Bennet, Thomas (1673-1728) (DNB00)


BENNET, THOMAS, D.D. (1673–1728), divine, was born at Salisbury on 7 May 1678. He was educated at the free school there, and was distinguished as a boy for his rapid acquisition of all kinds of knowledge. He proceeded to Cambridge, and was entered of St. John's College in 1688, before he was fifteen. He took the usual degrees of B.A. and M.A.—the latter in 1694 when he was twenty-one. He was chosen fellow of his college. In 1695 a copy of Hebrew verses by him on the death of Queen Mary was printed in the university collection. His first noticeable publication was 'An Answer to the Dissenters Plea for Separation, or an Abridgment of the London Cases' (1699, 5th edition 1711). In 1700, by a lucky accident, arriving at Colchester on the death of a clergyman there (John Bayne), he was unexpectedly called on to preach the funeral sermon, and acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of the people that he was appointed to succeed him. He was instituted 15 Jan. 1700-1. In 1701 appeared 'A Confutation of Popery' in three parts. In 1702 he followed up his former 'Answer to the Dissenters Plea for Separation' by '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 and the Dissenters. 4. That this Schism is to be charged on the Dissenters' Side. 5. The modern Pretences of Toleration, Agreement in Fundamentals, &c., will not excuse the Dissenters from being guilty of Schism. Written by way of Letter to three Dissenting Ministers in Essex. ... To which is annexed an Answer to a Book entitled "Thomas against Bennet, or the Protestant Dissenters vindicated from the charge of Schism."' Shepherd of Braintree answered this work, and Bennet replied in 'A Defence of the Discourse of Schism ; in answer to the objections which Mr. Shepherd has made in his Three Sermons of Separation,' and again in 'An Answer to Mr. Shepherd's Conspirations on the Defence of the Discourse of Schism' (both 1703). But Bennet found an unlooked-for and most masterly antagonist in a fellow clergyman in 'A Justification of the Dissenters against Mr. Bennet's charge of damnable Schism, &c. . . . By a Divine of the Church of England by Law established,' 1705. Bennet's next book is 'Devotions, viz. Confes-sions, 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.'

In 1705 Bennet also published 'A Confutation of Quakerism, or a plain Proof of the Falsehood of what the principal Quakers (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.' B. Lindley answered this in 1710, and had an easy victory ; for shrewd and learned as was the 'Confutation,' it betrayed ignorance of the opinions of the quakers, as of evangelical nonconformists.

In 1708, stung apparently by passing gibes at his own printed prayers, he published : 'A brief History of joint Use of precomposed set Forms of Prayer,' and 'A Discourse of Joint Prayer,' and later in the same year 'A 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 to the use of it.' In 1710 these were tacitly vindicated by Bennet in 'A Letter to Mr. B. Robinson, occasioned by his Review of the Case of Liturgies and their Imposition,' and in a 'Second Letter to Mr. Robinson' on the same subject (also 1710). The issue of one letter before the other was characteristic of the hurry with which Bennet addressed himself to his controversies. He dashed off what first offered itself, and accordingly committed strange blunders. In 1711 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 person to be ordained or their own particular pastors is examined and disproved,' Just after he had thus flouted the laity he was thankful to transfer himself from Colchester to London on the invitation of the lord mayor and aldermen of the metropolis. By a singular repetition of his former good fortune, he preached on an emergency a funeral sermon at St. Olave's, in Southwark, and was unanimously chosen lecturer there. On leaving Colchester—which from various causes had declined until his living was mere genteel starvation—he became deputy chaplain to Chelsea Hospital. He was further appointed morning preacher at St. Lawrence Jewry under Dr. Mapletoft. Finally he was presented by the dean and chapter of St. Paul's to St. Giles, Cripplegate, of 500l. a year. This presentation, however, embittered his remaining years, as he was speedily involved in parochial disputes and tedious lawsuits in order to recover the proceeds of an alleged assigned tax on peas and beans.

In 1711 he was created D.D. In 1714 he published 'Directions for Studying. ' In 1715 appeared his 'Essay on the XXXIX Articles agreed on in 1562, and revised in 1571, . . . and a Prefatory Epistle to Anthony Collins, Esq., wherein the egregious falsehoods and calumnies of the author of "Priestcraft in Perfection" are exposed.' In 1716 he assailed the extruded churchmen in 'The Nonjurors Separation from the Public Assemblies of the Church of England examined and proved to be schismatical upon their own Principles.' In 1717 he married Elizabeth Hunt of Salisbury, 'a gentlewoman of great merit,' and by her had three daughters. In 1718 he published 'A Discourse of the ever-blessed Trinity in Unity, with an Examination of Dr. Clarke's Scriptural Doctrine of the Trinity.' Like all his books, these were answered. His idea of the Trinity was undoubted Sabellianism. In 1726 he gave to the world a small memorial of his lifelong studies in 'A Hebrew Grammar.' He was always projecting polemical books, and especially designed a sequel to his 'Rights of the Clergy' of 1711, showing 'the independency of the church on the state.' But he died in the prime of his years 9 Oct. 1728. He is described by a contemporary as 'tall, strong, and haughty,' and 'a perfect master of Eastern and other learned languages.' Emlyn praised him for his 'small respect to decrees of councils or mere church authority.'

[Newcourt's Repertorium; Biogr. Brit.; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Bennet . . . Appellant, Perry and other Inhabitants . . . Respondents, 1722; tithes of peas and beans of vicar of East Ham in Essex; T. Brett's Dr. Bennetts Concessions to the Nonjurors prov'd to be destructive of the Cause which he endeavoured to defend, 1717; local researches at Colchester and London; Bennet's Works, and MSS.]

A. B. G.