After Dr. Clarke had relapsed into silence in 1712, and the controversy over Arian subscription had quieted down ten years later, public agitation over the Church's formulas was apparently at an end. Despite Waterland's insistence upon literal conformity, those that had shown opposition to the accepted standards evidently found ways of interpretation that they could use without too heavy reproaches of conscience. Beneath the placid surface, however, there must still have been many that were not at peace with themselves, though they could see no safe way of escape from the dilemma in which they stood. For at ordination, or upon elevation to a higher station in the Church, a clergyman was still required to acknowledge and subscribe ‘all and every the Articles as agreeable to the Word of God,’ and before entering upon a living he must promise, ‘I do declare that I will conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England as it is now by law established.’ Though such vows and promises might be ignored, they could not be wholly forgotten. A clergyman who was in a position to know as well as any one estimated that not more than one fifth of the clergy subscribed in a strict sense.1 They continued notwithstanding publicly to use the Prayer Book as before, and privately to object to its contents as before. Whiston, indeed, had a generation before urged Convocation to modify the liturgy, though his plea fell on deaf ears. Dr. Clarke had even gone so far as privately to revise his own copy by altering its phrases in some places, and altogether omitting the Athanasian Creed and some other passages; but the Bishops made no sign. The matter was much discussed in personal conversation, and there was wide agreement that something ought to be done, yet no one was ready to take leadership of any concerted movement. Though no doubt there lay in many minds the unexpressed hope that a way might be opened for some much desired doctrinal revisions, yet it was at the outset not a question of amending the doctrines of the Church, but simply one of making certain minor revisions of language, making some obviously desirable omissions, and ceasing to require subscription to everything that the Prayer Book contained.
The silence was at length broken in 1749 by an anonymous work entitled Free and Candid Disquisitions relating to the Church of England.2 The book was very modest in tone and temperate in spirit, proposing no more than a new translation of the Bible, and certain amendments in the Liturgy that would free it of some objections and make it more acceptable to worshipers. Most of the suggestions offered had in fact already been made by others, but they were here collected and supported by quotations from leaders honored in the Church. It was the first serious attempt at a revision of the position of the Church since the Act of Toleration; and it aroused great interest, and began a discussion that lasted for more than twenty years. The work was answered by various writers of the High Church party, who on principle opposed any effort for revision, being apprehensive to what dangerous lengths changes, however desirable in themselves, might go if once the door were opened; but it was ably defended in An Apology for the Authors of the Free and Candid Disquisitions (1751) by the Rev. Francis Blackburne who, as we shall presently see, was soon to lead a movement for abolishing subscription to the Articles and Liturgy. As the abolition of subscription had thus been modestly advocated in the Disquisitions, Dr. Robert Clayton (1695–1758), Bishop of Clogher in Ireland, now gave fresh impulse to the movement by publishing an Essay on Spirit (1751), which exhaustively discussed the doctrine of the Trinity in the light of Scripture, reason, and the Fathers, with especial reference to the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. In a long and fine preface he favored revision of the Book of Common Prayer, discussed subscription, heresy, etc., and coming finally to the Athanasian Creed denounced it as incomprehensible and condemnatory, and the occasion of much offence.3 Ere long he became evidently an Antitrinitarian, if indeed he had not already been one; and in 1756 he made in the Irish House of Lords a speech in favor of omitting the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds from the Liturgy.4 As his attacks upon the Trinity still continued, the authorities two years later were about to prosecute him, which would probably have ended in removal from his see, when he suddenly died.
The writings above mentioned aroused wide controversy. Numerous prints appeared, some urging the need of revision and of abolishing subscription, others violently resisting all change and defending the status quo. Some of the Bishops, who had earlier showed liberal leanings, now became stiffly reactionary; and at least one of the parish clergy was presented for omitting to read the Athanasian Creed. But though several of even the Bishops were thought to be more or less unsound as to the doctrine of the Trinity,5 no one in authority made any effective move to mend matters. Hence when members of the clergy grew restless over the situation, some of them resorted to various expedients in order to quiet the reproach of their consciences. Although the more timid simply held their peace, smothered their compunctions, and continued to read the prescribed forms as an unavoidable necessity, others quietly omitted the parts they did not approve, or had them read by the parish clerk. One is said to have flaunted his disrespect for the Creed by having it sung to a popular hunting tune; while another is related to have prefaced the reading by saying, ‘Brethren, this is the Creed of St. Athanasius; but God forbid that it should be the creed of any other man.’ A rare few being complained of may have been admonished or lightly disciplined by the Archbishop; still, so long as no public scandal was created, the Bishops had little mind to disturb the peace of the Church by calling offenders to account, and of all the clergy of the period only one ventured to go beyond the stage of mere discussion and take what should have been clearly indicated as the next step.
The one to do this, and thus to win from Lindsey, who later followed his example, the name of ‘father of Unitarian nonconformity,’ was the Rev. William Robertson (1705–83), rector of a parish at Rathvilly, Ireland.6 He had been an early pupil of Francis Hutcheson at Dublin Academy, had taken his degree at Glasgow, and after a short ministry as a Presbyterian took orders in the Church. The publication of Free and Candid Disquisitions in 1749 confirmed in him misgivings that he had probably long been entertaining, and he therefore omitted the Athanasian Creed and other passages in the conduct of worship, thus giving some offence. He then laid his scruples before his Bishop, and having waited several years with no reply, he gave up flattering material advantages and alluring prospects, resigned his preferments in 1764 (a brave step to take at 60, with a wife and 21 children), and spent the rest of his life in obscure poverty at Wolverhampton at a pitifully low salary as teacher of a grammar school. Ten years later his example was a powerful incentive to Lindsey to take a similar step, as will soon be related. After two years, being now free from bonds, he published a notable little book, An Attempt to explain the Words, Reason, Substance, Person, Creeds, . . . Subscription, etc.7 It was a temperately written work, which gave convincing reasons for hesitating to subscribe definitely to terms in meaning and use so indefinite, thus making clear to his friends his grounds for taking a step so unprecedented; while it also doubtless had a certain influence upon the handful of the clergy who a few years later also withdrew from the Church. Out of a large number of the clergy of his time that were ill at ease in their use of the Liturgy, he is conspicuous as the only one that disregarded the cost and withdrew from his ministry in the Church. Though henceforth ostracized and shunned by most of his late brethren, yet he was held in high honor and reverence not only by the Dissenters but also by not a few in the Church who had felt his scruples yet could not bring themselves to follow his example.
Though the governors of the Church gave no sign, yet increasing uneasiness existed beneath the surface; and this feeling at length found vigorous expression in The Confessional, a work published by a clergyman holding a high position in the Church, which has been judged to be ‘one of the most important books issued in England in the eighteenth century, if it be estimated by the amount of discussion that it created.’ 8 The author, the Rev. FrancisBlackburne (1705–87), had taken his degree at Cambridge in 1727, but as he was a disciple of Locke, and as a friend of Priestley had sent his son to Warrington Academy, and was already marked as a liberal, he received no preferment until 1739, when he became rector of Richmond in northern Yorkshire, where he was diligent in his office and remained for 48 years, his only living.9 He was of a liberal mind in theology, in general sympathy with the position of Dr. Clarke, though he took no open part in the discussions about the Trinity, having early in life resolved to have as little as possible to do with that matter. But he had become much interested in the question about subscription; and in 1749, when the Free and Candid Disquisitions above mentioned appeared and was violently attacked by the conservative clergy, Blackburne, though its ‘milky phraseology’ seemed to him quite too mild, defended it earnestly in an Apology for the Authors of the Free and Candid Disquisitions (1750), his first controversial work. In the same year, when he was appointed Archdeacon to Cleveland, a district in northeast Yorkshire, he had indeed serious scruples about resubscribing the Articles, though he was persuaded to do so on the principle advocated by Dr. Clarke. Reconsidering the subject later, he determined never to subscribe again, and having made extended studies in this field, he wrote his famous work, The Confessional; or, a Full and free Inquiry into the Right, Utility, Edification, and Success o f establishing Systematic Confessions of Faith and Doctrine in Protestant Churches. After holding this in manuscript for several years, he at length published it, anonymously, in 1766.10
In this work Blackburne thoroughly investigated the origin and development of using human confessions of faith as tests of orthodoxy, instead of taking Scripture as the sole authority in religion. He denied the right of churches to impose such tests at all, pointed out the evils that result from subscribing in any but the plain literal sense, and concluded that, in the interest of simple moral honesty, compulsory subscription to the Articles ought to be abolished. A great clamor at once arose among the clergy. The Archbishop, hotly incensed at the author, soon ferreted him out, and from being hitherto considered moderate now became stiffly reactionary, and many of the clergy followed his lead; but by many others the work was heartily approved for saying openly what they had felt secretly. Numerous attacks and rejoinders, signed or unsigned, appeared in print during the violent controversy that ensued.11 It had naturally been suspected that, in view of the treatment he was receiving and the certainty that he would have no further preferment, Blackburne would now resign from the Church; and as Dr. Chandler of the church in Old Jewry, London, had just died, he was invited to succeed him at a very tempting salary. But he had long before faced and settled with himself the question of possible resignation, and found his devotion and reverence for the Church too deep to make such an action thinkable.12
Blackburne's authorship of The Confessional naturally caused him to be looked to for leadership in any movement for carrying its principles into effect; for even before that was published application had been made to the governors of the Church for reform of the Liturgy agreeable to the Scripture standard, though they declined to take any action, on the ground that the matter was entirely in the hands of the civil powers. But a year or two later the Rev. Francis Stone, Rector of Cold Norton, Essex, already an Arian, believing that Athanasians were equalled or outnumbered by liberals of various sorts, proposed in a published tract 13 that a society be formed in London for securing from Parliament abolition of subscription, which many of the clergy had come earnestly to desire. After counsel taken with Blackburne and several others most interested, proposals for a petition to Parliament were prepared by Blackburne and widely circulated; in response to which a meeting of supporters was called and held at the Feathers Tavern in the Strand,14 July 17, 1771. The meeting was attended by numerous neighboring clergymen, and graduates of both Universities in arts, divinity, law and medicine. Stone presided, and an organization of the Feathers Tavern Association was effected. Though most of the Bishops discouraged the plan, some honestly believed that Bishops and clergy in general sympathized with their purpose, and a committee was appointed to draw up a petition. This was written by Blackburne,15 and was unanimously approved and signed at a meeting on September 25. The petition was then personally circulated among the clergy, and every effort was made to get as many signatures as possible. Meanwhile from those that had learned what was afoot or were concerned in it, an amazing flood of writings came out, in newspapers and in tracts, from which it was evident that favor for the movement was by no means so general and earnest as had been presumed, and that opposition to it would be strong and determined. In view of the tide of general sympathy supposed to exist, the results of the efforts to secure wide personal support for the movement were disappointing. A devoted friend of the cause16 who spent two or three months in trying to secure signatures, and traveled over 2,000 miles in Yorkshire over the muddy roads of autumn, obtained hardly more than a score of names. He found most of the clergy indifferent, and the bigoted violent in their opposition, while many that were privately sympathetic, and would have been glad to sign had they dared, were reluctant to give their superiors offence by public support. Thus the total number of signatures obtained was less than 250, clergy and laity together, though of these not a few were of persons of the highest standing, including the Master and all the resident fellows of Jesus College, Cambridge.
While the petition was still in circulation a large number of other clergy, thinking it better procedure to appeal first to the governors of the Church, proposed a petition to the Bishops; but when they cautiously sent to sound them out in advance, the reply was that in the opinion of the Bench there was neither prudence nor safety in granting the relief in question, as having a manifest tendency to endanger the public peace and even the very existence of the established Church.17 The government, fearing that political trouble might be stirred up, planned to have the petition deferred as soon as presented, and thus smothered; but this plan fell through, and the petition was introduced on February 6, 1772, and was ably debated for eight hours by nearly thirty members on both sides, to be finally rejected by a vote of 217 to 71.18
The opposition maintained that the measure was unnecessary; that the whole matter was trivial and frivolous; that it was the work of agitators and malcontents; that it would corrupt the Church by admitting to its ministry all manner of heretics and unbelievers; and that it was designed only as an opening wedge whose ultimate purpose was simply to undermine and overthrow the Church. But the reason underlying all others was the fear that the stability of the national Church would be weakened, and the door be opened for no one could say what unknown changes and evils. That its true purpose was the honest, one of removing a stumbling-block for men of scrupulous conscience, loving the Church and wishing to serve in its ministry, was hardly taken into account. Outside of Parliament generous support was given by the liberal Dissenters, but among the Methodists and in the orthodox party in the Church, and even not a few of the latitudinarian type, opposition was strong.19 At the next session of Parliament an application was again made, in which the petitioners asked, instead of subscribing the Articles, to be allowed to make the following declaration: “We declare as in the presence of Almighty God, that we believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the mind and will of God, and that we receive them as the Rule of our Faith and practice.”20 Yet after another long debate the petition was again rejected by a large majority, 159 to 64, February 18, 1773.21 The debate in Parliament led, however, to one indirect result, in that the terms of subscription at the Universities were somewhat relaxed; and a further consequence in the direction of freedom was that in 1779 Dissenters, after two defeats, were relieved from subscription to the Articles as a condition of enjoying toleration. Soon after this second defeat the Feathers Tavern Association ceased its efforts and disbanded. Nevertheless at the next session of Parliament a third attempt was made to secure relief; but after debate the motion was rejected without division, by an overwhelming majority, May 5, 1774.22
Not long afterwards Blackburne published extensive and somewhat bitter Reflections on the Fate o f a Petition, etc., and he further defended himself against reproaches for his course in Four Discourses23 but at this point he disappears from our view, though he continued his ministry in the Church until his death in 1787. After the failure of their petition, four of the signers soon resigned their preferments and withdrew from the Church, to be followed within a few years by one or two more. All the rest, despite their predicament, remained as they were. We have now to leave them in oblivion, and to take up the brave story of Theophilus Lindsey who, disregarding all protests and entreaties from his friends in the ministry and in his parish, resigned his charge in November, 1773, and thus became the sole one of the Zoo or more petitioners to leave a significant mark on the religion of his time, and whose name is still held in honor and reverence.24
Theophilus Lindsey25 was born in 1723 at Middlewich, Cheshire, the son of a mercer and of a lady of gentle birth. He was a serious-minded and studious youth, and in due time entered St. John's College, Cambridge, where he took his degrees with distinction, and became fellow in 1747. After ordination he first became curate of a small chapel in London, but was soon chosen chaplain to the Duke of Somerset, for whose grandson he was for two years tutor and traveling companion on the Continent. Returning to England be became rector of a church at Kirkby Wiske in Yorkshire, but a few miles from Archdeacon Blackburne at Richmond, in whom he found a congenial spirit and a valued friend; but after three years he was persuaded to resign and take the living at Piddletown in Dorset in 1756. In this large and neglected parish he spent seven years, happy in the various services of a parish priest, from which the alluring invitation to become chaplain to the newly appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the virtual certainty of rising to the seat of Bishop, did not tempt him. It was while here that he was married in 1760 to Blackburne's step-daughter, a lady of shrewd mind and quick intelligence, firm in judgment and decisive in action, who was heartily to aid him in all his work and to bear without complaint the trials and sacrifices that were to face them.26 Early in this period religious doubts began to stir in Lindsey's mind. It was not now the question of subscription that troubled him, but doubts about the Trinity. He had not read Socinus, though he had apparently seen one of Nye's Unitarian tracts; but he set himself to serious study of the teaching of Scripture on this matter. His mind moved rapidly, and passing Arianism by he soon came to believe in the humanity of Christ. This raised in turn the question whether the offering of prayers to Christ were not then practical idolatry. While thus. uncertain in his mind he eagerly accepted the chance to return to the north, where he and his wife might be near Blackburne and many old friends, and accept the vicarage of Catterick only a few miles from Richmond, and removed thither in 1763. For a time he managed to content himself with the Sabellian explanation of the Trinity that Wallis had made acceptable two generations before, though he determined that he would never again subscribe, but would end his days in this quiet parish. With this understanding with himself he entered upon his work with such uncommon vigor and zeal that people called him a Methodist. Happy to be in a calling that he deemed ideal in its opportunities for doing good, he not only preached twice each Sunday practical, helpful sermons on plain Bible truths, avoiding the controversial questions that occupied so many preachers; but had every other Sunday afternoon a class of a hundred boys from the village school for Bible lessons, and every Sunday evening classes alternately for young men and young women. This was in 1764, sixteen years before Robert Raikes established at Gloucester what has been called the first Sunday-school.27 He was also unwearied in his pastoral relations to his large flock, and especially devoted to the aged, the many poor, and the sick. He set up charity schools for poor children, gave money to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and from his own supplies provided medicines for the sick, whom his wife devotedly nursed. To do all this he was bound to live with the greatest frugality, and was unable to lay aside any part of his slender income. Despite his happy absorption in the work of his parish, Lindsey grew steadily less at peace in his own conscience. A year after his settling at Catterick, Robertson resigned his ministry in Ireland, at the cost of incalculable sacrifice, and this fact, together with his publication two or three years later, smote Lindsey's conscience heavily, by pointing out clearly the step that he himself must soon take.28 For it had become increasingly clear to him that, even if he might get along with a revised interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity, yet he could not with honor either modify the Liturgy to meet his own ideas, or use it as it was; and that hence he must soon resign from the Church. While he was still hesitating to take the crucial step, he had the fortune to meet at Blackburne's house at Richmond early in 1769 two persons with whom he found himself in warm sympathy, both ministers in important Dissenting churches, Joseph Priestley, who had lately come to Leeds from the Academy at Warrington, and William Turner of Wakefield. He; confided his case to them, and was at first advised to stay where he was, make such changes in the Liturgy as he thought fit, and leave the result to his superiors. In this advice Blackburne concurred. But many as were the considerations that tempted him, he could not reconcile them to his conscience. The example of the ejected clergy of a hundred years before and of Dr. Robertson recently, constantly reproached him.
While he was thus on the verge of resignation a movement began that promised to provide him a possible escape, the movement that resulted in the Feathers Tavern petition. Lindsey had from the start little expectation that the appeal to Parliament would be successful, still less that it would solve his particular problem, but nevertheless he threw himself into the movement with great earnestness. As we have seen, the petition of the clergy was hopelessly defeated, and Lindsey therefore determined to carry out his resolution and resign his office at the end of the year. He communicated his purpose to some of his closest friends, who listened with incredulity that he should consider such a crazy move. He told of it to Blackburne, who remonstrated vehemently, foreseeing that his defection would undermine the work of the petitioners, and who for three or four years refused all communication with him; 29 and at length in November he sent the Bishop his resignation.30
Lindsey's friends among the clergy now held aloof from him; but his wife, on whom the sacrifices involved must have fallen most heavily, stood loyally by him throughout; and she indignantly refused the offer of a comfortable home provided she would leave her husband. Up to the day of their leaving they continued their devoted service to their parishioners, successfully seeing them through an onset of smallpox, in which not one patient was lost. Meantime interested friends (though not in the Church) tried to look out for their future. It was proposed that Lindsey should fill the vacant pulpit of the Octagon Chapel in Liverpool,31 or that of the Octagon Chapel at Norwich; and he might also have had, at a handsome salary and with abundant leisure, a post as librarian for a noble Earl. But his purpose was already fixed, to gather out of the Church a congregation of those that desired a pure Unitarian form of worship, and he chose to make the experiment in London.32 He therefore broke up his home and, since he had saved nothing out of his living at Catterick, feeling bound to expend the whole income of the parish for the needs of the parishioners, he was forced to meet his immediate needs by selling his furniture, plate, linen and china, while he sent his valuable library to a large town, where it fetched less than £40. He preached his final sermon to grief-stricken congregations, left a printed message for his people,33 and set out to face a world in which old friends now turned their backs upon him, of whom not one offered him any assistance or support.
It was a serious venture for one to take at fifty, with no certain future, and with no resources save the petty sum his sales had brought, and his wife's income of only £20 a year. But he was light-hearted, for his conscience was clear, his aim definite, and his faith strong. The pilgrims proceeded toward London by easy stages, stopping at six or seven places for short visits on old friends. At Swinderby in Lincolnshire they visited Dr. John Disney, who had been one of the Feathers Tavern Association, and was soon to marry Mrs. Lindsey's half-sister, as well as later to be his colleague and successor in London. It was here that he first saw a copy of the Prayer Book containing the alterations proposed by Dr. Clarke, which he forthwith copied for later use.34
As they approached their destination Lindsey finished the formal statement with which he meant to follow his Farewel Address.35 In this work his aim was not so much to justify himself for the action he had taken, as to lead the readers to look with intelligent charity upon those that were ill at ease in the worship of the Church. To this end he gave a sketch of how the doctrine of the Trinity arose and developed and was supported by force; likewise of the growth of the Unitarian view and the violent means used to suppress it; of the true worship of God alone and the corruption of the pure Christian religion by notions of pagan philosophy, and the way to restore true Christian worship. Finally there was a candid relation of the author's own experience. The whole was drawn up with great care, and temperately written in fine spirit. It immediately reached a wide public, and within a year or so ran to a fourth edition. In this work Lindsey had not said all that he wished to say, for fear of being too diffuse, so that two years later he supplemented it with a further work,36 in which, after taking due notice of several treatises that had been published against the Apology,37 he discussed with scholarly thoroughness the chief passages of Scripture and the early Fathers bearing on the doctrine of Christ. This book of sound learning was the most elaborate of all Lindsey's writings.38
The Lindseys reached London early in January, 1774, and after taking shelter with friends for a week or two found temporary humble lodgings on the ground floor just off Holborn, where they had almost no furniture, and in order to buy needed supplies had to sell what plate they had left. Malicious rumors had already begun to fly censuring Lindsey's character and conduct. Though some offered him their services and help in his new venture, while others, chiefly Dissenters, subscribed to it liberally, yet few of his former friends now visited him, while some spoke strongly in disapproval. However, a sum was soon obtained large enough for expenses of the movement for two years, and preparations were made for fitting up for use as a temporary chapel a room in Essex Street which had been used for book auctions, and had been discovered after long search. With these obstacles out of the way Lindsey now began, with the counsel of experienced friends, to draw up a reformed liturgy, based upon Dr. Clarke's plan, though going somewhat further than that,39 that it might be ready for use at the opening service in the new chapel. There were rumors that the civil power might interfere; but no threats deterred him, and fears proved groundless, though it was known that for some time an agent of the government attended the services to make sure that nothing illegal was attempted. The justices, however, did at first demur about granting the chapel a license.
The first service, which was not publicly advertised, was held on April 17, I774,40 with an attendance of about 200, mostly members of the Church of England. Several clergymen were present, several Dissenting ministers, one Lord, and the American, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who was then in London in the interest of the American Colonies. He had already formed a friendship with Lindsey, and worshiped here as long as he remained in England. The preacher discarded the customary surplice, and his sermon dwelt on preserving a harmonious and peaceable spirit in religion; while he pledged himself to avoid bringing matters of controversy into his pulpit - a promise that it was later sometimes found difficult to keep. The chapel was often crowded, and support was given by many persons of influence, statesmen, scholars, public men and officers of the government. Indeed, it was whispered that Lindsey had a salary of £400 a year though in fact he was still forced to practice closest economy, and was unable even to maintain a modest private residence. After more than a year his total income was but £100.41
After three years of encouraging growth the permanence of the movement seemed assured; but the old auction-room was clearly outgrown, so that the need of more satisfactory accommodations was acutely felt. It was therefore determined to purchase the Essex Street property and remodel it into a commodious chapel, with the minister's residence on the ground floor. Generous contributions were made by friends from near and far, and the new chapel was opened for worship March 29, 1778.42 The congregation was hardly settled in its new home, with an habitual attendance that well filled it, when Lindsey was stricken in the autumn of 1778 with a serious fever, which for a time gravely endangered his life. This gave new emphasis to a need that he had felt almost from the beginning, of a colleague to share his steadily increasing labors, but it was still several years before he succeeded in finding an acceptable one. Though he had early made earnest efforts to find a suitable person among the signers of the Feathers Tavern Petition, the right man was not easily found. He preferred of course one that like himself had withdrawn from the Church; but the names to be considered were few. His first hope was to persuade the Rev. John Jebb43 (1736-86), but he had been persuaded to devote himself to medicine.
Lindsey next sought Dr. William Robertson, whose example fifteen years before had so strongly moved him to leave the Church; but after he had agreed to come an unexpected emergency caused him to decline, and to continue in his poor post of teacher at Wolverhampton.44 He also appealed in vain to the Rev. James Lambert, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. At length when about to give up his quest in despair, he learned that the Rev. John Disney (1746-1816) of Lincolnshire, who was husband of Mrs. Lindsey's half-sister, and was also his own intimate friend, was resigning his livings and would be glad to be his colleague. The offer was gladly accepted, and Dr. Disney entered upon his new service at the beginning of 1783.45
Thus after bearing his heavy burden alone for nearly ten years, Lindsey was now enabled to put his hand to tasks in a somewhat wider sphere. From this time on his voyage was in calm waters and with fair winds. His health was good, his circumstances were comfortable, his valued friends were many, and his large congregation was devoted to him. In politics he was a zealous Whig, though he took no public part in political meetings; but the war with the American Colonies was at its height, and his sympathies lay strongly with the colonists, as did those of Priestley, Price, Jebb, and indeed most of the liberal Dissenters of the period. It therefore gave Lindsey great satisfaction to learn in 1786 that King's Chapel, the first Episcopal Church in Boston, had revised its Liturgy,46 adopting essentially the changes proposed by Dr. Clarke, which had also been the basis of Lindsey's revision. Having more time at disposal Lindsey now became the more busy with his pen. In 1783 he published An Historical View . . . of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship from the Reformation to our own Times, the first attempt in English to trace the progress of Unitarianism as essentially one movement in Poland, Transylvania and England, thus giving his own recent movement a setting as part of a much older and larger one scarcely younger than Protestantism itself. Two years later Lindsey was reluctantly drawn into a doctrinal controversy in print. The Rev. Robert Robinson, popular minister of a Baptist congregation at Cambridge, had published A Pleafor the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Cambridge, 1776). It was a superficial work, resting its argument on a collection of proof-texts uncritically treated, but it was attractively written in a popular style, and with such assurance that it was widely accepted by both churchmen and Dissenters, even by Blackburne, as virtually unanswerable. Unitarians had for some years deemed it too weak a work to deserve a serious reply, but when the case therefore threatened to go by default, Lindsey, whose writings had been chiefly attacked by Robinson, entered the lists with an anonymous Examination of Mr. Robinson of Cambridge's Plea for the Divinity of Christ, which placed his arguments under scholarly scrutiny, and so unsparingly shattered them that Robinson never attempted an answer, and a few years later even came over to the Unitarian position himself.47
Passing over several minor works, mention has to be made of one more. Dr. Priestley, having addressed a series of letters to students at the two Universities, was anonymously answered by the President of Magdalen College, Oxford, who instead of refuting Priestley's argument proceeded in ex cathedra style to discredit him as unqualified to write of religion, and to speak contemptuously of his writings. Upon this Lindsey came forward as champion of his friend in a work entitled Vindiciae Priestleianae: an Address to the Students of Oxford and Cambridge (London, 1788). In this work Lindsey ably vindicated Priestley's competence both as scientist (‘philosopher’) and as theologian, defended him against his critic, and justified his views as to the inspiration of the Scriptures and the nature and work of Christ; while in A Second Address, etc. (London, 1790) he devoted himself to the person and character of Christ.48 By this time his own views as to Christ had undergone a change, from the time when he had cautiously accepted the supernatural factors in the gospel history and had-been alarmed at Priestley's boldness in adopting more radical views until now, persuaded by his friend's writings, he at length became convinced that Christ was in all respects a fully human being, that the stories of his birth were not historically true, that the miracle stories were more or less legendary, and that in his nature and teachings he was not exempt from the frailties and errors of other men.49 It was partly in consequence of these changes in his thought that Lindsey in 1793 revised and published a fourth edition of his liturgy, marked by the omission of the Apostles' Creed and of several invocations in the Litany. Shortly after this, having reached the age of seventy years, he resigned his office, and never would enter the pulpit again.
The remaining fifteen years of his life Lindsey spent in a serene and happy old age. He was blessed in the intimate companionship of valued friends, among whom was Dr. Priestley who, after being driven from Birmingham by the mob in 179I, became minister of Dr. Price's old congregation at Hackney, as well as lecturer in the New College founded there in 1786. He felt it an irreparable loss when Priestley removed to America in 1794, but they kept up an intimate correspondence as long as Priestley lived. He had a lively interest in the College at Hackney, and was active in promoting in 1791 the first Unitarian organization for propaganda, The Unitarian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and its important project, An Improved Version of the New Testament (London, 1808). He was able to finish his last significant work just as his health began to give way Conversations on the Divine Government, showing that everything is from God and for Good to all (London, 1808), a work of exuberant optimism, based upon the experiences of his long life.50 In 1805 Dr. Disney was forced by ill health to resign, but no further attempt was made to secure a successor from among the dissatisfied clergy in the Church. Choice was therefore made of a Dissenter, the Rev. Thomas Belsham of the New College at Hackney, who had lately come over from the Independents. With this, Lindsey's dream of initiating a Unitarian secession from the Anglican Church was shattered, and in spite of his hopes he found himself and his congregation in the ranks of the Dissenters. Under his auspices chapels had indeed been opened at Highbury and Plymouth Dock (Devonport, 1790), but they were manned by Dissenters and soon faded away. Lindsey's Prayer Book also was for a time used in the chapel of the English merchants at Dunkirk after 1791, and various other experiments were made; but in only one instance, at Manchester, was the use long continued in the nineteenth century.51
Nor was his fancy realized, that after the failure of the Feathers Tavern petition numbers of the Anglican clergy would perhaps follow him and resign their preferments, for of the 200 or more petitioners hardly half a score left the service of the Church, and of these only four (Disney, Palmer, Evanson, and Theophilus Brown) undertook ministry among the Unitarians.52 Indeed, to this day, though not a few ministers from other denominations have sought Unitarian fellowship, the number of recruits from the Anglican Church has been comparatively few.
After his retirement Lindsey continued to take an active interest in the work of Essex Street Chapel, and in publication of the Improved Version of the New Testament; but early in 1808 his health, which had for several years been showing the infirmities of age, began to be seriously impaired, and on November 3, 1808, he passed to his rest.53
While Lindsey fell far short of influencing the established Church as he had hoped, his influence upon liberal Dissent was effective and helped to give a group of incoherent churches, with no bond of union stronger than a sense of freedom from old bonds, a sense of positive conviction and of a common mission for both defence and aggressive action, and a willingness not to shun but boldly to avow and defend a distinctive position. Thus the first step was taken toward the formation of a new denomination. Beginnings were slow; but stimulated by the courageous example of Lindsey, and the fearless, unequivocal preaching and writing of Priestley, their followers ceased to play the role of a submerged tenth, and boldly used freedom of speech in asserting their rights, so that whereas, midway of Lindsey's ministry in London, but two congregations in England avowed the Unitarian name, in 1810 there were 20, and growth thenceforth was rapid. The cautious older leaders died off, and younger men came forward with fresh spirit, controversy kept disputed points in view, free spirits came from the Dissenting colleges to the ministry of the churches, and in 1813 the passage of the Trinity Act freed Unitarians from the penalties of a long dormant law.
In all this gradual transformation Lindsey's influence, though quiet, was strong and persuasive. He was not a great or original thinker, and for his authority he seldom dared to go beyond the plain word of Scripture; but his writings were marked by the sincerity and earnestness of an open mind, which left its own impression. His purpose was rather to promote Christian life and character than to propagate sectarian doctrine, and his opposition to the traditional dogmas as to God and Christ arose not more from the fact that they were foreign to Scripture, than that they were a serious hindrance to sincere-religious worship. Worship of Christ in any sense he did not hesitate to denounce as sheer idolatry; while to the term Unitarianism, which had hitherto been applied to cover all varieties of unorthodox views of God - Sabellianism, Socinianism, Arianism - he now gave a new and restricted meaning relating only to worship. ‘The Unitarian doctrine,’ he declared, ‘is this: that religious worship is to be addressed only to the One True God, the Father.’ From this point on, the other terms steadily passed out of use. It remained for other leaders to make this movement more wide-reaching and effective by extending the reformation of religious thought to a broader range in the doctrinal field, and by organizing its forces for vigorous action as a firmly coherent and well integrated religious body. These two contributions were chiefly embodied in the work of two other men to whom we have next to turn, namely, Joseph Priestley and Thomas Belsham: the former in stimulating the religious thought of the new denomination, the latter in organizing its forces for constructive action.
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