Lardner, Nathaniel

Lardner, Nathaniel D.D., a very noted English theologian and minister of the Presbyterian Church, of Arian tendency, was born in Hawkshurst, in Kent, in 1684. In early life he was a pupil of Dr. Joshua Oldfield, a minister of eminence in that denomination, but, like many of the Dissenters of his time, he preferred to go abroad to prosecute his studies. He spent more than three years at the University of Utrecht, where he studied under Graevius and Burmann, and was then some time at the University of Leyden. He returned to England in 1703, and continued to prosecute his theological studies with a view to the ministry, which he entered at the age of twenty- five. He began preaching at Stoke-Newington in 1709, but, owing to his want of power to modulate his voice, soon became private chaplain and tutor in the family of lady Treby. In 1724 he was appointed lecturer at the Old Jewry, where he delivered in outline his work, The Credibility of the Gospel History (London, 1727-43, 5 volumes, 8vo), generally acknowledged as constituting the most unanswerable defense of Christianity to our own day. "The work is unequalled for the extent and accuracy of its investigations. Recent researches supplement it, but it is not likely that they will ever supersede it" (W.J. Cox in Kitto). Sir James Mackintosh, in his remarks on Paley (in the View of the Progress of Ethical Philosophy), rather discredits its general usefulness as an apologetical work, because it "soon wearies out the greater part of readers," though there are many eminent English critics who think otherwise (compare Allibone, Dict. of Engl. and Am. Authors, 2:1060). But even sir J. Mackintosh concedes that with the scholar it has power: "The few who are more patient have almost always been gradually won over to feel pleasure in a display of knowledge, probity, charity, and meekness unmatched by an avowed advocate in a case deeply interesting his warmest feelings" (compare also Leland, Deistical Writers). In 1729 he was unexpectedly called to the Church in Crutched Friars, which position he accepted and held for about twenty-two years. He died at his native place in 1768, having devoted his long life to the prosecution of theological inquiry, to the exclusion of almost any other subject. As a supplement to The Credibility, Lardner wrote History of the Apostles and Evangelists, writers of the N. Test. (1756-57, again 1760, 3 volumes, 8vo; also in volume 2 of bishop Watson's Collection of Tracts). Dr. Lardner likewise wrote many other treatises, in which his store of learning is brought to bear on questions important in Christian theology. The most remarkable of these, his minor publications, are his Letter on the Logos (1759), in which it distinctly appears that he was of the Unitarian or Socinian school; and History of the Heretics of the first two Centuries after Christ (published after his decease [1780, 4to], with additions by John Hogg). The best edition of Lardner's works is that by Dr. Andrew Kippis (Lond. 1788, 11 volumes, 8vo); but it is no mean proof of the estimation in which they are held, that, large as the collection is, they were reprinted entire as late as 1838 (Lond. 10 volumes, 8vo, a very handsome edition). His writings, now more than a century old, are still regarded as "a bulwark on the side of truth," so much so that not only ministers and students of theology of our day call ill afford to be without them, but every intelligent layman who seeks to do his duty in the Church, of which he is a part, should possess and study them. "In the applause of Dr. Lardner," says T.H. Home (Bibl. Bib. page 368), "all parties of Christians are united, regarding him as the champion of their common and holy faith. Seeker, Porteus, Watson, Tomline, Jortin, Hav, and Paley, of the Anglican Church; Doddridge, Kippis, and Priestley, among the Dissenterse and all foreign Protestant Biblical critics have rendered public homage to his learning, his fairness, and his great merits as a Christian apologist. The candid of the literati of the Romish communion have extolled his labors; and even Morgan and Gibbon, professed unbelievers, have awarded to him the meed of faithfulness and impartiality. By collecting a mass of scattered evidences in favor of the authenticity of the evangelical history, he established a bulwark on the side of truth which infidelity has never presumed to attack." See Dr. Kippis, Life of Lardner, in volume 1 of the works of the latter; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Am. Atuthors, 2:1060; English Cyclop. s.v.; Farrar, Critical Hist. of Free Thought, page 468; Dorner, Person of Christ, 2, part 3, App. page 407.

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