1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Evanson, Edward

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EVANSON, EDWARD (1731–1805), English divine, was born on the 21st of April 1731 at Warrington, Lancashire. After graduating at Cambridge (Emmanuel College) and taking holy orders, he officiated for several years as curate at Mitcham. In 1768 he became vicar of South Mimms near Barnet; and in November 1769 he was presented to the rectory of Tewkesbury, with which he held also the vicarage of Longdon in Worcestershire. In the course of his studies he discovered what he thought important variance between the teaching of the Church of England and that of the Bible, and he did not conceal his convictions. In reading the service he altered or omitted phrases which seemed to him untrue, and in reading the Scriptures pointed out errors in the translation. A crisis was brought on by his sermon on the resurrection, preached at Easter 1771; and in November 1773 a prosecution was instituted against him in the consistory court of Gloucester. He was charged with “depraving the public worship of God contained in the liturgy of the Church of England, asserting the same to be superstitious and unchristian, preaching, writing and conversing against the creeds and the divinity of our Saviour, and assuming to himself the power of making arbitrary alterations in his performance of the public worship.” A protest was at once signed and published by a large number of his parishioners against the prosecution. The case was dismissed on technical grounds, but appeals were made to the court of arches and the court of delegates. Meanwhile Evanson had made his views generally known by several publications. In 1772 appeared anonymously his Doctrines of a Trinity and the Incarnation of God, examined upon the Principles of Reason and Common Sense. This was followed in 1777 by A Letter to Dr Hurd, Bishop of Worcester, wherein the Importance of the Prophecies of the New Testament and the Nature of the Grand Apostasy predicted in them are particularly and impartially considered. He also wrote some papers on the Sabbath, which brought him into controversy with Joseph Priestley, who published the whole discussion (1792). In the same year appeared Evanson’s work entitled The Dissonance of the four generally received Evangelists, to which replies were published by Priestley and David Simpson (1793). Evanson rejected most of the books of the New Testament as forgeries, and of the four gospels he accepted only that of St Luke. In his later years he ministered to a Unitarian congregation at Lympston, Devonshire. In 1802 he published Reflections upon the State of Religion in Christendom, in which he attempted to explain and illustrate the mysterious foreshadowings of the Apocalypse. This he considered the most important of his writings. Shortly before his death at Colford, near Crediton, Devonshire, on the 25th of September 1805, he completed his Second Thoughts on the Trinity, in reply to a work of the bishop of Gloucester.

His sermons (prefaced by a Life by G. Rogers) were published in two volumes in 1807, and were the occasion of T. Falconer’s Bampton Lectures in 1811. A narrative of the circumstances which led to the prosecution of Evanson was published by N. Havard, the town-clerk of Tewkesbury, in 1778.