Evanson, Edward

, one of the most determined opponents of revealed religion in modern times, was born at Warrington, Lancashire, April, 1731, and at first educated by an uncle, who sent him to Emanuel college, Cambridge, when in his fourteenth year. Here he took the degree of | Ib. A. in 1749, and that of M. A. in 1753. At a proper age he was ordained, and for several years officiated as curate to his uncle, who had the living of Mitcham in Surrey. In 1768 he obtained the vicarage of South Mirnms, near Barnet, and resided in the vicarage house about two years, when, by the interest of John Dodd, esq. M. P. for Reading, lord Camden, then lord chancellor, presented him to the rectory of Tewkesbury. In conjunction with this, Mr. Evanson held the vicarage of Longton, a village in Worcestershire, about five miles from Tewkesbury, for which he exchanged that of South Mimms. While settled at Tewkesbury, he seems first to have inclined to those deviations from the opinions of his church, which by degrees led him much farther than he could find any to follow him, even among those who had hitherto been most distinguished for their hostility to orthodoxy. We are told that almost as soon as he began to entertain doubts concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, he wrote a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury, stating the rise of his first scruples, with the grounds of them, and requesting of his grace to favour him, by means of his secretary, with such information as might assist in removing those doubts, and enable him conscientiously to remain in his office as a minister of the Gospel, &c. At what precise time, or to what archbishop this letter was written, we have not been informed, but no answer was returned, or could indeed have been reasonably expected. Perhaps, however, it was about the same time that Mr. Evanson began to take such liberties in reading the Liturgy as suited his new opinions; and for this, and some of those opinions delivered in the pulpit, particularly in a sermon preached in 1771, on the doctrine of the resurrection, a prosecution was commenced against him, which, after a considerable expence incurred on both sides, on account of some irregularity in the proceedings of the prosecutors, ended in a nonsuit. Seven years after this Mr. Evanson published the sermon, with an affidavit to its literal authenticity. To this he appears to have been obliged by the publication, on the part of his opponents, of “A narrative of the origin and progress of the prosecution against the rev. Edward Evanson.” This last was followed by “A word at parting; being a few observations on a mutilated sermon, and an epistle dedicatory to the worthy inhabitants of Tewkesbury, lately published by Edward Evanson, M. A.: to which are added, the | arguraents of counsel in the court of delegates touching Mr. Evanson’s prosecution.” Both these were published by the late Neast Havard, esq. town clerk of Tewkesbury, who had been principally active in instituting the prosecution. In favour of Mr. Evanson, however, we are told that it was only “a small party” who found fault with his doctrines, and that the principal inhabitants of Tewkesbury supported him by subscribing a very large sum to defray his expences. The inhabitants of Longdon were still more partial, for it is said that “they would willingly have kept him among them, permitting him to make, as he had been accustomed, any alterations in the church service that his own views of the subject might have dictated:” Mr. Evanson, however, does not appear to have set a very great value on a licence of this description, and acted a more fair and wise part in resigning both his livings. He then (in 3778) returned to Mitcham, and undertook the education of a few pupils, the father of one of whom, col. EvelynJames Stuart, settled an annuity upon him, which was regularly paid until his death.

While Mr. Evanson yet held his livings, he published in 1772, but without his name, a pamphlet, entitled “The Doctrines of a Trinity, and the Incarnation of God, examined upon the principles of reason and common sense; with a prefatory address to the king, as first of the three legislative estates of this kingdom.” In this attack on the articles and creeds of the church, his friends allow that in a few instances, he descended to a language beneath the dignity of theological disquisition and controversy; but they qualify their allowance of this fact by a conjecture that this “may have had its effect with many minds, upon which a different course of reasoning would have been completely ineffectual.

His next publication was “A Letter to Dr. Hurd, bishop of Worcester, wherein the importance of the prophecies of the New Testament, and the nature of the grand apostacy predicted in them, are particularly and impartially considered,1777. The object of this pamphlet was to prove that either the Christian revelation is not true, or the religion of every orthodox church in Europe is fabulous and false, and as the church of England was in his opinion one of those false and fabulous orthodox churches, this pamphlet was followed by the author’s resignation of his livings, in obedience, as he says, | to the “heavenly admonition” in Rev. xviii. 4. “Come out of her my people, &c.

His next attempt was to prove that we have no authority from scripture to keep the Sabbath holy, which appeared in some papers in the “Theological Repository,” vol. V. His arguments on this subject were answered by Dr. Priestley and others, but without producing any effect on the mind of the author, who collected the whole controversy, and published it in 1792, with an additional letter to Dr. Priestley. Yet, lest it should be thought that he was a man devoid of all religion, and one who rejected the worship of the Deity as of no account, we are told that he had worship in his family on the Sunday, making use of Dr. Clarke’s reformed Liturgy, but not so reformed as that he did not think it necessary to introduce some alterations of his own. He even did more. When he had visitors, he administered the Lord’s supper, which he considered as the sole Christian rite, and always to be administered when a number of the professors of the religion of Jesus met for social worship. He appears at this time to have taken a hint from the Theophilanthropists of France, and would have gladly assisted in forming a society of Christophilanthropists, “meeting, like the Christians of the second and third centuries, merely to hear the authentic scriptures read, and rationally explained; and to commemorate the death of our Lord and Master, according to the mode ordained by himself.

What Mr. Evanson meant by the authentic scriptures, he explained very freely in a volume published in 1792, which amply justifies our classing him among the most determined enemies of revealed religion, nor are we ashamed to class ourselves among “the superficial readers” (if that epithet must be applied) who “on the appearance of this publication, concluded that the author himself was an unbeliever, and that he was taking this method to undermine the principles of Christianity.” This work was entitled “The Dissonance of the four generally received Evangelists, and the evidence of their authenticity examined.” In this work the author undertakes to shew that a considerable part of the New Testament is a forgery, and has no claims whatever to the title of inspired writing. He therefore discards, as destitute of all authority, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John the Epistles to the Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and the Hebrews the Epistles of James, Peter, | John, and Jude; and in the Book of Revelation, the Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia. His very moderate desires are satisfied with one Gospel, and part of the Epistles, and he maintains that St. Luke’s history implies that neither Matthew nor any other apostle could have published any history previously to his own. But even St. Luke’s gospel is not entirely to his taste, for in it, as well as in the Acts, he is persuaded that there are manifest interpolations. This strange performance involved him in a controversy with Dr. Priestley, although of no long duration, and brought, we are told, “a considerable share of obloquy and persecution from persons of all parties.” Two instances, however, are all that are specified of this persecution first, he was expelled from a book-club in Suffolk, for which there was no remedy and secondly, he was pestered by anonymous letters, from the expence of which the post-office relieved him; and what is of more importance, we are told that “notwithstanding the apparent liberties this gentleman took with the scriptures, no man living was a firmer believer in the divine mission of Christ

Mr. Evanson’s work, in its superstructure, after having been effectually attacked by opponents in agreement with him upon other points, has been undermined in its foundation principles very recently, and with more consistency, by the rev. Thomas Falconer, A. M. of Corpus Christi college, Oxford, in his course of Bampton lectures preached in 1810, and published in 1811. Mr. Evanson’s other publications are, “Reflections upon the State of Religion in Christendom, &c. at the commencement of the nineteenth century of the Christian sera,1802; and “Second Thoughts on the Trinity,” in a letter addressed to the bishop of Gloucester, 1805. Soon after this he was afflicted with a serious complaint, which was partly relieved by a surgical operation, but a paralytic attack following, proved fatal Sept. 25, 1805. His personal character is thus given by his biographer “Those who have watched his conduct through every period of his existence, bear witness to the strictest integrity, honour, and benevolence of his character. The relative duties of a son, a husband, and a brother, he performed with the greatest attention. From his neighbours, wherever he resided, he received the sincerest testimony of respect and esteem. His manners were highly conciliating and engaging, and by his particular | friends no man was more beloved. In his death the needy have lost a friend that will not easily be replaced.1


Monthly Magazine, Dc. 1805. —Gent. Mag. 1805. Nichols’s Bowyer.