George Benson (theologian)
George Benson (1699–1762) was an English Presbyterian minister and theologian. According to Alexander Balloch Grosart, writing in the Dictionary of National Biography, his views were "Socinian" though at this period the term is often confused with Arian.
He was born at Great Salkeld, Cumberland, on 1 September 1699. Towards the close of Elizabeth's reign Dr. Benson's great-grandfather, John Benson, left London and settled in Cumberland. This John Benson had thirteen sons, from the eldest of whom Robert Benson, 1st Baron Bingley descended. During the English Civil War the youngest of these sons, George Benson, Dr. Benson's grandfather, took the side of the parliament; he had the living of Bridekirk in his native county, and was ejected in 1662. His grandson George received a classical education and proceeded to an academy presided over by Thomas Dixon at Whitehaven. He remained at this academy about a year, and then went to the University of Glasgow.
About the year 1721 he is found in London, and, approved by several presbyterian ministers, he began to preach, first at Chertsey and then in the metropolis. At this time Edmund Calamy received him into his own family. At the recommendation of Calamy he next went to Abingdon in Berkshire. He was chosen pastor of a congregation of Protestant dissenters there. He was ordained on 27 March 1723, Calamy and five other ministers officiating on the occasion. He continued in Abingdon for seven years. When ordained he held strictly Calvinist opinions and preached them fervently.
In 1726 he married Mrs. Elizabeth Hills, widow. In 1729 he left Abingdon, having changed to Arminian views which were generally disapproved of by his congregation. He rmoved to London, after hesitating whether to take up medicine himself, having accepted an invitation to become pastor of a congregation in King John's Court, Southwark. Here he remained eleven years. Having lost his first wife in 1740, Benson was remarried in 1742 to Mrs. Mary Kettle, daughter of William Kettle of Birmingham. By neither wife had he any family. About this time he was invited to become joint pastor with Samuel Bourn of the presbyterian congregation, Birmingham.
In 1744 the University of Aberdeen conferred on Benson the degree of D.D. The university of Glasgow had also intended the same honour for him, but one of the professors ‘spoke of him with abhorrence as an avowed Socinian’ (Biog. Britannica). In 1749 Benson was translated to a congregation of Protestant dissenters in Poor Jewry Lane, Crutchedfriars, as successor to Dr. William Harris. Here he continued until his death. He had acted for some years as assistant to Dr. Nathaniel Lardner.
Benson was in familiar intercourse with leading contemporaries, from Lord Chancellor Peter King to Edmund Law, bishop of Carlisle. Benson had hardly retired from the ministry when he died on 6 April 1762 in the sixty-third year of his age.
While at Abingdon he published three ‘Practical Discourses’ addressed to ‘young persons.’ These later he suppressed, in consequence of his change of views.
In 1731 he published ‘A Paraphrase and Notes on St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon. Attempted in imitation of Mr. Locke's manner. With an Appendix in which is shewn that St. Paul could neither be an enthusiast nor an impostor; and consequently the christian religion must be (as he has represented it) heavenly and divine.’ The appendix suggested Lord Lyttleton's more famous treatise. This work having been well received, its author pursued his design, and in the same year published his ‘Paraphrase and Notes on Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians.’ This was succeeded in 1732 by a like ‘Paraphrase’ on the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians. To this were annexed two dissertations: (1) Concerning the Kingdom of God; (2) Concerning the Man of Sin. In 1733 there appeared his notes on the ‘First Epistle to Timothy,’ with an appendix on inspiration. In the same year appeared his ‘Paraphrase and Notes upon Titus,’ accompanied with an essay concerning the abolition of the ceremonial law. In 1734 there followed observations upon the ‘Second Epistle to Timothy,’ with an essay in two parts: (1) Concerning the Settlement of the Primitive Church; (2) Concerning the Religious Worship of the Christians whilst the Spiritual Gifts continued.
Having completed his plan of paraphrases and notes on these epistles of St. Paul, he proceeded similarly to explain the Seven Catholic Epistles. These were successively published separately between 1738 and 1749, all having extended dissertations on particular points. The Pauline Epistles were collected into one volume in 1752, and in 1756 the Seven Catholic Epistles, with useful indices.
During the nineteen years occupied by these ‘Paraphrases’ he prepared and published a number of other works. In 1738 appeared his ‘History of the First Planting of the Christian Religion, taken from the Acts of the Apostles and their Epistles. Together with the remarkable facts of the Jewish and Roman History which affected the Christians during this Period’ (3 vols.). This learned book reached a second edition in 1756. Later writers are indebted to it. His ‘Paraphrases’ found favour in Germany, where Michaelis translated them. and Holland.
In 1743 he published ‘The Reasonableness of the Christian Religion as delivered in the Scriptures.’ This was originally meant as an answer to ‘Christianity not founded on Argument,’ but its scope widened, and John Leland in his ‘View of the Deistical Writers’ (i. 146, 5th ed.) characterises it as ‘not merely an answer to that pamphlet, but a good defence of christianity in general.’ A second edition appeared in 1746, and a third, much enlarged, in 1759.
In 1744 he published ‘A Summary View of the Evidences of Christ's Resurrection,’ in answer to ‘The Resurrection of Jesus considered by a Moral Philosopher.’ Besides editing two works of others he, in 1747, published a volume of sermons. In 1748 he collected a number of his ‘Occasional Tracts’ on various theologico-critical and historical points. They reached a second edition in 1753. One of these tracts, giving a severe account of John Calvin's conduct towards Servetus, gave considerable offence.
His ‘History of the Life of Christ’ was published posthumously in 1764. His fellow dissenter Hugh Farmer took issue with Benson's defence of the Temptations of Christ as literal, the work of a literal devil.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Benson, George". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.