He published against Anthony Collins's deistic Grounds of the Christian Religion a volume of sermons entitled The Use and Interest of Prophecy in the Several Ages of the World (1725); and in reply to Thomas Woolston's Discourses on the Miracles he wrote a volume entitled The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1729), which soon ran through fourteen editions. His Pastoral Letter (1750) on the late earthquakes had a circulation of many thousands, and four or five volumes of Sermons which he published in his later years (1754–1758) were also at one time highly esteemed.
Who were these Collins and Woolston?
Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion
In 1724 Collins published his Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, with An Apology for Free Debate and Liberty of Writing prefixed. Ostensibly it is written in opposition to Whiston's attempt to show that the books of the Old Testament did originally contain prophecies of events in the New Testament story, but that these had been eliminated or corrupted by the Jews, and to prove that the fulfilment of prophecy by the events of Christ's life is all "secondary, secret, allegorical, and mystical," since the original and literal reference is always to some other fact. Since, further, according to him the fulfilment of prophecy is the only valid proof of Christianity, he thus secretly aims a blow at Christianity as a revelation. The canonicity of the New Testament he ventures openly to deny, on the ground that the canon could be fixed only by men who were inspired.
No less than thirty-five answers were directed against this book, the most noteworthy of which were those of Bishop Edward Chandler, Arthur Sykes and Samuel Clarke. To these, but with special reference to the work of Chandler, which maintained that a number of prophecies were literally fulfilled by Christ, Collins replied with his Scheme of Literal Prophecy Considered (1727). An appendix contends against Whiston that the book of Daniel was forged in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.
In philosophy, Collins takes a foremost place as a defender of Necessitarianism. His brief Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty (1715) has not been excelled, at all events in its main outlines, as a statement of the determinist standpoint. His assertion that it is self-evident that nothing that has a beginning can be without a cause is an unwarranted assumption of the very point at stake.
He was attacked in an elaborate treatise by Samuel Clarke, in whose system the freedom of will is made essential to religion and morality. During Clarke's lifetime, fearing perhaps being branded as an enemy of religion and morality, Collins made no reply, but in 1729 he published an answer, entitled Liberty and Necessity.
Thomas Woolston (baptised November 1668 – 27 January 1733) was an English theologian. Although he was often classed as a deist, his biographer William H. Trapnell regards him as an Anglican who held unorthodox theological views. … His influence on the course of the deistical controversy began with his book, The Moderator between an Infidel and an Apostate (1725, 3rd ed. 1729). The infidel intended was Anthony Collins, who had maintained in his book alluded to that the New Testament is based on the Old, and that not the literal but only the allegorical sense of the prophecies can be quoted in proof of the Messiahship of Jesus; the apostate was the clergy who had forsaken the allegorical method of the fathers. Woolston denied absolutely the proof from miracles, called in question the fact of the resurrection of Christ and other miracles of the New Testament, and maintained that they must be interpreted allegorically, or as types of spiritual things. Two years later he began a series of Discourses on the same subject, in which he applied the principles of his Moderator to the miracles of the Gospels in detail. The Discourses, 30,000 copies of which were said to have been sold, were six in number, the first appearing in 1727, the next five 1728-1729, with two Defences in 1729 1730. For these publications he was tried before Chief Justice Raymond in 1729. Found guilty of blasphemy, Woolston was sentenced (28 November) to pay a fine of £25 for each of the first four Discourses, with imprisonment till paid, and also to a year's imprisonment and to give security, for his good behaviour during life. He failed to find this security, and remained in confinement until his death.
Upwards of sixty pamphlets appeared in reply to his Moderator and Discourses. Among them were:
- Zachary Pearce, The Miracles of Jesus Vindicated (1729)
- Thomas Sherlock, The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1729, 13th ed. 1755)
- Nathaniel Lardner, Vindication of Three of Our Saviour's Miracles (1729), Lardner being one of those who did not approve of the prosecution of Woolston (see Lardner's Life by Andrew Kippis, in Lardner's Works, vol. i.)
Edward Chandler (born 1668?; died 20 July 1750) was an English bishop.
He gained some reputation by A Defence of Christianity from the Prophecies, &c. (1725), in answer to Collins’s well-known ‘Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion.’ - Collins having replied in his ‘Scheme of Liberal Prophecy.’ Chandler published in 1728 ‘A Vindication of the “Defence of Christianity.” The main point at issue was the date of the book of Daniel, in regard to which Collins had anticipated the views of some modern critics. He also published eight sermons, a ‘Chronological Dissertation.' prefixed to R. Arnald’s ‘Commentary on Ecclesiasticus ’ (17 48) [see Arnald, Richard], and a short preface to Cudworth’s ‘Treatise on Immutable Morality’ when first published in 1731. He died, after a long illness, in London on 20 July 1750, and was buried at Farnham Royal.
The Miracles of Jesus Vindicated (1729) was written against Thomas Woolston. A Reply to the Letter to Dr. Waterland was against Conyers Middleton, defending Daniel Waterland; Pearce engaged in this controversy as a former student of William Wake.
An anonymous volume of Memoirs appeared in 1769; and a life by Andrew Kippis is prefixed to the edition of the Works of Lardner, first published in 1788. The full title of his principal work—a work which, though now out of date, entitles its author to be regarded as the founder of modern critical research in the field of early Christian literature—is The Credibility of the Gospel History; or the Principal Facts of the New Testament confirmed by Passages of Ancient Authors, who were contemporary with our Saviour or his Apostles, or lived near their time. Part 1, in 2 octavo volumes, appeared in 1727; the publication of part 2, in 12 octavo volumes, began in 1733 and ended in 1755. In 1730 there was a second edition of part 1, and the Additions and Alterations were also published separately. A Supplement, otherwise entitled A History of the Apostles and Evangelists, Writers of the New Testament, was added in 3 volumes (1756–1757), and reprinted in 1760.
Other works by Lardner are A Large Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Revelation, with Notes and Observations (4 volumes, quarto, 1764–1767); The History of the Heretics of the two first Centuries after Christ, published posthumously in 1780; and a considerable number of occasional sermons.