John Leland (1696-1766), an English dissenting (Presbyterian) minister who settled in Dublin, well deserves Hunt’s description as “the indefatigable opponent of the whole generation of the deists.” Near the end of his life he began writing a series of letters to a friend regarding the history of the controversy, and the result was this massive work, the only tolerably complete contemporary survey of the vast literature on both sides. The casual origin of Leland’s View still shows in the disproportionate space given to the work of Lord Bolingbroke, who is no longer considered to be a major figure. But as Leland’s survey runs to over 900 pages, there is no lack of material on other deists such as Blount, Toland, Collins, Morgan, Tindal, Annet, Chubb, and Hume, in each case citing copiously from the responses given to them. Students of the history of apologetics will want to supplement their reading of Leland with other works, such as the second volume of John Hunt’s Religious Thought in England [A] and Sir Leslie Stephen’s unsympathetic but extensive discussion of the deist controversy in his History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century [A]. But no one interested in 18th century apologetics can afford to be without Leland’s work.
Leland’s View is of much more than merely historical value; because it gives a minute account of numerous responses to the deists, it contains a comprehensive defense of Christianity against all of the objections that its most determined adversaries in the Enlightenment could raise. Leland’s own summary of the controversy shows that he understood both the magnitude of the issues and the nature of the achievement of the defenders of Christianity:
They [the deists] have appealed to the bar of reason; the advocates for Christianity have followed them to that bar, and have fairly shewn, that the evidences of revealed religion are such as approve themselves to impartial reason, and, if taken together, are fully sufficient to satisfy an honest and unprejudiced mind. (Letter 35)