Bennet, Dr. Thomas

, an eminent divine in the eighteenth century, was born at Salisbury, May 7, 1673, and educated in the free-school there; where he made so great a progress in learning, that he was sent to St. John’s college, Cambridge, in the beginning of 1688, before he was full fifteen years of age. He regularly took the degrees of bachelor and master of arts; the latter in 1694, when but twenty-one years old; and was chosen fellow of his college. In 1695, he wrote a copy of Hebrew verses on the death of queen Mary, printed in the collection of poems of the university of Cambridge upon that occasion. The first of his publications was “An answer to the dissenters pleas for Separation, or an abridgment of the London cases; wherein the substance of those books is digested into one short and plain discourse,” Lond. 1699, 8vo. About the end of 1700, he took a journey to Colchester, to visit his friend Mr. John Rayne, rector of St. James’s in Colchester; and finding him dead when he came, he undertook the office of preaching his funeral sermon, which was so highly approved of by the parishioners, that their recommendation was no small inducement to Dr. Compton, then bishop of London, to present him to that living. He had institution to it January 15, 1700-1, and applied himself with great diligence and success to the several duties of his function. Possessing great learning, a strong voice, and good elocution, he was extremely followed and admired; and the more, as most of the other livings were but indifferently provided for: so that he became minister, not only of his own two parishes, but in a manner of that whole town, and the subscriptions and presents he had from all parts, raised his income to nearly three hundred pounds a year. But that afterwards was very much reduced, as xvill appear in the sequel. In the beginning of 1701, he published “A confutation of Popery, in three parts,” Canibr. 8vo. About the same time, he was engaged in a controversy with some dissenters, which produced the following book of his, “A discourse of Schism shewing, 1 What is meant by schism. 2. That schism is a damnable sin. 3. That there is a schism between the established church of England and the dissenters. 4. That this schism is to be charged on the dissenters’ side. 5. That the modern pretences of toleration, agreement in fundamentals, &c. will m;t excuse the dissenters from being guilty of schism. Written by way of letter to three | dissenting ministers in Essex, viz. Mr. Gilson and Mr. Gledhili ol Colchester, and Mr. Shepherd of Brain tree. To which is annexed, an answer to a book entitledThomas against Bennet, or the Protestant dissenters vindicated from the charge of schism,“Cambr. 1702, 8vo. This book being animadverted upon by Mr. Shepherd, our author publishedA defence of the discourse of Schism; in answer to those objections which Mr. Shepherd has made in his three sermons of Separation, &c.“Cambr. 1703, 8vo. And, towards the end of the same year,” An answer to Mr. Shepherd’s considerations on the defence of the discourse of Scnism,“Cambr. 8vo. As also a treatise entitled” Devotions, viz. Confessions, Petitions, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings, for every day in the week and also before, at, and after, the Sacrament with occasional prayers for all persons whatsoever,“8vo. In 1705, he publishedA confutation of Quakerism; or a plain proof of the falsehood of what the principal Quaker writers (especially Mr. R. Barclay, in his Apology and other works) do teach concerning the necessity of immediate revelation in order to a saving Christian faith, &c.“Cambr. 8vo. In 1707 he caused to be printed in a small pamphlet, 12mo,A discourse on the necessity of being baptized with Water and receiving the Lord’s Supper, taken out of the confutation of Quakerism,“Cambr. For the sake of those who wanted either money to purchase, or time to peruse, the Confutation of Quakerism, the year following he publishedA brief history of -the joint use of precomposed set forms of Prayer,“Cambr. 8vo. The same year he published likewiseA discourse of joint Prayer,“Cambr. 8vo. Towards the end of the same year he publishedA paraphrase with annotations upon the book of Common Prayer, wherein the text is explained, objections are answered, and advice is humbly offered, both to the clergy and the laity, for promoting true devotion in the use of it,“Lond. 8vo. The next thing he printed was” Charity Schools recommended, in a sermon preached in St. James’s church in Colchester, on Sunday, March 26, 1710,“8vo. The same year he wroteA letter to Mr. B. Robinson, occasioned by iiis * Review of the case of Liturgies, and their imposition‘;“andA second letter to Mr. B. Robinson, &c. on the same subject,“Lond. 1710, 8vo. In 17 11 he published” The rights of the Clergy of the Christian church; or, a discourse shewing that God has given and | appropriated to the clergy, authority to ordain, baptize, preach, preside in church-prayer, and consecrate the Lord’s supper. Wherein also the pretended divine right of the laity to elect either the persons to be ordained, or their own particular pastors, is examined and disproved,“London, 1711, 8vo. He had begun a second part of this work, but it was never published, in which he intended to shew, that the clergy are, under Christ, the sole spiritual governors of the Christian church, and that God has given and appropriated to them authority to enact laws, determine controversies, inflict censures, and absolve from them. The pre^­tended divine institution of lay elders was also disproved, and the succession of the present clergy of the established church vindicated. And to this was annexed a” Discourse of the Independency of the Church on the State, with an account of the sense of our English laws, and the judgment of archbishop Cranmer touching that point.“About this time he took the degree of D. D. In 1714 he published <c Directions for studying, I. A general system or body of divinity; II. The thirty-nine articles of religion. To which is added St. Jerom’s epistle to Nepotianus,London, 8vo. The year following was published his “Essay on the thirty-nine articles of Religion, agreed on in 1562, and revised in 1571, wherein (the text being first exhibited in Latin and English, and the minutest variations of eighteen the most ancient and authentic copies carefully noted) an account is given of the proceedings of convocation in framing and settling the text of the articles, the controverted clause of the twentieth article is demonstrated to be genuine, and the case of subscription to the articles is considered in point of law, history, and conscience; with a prefatory epistle to Anthony Collins, esq. wherein the egregious falsehoods and calumnies of the author of ‘Priestcraft in perfection’ are exposed,London, 1713, 8vo. Before the publication of this book, he found it necessary to leave Colchester; for, the other livings being filled up with persons of good reputation and learning, his large congregation and subscriptions fell off, and his income fell to threescore pounds a-­year, on which account, by the advice of his friends, he accepted the place oi’ deputy-chaplain to Chelsea hospital, under Dr. Cannon. Soon after, preaching the funeral sermon of his friend Mr. Erington, lecturer of St. Olave’s in South wark, it was so highly approved of by that parish, that he was unanimously chosen lecturer in the next vestry, | without the least canvassing. Upon that he entirely left Colchester, in January 1715-16, and fixed himself in London, where he was likewise appointed morning preacher at St. Lawrence Jewry, under Dr. Mapletoft. In 1716 he published a pamphlet entitled “The Non juror’s separation from the public assemblies of the church of England examined, and proved to be schismatical upon their own principles,London, 8vo. And “The case of the Reformed Episcopal Churches in Great Poland and Polish Prussia, considered in a sermon preached on Sunday, November 18, 1716, at St. Lawrence-Jewry, London, in the morning, and St. Olave’s, Southwark, in the afternoon,London, 8vo. Soon after, he was presented by the dean and chapter of St. Paul’s, to the vicarage of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, London, which afforded him a plentiful income of nearly five hundred pounds a-year. But he had little quiet enjoyment of it; for, endeavouring to recover some dues that unquestionably belonged to that church, he was obliged to engage in tedious law-suits, which, hesides the immense charges they were attended withal, gave him a great deal of vexation and uneasiness, and very much embittered his spirits; however, he recovered a hundred and fifty pounds a-year to that living. After he was settled in it, in 1717, he married Mrs. Elizabeth Hunt of Salisbury, a gentlewoman of great merit, and by her he had three daughters. The same year he published “A Spital sermon preached before the lord mayor, aldermen. &c. of London, in St. Bridget’s church, on April 24, 1717,London, 8vo; and in 1718, “A discourse of the ever-blessed Trinity in Unity, with an examination of Dr. Clarke’s Scripture doctrine of the Trinity,London, 8vo. But, from this time, the care of his large parish, and other affairs, so engrossed his thoughts, that he had no time to undertake any new work, except an Hebrew grammar, which was published at London in 1726, 8vo, a,ud is reckoned one of the best of the kind. He mentions, indeed, in one of his books written about 1716, that he had then “several tasks” in his hands, “which would find him full employment for many years;” but whatever they might be, none of them were ever finished or made public. He died of an apoplexy at London, October 9th, 1728, aged fifty-live years, five months, and two days, and was buried in his own church.

As to his person, Dr. Bennet was tall, and of a strong | and robust constitution. He was a man of strong passions, and not without haughtiness, but of very great integrity. With regard to nis learning, he was a perfect master of the Eastern and other learned languages, well skilled in controversy, and an able champion for the church of England. Few scholars have equalled him as an exact reasoner, and an accurate textuary, and though he had an uncommon share of knowledge in various kinds of learning, he wisely gave himself up to the improvement of those talents in which his duel excellence lay. One of his antagonists, Mr. Emlyn, does not scruple to own, that he could truly esteem and respect him for his valuable abilities, for his industrious application of mind to an examination and inquiry into the important matters of our Christian religion, and for divers other worthy qualities, particularly. for his candour and civility, and for his resoi-.te contempt of those false topics of persuasion, by which ignorant and degenerate minds are led into error, viz. human decisions, by councils or churches’ authority, when their judgment is not agreeable to the holy scriptures, in which case he speaks as if he had the courage and honesty to oppose the most triumphant errors of the age. Finally, he declares he esteemed him for his zealous profession of integrity, and exciting others to act honestly and openly according to their judgments, and not to use arts of disguise and hypocrisy in sacred matters.

Dr. Bennet was undoubtedly a divine of eminent piety and distinguished learning. The zeal and diligence with which he engaged in the studies and duties of his profession were highly commendable, and shew that h had no conception that the life of a clergyman was to be an idle or trifling life. Several of his works, however, being upon subjects of temporary controversy, are, we apprehend, not much read at present. This will ever be the case when disputes turn upon matters which are not of lasting importance, or upon some trivial circumstances in questions otherwise momentous, and it will especially be the case, when a man of abilities has to contend with insufficient adversaries. Dr. Kippis remembered being told, in his youth, by Dr. Doddridge, that the dissenting ministers, in and near Colchester, who endeavoured to answer Dr. Bennet, and particularly Mr. Shepherd, were persons of very mean talents. The doctor, in some of his subsequent writings, met with far abler 'antagonists. | The question concerning-schism was deemed of gr^at importance during the last century, and in the beginning of the present. The Papists charged this crime upon the Protestants, and the members of the church of England upon the Dissenters. A concise and rational account of the general controversy with regard to schism, and of the variations and inconsistencies to which it hath given rise, would be no incurious subject in the history of theological literature.

Dr. Bennet was perhaps too ready to engage in the debates of his time, upon questions of divinity, which led him sometimes into difficulties, obliged him to have recourse to distinctions and refinements which would not always bear examination, and laid him open to the attacks of his adversaries. Of all the doctor’s controversial pieces, those on the doctrine of the Trinity, and on subscription to the articles of the church of England, have been the most brought into view in the present age. This is owing to these subjects being still eagerly debated, and on account of their acknowledged importance, will probably long continue to be debated. Dr. Bennet’s explication of the Trinity is singular; and it would require much logical nicety to defend it from that heterodoxy which the learned author not only wished to avoid, but, no doubt, sincerely abhorred. This was an unfortunate circumstance in a man who, in another work, had employed himself in vindicating the Athanasian creed. However, he was but in the same case with many other eminent and learned divines, who, while they have imagined that they were defending Athanasianism, have, in fact, run into Sabellianism or Socinianism.

It is much to the honour both of Dr. Bennet and bishop Hoadly, that the latter contributed to the preferment of the former. Few persons could be more different in their theological and other sentiments. Dr. Bennet’s character, therefore, must have been very excellent to excite such an instance of regard in Dr. Hoadly; and the bishop’s candour and liberality of mind must have been equally laudable, in overlooking the most striking disparity of opinions. 1


Biog. Brit, but perhaps more full in the Gen. Dict.