Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768) was a dissenting minister who devoted his life to producing the apologetic masterpiece of the 18th century, the multi-volume Credibility of the Gospel History. Lardner’s objective may be explained in his own words:
The peculiar design of this work is to enable persons of ordinary capacities, who, for want of a learned education, or of sufficient leisure, are deprived of the advantage of reading over ancient writings, to judge for themselves concerning the external evidence of the facts related in the New Testament. . . .
The method taken in this work is to set down in the first place the representation, which the sacred writers have given of persons, facts, customs or principles; and then to produce passages of other ancient writers, which confirm or illustrate the account delivered in the New Testament.
Lardner executes his design with incredible thoroughness. The question of the census in Luke 2:1-2, for example, fills 86 pages (volume 1, pp. 260-345). Virtually every subsequent apologist who takes up the historical argument is explicitly indebted to him.
In a work of this scope, written this long ago, it is inevitable that there should be some places where modern scholarship diverges from Lardner’s opinions or where new discoveries shed a fuller light on issues he discusses. But when he errs, it is generally on the side of being overly critical of the evidence for his own case, as when he rejects the (then recently-discovered) first epistle of Clement of Rome, which is now widely acknowledged to be genuine. And in all cases his massive research remains an invaluable resource, a detailed and scrupulously honest map of all prior thinking on each topic he covers. No one who aspires to be a well-informed student of apologetics can neglect this monumental work, which fills the first four and a half volumes of Kippis’s 10 volume edition of Lardner’s Works.
Lardner’s christological views were not orthodox, though he stated publically that he was not an Arian. These issues, however, do not affect his historical work. Richard Watson included works by Lardner and several other dissenters in his Collection of Theological Tracts (2nd ed. 1791; see especially the Preface, p. xix).