September 24, 2011

Jonathan Moore on John Owen, Henry Scudder, Edward Polhill and English Hypothetical Universalism

Although language could be very heated at times, and this controversy was deemed by many to be of the utmost importance, polemic fell short of using such emotive language, provided that a common abhorrence of, and separation from, Arminianism could still be established.125 Indeed, those sometimes charged with being hard, harsh and obstinate on this point could sometimes prove to be most charitable in the larger context of the Puritan brotherhood. For example, it was John Owen himself who wrote a recommendatory preface in 1674 to Westminster Divine Henry Scudder's The Christians daily Walk, in which a recommendatory preface by Baxter also appeared. In this book Scudder spends a section of five pages defending a hypothetical universalist position, and in his recommendation Owen covers himself accordingly by distancing himself from some unspecified expressions in the book.126 But his willingness to commend it warmly on the basis of the plain and practical godliness it promotes is indicative of the relative importance given to this in-house Reformed debate, at least in Post-Restoration England, even by one of the staunchest defenders of particularism.

Indeed there is even evidence that might lead one to doubt whether the later Owen would have ever republished his Death of Death without revising it in terms of its severe tone and language concerning hypothetical universalism.127 In his recommendatory preface to English Hypothetical Universalist Edward Polhill's book on the divine decrees, of which 65 pages are taken up with a robust refutation of particular redemptionism and defense of English Hypothetical Universalism,128 Owen ventures to express my own dissent from some of his apprehensions, especially about the Object and Extent of Redemption. Had I seen this discourse before it was wholly Printed, I should have communicated my thoughts unto him upon that Subject, and some few passages in it: but where there is an agreement in the substance and design of any Doctrine, as there is between my judgment and what is here solidly declared, it is out duty to bear with each other in things circumstantial, or different explanations of the same Truth, when there is no incursion made upon the Principles we own.129

So by the 1670's, it was not hypothetical universalists by "Papists, Socinians, Arminians, [and] Quakers"130 that Owen wanted to see attacked, and that from the apparently much safer vantage point of a Reformed Orthodox fortress free from the embarrassing cracks of vituperous intra-Reformed debates, and lined with a good insulating layer of warm fellowship for the godly.131
125. Davenant’s opposition to Arminian/Remonstrant theology was strenuous and extensive. Accordingly, Owen never attributed heresy to Davenant, but, on the contrary, spoke reverently of him, and especially appreciated Davenant’s treatise on justification, employing it in the 1670s in his own writings an justification and perseverance (Owen, Works, 3:218–219; 5:208, 368; 11:497). On the other hand, Owen’s chief opponent in Death of Death was an altogether different case. Unlike Davenant, Thomas Moore was unlearned and unqualified, and went far closer to Anninianism and even Pelagianism in his bold efforts to defend his system of universal redemption. This provoked sustained and open contempt from Owen and repeated charges of “abominable” or “gross error” as well as “heresies” (ibid., 10:189, 356–358, 379, 381–382, 398–399, 403, 415). Cf. the sentiments expressed in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 1st edn, 4 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 1:76–77, 80 and Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, 29–31.
126. Henry Scudder, The Christians daily Walk, in holy Security and Peace. Being an Answer to these Questions: 1. How a Man may do each present Days work with Christian Cheerfulness?, 2. How to bear each Present Days Cross with Christian Patience? Containing familiar Direction, shewing 1. How to walk with God in the whole Course of a Mans Life. 2. How to be upright in the said Walking. 3. How to live without taking Care or Thought in any thing. 4. How to get and keep true Peace with God, wherein are manifold Helps 10 prevent and remove damnable Presumption; also to quiet and ease distressed Consciences [...] commended to the Practice of all Professors, by Dr Owen and Mr Baxter, [1627] 11th edn (London: For Lodowick Lloyd, 1674), 331–336, Alv. Scudder’s defense of hypothetical universalism also appeared in the edition that had most likely enthused Owen as a young man (Henry Scudder, The Christians daily Walke, in holy Securitie and Peace. Being an Answer to these Questions: 1. How a Man may doe each present Daies Worke with Christian Chearfullnesse?, 2. How to bear each Present Daies Crosse with Christian Patience? Containing familiar Directions, shewing 1. How to walk with God in the whole Course of a Mans Life. 2. How to be upright in the said Walking. 3. How to live without taking Care or Thought in any thing. 4. How to get and keepe true Peace with God, wherein are manifold Helpes to prevent and remove damnable Presumption; also to quiet and ease distressed Conscences. First intended for private Use: now (through importunity) published for the common Good, [1627] 8th Corrected and enlarged edn [London: I.L. for Henry Overton, 1642], 350–357; Scudder, Christians daily Walk, 1674, Alr).
127. We have already noted above that Owen would have revised it in terms of his change of mind on the necessity of the atonement.
128. Edward Polhill, The Divine Will considered in its eternal Decrees and holy Execution of them, 1st edn (London: For Henry Eversden, 1673), 281–346.
129. Polhill, Divine Will, A6r-A6v. The other recommendatory preface to this volume was written by English Hypothetical Universalist and Westminster Divine Lazarus Seaman.
130. Ibid., A7r.
131. Soon after the Restoration, a disillusioned Owen had given up hope for a Christian unity based on confessional uniformity (Owen, Works, 14:314–315).
Jonathan Moore, "The Extent of the Atonement: English Hypothetical Universalism versus Particular Redemption," in Drawne into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism, eds. Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones (Oakville, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 154–156. Other material from Moore's article concerning Hypothetical Universalism and Westminster Assembly can be read here (click) and the same at the Synod of Dort here (click). Worth reading as well are Richard Muller's comments in the same book. He, like Moore, says these were "in-house Reformed debates," i.e. indicative of a plurality of trajectories within the Reformed orthodox camp.

Scudder's moderate views first appeared on this blog in October of 2007 (I know of no other source affirming him as moderate before that date), and then in David Allen's article on the atonement in 2010 in Whosoever Will (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 73–74. Moore's comments now in print regarding Scudder's "hypothetical universalism" are further vindication of our reading of Scudder's moderate position.

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