Bingham, Joseph

, the writer of several tracts on theological subjects, and author of that laborious performance, “Origines ecclesiastic, or the Antiquities of the Christian church,” was the son of Mr. Francis Bingham, a respectable inhabitant of Wakefield in Yorkshire, where our author was born in September, 1668. He learned the first rudiments of grammar at a school in the same town, and on the 26th of May 1684, was admitted a member of | University college in Oxford. There he applied with persevering industry to those studies which are generally considered as most laborious. Though he by no means neglected the writers of Greece or Rome, yet he employed most of his time in studying the writings of the fathers. How earnestly he devoted himself to these abstruse inquiries, he had an early opportunity of giving an honourable testimony, which will presently be mentioned more at large. He took the degree of B. A. in 1688, and on the 1st of July 1689 was elected fellow of the above-mentioned college. His election to this fellowship was attended with some flattering marks of honour and distinction.*

*

In that situation he paid particular attention to the instruction of a young man whom he had brought from Wakefield, and introduced at University college; and who, soon after Mr. Bingham’s election to a fellowship, was, by his means, elected scholar of the same college. This was Mr. John Potter, who afterwards became archbishop of Canterbury. Mr. Potter’s tutor happening to die when he was no more than two years standing in the university, Mr. Bingham took hi* young friend and townsman under his wing and to his having given some general directions to his studies, similar to his own, it is reasonable to suppose that we owe that excellent book, “Potter on Church-government.

On the 23d of June, 1691, he was created M. A. about four years after which a circumstance occurred which eventually occasioned him to leave the university. Being called on to preach before that learned body, he would not let slip the opportunity it gave him of evincing publicly his intimate acquaintance with the opinions and doctrines of the fathers, and at the same time of displaying the zeal with which he was resolved to defend their tenets concerning the Trinity, in opposition to the attacks of men in much more conspicuous stations than himself. Having heard what he conceived to be a very erroneous statement of that subject delivered by a leading man from the pulpit at St. Mary’s, he thought it his duty on this occasion to point out to his hearers what the fathers had asserted to be the ecclesiastical notion of the term person. In pursuance of this determination he delivered a very long discourse on the 28th of October, 1695, from the famous words of the apostle, “There are three that bear record in heaven, &c.” This sermon, though containing nothing more than an elaborate defence of the term person, in opposition to the explanation which he had lately heard, drew a heavy censure on the preacher from the ruling members of the university, charging him with having asserted doctrines false, impious, and heretical, contrary to those of the | catholic church. This censure was followed by other charges in the public prints, viz. those of Arianism, Tritheism and the heresy of Valentinus Gentilis. These matters ran so high, that he found himself under the necessity of resigning his fellowship, and of withdrawing from the university the former of which took place on the 23d of November 1695. How wholly unmerited these accusations were, not only appears from the sermon itself, now in the possession of the writer of this article, but also from the whole tenor of his life and writings, constantly shewing himself in both a zealous defender of what- is called the orthodox notion of the Trinity. However, that such a censure was passed, is most certain, as well from domestic tradition, as from the mention which is repeatedly made of it in the manuscript papers of our author but we are assured that no traces thereof are now to be found in the books of the university.

About this time our author was presented, without any solicitation on his part, by the famous Dr. Radcliffe, to the rectory of Headbourne- Worthy, a living valued at that time at about one hundred pounds a year situated near Winchester. Within a few months after his settling in this country, being called on to preach at a visitation held in the cathedral of Winchester, on the 12th of May, 1696, he seized that opportunity of pursuing the subject which he had begun at Oxford, and of exculpating himself from those charges which had been brought against him. How little our divine had deserved those imputations in the opinion of his brethren, before whom he preached, may in some degree be judged from his having been, at no greater distance of time than the 16th of September, 1697, again appointed to preach before them on a similar occasion. He then brought to a conclusion what he wished farther to say on that subject, his manner of treating which had exposed him to the censure of the university and having done so, he prepared to commit his three sermons to the press. Why this intention was not fulfilled cannot be gathered from any of his papers, though there exists among them a long preface to the sermon preached at Oxford, explaining and justifying his motives for having preached and published it; and a second preface annexed to the first of those preached at Winton, in which he dedicates the two visitation sermons to the clergy of the deanery before whom they were delivered; wherein he tells them, | that he has been induced to do so not only from the subject contained in them being such as was their immediate concern, but also that he might have an opportunity of giving a more full account of the motives and circumstances which had occasioned him to write or to publish them.

The preface gives a very long and learned account of what Mr. Bingham had in his sermons asserted concerning the opinions of the fathers. To follow or repeat his observations on this subject would lead us into matter too prolix for an article of biography.

About six or seven years after our author had taken up his residence at Worthy, he married Dorothea, one of the daughters of the rev. Richard Pococke, at that time rector of Colmer in Hampshire. By this lady, before he had any other preferment than the small living above-mentioned, he became the father of ten children yet neither did he suffer the rapid increase of his family, nor the consequent narrowness of his finances, to depress his spirits, or impede the progress of his studies. On the contrary, he appears to have applied to his literary pursuits with a closer and more persevering industry; and by those means, in the course of what cannot be considered as a long life, he was enabled to complete in this country retirement, besides several other single volumes, a most learned and laborious work, closely printed in ten volumes in octavo, under the title of “Origines Ecclesiastics, or the Antiquities of the Christian Church,” the first volume of which he published in 1708. He committed the last volume to the press in 1722. Of the various difficulties with which our author had to contend in the prosecution of his labours, he frequently speaks in such pointed terms as cannot but excite both our sympathy and regret. He tells us that he had to struggle with an infirm and sickly constitution, and constantly laboured under the greatest disadvantages, for want of many necessary books, which he had no opportunity to see, and no ability to purchase. At the same time he does not omit to express his gratitude to Providence, which had so placed him, that he could have recourse to a very excellent library, that of the cathedral church of Winchester, left by bishop Morley though even that vyas deficient in many works to which he had occasion to refer; and yet when we turn to ^he Index auct^ruai at the end of his work, we shull perhaps be astonished at the | vast number of books which he appears to have consulted. But to such straits was he driven for want of books, that he frequently procured imperfect copies at a cheap rate, and then employed a part of that time, of which so small a portion was allotted him, and which therefore could so ill be spared, in the tedious task of transcribing the deficient pages instances of which are slill in being, and serve as memorials of his indefatigable industry on all occasions.

In 1712, sir Jonathan Trelawny, at that time bishop of Winchester, was pleased to collate our learned divine to the rectory of Havant, near Portsmouth, as a reward for his diligence which preferment, together with the sums he was daily receiving from the sale of his works, seemed i n some measure to have removed the narrowness of his circumstances, and to promise a comfortable maintenance for his numerous family; but this pleasing prospect shortly disappeared he lost almost or quite the whole of his hardly earned gains in 1720, by the bursting of the wellknown South Sea bubble. Yet such was the tranquillity of his disposition, that he continued his studies without intermission almost to the very end of his life for though but a few months elapsed between the publication of the last volume of Origines and his death, yet that short time was employed in preparing materials for other laborious works, and in making preparations for a new edition of Origiaes. With this view he inserted many manuscript observations, in a set of the Antiquities which he preserved for his own use, and which are now in the possession of the furnisher of this article. But from this and all other employments he was prevented by death. His constitution, which was by nature extremely weak and delicate, could not be otherwise than much impaired by so unremitted a course of laborious studies, in a life wholly sedentary and recluse, which brought on at an early period all the symptoms and infirmities of a very advanced age. The approach of his dissolution being clearly visible both to himself and friends, it was settled between the then bishop of Winchester, Dr. Trimnell, and himself, that he should resign Havant to enable his lordship to appoint some friend of the family to hold it, till his eldest son, then about years of age, could be collated to it. As this however was not carried into execution, it is probable that his death came on more hastily than had been expected, | and prevented Dr. Trimnell from giving him what he fully intended, the first vacant prebend in Winchester.

After a life thus spent in laborious pursuits, Mr. Bingham died on the 17th of August, 1723, it may truly be said of old age, though he was then only in his 55th year. His body was buried in the church-yard of Headbourue Worthy but, as he frequently expressed a dislike to monuments and pompous inscriptions, nothing of that sort was erected to his memory.

At the time of his decease only six of his ten children, two sons and four daughters, were living these, with their widowed mother, were left in very contracted circumstances. Mrs. Bingham was therefore induced to sell the copy-right of her late husband’s writings to the booksellers, who immediately republished the whole of his works in two volumes in folio, without making any alterations whatsoever and though the eldest son undertook the office of correcting the press, he did not insert any of the manuscript additions which his father had prepared as he was then so very young, that he probably had not had an opportunity of examining his father’s books and papers sufficiently to discover that any such preparations for a new edition had been made. Of the four daughters, one married a gentleman of Hampshire the other three died single. The second son will be mentioned in the succeeding article. The widow died in a very advanced age, in bishop Warner’s college for clergymen’s widows, at Bromley, in Kent, in 1755.

Of such importance have the works of this eminent writer been esteemed in foreign countries, that they have all been correctly translated into Latin by Grichow, a divine of Halle in Germany, 11 vols. 4to, 1724 38, and were reprinted in 1751—61. But he did not live to receive this flattering mark of approbation, for he died in 1723. Here it may not be amiss to observe how frequently it occurs that the merits of an eminent ancestor derive honour and emolument on their posterity. It is presumed that the character of the person whose life we have been writing, was the means of procuring the living of Havant for his eldest son, and the late learned and excellent bishop of London, Dr. Lowth, expressly assigns that reason for bestowing a comfortable living on his grandson. “I venerate (says he in a letter which conveyed the presentation) the memory of your excellent grandfather, my father’s | particular and most intimate friend. He was not rewarded as he ought to have been I therefore give you this living as a small recompense for his great and inestimable merits.” We shall conclude this article by giving the general character of this divine As a writer his learning was extensive and acute his style zealous and persuasive, and his application uncommonly persevering. His temper, on all common and indifferent occasions, was mild and benevolent and to these he united great zeal in the cause in which he was engaged. Though his passions were so wholly subject to the guidance of religion and virtue, that no worldly losses were sufficient to discompose him, yet whenever he believed the important interests of the church to be in danger, he was always eager to step forth in its defence.

Besides what are mentioned above, Mr. Bingham wrote,

1. “The French church’s apology for the church of England or the objections of dissenters against the articles, homilies, liturgy, and canons of the English church, considered, and answered upon the principles of the reformed church of France. A work chiefly extracted out of the authentic acts and decrees of the French national synods, and the most approved writers of that church,1706, 8vo.

2. “Scholastical history of the practice of the church in reference to the administration of Baptism by Laymen, part I.1712, 8vo. 3. “A scholastical history of Lay-baptism, part II. with some considerations on Dr. Brett’s answer to the first part,” 8vo. To which is prefixed, The state of the present controversy and at the end is an Appendix, containing some remarks on the author of the second part of Lay-baptism invalid. 4. “A discourse concerning the Mercy of God to Penitent Sinners intended for the use of persons troubled in mind being a sermon on Psalm ciii. 13.” Printed singly at first, and reprinted among the rest of his works, in 2 vols. folio, 1725. 1

1 Bioir. Brit, a very meagre article. Nichols’s Bowyer, vol. I. and from materials communicated by the rev. Richard Bingham, B. A. minister of Gosport chapel, Hants, and late fellow of New college, Oxford, great grandson of this learned writer.