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George Benson

Was descended from a good family, who resided at Great Salkeld, in the county of Cumberland, where he was born September 1, 1699. His parents were pious, worthy persons, and zealous Nonconformists, having suffered considerably in this cause in the troubled times of the preceding generation; and they had the satisfaction to see several of a numerous family grow up and distinguish themselves not only in support of the same principles, but in the graces of a Christian life. George Benson was soon remarked for a seriousness of temper, and a disposition to study, which induced his parents to devote him to the Christian ministry; and for this purpose, after having passed through the usual course of grammar learning, he was sent to the academy kept by Dr. Dixon, of Whitehaven, already mentioned as having had the honour to number Taylor of Norwich, among its alumni. Here, however, he continued only about a year, after which he removed to the University of Glasgow. His family appear to have been orthodox, and he himself was brought up in Calvinistic principles, which, however, he abandoned at an early period in the course of his preparatory studies. Indeed, he does not appear at any time to have considered himself as bound down to the profession of a system of human formation, but to have endeavoured, from the first, to derive his religious principles from the scripture, [202] and from that alone. It was this peculiarity in their constitution and practice, which induced him to take up his lot among those who have been called the liberal dissenters, that they neither confined themselves, nor attempted to impose fetters upon others, but endeavoured to pursue truth with perfect freedom, fairness, and impartiality, in whatever quarter it might appear to lie. May this true liberality ever continue to characterize their descendants! and may a time at length arrive, when other denominations shall perceive more clearly the genuine Protestant principle, that the Bible is the only proper standard of religious truth, and no longer attempt either to apply or to impose any other!1

The question of predestination, in particular, appeared to require a careful settlement in the first place, not only in order that he might govern his own conduct accordingly, but because it appeared to him scarcely reasonable to address the motives of religion, and the language of exhortation and instruction, to those who were chained down to one course of action by an irreversible decree. The views upon this subject, which he then adopted, are distinctly stated in a ‘Review of Predestination,’ in which he endeavours to shew that the scriptural expressions commonly supposed to favour the notion of ‘decrees,’ are a figurative application of language adopted from the proceedings of human monarchs, who are accustomed to deliberate in their secret councils on the more important transactions of their government, [203] and to issue decrees, doubtless intended at the time, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, to be unchangeable. But previous consultations and subsequent resolutions and decrees are only needed where the ideas are limited and successive; defects or imperfections by no means to be ascribed to the all-perfect Deity. The popular language of scripture, however, is founded on this supposition, in order to give such an impression as the human mind, especially at that early stage of its development to which the Scripture history chiefly refers, can most readily comprehend of the wisdom and steadiness of the course of Divine Providence.

About the close of the year 1721, Mr. Benson came to London, and having been examined and approved by several of the most eminent Presbyterian ministers, he began to preach, first at Chertsey, and afterwards in London. By the recommendation of Dr. Calamy, he afterwards went to Abingdon, in Berkshire, and settled as minister of a dissenting congregation there, with whom he continued for seven years, diligently employed in studying the sacred writings, and labouring to instruct and improve the people under his care. During his stay at Abingdon, he preached and published three serious practical discourses, addressed to young people, which were well received. But of these he afterwards forbade the reprinting, as containing views of some disputed doctrines which did not accord with his more matured opinions. Here he also published a ‘Defence of the Reasonableness of Prayer, in a Letter to a Friend;’ in which he discusses with great judgment the common philosophical [204] objections, and establishes the duty as well as the efficacy of prayer, upon plain and Christian principles. To this is added, a translation of a discourse of Maximus Tyrius on prayer, with remarks upon it. He shews that prayer, as a natural expression of our sense of the perfections and providence of God, of our dependence on him and obligations to him, and of our concern for moral improvement, is a rational and advantageous exercise of the mind, and may with reason be expected to procure favours from God; not by working a change in the Deity, who will always do what is best; but by producing such a change for the better in man, as will render it best and fittest for the Deity to distinguish the pious and humble suppliant with instances of his particular favour.

In 1726 he married Mrs. Elizabeth Hills, widow, with whom he lived very happily for fourteen years. In 1729 he received and accepted an invitation to become minister of a congregation in King John's Court, Southwark, the duties of which station he discharged with great acceptance and satisfaction for eleven years.

The admirable success which had attended Mr. Locke's endeavours to apply the principles of just and rational interpretation in his excellent commentary on five of St. Paul's Epistles, had often inspired a wish that some person similarly qualified would continue the work on a similar plan, and in the same enlightened and liberal spirit. We have already seen that Mr. Peirce, in the latter part of his life, entered upon this labour, and gave to the world an exposition of the Epistles to the Colossians and Philippians, [205] with part of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which last, being left unfinished at the author's decease, was completed by Mr. Hallet.

In 1731, Mr. Benson proposed to himself to carry on this important work, and commenced with a ‘Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle to Philemon, attempted in imitation of Mr. Locke's manner;’ with an Appendix, in which it is shewn, by manifest indications derived from this short epistle, that St. Paul was neither an enthusiast nor an impostor, and that, consequently, the Christian religion must be, as he has represented it, heavenly and divine. This specimen was so favourably received, that the author was encouraged to proceed with his plan, and shortly afterwards brought out a Paraphrase and Notes on the first Epistle to the Thessalonians. The second epistle appeared in the following year, accompanied by two dissertations on the Kingdom of God, and on the ‘Man of Sin,’ spoken of 2 Thess. II. 3-12. In this latter discourse, he states the usual Protestant exposition of this remarkable prophecy with great clearness and ability; and, probably, his argument is just, as far as it goes. Certainly, the particulars enumerated are so closely applicable to the peculiarities of the Church of Rome, that every person who reads the passage with attention and candour must see the propriety of the application. At the same time, it is observable, on the one hand, that there were other corruptions, both in respect of doctrine, discipline, and practice, much more closely impending, and in which it is reasonable to suppose that the Thessalonians would take a nearer, indeed a personal, interest,—and, on the other, [206] that if we extend our views of its application to more distant ages, it is difficult to perceive why the Apostle should be supposed to limit himself to a denunciation of the apostacy and corruption which prevailed in one portion of the Christian world, when it is but too manifest that the same principles and the same antichristian spirit have prevailed, and exercised a most pernicious influence in almost every age, country, and denomination of professing Christians. Wherever any form of Christianity has been established by the interference and patronage of the civil power, we have commonly seen too clear indications of the disposition to assume unholy dominion, and to lord it over the consciences of men, which is here characterized under the figurative expression of ‘the man of sin.’ The spirit of intolerance and persecution was little less conspicuous in the ranks of the reformers than among the adherents of the Romish church, and led to the same dreadfull excesses and flagrant violations of the law of Christ, in a narrower sphere and to a less extent, only because their power and their opportunities of exercising it were more limited. We may hope, however, that this spirit is in a great measure abated, and that few would now be found to hesitate in receiving the admonition with which our author concludes: ‘Let us ever take care to watch against a persecuting spirit, in all the branches and degrees of it, and to lay the great stress of religion where the scriptures of the New Testament have laid it,—not in abstruse notions and unintelligible subtleties,—not in forms and ceremonies, or an empty profession of the best and purest religion; but in the sincere love of [207] God and one another,—in a due governing of our passions and sensual appetites, and the habitual practice of universal holiness. For what signifies it what church any man belongs to, what profession of religion he makes, or what advantages he enjoys, if he doth not love God, and keep his commandments? If he abuses his liberty to licentiousness, and in the midst of such marvellous light shews that he prefers darkness, by leading a scandalous and wicked life, which, of all others, is the blackest heresy, and the most flagrant and notorious corruption and apostacy?’

This dissertation was afterwards published in a separate form, in a small volume, entitled ‘A Collection of Tracts;’ comprising also the letter concerning the design and end of prayer, the review of predestination, and a brief account of the persecution and death of Servetus, originally inserted in the weekly paper called the Old Whig, or Consistent Protestant; a publication to which several other eminent dissenters of that day were occasional contributors. To these were added, in a later edition, a defence of the ‘Brief Account,’ a Narrative of the cruel treatment of Dr. Leighton, by Archbishop Laud, and an ingenious Essay on the Belief of Things which are above Reason. This last contains as distinct and satisfactory a statement of the argument for the rational opinion on this subject as is any where to be met with in so small a compass.

In 1733 appeared the Paraphrase and Notes on the first Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus, which were followed in the succeeding year by the second Epistle to Timothy; thus completing, when taken in connexion with the previous [208] labours of Locke and Peirce, the entire series of St. Paul's writings. To these were added dissertations on inspiration,—on the abolition of the ceremonial part of the Mosaic law, and on the settlement of the primitive church. Our author's account of the inspiration of the scriptures, (at least of the Christian scriptures,) coincides nearly with that afterwards advanced by Michaelis in his Introduction to the New Testament; assuming that the apostles, and they alone, were so far furnished with a full and complete scheme of what they were to teach concerning the Christian doctrine, as to be empowered to authenticate any writing, or give it a title to rank as canonical Christian scripture. If this be the proper criterion of an inspired writing, it becomes necessary, in order to establish the authority of two of the Gospels, to assume that Mark gives, in fact, the testimony of St. Peter, with whom he is understood to have been chiefly connected, and that Luke's narrative is confirmed by the apostolic authority of St. Paul. These assumptions may by some be thought somewhat arbitrary and gratuitous; and it may not appear very obvious why it should be considered necessary to seek for any other authority, in the Gospel of Luke for example, than that to which he himself lays claim, when he tells us, that ‘it seemed good to him also, having traced every thing from the first exactly, to set forth in order a narrative, that his friend might know the truth of those things wherein he had been instructed.’ Our author's good sense, at the same time, shews him the folly of ascribing divine inspiration to every passing remark or illustration which occurs [209] in the epistles. It is enough if we receive the great truths and facts on which the Christian system is raised in reliance on their testimony, and the doctrines or conclusions which they professedly teach on apostolic authority, without attempting to ascribe to inspiration that which any man might as well say or do without it. With respect to the abolition of the ceremonial law, his opinion is, that while the Jewish Christians, like all others, remained universally and every where bound by the moral law, those resident in Judaea, and they only, were bound by the political or judicial part of the Mosaic law, which was, in fact, a part of the civil constitution of the state to which they belonged; but that from the ritual part, whether at home or abroad, they were de jure absolved, immediately upon their embracing Christianity. If, nevertheless, they continued to observe it, this was partly owing to the influence of their own prejudices, ‘zealous for the law,’ and strongly attached to the religious peculiarities of their nation, and partly to a desire not unnecessarily to offend the prejudices of others, which might occasionally lead them with St. Paul, in things not sinful, to become all things to all men, that by any means they might gain some.

In his view of the early settlement of the Christian church, it appears that Mr. Benson availed himself considerably of the observations thrown out by Lord Barrington in his Miscellanea Sacra, and particularly of the distinct account given by him of the gifts of the Spirit, by which the apostles and first preachers of Christianity were enabled to spread and confirm the Gospel. His lordship and Mr. Benson frequently corresponded [210] on the subject of Scripture criticism; and how favourable an opinion that noble writer formed of our author's paraphrase and notes, appears from a letter of his to Mr. Benson, written in November 1734:—‘I received the favour of your second Epistle to Timothy, and have looked it carefully over; and can now return you my thanks for the kind present you have made, and for the instruction I have received from it at the same time. The “History of the state of things, &c.” is very full and clear. The Synopsis, short and comprehensive. The full meaning of the Apostle seems every where to be pursued in the paraphrase and notes. Many of them are what I have not met with in other critics and commentators, and are at the same time extremely well supported. The two essays are very accurate, and of great importance towards letting us into the true state of things in those times, relating to the planting and settling of the churches, and the exercise of the spiritual gifts. There is but little in which I can differ from you.’

Of this work, taken as a whole, it is not, perhaps, too much to say, and it is a high commendation, that it is not unworthy to be ranked as a sequel to the labours of Locke and Peirce. It immediately placed the author's name at a high point in the catalogue of liberal, rational, and learned theologians—a station which he did not forfeit by his later writings.

In 1735, Mr. Benson published the History of the first planting of the Christian Religion, taken from the Acts of the Apostles and their Epistles, together with the remarkable facts of the Jewish and Roman history which affected the Christians [211] within this period. ‘In this work,’ says Dr. Amory,2 ‘besides illustrating throughout the history of the Acts and most of the Epistles by a view of the history of the times, the occasion of the several epistles, and the state of the churches to whom they were addressed, he hath established the truth of the Christian religion on a number of facts, the most public, important, and incontestable, the relation of which we have from eyewitnesses of unquestionable integrity, and which produced such great and extensive alterations in the moral and religious state of the world, as cannot be rationally accounted for without admitting the reality of these facts and the truth of these relations.’

In the preface to a later edition of this work, the author expresses himself as follows:—

If I had believed Christianity to be false, no worldly considerations whatever could have induced me to have wrote so much to make the world believe that it is true. And if it be true, it is not an indifferent matter whether men receive or reject it. As for my own part, I have studied the books of Scripture, and more especially the New Testament, for above thirty years. From thence I have taken my notions of Christianity, and of the evidence of it. I have read the objections of the infidels, and have found that their acquaintance with the Scriptures is but very superficial; that they have no steady principles of their own; and that their design is to pull down Christianity, without giving the world any other scheme of religion or morals instead of it. I am, indeed, convinced [212] that the anti-revelationists are, in general, unfair writers, and have no good views; yet I am very thankful that this controversy has broke out and been carried on to such a length in my time; because I should otherwise never have seen the objections placed in so strong a light, nor cleared up so fully, and to such rational satisfaction. I should never have understood my Bible so well; never have seen the arguments for the divine original of it placed in such a variety of views; nor have apprehended the evidences to have been so very strong, extensive, and numerous.

I have with great pleasure observed, that many things against which the enemies of Revelation have objected, have, upon a more narrow inspection, turned out beauties instead of blemishes, and arguments in favour of Christianity instead of objections against it. And I am not without hope, that the writers who have of late so openly and in such great numbers appeared against revelation, are paving the way for a more general and extensive spread of it. For if Christians of different denominations would but give up what they cannot rationally defend, and return to the Scriptures as the sole standard of revealed religion, then would Christianity, pure uncorrupted Christianity, appear in its genuine simplicity and native excellence. Jews, Heathens, and Mahometans, would be struck with the amiable nature and abundant evidence of it, and well-minded Deists be induced to admire and embrace it.

After repeated examination, I am persuaded that the Christian religion, as it lies uncorrupted in the Scriptures, is of divine original. And the [213] more I have examined into the nature and evidence of it, the more I am convinced of the divine mission of Jesus and of the truth of the Gospel.

In 1740, Mr. Benson was chosen pastor of the congregation of Protestant Dissenters in Crutched Friars, on the death of Dr. William Harris, in which situation he remained for the rest of his active life. For some years (as has already been stated) he was associated in this charge with the celebrated Dr. Lardner, until that eminent theologian and true Christian was induced by his increasing deafness and other infirmities, which, in his opinion, incapacitated him for the service of the public congregation, to withdraw from the pulpit, and devote himself entirely to those labours of the study and of the pen, in the results of which the Christian world has so largely partaken, and will ever continue to partake.

Both during their official connexion, and ever after, these two eminent men continued in the greatest harmony and friendship, notwithstanding a slight difference in their views on some minor points of theological criticism, as well as on some doctrinal questions; Benson being an Arian, while Lardner was a believer in the simple humanity of Christ. By their friendly communication they mutually contributed to the improvement of each other's productions; and it is stated by our author's biographer, Dr. Amory, that, if the correspondence between them upon these subjects were published, the freedom and politeness with which they debated several points wherein they differed, would prove a good specimen of the proper spirit and manner of conducting such discussions. [214] They were neither of them bound by any pledge to abide by the dogmas or to support at all hazards the interests of any sect or party, and had no personal views of their own which could be forwarded by their espousing one side rather than the other of any controverted questions; or, if they had, their minds were superior to all such unworthy considerations. Truth, and truth only, was the object of their joint pursuit; and they were happily exempted from the influence of all temptations which worldly interests of any kind might have thrown in their way to hesitate in following her footsteps wherever they appeared to lead. These are privileges cheaply purchased by an exclusion from the emoluments and honours of the establishment, or from that sort of popularity which can be acquired by going along with the multitude. Those who succeed them in the privileges as well as the privations (so far as any minor inconveniences they are exposed to deserve that name) of this lot, will, we trust, ever shew themselves ready to meet the one, and avail themselves of the other, in the same honest, manly, and independent spirit; improving both, so as to render them instrumental to their progress in religious knowledge and all other graces of the Christian character. Whatever difficulties or discouragements in other ways they may have to encounter, may they ever be thankful to a kind Providence, which has protected them from many snares and perils with which others have to contend in the full exercise of that liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free!

In 1742, Mr. Benson was a second time married, [215] to Mary, daughter of Mr. William Kettle, of Birmingham; at which place he some time afterwards declined an invitation to settle, as colleague with Mr. Bourn in the pastoral charge of the ‘New Meeting,’ since served by Priestley, Toulmin, and other eminent men.

In 1743 appeared ‘The Reasonableness of Christianity, as delivered in the Scriptures.’ The more immediate object of this work was to refute a well-known deistical publication which was then recent, entitled ‘Christianity not founded on Argument;’ the writer of which had somewhat insidiously taken advantage of the disposition of some advocates of revelation to decry reason altogether in matters of religion, and to consider it as exclusively addressed to the affections and feelings. The fair inference from which seemed to be, that the Gospel, which did not address itself to the understanding, was unfit to stand in an appeal to the tribunal of reason, or to endure the test of a rigid and impartial examination.

This treatise is drawn up in the form of dialogue, and the argument on the side of revelation is, on the whole, ably and well managed, though it is certainly open to the usual objection to controversial works written on this plan, that the opponent is too commonly a mere man of straw, and is very far from giving such a view of his own case as any real opponent would be satisfied with. All readers, except the most careless or prejudiced, are sure to be struck with this; and the consequence of such one-sided ex parte statements is apt to be a reaction in the mind of the reader, who has no means of rightly estimating how much of the real strength of the opponent's [216] cause is kept back by his not having an opportunity of actually answering for himself. No man, however honest or candid, can be relied upon for giving such an account of the arguments which do not convince himself, as will or ought to satisfy either an opponent or the public.

In 1746, Mr. Benson received the degree of D. D. from the University of Aberdeen, which at that period, apparently in part through the influence of Mr. David Fordyce, shewed a frequent disposition to bestow this academical compliment on the leading divines of the liberal school among the English dissenters. It appears, from a letter written to Dr. Benson by Mr. Fordyce, that there had been a design to send him a diploma from the University of Glasgow; (his own Alma Mater;) but an opposition was made to this, because some persons there considered him as unsound; and one of the members of the university, when the scheme was mentioned, ‘spoke of him with abhorrence as an avowed Socinian.’ This was a mistake; for Dr. Benson never went beyond Arianism: but theological calumniators, when their object is to excite prejudice, are ready enough to select the epithet which appears best suited for their purpose, without being over-nice in their inquiries about its correctness.

The success which had attended our author's labours on St. Paul's Epistles, and the favourable reception they had met with from the learned world, encouraged him to proceed in applying the same method to the seven commonly called Catholic Epistles. His commentaries on these appeared at different periods between the years 1738 and 1749. The paraphrase and notes are framed on [217] the same plan as before; and several valuable critical dissertations are added, particularly an Essay to reconcile the doctrine of the Apostles Paul and James on the subject of Justification by Faith; in which he shews that, by ‘the works of the law,’ St. Paul meant the ritual law of Moses, by the most diligent and scrupulous observance of which he declares that no flesh living can be justified. The subjects of the other dissertations are, an examination of what is meant by Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Peter III. 19); on the text of the three heavenly witnesses (1 John, v. 7); and on the distinction between the sin unto death and the sin not unto death (1 John v. 16).

This work was also well received, and a second edition of the whole appeared in 1756, with some additional dissertations.

His valuable contributions to sacred literature procured for our author the friendship and esteem of many persons of the highest eminence in the Established Church as well as among the Dissenters. On the Continent also they enjoyed a high reputation; and the Exposition of St. James's Epistle had the honour of being translated into Latin by the celebrated J. D. Michaelis, who had proposed to translate the entire work, but was prevented by other engagements.

These extensive critical labours on the Christian Scriptures did not prevent Dr. Benson from devoting himself diligently to the performance of his duties as a preacher and pastor. On the contrary, circumstanced as he was, we may naturally conclude that the two occupations would materially favour and facilitate each other. The scripture critic, who is at the same time engaged in [218] the important office of a Christian minister, will be less in danger of pursuing his work, as some may perhaps have done, merely as a business of scholarship and literary research; while, earnestly desirous to bring all the aids of learning and critical acuteness which he can command to illustrate its beauties, enforce its arguments, trace its allusions, and explain its occasional obscurities, he will ever remember that the main end and purpose of his labour in commenting on the word of God, is to promote its practical efficacy in improving the hearts and lives of those to whom it is addressed. On the other hand, in common with many others who have enjoyed similar advantages, Dr. Benson was, happily, under no temptation to abandon the character of a critic and theologian in his preparation for the pulpit; to keep back from his people the result of his inquiries in the closet, or to veil them, as some have done, in obscure and ambiguous language, in order to maintain a delusive reputation for what is called orthodoxy. As he had laid himself under no obligations to adhere through life to a certain specified formula of man's construction, so his hearers were ready to grant him the liberty which they used themselves, and to receive with candour his unreserved communications of what appeared to him to be the truth as it is in Jesus.

Of Dr. Benson's manner as a preacher, his biographers have left us no account. The character of his style in his other compositions, correct and perspicuous, but perfectly plain, and devoid of studied ornament or appeals to the passions, leads us to conclude that he did not aim at the reputation of a popular preacher; and his congregation [219] was small, though select and highly intelligent. ‘His natural temper (says Dr. Amory) prevented his excelling in a warm and pathetic address to the passions of his hearers. But this he endeavoured to compensate by the evidence and seriousness with which he recommended, from the Scriptures, universal piety, righteousness, and holiness of heart and life, and the necessity of acquiring and practising these; shewing the danger of trusting to any other expedients for obtaining the favour of God, and the blessedness of heaven, without personal holiness and obedience. A method of preaching not improper for convincing, converting, and edifying the hearers, especially when enforced by a suitable practice.’ (Memoir, p. XIII.)

In 1747, Dr. Benson printed a volume of ‘Sermons on several important Subjects.’ A letter which he received from Dr. Herring, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, in acknowledgment of a presentation copy, accompanied with congratulations on his recent elevation to the primacy, has been preserved, and merits insertion, as a model of that liberal and truly Christian spirit which we could wish to find in all stations, and more especially in one of such high dignity and extensive influence.

Reverend Sir,—I cannot satisfy myself with having sent a cold and common answer of thanks for your volume of most excellent and useful sermons. I do it in this manner with great esteem and cordiality. I thank you at the same time, as becomes me to do, for your very obliging good wishes. The subject on which my friends congratulate [220] me is, in truth, matter of constant anxiety to me. I hope I have an honest intention; and, for the rest, I must rely on the good grace of God, and the counsel and assistance of my friends.

I think it happy that I am called up to this high station at a time when spite and rancour and narrowness of spirit are out of countenance; when we breathe the benign and comfortable air of liberty and toleration; and the teachers of our common religion make it their business to extend its essential influence, and join in supporting its true interest and honour. No times ever called more loudly upon Protestants for zeal, and unity, and charity.

I am, Rev. Sir, your assured friend,

Another letter, in the same spirit, from the author's namesake, Dr. Benson, Bishop of Gloucester, is given by Dr. Amory, and is inserted here, as illustrating the sort of intercourse which was then permitted between church dignitaries and dissenting ministers of eminence.

Berry Street, Westminster, Jan. 10, 1749.
Sir,—I received, at my coming to town upon Saturday last, what you are pleased to style a small, but must allow me to esteem a very valuable, present,—your Paraphrase and Notes on the seven Catholic Epistles. I have not yet had time to peruse them; but I could not, till I had, delay to return my thanks for the great favour which you have done me, and to which I wish I could [221] think myself entitled upon any of the other accounts you mention, besides that only, of wearing a name to which you, by your learning, have done honour.

I can only say for myself, that I have a sincere desire to do all the good which my abilities will capacitate me for in the station in which it has pleased Providence to place me; and a sincere delight to see virtue and religion defended in an age which so much wants it by able hands. And no one can be more ready than myself to acknowledge how much, upon this account, we are indebted to the learned labours and admirable writings of several of those whom we have the unhappiness to have differing from us in less important particulars.

I beg of God to bless your and their labours for his service, and to unite us all in love and charity here, and glory hereafter. And yourself I beg, with much regard, to believe me to be,


Your faithful and much obliged humble servant,

We may add to the author's friends and occasional correspondents among distinguished churchmen, Hoadley, Butler, and Law,—names which may rather be said to confer honour on the elevated stations to which they were raised, than to receive honour from them. In the list of subscribers to Dr. Benson's posthumous History of the Life of Christ, we also observe the Bishops of Lichfield and Worcester; Shute Barrington, afterwards Bishop of Durham; Newcome, then Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford, afterwards [222] Archbishop of Armagh; figuring along with Lardner, Fleming, Kippis, Price, and many other ‘Reverends by courtesy’ of that day, but as good bishops as themselves notwithstanding. When, however, we contrast these things with the strange outcry which has recently been excited, when two bishops subscribed to a volume of sermons published by a Unitarian minister, we are constrained to acknowledge our apprehension that, in some respects, the former times were better than these.

In the year 1754, Dr. Benson published a Summary of the Evidences of Christ's Resurrection, in which he reduces the accounts given by the four Evangelists into one harmonized narrative; and examines, with great ability and acuteness, the objections which have been proposed by unbelievers against this part of the Gospel history. In particular, he illustrates very satisfactorily the important inference from the diversity of these narratives, that it clearly appears from hence that we cannot have here a concerted story, but the testimony of four really independent witnesses, who relate the event as such witnesses may be expected to do, dwelling more particularly some upon one portion of the history, some upon another, while circumstances minutely related by one are altogether passed over by the rest. It is well known that this is a subject which has exercised the ingenuity of various writers, who have adopted different hypotheses, some more, some less probable. Dr. Benson's mode of combining the accounts proceeds on the supposition that Mary Magdalene and the other women, after going together to the sepulchre the [223] first time, very early in the morning, separated on their return after seeing the angels and the stone rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre; that Mary Magdalene went to inform Peter and John, while the other women announced what had happened to the rest of the apostles;— and that, afterwards, both parties again visited the sepulchre, at which time they had their respective interviews with our Lord. The Monthly Reviewers characterize this tract, in their notice of its first appearance, in the following terms:— ‘The reader will here find a more clear and satisfactory view of this subject, and that in a much narrower compass than is any where else to be met with.’

Dr. Benson's station and well-deserved eminence and reputation, both as a divine and a man of letters, not only afforded him an opportunity of enjoying for himself the full practical benefit of religious liberty and free inquiry, but enabled him to encourage and assist young aspirants in the same honourable course, especially when labouring under difficulties arising from the opposition or jealousy of persons with less enlarged and liberal views. Several of those who in a later age became eminent lights of the church, had to acknowledge the kindness and assistance of Dr. Benson, as in other ways, so likewise in the direction of their private studies. For several years he had one or more residing with him, who, having finished their university or academical education, were desirous of obtaining, under his direction, a more critical acquaintance with the sacred writings. One of these was the wellknown Dr. Macknight, author of a Harmony of [224] the Gospels, a New Translation of the Epistles, &c. Another, less known to fame, but not less worthy, though the shortness of his mortal career did not afford him the opportunity of acquiring such extensive reputation, was Mr. John Alexander, of Birmingham, who is mentioned by Dr. Priestley, in his Memoirs, as his favourite fellow student, and a young man of very high and distinguished attainments. He died in 1765, in the 30th year of his age. He published nothing in his lifetime, except a few contributions to the periodicals of the day; but he left behind him a very valuable Paraphrase on the fifteenth Chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which, with some other pieces, was published after his death by the Rev. John Palmer.

During the latter years of his life, Dr. Benson appeared less frequently before the public. Indeed, his health was latterly much impaired; and he found it necessary; at length, to quit the public exercise of the ministry in the beginning of the year 1762. It was the hope of his friends that his life might have been prolonged in a peaceful retirement for the further prosecution of his theological pursuits and the pleasing intercourse of society. But his strength declined rapidly, and on the 6th of April, 1762, in the sixty-third year of his age, he was called away from the scene of his earthly labours.

Dr. Benson was not a man of brilliant genius, but of sound learning, unwearied diligence, and a truly liberal, enlightened, and Christian spirit. He was a thoroughly consistent Protestant dissenter, on the only grounds on which either Protestantism or Dissent can be successfully vindicated, [225] namely, the sole authority of Christ as head over all things to his church, the sufficiency of the scriptures as a rule of faith, and the right of individual inquiry and judgment. This right he claimed for himself, and was ever ready to concede to others. ‘As a minister of the Gospel of Christ,3 he studied the scriptures with indefatigable attention, and explained them with freedom and impartiality. As a friend, he always exercised to others what he expected from them—a generous plainness and freedom, void of all dissimulation and hypocrisy. While he was candid to the opinions of others, he was stedfast in his own, for he entertained no sentiments which had not cost him a long and conscientious examination. As a preacher, he preferred those points in which all Christians agree before those in which they differ; and instead of urging matters of doubtful disputation, he enforced the grand duties of practical religion, as being of absolute and eternal importance.’

Dr. Benson left in manuscript a History of the Life of Jesus Christ, taken from the New Testament; with Observations and Reflections proper to illustrate the excellence of his character, and the divinity of his mission and religion. This work was published by subscription after his death, in one large volume in 4to. Though, perhaps, in some places unnecessarily diffuse, and containing some doctrinal views which are open to objection, it forms, on the whole, a very valuable contribution to our stock of practical divinity. The reflections are chiefly of a popular cast, and [226] well adapted, for the most part, to suggest the most desirable practical improvement to be derived from meditating on the events of our Lord's life, and the leading features of his character. They also furnish satisfactory answers to many of the most plausible and frequently urged objections which are likely to fall in the way of the general reader. In this point of view, the chapter on miracles, and that on the resurrection, which is a reprint of the dissertation already mentioned, are particularly valuable and judicious. To this volume is prefixed a memoir of the author, by Dr. Amory, the editor, from which the materials of the preceding article have been chiefly derived.

1 Not that we would have them attempt to impose even that. In this, as in all other respects, let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

2 Memoir, Prefixed to the ‘life of Christ,’ p. XI.

3 Radcliffs Funeral Sermon for Dr. Benson, p. 30.

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