Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/155

This page has been validated.

ing of Sunday, 24 July 1768, having completed his eighty-fourth year, and was buried in his family vault in Bunhill Fields, about the middle of the north side; the tomb (restored about 1800 by Isaac Solly of Walthamstow, who married Elizabeth Neal, Lardner's great-niece) bears an inscription to his memory. His funeral was very simple. Fleming, Thomas Amory, D.D. [q.v.], Richard Price, D.D., and Ebenezer Radcliffe were present; the last named, his successor at Poor Jewry Lane, made a long oration at the grave, part of which is appended to the 'Life' by Kippis. A funeral sermon he had strictly forbidden. In 1789 an inscribed marble slab was erected to his memory in Hawkhurst Church by his great-nephew, David Jennings [see under Jennings, David, D.D.]. His library was sold in December 1768. Many books bearing his autograph are now in Dr. Williams's Library, Gordon Square, London. His 'Adversaria' and interleaved bible he ordered to be destroyed.

Lardner's apologetic works were especially planned for the benefit of the unlearned. He regarded the average reader as capable of judging for himself of the internal evidence for the historical character of the New Testament, and aimed at putting him in a position to form his own judgment respecting the external evidence, in place of relying on the authority of the learned. Without declaring any theory of inspiration, he undertook to show that all facts related in the New Testament are not only credible as history, but narrated without any real discrepancies, and largely confirmed by contemporary evidence. His method is thorough, and his dealing with difficulties is always candid. When he meets with a difficulty which he cannot remove, he exhibits much skill and cautious judgment, as well as ample learning, in his various expedients for reducing it, leaving always the final decision with the reader. Of greatest value is his vast and careful collection of critically appraised materials for determining the date and authorship of New Testament books. Here he remains unrivalled. He may justly be regarded as the founder of the modern school of critical research in the field of early Christian literature, and he is still the leading authority on the conservative side.

His style is not equal to his matter. Originating in sermon-lectures, his treatises have little literary form. His writing is plain, but bald, and, as he admits, often prolix, giving at its best an impression of quiet strength. Though in his text every citation is presented in an English dress, the copious apparatus of original authorities at the foot of his pages renders their appearance somewhat more inviting to the student than to a wider public. Hence Lardner has remained a mine for scholars, while the results of his labours have been popularised by Paley and others. He complained to Kippis that the dissenting laity did not patronise his books, and Kippis can only point to one exception, Thomas Hollis (1720–1774) [q.v.], who sent 20l. in 1764 as a subscription. From the dissenters, indeed, he had received no mark of favour, 'not so much as a trust'—alluding to his not being made a trustee of Dr. Williams's Library and other foundations. He was in intimate relations with Secker, exchanged letters with Edward Waddington, bishop of Chichester, and had a large literary correspondence with continental scholars, and with the divines of New England. Among his dissenting correspondents were John Brekell [q.v.], Samuel Chandler [q.v.], Philip Doddridge [q.v.], and Henry Miles [q.v.]. He corresponded also with Thomas Morgan [q.v.] the moral philosopher, who had written against revelation, but addressed himself to Lardner, thinking he 'could not talk to any man of greater impartiality and integrity.'

Conservative in the results of his biblical criticism, Lardner is conservative also in his undoubting acceptance of the miraculous element in the biblical narrations. His treatment of demoniacal possession is rationalistic, but it stands alone. All the more remarkable is his independence of mind in relation to dogmatic theology. Christianity he makes 'a republication of the law of nature, with the two positive appointments of baptism and the Lord's Supper' (Memoirs, p. 81). As a nonsubscriber at Salters' Hall in 1719 he had agreed to a statement utterly disowning the Arian doctrine, and expressing sincere belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. 'For some while,' probably under the influence of his friend Tomkins (dismissed from his congregation for Arianism in 1718), he 'was much inclined' to the modified Arianism adopted by Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) [q.v.] in the establishment, and by James Peirce among dissenters. In his reply to Woolston, published towards the end of 1729, he clearly accepts this view. The perusal of an unpublished correspondence between two writers whose names are only given as 'Eugenius,' an Arian, and 'Phileleutherus,' a Socinian, led him to re-examine his position. In 1730, as his letter on the Logos shows, he had decided for what he calls the Nazarene doctrine (as distinct from the Ebionite, which rejected the miraculous conception). This opinion he taught from the pulpit as early as 1747, but did not publish it till 1759, and then anonymously. He was not indebted to