Blackburne, Francis

, the celebrated author of the “Confessional,” was born at Richmond in Yorkshire, June 9, 1705. At the age of seventeen he was admitted pensioner of Catherine-hall, Cambridge, where his peculiar notions on civil and religious liberty rendered him obnoxious to his superiors, and occasioned the loss of a fellowship for which he was a candidate. In 1739, he was ordained by Dr. Gooch, bishop of Norwich, at Ely chapel, Holborn, and in a short time afterwards was inducted into the rectory of Richmond in Yorkshire, where he resided constantly for forty years, during which he composed all the pieces contained in the late edition of his works, besides a multitude of smaller ones. His first appearance as an author was on the following occasion. In 1749, the rev. John Jones, vicar of Alconbury, near Huntingdon, published his “Free and candid disquisitions relating to the Church of England,” containing many observations on the supposed defects and improprieties in the liturgical forms of faith and worship of the established church. As Mr. Blackburne corresponded with this gentleman, who had submitted the work to his perusal in manuscript, and as there were many of his opinions in which Mr. Blackburne coincided, it was not unnatural to suppose that he had a hand in the publication. This, however, Mr. Blackburne solemnly denied, and his biographer has assigned the probable reason. “The truth,” says he, “is, Mr. Blackburne, whatever desire he might have to forward the work of ecclesiastical reformation, could not possibly conform his style to the milky phraseology of the ‘ Disquisitions,’ nor could he be content to have his sentiments mollified by the gentle qualifications of Mr. Jones’s lenient pen. He was rather (perhaps too much) inclined to look upon those who had in their hands the means and the power of reforming the errors, defects, and abuses, in the government, forms of worship, faith and discipline, of the established church, as guilty of a criminal negligence, from which they should | have been roused by sharp and spirited expostulations. He thought it became disquisitors, with a cause in hand of such high importance to the influence of vital Christianity, rather to have boldly forced the utmost resentment of the class of men to which they addressed their work, than, by meanly truckling to their arrogance, to derive upon themselves their ridicule and contempt, which all the world saw was the case of these gentle suggesters, and all the return they had for the civility of their application.” Animated by this spirit, which we are far from thinking candid or expedient, Mr. Blackburne published “An Apology,” for the “Free and candid disquisitions,” to which, whatever might be its superior boldness to the “milky phraseology” of Mr. Jones, he yet did not venture to put his name nor, although he was suspected to be the author, did he meet with any of that “arrogance,” which is attributed to those who declined adopting Mr. Jones’s scheme of church-reformation. On the contrary, in July, 1750, he was collated to the archdeaconry of Cleveland, and in August following to the prebend of Bilton, by Dr. Matthew Hutton, archbishop of York, to whom he had been for some years titular chaplain and when his friends intimated their suspicions that he would write no more “Apologies” for such books as “Free and candid Diquisitions,” he answered, “with a cool indifference,” that he had made no bargain with the archbishop for his liberty. His next publication, accordingly, was an attack on Dr. Butler bishop of Durham’s charge to his clergy in 1751, which, in Mr. Blackburne’s opinion, contained some doctrines diametrically opposite to the principles on which the protestant reformation was founded. This appeared in 1752, under the title of “A Serious Enquiry into the use and importance of external religion, &c.” but was not generally known to be his, until Mr. Baron, an enthusiast in controversies, republished it with Mr. Blackburne’s name, in his collection, entitled “The Pillars of Priestcraft and Orthodoxy shaken.

His next publications were on the subjects of the new style Archdeacon Sharpe’s charges the Jew naturalization-bill a letter to archbishop Herring, on church reformation none of which require much notice. When in 1755, Dr. Law’s notion appeared concerning the soul and the state of death, or what was called “the soul-sleeping system,” Mr. Blackburne adopted, and defended it in a tract | entitled “No proof in the Scriptures of an intermediate state of happiness or misery, between death and the resurrection,” and he urged the same opinion in a subsequent tract but as the Confessional is the publication on which his fame principally rests, the history of it is more interesting than any detail of his minor tracts. On Commencement Sunday 1757, Dr. Powell, an eminent tutor of St. John’s college, Cambridge, published a sermon on subscription to the Liturgy and XXXIX articles, in which he maintained that a latitude was allowed to subscribers, even, so far as to admit of the assent and conserit of different persons to different and even opposite opinions, according to their different interpretations of the propositions to be subscribed. Dr. Powell’s casuistry on the subject appeared to Mr. Blackburne so detestable, and so subversive of the principles of good faith among men, that he determined to expose and refute it to the best of his power, and accordingly published “Remarks on the rev. Dr. Powell’s Sermon in defence of Subscriptions, &c.1758. His sentiments on the subject of subscriptions are thus explained, in that part of his life which was written by himself. "When he took possession of the living of Richmond, he had been engaged in a way of life that did not give him time or opportunity to reflect upon subjects of that nature with precision; and though, upon taking his first preferment, he determined conscientiously to perform the duties of it, yet he was by no means aware of the difficulties that afterwards embarrassed him in qualifying himself for holding it. He, therefore, then subscribed as directed by law, without scruple, and without apprehending the obligation he laid himself under, according to the form, of giving his assent and consent to the whole system of the church. When the same form was to be subscribed to qualify him. to hold the archdeaconry and prebend, he consulted some of his friends, and particularly Dr. Law (afterwards bishop of Carlisle), who gave him his opinion at large, containing such reasons, as had occurred to himself on the several occasions he had to undergo that discipline. He was likewise referred to Dr. Clarke’s Introduction to his Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity and lastly, to the sixth article of the church of England all which appeared plausible enough to satisfy him, for that time, that with these salvos and modifications, he might safely subscribe to the prescribed forms. Some time afterwards, however, upon a prospect | of farther advancement to a considerable preferment, he took occasion to re-consider these arguments, and thought they fell short of giving that satisfaction which an honest man would wish to have, when he pledges his good faith to society in so solemn a form as that prescribed by the 36th canon, enjoining subscription to the articles and liturgical forms of the church of England.

In this situation of mind, he set himself to examine into the rise and progress of this requisition in protestant churches, and into the arguments brought in defence, or rather in excuse of it the result of which was the compilation since known by the name of the * Confessional, or a full and free enquiry into the right, utility, and success of establishing Confessions of Faith and Doctrine in Protestant churches.‘ This work lay by him in manuscript for some years. He had communicated his plan to Dr. Edmund Law, who encouraged him greatly in the progress of it, and appears by many letters in the course of their correspondence to have been extremely impatient to have it published. The fair copy, however, was never seen by any of the author’s acquaintance, one confidential friend excepted, who spoke of its existence and contents to the late patriotic Thomas Hollis, esq. to whom the author at this time was not personally known. Mr. Hollis mentioned this manuscript to Mr. Andrew Millar, the bookseller, who in 1763, intending a summer excursion to visit his friends in Scotland, was desired by Mr. Hollis to call upon Mr. Blackburne at Richmond, where, after some conversation, the manuscript was consigned to Mr. Millar’s care for publication, and accordingly came out in the spring of 1766. The only condition made with Mr. Millar was, that the author’s name should be concealed.

Such is the author’s account of the origin of this celebrated work, which soon gave rise to a controversy of considerable length. We follow him with more reluctance in his account of its reception, in which he states that grievous offence was taken at it by that part of the clergy “who affect to call themselves orthodox” and archbishop Seeker is stated to have thrown off his mask of moderation at once. More calm reasoners, however, at this later period may be of opinion, that many of the opponents of the Confessional stood in no need of affectation to indicate the class to which they belonged and that the archbishop, as well as many of his brethren, might think themselves amply | justified in considering the Confessional, as having a tendency to render the principles of the church of England a series of private opinions ending in ho general system, and affording encouragement to perpetual fluctuation and indecision, under pretence of regard for conscience. Nor, as the press was to be the medium of this controversy, can we, upon any principles of candour, conceive, why archbishop Seeker, or any of his brethren, should be censured for encouraging the best writers they could find.

This controversy lasted from 1766, the period of publishing the first edition of the Confessional, to 1779, when it was in part revived, or rather continued (for it had never been entirely dropt), in consequence of an application made to parliament for relief in the matter of subscription. During this time, between seventy and eighty pamphlets were published by the contending parties, of which not above ten or twelve appeared with the authors’ names. Some of these are supposed to have been furnished by Mr. Blackburne. One singular effect followed the first publication of the Confessional. It was supposed that the author of such a work could not possibly remain in the church after having made so many objections to her constitution and accordingly a congregation of dissenters in London sent a deputation to him, to know whether he was inclined to accept the situation of their pastor. But whatever objections the learned archdeacon had to certain points of discipline and doctrine peculiar to the church of England, which he wished to be reformed he never conceived that the best way to bring about such a reformation was to leave her entirely in the hands of those who were adverse to it and therefore, although he abstained from any open opposition to the principles and conduct of Mr. Lindsey and Dr. Disney (both his relations and friends), he does not appear to have approved either. His own words, however, will best illustrate his sentiments on this delicate subject;

Mr. Blackburne had his objections to the liturgy and articles of the church of England, as well as Mr. Lindsey, and in some instances to the same passages, but differed widely from him on some particular points, which, he thought, as stated by Mr. Lindsey and his friends, could receive no countenance from scripture, unless by a licentiousness of interpretation that could not be justified. But Dr. Priestley and some of his friends having carried the obligation to secede from the church of England farther | than Mr. Blackburne thought was either sufficiently candid, charitable, or modest, and had thereby given countenance to the reproach, thrown upon many moderate and worthy men, by hot and violent conformists, for continuing to minister in the church, while they disapproved many things in her doctrine and discipline, he thought it expedient, in justice to himself and others of the same sentiments, to give some check to the crude censures that had been passed upon them. And, accordingly, intending to publish ’ Four Discourses’ delivered to the clergy of the archdeaconry of Cleveland, in the years 1767, 1769, 1771, and 1773, he took that opportunity to explain himself on this subject in a preface, as well on behalf of the seceders, as of those whose Christian principles admitted of their remaining in the church without offering violence to their consciences.” Of Dr. Priestley’s conduct he speaks yet more decidedly in a letter dated Jan. 4, 177O, to a dissenting minister, “I cannot think the dissenters will be universally pleased with Dr. Priestley’s account of their principles, not to mention that some degree of mercy seemed to be due to us, who have shown our benevolence to all protestant dissenters, and have occasionally asserted their rights of conscience with the utmost freedom. But no, it seems nothing will do but absolute migration from our present stations, in agreement with our supposed convictions though, perhaps, it might puzzle Dr. Priestley to find us another church, in which all of us would be at our ease, &c.” On the secession of Dr. Disney from the church, a circumstance which appears to have given him great uneasiness, he went so far as to draw up a paper under the title “An Answer to the Question, Why are you not a Socinian r” but this, although now added to his works, was not published in his life-time, from motives of delicacy. He had been suspected, from his relationship and intimacy with Mr. Lindsey and Dr. Disney, of holding the same sentiments with them, and his object in the above paper was to vindicate his character in that respect. Still, as it did not appear in his life-time, it could not answer that purpose, and although we are now told that some time before his death, he explicitly asserted to his relation, the Rev. Mr. Comber, his belief in the divinity of Christ, the suspicions of the public had undoubtedly some foundation in the silence which in all his writings he preserved respecting a point of so much importance. | When considerably advanced in years, he formed the design of writing the life of Luther and had made some collections for the purpose, hut was diverted from it by being engaged to draw up a work of far less general interest, the Memoirs of Mr. Thomas Hollis. In 1787, he performed his thirty-eighth visitation in Cleveland, after which he was taken ill at the house of his friend the Rev. William Comber, but reached home a few weeks before his death, which took place Aug. 7, 1787, in his eightythird year. Mr. Blackburne left a widow (who died Aug. 20, 1799), and four children, Jane, married to the Rev. Dr. Disney the Rev. Francis Blackburne, vicar of Brignal, near Greta-bridge, Yorkshire Sarab, married to the Rev. John Hall, vicar of Chew Magna, and rector of Dundry in Somersetshire and William Blackburne, M. D. of Cavendish square, London.

In 1804, his son, the Rev. F. Blackburne, published in 7 vols. 8vo, his “Works, Theological and Miscellaneous, including some pieces not before printed,” with some account of the life and writings of the author, by himself, and completed by his son. At the conclusion of this interesting memoir, we find a character of Mr. Blackburne drawn up with candour and affection. From this we shall extract a few passages, but without deciding whether in every respect the same conclusions can be drawn from an attentive consideration of his labours and opinions. It is certain that some of his admirers have wished him possessed of more steadiness and consistency than his works show.

Without ever taking an active part in the disputes which in his time agitated, and are still agitating, the church of England, on the article of predestination, it is certain that Mr. Blackburne was, in the general sentiments of his creed, what he more than once declared himself to be, a moderate Calvinist; and his writings place it beyond a doubt, that he believed himself so much more a Protestant for being so. His Calvinism, however, was of the largest and most liberal east. This will be easily understood from what he thought of the great work of David Hartley on Man * a book,‘ writes Mr. Blackburne to a friend, in 1750, ’ to which, if I am not exceedingly mistaken, Christianity is, or will be, more beholden than to all the books besides of the two last centuries. But he has joined necessity and religion together. What of that Ask the church of England in her articles.' | ”While engaged in the controversial field, and maintaining what he believed to be the cause of truth and liberty, Mr, Blackburne, like his admired Luther, pursued his adversary often with vehemence, and sometimes with asperity of attack and when either rank or eminence in the object of his animadversions was likely to lend a sanction to prejudice and superstition, or to give an imposing air to the encroachments of human authority in matters of religion, no writer ever more intrepidly encountered odium, by exposing error and bigotry if it were even found, where many good and gentle natures will hardly allow it to be looked for, under the lawn and the mitre. Yet, doubtless, in the execution of so critical an office, the most acute and honest judgment might at times fail in discernment, or carry severity too far. To say, therefore, that Mr. Blackburne never passed an unjust censure, or harboured an unworthy dislike, as a polemic, would be to suppose that he was perfect in the most difficult of all tasks the task of inquiring uito the justness of argument, the integrity of motives, and the rectitude of conduct of other men like himself.

"Of all this, in his last years, especially when he had retired from the business of controversy, and looked back on the scene which he had quitted for ever, Mr. Blackburne was duly sensible and one day, a few weeks before his death, conversing with a lady then resident at Richmond, one of the most amiable and excellent of her sex, he acknowledged, with great earnestness, that some things which he had written and published in the course of his life he was afraid might have been too warmly or too hastily advanced. Yet no scholar, perhaps, was ever more industrious and indefatigable in the investigation both of facts and of arguments, or less precipitate in delivering his researches to the public, than archdeacon Blackburne.

Nor did mere difference of opinion, even on points of the highest political and religious consequence, or on speculative topics, where years of study had endeared conviction to him, operate as a bar to his approbation of the merits of his opponent and he readily acknowledged, and admired, literary talent and scriptural knowledge, or clear and able enforcements of the truths and obligations of religion, as well as personal virtue and eminent piety, in those from whom otherwise he differed widely, and whom, with no little eagerness, he had sometimes opposed. | ”Mr. Blackburne’s cordial and eloquent compliment to the memory of Jortin, to whom, besides some specific disagreements, he was nearly as dissimilar in general characters as Luther to Erasmus, has been more than once repeated. His amanuensis testifies the genuine satisfaction which the reading of Dr. Johnson’s Prayers and Meditations appeared to afford his venerable friend and he well remembers with what delight Mr. Blackburne listened to the sermons of bishop Sherlock, which he had doubtless often himself perused before and with what frankness of heart he wished that it had been in his power to be equally useful as a preacher of the doctrines of Christianity.

"Amidst the calls of his public station, and the labours of private study, during the most active stages of his life, Mr. Blackburne had been always constant in the regular performance of family devotion and of solitary prayer. The contemplation too of some passage in the Old or New Testament, with the comments of the best early or later critics, was not forgotten in the habitual arrangement of his forenoon. In his latter days, these exercises and meditations, and a course of reading congenial to them, suited particularly well with the sober and serious cast of a mind like his, and with afflictions fast weaning to a better world. Towards the close of his life, retaining strong faculties of memory and intellect, his powers of cheerful and instructive conversation were little diminished by age or what they had lost, if any thing they had lost, in vigour, was abundantly compensated in that soft mellowness of temper, which, like the mild setting sun of an autumnal evening, gilds the declining day of a wise and virtuous old man.

Such was Francis Blackburne y a believer of Christianity, from the deepest conviction of its truth a Protestant on the genuine principles of the reformation from popery; a strenuous adversary of superstition and intolerance, and of every corruption of the simplicity or the spirit of the gospel a zealous promoter of civil liberty a close and perspicuous reasoner a keen and energetic writer an attentive, benevolent, and venerable archdeacon an elegant and persuasive preacher; a faithful pastor and exemplary guide; of unblemished purity of life; of simple dignity of manners a sincere and cordial friend an affectionate husband, and an indulgent father in short, a just, humane, pious, temperate, and independent man.1

1 Life, as above. Nichols’s Bowyer. A complete list of the pamphlets on the Confessional Controversy, m —Gent. Mag. vols. XLI. and XL II.