Tindal, Dr. Matthew

, an English deistical writer, was the son of a clergyman of Beer-ferres, in Devonshire, and born about 1657. He became a commoner of Lincoln college, m Oxford, in 1672, where he had the famous Dr. Hickes for his tutor, and thence removed to Exeter college. In 1676 he took the degree of bachelor of arts, and was afterwards elected fellow of All Souls college In 1679 he took a bachelor of laws degree; and in July 1685, became a doctor in that faculty. In the reign of James II. he declared himself a Roman catholic, but afterwards renounced that religion. Wood says that he did not return to the protestant religion till after that king had left the nation; but, according to his own account, he returned to it before that memorable epocha. In 1694 he published, at London, in 4to, “An Esay concerning obedience to the supreme powers, and the duty of subjects iti all revolutions; with some considerations touching the present juncture of affairs;” and “An Essay concerning the Laws of Nations and the right of sovereigns,” &c. He published also some other pamphlets on the same subjects, particularly one concerning the doctrine of the Trinity and the Athanasian. creed; but was first particularly noticed for a publication which came out in 1706, v\itn this title, “The Rights of the Christian Church asserted, against the Romish and all other priests, who claim an independent power over it; with a preface concerning the government of the Church of | England, as by law established,” 8vo. Tindal was aware of the. offence this work would give, and even took some pleasure in it; for, as Dr. Hickes relates, he told a gentleman who found him at it with pen in hand, that “he was writing a book which would make the clergy mad.” Perhaps few books were ever published which they more resented; and, accordingly, numbers among them immediately wrote against it. ‘Among the most distinguished of his answerers were, I. “The Rights of the Clergy in the Christian Church asserted in a sermon preached at Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, Sept. 2, 1706, at the primary visitation of the right reverend father in God, William lord bishop of Lincoln; by W. Wotton, B. D.” II. “The second pa/t of the Wolf stripped of Shepherd’s cloa thing, in answer to a late book entitled The Rights of the Christian Church asserted, published at London in March,1707. III. “Two treatises, one of the Christian Priesthood, the other of the dignity of the Episcopal Order, formerly written, and npw published to obviate the erroneous opinions, fallacious reasonings, and bold and false assertions, in a late book entitled The Rights of the Christian Church; with a large prefatory discourse, wherein is contained an Answer to the said book; all written by George Hickes, D. D.London, 1707. IV. “A thorough examination of the false principles and fallacious arguments advanced against the Christian Church, Priesthood, and Religion, in a late pernicious book, ironically entitled The Rights of the Christian Church asserted, &c. in a dialogue between Demas and Hierarcha: humbly offered to the consideration of the nobility and gentry of England; by Samuel Hill, rector of Kilmington, and archdeacon of Wells.London, 1707, 8vo. V. “Three short treatises, viz. 1. A modest plea for the Clergy, &c. 2. A Sermon of the Sacerdotal Benediction, &c. 3. A Discourse published to undeceive the people in point of Tithes, &c. formerly printed, and now again published, by Dr. George Hickes, in defence of the priesthood and true rights of the church against the slanderous and reproachful treatment of The Rights of the Christian Church,London, 1709, 8vo. VI. “Adversaria; or truths opposed to some of the falsehoods contained in a book called The Rights of the Christian Church asserted,” c.; by Conyers Place, M. A. London, 1709, 8vo. VII. “A Dialogue between Timothy and Philatheus in which the principles and projects of a late whimsical book entitled The Rights of the Christian Church, | &c. are fairly stated, and answered in their kinds, &c. written by a layman,London, 3 vols. 8vo. Mr. Oldisworth was the author. Swift also wrote “Remarks” on Tindal’s book, which are in his works, but were left unfinished by the author. But, whatever disturbance this work might create at home, and whatever prejudices it might raise against its author, among the clergy of the church of England, some of the protestants abroad judged very differently, and even spoke of it in terms of approbation and applause. Le Clerc gave an account of it in his “Bibliotheque choisie,” which begins in these words: “We hear that this book has made a great noise in England, and it is not at all surprising, since the author attacks, with all his might, the pretensions of those who are called highchurchmen; that is, of those who carry the rights of bishops so far as to make them independent in ecclesiastical affairs of prince and people, and who consider everything that has been done to prevent the dependence of the laity on bishops, as an usurpation of the laics against divine right. I am far from taking part in any particular disputes, which the learned of England may have with one another, concerning the independent power and authority of their bishops, and farther still from desiring to hurt in any way the church of England, which I respect and honour as the most illustrious of all protestant churches; but I am persuaded that the wise and moderate members of this church can never be alarmed at such a book as this, as if the church was actually in danger. I believe the author, as himself says, had no design against the present establishment, which he approves^ but only against some excessive pretensions, which are even contrary to the laws of the land, ana* to the authority of the king and parlialiament. As I do not know, nor have any connection with him, I have no particular interest to serve by defending him, and I do not undertake it. His book is too full of matter for me to give an exact abridgment of it, and they who understand English will do well to read the original: they have never read a book so strong and so supported in favour of the principles which protestants on this side the water hold in common.

The lower house of convocation, in queen Anne’s reign, thought that such a character of “The Rights of the Christian Church,” &c. from a man of Le Clerc’s reputation for parts and learning, must have no small influence in | recommending the book, and in suggesting favourable notions of the principles advanced in it; and therefore, in their representation of the present state of religion, they judged it expedient to give it this turn, namely, “that those infidels” (meaning Tindal and others) “have procured abstracts and commendations of their own profane writings, and probably drawn up by themselves, to be inserted in foreign journals, and that they have translated them into the English tongue, and published them here at home, in order to add the greater weight to their wicked opinions.” Hence a notion prevailed in England, that Le Clerc had been paid for the favourable account he gave of Tindal’s book; upon which he took occasion to declare, in a subsequent journal, that there never was a greater falsehood, and protests as an honest man before God, “that, for making mention of that or any other hook, he had never had either promise or reward.*’ It will easily be imagined that, in the course of this controversy, Dr. Tindal’s antagonists would object to him his variableness and mutability in matters of religion, and insult him not a little upon his Hrst apostatizing to the chjirch of Rome, upon the prospect of a national conversion to Popery, and then, at the revolution, reverting to Protestantism. To <his he replied, that” Coming, as most boys do, a rasa tabula to the university, and believing (his country education teaching him no better) that all human and divine knowledge was to be had there, he quickly fell into the then prevailing notions of the high and independent powers of the clergy; and meeting with none, during his long stay there, who questioned the truth of them, they by degrees became so fixed and riveted in him, that he no more doubted of them than of his own being: and he perceived not the consequence of them, till the Roman emissaries (who were busy in making proselytes in the university in king James*s time, and knew how to turn the weapons of high church against them) caused him to see, that, upon these notions, a separation from the church of Rome could not be justified; and that they who pretended to answer them as to those points, did only shuffle, or talk backward and forward. This made him, fur some small time, go to the Popish mass-house; till meeting, upon his going into the world, with people who treated that notion of the independent power as it deserved, and finding the absurdities of Popery to be much greater at hand than they appeared at a distance, he began | to examine the whole matter with all the attention he was capable of; and then he quickly found, and was surprised at the discovery, that all his till then undoubted maxims were so far from having any solid foundation, that they were built on as great a contradiction as can be, that of two independent powers in the same society. Upon this he returned, as he had good reason, to the church of England, which he found, by examining into her constitution, disclaimed all that independent power he had been bred up in the belief of; Candlemas 1687-8 being the last time he saw any of the Popish tricks, the very next opportunity (namely, Easter) he publicly received the sacrament (the warden giving it him first) in his college chapel, &c. And thus having made his escape from errors which prejudice of education had drawn him into, he resolved to take nothing on trust for the future; and, consequently, his notions concerning our civil, as well as religious liberties, became very different from those in which he was educated.“What Dr. Tindal says here may be true; yet it is observable, that his conversion to Popery, and re-conversion to Protestantism, lay between February 1685, and February 1688, that is, between the twenty-seventh and thirtieth, year of his age; and many will be ready to suspect, that a man of his reasoning and inquiring turn must, before then, have been too much fixed and settled in his principles, either to be a dupe of Popish missionaries, or then to discover first the absurdity and falsehood of fundamental principles. In the mean time he endeavoured to defend his work, in a” Defence of the Rights of the Christian Church against a late visitation sermon, entitled The Rights of the Clergy in the Christian Church asserted, preached at Newport- Pagnell in the county of Bucks by W. Wotton, B. D. and made public at the command and desire of the bishop of Lincoln, and the clergy of the deaneries of Buckingham and Newport,“London, 1707, in 8vo, and in his” Second Defence of the Rights of the Christian Church, occasioned by two late indictments against a bookseller and his servant for selling one of thf said books. In a Letter from a- gentleman in London to a clergyman in the country. To which are added two tracts of Hugo Grotius on these questions; I. Whether the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper may be administered where there are no pastors? II. Whether it be necessary at all times to communicate with the Symbols? As also some tracts of Mr. John Hales of Eaton, viz. Of | the Lord’s Supper, the Power of the Keys, of Schism, &c.“London, 1707, in 8vo. In 1709 he published at London in 8vo, a pamphlet entitled,” New High Church turned old Presbyterian“and in 1710 several pamphlets, viz.” An High Church Catechism;“” The jacobitism, perjury, and popery of High Church Priests;“”The merciful judgments of 'High Church-triumphant on offending clergymen and others in the reign of Charles I.“In 1711 and 1712 he published at London in 8vo,” The Nation vindicated from the aspersions cast on it in a late pamphlet entitled, A representation of the present State of Religion, with regard to the late excessive growth of infidelity, heresy, and profaneness, as it passed the Lower House of convocation,“in two parts. In 1713, and some following years he published several other pamphlets, mostly political, which attracted more or less attention, but are now forgotten. He had hitherto passed for an enemy to the church of England, but was soon determined to show himself equally hostile to revealed religion, and in 1730, published in 4to, hisChristianity as old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature.“It might have been expected from the title of this book, that his purpose was to prove the Gospel perfectly agreeable to the law of nature; to prove, that it has set the principles of natural religion in the clearest light, and was intended to publish and confirm it anew, after it had been very much obscured and defaced through the corruption ct mankind. We should be further confirmed in this supposition from his acknowledging, thatChristianity itself, stripped of the additions which policy, mistake, and the circumstances of time, have made to it, is a most holy religion, and that all its doctrines plainly speak themselves to be the will of an infinitely wise and good God:“for this, and several declarations of a similar nature, he makes in his work; and accordingly distinguishes himself and his friends with the title ofChristian Deists.“Yet whoever examines his book attentively will find, that this is only plausible appearance, intended to cover his real design; which was to set aside all revealed religion, by showing, that there neither is, nor can be, any external revelation at all, distinct from what he calls” the external revelation of the law of nature in the hearts of all mankind;“and accordingly his refuters, the most considerable of whom | was Dr. Conybeare, afterwards bishop of Bristol, Foster, and Leland, have very justly treated him as a Deist. It appears from a letter written by the rev. Mr. Jonas Proast to Dr. Hickes, and printed in Hickes’s” Preliminary Discourse“cited above, that Tindal espoused this principle very early in life; and that he was known to espouse it long before even his” Rights of the Christian Church" was published. The letter bears date the 2d of July, 1708, and is in the following terms:

"Reverend Sir,

"It is now, as I guess, between eleven and twelve years since Dr. Tindal expressed himself to me at All-souls-college in such a manner as I related to Mr. F concerning religion. At which I was the less surprised, because I knew at that time both his own inclination, and what sort of company he frequented when at London, which was usually a great part of the year: but not foreseeing then any occasion there might be for my remembering all that 1 was then said about that matter, I took no care to charge my memory with it. However, it could not be much, having passed in our walking but a very few turns in the college quadrangle just before dinner, where I then unexpectedly met with the doctor, newly returned after a pretty long absence from the college. What occasion the doctor took for so declaring himself, whether the mention of some book or pamphlet then newly come forth, or somewhat else, I am not able at this distance to recollect: but the substance and effect of what he said I do very clearly and distinctly remember to have bee$, that there neither is nor can be any revealed religion; that God has given man reason for his guide; that this guide is sufficient for man’s directions without revelation; and that therefore, since God does nothing in vain, there can be no such thing as revelation: to which he added, that he made no doubt but that within such a number of years as he then mentioned, and I do not now distinctly remember, all men of sense would settle in natural religion. Thus much I do so perfectly remember, that I can attest it, riot with my hand only, as I now do, but upon my oath likewise, if required; which yet I should not so forwardly offer against a person, who, for aught I know, never did any personal injury, were I not convinced of the need there is of it, in respect to some weak persons, who, having entertained too | favourable an opinion of the doctor and his principles, are upon that account the more apt to be misled by him.

"I am, Reverend Sir,

"Your most humble servant,

Jonas Proast.

He died in London, August 16, 1733, fellow of All Souls college, and it appears that the faculties of his mind wore well; for, although he was about seventy-three when he published his “Christianity as old as the Creation,” yet he left a second volume of that work in manuscript, by way of general reply to all his answerers, the publication of which was prevented by Gibson bishop of London. He was, indisputably, a man of great reasoning powers and much learning, but had all the trick and disingenuousness of writers on his side of the question.

He was interred in Clerkenwell church, and was followed, among others, by Eustace Budgell, who is thought to have forged his will, and thus defrauded his nephew, the subject of our next article. 1


Biog. Brit.—Gen. Dict.—Swift’s Works.—Bowles’s edition of Pope.—Leland’s Deistical writers.