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Nathniel Lardner

Is one of the distinguished names in which the Unitarians, with good reason, are most accustomed to glory. He is, indeed, one of those worthies whom the universal church are wont to claim as their own; though too large a portion of them, in so doing, are obliged to sacrifice their consistency, and to lay aside for the occasion their usual narrow principles of exclusion. His accurate and extensive learning,—his thorough acquaintance with Christian antiquity,—his unwearied and patient industry,—the freedom from prejudice and partiality in stating his argument, which has obtained him the epithet of the ‘Candid Lardner,’ were qualities in which he has seldom, if ever, been excelled: and he brought these endowments, more rare than brilliant, to the most valuable and important service in which they could be engaged, in placing the external or historical evidence of Christianity, in so far as it depends on the proof of the authenticity of the Christian scriptures, on a clearer and more satisfactory footing than it had ever before assumed.

Nathaniel Lardner was born at Hawkhurst, a considerable village in the county of Kent, June 6, 1684. His father, Mr. Richard Lardner, was a respectable minister, afterwards settled at Deal, in that county. Where he received the earlier [127] part of his education cannot now be ascertained; but he was transferred at an early age to an academy in London, then conducted by Dr. Joshua Oldfield. Here, however, he seems to have remained but a short time; for in 1699, when under sixteen, he was sent to pursue his theological studies at Utrecht; in which university, then enjoying a high celebrity, many of the most distinguished English Nonconformist divines of that period received either the whole or a considerable part of their academical education.1

After spending more than three years at Utrecht, Mr. Lardner, removed to Leyden, where, however, he remained only about six months, and then returned to England. Where or in what manner the intervening years were spent, till 1709, does not appear; but, from the learning and talents which he displayed in more mature age, it cannot be doubted that this period was employed in a diligent and conscientious preparation for the profession to which he was destined of a minister of religion. It was not till August 2, in that year, that he made his first appearance [128] in the pulpit; and for four years after this time nothing further is known of him, than that he was a member of the congregational church of which Mr. Matthew Clark, a man of some eminence among the Dissenters of that period, was minister. In 1713, he was invited to reside in the house of Lady Treby, widow of Sir George Treby, late Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, as domestic chaplain, and tutor to her youngest son. Though we have no account of the manner in which the preceding years were spent, yet our knowledge of what Mr. Lardner afterwards became forbids us to doubt that, at this period, he was abundantly qualified by his knowledge, judgment, and learning, for the duties he was now called on to fill. After superintending the studies of young Mr. Treby for three years, he accompanied him on an excursion to the Austrian Netherlands and the United Provinces. From a journal which Mr. Lardner kept of this tour, it was evident that he did not lose the opportunity which it afforded of making exact and judicious observations on the manners and customs of the inhabitants whom he saw and visited, and on the edifices and curiosities of the countries through which he passed.

He continued in the family of Lady Treby, in his capacity of chaplain, till the death of that lady, in 1721; by which event he was left without any regular engagement, and in circumstances of some uncertainty and suspense. ‘I am at a loss,’ says he, ‘how to dispose of myself. I can say that I am desirous of being useful in the world. Without this, no external advantages relating to myself will make me happy; and yet [129] I have no prospect of being serviceable in the work of the ministry, having preached many years without being favoured with the approbation and choice of any one congregation.’ This may possibly be accounted for without any material disparagement either to the preacher or the congregations. Mr. Lardner was probably, even at that time, not possessed of a good elocution; and his sermons, if we may judge by those which he afterwards printed, though abounding with rich and valuable matter, were written in a dry and unattractive style, by no means well adapted to please the taste of a popular audience, however interesting they might be to a discerning few.

Two years after the death of Lady Treby, Mr. Lardner suffered another deep affliction in the death of her son, his friend and former pupil, Brindley Treby, Esq., of whom he speaks in the highest terms of affection and esteem, which are of themselves sufficient to assure us that he must have been worthy of the assiduous instruction of such a tutor. To the distress of his mind on this occasion he partly attributes the increase of an infirmity which had been growing upon him,—his deafness; which was now such, that, when sitting in the pulpit while the congregation were singing, he could hardly tell whether they were singing or not. This infirmity continued with him through life; and must have rendered his delivery far from pleasant, except to those who were in the constant habit of attendance upon him, and who had learnt to look beyond the deficiencies or peculiarities of manner, to the judicious sentiments, sound arguments, and impressive practical applications, which distinguish [130] most of his discourses. His intercourse with his private friends was carried on almost entirely in writing, Paper, pens, and ink, being brought in, the visitors wrote down their part of the conversation, to which he replied with great freedom and cheerfulness. These papers he was accustomed to preserve, and their perusal afterwards often led him to subjects of further consideration.

Some years before this time, Mr. Lardner had become a member of two literary societies, which met weekly at a coffee-house in the city. One consisted entirely of ministers, who devoted themselves to theological pursuits; the other was of a more miscellaneous character, for the reading of essays and debating of questions on various learned or entertaining subjects.

About the year 1723, he had been engaged, in conjunction with some other ministers, in a weekly evening lecture, at the Old Jewry, on subjects chiefly of a moral and practical nature; but also entering, in a somewhat more regular and systematic manner than is usual on such occasions, into the evidences of natural and revealed religion. The department of this course allotted to Mr. Lardner was the proof of the Credibility of the Gospel History, on which important subject he delivered three sermons which contained, as it were, the first outlines of the great work on which his fame chiefly rests, ,and may possibly have suggested it to the author's mind. The first part of this work was undertaken shortly afterwards, and was at length published, though after considerable hesitation and delay, in February, 1727, in two volumes, under the title of ‘The Credibility of the Gospel History; [131] or the Facts occasionally mentioned in the New Testament confirmed by passages of ancient authors who were contemporary with our Saviour or his Apostles, or lived near their time.’

It is needless to say that this is a work of first-rate merit, and has acquired a reputation which can never fade. It was received at once by all parties, both churchmen and dissenters, who were competent to judge of its merits, with the applause which was justly its due; and its reputation speedily extended to foreign countries. In this performance the author has rendered a most valuable service to the Christian world; and, in particular, has placed within the reach of the theological student a fund of important information, of which no one who values sound learning, or is duly solicitous for his own suitable preparation for the work of the Lord, will neglect to avail himself. It placed him at once in the first rank of Christian scholars,— “a rank from which he can never be displaced” ; for all parties, not merely those who rejoice in counting him one of themselves, but those who differ most widely from his views of controverted doctrines, agree in awarding the meed of praise to the learned, the accurate, the candid Lardner.

In August, 1729, at the age of forty-five, Mr. Lardner obtained his first settlement as a stated preacher among the dissenters. Having had occasion to preach for Dr. W. Harris, at Crutched Friars, he was in consequence unexpectedly invited by the congregation to be assistant preacher to their minister. On the occasion of his assuming this office for the first time, he offered a prayer in his own behalf that he might be guided in and [132] strengthened for the work, which we insert as a sufficient indication, if any such should be needed, that Lardner, though chiefly known to the world as a learned theologian, was not one of those inconsistent men who have devoted themselves to these researches merely as an exercise of literature and scholarship, but that the great truths and doctrines of the gospel, whose evidences he so laboriously established, were duly prized, and had made their suitable impression on his heart. He was not a man (as some have not been slow to insinuate) who busied himself in defending the outworks, while the treasures laid up in the citadel were overlooked or disregarded. ‘And, we beseech thee, do thou graciously assist thine unworthy servant, whom by thy providence thou hast also called to serve in this place. Grant that he may take great heed to himself and his doctrine, that he may save himself and them that hear him. Do thou enlighten him more and more in the knowledge of the truth, and grant that he may be faithful to thee, and speak the word with all boldness, not shunning to declare the whole counsel of God so far as he is acquainted therewith. And may the hearts of thy people be opened to receive the truth with all readiness; may they carefully and impartially examine the things which they hear, and embrace what is agreeable to thy will. O Lord, our hope is in thee! do thou strengthen us, and make us sufficient for what thou callest us to. Let thy strength be made perfect in our weakness; cause thy face to shine upon us; let us see thy power and thy glory in the sanctuary. May some who are yet in darkness and ignorance be here enlightened; [133] may some be converted; and may thy people be comforted, and continually edified more and more in their most holy faith. May we meet with thee in thine house, and have joy and pleasure in drawing near unto thee. May we by all thy ordinances, by prayer, by the ministry of thy word, and by thy sacraments, be made more meet for all the events of providence, for all the services and sufferings of this life, and for the state of perfection and glory in the world to come.’

About this time the writings of Mr. Woolston, against revelation, were attracting considerable attention, and were the occasion of many acute and able replies, in which the objections he urged were very completely and satisfactorily answered; so that, indirectly, his labours promoted a much better purpose than he designed, and tended rather to the furtherance of the gospel: certainly much more so by the reception they met with in this way, from those who were prepared to defend their Master's cause by reason and argument, than by the uncalled — for interference of the magistrate. It is true that Mr. Woolston had not been contented with attacking revealed religion by fair arguments, but, like many others, both before and since, descended to unworthy ribaldry and abuse; treating the miracles of our Saviour in a tone of buffoonery and licentious levity, which could not but prove highly offensive to every serious mind; but was so far from increasing the danger to be apprehended from his book, that it could hardly fail to repel many from a cause which was maintained by such unworthy weapons. On the other hand, when the strong arm of the law is brought to [134] bear upon the controversy, a reaction is likely to arise, especially in the minds of those who, not being themselves well versed in the argument, are apt to form their judgment of the merits of the case from the conduct and temper of the disputants. The victim of persecution, or he who has a plausible pretext for representing himself as such, with a little dexterous management may often so far secure the sympathy of the public, as to obtain more benefit to his cause from the indiscretion of his enemies than he could possibly have done by any other means. Mr. Lardner came forward on this occasion with a very able pamphlet, entitled, ‘A Vindication of three of our blessed Saviour's Miracles; namely, the raising of Jairus's daughter, the widow of Nain's son, and Lazarus.’ The objections, perhaps, were hardly worthy of such a refutation; but the work abounds with judicious and admirable observations, and, besides, contains in the preface a testimony to the proper mode of conducting religious controversy, which is truly honourable to the author.

If, then, men should be permitted among us to go on in delivering their sentiments freely in matters of religion, and to propose their objections against Christianity itself, I apprehend we have no reason to be in pain for the event. On the side of Christianity I expect to see, as hitherto, the greatest share of learning, good sense, true wit, and fairness of disputation; which things, I hope, will be superior to low ridicule, false argument, and misrepresentation.

For aught I can see, in an age so rational as this we live in, the victory over our enemies may [135] be speedily obtained. They will be driven to those manifest absurdities which they must be ashamed to own, and be silent in dread of universal censure. But suppose the contest should last for some time, we shall all better understand our Bibles; we shall, upon afresh examination, better understand the principles and the grounds of our religion. Possibly some errors may be mixed with our faith, which by this means may be separated, and our faith become more pure. Being more confirmed in the truths of our religion, we shall be more perfect in the duties of it. Instead of being unthinking and nominal, we shall become more generally thinking and real Christians; each one of which advantages will be a large step toward a complete and final victory.

This victory thus obtained, on the ground of argument and persuasion alone, by writing and discourse, will be honourable to us and our religion; and we shall be able to reflect upon it with pleasure. We shall not only keep that good thing we have received, but shall deliver it down to others with advantage. But a victory secured by mere authority is no less to be dreaded than a defeat. It may appear a benefit for the present, but really undermines the cause, and strikes at the root of our holy profession.

XI. 5.

In 1730, Mr. Lardner wrote his celebrated letter on the Logos. It was originally a private letter to Lord Barrington, and not intended for publication; and, in fact, remained in the author's cabinet for nearly thirty years, not making its appearance till 1759. From a passage in the tract above mentioned, in reply to Woolston, pointed out by Dr. Kippis, evidently implying [136] that the author was at that time a believer in the pre-existence of Christ,—it seems most probable that the letter on the Logos contains the result of investigations in which he had only very recently engaged, and the statement of opinions he had just embraced.

In 1733, appeared the first volume of the second part of the ‘Credibility of the Gospel History.’ The main object of this extensive and most valuable work is, to collect into one view the train of historical evidence by which we are authorized to receive the books of the New Testament as genuine, and, consequently, authentic and credible. If it be asked, why we receive any ancient work as in reality the production of its reputed author, our answer is, that it has been handed down to us from those times by an uninterrupted tradition; that though, perhaps, no copy of the work is actually extant which can with any probability be referred to that remote period, yet it has been described, quoted, and commented on, by a succession of intervening writers, in such a manner as to prove that the work we have in our hands, presenting the same passages which they profess to have quoted from it, is the same in all essential respects with that which existed in their time. The genuineness of the writings ascribed to these intervening witnesses, and in which their testimony is contained, is of course determined chiefly in the same manner, but partly also from the constant consent of all succeeding times, and from the correspondence of their contents with the known character of the supposed authors, and the events, opinions, and controversies, of the age [137] in which they lived. Now, when this principle of evidence is applied to the books of the New testament, it is not enough to say that they possses the same marks and proofs of genuineness with the books ascribed to Cicero, Livy, Virgil, &c we find upon examination that the argument, though of the same kind, is beyond all comparison more extensive, complete, and satisfactory. But to collect and place in one view, another, (for this is impossible,) to reduce into one consecutive series the various testimonies derived from a multitude of writers in a succession of centuries, of which that evidence consists, aspires, as will readily be imagined, a prodigious extent of reading and laborious research. This important labour Dr. Lardner has performed; and the result is placed, not merely within the reach of the scholar, (though he is of course more competent to judge of its value,) but also of the English reader, who assuming (as he may with confidence on the combined authority of all persons of every party who are qualified to express an opinion at the translations are correct and the historical statements to be relied upon, may satisfy himself the main fact, that the books we now possess can be traced up to a period approaching inantiquity that of the supposed authors to whom they have been uniformly ascribed, and that they have been transmitted to us without any material change.

He exhibit this argument in its entire state, and to enable the reader to judge of its full value, it is obviously necessary to present each passage in which any book of the New Testament is either expressly cited or evidently alluded to; [138] and to shew, by a comparison of the quotation with the corresponding portion of our modern editions, that the ancient writer had in his hands a book substantially the same with that which now exists. It is also necessary to give such an account of the witnesses themselves as may furnish a fair estimate of their credibility; that is to say, the reasons derived from the history of the times, from the general state of the Christian world, from the character and reputation of the writers in question, determined by the concurring information both of contemporary and succeeding authors who recorded their lives, and enumerated and described their works,—which authorize us to rely upon what we read, and to believe that in the books which bear their names we have what is equivalent to the testimony of living witnesses, to the fact, that the writings now ascribed to the apostles and evangelists existed in their times, were ascribed to the same persons, and possessed the same authority which is yielded to them at the present day. In this manner, proceeding step by step, either tracing the proof upward from our own time, or, as Lardner has preferred, pursuing the stream from its source, till he brings it down to the commencement of what may be termed modern literature, we find a close and uninterrupted tradition; a chain of evidence; every link of which is intimately connected with that which follows, so that what now exists and is manifest to our senses is shewn to be in, such a manner necessarily dependent upon that whish has been, that we are bound to receive it with the same confidence and certainty.

It is obvious that to execute a plan like this, [139] upon such a scale, was a work of no ordinary magnitude; it was, in fact, an undertaking which might be thought adequate to occupy the entire life of a laborious scholar. It may be added, that, important and interesting as the object might be, the reward was not to be sought in any shape which the children of this world are accustomed to value. For those who would take an interest in or avail themselves of labours like these, and who were competent to estimate either the excellence of their object, or the labour and talent displayed in their performance, are at all times comparatively few; and those who were likely to seek to possess themselves of a work of such extent, which with all its merit was but scantily recommended by the usual attractions of popularity, were still fewer. Such a writer must consequently lay his account with reaping a limited harvest of popular favour, and look for his chief earthly reward in the consciousness of having performed a valuable service to the cause of God and of religion, which the discerning few would understand and appreciate; and which, if it procured not for its author immediate fame with the multitude, would establish for him an dying, an ever-growing reputation with all those who duly value whatever contributes to promote the best interests of mankind. Our author reaped full the reward which he sought for, and was not so inconsistent as to repine, because, in serving God, he did not also gain the wages of Mammon. The sale of the successive volumes of his great work seldom did much more than pay their expenses, and he finally disposed of the copyright of [140] the whole for the insignificant sum of a hundred and fifty pounds.

The second part of the ‘Credibility,’ exhibiting in full detail the historic evidence of the Christian scriptures, occupies in the original edition twelve volumes. The first of these, as we have already stated, appeared in 1733; and the succeeding volumes followed at various intervals as they were completed, the whole not being brought to a conclusion till the year 1755. The last volume contains a general recapitulation of the whole argument, and an abridged statement of the facts on which it depends, which concludes in the following terms:—

And now, I hope, there needs not any long harangue to shew the force of our argument. In the first part of this work it was shewn, that there II not any thing in the books of the New Testament, however strictly canvassed, inconsistent with their supposed time and authors; which alone (as was formerly shewn at large) affords good reason to believe that they were written by persons who lived before the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in the 70th year of our Lord's nativity, according to the common computation.

In this second part we have had express and positive evidence, that these books were written by those whose names they bear, even the aposties of Jesus Christ, and their well-known companions and fellow-labourers. It is the concurring testimony of early and later ages, and of writers in all countries in the several parts of the known world, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and of men of different sentiments in divers respects; for we [141] have had before us the testimony of those called heretics, especially in the third and fourth centuries, as well as Catholics. These books were received from the beginning with the greatest respect, and have been publicly and solemnly read in the assemblies of Christians throughout the world, in every age from that time to this. They were early translated into the languages of divers countries and people; they were quoted by way of proof in all arguments of a religious nature, and were appealed to on both sides in all points of controversy that arose among Christians themselves: they were likewise recommended to the perusal of others, as containing the authentic account of the Christian doctrine, and many commentaries have been written upon them to explain and illustrate them: all which affords full assurance of their genuineness and integrity. If these books had not been written by those to whom they are ascribed, and if the things related in them had not been true, they could not have been received from the beginning: if they contain a true account of things, the Christian religion is from God, and cannot but be embraced by serious and attentive men, who impartially examine, and are willing to be determined by evidence.

Kippis's edition of Lardner's Works, v. 411.

As Mr. Lardner advanced in the execution of this great work, the volumes as they appeared in succession were translated into German, Dutch, and Latin, by writers distinguished for their own original productions, and the author rose higher in esteem and reputation among the most eminent divines both at home and abroad. His correspondence was very extensive, and by [142] no means confined to persons of his own religious connexion or opinions. Most of the learned foreigners who came to England visited Dr. Lardner, and often appear to have derived, valuable assistance from him in the prosecution of their literary designs and pursuits.

While our author was engaged on the ‘Credibility,’ he appeared occasionally from the press with other minor but still very valuable productions. In 1737, he published, ‘Counsels of Prudence for the use of young People; a Discourse on the wisdom of the serpent, and the innocence of the dove; in which are recommended general rules of prudence, with particular directions relating to business, conversation, friendship, and general usefulness.’ This excellent and judicious piece has been much and deservedly admired, as containing a store of sound and valuable advice, well adapted to the young persons for whom it was intended, and proceeding from a rare combination of the simplicity and godly sincerity of the pious Christian with the accurate knowledge of the world and of human nature, which is commonly the result only of a much more extensive intercourse with general society. It has been frequently reprinted, and, it may be hoped, has been of extensive service in promoting the important object for which it was designed and is so well fitted. The ‘Counsels of Prudence’ were followed shortly afterwards by two excellent sermons against ‘conformity to this world,’ which contain a valuable treasure of practical wisdom in the application of genuine Christian principles to the conduct of men in society. In this discourse the author has executed, with great skill and [143] success, the somewhat delicate task of steering the middle path between too large an allowance to the customs and usages of the world, and the puritanical strictness which at that period still prevailed to a considerable extent among thee descendants of those worthies who in a former age had been obliged, in a great measure, to go out of the world that they might preserve an unviolated conscience.

In 1740 Mr. Lardner lost his father, with whom he had till this time resided, ever since he quitted the family of Lady Treby. He died at the advanced age of eighty-seven, and had for some time been, as it were, the father of the dissenting ministry. He was one of the few still remaining who could look back to their youthful recollections of bonds and imprisonments which were the usual portion of the more active ministers of the dark and troubled times of the last two Stuarts. He is described as having been in his time a powerful and popular preacher; but had now been for several years laid aside through the infirmities of advanced age. His decease under such circumstances might by others be considered rather as a summons to his reward; his work being done, and the sufferings of mortality alone remaining to him in this world: nevertheless, his son records the event in terms which indicate how deeply and mournfully his mind was affected on the occasion. ‘I am,’ says he, ‘full of grief, and find it very difficult to bear up under the affliction. I entreat the Lord Almighty to be my father and protector, to support me, and to guide me in the remaining part of my life, so as that I may live to his praise and glory, I entreat and pray that [144] he will enable me to behave as a Christian, and one persuaded of his fatherly care and protection, and that this affliction may be improved by me for my further humiliation and repentance, for engaging in a closer dependence on God,—for quickening my preparations for another and a better world.’

Such expressions as these from the pen of a man like Lardner ought to be preserved, lest any of those who, in all succeeding ages, will know him chiefly as a scholar and a theologian, should hastily imagine that he was nothing more or better. Though, indeed, to say nothing of his excellent practical writings, they must be careless students of the ‘Credibility,’ who fail to perceive in the biographical notices of the principal writers whose testimony he has occasion to record, and in a multitude of incidental traits, scattered here and there, abundant indications that the author was a man not only of extensive learning, but of deep and influential piety.

No production of old Mr. Lardner's pen has reached our times; but such expressions as we have quoted, though the natural effusions of an amiable, filial attachment, may be received as a testimony that he who could inspire such a sentiment must have been not unworthy of it. Besides our author, he had one other son, Richard, a barrister, who died in 1733; and one daughter, married to Mr. Daniel Neal, well known for his ‘History of New England,’ and still more for his ‘History of the Puritans.’

In the same year Mr. Lardner also lost his excellent friend and colleague, Dr. William Harris. His funeral sermon on this occasion was published, and contains a high and doubtless well-deserved [145] eulogium on that gentleman's character and talents. After his decease, Mr. Lardner had a unanimous invitation to undertake the pastoral charge of the congregation; but his various engagements, added to his increasing deafness, induced him to decline any other ministerial duty than that which he had already assumed in the pulpit. This he continued to exercise for some years longer, in connexion with the celebrated Dr. George Benson.

In 1743, our author published three Sermons on the argument in favour of Christianity derived from the present circumstances of the Jewish people. He shews, in a very distinct and satisfactory manner, the correspondence between the predictions of our Lord and the condition of that people since his time, especially since the destruction of their city and temple, and their consequent dispersion among all the nations of the earth; that it is agreeable also to many prophecies in the Old Testament; that it affords a strong proof that the Messiah expected by the Jews is already come, since he was to appear during the continuance of the second temple, of which it is now so many ages since there was no longer one stone left standing on another, and thus furnishes a decisive argument for the divine authority of the Gospel. He illustrates his argument on these different points with his usual judgment, candour, and fairness, and deduces the practical inferences and admonitions arising out of so signal an example of the retributive justice and moral government of Divine Providence with, perhaps, more than his ordinary force and impressiveness. Though he looks forward to a time, still, however, to all human appearance, as remote as ever, when the [146] branches that had been broken off should be grafted in again, he does not agree in the expectation which many have expressed, and which is perhaps the most general opinion, that the Jewish people will be again established in their own land, where the temple is to be rebuilt and the ceremonial law restored. He thinks it more probable, that, when the Jews shall have professed themselves believers in the Messiahship of Jesus, the result will be that the middle wall of partition will indeed be for ever broken down, and that all peculiarities of character and institutions, as well as of privileges, will be utterly done away; as there will then be no longer any occasion for the continuance of that standing evidence of the truth of the Christian system which we now derive from the permanent existence of the Jews as a distinct and peculiar people. This may be so; but perhaps, amidst the opposite speculations and conjectures of those who, on the strength of their own interpretations of prophecy, attempt to lift up the dread veil of futurity, the conclusion of the cool unprejudiced thinker will be, that it is better to leave questions of this sort where we found them; and if there be in scripture predictions yet unaccomplished of events still to take place in the history of this world, to wait till time shall at length have disclosed the mystery. The prophecies were not intended to make us prophets.

For a series of years, at this period of Mr. Lardner's life, very few events are recorded by his biographer. His disposition did not incline him to take any active part in public life, and his infirmity of deafness, though it might not altogether [147] disqualify him for public business, naturally prevented his friends from seeking to place him in any of those situations which might tend to bring him personally much before the world. His days and years seem to have passed in a uniform course of laborious study, engaged for the most part in collecting the materials for his great work, the successive volumes of which appeared from time to time, bringing down the regular and unbroken chain to the commencement of the modern aera, and at the same time accumulating a large mass of highly curious and valuable information for the student of ecclesiastical history and theological literature.

In 1745, he received from the University of Aberdeen, by diploma, the degree of Doctor in Divinity. ‘This was an honour,’ says Dr. Kippis, ‘which our author did not solicit, but which, when it was bestowed upon him, he did not think it unbecoming in him to accept; preserving herein the due medium between seeking for such a distinction, and despising it when offered.’ His own remark, in the case of Dr. Hunt, deserves notice: ‘In the year 1729,’ says he, ‘the University of Edinburgh, out of a regard to his distinguished merit, complimented him with the highest honorary title in their gift, a piece of respect not to be slighted by any man of letters.’ When we consider Dr. Lardner's extraordinary attainments and learning, the reflection which he made on receiving his degree, displayed a remarkable humbleness of mind. ‘I pray God,’ said he, ‘I may not be elevated by any acceptance my labours meet with, but that I may proceed with [148] humility, diligence, and integrity in the whole of my life.’2

In 1750, Dr. Lardner published a volume of Sermons, chiefly of a practical character. These sermons, it may be presumed, are a fair specimen of the usual style of his preaching, and probably afford us, at the same time, a tolerably exact criterion of the preacher's own mind and character. They are judicious and instructive; and the perusal of them cannot fail to be profitable to those who can be persuaded to bestow upon them the attention which they deserve. The style is correct and perspicuous, but altogether unadorned; the divisions are formal and inartificial, and the whole composition indicates as little as can be conceived of the rhetorician's art. The practical applications, though rational and sensible, scarcely ever rise to eloquence; displaying little of that unction which is perhaps indispensable in one who seeks to rouse the attention and interest the feelings of a popular audience. When we further consider the preacher's physical infirmity of extreme deafness, rendering it next to impossible that he should possess that power of modulating his voice which is almost essential to a public speaker, it is not perhaps to be much wondered at that his hearers were not numerous. Dr. Lardner himself, as he advanced in years, became more and more sensible of this; and he was in consequence induced, in 1751, to resign his office of morning preacher at Crutched Friars.

In 1753, Dr. Lardner printed, but without his [149] name, ‘An Essay on the Creation and Fall of Man.’ After referring to tile various modes which have been proposed of interpreting this difficult narrative, he proceeds to comment upon it as a true history to be understood in its literal sense, but apparently without pledging himself to any positive conclusion. On the argument for the Trinity, derived from the expression ‘Let us make man,’ he gives no decided opinion of his own, but contents himself with stating that of ‘many learned Christians,’ who suppose that the style common to princes and great men, who often speak in the plural number, is here ascribed to God. It is rather remarkable that he does not advert to the singular circumstance of there being two distinct accounts of the creation of man, differing materially from each other, and evidently, from the difference of style and other circumstances, not written by the same person. He then proceeds to the account of the fall, as he styles it, in conformity with the received usage; a usage, however, unauthorized by scripture, which nowhere employs the expression, and, in fact, contains no statement in any part of it from which we can fairly infer any degradation, either physical or moral, of Adam's posterity in consequence of his transgression. In speaking of the introduction of the serpent as an agent and speaker in the transaction, he says, ‘it is generally understood that here was the contrivance and agency of Satan.’ But he does not say that he himself either allows or questions this, and goes on, in commenting on the rest of the story, to speak of the serpent only. In his ‘general inferences,’ he expresses himself somewhat more decidedly in [150] opposition to the common notion of original sin, which he justly stigmatizes as, in reality, making God the author of sin. ‘What reason is there,’ he justly asks, ‘to apprehend so great an alteration made in the nature and powers of man by Adam's transgression? Let us, then, not be unwilling to consider, whether the consequences of the fall of our first parents be not aggravated by some; and let us be careful not to admit any schemes which are derogatory to God's honour, and which countenance or justify men in their allowed weaknesses or wilful transgressions.’ On the whole, however, this tract is a remarkable instance of the caution and reserve which our author still thought it prudent to use when he had occasion to touch in public on this and other controverted questions. With the exception of the passage just cited, he does not pledge himself to any positive conclusion, though an attentive reader may not find it difficult to trace the opinions to which he was chiefly inclined; and even to this he did not think it advisable to affix his name.

This is the more remarkable, as there is good reason to think that he was less reserved in the expression of his opinions from the pulpit on subjects on which it might be expected that a deviation from popular notions would render him obnoxious. But the fact may have been, that a preacher like Lardner, who had little or nothing of what is vulgarly called popularity to lose, might feel under less restraint than one who was more followed by the crowd, and who might therefore suffer more by offending its prejudices. It was his lot to address a small, but a select, attached, [151] intelligent, and reflecting audience; and though the ordinary strain of his preaching was, as we have stated, chiefly practical, yet it was founded on what he regarded as at once rational and evangelical principles, and consequently had habituated his congregation to such trains of thought as would dispose and enable them to enter into his views on many points for which he might consider the public at large as not prepared. Hence, for example, in three sermons on the Demoniacs mentioned in the New Testament, he openly. defended the opinion since so ably maintained by Farmer, but which, however just and rational it may be thought, leads immediately to inferences altogether inconsistent with the notions commonly entertained of what is called the plenary inspiration of the sacred writers. Again, in a very interesting series of sermons on Phil. II. 5-11, prepared by himself for the press, though not published till some years after his death, he lays before his hearers a clear and accurate statement of the three leading opinions maintained by different Christian sects on the person and dignity of Christ, giving the preference himself decidedly, and without reserve, to that which affirms in the language of St. Peter, that he was simply ‘a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by him.’

In 1756 and 1757 appeared, in three volumes, the Supplement to the Credibility. Notwithstanding the strong terms in which we have spoken of our author's former publication, it is not, perhaps, too much to say of this, that it is the most generally interesting and useful of all his works. It is otherwise entitled, a History of the [152] Apostles and Evangelists, writers of the New Testament. ‘The first volume contains general observations on the Canon of the New Testament, and a History of the Four Evangelists, with the evidences of the genuineness of the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and an examination of the times when these books were written. There is, likewise, a chapter concerning the time when the Apostles left Judea to go and preach the Christian religion to other countries; which event, our author thinks, could not have taken place till after the council at Jerusalem. The volume concludes with a discussion of the question, “ Whether any one of the first three Evangelists had seen the Gospel of the others before he wrote his own?” And here Dr. Lardner hath determined, with great appearance of reason and argument, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, did not abridge or transcribe from each other, but are distinct, independent, and harmonious witnesses. The second volume comprehends the History of St. Paul, displaying the evidence of the genuineness of his fourteen Epistles, particularly that to the Hebrews, and ascertained the times in which they were written. In the third volume, the seven Catholic epistles, and the Revelation of St. John, are considered, and histories given of St. James, St. Peter, and St. Jude. In conclusion, it is shewn, that there is no reason to believe that any of the sacred books of the New Testament have been lost.’3

It is needless to say that such a work, by such a writer, contains a treasure of most valuable [153] and interesting information for all classes of readers, and, more especially, for all theological students. Indeed, it can scarcely be said that any one deserves this latter name who has not made it the subject of his most diligent and careful examination. We may not always agree with the author in his conclusions on some points relating to the history and authorship of several books of the New Testament, which have been the subjects of dispute; but he never gives his opinion without stating, at the same time, his reasons very fully and candidly, so that he commonly furnishes the reader with the means of forming his own judgment. This remark may apply particularly to the Epistle to the Hebrews; which he ascribes to St. Paul with a confidence which the evidence, as collected and stated by himself, will scarcely, we think, appear to authorize in the estimation of an unprejudiced and attentive reader. The same may, perhaps, be said of the authority ascribed to the Epistle of Jude, and the second Epistle of Peter; (at least, the second chapter;) with respect to which, however, the author allows that it would not be safe to receive any doctrinal interpretation on the strength of any passage cited from them, unless confirmed by other undisputed scriptures.

In the year 1758, appeared a letter to the well-known philanthropist, Mr. Jonas Hanway, remonstrating against the name of Magdalen Houses, which it was proposed to give to establishments for the reception of penitent females of loose character. He shews very clearly that the prevailing notion that Mary Magdalen was the woman mentioned in the seventh chapter of Luke, who washed [154] our Saviour's feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and who is there called by the Pharisee a sinner, is unfounded. From the manner in which her name is introduced along with that of the wife of Herod's steward and other women, who ministered to him of their substance, there is every reason to believe that she was a woman of rank and property, against whom there is no ground for supposing that any imputation had ever existed. She had been the subject of one of our Lord's benevolent miracles; but of what nature the disorder was from which she was relieved, the expression of the Evangelist, that seven devils or demons had gone out of her, does not enable us to conjecture. However, she ever after manifested the most affectionate gratitude to her benefactor, and was distinguished by him with marked tokens of his esteem and regard, particularly as being the first to whom he made himself known after his resurrection. To call such an institution, therefore, a Magdalen-house, appears to be taking a very unwarrantable liberty with the name of an honourable, and, for any thing we know, truly excellent woman. The letter was sent too late; or, at all events, it did not prevent the name being given, though no one who attends to these considerations can fail to perceive its impropriety.

In 1759, Dr. Lardner published, but without his real name, the letter on the Logos, already mentioned as addressed to Lord Barrington, under the assumed name of Papinian, in the year 1730. It now made its appearance accompanied by two valuable postscripts; the first containing an explanation of the terms Spirit, Holy Spirit, the Spirit [155] of God, as contained in the scriptures; the second containing remarks on some passages of the late Dr. Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, in vindication of the Arian scheme. It is by this remarkable publication that our author is chiefly known in the department of dogmatic theology. The question professedly discussed is, Whether the Logos, understanding by that term, according to the Arian hypothesis, a great pre-existent created Spirit, who was employed by the Supreme as a subordinate agent in the creation of the world, occupied the place of a human soul in the person of Jesus Christ? Our author, after confessing that he was at one time inclined to this singular notion, now gives it up altogether; for the scriptures represent our Lord as exalted to power and great glory as a reward of his sufferings here on earth; whereas, it is difficult to conceive how such a being as Christ is here supposed to have been, could receive any exaltation, merely by being set over those creatures to whom, as their Creator, he was immeasurably superior before. Moreover, he is uniformly called in the New Testament, a man; a title which could not be properly ascribed to such an anomalous being as this hypothesis represents him to have been. Further, this supposition is inconsistent with any rational account of the temptation; for how could he who made the heavens and the earth be tempted by the offer of all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them? By removing him in reality so far from any participation in what can properly be termed human nature, it enervates the force of his example, and, in fact, as far as we are concerned, destroys it altogether. Finally, what is there extraordinary [156] or wonderful, upon this hypothesis, in Christ's resurrection? Or, rather, is it not much more difficult and amazing to conceive how such a being should ever, for any the slightest interval, be subject to death at all? The resurrection of Christ could then be no pattern or pledge of that of mankind at large, which is the plain doctrine of the New Testament. The author then proceeds to comment on several texts which are commonly supposed to favour this scheme, and particularly the introduction to St. John's Gospel, in which he conceives the term λογος,to denote the divine wisdom personified,—an attribute of the divine nature, but not any being or person distinct from God the Father himself. When it is said the Word was made or became flesh, the term flesh denotes human nature in general; and the expression is equivalent to what we are elsewhere told, ‘that in him (Christ) dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead;’ —‘that in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.’

This is, perhaps, the principle of interpretation which is better adapted than any other to meet all the difficulties of this remarkable passage, and, under one modification or another, has united in its favour, perhaps, an increasing majority of Unitarian critics. ‘The notion of an inferior Deity,’ says Lardner, ‘pre-existing, and then incarnate, seems to have been brought into the church by some of the learned converts from heathenism, who had not thoroughly abandoned the principles in which they had been educated. Perhaps, likewise, they hoped by this means to render the doctrine of Christ more palatable to heathen people, especially their philosophers. Moreover, [157] the Christians of the second century, and afterwards, were too averse to all Jews in general, and even to believers, from among that people.’ (XI. 111.)

This treatise, though now bearing a high character and reputation, on account of the author's eminence, and containing, unquestionably, a great mass of acute and ingenious criticism on many of the most remarkable texts that relate or have been supposed to relate to the person, office, or dignity, of Christ, did not make any great impression, as we learn from Dr. Kippis, at the time of its first publication. The sentiments contained in it were those confined to a few persons, and others were not disposed to embrace them. It is needless to say that the case is now greatly altered; and, we trust, that increasing numbers will long continue to look to the Letter on the Logos with deep interest, not only as a valuable storehouse of sound argument and judicious criticism, but as marking, by its first appearance, a memorable epoch in the history and progress of religious truth.

In 1760, Dr. Lardner published a second volume of Sermons. These are of the same general character with the former series, inasmuch as they have all a practical and devotional tendency; though in some instances they relate more to doctrinal points and curious speculations, which, however, the author never fails to apply in such a manner as to promote the main and essential object of the Christian preacher. Several remarkable particulars in the last sufferings and death of our Lord,—his character, as described under the twofold title of Son of Man and Son of God,— his services rendered to the children of men, in [158] that while he was rich, he became poor (or lived in poverty), that we through his poverty might be rich,—are dwelt upon in a very interesting and instructive manner; so that the volume contains a rich and copious store of valuable information for the Christian disciple.

In 1762 appeared ‘Remarks on Dr. Ward's Dissertations on several Passages of Scripture;’ containing an ingenious and instructive discussion of various historical and critical questions relating to sacred literature. One point on which Dr. Lardner expresses a very decided opinion in this publication may, nevertheless, be thought by some rather dubious. He strongly contests the notion of there having been two classes of proselytes to the Jewish religion, commonly called, proselytes of the gate and proselytes of righteousness; the latter of whom only, it is supposed, had obliged themselves to fulfil the whole law. If it is only intended to call in question the application of the term proselyte to any except persons of this latter class, the dispute is merely about the meaning of a word; but there are, surely, many indications of the existence of a numerous class of devout persons, who, though originally heathen, had abandoned the practice of idolatry, and were permitted to join in the worship of the synagogue, and even of the temple, without becoming, in the strict sense contended for by our author, proselytes. There is no appearance in the Old Testament of any requisition of this kind from those who professed their faith in the true God. The story of Izates, king of Adiabene, as related by Josephus, seems to prove that it was not insisted on in later times, except by certain foolish hot-headed zealots; [159] and it is difficult to believe that, in places remote from Palestine, the numbers who resorted to the synagogue worship, amounting, in some instances at least, to a ‘great multitude,’ (Acts XVII. 4,) obliged themselves thereby to observe the whole of the Jewish ritual.

In 1764, Dr. Lardner published, but without his name, a letter to Dr. Macknight, objecting to, the view which that writer had given in his Harmony of the history of our Lord's resurrection. The problem of harmonizing these accounts, that is, of combining the reports of all the four Evangelists into one distinct and consistent narrative, has always been found a difficult one; and it may be doubted whether any solution that has been proposed is in all points satisfactory. Macknight's idea of a visit by the women to the sepulchre on the preceding evening after the close of the Jewish sabbath, is certainly very improbable, and quite unauthorized by the account of any one of the Evangelists. On the other hand, Lardner's supposition of only one appearance of our Lord to Mary Magdalene in the presence of the other women is equally arbitrary and gratuitous, and apparently contradicted by the narrative of Mark, if not by that of John. It may be practicable, but it certainly is not easy, to put all the four accounts together, in such a manner as to include every particular mentioned by each of them, and thus remove all ground for the imputation of contradictions. But it must be remembered that we derive our knowledge of these particulars from witnesses who beheld them under the influence of strongly excited feelings, which left them little leisure to attend to the minutiae of [160] place and time; that the latter especially could be marked by them only in a comparatively vague and indefinite manner; and that, at all events, even though the discrepancy on one or two incidental points should be not apparent only, but real, it will not disprove the testimony as to the main fact, but, on the contrary, put an end to the suspicion that the different narrators agreed upon a tale; in which case there would have been none of these difficulties, but we should have had one and the same account from all, agreeing in every particular. As it is, we have four distinct narratives, which proceed from as many distinct and independent witnesses.

Our author's time continued, however, to be chiefly occupied with the labours necessary to carry towards its conclusion the great business of his life; and this year he accordingly produced the first volume, in quarto, of a large Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Religion. Three more volumes successively appeared, and completed the work in 1767. It contains a general view of all the various illustrations which he had collected in the course of his extensive and laborious researches into the history and literature of those times which could in any way throw light on the main facts of the Gospel history, or on the history of the primitive church, and thus either strengthen the direct evidence, or serve to remove obscurities, difficulties, and objections. It would be scarcely possible, in any moderate compass, to give any distinct account of a work so multifarious and diversified in its character, though simple and uniform in its object. We can do no [161] more than recommend it to the diligent attention not merely of the theological student, but of every one who is desirous of duly understanding and appreciating the historical evidence of the religion he professes. The materials of this work were doubtless the gradual accumulations of the author's researches throughout the whole of the long period during which his attention had been chiefly directed to these subjects; but the preparation of a work of such magnitude after he had passed his eightieth year, and its completion, at that advanced age, within the short compass of three years, sufficiently proves that his powers of mind were preserved unimpaired to the last in a very extraordinary degree, and moreover continued in unintermitted exertion with a diligence and energy rarely observed in the period of health and strength, at a time when most men would think themselves entitled to rest from their labours. There is no indication of a decline of his powers in this or any of his later productions; indeed, Dr. Kippis informs us that he retained to the last the use of all his faculties, his hearing excepted, in a remarkable degree.

The fourth volume of the Jewish and Heathen Testimonies, the last of our author's productions which appeared in his lifetime, was published in 1767, when he had completed his eighty-third year. Even then, however, it was not in his nature to rest from his labours, or to decline further exertions; never thinking he had done enough so long as the ability still remained to him of working in his Master's vineyard. No sooner was the collection of Heathen Testimonies out of his hands, than he sat down to prepare the history of the Early Heretics [162] of the Christian Church, in which he soon made considerable progress. But before he could complete this work, it pleased Divine Providence to call him to his reward. In the ensuing summer of 1768, he was seized with a rapid decline, which carried him off in a few weeks at Hawkhurst, the place of his nativity, where he had a small paternal estate. Here he died on the 24th of July of that year, in the 85th year of his age. His remains were interred in the burial ground at Bunhill Fields, where he who loves to meditate on the records of English Nonconformity finds so many impressive memorials to enliven his grateful recollection of the venerable dead.

Though Dr. Lardner was not permitted to finish his History of Ancient Heretics, his papers were found to be in such a state of forwardness as to justify his friends in committing them to the care of the Rev. John Hogg, of Exeter. By this gentleman the work was completed, under the guidance of such hints as the author himself had left for such parts as were not finished by his own hand, and finally published in 1780. Some allowance must, of course, be made for the circumstances in which this work was prepared, and, perhaps, for the inferior interest of the subject. It is, however, a subject of considerable interest and importance, and particularly well suited to so proverbially candid a writer as Lardner. No man would understand better how to make the necessary deductions from exaggerated, partial, and passionate statements;—remembering that we have our accounts of these (so called) heretics almost exclusively from the writings of their opponents, and that it is next to impossible, even for [163] those who have no disposition to pervert and misrepresent, to give a perfectly fair account of parties and opinions which he does not himself approve. Under these circumstances it is clearly impossible, in the nature of things, that we should have a history of ancient heretics that can be thoroughly depended on; but Lardner's, probably, approaches as near to it as is practicable with our present imperfect and partial sources of information.

Besides this larger work, eight sermons, most of which had been transcribed and prepared for the press by the author himself, were published after his decease, with a memoir of his life and writings. The fifth and sixth of these are the sermons before referred to, preached at the Old Jewry lecture, as containing a sort of sketch of the argument of his great work, particularly of that part of it which relates to the facts occasionally mentioned in the Gospel History. Another valuable series of sermons on Philippians II. 5-11, which have already been mentioned, were first published in 1784, by the Rev. Mr. Wiche, of Maidstone.

1 In his funeral sermon for Dr. Hunt, (x. 11,) our author speaks of five or six of the English students, one of whom was Hunt, and ‘perhaps another’ the preacher himself, who in January, 1700, or thereabout, had the curiosity to attend the lectures of a celebrated Rabbi on Jewish learning. After a time, he adds, all except these two, disheartened by the difficulty of the study, gave out. If we are right in this conjecture as to the other student, it is a remarkable indication of proficiency and aptitude for study, that he should have been either prepared or disposed at so early an age to engage in a pursuit which had little to recommend it to the youthful student, except the persuasion that the knowledge thus acquired was, as he expresses it, “a price put into the hand (Prov. XVII. 16) of one who knew how to make use of it.”

2 Kippis's Life of Lardner, XXXVI.

3 Kippis's Life of Lardner, LII.

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