Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lindsey, Theophilus

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LINDSEY, THEOPHILUS (1723–1808), unitarian, born at Middlewich, Cheshire, on 20 June 1723, was youngest son by his second wife of Robert Lindsey. His father was engaged in the salt trade. His mother, whose maiden name was Spencer, had resided for many years with Frances, countess of Huntingdon, whose son, Theophilus, earl of Huntingdon, was the boy's godfather. Young Lindsey was educated at a school near Middlewich and at the free grammar school at Leeds. In 1741 he was entered at St. John's College, Cambridge, and after graduating B.A. was in 1747 elected a fellow of his college. He took holy orders, and was presented to a chapel in Spital Square on the recommendation of Lady Ann Hastings, who, like her sister, Lady Betty Hastings, had from his earliest years shown him many kindnesses. Shortly afterwards he became domestic chaplain to Algernon Seymour, seventh duke of Somerset, and after the duke's death in 1750 undertook, at the request of the duchess, the charge of her grandson, Hugh Smithson, afterwards second duke of Northumberland. On relinquishing this post in 1753 he was presented by his pupil's father to the valuable rectory of Kirby Wiske, Yorkshire, but he resigned this living in 1756 for that of Piddletown, Dorset, which was in the gift of Lord Huntingdon. On 29 Sept. 1760 he married Hannah Elsworth, the stepdaughter of his friend Archdeacon Francis Blackburne [q. v.], and soon afterwards adopted Blackburne's latitudinarian views on subscription. He declined in 1762 the offer of the chaplaincy made by the Duke of Northumberland when appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In 1763 he left Piddletown for the rectory of Catterick in Yorkshire, which though of less value enabled him to see more of Archdeacon Blackburne and other friends. In the controversy that arose on the publication of Blackburne's ‘Confessional’ in 1766, Lindsey supported the latitudinarians. His own views had become unitarian, and he joined in the petition signed by two hundred persons in 1772 for giving practical effect to Blackburne's views on subscription. On the rejection of the petition he resigned his living, and on 28 Nov. 1773 he preached his farewell sermon at Catterick [see Blackburne, Francis, 1705–1787]. Lindsey had lavishly bestowed his income on his poor parishioners, and he was obliged to sell his plate and part of his library to maintain himself after leaving his rectory. He and his wife arrived in London in the spring of 1774, and with the help of Dr. Priestley, Dr. Price, and other friends, a room was engaged in Essex House, Essex Street, which was fitted as a temporary chapel, and opened for public worship in April of that year. He published for the use of the congregation ‘A Liturgy, altered from that of the Church of England, to suit Unitarian Doctrine,’ which he amended in later editions. His friends soon built a chapel for him in Essex Street, and it was opened on 29 March 1778.

Meanwhile he had issued his ‘Apology’ (1774), giving his reasons for leaving the church of England, and a history of the doctrine of the Trinity and unitarianism. It evoked both hostile and friendly criticism, to which he replied in the preface to his next work, ‘A Sequel to the Apology’ (1776), which was the most elaborate, and in many respects the most valuable, of his contributions to dogmatic theology. In 1779 he wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Two Dissertations on the Introduction to St. John's Gospel, and the Lawfulness of Praying to Christ,’ which was followed in 1781 by a small volume written in the form of a dialogue, entitled ‘The Catechist,’ and dealing with a similar subject.

Early in 1783 it was arranged that Dr. Disney, who had married Mrs. Lindsey's stepsister, should act as Lindsey's colleague at Essex Street Chapel. The leisure thus afforded him he devoted to literary work. In 1783 appeared his ‘Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship from the Reformation to our own Time, with some Account of the Obstructions it has met with at different Periods.’ At the same date he replied to one of the ablest critics of his ‘Apology’ in ‘An Examination of Mr. [Robert] Robinson's “Plea for the Divinity of Christ.”’ Lindsey stood forward in defence of his friend Priestley, with a volume entitled ‘Vindiciæ Priestleyanæ, addressed to the Students of Oxford and Cambridge, by a late Member of the University of Cambridge,’ 1784, and a second part appeared in 1790. In ‘Conversations on Christian Idolatry,’ issued in the following year, he once more vindicated his theological views. In July 1793 he took final leave of his pulpit. After Dr. Priestley left England for America in 1794, Lindsey again defended his absent friend by reprinting Priestley's ‘Reply to Paine's Age of Reason,’ with a preface of his own. In 1802 he published ‘Conversations on the Divine Government.’ He died at his house in Essex Street on 3 Nov. 1808.

Besides the works mentioned above, Lindsey published many occasional sermons and pamphlets. A collection of his sermons was printed by Dr. Thomas Belsham in 2 vols. 1810.

[Belsham's Memoirs of Lindsey, 1812; Turner's Eminent Unitarians, vol. ii.; Records of Unitarian Worthies, p. 15; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

A. N.