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Caleb Fleming

was a distinguished and active member of the liberal school of dissenting theologians in the middle of the last century, and not an unworthy associate of the eminent men who have been already commemorated. Hence, although his numerous writings, notwithstandnig the ability and learning which many of them display, had, for the most part, only a temporary interest, and, consequently, are little read at the present day, his name cannot be altogether passed over in a work whose object is to do honour to those who have been eminently instrumental in promoting the cause of religious truth. We are, unfortunately, obliged to content ourselves with a brief and imperfect outline; which is, however, of such a character as to lead us to believe, the, if the requisite materials were now to be obtained, the life of Fleming would present a much greater variety of incident to impart the kind of interest we expect to find in a biographical memoir, and the absence of which, it is feared, will have been complained of in some of the preceding articles. The exertions which he appears to have made under considerable disadvantages to supply in after-life the deficiencies of an imperfect and desultory education, his early struggles with adverse circumstances, his honourable integrity in the sacrifice of flattering prospects, and in declining powerful patronage, which might, probably, have [276] led to advancement and distinction, all encourage the persuasion that, if we had the means of filling up this outline as it seems to deserve, we might present both an interesting and a highly valuable picture. It was understood that these means were in the possession of the late Dr. Towers, and that a more detailed memoir of this eminent man might be looked for from his hands: but the expectations of the public were disappointed; and the present writer can now do nothing more than bring together what has already been made known, accompanied by such a review as may be thought desirable of the permanent memorials which the author has left of himself in his writings.

The subject of this memoir was born at Nottingham, Nov. 4, 1698. His father was engaged in hosiery, then, as now, the staple trade of that town; his mother, whose name was Buxton, was of an ancient and respectable family in the adjacent county of Derby. He shewed an early taste for literature, which was to a certain degree cultivated and encouraged by his parents. For this purpose he was placed under the care of the Rev. J. Hardy, who for some years kept an academy at Nottingham for a small number of pupils, and by whom he appears to have been introduced to an acquaintance with many branches of knowledge important to the Christian minister. This gentleman is said to have been a man of learning and liberality:1 what his own opinions were own controverted questions has not been stated; but he appears to have adopted with his pupils the more consistent and honourable course usually [277] followed in our academical institutions, of directing their attention to the fountain head of scriptural knowledge; to those who were alone entitled to speak with authority, without seeking to impose the shackles and usurped dominion of human creeds and confessions.

Under the influence of this mode of instruction, young Fleming, though brought up a Calvinist, soon parted with the principles instilled by his early education. What his original destination was, or whether this change in his theological views led to any alteration of it, we have now no means of ascertaining; but it appears that, after leaving Mr. Hardy, he was, for several years, engaged in some secular business at Nottingham, possibly his father's trade, till, in the year 1727, he removed to London. In the mean time, he had married the daughter of Mr. John Harris, of Harstaff, in Derbyshire, by whom he had a family of ten children, one only of whom survived him. In London he became intimate with Mr. Holt, who was many years afterwards mathematical tutor at Warrington. From this friend he received assistance and encouragement in his studies, and acquired further improvement in classical literature, as well as an acquaintance with the Hebrew language. Whether this was, as yet, with a view to his finally entering on the profession of a Christian minister, to which, it is said, he had an early inclination; or merely to assist him in acquiring a more accurate acquaintance with those branches of knowledge in which his tastes and habits of mind led him chiefly to occupy his leisure, we are not informed. Nor does it appear in what mode of life he was occupied during the first years of [278] his residence in London; all we know is, that it afforded but scanty means of support for a numerous young family, and frequently placed him, as he afterwards used to relate of himself, in sight of real want, though he thanked God it had never quite reached him.

About this time he received an overture, through Dr. W. Harris, to write in defence of the measures of administration, in which case the Doctor told him he was authorized to promise that he would be well provided for. Mr. Fleming, however, notwithstanding his necessitous circumstances, promptly refused, saying he would rather cut off his right hand. Situated as he was, this refusal shewed the strength of his regard to principle and integrity; for he seems not merely to have rejected an immediate resource, but to have given offence to some who were desirous to serve him.

It was not till the year 1738 that he made the final change in his mode of life, and entered on the active discharge of the duties of a Christian minister. He had, before this time, laid in such a store of learning and theological knowledge as well qualified him for this employment; but it is remarkable that the first opportunity for the exercise of his gifts was afforded by a proposition to enter the Established Church. His abilities and acquirements appear in some manner to have attracted the notice of Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Winchester, by whom he was recommended to the patronage of Sir George Fleming, at that time Bishop of Carlisle. This latter prelate actually offered him a presentation to the vicarage of Lazenby, in Cumberland, with the promise of [279] a further more ample provision. At the same time, Dr. Thomas, apprehending his circumstances to be narrow, very benevolently made him an offer of advancing a handsome sum to defray the expenses of his removal to so great a distance. Mr. Fleming was not wanting in grateful acknowledgments to these worthy prelates for their liberal offers; and, at the time when they were made, he had very pressing reasons for embracing them: but as he entertained conscientious scruples against complying with the terms of conformity, which, after the most mature deliberation, he found invincible, he was obliged, as an honest man, to decline the proposals of his compassionate and friendly patrons. In forming his determination on this subject, he was encouraged by the magnanimity of his wife, who gave him the fullest and tenderest assurances of her cheerful readiness to undergo the most extreme hardships, rather than obtain relief at the expense of his integrity and peace.2

The overture which was thus conscientiously declined by Fleming, would appear to have arisen from the publication of a pamphlet in 1736, entitled ‘The Fourth Commandment abrogated by the Gospel;’ in which he endeavours to shew that this law, enjoining the observance of the seventh day as a day of rest, was binding only on the Jews; but that the law of the sabbath being destroyed, the Christian institution authorizes the Christian's observance of the first day of the week as a religious festival. This pamphlet is dedicated to the Bishop of Carlisle, from no other motive, as he himself declares, than ‘a piece of littie [280] fondness for the credit and reputation which might result on the dedicator from his lordship's being of the same name with him.’ He goes on to speak of himself and his present circumstances in the following terms:—‘I am indeed apprehensive, my Lord, that I shall not escape the censures of many to whom my circumstances and character are known. Some may, perhaps, allege that I have gone out of my province, and have misemployed my time, as-being only a layman, who have the affairs of a large family to attend. Nevertheless, I imagine that this charge will not fix very heavily upon me till it is proved, that, while I was composing these sheets, I had an opportunity of doing something else which would have been beneficial to myself or mine.’

This pamphlet was shortly succeeded by another, entitled ‘A Plain and Rational Account of the Sabbath, in reply to Mr. Robert Cornthwaite's further Defence of the Seventh-day Sabbath.’ They contain a very complete and elaborate view of the arguments on which those are accustomed to rely, who contend that the fourth commandment, as such, is in no way binding on Christians, and was, in effect, set aside by the Christian institutions, as we may infer (among other grounds) from the express declaration of St. Paul. (Col. II. 16.) To Christians the seventh day would have been a commemoration of a season of mourning, terror, and dismay; while the first day of the week is most fitly observed as a holy festival, in remembrance of the glorious event which fully ascertained and established the covenant of grace, and was, in fact, observed as such from the earliest period.

Whether there was not, after all, involved in [281] Fleming's motives for dedicating this publication to his namesake, the Bishop of Carlisle, a sort of undefined impression that it might be practicable for him, consistently with a just regard for principle and integrity, to accept of his lordship's patronage, may admit of some doubt. If it were so, it would not be the first time that an honest man has not fully understood the state of his own mind, and the practical bearing of his principles, till circumstances arose to put them to the proof: In this pamphlet he speaks of the Logos, distinguished from the Supreme God, as the Being who rested on the seventh day from the work of creation; from which it appears that he was, at this time, already an Arian in theological sentiment. We shall soon see, that the inquiries in which he afterwards engaged led him to abandon this notion, and to embrace the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ. But the Arian view is, at least, clearly inconsistent with the Athanasian creed, and with many other parts of the liturgy of the Church of England; and, independently of any disputed points of doctrine, it is not easy to see how the author of a pamphlet repudiating the fourth commandment, and denying its authority as such over any except the Jews, could, with propriety, recite those precepts in the ordinary public service, and join in the petition, ‘Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.’

When the bishop's proposal brought the matter to a point, and imposed on him the necessity of a more rigid and searching examination of his sentiments and motives than he appears to have previously undertaken, our author considered the [282] question of subscription more carefully, with a view of its bearing on his own conduct; and his own good sense and conscientious regard to principle soon convinced him that he could find no rest for the sole of his foot within the pale of the establishment. He, therefore, respectfully declined the offers made to him; and was soon afterwards induced to assume the exercise of the ministry among the English Presbyterians; almost the only religious community which did not impose on its ministers and members restrictions in his estimation unauthorized by scripture. After preaching occasionally for a short time in different places, he was ordained in 1738 as minister to the congregation at that time assembling in Bartholomew Close, London. Among the ministers concerned in his ordination were Hunt, Chandler, and Benson. Mr. Fleming gave no other confession of faith than this, ‘that he believed the New Testament writings to contain a revelation worthy of God to give, and of man to receive, and that it should be his endeavour to recommend them to the people in the sense in which he should from time to time understand them.’ He did not submit to the imposition of hands, which he considered as an unwarrantable mimicry of the apostles, and liable to misconstruction. If it is supposed, as is still too frequently the case, to confer any peculiar character or privileges, or to entitle him who has received it to do any thing in the capacity of a priest, or person supposed to have an especial authority and commission from heaven, and entitled thereby to do any thing which another person equally qualified might do as effectually,—if it is supposed [283] to communicate any validity to certain ordinances when administered by a person duly ordained, which they would not otherwise possess,—then he conceived it, and we think justly, to be a groundless and pernicious delusion; and a compliance with any outward ceremony which has usually been connected in the popular view with an imagined or pretended right to communicate such powers, ought by all means to be avoided. The frank and open declaration of these sentiments in the terms which have just been quoted well illustrate the character of the man; and it is also a valuable record, as indicating the views on this subject entertained and acted on at this period by several of the most influential men of the denomination to which by this act he attached himself, and who by taking a part in his formal reception into their body not only gave him the right hand of fellowship, but virtually, if not openly, disclaimed all pretensions to sift his creed, or to demand pledges and confessions from future candidates for ordination.

It may, however, be doubted, whether the freedom thus exercised was in all respects acceptable to some of those who had invited him to be their minister, and in whom the old leaven of Presbyterianism, as it had existed a century before in all its rigour, may not yet have been altogether worked out. They may, perhaps, have been startled at the entire overthrow of the barriers against the intrusion of unsound teachers, established by ancient institutions, of which only the shadow or the name was now retained, and also at the liberty asserted by their new minister, [284] not only of preaching whatever doctrines he then thought right, but of changing those doctrines from time to time, as further inquiries opened to him new views of scripture truth. It is certain that the freedom of his sentiments, and the unreserved manner in which he was accustomed to express them, soon alarmed some of the more timid, and offended the bigoted; and the consequence seems to have been, that, though he possessed talents which, under other circumstances, would have made him a popular preacher, his congregation was diminished, and the income he derived from it became scarcely adequate to the maintenance of his family. Here, however, he continued to officiate till the year 1752, when, on the declining health of the celebrated Dr. Foster, he was chosen assistant to him as morning preacher at Pinners' Hall. On the death of Foster, which took place shortly after, Mr. Fleming was chosen to be his successor; and in this situation he remained till incapacitated by the increasing infirmities of advanced age.

A singular anecdote is mentioned by Mr. Holden,3 which deserves to be recorded. ‘One Lord's day morning, an old gentleman out of Suffolk, —Reynolds, Esq., happening to sleep on a Saturday night in town at an inn in Bishopsgate Street, came to Pinners' Hall. After service he desired the clerk to wait on him at his inn the next morning. He accordingly went. Mr. Reynolds inquired whether the person he had heard succeeded Dr. Foster, and whether he always preached with that freedom? He told him, Yes. [285] About four or five months after, this gentleman died, and left his estate to Dr. Scott, a physician, and a legacy of a hundred pounds to Mr. Fleming, under the description of “the gentleman who succeeded Dr. Foster at Pinners' Hall, and who speaks deliberately.” Mr. Fleming observed, that he could not but look upon it as a very remarkable providence;—that he could not pretend to determine what were the motives which operated on the mind of the testator, but could easily imagine some divine impression every way consistent with the freedom of his own volitions, and analogous to the plan of one wise and good universal system. He added, that he would not on any consideration be denied the pleasure of so directing the sense he had of his own dependence on, and his obligations to, the Supreme Governor.’

These and similar expressions, though to some they may appear to savour of a visionary enthusiasm, are yet surely based on the principles of a genuine Christian philosophy. The belief in a general Providence, governing the world by uniform laws, is not inconsistent with the notion of a particular Providence, which regards not only general results, but the condition, present and future, of each individual, and the adaptation of every event that occurs to promote the interests of each and of all as being subject to the express direction and controul of the one Supreme. The inconsistency arises only when we suffer ourselves to be so far misled by views derived from the unavoidable imperfections of human power and knowledge, and hastily transferred to our conceptions of the Divine government, as to suppose that He who sees the end from the beginning, [286] and with whom the great and the little of created things are equally insignificant, cannot or will not condescend to take immediate cognizance of every thing that happens in his vast universe. We are apt to suppose that the general principles which we call the laws of nature are so many agents, or, at least, so many moving powers impressed on the great machine of creation, by which the various changes and phenomena we behold have been brought to pass without the further superintendence of Him who made it;— whereas they are more justly viewed as being merely the modes of the divine operations; an expression of the order in which it has pleased Him that the successive events which constitute the course of nature should follow each other in the relation of physical cause and effect; and in conformity to which the energy of divine power is incessantly exerted for the government of the world in bringing about the various changes which it exhibits.

A pamphlet which Mr. Fleming published about this time, in reply to Thomas Chubb, a noted sceptical writer, who had adopted the ordinary notion of a general providence and attempted to derive from it an argument against revelation, places this question in an ingenious, and, on the whole, a just and satisfactory point of view. It forms one of a series of publications by our author connected with the controversy so actively carried on at this period with the principal deistical writers of the day, and in which, as we have already seen, several other dissenting divines of the same school greatly distinguished themselves. Fleming seems to have singled out Chubb as his [287] chief opponent; and his tracts shew much acuteness and ingenuity. His animadversions on that writer's discourse on Miracles are particularly deserving of notice, as more nearly approaching to the doctrine since so ably maintained by Mr. Farmer on that subject, than was common with the leading theologians of his time. His argument is by this means freed from the embarrassment in which Foster, Chandler, and others are always more or less involved by their concession of the admitted possibility of real miracles being wrought by subordinate and even by evil spirits, for the promotion of their own wicked purposes.

It is to be regretted that these publications, being for the most part called forth by circumstances and controversies of a temporary and personal character, have failed to attract the degree of permanent attention to which their intrinsic merit would entitle them. At this distance of time it is not easy to judge how far it was worth while to take so much notice of the productions of a man like Chubb. Much would, of course, depend on the extent of their circulation, and the sort of impression they appeared to be making at the time on the public mind. Perhaps our posterity may, in the same way, find it hard to believe that the lucubrations of Owen and Carlile were worth the trouble which is now bestowed on them; and, in general, the answerers of such men must be contented with the hope of being useful in their own day and generation, without seeking for the reward of lasting fame.

About the year 1742, Mr. Fleming published a tract on Baptism, entitled, ‘Plunging a subject [288] of Bigotry when made essential to Baptism;’ which was soon followed by ‘A Plea for Infants, or the Scripture Doctrine of Water-Baptism stated.’ These tracts presently excited a controversy, in which our author returned several times to the charge in reply to sundry opponents, particularly the Rev. J. Burroughs and Mr. D. Dobell. In these publications he defends the cause of infant baptism with great zeal and perseverance, and urges all the arguments which are usually brought forward to vindicate or recommend this practice, not only from the expediency and propriety of the thing, considered in its moral influence on the minds of the parents, but on the alleged footing of authority derived from the supposed uninterrupted tradition of the church, from the presumed practice, or at least connivance of the apostles, and from the real or supposed analogy between this rite and that of circumcision, as practised under the law of Moses. Some of these arguments appear to us plausible, while others will scarcely bear examination. The main strength of the paedo-baptists' cause (provided that the ‘previous question’ is assumed, that water-baptism is to be received as an ordinance of permanent obligation in the church at all) is derived from the consideration, that it must be practised as a rite of initiation; whereas adult baptism seems to invert the natural order, when administered to persons who have already gone through a course of religious instruction and education. It seems preposterous, first to instruct, and then to admit into the school. When the question is not of the first introduction of a convert, but of the offspring of Christian parents, [289] it seems as if there was no period at which this formal initiation could take place too early; because a child's moral education commences from his birth, and ought from the first to be conducted on Christian principles, and with an express reference to his character of an heir of the promises, entitled to all the privileges of a Christian disciple. To wait till a child is able to think and answer for himself would be to sacrifice the period of life when the most essential and valuable parts of a religious education ought to be carried on. But in the absence of any direct evidence of the apostolic authority of this practice at all corresponding to that which we have in the Mosaic law for the rite of circumcision, it seems that this ground of argument will only prove the expediency and beneficial tendency of the practice in its moral influence on the parties concerned, and not its binding obligation as an ordinance or sacrament. It is here that the argument for infant baptism may appear imperfect;—especially if its validity is at the same time insisted on, as an instrument for working, we know not what regeneration in the subject of it;—for mending God's work at the will of a priest, and washing out by some cabalistical process the stains of original sin. For an ordinance which is supposed to shew such proofs as these of its efficacy we are surely justified in requiring a more precise and indubitable authority than any to be found in the New Testament. On the other hand, the opposite party are not without reason called on to produce a single scriptural example of the adult offspring of Christian parents being introduced into the church by the [290] outward ceremony which they recommend and practise.

‘I have pleaded,’ says Mr. Fleming, ‘for the baptism of infants, as what I now think may be supported on the scripture plan; at the same time, 1 have supposed the faith of adult persons necessarily pre-requisite to their baptism. But this faith, in the case of converts, the only adults of whose baptism we read any thing in the New Testament, is merely that which leads to an acknowledgment of the authority of the teacher, and a consequent admission into the list of his disciples,—not that which “ cometh by hearing,” and implies a more complete knowledge of the principles of his doctrines, such as can be acquired only by a continued and assiduous attendance on his instructions. I have concluded, that the scripture history of facts will support the right of infant children to baptism, on the faith of their parents, since several households were baptized on the faith of their heads. I have father observed, that the pre-requisite, faith, did not necessarily imply virtuous character, but a persuasion only that Jesus was the Christ, which being professed, did entitle men to baptism—and hence I have concluded that baptism was no more than a rite which initiated men into a kingdom, polity, or state of privileges; to which the infants of all professing Christians are entitled by their birth and situation. On the contrary, adult-baptizers suppose virtuous moral character, and a very competent knowledge of the Christian doctrines, as pre-requisites to baptism. This demand of theirs appears to me to rise far above the first, the pure gospel-state of things; for [291] when the gospel was first published, those who embraced it were frequently told by the apostles, of its being the effect of the free grace of God that they had been called and admitted into that kingdom, and not to any furniture of knowledge, or any works of righteousness which they had done. They were admitted into a state of favour, of life or privileges antecedent to any respect had to their virtue or obedience.’4

Mr. Fleming was a near neighbour and intimate friend of Dr. Lardner during the latter part of that eminent man's life. They had almost constant intercourse, and the influence of the new views he derived from his venerable and learned friend are very evident in our author's later publications. We have already observed, that his earlier writings shew him, at the time of his entrance on the ministry, to have approached most nearly to the Arian sentiment. At what precise period he abandoned these views does not clearly appear; but before he quitted Bartholomew Close he avowed his change in a series of lectures on the introduction to St. John's Gospel, He expected, he says, that the consequence of this avowal would be the secession of some of his hearers; which, however, does not seem to have taken place. Some years afterwards, he brought the subject forward in a more formal manner in a dissertation entitled ‘Considerations on the Logos;’ in which he proposes an interpretation of this passage, founded on the principles maintained by Mr. Lowman, in his Essay on the Schechinah, and by Dr. Lardner, in his celebrated Letter on [292] the Logos. ‘The Word of God,’ he considers as expressing ‘the manifestative will of God, however or whenever made known;’ so that the term is applicable to any sensible means which may be resorted to for the purpose of communicating this will, or making it known to mankind. The word ‘became flesh,’ when the man Jesus had the word, that is the wisdom and power of God residing with him. But that it did not become any part of the person of Christ (if such an expression is intelligible), is evident from his invariably ascribing his supernatural discernment, his all-penetrating knowledge, his astonishing wisdom and power, to the Father. The sense in which our author thus understands the term, in his opinion not only sets aside the doctrine of the Trinity, but quite annihilates the idea of the pre-existence of Christ. It was the divine power, the power of the Father, as he repeatedly declared, which dwelt in him, and did the works which proved him to be the Messiah. ‘An apparent advantage it must be of to any one, in reading the Gospels, to preserve in his own mind, pure and unadulterated, an idea of the divine unity; namely, that there is but one living and true God, of necessary, everlasting, and unchangeable existence, without body, parts, or passions; of wisdom, power, and goodness infinite; the maker, preserver, and governor of all things visible and invisible. This would secure the human mind from all those wild and unreasonable opinions, which divide, disturb, and distract the whole Christian professing world. Among other extravagances, Popery could never have found where to set the sole of her foot, if the divine unity had [293] been preserved pure and uncorrupt. That monstrous, detestable superstition was erected on men's depraving this first principle of all religious worship! for when once Christians had learnt to imagine the Godhead divided into three persons, and one of those persons into two natures; when they could once conceive of the Divine Logos as the soul of Jesus Christ, they were then prepared to embrace any fanciful opinion that could be grafted on these most absurd principles. We are thus enabled to collect the genuine original of that deformity which now sits on the face of the Christian profession. Would we then contribute all we can to restore the lost simplicity and purity of the Gospel profession? it must be by contemplating the man Christ Jesus as the temple of the divine word, and by so reverencing his instructions as to be daily trained by them unto virtue and glory.’5

In 1763 Mr. Fleming published an excellent pamphlet, entitled ‘The Doctrine of the Eucharist considered,’ containing, in a short compass, an exposure of the follies and superstitions which have been associated with this simple rite, and the most sound and rational account of its original design and beneficial tendency when celebrated with right sentiments, dispositions, and views. In particular he well exposes the groundless pretensions of priests and churches to sit in judgment on their fellow-christians, to place barriers in the way of access to the Lord's table, and demand from candidates for admission confessions of faith, or ‘experiences’ drawn up by or for [294] them; a fertile source of fanaticism on the one hand, or of hypocrisy on the other. ‘To his own master every one standeth or falleth.’ It is the duty of each individual to examine himself as to his motives and views in this as in every other religious observance, that it may be productive of its intended moral and spiritual benefit; but this is a duty which he cannot delegate to another, and he is neither enabled nor empowered to judge his brother. The perpetual obligation of this service is well inferred upon its commemorative intention, and the universal and perpetual interest of the great events commemorated. ‘The beneficial ends attainable from the celebration of the Eucharist by the first Christians, are equally vet attainable, and will remain so while the Christian is exposed to danger by the impressions of this material system; while any trials of his faith and patience remain; or so long as a finished example of humility, resignation, and fortitude can avail him of benefit, so long the religious celebration of the Eucharist will be found divinely useful to the Christian.’6 No one who believes that Christ spake with an intention to be obeyed by all his followers when he said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ can reasonably decline to comply with this injunction; more especially if he believes the ordinance to have this simple end, and this end only in view,—to refresh and enliven our remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

It will be naturally concluded, that one so well accustomed to exercise the right of free inquiry [295] in his own person, and to apply it to its most valuable practical purposes, would be equally prompt in vindicating the right itself; and we are, therefore, not surprised to find in the long list of his publications several which have an immediate reference to the various controversies which arose in his time in connexion with this important subject. He considered the interference of human power in matters of religion as one main source of all the corruptions which have arisen in the church, and was ready on all suitable occasions to record his protest against it. In the unavailing struggle of the Dissenters to obtain from Sir R. Walpole's administration the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts he took an active part, especially in a spirited reply to an anonymous real or pretended Dissenter, who had been insidiously endeavouring to throw cold water on the exertions of his brethren. He also wrote a comment on Warburton's celebrated ‘Alliance between Church and State,’ which, among other proofs of its merit, seems to have been honoured with a considerable share of the sort of polite attention which that eminent controversialist was accustomed to bestow on his opponents.

In the year 1769, our author received from the University of St. Andrews the degree of Doctor in Divinity. Among his papers (as we learn from Mr. Holden7), there was found the following memorandum on this subject: ‘By a letter I received from my dear friend, the Rev. Dr. W. Dalrymple, of Ayr, in North Britain, dated March [296] 22, 1769, I was surprised with the account of the University of St. Andrews having conferred on me the academical degree of Doctor in Divinity. This gave me great concern, not only from a consciousness of my defect of merit, but from always having looked on such diplomas with a real dislike. I would have rejected the compliment, had not one of the best friends I then had in the world (Thomas Hollis, Esq., who instantly put it into the public papers) on whose judgment I could most rely in matters of decorum and delicacy, absolutely insisted on my acceptance of it.’ On receiving the diploma he wrote the following acknowledgment to the heads of the University:

Hoxton Square, April 6, 1769.
Gentlemen,—Though I am ignorant of the motive you had to honour me with the unmerited degree of D. in D., yet I am able to assure you, that those abilities which God has given me have been ever devoted to the service of truth and liberty; never once resigning the right of private judgment to any human authority, nor consenting to sacrifice conscience on the altar of human emolument. I take this occasion to congratulate you on the advances liberty is making in the kingdom of Scotland, and on the many excellent publications from your countrymen. I wish prosperity to the University of St. Andrews, and should rejoice to render it any service.

I am, with the greatest respect,


Your most obliged obedient servant,


We will hope that none of the parties concerned were troubled with any misgivings that they had made a mistake in thus distinguishing this uncompromising champion of truth and liberty, and of private judgment in opposition to all human authority.

Dr. Fleming was now arrived at an age when it might be expected that he would be desirous to rest from his labours. He continued, however, to take his usual active interest in the several spirit-stirring events of the time, and various tracts on questions connected with the interests of ‘truth and liberty’ continued to proceed from his prolific pen, particularly one under the assumed signature of Philotheorus, entitled ‘Religion not the Magistrate's Province;’ occasioned by the application of the Dissenting ministers to Parliament for relief from the obligation of subscription to the doctrinal articles of the Church of England, by which they were still legally bound, though comparatively few of them had complied with it in fact. It contains a just and forcible statement of the argument, as proceeding from one who fully understood and was determined to act upon it; concluding as follows: ‘If the author of this plea is not mistaken, he has given full proof that the civil magistrate has no rightful claim of exercising authority in the province of religion. He has, he trusts, neither written, nor appeared to have written, with any narrow confined party views; or with design either dastardly to suppress or sophistically to disguise truth; or to subserve any ether cause than that of religion. He has no by-ends to serve; he is no sectary; he glories in no name [298] but that of a Christian; and as he is conscious of pleading so divine a cause on his own mere motive, he pleaseth himself with the approbation of the great God, and with the concurrence of all the unprejudiced, the liberal, and the generous of his countrymen; and will conclude with that excellent collect, “O Almighty God, who hast built thy church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone, grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit, by their doctrine, that we may be made a holy temple, acceptable unto thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” ’

Dr. F. preached his last sermon at Pinners' Hall the first Lord's day in December, 1777, and died July 21, 1779, in the 81st year of his age. In this discourse he is said to have expressed himself as follows: ‘I close these my public labours in the pleasing hope of receiving from Christ's ministrations divine advantage when flesh and heart shall fail me; and that he will approve my labours, as having been faithful in a few things. I would ascribe to him all the honour due to an exalted Prince, the Christian's One Lord and Saviour of the world; supreme worship alone being paid to the One God.’

1 He is said to have afterwards conformed, and taken orders in the church of England.—See Bogue and Bennett, II. 251.

2 Aikin's General Biography, art. Fleming.

3 See a short Memoir of Dr. Fleming, Monthly Repository, O. S., XIII. 410.

4 Tracts on Baptism, Introd. p. 4.

5 Considerations on the Logos, p. 39.

6 Doctrine of the Eucharist, p. 38.

7 Monthly Repository, XIII. 411.

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