Chubb, Thomas (1679–1747)

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Thomas Chubb, the English Arian and deist, was born at East Harnham, near Salisbury, the son of a maltster. Receiving little formal education, he read widely in geography, mathematics, and theology while working as apprentice to a glovemaker and, later, as a tallow chandler. At one time he lived in the house of Sir Joseph Jekyll, master of the rolls, in the capacity, it is alleged, of a sort of superior servant. Through the kindness of friends (one of whom was the celebrated surgeon William Cheselden) and the sales of his candles, his last years, spent at Salisbury, were largely devoted to study and to the presidency of a debating society. Chubb's importance, frequently overlooked, lies in the fact that a self-educated and humble artisan developed a good style of writing and mastered the prevalent rationalistic thinking sufficiently well to compete on equal terms with highly educated upper-class scholars and divines. He was the first, and one of the few, leading English deists of poor circumstances (only Peter Annet and Thomas Morgan shared this humble background). With Chubb it was apparent that deism had filtered down to the level of the common people and had become widespread.

Chubb's first publication was an Arian tract, The Supremacy of the Father Asserted, inspired by William Whiston's Primitive Christianity Revived of 1711 and published in 1715 upon the recommendation of Whiston.

Although Chubb went through an early phase of Arminianism and was always hard pressed to reconcile Jehovah with the rationalistic concept of a Supreme Being, he nevertheless became and remained a "Christian deist." Skeptical of the Jewish revelation, he was less so of the Islamic and openly accepted the Christian, at least as he understood it. In The True Gospel of Jesus Christ asserted (1732) and The True Gospel of Jesus Christ Vindicated (1739) he identified the essence of Christianity with the few simple principles of natural religion as found, for example, in Lord Herbert of Cherbury. He openly compared the propagation of primitive Christianity with the then current spread of Methodism and thereby rejected the claims of supernatural power associated with the early church. He defended his sort of rationalistic Christianity against some of the aspersions of that formidable deist Matthew Tindal. Although Voltaire had some kind words to say about Chubb, it is unlikely that he had read many of Chubb's tracts and certainly did not accept the concept of "Christian deism."

Chubb, like the general run of deists, found reason sufficient to guide humankind to God's favor and the happiness of another world; he was suspicious of mystery and of miracles and critical of some passages in the Scriptures; he regarded revelation not as divine but as the work of honest men who gave a fair and faithful account of matters of fact; he was dubious about a particular providence and, therefore, of prayer; he argued against prophecy and miracle and believed in the dignity of human nature and in free will. Among the multitudinous answers to Chubb from the more orthodox, the foremost came in 1754 from Jonathan Edwards of Massachusetts. A Careful and Strict Enquiry into The modern prevailing Notions of the Freedom of Will, Which is supposed to be essential To Moral Agency, Vertue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame, Edwards's chief claim to philosophical fame, devotes no fewer than nineteen pages to the refutation of Chubb on free will. Chubb, it may reasonably be inferred, was widely read in America.

In fine, though adding little constructive thought to the deistic movement, this humble and least formally educated of the English deists was definitely one of its most valuable and popular spokesmen. In the nonpejorative sense of the term he was a candid freethinker.

See also Deism.


Chubb was prolific in publication, and his ardent deism was expressed in the titles of a few of his chief works: The Comparative Excellence and Obligation of Moral and Positive Duties (1730); A Discourse concerning Reason, With regard to Religion and Divine Revelation (1731); The Sufficiency of Reason in Matters of Religion Farther Considered (1732); The Equity and Reasonableness of the Divine Conduct, In Pardoning Sinners upon Their Repentence Exemplified (1737), which was directed against Bishop Butler's famous Analogy of Religion of the previous year; An Enquiry into the Ground and Foundation of Religion. Wherein Is shewn, that Religion Is founded in Nature (1740); and A Discourse on Miracles, Considered as Evidence to Prove the Divine Original of a Revelation (1741).

Other works by Chubb include Four Tracts (1734) and Some Observations Offered to Publick Consideration. In which the Credit of the History of the Old Testament Is Particularly Considered (1735). The posthumous Works of Mr. Thomas Chubb, 2 vols. (London, 1748) contains the valuable "Author's Farewell to his readers."

See also Sir Leslie Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (London: Smith Elder, 1876; the paperback, 2 vols., New York: Harcourt Brace, 1963, follows the revised edition of 1902) and the general bibliography under the "Deism" entry.

other recommended title

Bushell, Thomas L. The Sage of Salisbury: Thomas Chubb, 16791747. New York: Philosophical Library, 1967.

Ernest Campbell Mossner (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)