Stillingfleet, Edward

, one of the most learned prelates of the seventeenth century, was the seventh son of Samuel Stillingfleet, gent, descended from the ancient family of the StillingBeets of Stillingfleet, about four miles from York. His mother was Susanna, the daughter of Edward Norris, of Petworth, in Sussex,gent. He was born at Cranbourne in Dorsetshire, April 17, 1635, and educated at the grammar-school of that place by Mr. Thomas Garden, a man of eminence in his profession. He continued at this school until, being intended for the university, he was removed to Ringwood in Hampshire, that he might have a chance for one of Lynne’s exhibitions, who was the founder of that school.

Having succeeded in this, he was entered in Michaelmas 1648, of St. John’s college, Cambridge, and in the beginning of November was admitted a scholar of the house, on the nomination of the earl of Salisbury. It may readily be believed that his application and progress in his studies were of no common kind, as he was so soon to give public proofs of both. He took his bachelor’s degree in 1652, and was now so much esteemed by his society, that at the | very next election he was chosen into a fellowship, and admitted March 31, lf-53. While bachelor, he was appointed tripos, and was much applauded for his speech on that occasion, which was “witty and inoffensive,” a character not often given to those compositions.

About 1654 he left the university to accept the invitation of sir Roger Burgoyne, who wished him to reside with him at his seat at Wroxhall, in Warwickshire He had been recommended by Dr. Hainan, one of the fellows 01 his college, but in what capacity, whether as chaplain or companion, does not appear. Sir Roger was a man of piety and learning, and became afterwards a very kind friend and patron to Mr. Stillingfleet, yet parted with him very readily next year, when he was invited to Nottingham to be tutor to the hon. Francis Pierrepoint, esq. brother to the marquis of Dorchester. In 1656 he completed his master’s degree, and the following year left Nottingham, and went again to Wroxfoail, where his patron, sir Roger Burgoyne, presented him to the living of Sutton, in Bedfordshire. Before institution he received orders at the hands of Dr. Brownrig, the ejected bishop of Exeter.

While at Nottingham, as tutor to Mr. Pierrepoint, he composed his first publication, and printed it in 1659, under the title of “Irenicum, a weapon-salve for the church’s wounds, or the divine right of particular forms of churchgovernment discussed and examined according to the principles of the law of nature; the positive laws of God; the practice of the apostles; and the primitive church; and the judgment of reformed divines, whereby a foundation is laid for the church’s peace, and the accommodation of our present differences.” As this was an attempt to promote the return of the non-conformists to the church, and consequently implied some concessions which were irreconcilable with the divine right of episcopacy, for which the adherents of the church contended, and yet not enough to please either presbyterians or independents, the author had not the satisfaction of meeting with full credit even for his intentions; and upon more mature consideration, he himself thought his labour in vain, and did not scruple afterwards to say of his work, that “there are many things in it, which, if he were to write again, he would not say; some, which shew his youth, and want of due consideration; others, which he yielded too far, in hopes of gaining the dissenting parties to the church of England.” In | 1662 he reprinted this work; with the addition of a discourse “concerning the power of Excommunication in a Christian Church” in which he attempts to prove, that “the church is a distinct society from the state, and has divers rights and privileges of its own, particularly that it has a power of censuring offenders, resulting from its constitution as a Christian society; and that these rights of the church cannot be alienated to the state, after their being united, in a Christian country.

Whatever difference of opinion there was respecting some of the positions laid down in this work, there was one point in which all agreed, that it exhibited a fund of learning, and an extent of reading and research far beyond what could have been expected in a young man of twenty-­four years of age, and was, as we shall soon find, mistaken for the production of a man of full years and established fame.

At Sutton, while he performed all the duties of a diligent and faithful pastor, he adhered closely to his studies, and in 1662, produced his “Origines Sacræ; or a rational account of the Christian Faith, as to the truth and divine authority of the Scriptures, and the matters therein contained,” 4to. The highest compliment paid him in consequence of this very learned work, was at a visitation, when bishop Sanderson, his diocesan, hearing his name called over, asked him if he was any relation to the great Stillingfleet, author of the Origines Sacræ? When modestly informed that he was the very man, the bishop welcomed him with great cordiality, and said, that “he expected rather to have seen one as considerable for his years as he had already shewn himself for his learning.” This work has indeed been always justly esteemed one of the ablest defences of revealed religion that had then appeared in any language. It was republished by Dr. Bentley in 1709, with “Part of another book upon the same subject, written in 1697, from the author’s own manuscript,” folio. Bishop Sanderson, as a special mark of his respect, granted the author a licence to preach throughout his diocese; and Henchman, bishop of London, conceived so high an opinion of his talents, that he employed him to write a vindication of archbishop Laud’s conference with Fisher, the Jesuit. Laud’s conference had been attacked in a publication entitled “Labyrinthus Cantuariensis, or, Dr. Laud’s Labyrinth, by T. C.” said to have been printed at Paris, | in 1658, but which did not appear till 1663. Stillingfleet’s answer was entitled “A rational account of the grounds of the Protestant Religion; being a vindication of the lord archbishop of Canterbury’s relation of a conference,” &c. Lond. 1664, fol. Such was his readiness in composition, that he is reported to have sent to the press six or seven sheets a week of this volume, which Dr. Tillotson said he “found in every part answerable to its title, a rational account.

The country was now no longer thought a proper field for the exertions of one who had already shown himself so able a champion for his church and nation. His first advance to London was in consequence of his being appointed preacher to the Rolls chapel, by sir Harbottle Grimston; and in Jan. 1665 he was presented by Thomas, earl of Southampton, to the living of St. Andrew’s, Holborn. With this he kept his preachership at the Rolls, and was at the same time afternoon lecturer at the Temple church, which procured him the esteem and friendship of many eminent men in the law, particularly sir Matthew Hale, and lord chief justice Vaughan. Nor were his discourses less adapted to the common understanding. The eminent non-conformist, Matthew Henry, was often his auditor and admirer.

In February 1667, he was collated by bishop Henchman to the prebend of Islington, in the church of St. Paul’s. Having in 1663 taken his degree of B. D. he commenced D. D. in 1668, at which time he kept the public act with great applause. He was also king’s chaplain,*


While chaplain to the king, Charles II. his majesty asked him, “How it came about, that he always read his sermons before him, when, he was informed, he always preached without book elsewhere?” He told the king, that “the awe of so noble an audience, where he saw nothing that was not greatly superior to him; but chiefly, the seeing before him so great and wise a prince, made him afraid to trust himself.” With this answer, which, bowever, became the courtier rather than the divine, and we trust has been heightened in the relation, the king was very well contented. “But pray,” says Stillingfleet, “will your majesty give me leave to ask you a question too? Why you read your speeches, when you can have none of the same reasons?” “Why truly, doctor,” says the king, “your question is a very pertinent one, and so will be my answer. I have asked them so often and for so much money, that I am ashamed to look them in the face.” Richardsoniana, p. 89.

and in 1670 his majesty bestowed on him the place of canon residentiary of St. Paul’s. In Oct. 1672 he exchanged his prebend of Islington for that of Newington, in the same church. These preferments were succeeded, in 1677, by | the archdeaconry of London, and in Jan. 1678, by the deanry of St. Paul’s.

To all these he had recommended himself by the ability with which he carried on controversies with various enemies to the established religion. In 1669 he had published some sermons, one of which, “on the reason of Christ’s suffering for us,” involved him in a controversy with the Socinians, and he was engaged soon after in other controversies with the popish writers, with the deists, and with the separatists. It would be unnecessary to give the titles of the pamphlets he wrote against all these parties, as they are now to be found in the edition of his collected works. Successful as he was against these opponents, and few writers in his time were more so, he was not a lover of controversy, and seldom could be prevailed upon to engage in it, but in consequence of such provocation as he thought it would have been a desertion of his post, if he had neglected to notice.

About 1679 Dr. Stillingfleet turned his thoughts to a subject apparently foreign to his usual pursuits, but in which he displayed equal ability. This was the question as to the right of bishops to vote in capital cases, and was occasioned by the prosecution of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby. Among others who contested that right, was Denzil lord Holies, who published “A Letter shewing that bishops are not to be judges in parliament in cases capital,1679, 4to. In answer to this, Dr. Stillingfleet published “The grand question concerning the bishop’s right to vote in parliament in cases capital, stated and argued from the parliament rolls and the history of former times, with an inquiry into their peerage, and the three estates in parliament.Bishop Burnet observes that in this Stillingfleet gave a proof of his being able to make himself master of any argument which he undertook, and discovered more skill and exactness in judging this matter than all who had gone before him. Burnet adds that in the opinion of all impartial men he put an end to the controversy.

In 1685, he published his “Origines Britannicæ,” or the antiquities of British Churches, a work of great learning, and in which he displayed a knowledge of antiquities, both civil and ecclesiastical, which would almost induce the reader to think they had been the study of his whole life. Just before the revolution, he was summoned to | appear before king James’s ecclesiastical commission, but had the courage, in that critical time, to draw up a discourse on the illegality of that commission, which was published in 1689.

Besides his other preferments, Dr. Stillingfleet was canon of the twelfth stall in the church of Canterbury, and prolocutor of the lower house of convocation for many years, in the reigns of Charles II. and James 11. At the revolution he was advanced to the bishopric of Worcester, and consecrated Oct. 13, 1689, and in this station conducted himself in a very exemplary manner, and delivered some excellent charges to his clergy, which were afterwards published among his “Ecclesiastical Cases.” In the House of Lords he is said to have appeared to much advantage; but two only of his speeches are upon record, one on the case of visitation of colleges, occasioned by a dispute between Dr. Trelawney, bishop of Exeter, as visitor of Exeter college, and Dr. Bury, the rector of that college; and the other on the case of commendams.

Soon after his promotion to the see of Worcester, he was appointed one of the commissioners for reviewing the liturgy, and his opinion was highly valued by his brethren. The last controversy in which he had any concern, was with the celebrated Locke, who, having laid down some principles in his “Essay on Human Understanding,” which seemed to the bishop to strike at the mysteries of revealed religion, fell on that account under his lordship’s cognizance. Although Dr. Stillingfleet had always had the reputation of coming off with triumph in all his controversies, in this he was supposed to be not successful; and some have gone so far as to conjecture, that being pressed with clearer and closer reasoning by Locke, than he had been accustomed to from his other adversaries, it created in him a chagrin which shortened his life. There is, however, no occasion for a supposition so extravagant. He had been subject to the gout near twenty years, and it having fixed in his stomach, proved fatal to him. He died at his house in Park-street, Westminster, March 27, 1699. His biographer describes his person as tall, graceful, and well-proportioned; his countenance comely, fresh, and awful. “His apprehension was quick and sagacious, his judgment exact and profound, and his memory very tenacious so that, considering how intensely he studied, and how he read every thing, it is easy to imagine him, what he really | was, one of the most universal scholars that ever lived.” His body was carried for interment to Worcester cathedral, after which an elegant monument was erected over him, with an inscription written by Dr. Bentley, who had been his chaplain. This gives a noble and yet just idea of the man, and affords good authority for many particulars recorded of his life.

His writings were all collected, and reprinted in 1710, in 6 vols. folio. The first contains, 1. “Fifty Sermons, preached on several occasions,” with the author’s life. The second, 2. “Origines Sacræ” 3 “Letter to a Deist,” written, as he tells us in the preface, for the satisfaction of a particular person, who owned the Being and Providence of God, but expressed a mean esteem of the scriptures and the Christian religion. 4. “Irenicum: the Unreasonableness of Separation, or an impartial account of the history, nature, and pleas of the present Separation from the Communion of the Church of England.” The third volume contains, 5. “Origines Britannicæ, or the Antiquities of the British Churches;” 6. “Two Discourses concerning the Doctrine of Christ’s Satisfaction, against the Socinians.” 7. “Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” in which he animadverts upon some passages in Mr. Locke’s Essay. 8. “Answers to two Letters,” published by Mr. Locke. 9. “Ecclesiastical cases relating to the duties and rights of the Parochial Clergy,” a charge. 10. “Concerning Bonds of resignation of Benefices.” 11. “The Foundation of Ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and as it regards the legal supremacy.” 12. “The grand question concerning the Bishops’ right to vote in Parliament in cases capital.” 13. “Two speeches in Parliament.” 14. “Of the true Antiquity of London.” 15. “Concerning the Unreasonableness of a new Separation, on account of the oaths to King William and Queen Mary.” 16. “A Vindication of their Majesties authorities to fill the sees of deprived Bishops.” 17. “An Answer to the Paper delivered by Mr. Ashton, at his execution, to sir Francis Child, Sheriff of London, with the Paper itself.” The fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes contain, 18. Pieces written against the Church of Rome, in controversy with Cressy, Sargeant, and other Popish advocates.

When I was a young man,” says the present venerable bishop of Llandaff, “I had formed a mean opinion of the reasoniog faculties of bishop Stillingfleet, from | reading Mr. Locke’s Letter and two replies to him but a better acquaintance with the bishop’s works has convinced me that my opinion was ill-founded. Though no match for Mr. Locke in strength and acuteness of argument, yet his `Origines Sacræ,' and other works, show him to have been not merely a searcher into ecclesiastical antiquities, but a sound divine and a good reasoner.” This confession from one, perhaps a little more latitudinarian than our author in some important points, has probably contributed to revive an attention to Stillingfleet’s works, which have accordingly risen very highly in value. Indeed if we consider the variety of subjects on which he wrote, and wrote with acknowledged skill and with elegance of style, and the early fame he acquired and uniformly preserved, it will not be thought too much to rank him in the first class of learned men of the seventeenth century. While he was rector of Sutton, he married a daughter of William Dobyns, a Gloucestershire gentleman, who lived not long with him; yet had two daughters who died in their infancy, and one son, Dr. Edward Stillingfleet, afterwards rector of Wood-Norton in Norfolk. Then he married a daughter of sir Nicholas Pedley of Huntingdon, Serjeant at law, who lived with him almost all his life, and brought him seven children, of whom two only survived him; James rector of Hartlebury and canon of Windsor, and Anne, married afterwards to Humphrey Tyshe, of Gray’s-Inn, esq. His grandson is the subject of the next article. 1

1 Life by Dr. Timothy Goodwin, 1710, 8vo. Biog. Brit, written by Mr. Morant. Luruet’z Own Times. -Birch’s Tillotsou. —Leland’s Deistical writers.