Brett, Thomas, Ll. D.

an eminent English divine and controversial writer, the son of Thomas Brett, gent. of Spring-grove, in the parish of Wye, in Kent, by Letitia, his wife, the daughter and heir of John Boys, esq. of Bettishanger, near Sandwich, in that county, was born at the seat of the latter, 3d Sept. 1667. His father disliking the situation of the old house at Wye, where his ancestors had lived for many generations, rebuilt it in a more commodious place, near a small grove of trees and a pleasant spring of water in the same parish, from whence he gave it the name of Spring-grove. He came and settled there in 1674, and sent his son to its grammar-school; the master of which was then John Paris, A. M. but he | dying about three years after, was succeeded by Samuel Pratt,*

*

Mr. Pratt was afterwards preceptor to his royal highness the duke of Gloucester, and died dean of Rochester, in 1723.

under whose instruction the youth remained until 1684.

His father was for some time undetermined whether he should send him to the university, but at length placed him in Queen’s-college, Cambridge, where he was admitted March 1684. Here he continued till he became soph, when some irregularities in money-matters, and improper company, induced his father to recal him, and he remained at home until he had missed the time of taking the degree of A. B. Upon his return to Cambridge some time after, finding his books embezzled by an idle scholar who had been put into his chamber, he determined to leave that college, and was admitted into Corpus Christ! Jan. 17, 1689, where he proceeded LL. B. on St. Barnabas day following, and made no scruple of taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to king William and queen Mary; his father, and other relations, who were accounted whigs, having taught him whig principles. He saw also that the tories of his acquaintance took these oaths without any scruple, although they had formerly sworn allegiance to king James, which he had never done: even his schoolmaster, Mr. Pratt, complied, who had early instilled such principles into his mind as he could never thoroughly reconcile with the revolution. The bishop of Winchester ordained him deacon at Chelsea, Dec. 21, 1690, when he undertook the service of the cure of Folkstone> for a twelvemonth; after which he came up to London, entered into priests’ orders, and was chosen lecturer of Islington, Oct. 4, 1691; where, from his frequent conversation with Mr. Gery ,

Gery, however; died vicar of Islington, 1707.

the vicar, who was a tory, he became entirely of the same principles.

Upon his father’s decease, at the earnest solicitation of his mother, he left Islington with some reluctance in May, 1696, came to his house at Spring-grove, and took upon him the cure of Great- Chart where he soon became acquainted with the family of sir Nicholas Toke, and married his youngest daughter Bridget before the expiration of that year. In the following year he took the degree of LL. D. as a member of Queen’s, and soon after entered upon the cure of Wye, as lying more conveniently for | him, but had no benefice of his own before April 12, 1703, when upon the death of his uncle, Thomas Boys, rector of Bettishanger, he was instituted to that rectory, on the presentation of Jeffery Boys, the eldest brother of Thomas. Archbishop Tenison made him an offer of the vicarage of Chistlet, of about 70l. per ann. soon after, and, as he acquainted him at the same time that he designed something better for him, indulged him in holding it by sequestration; and it was not long before he had an opportunity of making good his promise, by collating him to the rectory of Rucking, April 12, 1705.

At each of these institutions he took the oath of abjuration, and without scruple, until by frequent discourse on the subject of parties, with his near relation the lord chief baron Gilbert, who endeavoured to bring him over to the whigs, that he might have the better opportunity of recommending him to higher preferment, he unwittingly opened his eyes, as he terms it, and rivetted him the firmer in his former opinions; and, upon reading the trial of Dr. Sacheverel, published soon after, he began in earnest to believe he had taken oaths which he ought not to have taken, and resolved never to repeat them. In this dilemma, however, he had no scruple about the schism in the church, nor about continuing to pray for a prince in possession of the throne, until upon the accession of a new one, an act of parliament was made obliging all persons to take the oaths afresh. But this, in the present state of his conscience, he could not comply with, and wrote to his patron the archbishop, in April 1715, desiring he would give him leave to resign his livings, to which his grace answered very kindly, that he would advise him to consider farther of it, and not to do that rashly of which he might afterwards repent. Dr. Brett accordingly took his advice, and made no resignation, considering that his non-compliance with the act of parliament would' in a short time vacate them of course. He left off, however, to officiate in either of them, but still went to his own parish church as a lay communicant, until Mr. Campbell wrote to him, by order of bishop Hickes, (who had got some information of his resolution) pressing him earnestly to refrain entirely from all communion with the parish churches, urging the point of schism. On this he had recourse to ?.lr. Dodwell’s tracts on that subject, whose arguments not satisfying his mind, he resolved to surrender himself up | to bishop Hickes, and upon a penitential confession, was received into his communion July 1, 1715, who from this time appears to have had a great influence over him.

He now usually officiated in his own house every Sunday, where a few of the same persuasion assembled with his family, until he was presented at the assizes the year following, for keeping a conventicle, but the act of indemnity soon after cleared him from this. To avoid, however, any prosecution of the like sort for the future, it was thought adviseable to vary the place of their meeting, and he went accordingly, sometimes to Canterbury, and sometimes to Feversham, where part of his congregation lived, without any interruption, until upon intruding into the duties of the parochial minister of Feversham, by visiting a sick person of his communion, this minister complained of him to the archbishop in 1718, who sent him word that if he heard any more such complaints, he should be obliged to lay them before the king and council. He continued to officiate on Sundays, as usual, and no farther notice was taken of it, until in 1729 he obtained leave of Mr. Simpson, the minister of Norton, to perform the burial office in his church. Lord Townsend hearing of this, and communicating it to the archbishop, he ordered his archdeacon to reprove the vicar for granting him permission. So that it appears from his own confession (for most of the foregoing particulars are extracted from the account he gives of/ himself in a letter to a friend) both the archbishops Tenison and Wake, shewed great wisdom and charity, candour and generosity, in their conduct towards him, although they could not influence him so far as to be even ^a lay-communicant with them; and that he lived under a mild government, having no other disturbance given him, than a reproof, upon a complaint.

He appears now to have lived in obscurity and with caution, until his death, which happened at his house at Spring-grove, March 5, 1743, when his remains were placed among those of his ancestors in the family vault at Wye. Mr. Masters, from whose history of C. C. college we have taken this account of Dr. Brett, represents him, upon the authority of one who knew him well, as a “learned, pious, and indefatigable author, a worthy, orthodox member of the church of England, and no small honour to her; whose works are a clear indication of his writing in the search of truth, which, if at any time he found himself | deviating from, he always took the first opportunity of f<?­tracting it in, the most public manner. In private life he was a dutiful son, an affectionate husband, a kind parent, and a true friend. His conversation was ever facetious, good-natured, and easy, tempered with a becoming gravity, without moroseness, and so well adapted to those he happened to be in company with, that it rendered him agreeable to, as well as esteemed by persons of all ranks, who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.” His widow survived him some time, and one son, Nicholas, who was chaplain to sir Robert Cotton, of Steeple-Gedding, in Huntingdonshire, bart. and afterwards settled in Kent.

His works were: 1. “An account of Church-government and governors, wherein is shewed that the government of the church of England is most agreeable to that of the primitive church; for the instruction of a near relation, who had been brought up among the Dissenters,” Lond. 1707, 8vo. Some reflections were made upon this in “The beautiful Pattern,” written by Mr. Nokes, pastor of an independent congregation, who afterwards conformed to the church of England. A second edition of this tract was published in 1710, with large additions and amendments, and a chapter on “Provincial Synods,” which was animadverted upon in a pamphlet entitled “Presbytery not always an authoritative part of Provincial Synods,” written by Mr. Lewis, of Margate, 1711. 2. “The Authority of Presbyters vindicated, in answer thereto.” In a letter to a friend, however, he afterwards acknowledges he was convinced of being mistaken, for although Presbyters were often connected with, yet they had no authoritative votes in the ancient church. 3. “Two letters on the times wherein Marriage is said to be prohibited,” Lond. 1708, 4to. 4. “A letter to the author of LayBaptism invalid, wherein the doctrine of Lay-Baptism, taught in a sermon said to have been preached by the B of S 7 Nov. 1710, is censured and condemned by all reformed churches,” Lond. 1711. 5. “A sermon on Remission of Sins, Joh. xx. 21—23,” Lond. 1712, which Dr. Cannon made two motions in the house of convocation to have censured, but not succeeding,*

*

" One Brett had preached a sermon in several of the pulpits in London, which he afterwards printed; in which be pressed the necessity of priestly absolution, in a strain beyond what was pretended to even in 1h church of Rome. He said, no repentante could serve without it, and af-

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firmed that the priest was vested with the same power of pardoning that our Saviour himself had. A motion was made in the lower house of convoca tion, to censure this but it was no ill supported, that it was let fall." Burnet’s History of his own TImes, fol. vol. II. p. 603.

he published an | account of them, which was answered the same year, in 6. “The doctrine of Remission, &c. explained and vindicated.” He afterwards owned he went too far, and that Dr. Marshall, in his “Doctrine of the primitive church,” had set this matter right. With this sermon he also published in 1715, five others, on “The honour of the Christian priesthood. The extent of Christ’s commission to baptise. The Christian Altar and Sacrifice. The Dangers of a Relapse. And, True Moderation.” The “Extent of Christ’s commission to baptise,” with “the Letter to the author of Lay-Baptism invalid,” was answered by Mr. Bingham in his “Scholastic History of Lay-Baptism,” and being reflected upon by the bishop of Oxford in a charge, he wrote 7. an “Enquiry into the judgment and practice of the primitive church, &c. in answer thereto,” Lond. 1713; and upon Mr. Bingham’s reply, he published, 8. “A farther Enquiry, &c.1714. 9. “A review of the Lutheran principles,” shewing how they differ from the church of England, &c.“In the same year, Mr. Lewis, in answer to this, undertook to show their agreement, with which Dr. Brett was very angry, and threatened him with a reply, from which his friends dissuaded him. In a second edition, however, he nvule some transient remarks upon, two letters to the lord viscount Townsend, by Robert Watts, in answer thereto. 10.” A vindication of himself from the calumnies cast upon him in some news-papers, falsely charging him with turning papist; in a letter to the hon. Arch. Campbell, esq.“Lond. 1715. 11.” Dr. Bennet’s concessions to the Non-jurors proved destructive to the cause he endeavours to defend,“1717. 12.” The Independency of the Church upon the State, as to its pure spiritual powers, &c.“1717. 13.” The Divine right of Episcopacy, &c.“1718; and in the same year, 14.” Tradition necessary to explain and interpret the Holy Scriptures,“with a postscript in answer to” No sufficient reason, &c.“and a preface, with remarks on” Toland’s Nazarenus,“and” a further proof of the necessity of Tradition, &c.“15.” A Vindication of the postscript in answer to No just grounds, &c.“1720. 16.” A discourse concerning the necessity of discerning Christ’s body in the | Holy Communion,“Lond. 1720. 17.” A dissertation on the principal liturgies used by the Christian church in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist,“1720. He is also supposed to have written, 18.” Some discourses on the ever-blessed Trinity,“in the same year. 19.” Of degrees in the university,“a dissertation in the Biblioth. Liter. N”. 1. “An essay on the various English translations of the Bible,” N. 4. “An historical essay concerning arithmetical figures,” N. 8, with an appendix to it, N. 10, 1722, 3, 4, in 4to. 20. “An instruction to a person newly confirmed, &c.1725. 21. “A Chronological essay on the Sacred History, &c.” in defence of the computation of the Septuagint, with an “Essay on the confusion of languages,1729. 22. “A general history of the World, &c.1732. There is a letter of his to Dr. William Warren, fellow of Trinity-hall, in Peck’s Desiderata, lib. VII. p. 13, containing an account of Richard Plantagenet (a natural son of king Richard III.) dated from Spring-grove, 1 Sept. 1733, which is said to be a forgery, invented to impose upon the doctor’s credulity, and to ridicule modern antiquaries. 23. “An answer to the plain account of the Sacrament,” in 1735 or 6. 24. “Some remarks on Dr. Waterland’s Review of the doctrine of the Eucharist,” &c. with an Appendix in answer to his charges,“1741. 25.” A letter to a clergyman, shewing why the Hebrew Bibles differ from the Septuagint,“1743. 26.” Four letters between a Gentleman and a Clergyman, concerning the necessity of Episcopal communion for the valid administration of Gospel ordinances,“1743. 27.” The life of Mr. John Johnson, A.M.“*
*

See Biog. Brit. vol. VI. Suppl. p. 114. note P.

prefixed to his posthumous tracts in 1748, with several prefaces to the works of others, particularly a very long one to Hart’s
” Bulwark stormed,“&c. In 1760 was published” A dissertation on the antient versions of the Bible,“a second edition prepared for the press by the author, and” now first published," 8vo.

Sir John Hawkins informs us that Dr. Johnson derived his opinion of the lawfulness of praying for the dead, from the controversy on the subject about the year 1715, agitated between certain divines of the non-juring persuasion, and particularly from the opinions of Dr. Brett. 1

1

Hawkins’s Life of Johnson, p. 448, edit. 1787. Masters’s Hist, of C. C.C.C.

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