Binney, Thomas (DNB00)

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BINNEY, THOMAS, D.D., LL.D. (1798–1874), a distinguished nonconformist divine, was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the year 1798. After a period of tuition in an ordinary day school, he was apprenticed for seven years to a bookseller. In giving an account of his early life Binney stated that his hours with the Newcastle bookseller were for two years from seven in the morning until eight in the evening, and for five years from seven to seven. He was, however, sometimes engaged from six a.m. until ten p.m. Notwithstanding this pressure he found opportunities, especially from his fourteenth to his twentieth year, for considerable reading and much original composition. The elements of Latin and Greek he acquired by studying on two evenings in the week with a presbyterian clergy-man. The elder Binney, who was of Scotch extraction, was an elder of the presbyterian congregation in the Wall Knoll, and the son took an active part in connection with a religious and intellectual institution attached to this church. It is not known how he came to sever himself from the presbyterians and to connect himself with the congregationalists. He was recommended, however, to the theological seminary at Wymondley, Hertfordshire, an institution which was afterwards merged in New College, a well-known training establishment for congregational ministers. He remained here for three years, and while tradition states that he was not a very severe student, it appears that he excited no ordinary expectations.

After leaving college Binney was for about twelve months minister of the New Meeting, Bedford, of which John Howard was one of the founders. In August 1824 he accepted the pastorate of St. James's Street Chapel, Newport, Isle of Wight. Here he became acquainted with Samuel Wilberforce. Binney's first work, a 'Memoir of Stephen Morrell,' was published during his residence at Newport. He also prepared for the press a volume of sermons on 'The Practical Power of Faith.' In 1829 he removed to London, to take charge of the church assembling at Weigh House. In a short time he acquired a high reputation as a pulpit orator.

Binney was a strong controversialist, and he attacked the church of England with much vehemence. A furious paper war took place over a phrase which occurred in an address delivered by him at the laying of the foundation-stone of the new Weigh House Chapel on 10 Oct. 1833. He was affirmed to have said that 'the church of England damned more souls than she saved.' Several bishops, a great number of the clergy, and the entire religious press mingled in the fierce discussion which ensued. The actual words used by Binney were these : 'It is with me a matter of deep serious religious conviction that the establbhed church is a great national evil; that it is an obstacle to the progress of truth and godliness in the land ; that it destroys more souls than it saves; and therefore its end is devoutly to be wished by every lover of Grod and man. Right or wrong, this is my belief.' Binney was a voluminous writer on polemical subjects. He published a number of letters under the signature of 'Fiat Justitia,' which quickly went through six editions, and in 1834 he published 'The Ultimate Object of the Evangelical Dissenters,' a sermon preached in the Weigh House Chapel on the occasion of petitions to parliament for the removal of dissenters' grievances. In the following year he replied, by a discourse entitled 'Dissent not Schism,' to a charge by the Bishop of London which had been pronounced intolerant in many quarters. In 1841 a Mr. William Baines was imprisoned in Leicester Gaol for non-payment of church rates, and Binney, under the pseudonym of 'A. Balance. Esq., of the Middle Temple,' wrote a severe pamphlet dealing with the case and entitled 'Leicester Gaol. In 1850 he wrote a series of papers on the 'Aspects of Baptismal Regeneration as taught in the Established Church,' suggested by the famous Gorham case. In 1853 he published a work for young men entitled 'Is it possible to make the Best of both Worlds ? The question was answered warmly in the negative by several writers, but its original propounder defended his propositions with considerable dialectical skill. This work was Binney's most successful venture as an author. For the first twelve months after its publication it sold at the rate of one hundred copies per day.

In 1857 Binney visited Australia. The Bishop of Adelaide having addressed to him a letter on the relations of the episcopal church in the colonies to nonconforming churches, and the possibility of an interchange of ministerial services, a correspondence followed. A memorial was addressed to the bishop by a number of episcopalian laymen, including the governor of the colony and the ministers of the state, requesting that Binney should be invited to preach in the cathedral. In the end, however, the bishop decided that he was not at liberty to comply with the request. The visitor then delivered an address from the presidential chair of the Tasmanian Congregational Union on 'The Church of the Future,' an address which was afterwards incorporated in a volume entitled 'Lights and Shadows of Australian Life,' published in 1862. The year just named being the year of the bicentenary commemoration of the ejection of the two thousand clergymen, Binney, who had some time before returned to England, preached and published two sermons entitled 'Farewell Sunday' and 'St. Bartholomew's Day.' In 1863 he published a pamphlet with the title 'Breakers on both Sides : Thoughts on Creeds, Subscriptions, Trust Deeds, &c., in relation to Protestantism and Dissent.' The rapid spread of the ritualistic movement in the church of England also led him to write and publish in 1867 a volume entitled 'Micah, the Priest Maker,' an enlargement of a course of lectures delivered at the Weigh House Chapel. Binney' edited and published an American work on liturgies bv the Rev. Charles W. Baird, D.D., of New York, being 'Historical Sketches of the Liturgical Forms of the Reformed Churches.' The editor prefixed an introduction and added an appendix on the question, 'Are Dissenters to have a Liturgy?' expressing a conviction that something more was demanded in nonconformist services than had yet been witnessed. He was himself one of the first ministers to introduce into nonconformist churches the chanting of the rhythmical psalms of the Old Testament according to the authorised version, and he gave a great impetus to the movement for improved services, which afterwards spread through the nonconformist churches.

For many years before he died Binney was regarded as the Nestor of the denomination to which he belonged, and his influence spread to the other side of the Atlantic and also to the colonies. In 1852 he received the degree of LL.D. from the university of Aberdeen, and an American university subsequently conferred D.D. He was twice elected chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, and he preached a great number of special sermons before that body. In 1869 he retired from the pastorate at Weigh House Chapel after a ministry of forty years in that place. He subsequently undertook some professorial duties in connection with New College, and occasionally preached in London pulpits, his last sermon being delivered in Westminster Chapel in November 1873.

The closing months of his life saw him afflicted by a depressing and insidious disease, Dr. Allon states that he fell into a condition of great despondency, but it was a failure of the body rather than of the mind. Before the end the cloud lifted, and he died on 24 Feb. 1874. Dean Stanley was amongst the divines who took part in the funeral service at Abney Park Cemetery.

Binney was a voluminous writer of verse, chiefly of a religious character. His poetry, however, was distinguished rather for its devotional element than for any imaginative qualities. One of his hymns, 'Eternal Light! Eternal Light!' is widely known.

[Sermons preached in the King's Weigh House Chapel, London, 1829-69, by T. Binney, LL.D., 1st and 2nd series, edited, with a Biographical and Critical Sketch, by Henry Alien, D.D.; Thomas Binney, a Memorial, by the Rev. J. Stoughton, D.D.; Thomas Binney, his Mind, Life, and Opinions, by the Rev. E. Paxton Hood; Annual Register, 1874, and the journals of the time; the works of Dr. Binney.]

G. B. S.