Of the many controversies which were rife during the first half of the eighteenth century, none raised a question of greater importance than that which lay at the root of the Deistical controversy. That question was, in a word, this -- How has God revealed Himself -- how is He still revealing Himself to man? Is the so-called written Word the only means -- is it the chief means -- is it even a means at all, by which the Creator makes His will known to His creatures? Admitting the existence of a God -- and with a few insignificant exceptions this admission would have been made by all -- What are the evidences of His existence and of His dealings with us?
During the whole period of pre-reformation Christianity in England, and during the century which succeeded the rupture between the Church of England and that of Rome, all answers to this question, widely though they might have differed in subordinate points, would at least have agreed in this -- that some external authority, whether it were the Scripture as interpreted by the Church, or the Scripture and Church traditions combined, or the Scripture interpreted by the light which itself affords or by the inner light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, was necessary to manifest God to man. The Deists first ventured to hint that such authority was unnecessary; some even went so far as to hint that it was impossible. This at least was the tendency of their speculations; though it was not the avowed object of them. There was hardly a writer among the Deists who did not affirm that he had no wish to depreciate revealed truth. They all protested vigorously against the assumption that Deism was in any way opposed to Christianity rightly understood. 'Deism,' they said, 'is opposed to Atheism on the one side and to superstition on the other; but to Christianity -- true, original Christianity -- as it came forth from the hands of its founder, the Deists are so far from being opposed, that they are its truest defenders.' Whether their position was logically tenable is quite another question, but that they assumed it in all sincerity there is no reason to doubt.
It is, however, extremely difficult to assert or deny anything respecting the Deists as a body, for as a matter of fact they had no corporate existence. The writers who are generally grouped under the name wrote apparently upon no preconcerted plan. They formed no sect, properly so-called, and were bound by no creed. In this sense at least they were genuine 'freethinkers,' in that they freely expressed their thoughts without the slightest regard to what had been said or might be said by their friends or foes. It was the fashion among their contemporaries to speak of the Deists as if they were as distinct a sect as the Quakers, the Socinians, the Presbyterians, or any other religious denomination. But we look in vain for any common doctrine -- any common form of worship which belonged to the Deists as Deists. As a rule, they showed no desire to separate themselves from communion with the National Church, although they were quite out of harmony both with the articles of its belief and the spirit of its prayers. A few negative tenets were perhaps more or less common to all. That no traditional revelation can have the same force of conviction as the direct revelation which God has given to all mankind -- in other words, that what is called revealed religion must be inferior and subordinate to natural -- that the Scriptures must be criticised like any other book, and no part of them be accepted as a revelation from God which does not harmonise with the eternal and immutable reason of things; that, in point of fact, the Old Testament is a tissue of fables and folly, and the New Testament has much alloy mingled with the gold which it contains; that Jesus Christ is not co-equal with the one God, and that his death can in no sense be regarded as an atonement for sin, are tenets which may be found in most of the Deistical writings; but beyond these negative points there is little or nothing in common between the heterogeneous body of writers who passed under the vague name of Deists. To complicate matters still further, the name 'Deist' was loosely applied as a name of reproach to men who, in the widest sense of the term, do not come within its meaning. Thus Cudworth, Tillotson, Locke, and Samuel Clarke were stigmatised as Deists by their enemies. On the other hand, men were grouped under the category whose faith did not rise to the level of Deism. Thus Hume is classified among the Deists. Yet if the term 'Deism' is allowed to have any definite meaning at all, it implies the certainty and obligation of natural religion. It is of its very essence that God has revealed himself so plainly to mankind that there is no necessity, as there is no sufficient evidence, for a better revelation. But Hume's scepticism embraced natural as well as revealed religion. Hobbes, again, occupies a prominent place among the Deists of the seventeenth century, although the whole nature of his argument in 'The Leviathan' is alien to the central thought of Deism. Add to all this, that the Deists proper were constantly accused of holding views which they never held, and that conclusions were drawn from their premisses which those premisses did not warrant, and the difficulty of treating the subject as a whole will be readily perceived. And yet treated it must be; the most superficial sketch of English Church History during the eighteenth century would be almost imperfect if it did not give a prominent place to this topic, for it was the all-absorbing topic of a considerable portion of the period.
The Deistical writers attracted attention out of all proportion to their literary merit. The pulpit rang with denunciations of their doctrines. The press teemed with answers to their arguments. It may seem strange that a mere handful of not very voluminous writers, not one of whom can be said to have attained to the eminence of an English classic, should have created such a vast amount of excitement. But the excitement was really caused by the subject itself, not by the method in which it was handled. The Deists only gave expression -- often a very coarse and inadequate expression -- to thoughts which the circumstances of the times could scarcely fail to suggest.
The Scriptures had for many years been used to sanction the most diametrically opposite views. They had been the watchword of each party in turn whose extravagances had been the cause of all the disasters and errors of several generations. Romanists had quoted them when they condemned Protestants to the stake, Protestants when they condemned Jesuits to the block. The Roundhead had founded his wild reign of fanaticism on their authority. The Cavalier had texts ready at hand to sanction the most unconstitutional measures. 'The right divine of kings to govern wrong' had been grounded on Scriptural authority. All the strange vagaries in which the seventeenth century had been so fruitful claimed the voice of Scripture in their favour.
Such reckless use of Scripture tended to throw discredit upon it as a revelation from God; while, on the other hand, the grand discoveries in natural science which were a distinguishing feature of the seventeenth century equally tended to exalt men's notions of that other revelation of Himself which God has made in the Book of Nature. The calm attitude of the men of science who had been steadily advancing in the knowledge of the natural world, and by each fresh discovery had given fresh proofs of the power, and wisdom, and goodness of God, stood forth in painful contrast with the profitless wranglings and bitter animosities of Divines. Men might well begin to ask themselves whether they could not find rest from theological strife in natural religion? and the real object of the Deists was to demonstrate that they could.
Thus the period of Deism was the period of a great religious crisis in England. It is our present purpose briefly to trace the progress and termination of this crisis.
It is hardly necessary to remark that Deism was not a product of the eighteenth century. The spirit in which Deism appeared in its most pronounced form had been growing for many generations previous to that date. But we must pass over the earlier Deists, of whom the most notable was Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and come at once to a writer who, although his most notorious work was published before the seventeenth century closed, lived and wrote during the eighteenth, and may fairly be regarded as belonging to that era.
No work which can be properly called Deistical had raised anything like the excitement which was caused by the anonymous publication in 1696 of a short and incomplete treatise entitled 'Christianity not Mysterious, or a Discourse showing that there is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason nor above it, and that no Christian Doctrine can properly be called a Mystery.' In the second edition, published the same year, the author discovered himself to be a young Irishman of the name of John Toland, who had been brought up a Roman Catholic. Leland passes over this work with a slight notice; but it marked a distinct epoch in Deistical literature. For the first time, the secular arm was brought to bear upon a writer of this school. The book was presented by the Grand Jury of Middlesex, and was burnt by the hands of the hangman in Dublin by order of the Irish House of Commons. It was subsequently condemned as heretical and impious by the Lower House of Convocation, which body felt itself bitterly aggrieved when the Upper House refused to confirm the sentence. These official censures were a reflex of the opinions expressed out of doors. Pulpits rang with denunciations and confutations of the new heretic, especially in his own country. A sermon against him was 'as much expected as if it had been prescribed in the rubric;' an Irish peer gave it as a reason why he had ceased to attend church that once he heard something there about his Saviour Jesus Christ, but now all the discourse was about one John Toland.
Toland being a vain man rather enjoyed this notoriety than otherwise; but if his own account of the object of his publication be correct (and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity), he was singularly unsuccessful in impressing his real meaning upon his contemporaries. He affirmed that 'he wrote his book to defend Christianity, and prayed that God would give him grace to vindicate religion,' and at a later period he published his creed in terms that would satisfy the most orthodox Christian.
For an explanation of the extraordinary discrepancy between the avowed object of the writer and the alleged tendency of his book we naturally turn to the work itself. After stating the conflicting views of divines about the Gospel mysteries, the author maintains that there is nothing in the Gospel contrary to reason nor above it, and that no Christian doctrine can be properly called a mystery. He then defines the functions of reason, and proceeds to controvert the two following positions, (1) that though reason and the Gospel are not in themselves contradictory, yet according to our conception of them they may seem directly to clash; and (2) that we are to adore what we cannot comprehend. He declares that what Infinite Goodness has not been pleased to reveal to us, we are either sufficiently capable of discovering ourselves or need not understand at all. He affirms that 'mystery' in the New Testament is never put for anything inconceivable in itself or not to be judged by our ordinary faculties; and concludes by showing that mysteries in the present sense of the term were imported into Christianity partly by Judaisers, but mainly by the heathen introducing their old mysteries into Christianity when they were converted.
The stir which this small work created, marks a new phase in the history of Deism. Compared with Lord Herbert's elaborate treatises, it is an utterly insignificant work; but the excitement caused by Lord Herbert's books was as nothing when compared with that which Toland's fragment raised. The explanation may perhaps be found in the fact that at the later date men's minds were more at leisure to consider the questions raised than they were at the earlier, and also that they perceived, or fancied they perceived, more clearly the drift of such speculations. A little tract, published towards the end of the seventeenth century, entitled 'The Growth of Deism,' brings out these points; and as a matter of fact we find that for the next half century the minds of all classes were on the alert -- some in sympathy with, many more in bitter antagonism against Deistical speculations. In his later writings, Toland went much further in the direction of infidelity, if not of absolute Atheism, than he did in his first work.
The next writer who comes under our notice was a greater man in every sense of the term than Toland. Lord Shaftesbury's 'Miscellaneous Essays,' which were ultimately grouped in one work, under the title of 'Characteristics of Men and Manners, &c.,' only bear incidentally upon the points at issue between the Deists and the orthodox. But scattered here and there are passages which show how strongly the writer felt upon the subject. Leland was called to account, and half apologises for ranking Shaftesbury among the Deists at all. And there certainly is one point of view from which Shaftesbury's speculations may be regarded not only as Christian, but as greatly in advance of the Christianity of many of the orthodox writers of his day. As a protest against the selfish, utilitarian view of Christianity which was utterly at variance with the spirit displayed and inculcated by Him 'who pleased not Himself,' Lord Shaftesbury's work deserves the high tribute paid to it by its latest editor, 'as a monument to immutable morality and Christian philosophy which has survived many changes of opinion and revolutions of thought.' But from another point of view we shall come to a very different conclusion.
Shaftesbury was regarded by his contemporaries as a decided and formidable adversary of Christianity. Pope told Warburton, that 'to his knowledge |The Characteristics| had done more harm to Revealed Religion in England than all the works of Infidelity put together.' Voltaire called him 'even a too vehement opponent of Christianity.' Warburton, while admitting his many excellent qualities both as a man and as a writer, speaks of 'the inveterate rancour which he indulged against Christianity.'
A careful examination of Shaftesbury's writings can hardly fail to lead us to the same conclusion. He writes, indeed, as an easy, well-bred man of the world, and was no doubt perfectly sincere in his constantly repeated disavowal of any wish to disturb the existing state of things. But his reason obviously is that 'the game would not be worth the candle.' No one can fail to perceive a contemptuous irony in many passages in which Shaftesbury affirms his orthodoxy, or when he touches upon the persecution of the early Christians, or upon the mysteries of Christianity, or upon the sacred duty of complying with the established religion with unreasoning faith, or upon his presumed scepticism, or upon the nature of the Christian miracles, or upon the character of our Blessed Saviour, or upon the representation of God in the Old Testament, or upon the supposed omission of the virtue of friendship in the Christian system of ethics.
It is needless to quote the passages in which Shaftesbury, like the other Deists, abuses the Jews; neither is it necessary to dwell upon his strange argument that ridicule is the best test of truth. In this, as in other parts of his writings, it is often difficult to see when he is writing seriously, when ironically. Perhaps he has himself furnished us with the means of solving the difficulty. 'If,' he writes, 'men are forbidden to speak their minds seriously on certain subjects, they will do it ironically. If they are forbidden to speak at all upon such subjects, or if they find it really dangerous to do so, they will then redouble their disguise, involve themselves in mysteriousness, and talk so as hardly to be understood or at least not plainly interpreted by those who are disposed to do them a mischief.' The general tendency, however, of his writings is pretty clear, and is in harmony with the Deistical theory that God's revelation of Himself in Nature is certain, clear, and sufficient for all practical purposes, while any other revelation is uncertain, obscure, and unnecessary. But he holds that it would be unmannerly and disadvantageous to the interests of the community to act upon this doctrine in practical life. 'Better take things as they are. Laugh in your sleeve, if you will, at the follies which priestcraft has imposed upon mankind; but do not show your bad taste and bad humour by striving to battle against the stream of popular opinion. When you are at Rome, do as Rome does. The question |What is truth?| is a highly inconvenient one. If you must ask it, ask it to yourself.'
It must be confessed that such low views of religion and morality are strangely at variance with the exalted notions of the disinterestedness of virtue which form the staple of one of Shaftesbury's most important treatises. To reconcile the discrepancy seems impossible. Only let us take care that while we emphatically repudiate the immoral compromise between truth and expediency which Shaftesbury recommends, we do not lose sight of the real service which he has rendered to religion as well as philosophy by showing the excellency of virtue in itself without regard to the rewards and punishments which are attached to its pursuit or neglect.
The year before 'The Characteristics' appeared as a single work (1713), a small treatise was published anonymously which was at first assigned to the author of 'Christianity not Mysterious,' and which almost rivalled that notorious work in the attention which it excited, out of all proportion to its intrinsic merits. It was entitled 'A Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers,' and was presently owned as the work of Anthony Collins, an author who had previously entered into the lists of controversy in connection with the disputes of Sacheverell, Dodwell, and Clarke. 'The Discourse of Freethinking' was in itself a slight performance. Its general scope was to show that every man has a right to think freely on all religious as well as other subjects, and that the exercise of this right is the sole remedy for the evil of superstition. The necessity of freethinking is shown by the endless variety of opinions which priests hold about all religious questions. Then the various objections to Freethinking are considered, and the treatise ends with a list and description of wise and virtuous Freethinkers -- nineteen in number -- from Socrates to Tillotson.
In estimating the merits of this little book, and in accounting for the excitement which it produced, we must not forget that what may now appear to us truisms were 170 years ago new truths, even if they were recognised as truths at all. At the beginning of the eighteenth century it was not an unnecessary task to vindicate the right of every man to think freely; and if Collins had performed the work which he had taken in hand fully and fairly he might have done good service. But while professedly advocating the duty of thinking freely, he showed so obvious a bias in favour of thinking in a particular direction, and wrested facts and quoted authorities in so one-sided a manner, that he laid himself open to the just strictures of many who valued and practised equally with himself the right of freethinking. Some of the most famous men of the day at once entered into the lists against him, amongst whom were Hoadly, Swift, Whiston, Berkeley, and above all Bentley. The latter, under the title of 'Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,' wrote in the character of a German Lutheran to his English friend, Dr. Francis Hare, 'Remarks on a Discourse on Freethinking.' Regarded as a piece of intellectual gladiatorship the Remarks are justly entitled to the fame they have achieved. The great critic exposed unmercifully and unanswerably Collins's slips in scholarship, ridiculed his style, made merry over the rising and growing sect which professed its competency to think de quolibet ente, protested indignantly against putting the Talapoins of Siam on a level with the whole clergy of England, 'the light and glory of Christianity,' and denied the right of the title of Freethinkers to men who brought scandal on so good a word.
Bentley hit several blots, not only in Collins, but in others of the 'rising and growing sect.' The argument, e.g., drawn from the variety of readings in the New Testament, is not only demolished but adroitly used to place his adversary on the horns of a dilemma. Nothing again, can be neater than his answer to various objections by showing that those objections had been brought to light by Christians themselves. And yet the general impression, when one has read Collins and Bentley carefully, is that there is a real element of truth in the former to which the latter has not done justice; that Bentley presses Collins's arguments beyond their logical conclusion; that Collins is not what Bentley would have him to be -- a mere Materialist -- an Atheist in disguise; that Bentley's insinuation, that looseness of living is the cause of his looseness of belief, is ungenerous, and requires proof which Bentley has not given: that the bitter abuse which he heaps upon his adversary as 'a wretched gleaner of weeds,' 'a pert teacher of his betters,' 'an unsociable animal,' 'an obstinate and intractable wretch,' and much more to the same effect, is unworthy of a Christian clergyman, and calculated to damage rather than do service to the cause which he has at heart.
Collins himself was not put to silence. Besides other writings of minor importance, he published in 1724 the most weighty of all his works, a 'Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion.' The object of this book is to show that Christianity is entirely founded on the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, and then to prove that these prophecies were fulfilled not in a literal, but only in a typical or secondary sense. Novelty, he argues, is a weighty reproach against any religious institution; the truth of Christianity must depend upon the old dispensation; it is founded on Judaism. Jesus makes claim to obedience only so far as He is the Messias of the Old Testament; the fundamental article of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah, and this can only be known out of the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament is the only canon of Christians; for the New Testament is not a law book for the ruling of the Church. The Apostles rest their proof of Christianity only on the Old Testament. If this proof is valid, Christianity is strong and built upon its true grounds; if weak, Christianity is false. For no miracles, no authority of the New Testament can prove its truth; miracles can only be a proof so far as they are comprehended in and exactly consonant with the prophecies concerning the Messias. It is only in this sense that Jesus appeals to His miracles. Christianity, in a word, is simply the allegorical sense of the Old Testament, and therefore may be rightly called 'Mystical Judaism.'
As all this bore the appearance of explaining away Christianity altogether, or at least of making it rest upon the most shadowy and unsubstantial grounds, there is no wonder that it called forth a vehement opposition: no less than thirty-five answerers appeared within two years of its publication, among whom are found the great names of T. Sherlock, Zachary Pearce, S. Clarke, and Dr. Chandler. The latter wrote the most solid and profound, if not the most brilliant work which the Deistical controversy had yet called forth.
But the strangest outcome of Collins's famous book was the work of Woolston, an eccentric writer who is generally classed among the Deists, but who was in fact sui generis. In the Collins Controversy, Woolston appears as a moderator between an infidel and an apostate, the infidel being Collins, and the apostate the Church of England, which had left the good old paths of allegory to become slaves of the letter. In this, as in previous works, he rides his hobby, which was a strange perversion of patristic notions, to the death; and a few years later he returned to the charge in one of the wildest, craziest books that ever was written by human pen. It was entitled 'Six Discourses on the Miracles,' and in it the literal interpretation of the New Testament miracles is ridiculed with the coarsest blasphemy, while the mystical interpretations which he substitutes in its place read like the disordered fancies of a sick man's dream. He professes simply to follow the fathers, ignoring the fact that the fathers, as a rule, had grafted their allegorical interpretation upon the literal history, not substituted the one for the other. Woolston was the only Deist -- if Deist he is to be called, -- who as yet had suffered anything like persecution; indeed, with one exception, and that a doubtful one, he was the only one who ever did. He was brought before the King's Bench, condemned to pay 25l. for each of his Six Discourses, and to suffer a year's imprisonment; after which he was only to regain his liberty upon finding either two securities for 1,000l. or four for 500l.; as no one would go bail for him, he remained in prison until his death in 1731. The punishment was a cruel one, considering the state of the poor man's mind, of the disordered condition of which he was himself conscious. If he deserved to lose his liberty at all, an asylum would have been a more fitting place of confinement for him than a prison. But if we regard his writings as the writings of a sane man, which, strange to say, his contemporaries appear to have done, we can hardly be surprised at the fate he met with. Supposing that any blasphemous publication deserved punishment -- a supposition which in Woolston's days would have been granted as a matter of course -- it is impossible to conceive anything more outrageously blasphemous than what is found in Woolston's wild book. The only strange part of the matter was that it should have been treated seriously at all.30,000 copies of his discourses on the miracles were sold quickly and at a very dear rate; whole bales of them were sent over to America. Sixty adversaries wrote against him; and the Bishop of London thought it necessary to send five pastoral letters to the people of his diocese on the subject.
The works of Woolston were, however, in one way important, inasmuch as they called the public attention to the miracles of our Lord, and especially to the greatest miracle of all -- His own Resurrection. The most notable of the answers to Woolston was Thomas Sherlock's 'Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus.' This again called forth an anonymous pamphlet entitled 'The Resurrection of Jesus considered,' by a 'moral philosopher,' who afterwards proved to be one Peter Annet. In no strict sense of the term can Annet be called a Deist, though he is often ranked in that class. His name is, however, worth noticing, from his connection with the important and somewhat curiously conducted controversy respecting the Resurrection, to which Sherlock's 'Tryal of the Witnesses' gave both the impulse and the form. Annet, like Woolston, was prosecuted for blasphemy and profanity; and if the secular arm should ever be appealed to in such matters, which is doubtful, he deserved it by the coarse ribaldry of his attacks upon sacred things.
It has been thought better to present at one view the works which were written on the miracles. This, however, is anticipating. The year after the publication of Woolston's discourses, and some years before Annet wrote, by far the most important work which ever appeared on the part of the Deists was published. Hitherto Deism had mainly been treated on its negative or destructive side. The mysteries of Christianity, the limitations to thought which it imposes, its system of rewards and punishments, its fulfilment of prophecy, its miracles, had been in turn attacked. The question then naturally arises, 'What will you substitute in its place?' or rather, to put the question as a Deist would have put it, 'What will you substitute in the place of the popular conception of Christianity?' for this alone, not Christianity itself, Deism professed to attack. In other words, 'What is the positive or constructive side of Deism?'
This question Tindal attempts to answer in his 'Christianity as old as the Creation.' The answer is a plain one, and the arguments by which he supports it are repeated with an almost wearisome iteration. 'The religion of nature,' he writes, 'is absolutely perfect; Revelation can neither add to nor take from its perfection.' 'The law of nature has the highest internal excellence, the greatest plainness, simplicity, unanimity, universality, antiquity, and eternity. It does not depend upon the uncertain meaning of words and phrases in dead languages, much less upon types, metaphors, allegories, parables, or on the skill or honesty of weak or designing transcribers (not to mention translators) for many ages together, but on the immutable relation of things always visible to the whole world.' Tindal is fond of stating the question in the form of a dilemma. 'The law of nature,' he writes, 'either is or is not a perfect law; if the first, it is not capable of additions; if the last, does it not argue want of wisdom in the Legislator in first enacting such an imperfect law, and then in letting it continue thus imperfect from age to age, and at last thinking to make it absolutely perfect by adding some merely positive and arbitrary precepts?' And again, 'Revelation either bids or forbids men to use their reason in judging of all religious matters; if the former, then it only declares that to be our duty which was so, independent of and antecedent to revelation; if the latter, then it does not deal with men as rational creatures. Everyone is of this opinion who says we are not to read Scripture with freedom of assenting or dissenting, just as we judge it agrees or disagrees with the light of nature and reason of things.' Coming more definitely to the way in which we are to treat the written word, he writes: 'Admit all for Scripture that tends to the honour of God, and nothing which does not.' Finally, he sums up by declaring in yet plainer words the absolute identity of Christianity with natural religion. 'God never intended mankind should be without a religion, or could ordain an imperfect religion; there must have been from the beginning a religion most perfect, which mankind at all times were capable of knowing; Christianity is this perfect, original religion.'
In this book Deism reaches its climax. The sensation which it created was greater than even Toland or Collins had raised. No less than one hundred and fifteen answers appeared, one of the most remarkable of which was Conybeare's 'Defence of Revealed Religion against |Christianity as old as the Creation.|' Avoiding the scurrility and personality which characterised and marred most of the works written on both sides of the question, Conybeare discusses in calm and dignified, but at the same time luminous and impressive language, the important question which Tindal had raised. Doing full justice to the element of truth which Tindal's work contained, he unravels the complications in which it is involved, shows that the author had confused two distinct meanings of the phrase 'natural reason' or 'natural religion,' viz. (1) that which is founded on the nature and reason of things, and (2) that which is discoverable by man's natural power of mind, and distinguishes between that which is perfect in its kind and that which is absolutely perfect. This powerful work is but little known in the present day. But it was highly appreciated by Conybeare's contemporaries, and the German historian of English Deism hardly knows how to find language strong enough to express his admiration of its excellence.
But Tindal had the honour of calling forth a still stronger adversary than Conybeare. Butler's 'Analogy' deals with the arguments of 'Christianity as old as the Creation' more than with those of any other book; but as this was not avowedly its object, and as it covered a far wider ground than Tindal did, embracing in fact the whole range of the Deistical controversy, it will be better to postpone the consideration of this masterpiece until the sequel.
By friend and foe alike Tindal seems to have been regarded as the chief exponent of Deism. Skelton in his 'Deism revealed' (published in 1748) says that 'Tindal is the great apostle of Deism who has gathered together the whole strength of the party, and his book is become the bible of all Deistical readers.' Warburton places him at the head of his party, classifying the Deists, 'from the mighty author of |Christianity as old as the Creation,| to the drunken, blaspheming cobbler who wrote against Jesus and the Resurrection.' The subsequent writers on the Deistical side took their cue from Tindal, thus showing the estimation in which his book was held by his own party.
Tindal was in many respects fitted for the position which he occupied. He was an old man when he wrote his great work, and had observed and taken an interest in the whole course of the Deistical controversy for more than forty years. He had himself passed through many phases of religion, having been a pupil of Hickes the Nonjuror, at Lincoln College, Oxford, then a Roman Catholic, then a Low Churchman, and finally, to use his own designation of himself, 'a Christian Deist.' He had, no doubt, carefully studied the various writings of the Deists and their opponents, and had detected the weak points of all. His book is written in a comparatively temperate spirit, and the subject is treated with great thoroughness and ability. Still it has many drawbacks, even from a literary point of view. It is written in the wearisome form of dialogue, and the writer falls into that error to which all controversial writers in dialogue are peculiarly liable. When a man has to slay giants of his own creation, he is sorely tempted to make his giants no stronger than dwarfs. To this temptation Tindal yielded. His defender of orthodoxy is so very weak, that a victory over him is no great achievement. Again, there is a want of order and lucidity in his book, and not sufficient precision in his definitions. But the worst fault of all is the unfairness of his quotations, both from the Bible and other books.
Perhaps one reason why, in spite of these defects, the book exercised so vast an influence is, that the minds of many who sympathised with the destructive process employed by preceding Deists may have begun to yearn for something more constructive. They might ask themselves, 'What then is our religion to be? And Tindal answers the question after a fashion. 'It is to be the religion of nature, and an expurgated Christianity in so far as it agrees with the religion of nature.' The answer is a somewhat vague one, but better than none, and as such may have been welcomed. This, however, is mere conjecture.
Deism, as we have seen, had now reached its zenith; henceforth its history is the history of a rapid decline. Tindal did not live to complete his work; but after his death it was taken up by far feebler hands.
Dr. Morgan in a work entitled 'The Moral Philosopher, or a Dialogue between Philalethes a Christian Deist, and Theophanes a Christian Jew,' follows closely in Tindal's footsteps. Like him, he insists upon the absolute perfection of the law or religion of nature, of which Christianity is only a republication. Like him, he professes himself a Christian Deist and vigorously protests against being supposed to be an enemy to Christianity. But his work is inferior to Tindal's in every respect. It is an ill-written book. It is mainly directed against the Jewish economy. But Morgan takes a far wider range than this, embracing the whole of the Old Testament, which he appears to read backward, finding objects of admiration in what are there set before us as objects of reprobation and vice versa.
But though Morgan deals mainly with the Old Testament, he throws considerable doubt in his third volume upon the New. The account given of the life of Christ, still more, that of His Resurrection, and above all, the miracles wrought by His apostles, are all thrown into discredit.
On the whole, this book marks a distinct epoch in the history of English Deism. There is little indeed said by Morgan which had not been insinuated by one or other of his predecessors, but the point to be marked is that it was now said, not merely insinuated. The whole tone of the book indicates 'the beginning of the end' not far distant, that end being what Lechler calls 'the dissolution of Deism into Scepticism.'
But there is yet one more author to be noticed whose works were still written in the earlier vein of Deism. So far Deism had not found a representative writer among the lower classes. The aristocracy and the middle class had both found exponents of their views; but Deism had penetrated into lower strata of society than these, and at length a very fitting representative of this part of the community appeared in the person of Thomas Chubb. Himself a working man, and to a great extent self-educated, Chubb had had peculiar opportunities of observing the mind of the class to which he belonged. His earlier writings were not intended for publication, but were written for the benefit of a sort of debating club of working men of which he was a member. He was with difficulty persuaded to publish them, mainly through the influence of the famous William Whiston, and henceforth became a somewhat voluminous writer, leaving behind him at his death a number of tracts and essays, which were published together under the title of 'Chubb's Posthumous Works.' In his main arguments Chubb, like Morgan, follows closely in the wake of Tindal. But his view of Deism was distinctly from the standpoint of the working man. As Morgan had directed his attention mainly to the Old Testament, Chubb directed his mainly to the New. Like others of his school, he protests against being thought an enemy to Christianity. His two works 'The True Gospel of Jesus Christ asserted,' and 'The True Gospel of Jesus Christ vindicated,' give the best exposition of Chubb's views. 'Our Lord Jesus Christ' he writes, 'undertook to be a reformer, and in consequence thereof a Saviour. The true Gospel is this: (1) Christ requires a conformity of mind and life to that eternal and unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things, and makes that the only ground of divine acceptance, and the only and sure way to life eternal. (2) If by violation of the law they have displeased God, he requires repentance and reformation as the only and sure ground of forgiveness. (3) There will be a judgment according to works. This Gospel wrought a change which by a figure of speech is called |a new birth|' (Sec.13). Like Tindal, he contrasts the certainty of natural with the uncertainty of any traditional religion. He owns 'the Christian revelation was expedient because of the general corruption; but it was no more than a publication of the original law of nature, and tortured and made to speak different things.' He repeats Tindal's objection to the want of universality of revealed religion on the same grounds. His chief attacks were, as has been said, made upon the New Testament. He demurs to the acceptance of the Gospels as infallibly true.
Chubb expresses just those difficulties and objections which would naturally have most weight with the more intelligent portion of the working classes. Speculative questions are put comparatively in the background. His view of the gospel is just that plain practical view which an artisan could grasp without troubling himself about transcendental questions, on the nice adjustment of which divines disputed. 'Put all such abstruse matters aside,' Chubb says in effect to his fellow-workmen, 'they have nothing to do with the main point at issue, they are no parts of the true Gospel.' His rocks of offence, too, are just those against which the working man would stumble. The shortcomings of the clergy had long been part of the stock-in-trade of almost all the Deistical writers. Their supposed wealth and idleness gave, as was natural, special offence to the representative of the working classes. He attacks individual clergymen, inveighs against the 'unnatural coalition of Church and State,' and speaks of men living in palaces like kings, clothing themselves in fine linen and costly apparel, and faring sumptuously.
The lower and lower-middle classes have always been peculiarly sensitive to the dangers of priestcraft and a relapse into Popery. Accordingly Chubb constantly appealed to this anti-Popish feeling.
Chubb, being an illiterate man, made here and there slips of scholarship, but he wrote in a clear, vigorous, sensible style, and his works had considerable influence over those to whom they were primarily addressed.
The cause of Deism in its earlier sense was now almost extinct. Those who were afterwards called Deists really belong to a different school of thought. A remarkable book, which was partly the outcome, partly, perhaps, the cause of this altered state of feeling, was published by Dodwell the younger, in 1742. It was entitled 'Christianity not founded on argument,' and there was at first a doubt whether the author wrote as a friend or an enemy of Christianity. He was nominally opposed to both, for both the Deists and their adversaries agreed that reason and revelation were in perfect harmony. The Deist accused the Orthodox of sacrificing reason at the shrine of revelation, the Orthodox accused the Deist of sacrificing revelation at the shrine of reason; but both sides vehemently repudiated the charge. The Orthodox was quite as anxious to prove that his Christianity was not unreasonable, as the Deist was to prove that his rationalism was not anti-Christian.
Now the author of 'Christianity not founded on argument' came forward to prove that both parties were attempting an impossibility. In opposition to everything that had been written on both sides of the controversy for the last half century, Dodwell protested against all endeavours to reconcile the irreconcilable.
His work is in the form of a letter to a young Oxford friend, who was assumed to be yearning for a rational faith, 'as it was his duty to prove all things.' 'Rational faith!' says Dodwell in effect, 'the thing is impossible; it is a contradiction in terms. If you must prove all things, you will hold nothing. Faith is commanded men as a duty. This necessarily cuts it off from all connection with reason. There is no clause providing that we should believe if we have time and ability to examine, but the command is peremptory. It is a duty for every moment of life, for every age. Children are to be led early to believe, but this, from the nature of the case, cannot be on rational grounds. Proof necessarily presupposes a suspension of conviction. The rational Christian must have begun as a Sceptic; he must long have doubted whether the Gospel was true or false. Can this be the faith that |overcometh the world|? Can this be the faith that makes a martyr? No! the true believer must open Heaven and see the Son of Man standing plainly before his eyes, not see through the thick dark glass of history and tradition. The Redeemer Himself gave no proofs; He taught as one having authority, as a Master who has a right to dictate, who brought the teaching which He imparted straight from Heaven. In this view of the ground of faith, unbelief is a rebellious opposition against the working of grace. The union of knowledge and faith is no longer nonsense. All difficulties are chased away by the simple consideration |that with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.| Philosophy and religion are utterly at variance. The groundwork of philosophy is all doubt and suspicion; the groundwork of religion is all submission and faith. The enlightened scholar of the Cross, if he regards the one thing needful, rightly despises all lower studies. When he turns to these he leaves his own proper sphere. Julian was all in the wrong when he closed the philosophical schools to the Christians. He should have given them all possible privileges that they might undermine the principles of Christ. |Not many wise men after the flesh are called.| All attempts to establish a rational faith, from the time of Origen to that of Tillotson, Dr. Clarke, and the Boyle lectures, are utterly useless. Tertullian was right when he said Credo quia absurdum et quia impossibile est, for there is an irreconcilable repugnancy in their natures between reason and belief; therefore, |My son, give thyself to the Lord with thy whole heart and lean not to thy own understanding.|'
Such is the substance of this remarkable work. He hit, and hit very forcibly, a blot which belonged to almost all writers in common who took part in this controversy. The great deficiency of the age -- a want of spiritual earnestness, an exclusive regard to the intellectual, to the ignoring of the emotional element of our nature -- nowhere appears more glaringly than in the Deistical and anti-Deistical literature. What Dodwell urges in bitter irony, John Wesley urged in sober seriousness, when he intimated that Deists and evidence writers alike were strangers to those truths which are 'spiritually discerned.'
There is yet one more writer who is popularly regarded not only as a Deist, but as the chief of the Deists -- Lord Bolingbroke, to whom Leland gives more space than to all the other Deists put together. So far as the eminence of the man is concerned, the prominence given to him is not disproportionate to his merits, but it is only in a very qualified sense that Lord Bolingbroke can be called a Deist. He lived and was before the public during the whole course of the Deistical controversy, so far as it belongs to the eighteenth century; but he was known, not as a theologian, but first as a brilliant, fashionable man of pleasure, then as a politician. So far as he took any part in religious matters at all, it was as a violent partisan of the established faith and as a persecutor of Dissenters. It was mainly through his instrumentality that the iniquitous Schism Act of 1713 was passed. In the House of Commons he called it 'a bill of the last importance, since it concerned the security of the Church of England, the best and firmest support of the monarchy.' In his famous letter to Sir W. Wyndham, he justified his action in regard to this measure, and the kindred bill against occasional conformity, on purely political grounds. He publicly expressed his abhorrence of the so-called Freethinkers, whom he stigmatised as 'Pests of Society.' But in a letter to Mr. Pope, he gave some intimation of his real sentiments, and at the same time justified his reticence about them. 'Let us,' he writes, 'seek truth, but quietly, as well as freely. Let us not imagine, like some who are called Freethinkers, that every man who can think and judge for himself, as he has a right to do, has therefore a right of speaking any more than acting according to freedom of thought.' Then, after expressing sentiments which are written in the very spirit of Deism, he adds, 'I neither expect nor desire to see any public revision made of the present system of Christianity. I should fear such an attempt, &c.' It was accordingly not until after his death that his theological views were fully expressed and published. These are principally contained in his 'Philosophical Works,' which he bequeathed to David Mallet with instructions for their publication; and Mallet accordingly gave them to the world in 1754. Honest Dr. Johnson's opinion of this method of proceeding is well known. 'Sir, he was a scoundrel and a coward; a scoundrel for charging a blunderbuss against religion and morality, a coward because he had no resolution to fire it off himself, but left half-a-crown to a beggarly Scotchman to draw the trigger after his death.' This is strong language, but it is not wholly undeserved. There is something inexpressibly mean in a man countenancing the persecution of his fellow creatures for heterodoxy, while he himself secretly held opinions more heterodox than any of those whom he helped to persecute. No doubt Bolingbroke regarded religion simply from a political point of view; it was a useful, nay, a necessary engine of Government. He, therefore, who wilfully unsettled men's minds on the subject was a bad citizen, and consequently deserving of punishment. But then, this line of argument would equally tell against the publication of unsettling opinions after his death, as against publishing them during his life-time. Apres moi le deluge, is not an elevated maxim; yet the only other principle upon which his mode of proceeding admits of explanation is, that he wrote his last works in the spirit of a soured and disappointed man, who had been in turn the betrayer and betrayed of every party with which he had been connected.
What his motives, however, were, can only be a matter of conjecture; let us proceed to examine the opinions themselves. They are contained mainly in a series of essays or letters addressed by him to his friend Pope, who did not live to read them; and they give us in a somewhat rambling, discursive fashion, his views on almost all subjects connected with religion. Many passages have the genuine Deistical ring about them. Like his precursors, he declares that he means particularly to defend the Christian religion; that genuine Christianity contained in the Gospels is the Word of God. Like them, he can scarcely find language strong enough to express his abhorrence of the Jews and the Old Testament generally. Like them, he abuses divines of all ages and their theological systems in the most unmeasured terms. It is almost needless to add that, in common with his predecessors, he contemptuously rejects all such doctrines as the Divinity of the Word, Expiation for Sin in any sense, the Holy Trinity, and the Efficacy of the Sacraments.
In many points, however, Lord Bolingbroke goes far beyond his predecessors. His 'First Philosophy' marks a distinct advance or decadence, according to the point of view from which we regard it, in the history of Freethinking. Everything in the Bible is ruthlessly swept aside, except what is contained in the Gospels. S. Paul, who had been an object of admiration to the earlier Deists, is the object of Bolingbroke's special abhorrence. And not only is the credibility of the Gospel writers impugned, Christ's own teaching and character are also carped at. Christ's conduct was 'reserved and cautious; His language mystical and parabolical. He gives no complete system of morality. His Sermon on the Mount gives some precepts which are impracticable, inconsistent with natural instinct and quite destructive of society. His miracles may be explained away.'
It may be said, indeed, that most of these tenets are contained in the germ in the writings of earlier Deists. But there are yet others of which this cannot be said.
Bolingbroke did not confine his attacks to revealed religion. Philosophy fares as badly as religion in his estimate. 'It is the frantic mother of a frantic offspring.' Plato is almost as detestable in his eyes as S. Paul. He has the most contemptuous opinion of his fellow-creatures, and declares that they are incapable of understanding the attributes of the Deity. He throws doubt upon the very existence of a world to come. He holds that 'we have not sufficient grounds to establish the doctrine of a particular providence, and to reconcile it to that of a general providence;' that 'prayer, or the abuse of prayer, carries with it ridicule;' that 'we have much better determined ideas of the divine wisdom than of the divine goodness,' and that 'to attempt to imitate God is in highest degree absurd.'
There is no need to discuss here the system of optimism which Lord Bolingbroke held in common with Lord Shaftesbury and Pope; for that system is consistent both with a belief and with a disbelief of Christianity, and we are at present concerned with Lord Bolingbroke's views only in so far as they are connected with religion. From the extracts given above, it will be seen how far in this system Deism had drifted away from its old moorings.
After Bolingbroke no Deistical writing, properly so called, was published in England. The great controversy had died a natural death; but there are a few apologetic works which have survived the dispute that called them forth, and may be fairly regarded as [Greek: ktemata es aei] of English theology. To attempt even to enumerate the works of all the anti-Deistical writers would fill many pages. Those who are curious in such matters must be referred to the popular work of Leland, where they will find an account of the principal writers on both sides. All that can be attempted here is to notice one or two of those which are of permanent interest.
First among such is the immortal work of Bishop Butler. Wherever the English language is spoken, Butler's 'Analogy' holds a distinguished place among English classics. Published in the year 1736, when the excitement raised by 'Christianity as old as the Creation' was at its height, it was, as has been well remarked, 'the result of twenty years' study, the very twenty years during which the Deistical notions formed the atmosphere which educated people breathed.' For those twenty years and longer still, the absolute certainty of God's revelation of Himself in nature, and the absolute perfection of the religion founded on that revelation, in contradistinction to the uncertainty and imperfection of all traditional religions, had been the incessant cry of the new school of thought, a cry which had lately found its strongest and ablest expression in Tindal's famous work. It was to those who raised this cry, and to those who were likely to be influenced by it, that Butler's famous argument was primarily addressed. 'You assert,' he says in effect, 'that the law of nature is absolutely perfect and absolutely certain; I will show you that precisely the same kind of difficulties are found in nature as you find in revelation.' Butler uttered no abuse, descended to no personalities such as spoiled too many of the anti-Deistical writings; but his book shows that his mind was positively steeped in Deistical literature. Hardly an argument which the Deists had used is unnoticed; hardly an objection which they could raise is not anticipated. But the very circumstance which constitutes one of the chief excellences of the 'Analogy,' its freedom from polemical bitterness, has been the principal cause of its being misunderstood. To do any kind of justice to the book, it must be read in the light of Deism. Had this obvious caution been always observed, such objections as those of Pitt, that 'it was a dangerous book, raising more doubts than it solves,' would never have been heard; for at the time when it was written, the doubts were everywhere current. Similar objections have been raised against the 'Analogy' in modern days, but the popular verdict will not be easily reversed.
Next in importance to Butler's 'Analogy' is a far more voluminous and pretentious work, that of Bishop Warburton on 'The Divine Legation of Moses.' It is said to have been called forth by Morgan's 'Moral Philosopher.' If so, it is somewhat curious that Warburton himself in noticing this work deprecates any answer being given to it.
But, at any rate, we have Warburton's own authority for saying that his book had special reference to the Deists or Freethinkers (for the terms were then used synonymously).
He begins the dedication of the first edition of the first three books to the Freethinkers with the words, 'Gentlemen, as the following discourse was written for your use, you have the best right to this address.'
The argument of the 'Divine Legation' is stated thus by Warburton himself in syllogistic form: --
'I. Whatsoever Religion and Society have no future state for their support, must be supported by an extraordinary Providence.
'The Jewish Religion and Society had no future state for their support.
'Therefore, the Jewish Religion and Society was supported by an extraordinary Providence.
'II. It was universally believed by the ancients on their common principles of legislation and wisdom, that whatsoever Religion and Society have no future state for their support, must be supported by an extraordinary Providence.
'Moses, skilled in all that legislation and wisdom, instituted the Jewish Religion and Society without a future state for its support.
'Therefore, -- Moses, who taught, believed likewise that this Religion and Society was supported by an extraordinary Providence.'
The work is a colossal monument of the author's learning and industry: the range of subjects which it embraces is enormous; and those who cannot agree with his conclusions either on the main argument, or on the many collateral points raised, must still admire the vast research and varied knowledge which the writer displays. It is, however, a book more talked about than read at the present day. Indeed, human life is too short to enable the general reader to do more than skim cursorily over a work of such proportions. Warburton's theory was novel and startling; and perhaps few even of the Deistical writers themselves evoked more criticism and opposition from the orthodox than this doughty champion of orthodoxy. But Warburton was in his element when engaged in controversy. He was quite ready to meet combatants from whatever side they might come; and, wielding his bludgeon with a vigorous hand, he dealt his blows now on the orthodox, now on the heterodox, with unsparing and impartial force. Judged, however, from a literary point of view, 'The Divine Legation' is too elaborate and too discursive a work to be effective for the purpose for which it was written; and most readers will be inclined to agree with Bentley's verdict, that the writer was 'a man of monstrous appetite but bad digestion.'
Of a very different character is the next work to be noticed, as one of enduring interest on the Deistical controversy. Bishop Berkeley's 'Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher,' is one of the few exceptions to the general dreariness and unreadableness of controversial writings in the dialogistic form. The elegance and easiness of his style, and the freshness and beauty of his descriptions of natural scenery by which the tedium of the controversy is relieved, render this not only a readable, but a fascinating book, even to the modern reader who has no present interest in the controversial question. It is, however, by no means free from the graver errors incident to this form of writing. Like Tindal, he makes his adversaries state their case far too weakly. But, worse than this, he puts into their mouths arguments which they would never have used, and sentiments which they never held and which could not be fairly deduced from their writings. Not that Bishop Berkeley ever wrote with conscious unfairness. The truly Christian, if somewhat eccentric character of the man forbids such a supposition for one moment. His error, no doubt, arose from the vagueness with which the terms Deist, Freethinker, Naturalist, Atheist, were used indiscriminately to stigmatise men of very different views. There was, for example, little or nothing in common between such men as Lord Shaftesbury and Mandeville. The atrocious sentiment of the 'Fable of the Bees,' that private vices are public benefits, was not the sentiment of any true Deist. Yet Shaftesbury and Mandeville are the two writers who are most constantly alluded to as representatives of one and the same system, in this dialogue. Indeed the confusion here spoken of is apparent in Berkeley's own advertisement. 'The author's design being to consider the Freethinker in the various lights of Atheist, libertine, enthusiast, scorner, critic, metaphysician, fatalist, and sceptic, it must not therefore be imagined that every one of these characters agrees with every individual Freethinker; no more being implied than that each part agrees with some or other of the sect.' The fallacy here arises from the assumption of a sect with a coherent system, which, as has been stated above, never had any existence.
The principle upon which Berkeley tells us that he constructed his dialogue is a dangerous one. 'It must not,' he writes, 'be thought that authors are misrepresented if every notion of Alciphron or Lysicles is not found precisely in them. A gentleman in private conference may be supposed to speak plainer than others write, to improve on their hints, and draw conclusions from their principles.' Yes; but this method of development, when carried out by a vehement partisan, is apt to find hints where there are no hints, and draw conclusions which are quite unwarranted by the premisses.
It is somewhat discouraging to an aspirant after literary immortality, to reflect that in spite of the enormous amount of learned writing which the Deistical controversy elicited, many educated people who have not made the subject a special study, probably derive their knowledge of the Deists mainly from two unpretentious volumes -- Leland's 'View of the Deistical Writers.'
Leland avowedly wrote as an advocate, and therefore it would be unreasonable to expect from him the measured judgment of a philosophical historian. But as an advocate he wrote with great fairness, -- indeed, considering the excitement which the Deists raised among their contemporaries, with wonderful fairness. It is not without reason that he boasts in his preface, 'Great care has been taken to make a fair representation of them, according to the best judgment I could form of their designs.' But, besides the fact that the representations of a man who holds a brief for one side must necessarily be taken cum grano, Leland lived too near the time to be able to view his subject in the 'dry light' of history. 'The best book,' said Burke in 1773, 'that has ever been written against these people is that in which the author has collected in a body the whole of the Infidel code, and has brought their writings into one body to cut them all off together.' If the subject was to be dealt with in this trenchant fashion, no one could have done it more honestly than Leland has done. But the great questions which the Deists raised cannot be dealt with thus summarily. Perhaps no book professedly written 'against these people' could possibly do justice to the whole case. Hence those who virtually adopt Leland as their chief authority will at best have but a one-sided view of the matter. Leland was a Dissenter; and it may be remarked in passing, that while the National Church bore the chief part in the struggle, as it was right she should, yet many Dissenters honourably distinguished themselves in the cause of our common Christianity. The honoured names of Chandler, Lardner, Doddridge, Foster, Hallet, and Leland himself, to which many others might be added, may be mentioned in proof of this assertion.
The attitude towards Deism of the authors hitherto named is unmistakable. But there are yet two great names which cannot well be passed over, and which both the friends and foes of Deism have claimed for their side. These are the names of Alexander Pope and John Locke. The former was, as is well known, by profession a Roman Catholic; but in his most elaborate, if not his most successful poem, he has been supposed to express the sentiments of one, if not two, of the most sceptical of the Deistical writers. How far did the author of the 'Essay on Man' agree with the religious sentiments of his 'guide, philosopher and friend,' Viscount Bolingbroke? Pope's biographer answers this question very decisively. 'Pope,' says Ruffhead, 'permitted Bolingbroke to be considered by the public as his philosopher and guide. They agreed on the principle that |whatever is, is right,| as opposed to impious complaints against Providence; but Pope meant, because we only see a part of the moral system, not the whole, therefore these irregularities serving great purposes, such as the fuller manifestation of God's goodness and justice, are right. Lord Bolingbroke's Essays are vindications of providence against the confederacy between Divines and Atheists who use a common principle, viz. that of the irregularities of God's moral government here, for different ends: the one to establish a future state, the others to discredit the being of a God.' 'Bolingbroke,' he adds, 'always tried to conceal his principles from Pope, and Pope would not credit anything against him.' Warburton's testimony is to the same effect. 'So little,' he writes, 'did Pope know of the principles of the |First Philosophy,| that when a common acquaintance told him in his last illness that Lord Bolingbroke denied God's moral attributes as commonly understood, he asked Lord Bolingbroke whether he was mistaken, and was told he was.'
On the other hand, there are the letters from Bolingbroke to Pope quoted above; there is the undoubted fact that Pope, Shaftesbury, and Bolingbroke so far agreed with one another that they were all ardent disciples of the optimistic school; and, it must be added, there is the utter absence of anything distinctively Christian in that poem in which one would naturally have expected to find it. For, to say the least of it, the 'Essay on Man' might have been written by an unbeliever, as also might the Universal Prayer. The fact seems to have been that Pope was distracted by the counter influences of two very powerful but two very opposite minds. Between Warburton and Bolingbroke, the poet might well become somewhat confused in his views. How far he would have agreed with the more pronounced anti-Christian sentiments of Bolingbroke which were addressed to him, but which never met his eye, can of course be only a matter of conjecture. It is evident that Bolingbroke himself dreaded the influence of Warburton, for he alludes constantly and almost nervously to 'the foul-mouthed critic whom I know you have at your elbow,' and anticipates objections which he suspected 'the dogmatical pedant' would raise.
However, except in so far as it is always interesting to know the attitude of any great man towards contemporary subjects of stirring interest, it is not a very important question as to what were the poet's sentiments in reference to Christianity and Deism. Pope's real greatness lay in quite another direction; and even those who most admire the marvellous execution of his grand philosophical poem will regret that his brilliant talents were comparatively wasted on so uncongenial a subject.
Far otherwise is it with the other great name which both Deists and orthodox claim as their own. What was the relationship of John Locke, who influenced the whole tone of thought of the eighteenth century more than any other single man, to the great controversy which is the subject of these pages? On the one hand, it is unquestionable that Locke had the closest personal connection with two of the principal Deistical writers, and that most of the rest show unmistakable signs of having studied his works and followed more or less his line of thought. Nothing can exceed the warmth of esteem and love which Locke expresses for his young friend Collins, and the touching confidence which he reposes in him. Nor was it only Collins' moral worth which won Locke's admiration; he looked upon him as belonging to the same school of intellectual thought as himself, and was of opinion that Collins would appreciate his 'Essay on the Human Understanding' better than anybody. Shaftesbury was grandson of Locke's patron and friend. Locke was tutor to his father, for whom he had been commissioned to choose a wife; and the author of 'The Characteristics' was brought up according to Locke's principles. Both Toland's and Tindal's views about reason show them to have been followers of Locke's system; while traces of Locke's influence are constantly found in Lord Bolingbroke's philosophical works. Add to all this that the progress and zenith of Deism followed in direct chronological order after the publication of Locke's two great works, and that in consequence of these works he was distinctly identified by several obscure and at least one very distinguished writer with 'the gentlemen of the new way of thinking.'
But there is another side of the picture to which we must now turn. Though Locke died before the works of his two personal friends, Collins and Shaftesbury, saw the light, Deism had already caused a great sensation before his death, and Locke has not left us in the dark as to his sentiments on the subject, so far as it had been developed in his day. Toland used several arguments from Locke's essay in support of his position that there was nothing in Christianity contrary to reason or above it. Bishop Stillingfleet, in his 'Defence of the Mysteries of the Trinity,' maintained that these arguments of Toland's were legitimate deductions from Locke's premisses. This Locke explicitly denied, and moreover disavowed any agreement with the main position of Toland in a noble passage, in which he regretted that he could not find, and feared he never should find, that perfect plainness and want of mystery in Christianity which the author maintained. He also declared his implicit belief in the doctrines of revelation in the most express terms.
It was not, however, his essay, but his treatise on the 'Reasonableness of Christianity,' published in 1695 (the year before the publication of Toland's famous work), which brought Locke into the most direct collision with some of the orthodox of his day. The vehement opposition which this little work aroused seems to have caused the author unfeigned surprise. -- 'When it came out,' he writes, 'the buzz and flutter and noise which it made, and the reports which were raised that it subverted all morality and was designed against the Christian religion ... amazed me; knowing the sincerity of those thoughts which persuaded me to publish it, not without some hope of doing some service to decaying piety and mistaken and slandered Christianity. In another passage he tells us expressly that it was written against Deism. 'I was flattered to think my book might be of some use to the world; especially to those who thought either that there was no need of revelation at all, or that the revelation of Our Saviour required belief of such articles for salvation which the settled notions and their way of reasoning in some, and want of understanding in others, made impossible to them. Upon these two topics the objections seemed to turn, which were with most assurance made by Deists not against Christianity, but against Christianity misunderstood. It seemed to me, there needed no more to show the weakness of their exceptions, but to lay plainly before them the doctrines of our Saviour as delivered in the Scriptures.' The truth of this is amply borne out by the contents of the book itself.
It is not, however, so much in direct statements of doctrine as in the whole tenour and frame of his spirit, that Locke differs 'in toto' from the Deists: for Locke's was essentially a pious, reverent soul. But it may be urged that all this does not really touch the point at issue. The question is, not what were Locke's personal opinions on religious matters, but what were the logical deductions from his philosophical system. It is in his philosophy, not in his theology, that Locke's reputation consists. Was then the Deistical line of argument derived from his philosophical system? and if so, was it fairly derived? The first question must be answered decidedly in the affirmative, the second not so decidedly in the negative.
That Locke would have recoiled with horror from the conclusions which the Deists drew from his premisses, and still more from the tone in which those conclusions were expressed, can scarcely be doubted. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they were so drawn. That Toland built upon his foundation, Locke himself acknowledges. Traces of his influence are plainly discernible in Collins, Tindal -- of whom Shaftesbury calls Locke the forerunner, -- Morgan, Chubb, Bolingbroke, and Hume.
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the opponents of Deism built upon Locke's foundation quite as distinctly as any of the Deists did. After his death, it was soon discovered that he was a Christian. The orthodox Conybeare was not only an obvious follower of Locke, but has left on record a noble testimony to his greatness and his influence: 'In the last century there arose a very extraordinary genius for philosophical speculations; I mean Mr. Locke, the glory of that age and the instructor of the present.' Warburton was an equally enthusiastic admirer of our philosopher, and expressed his admiration in words very similar to the above. Benson the Presbyterian told Lardner that he had made a pilgrimage to Locke's grave, and could hardly help crying, 'Sancte Johannes, ora pro nobis;' and innumerable other instances of the love and admiration which Christians of all kinds felt for the great philosopher might be quoted.
The question then arises, Which of the two parties, the Deists or their adversaries, were the legitimate followers of Locke? And the answer to this question is, 'Both.' The school of philosophy of which Locke was the great apostle, was the dominant school of the period. And even in the special application of his principles to religion, it would be wrong to say that either of the two parties wholly diverged from Locke's position. For the fact is, there were two sides to Locke's mind -- a critical and rationalising side, and a reverent and devotional side. He must above all things demonstrate the reasonableness of the Christian religion, thereby giving the key-note to the tone of theology of the eighteenth century; but in proving this point, he is filled with a most devout and God-fearing spirit. His dislike of all obscurity, and, in consequence, his almost morbid shrinking from all systematizing and from the use of all technical terms, form his point of contact with the Deists. His strong personal faith, and his reverence for the Holy Scripture as containing a true revelation from God, bring him into harmony with the Christian advocates. No abuse on the part of the clergy, no unfair treatment, could alienate him from Christianity. One cannot help speculating how he would have borne himself had he lived to see the later development of Deism. Perhaps his influence would have had a beneficial effect upon both sides; but, in whatever period his lot had been cast it is difficult to conceive Locke in any other light than that of a sincere and devout Christian.
It remains for us to consider what were the effects of the Deistical movement.
The early period of the eighteenth century was a period of controversy of all kinds, and of controversy carried on in a bitter and unchristian spirit; and of all the controversies which arose, none was conducted with greater bitterness than the Deistical. The Deists must bear the blame of setting the example. Their violent abuse of the Church, their unfounded assertions that the clergy did not really believe what they preached, that the Christian religion as taught by them was a mere invention of priestcraft to serve its own ends, their overweening pretensions contrasted with the scanty contributions which they actually made either to theology or to philosophy or to philology, -- all this was sufficiently provoking.
But the Christian advocates fell into a sad mistake when they fought against them with their own weapons. Without attempting nicely to adjust the degree of blame attributable to either party in this unseemly dispute, we may easily see that this was one evil effect of the Deistical controversy, that it generated on both sides a spirit of rancour and scurrility.
Again, the Deists contributed in some degree, though not intentionally, towards encouraging the low tone of morals which is admitted on all sides to have been prevalent during the first half of the eighteenth century. It was constantly insinuated that the Deists themselves were men of immoral lives. This may have been true of individual Deists, but it requires more proof than has been given, before so grave an accusation can be admitted against them as a body.
But if the restrictions which Christianity imposes were not the real objections to it in the minds of the Deistical writers, at any rate their writings, or rather perhaps hazy notions of those writings picked up at second-hand, were seized upon by others who were glad of any excuse for throwing off the checks of religion. The immorality of the age may be more fairly said to have been connected with the Deistical controversy than with the Deists themselves. It is not to be supposed that the fine gentlemen of the coffee-houses troubled themselves to read Collins or Bentley, Tindal or Conybeare. They only heard vague rumours that the truths, and consequently the obligations of Christianity were impugned, and that, by the admission of Christian advocates themselves, unbelief was making great progress. The roues were only Freethinkers in the sense that Squire Thornhill in the 'Vicar of Wakefield' was.
Another ill effect was, that it took away the clergy from a very important part of their practical work. There was something much more attractive to a clergyman in immortalising his name by annihilating an enemy of the Faith, than in the ordinary routine of parochial work.
Not, however, that the clergy as a rule made Deism a stepping-stone to preferment. It would be difficult to point to a single clergyman who was advanced to any high post in the Church in virtue of his services against Deism, who would not have equally deserved and in all probability obtained preferment, had his talents been exerted in another direction. The talents of such men as Butler, Warburton, Waterland, Gibson, Sherlock, Bentley, and Berkeley would have shed a lustre upon any profession. But none the less is it true that the Deistical controversy diverted attention from other and no less important matters; and hence, indirectly, Deism was to a great extent the cause of that low standard of spiritual life which might have been elevated, had the clergy paid more attention to their flocks, and less to their literary adversaries.
The effects, however, of the great controversy were not all evil. If such sentiments as those to which the Deists gave utterance were floating in men's minds, it was well that they should find expression. A state of smouldering scepticism is always a dangerous state. Whatever the doubts and difficulties might be, it was well that they should be brought into the full light of day.
Moreover, if the Deists did no other good, they at least brought out the full strength of the Christian cause, which otherwise might have lain dormant. Although much of the anti-Deistical literature perished with the occasion which called it forth, there is yet a residuum which will be immortal.
Again, the free discussion of such questions as the Deists raised, led to an ampler and nobler conception of Christianity than might otherwise have been gained. For there was a certain element of truth in most of the Deistical writings. If Toland failed to prove that there were no mysteries in Christianity, yet perhaps he set men a-thinking that there was a real danger of darkening counsel by words without knowledge, through the indiscriminate use of scholastic jargon. If Collins confounded freethinking with thinking in his own particular way, he yet drew out from his opponents a more distinct admission of the right of freethinking in the proper sense of the term than might otherwise have been made. If Shaftesbury made too light of the rewards which the righteous may look for, and the punishments which the wicked have to fear, he at least helped, though unintentionally, to vindicate Christianity from the charge of self-seeking, and to place morality upon its proper basis. If Tindal attributed an unorthodox sense to the assertion that 'Christianity was as old as the Creation,' he brought out more distinctly an admission that there was an aspect in which it is undoubtedly true.
One of the most striking features of this strange controversy was its sudden collapse about the middle of the century. The whole interest in the subject seems to have died away as suddenly as it arose fifty years before. This change of feeling is strikingly illustrated by the flatness of the reception given by the public to Bolingbroke's posthumous works in 1754. For though few persons will be inclined to agree with Horace Walpole's opinion that Bolingbroke's 'metaphysical divinity was the best of his writings,' yet the eminence of the writer, the purity and piquancy of his style, the real and extensive learning which he displayed, would, one might have imagined, have awakened a far greater interest in his writings than was actually shown. Very few replies were written to this, the last, and in some respects, the most important -- certainly the most elaborate attack that ever was made upon popular Christianity from the Deistical standpoint. The 'five pompous quartos' of the great statesman attracted infinitely less attention than the slight, fragmentary treatise of an obscure Irishman had done fifty-eight years before. And after Bolingbroke not a single writer who can properly be called a Deist appeared in England.
How are we to account for this strange revulsion of feeling, or rather this marvellous change from excitement to apathy? One modern writer imputes it to the inherent dulness of the Deists themselves; another to their utter defeat by the Christian apologists. No doubt there is force in both these reasons, but there were other causes at work which contributed to the result.
One seems to have been the vagueness and unsatisfactoriness of the constructive part of the Deists' work. They set themselves with vigour to the work of destruction, but when this was completed -- what next? The religion which was to take the place of popular Christianity was at best a singularly vague and intangible sort of thing. 'You are to follow nature, and that will teach you what true Christianity is. If the facts of the Bible don't agree, so much the worse for the facts.' There was an inherent untenableness in this position. Having gone thus far, thoughtful men could not stand still. They must go on further or else turn back. Some went forward in the direction of Hume, and found themselves stranded in the dreary waste of pure scepticism, which was something very different from genuine Deism. Others went backwards and determined to stand upon the old ways, since no firm footing was given them on the new. There was a want of any definite scheme or unanimity of opinion on the part of the Deists. Collins boasted of the rise and growth of a new sect. But, as Dr. Monk justly observes, 'the assumption of a growing sect implies an uniformity of opinions which did not really exist among the impugners of Christianity.'
The independence of the Deists in relation to one another might render it difficult to confute any particular tenet of the sect, for the simple reason that there was no sect: but this same independence prevented them from making the impression upon the public mind which a compact phalanx might have done. The Deists were a company of Free Lances rather than a regular army, and effected no more than such irregular forces usually do.
And here arises the question, What real hold had Deism upon the public mind at all? There is abundance of contemporary evidence which would lead us to believe that the majority of the nation were fast becoming unchristianised. Bishop Butler was not the man to make a statement, and especially a statement of such grave import, lightly, and his account of the state of religion is melancholy indeed. 'It is come,' he writes, 'I know not how, to be taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly, they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.' Archbishop Wake's testimony is equally explicit, so is Bishop Warburton's, so is Dean Swift's. Voltaire declared that there was only just enough religion left in England to distinguish Tories who had little from Whigs who had less.
In the face of such testimony it seems a bold thing to assert that there was a vast amount of noise and bluster which caused a temporary panic, but little else, and that after all Hurd's view of the matter was nearer the truth. 'The truth of the case,' he writes, 'is no more than this. A few fashionable men make a noise in the world; and this clamour being echoed on all sides from the shallow circles of their admirers, misleads the unwary into an opinion that the irreligious spirit is universal and uncontrollable.' A strong proof of the absence of any real sympathy with the Deists is afforded by the violent outcry which was raised against them on all sides. This outcry was not confined to any one class or party either in the political or religious world. We may not be surprised to find Warburton mildly suggesting that 'he would hunt down that pestilent herd of libertine scribblers with which the island is overrun, as good King Edgar did his wolves,' or Berkeley, that 'if ever man deserved to be denied the common benefits of bread and water, it was the author of a Discourse of Freethinking,' and that 'he should omit no endeavour to render the persons (of Freethinkers) as despicable and their practice as odious in the eye of the world as they deserve.' But we find almost as truculent notions in writings where we might least expect them. It was, for example, a favourite accusation of the Tories against the Whigs that they favoured the Deists. 'We' (Tories), writes Swift, 'accuse them [the Whigs] of the public encouragement and patronage to Tindal, Toland, and other atheistical writers.' And yet we find the gentle Addison, Whig as he was, suggesting in the most popular of periodicals, corporal punishment as a suitable one for the Freethinker; Steele, a Whig and the most merciful of men, advocating in yet stronger terms a similar mode of treatment; Fielding, a Whig and not a particularly straitlaced man, equally violent.
This strong feeling against the Deists is all the more remarkable when we remember that it existed at a time of great religious apathy, and at a time when illiberality was far from being a besetting fault. The dominant party in the Church was that which would now be called the Broad Church party, and among the Dissenters at least equal latitudinarianism was tolerated. This, however, which might seem at first sight a reason why Deism should have been winked at, was probably in reality one of the causes why it was so unpopular. The nation had begun to be weary of controversy; in the religious as in the political world, there was arising a disposition not to disturb the prevailing quiet. The Deist was the enfant terrible of the period, who would persist in raising questions which men were not inclined to meddle with. It was therefore necessary to snub him; and accordingly snubbed he was most effectually.
The Deists themselves appear to have been fully aware of the unpopularity of their speculations. They have been accused, and not without reason, of insinuating doubts which they dared not express openly. But then, why dared they not express them? The days of persecution for the expression of opinion were virtually ended. There were indeed laws still unrepealed against blasphemy and contempt of religion, but except in extreme cases (such as those of Woolston and Annet), they were no longer put into force. Warburton wrote no more than the truth when he addressed the Freethinkers thus: 'This liberty may you long possess and gratefully acknowledge. I say this because one cannot but observe that amidst full possession of it, you continue with the meanest affectation to fill your prefaces with repeated clamours against difficulties and discouragements attending the exercise of freethinking. There was a time, and that within our own memories, when such complaints were seasonable and useful; but happy for you, gentlemen, you have outlived it.' They had outlived it, that is to say, so far as legal restrictions were concerned. If they did meet with 'difficulties and discouragements,' they were simply those which arose from the force of public opinion being against them. But be the cause what it may, the result is unquestionable. 'The English Deists wrote and taught their creed in vain; they were despised while living, and consigned to oblivion when dead; and they left the Church of England unhurt by the struggle.' It was in France and Germany, not in England that the movement set on foot by the English Deists made a real and permanent impression.
[Footnote 147: That is, not in virtue of anything he wrote which can be properly called Deism. Shaftesbury in his ethical and Bolingbroke in his political writings may perhaps be termed classical writers, but neither of them qua Deists.]
[Footnote 148: See Hunt's Religious Thought in England, vol. ii. p.214.]
[Footnote 149: View of the Deistical Writers, Letter V. p.32, &c., and Letter VI. p.43, &c.]
[Footnote 150: The Rev. W.M. Hatch. See his dedication.]
[Footnote 151: See Warburton's Letters to Hurd, Letter XVIII. January 30, 1749-50.]
[Footnote 152: See Warburton's Dedication of the Divine Legation of Moses to the Freethinkers. Jeffery, another contemporary, writes to the same effect.]
[Footnote 153: Sensus Communis (on the Freedom of Wit and Humour), Sec.4.]
[Footnote 154: Hoadly in one sense may be regarded as a 'Freethinker' himself; but it was the very fact that he was so which made him resent Collins's perversion of the term. The first of his 'Queries to the Author of a Discourse of Freethinking' is 'Whether that can be justly called Freethinking which is manifestly thinking with the utmost slavery; and with the strongest prejudices against every branch, and the very foundation of all religion?' -- Hoadly's Works, vol. i.]
[Footnote 155: 'Conybeare, dessen Vertheidigung der geoffenbarten Religion die gediegenste Gegenschrift ist, die gegen Tindal erschien. Es ist eine logische Klarheit, eine Einfachheit der Darstellung, eine ueberzeugende Kraft der Beweisfuehrung, ein einleuchtender Zusammenhang des Ganzen verbunden mit wuerdiger Haltung der Polemik, philosophischer Bildung und freier Liberalitaet des Standpunkts in diesem Buch, vermoege welcher es als meisterhaft anerkannt werden muss.' -- Lechler's Geschichte des Englischen Deismus, p.362. Warburton calls Conybeare's one of the best reasoned books in the world.]
[Footnote 156: See Watson's Life of Warburton, p.293.]
[Footnote 157: Ibid. iii.133, 190, 201, 261.]
[Footnote 158: Enquiry into the Ground and Foundation of the Christian Religion, p.59.]
[Footnote 159: See Enquiry concerning Redemption.]
[Footnote 160: See his Discourse concerning Reason, p.23, and his Reflections upon the comparative excellence and usefulness of Moral and Positive Duties, p.27, &c.]
[Footnote 161: His letters on the 'Study of History' contain the same principles.]
[Footnote 162: Pattison's 'Tendencies of Religious Thought in England, 1688-1750,' in Essays and Reviews.]
[Footnote 163: 'There is a book called The Moral Philosopher lately published. Is it looked into? I should hope not, merely for the sake of the taste, the sense, and learning of the present age.... I hope nobody will be so indiscreet as to take notice publicly of the book, though it be only in the fag end of an objection. -- It is that indiscreet conduct in our defenders of religion that conveys so many worthless books from hand to hand.' -- Letter to Mr. Birch in 1737. In Nichols' Literary Illustrations of the Eighteenth Century, ii.70.]
[Footnote 164: See Charles Churchill's lines on Warburton in The Duellist. After much foul abuse, he thus describes The Divine Legation: --
To make himself a man of note,
He in defence of Scripture wrote.
So long he wrote, and long about it,
That e'en believers 'gan to doubt it!
A gentleman well-bred, if breeding
Rests in the article of reading;
A man of this world, for the next
Was ne'er included in his text,' &c. &c.
Gibbon calls The Divine Legation 'a monument, already crumbling in the dust, of the vigour and weakness of the human mind.' -- See Life of Gibbon, ch. vii.223, note. Bishop Lowth says of it ironically, 'The Divine Legation, it seems, contains in it all knowledge, divine and human, ancient and modern; it treats as of its proper subject, de omni scibili et de quolibet ente; it is a perfect encyclopaedia; it includes in itself all history, chronology, criticism, divinity, law, politics,' &c. &c. -- A Letter to the Right Rev. Author of 'The Divine Legation,' p.13 (1765).]
[Footnote 165: There were two anti-Deistical writers of the name of Chandler, (1) the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and (2) Dr. Samuel Chandler, an eminent Dissenter. Both wrote against Collins, but the latter also against Morgan and the anonymous author of the Resurrection of Jesus considered.
Sherlock's Tryal of the Witnesses ought perhaps to have been noticed as one of the works of permanent value written against the Deists. Wharton says that 'Sherlock's Discourses on Prophecy and Trial of the Witnesses are, perhaps, the best defences of Christianity in our language.' Sherlock's lawyer-like mind enabled him to manage the controversy with rare skill, but the tone of theological thought has so changed, that his once famous book is a little out of date at the present day. Judged by its intrinsic merits, William Law's answer to Tindal would also deserve to be ranked among the very best of the books which were written against the Deists; but like almost all the works of this most able and excellent man, it has fallen into undeserved oblivion. Leslie's Short and Easy Method with a Deist is also admirable in its way.]
[Footnote 166: But it is no want of charity to say that his Roman Catholicism sat very lightly upon him. He himself confesses it in a letter to Atterbury.]
[Footnote 167: Pope was also clearly influenced by Shaftesbury's arguments that virtue was to be practised and sin avoided, not for fear of punishment or hope of reward, but for their own sakes. Witness the verse in the Universal Prayer: --
'What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns me not to do,
This teach me more than hell to shun,
That more than heaven pursue.']
[Footnote 168: See Hunt's History of Religious Thought in England, vol. ii. p.369, and Lechler's Geschichte des Englischen Deismus, p.219.]
[Footnote 169: But Shaftesbury was bitterly opposed to one part of Locke's philosophy. 'He was one of the first,' writes Mr. Morell (History of Modern Philosophy, i.203), 'to point out the dangerous influence which Locke's total rejection of all innate practical principles was likely to exert upon the interests of morality.' 'It was Mr. Locke,' wrote Shaftesbury, 'that struck at all fundamentals, threw all order and virtue out of the world, and made the very ideas of these (which are the same as those of God) unnatural and without foundation in our minds.' See also Bishop Fitzgerald in Aids to Faith.]
[Footnote 170: Locke's Works, vol. iv. p.96.]
[Footnote 171: 'My lord, I read the revelation of Holy Scriptures with a full assurance that all it delivers is true.' -- Locke's Works, vol. iv.341.]
[Footnote 172: Locke's Works, vol. vii. p.166.]
[Footnote 173: Locke's Works, vol. vii. p.188, Preface to the Reader of 2nd Vindication.]
[Footnote 174: Locke's Works, vol. iv.259, 260.]
[Footnote 175: 'Mr. Locke, the honour of this age and the instructor of the future'.... 'That great philosopher'.... 'It was Mr. Locke's love of it [Christianity] that seems principally to have exposed him to his pupil's [Lord Shaftesbury's] bitterest insults.' -- Dedication of The Divine Legation (first three books) to the Freethinkers.]
[Footnote 176: It is, however, not improbable that Locke contributed to some extent to foster that dry, hard, unpoetical spirit which characterised both the Deistical and anti-Deistical literature, and, indeed, the whole tone of religion in the eighteenth century. 'His philosophy,' it has been said, 'smells of the earth, earthy.' 'It is curious,' writes Mr. Rogers (Essays, vol. iii. p.104, 'John Locke,' &c.) 'that there is hardly a passing remark in all Locke's great work on any of the aesthetical or emotional characteristics of humanity; so that, for anything that appears there, men might have nothing of the kind in their composition. To all the forms of the Beautiful he seems to have been almost insensible.' The same want in the followers of Locke's system, both orthodox and unorthodox, is painfully conspicuous. And again, as Dr. Whewell remarks (History of Moral Philosophy, Lecture v. p.74) 'the promulgation of Locke's philosophy was felt as a vast accession of strength by the lower, and a great addition to the difficulty of their task by the higher school of morality.' The lower or utilitarian school of morality, which held that morals are to be judged solely by their consequences, was largely followed in the eighteenth century, and contributed not a little to the low moral and spiritual tone of the period.]
[Footnote 177: The Calvinistic controversy was more bitter, but it belonged to the second, not the first half of the century.]
[Footnote 178: 'They attacked a scientific problem without science, and an historical problem without history.' -- Mr. J.C. Morison's Review of Leslie Stephen's 'History of English Thought' in Macmillan's Magazine for February 1877.]
[Footnote 179: See Bishop Butler's charge to the clergy of Durham, 1751. -- 'A great source of infidelity plainly is, the endeavour to get rid of religious restraints.']
[Footnote 180: Mr. Leslie Stephen, Essays on Freethinking and Plain Speaking. On Shaftesbury's 'Characteristics.' -- 'The Deists were not only pilloried for their heterodoxy, but branded with the fatal inscription of |dulness.|' This view is amplified in his larger work, published since the above was written.]
[Footnote 181: Aids to Faith, p.44.]
[Footnote 182: In a brilliant review of Mr. Leslie Stephen's work in Macmillan's Magazine, February 1877, Mr. James Cotter Morison remarks on the Deists' view that natural religion must be always alike plain and perspicuous, 'against this convenient opinion the only objection was that it contradicted the total experience of the human race.']
[Footnote 183: Monk's Life of Bentley, vol. i. See also Berkeley's Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher, 107.]
[Footnote 184: Advertisement to the first edition of The Analogy, p. xiv. See also Swift's description of the Duchess of Marlborough, in Last four Years of Queen Anne, bk. i. The first and most prominent subject of Bishop Butler's 'Durham Charge,' is 'the general decay of religion,' 'which,' he says, 'is now observed by everyone, and has been for some time the complaint of all serious persons' (written in 1751). The Bishop then instructs his clergy at length how this sad fact is to be dealt with; in fact this, directly or indirectly, is the topic of the whole Charge.]
[Footnote 185: He wrote to Courayer in 1726, -- 'No care is wanting in our clergy to defend the Christian Faith against all assaults, and I believe no age or nation has produced more or better writings, &c.... This is all we can do. Iniquity in practice, God knows, abounds,' &c.]
[Footnote 186: Watson's Life of Warburton, p.293.]
[Footnote 187: Guardian, No.3.]
[Footnote 188: Guardian, No.88.]
[Footnote 189: Examiner, xxxix. See also Charles Leslie's Theological Works, vol. ii.533.]
[Footnote 190: Tatler, No.108.]
[Footnote 191: Tatler, No.137.]
[Footnote 192: See Amelia, bk. i. ch. iii. &c.]
[Footnote 193: Dedication of first three books of the Divine Legation. See also Pattison's Essay in Essays and Reviews.]
[Footnote 194: Farrar's Bampton Lectures, 'History of Free Thought.']
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