Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: "Sincerus" (Francis Adrian Van der Kemp) to Robert Aspland, 1 July [June?] 1816


“Sincerus” (Francis Adrian Van der Kemp) to Robert Aspland

O … d1 1 July [June?] 1816.


Pleased with the liberal plan, which you have adopted in your Review2—I deemed it a duty to contribute to its Success—as far as mÿ retirement would permit it. The only thing I regret, is, that I find it not more generally encouraged. Every lover of truth is interested in its Success—and a fair defence of any reprobated opinion ought to meet an equallÿ ready admittance, as an unadorned exposition, of what is reputed a Revelation from heaven: The truth of the Gospel-Doctrine is built3 on a rock, and can not want the feeble or crafty Support of frail men—and infidelity Shall blush—when Struck by its native purity and lustre, it discovers, that its darts were aimed at human inventions only. Perhaps you Shall not disagree with me, that infidels—moderns as well as Ancients—did in their most virulent and artful attacks upon the religion of Jezus less injury to it, than its reputed friends by bigotry and false zeal.   It is from this conviction, that I have long time Since wished, to See the uncontrovertible facts of the gospel-history placed in one lucid point of view—and—in a Similar manner—the Gospel-doctrine fully explained, without the Smallest mixture of any controverted tenet. or—even the incidental admission or allusion,4 embraced bÿ any christian Sect; when, this Solid basis—having once been adopted by friend and foe, gradually might be proceeded to a discussion of collateral topics.

In this mood I was gratified with the perusal of a Letter and Sketch—which bears the Stamp of candour and that of profound researches. He would deserve well of his country, and the gospel-doctrine, could he find leisure to execute the plan, whose outlines he So masterly delineated. But—accept it as it is; there are, I hope manÿ in our5 happy Isle equal to this task; in this question a Churchman is as much interested as a Dissenter, and He, who Shall have accomplished it, Shall have done more in defence of the religion of Jezus—than a host of well-meaning though misguided Apologists.


Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, 207:36940); entirely in Van der Kemp’s hand; misdated; dateline at foot of text; at head of text: “Copÿ.” Printed in Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature 11 (1816): 573–4; dated 1 July 1816.

Robert Aspland (1782–1845), minister and editor, was born at Wicken, Cambridgeshire, England. He was ordained in 1801 by a General Baptist congregation at Newport, Isle of Wight. Aspland gradually changed his religious convictions to those of Unitarianism, and in 1805 he accepted an appointment to the Gravel Pit Chapel at Hackney, a London suburb, where he remained until his death. His numerous publications were often based on his sermons, and he started two major Unitarian periodicals: the Monthly Repository, which he edited 1806–26, and the Christian Reformer, which he edited from 1815 until his death. Aspland also founded several important religious societies: the Unitarian Fund, which encouraged missionary work, in 1806; the Christian Tract Society in 1809; and the Association for the Protection of the Civil Rights of Unitarians in 1819. He merged the first and third societies with the Unitarian Society in 1825 to form the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, the central body of the denomination. Thoughout his life Aspland was a leading proponent of and activist for religious liberty in Great Britain (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; R. Brook Aspland, Memoir of the Life, Works and Correspondence of the Rev. Robert Aspland, of Hackney [1850]).

In the Bible, Jesus likened those who heard and followed his teachings to a wise man who built his house on a rock (Matthew 7.24; Luke 6.48).

When he printed the material forwarded by Van der Kemp, Aspland followed the text above with TJ’s letter to Benjamin Rush of 21 Apr. 1803 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 39 vols. description ends , 40:251–5). He identified the author only as Crito. In the eponymous dialogue by Plato, Crito, a supporter of Socrates who has arranged for the latter’s escape after his condemnation, is thwarted when the reasoning of Socrates rebuts Crito’s plea that he save himself (Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, trans. Harold North Fowler, Loeb Classical Library [1914; repr. 1990], 1:148–91).

The accompanying sketch by TJ was published as a “Syllabus of an Estimate of the Doctrine of Jesus, compared with those of others.” For other versions see EG description begins Dickinson W. Adams and Ruth W. Lester, eds., Jefferson’s Extracts from the Gospels, 1983, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 332–6.

Aspland combined all three items under the title “Letter, &c. on the Doctrine of Jesus, by an Eminent American Statesman,” preceded by the following introductory paragraph: “We have received a packet of valuable communications from a venerable Correspondent in America, of which the following is a part. No. I. is an introductory Letter by our Correspondent, who adopts the signature which he affixed to Letters on the Life of Servetus, in our Fifth Volume. Nos. II. and III. are a Letter and Syllabus, by an eminent American Statesman, whose name we are not at liberty to mention, but who will probably be recognized by such of our readers as are acquainted with the characters of the leading men in the American revolution. Other communications from our valuable Transatlantic Correspondent will follow” (Monthly Repository 11 [1816]: 573–6).

1Monthly Repository: “Oldenbarneveld, S. of New York.”

2Monthly Repository: “Repository.”

3Tr: “build.” Monthly Repository: “built.”

4Monthly Repository here adds “to any one.”

5Monthly Repository: “your.”

Index Entries

  • Aspland, Robert; identified search
  • Aspland, Robert; letter to, from F. A. Van der Kemp search
  • Aspland, Robert; publishes TJ’s syllabus on Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Bible; Luke referenced search
  • Bible; Matthew referenced search
  • Christianity; corruptions of search
  • Christianity; F. A. Van der Kemp on search
  • Christianity; TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Christianity search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Jesus search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Jesus; F. A. Van der Kemp on study of search
  • Jesus; TJ on search
  • Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature; F. A. Van der Kemp recommends search
  • Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature; publishes TJ’s syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • religion; works on search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and TJ’s syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; letter from, to R. Aspland search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; on Christianity search