Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sherlock, William (1641?-1707)

SHERLOCK, WILLIAM, D.D. (1641?–1707), dean of St. Paul's, was born in Southwark about 1641. From Eton he proceeded to Peterhouse, Cambridge, entering on 19 May 1657, and graduating B.A. 1660, M.A. 1663. After taking orders, he was some years without preferment; South twits him with having been a conventicle preacher. But on 3 Aug. 1669 he was collated to the rectory of St. George's, Botolph Lane, Lower Thames Street, London, and soon made his mark as a preacher. His first publication, on ‘The Knowledge of Jesus Christ, and Union with Him’ (1674), attracted much attention, opening the first of the many paper wars which Sherlock was not slow either to provoke or to maintain. He had no sympathy with the mystical side of puritan theology, treated its phraseology with ridicule, and attacked John Owen, D.D. [q. v.], who had affirmed that divine mercy was known only through Christ. Owen replied; and Sherlock's ridicule was resisted by other nonconformists, especially Thomas Danson [q. v.] (‘Debate between Satan and Sherlock’), and Vincent Alsop [q. v.], whose ‘Anti-sozzo’ brought against Sherlock the groundless charge of Socinianism, and established Alsop's reputation as a master of broad and effective sarcasm. In 1680 Sherlock commenced D.D.; he was collated on 3 Nov. 1681 to the prebend of St. Pancras in St. Paul's Cathedral, was lecturer at St. Dunstan's-in-the-West, and was made master of the Temple in 1685.

Previous to this last appointment he had written on ‘the protestant resolution of faith’ (1683), maintaining that since the age of the apostles the church has had no infallible guide but the scriptures; and had coupled with this his ‘Case of Resistance’ (1684), in which, on scriptural grounds, he contends for the divine right of kings and the duty of passive obedience. His pamphlet was auxiliary to the ‘Jovian’ (1683) of George Hickes [q. v.], written in answer to the ‘Julian the Apostate’ (1682) of Samuel Johnson (1649–1703) [q. v.] Throughout the reign of James II Sherlock, though writing strongly against popery, upheld the doctrine of passive obedience. Yet he declined to read James's declaration (11 April 1687) for liberty of conscience [see Fowler, Edward, D.D.], and was in fear of being displaced from the mastership of the temple. He asked John Howe (1630–1705) [q. v.] what he would do if offered the preferment, and was comforted by Howe's assurance that he would take the place, but hand the emolument to Sherlock. At the revolution he opposed alterations in the prayer-book to gain dissenters, went with the nonjurors, and figures in the list appended to Kettlewell's ‘Life.’ Macaulay reckons him their ‘foremost man.’ He was zealous in inducing others to refuse the oath to William and Mary; his pamphlet issued on the eve of the convention was regarded as a clerical manifesto; but he entirely miscalculated the strength of his party. Lathbury seems in error in saying that he was actually deprived.

On the day fixed for the suspension of nonjurors (1 Aug. 1689) he desisted from preaching, but resumed at St. Dunstan's on 2 Feb. 1690 (the day following that fixed for deprivation), acting on legal advice, having the permission of his superiors, and praying for William and Mary as de facto in authority. At length, in August 1690, he took the oath. Calamy, founding perhaps on a contemporary ballad, gives it as a common report that ‘the convincing argument’ was the battle of the Boyne (1 July). Popular satire ascribed his compliance to the influence of his wife. A bookseller, ‘seeing him handing her along St. Paul's churchyard,’ remarked, ‘There goes Dr. Sherlock, with his reasons for taking the oaths at his fingers' end.’ The same sentiment was expressed in satirical pamphlets and verse lampoons [see Shower, Sir Bartholomew]. Sherlock's own account, as given in the preface to his ‘Case of Allegiance’ (1691; licensed 17 Oct. 1690), is that his eyes were opened by the doctrine laid down in canon xxviii. of ‘Bishop Overall's Convocation Book,’ published by Sancroft in the nonjuring interest in January 1690 [see Overall, John, D.D.] His point was that this canon showed that the Anglican church recognised a government de facto. Lathbury is probably right in saying that Sherlock was ‘looking about for a reason’ which would give colour to his change of attitude, and, as John Wagstaffe [q. v.] puts it, ‘caught hold of a twig.’

As a nonjuror, Sherlock had published his ‘Practical Discourse concerning Death’ (1689), the most popular of his writings (translated into French and Welsh). Before transferring his allegiance he had thrown himself into the Socinian controversy, with an ardour kindled perhaps by the recollection of the old charge against him. His further promotion was not long deferred; on 15 June 1691 he was installed in the deanery of St. Paul's, succeeding Tillotson.

The Socinian argument, of which nothing had been heard since the death (1662) of John Biddle [q. v.] , was revived in 1687 by the publication of a ‘Brief History’ of the unitarians, as they now designated themselves [see Nye, Stephen]. There followed (1689) a sheet of ‘Brief Notes’ on the Athanasian creed [see Firmin, Thomas]. These two publications occasioned Sherlock's ‘Vindication’ (1690) of the doctrine of the Trinity. Shortly afterwards (11 Aug. 1690) the subject was taken up by Dr. John Wallis [q. v.] If the Socinians gained any advantage in the controversy, it was from Sherlock they got it. Wallis, a survivor of the divines of the Westminster assembly, knew what he was about. Sherlock was bent on displaying the powers of a masterful writer. The Socinians were not alone in accusing his ‘Vindication’ of tritheism. This book had the singular effect of making a Socinian of William Manning [q. v.], and an Arian of Thomas Emlyn [q. v.] His position was attacked, with a matchless mixture of irony and invective, by Robert South [q. v.] A jeu d'esprit, ‘The Battle Royal’ (1694?), ascribed to William Pittis [see under Pittis, Thomas], was translated into Latin at Cambridge. Sherlock's doctrine, as preached at Oxford by Joseph Bingham [q. v.], was condemned by the hebdomadal council (25 Nov. 1695), as ‘falsa, impia et hæretica.’ Sherlock defended himself in an ‘Examination’ (1696) of the decree. On 3 Feb. 1696 William III addressed to the hierarchy ‘Directions,’ drawn up by Tenison, prohibiting the use of ‘all new terms’ relating to the Trinity. In his ‘Present State of the Socinian Controversy’ (1698, but most of it printed 1696) Sherlock virtually recedes from the positions impugned. South said of him, ‘There is hardly any one subject that he has wrote upon (that of popery only excepted) but he has wrote for and against it too.’

In 1698 he succeeded William Holder [q. v.] as rector of Therfield, Hertfordshire. Besides writing on practical topics, he continued to employ his vigorous pen against dissenters, and on the incarnation (1706) against Edward Fowler, D.D. [q. v.] He died at Hampstead on 19 June 1707, aged 66, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. Two portraits, engraved by P. Sluyter and R. White, are mentioned by Bromley. He left two sons and two daughters; his eldest son, Thomas, is separately noticed.

He published, besides numerous single sermons and pamphlets in defence of some of them: 1. ‘A Discourse concerning the Knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ 1674, 8vo. 2. ‘A Defence and Continuation of the Discourse,’ 1675, 8vo. 3. ‘A Discourse about Church Unity: being a Defence of Dr. Stillingfleet … in Answer to … Owen and … Baxter,’ 1681, 8vo (anon.). 4. ‘A Continuation,’ 1682, 8vo (anon.). 5. ‘The Protestant Resolution of Faith,’ 1683, 4to. 6. ‘A Resolution of … Cases of Conscience which respect Church Communion,’ 1683, 4to; 1694, 4to. 7. ‘A Letter … in Answer to … Three Letters … about Church Communion,’ 1683, 4to. 8. ‘The Case of Resistance to the Supreme Powers,’ 1684, 8vo. 9. ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Ecclesiastical Authority,’ 1685, 8vo (against Daniel Whitby, D.D.). 10. ‘A Papist not misrepresented by Protestants,’ 1686, 4to. 11. ‘An Answer … being a Vindication,’ 1686, 4to (anon.). 12. ‘An Answer to the Amicable Accommodation,’ 1686, 4to. 13. ‘A Discourse concerning a Judge in Controversies,’ 1686, 4to (anon.). 14. ‘A Protestant of the Church of England no Donatist,’ 1686, 4to. 15. ‘An Answer to a … Dialogue between a … Catholick Convert and a Protestant,’ 1687, 4to. 16. ‘An Answer to the Request of Protestants,’ 1687, 4to. 17. ‘A Short Summary of … Controversies between … England and … Rome,’ 1687, 4to. 18. ‘The Pillar and Ground of the Truth,’ 1687, 4to (anon.). 19. ‘A Brief Discourse concerning the Notes of the Church,’ 1688, 4to. 20. ‘The Protestant Resolved,’ 1688, 4to. 21. ‘A Vindication of some Protestant Principles,’ 1688, 4to. 22. ‘A Preservative against Popery,’ 1688, 4to, two parts. 23. ‘A Vindication of the Preservative,’ 1688, 4to. 24. ‘Observations upon Mr. Johnson's Remarks,’ 1689, 4to. 25. ‘A Letter to a Member of the Convention,’ 1688, 4to (reprinted in Somers's ‘Tracts,’ 1809, x.). 26. ‘Proposals for Terms of Union between the Church … and Dissenters,’ 1689, 4to. 27. ‘A Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity,’ 1690, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1694, 4to. 28. ‘The Case of Allegiance due to Sovereign Powers,’ 1691, 4to; six editions same year. 29. ‘The Case of Allegiance … further considered,’ 1691, 4to. 30. ‘Their Present Majesties Government … settled,’ 1691, 4to. 31. ‘Answer to a Letter upon … Josephus,’ 1692, 4to. 32. ‘A Letter to a Friend, concerning a French Invasion,’ 1692, 4to. 33. ‘A Second Letter,’ 1692, 4to (both translated into Dutch). 34. ‘An Apology for writing against the Socinians,’ 1693, 4to (in reply to Edward Wetenhall [q. v.]). 35. ‘A Defence of the … Apology,’ 1694, 4to. 36. ‘A Defence of Dr. Sherlock's Notions of a Trinity,’ 1694, 4to (against South). 37. ‘A Letter to a Friend … about … Alterations in the Liturgy,’ [1694?], 4to. 38. ‘A Modest Examination … of the late Decree of the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford,’ 1696, 4to. 39. ‘The Distinction between Real and Nominal Trinitarians Examined,’ 1696, 4to. 40. ‘The Present State of the Socinian Controversy,’ 1698, 4to. 41. ‘A Vindication in Answer to Nathaniel Taylor,’ 1702, 4to (defends No. 6). 42. ‘The Pretended Expedient,’ 1702, 4to. 43. ‘The Scripture Proofs of our Saviour's Divinity,’ 1706, 8vo.

His ‘Sermons’ were collected in two volumes, 8vo; 4th edit. 1755; several of his protestant tracts are reprinted in Bishop Gibson's ‘Preservative,’ 1738.

[Biogr. Brit.; Calamy's Abridgment, 1713, pp. 485 seq.; Kettlewell's Life, 1718, App. p. xxiii; Birch's Life of Tillotson, 1753, pp. 256, sq.; Toulmin's Historical View, 1814, pp. 173 sq.; Lathbury's Hist. of Nonjurors, 1845, pp. 115 sq.; Lathbury's Hist. of Convocation, 1853, pp. 356 sq.; Wallace's Antitrinitarian Biography, 1850, i. 214 sq.; Macaulay's History of England; Hunt's Religious Thought in England, 1871, ii. 35 sq.]

A. G.