six.

Sherlock’s work against Owen was entitled, “A Discourse concerning the Knowledge of Jesus Christ, and on Union and Communion with Him,” etc. Owen confines himself, in his reply, to an exposure of the misrepresentations in which Sherlock had indulged. The latter, for example, sought to fix on the Puritan divine the doctrine, that the knowledge of divine things was to be obtained from the person of Christ, apart from the truth as revealed in the Scriptures. Our author successfully vindicates himself from this charge, and repudiates other sentiments equally mystical, and ascribed to him with equal injustice. The views of Sherlock, on the points at issue, have been termed, “a confused mass of Socinianized Arminianism.” Owen evinces a strength of feeling, in some parts of his “Vindication,” which may be accounted for on the ground that he resented the attack as part of a systematic effort made at this time to destroy his standing and reputation as an author. In the main, there is a dignity in his statements which contrasts well with the wayward petulance of his antagonist; and occasionally the reader will find a vein of quiet and skilful irony, in the way in which he disposes of the crude views of Sherlock.

Such was the beginning of the Communion Controversy, which soon embraced a wider range of topics, and points of more importance, than the merits of Owen’s book. Besides the original disputants, others entered the field. Robert Ferguson in 1675, wrote against Sherlock a volume entitled, “The Interest of Reason in Religion,” etc. Edward Polhill followed, in “An Answer to the Discourse of Mr William Sherlock,” etc. Vincent Alsop first displayed in this controversy his powers of wit and acumen as an author, in his “Antisozzo, or Sherlocismus Enervatus.” Henry Hickman, a man of considerable gifts, and pastor of an English congregation at Leyden, wrote the “Speculum Sherlockianum,” etc. Samuel Rollè, a nonconformist, wrote the “Prodromus, or the Character of Mr Sherlock’s Book;” and also, in the same controversy, “Justification Justified.” Thomas Danson, who had been ejected from Sibton, and author of several works against the Quakers, wrote “The Friendly Debate between Satan and Sherlock,” and afterwards he published again in defence of it. Sherlock, in 1675, replied to Owen and Ferguson in his “Defence and Continuation of the Discourse concerning the Knowledge of Jesus Christ.” He was supported by Thomas Hotchkis, Rector of Staunton, in a “Discourse concerning the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness,” etc. The singular diligence of Mr Orme hath compiled this full list of the works published in this controversy; but he is not quite correct in affirming that it was closed by the replies of Sherlock and Hotchkis in 1675. A second part of the work by Hotchkis appeared in 1678, and Sherlock was the author of two other works, “An Answer to Thomas Danson’s scandalous pamphlet, entitled ‘A Friendly Conference,’ ” etc., which appeared in 1677, and was followed by a “Vindication of Mr Sherlock against the Cavils of Mr Danson.” — Ed.

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