Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small]

The character of a very learned theologian, and of a most zealous and persevering inquirer after truth, justly belongs to Dr Benson. Few men have exhibited a fairer mind, or laboured with more intenseness of purpose to discover the exact meaning of the sacred Scriptures; and few have done more by their writings to throw light'on some of the dark points of theology, or by the example of a good life to adorn the profession and faith of a Christian.

He was born at Great Salkeld in Cumberland, on the first of September, 1699. His parents, who were distinguished for their piety and devotedness to religion, early destined him for the christian ministry. After a due course of preparation he entered the University of Glasgow, where he continued till 1721. Near the close of this year he went to London, and having been examined and approved by a body of Presbyterian clergymen, he soon began to preach under their auspices. He was particularly fortunate in the friendship of the learned Dr Calamy, in whose family he resided for some time, and by whose recommendation and influence he was unanimously chosen

pastor of a dissenting congregation at Abington, Berkshire. In this place he remained seven years, sedulously devoted to his studies and the duties of his profession. While at Abington he published three discourses, chiefly designed for young persons. These discourses, although they were received with approbation, he afterwards refused to have reprinted, alleging as a reason, that his inquiries had led him to distrust the accuracy of the doctrines inculcated in them, and that he could not conscientiously suffer anything under his control to go out to the public, of the truth of which he had not an unwavering conviction. In short, he had been educated a Calvinist, but as he studied the Scriptures more profoundly he could not find the doctrines of Calvinism there, and he was obliged to dismiss them from his creed, or sacrifice his integrity to the blind reverence of a system, for which he could discover no foundation either in reason or the word of God. Benson was not a man to hesitate for a moment in deciding on the course, which he ought to pursue ; he was equally constant in searching for the truth, and fearless in avowing and defend

ing it. *

* The independence of his spirit, and his mode of thinking in regard to human forms of faith and worship, are strikingly illustrated in the following letter to Mr Towgood, written by Dr Benson about four years before his death.

DEAR SIR,

“I herewith send you a copy of a letter concerning nonconformity. I was desirous you should see it, because I hope you are pro

While at Abington he also published a treatise entitled a Defence of the Reasonableness of Prayer. This was accompanied by a translation of the short work of Maximus Tyrius, in which are contained several objections to the propriety and purpose of prayer. Benson answered these objections. It was in connexion with this performance, that he published the tract on Predestination, containing an intelligible and practical view of a subject, which has so long contributed food to the insatiable, bewildering metaphysics of speculative divines, confounding the counsels of

ceeding in your answer to Powel's Sermon concerning subscription to the Thirty Nine Articles in any sense, in every sense, and in no sense at all; as articles of truth, which are not true; as articles of peace, which create endless contentions; as articles of the church of England, which the divines of that church commonly refute; as articles made to prevent diversity of opinions, and which greatly increase diversity of opinions; as articles made in the days of bigotry by men, who had no critical skill in the Scriptures, to fetter the ages of learning and free inquiry. And for five hundred pounds per annum, or less money there are men who will subscribe, who will contend for subscribing to these same articles, whether ministers believe them or not. Pudet haec opprobria.

"I am pleased that I have had the happiness to see you once. I shall never see you more in this world. I am delighted with the prospect of meeting you in a better state, where there are no subscriptions to articles required, no bigotry, nor anything to offend any

“ With great esteem for you,
“ I am yours sincerely,

6 GEORGE BENSON." The above letter was first published in the Monthly Repository, Volume VIII, for 1813, and was communicated to that work by Mr Manning of Exeter, who had received the original from the daughter of Mr Towgood.

more.

truth and reason, and driving plain common sense to despair and distraction. The author was induced to examine, with great caution, an article of faith, which he had received as a leading tenet of the christian system, but which his conscience and maturer judgment, strengthened by the light of Scripture, told him was only a shadow, having nothing to do with the realities constituting the religion of Jesus. The fruit of his inquiry, and the sources of his conviction, are presented in this tract.

A society of dissenters in Southwark invited the author to become their pastor in the year 1729. He accepted the invitation, and discharged the duties of a clergyman in that place eleven years. In 1740 he was settled at Crouched Friars as a colleague with Dr Lardner. To the pastoral charge of this society Dr Benson was devoted till, near the close of his life, his growing infirmities compelled him to resign. He lived in great harmony with Dr Lardner, and although in several particulars their opinions were not the same, yet they often discussed these topics in a friendly manner, and with an attachment increased in proportion as they were convinced, by their constant intercourse, of each other's sincerity and singleness of character. They were associated eleven years, and when Dr Lardner resigned his place in 1751, Dr Benson wrote to him as follows. “I was so much affected on Monday evening upon reading your letter, that I had very little sleep that night; and my mind still remains greatly

affected with the thoughts of parting with you; for though I cannot but own I feel the weight of your reasons, yet I must frankly tell you, that I do not expect ever to have an assistant, in whom I can place so thorough a confidence, and for whom I can entertain so warm an affection, and so high an esteem. I thank you heartily for all your friendly, kind, and obliging treatment of me, especially since I came to Crouched Friars, and I earnestly desire that our friendship may never be interrupted."* Dr Lardner was now seventy five years old, and was obliged to desist from preaching by reason of his deafness, and the effects of advancing age.

Dr Benson applied himself with particular earnestness to a critical study of the Scriptures. He was captivated with Locke's mode of interpreting and illustrating the Epistles of Paul, and formed a design of completing the work so successfully begun by this great writer. In the prosecution of this plan he published, in the year 1731, a Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle to Philemon. This specimen met with signal favour from the public, and he was encouraged to proceed in the same manner through the other Epistles. They were all finished, and published at different times. They are now usually found together in two quarto volumes. His paraphrase is exactly on the plan of Locke's, but the notes are more elaborate,

* Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the late Rev. Nathaniel Lardner, D. D. London. 1769. p. 107.

« PreviousContinue »