(1) CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF ARCHBISHOP TILLOTSON'S THEOLOGY.
'Latitudinarian' is not so neutral a term as could be desired. It conveys an implication of reproach and suspicion, by no means ungrounded in some instances, but very inappropriate when used of men who must count among the most distinguished ornaments of the English Church. But no better title suggests itself. The eminent prelates who were raised to the bench in King William III.'s time can no longer, without ambiguity, be called 'Low Churchmen,' because the Evangelicals who succeeded to the name belong to a wholly different school of thought from the Low Churchmen of an earlier age; nor 'Whigs,' because that sobriquet has long been confined to politics; nor 'Broad Churchmen,' because the term would be apt to convey a set of ideas belonging to the nineteenth more than to the eighteenth century. It only remains to divest the word as far as possible of its polemical associations, and to use it as denoting what some would call breadth, others Latitudinarianism of religious and ecclesiastical opinion.
There were many faulty elements in the Latitudinarianism of the eighteenth century. Those who dreaded and lamented its advances found it no difficult task to show that sometimes it was connected with Deistical or with Socinian or Arian views, sometimes with a visionary enthusiasm, sometimes with a weak and nerveless religion of sentiment. They could point also to the obvious fact that thorough scepticism, or even mere irreligion, often found a decent veil under plausible professions of a liberal Christianity. There were some, indeed, who, in the excitement of hostility or alarm, seemed to lose all power of ordinary discrimination. Much in the same way as every 'freethinker' was set down as a libertine or an atheist, so also many men of undoubted piety and earnestness who had done distinguished services in the Christian cause, and who had greatly contributed to raise the repute of the English Church, were constantly ranked as Latitudinarians in one promiscuous class with men to whose principles they were utterly opposed. But, after making all allowance for the unfortunate confusion thus attached to the term, the fact remains that the alarm was not unfounded. Undoubtedly a lower form of Latitudinarianism gained ground, very deficient in some important respects. Just in the same way as, before the middle of the century, a sort of spiritual inertness had enfeebled the vigour of High Churchmen on the one hand and of Nonconformists on the other, so also it was with the Latitude men. After the first ten or fifteen years of the century the Broad Church party in the Church of England was in no very satisfactory state. It had lost not only in spirit and energy, but also in earnestness and piety. Hoadly, Herring, Watson, Blackburne, all showed the characteristic defect of their age -- a want of spiritual depth and fervour. They needed a higher elevation of motive and of purpose to be such leaders as could be desired of what was in reality a great religious movement.
For, whatever may have been its deficiencies, there was no religious movement of such lasting importance as that which from the latter part of the seventeenth until near the end of the eighteenth century was being carried on under the opprobrium of Latitudinarianism. The Methodist and Evangelical revival had, doubtless, greater visible and immediate consequences. Much in the same way, some of the widespread monastic revivals of the Middle Ages were more visible witnesses to the power of religion, and more immediately conducive to its interests, than the silent current of theological thought which was gradually preparing the way for the Reformation. But it was these latter influences which, in the end, have taken the larger place in the general history of Christianity. The Latitudinarianism which had already set in before the Revolution of 1688, unsatisfactory as it was in many respects, probably did more than any other agency in directing and gradually developing the general course of religious thought. Its importance may be intimated in this, that of all the questions in which it was chiefly interested there is scarcely one which has not started into fresh life in our own days, and which is not likely to gain increasing significance as time advances. Church history in the seventeenth century had been most nearly connected with that of the preceding age; it was still directly occupied with the struggles and contentions which had been aroused by the Reformation. That of the eighteenth century is more nearly related to the period which succeeded it. In the sluggish calm that followed the abatement of old controversies men's minds reverted anew to the wide general principles on which the Reformation had been based, and, with the loss of power which attends uncertainty, were making tentative efforts to improve and strengthen the superstructure. 'Intensity,' as has been remarked, 'had for a time done its work, and was now giving place to breadth; when breadth should be natural, intensity might come again.' The Latitude men of the last age can only be fairly judged in the light of this. Their immediate plans ended for the most part in disappointing failure. It was perhaps well that they did, as some indeed of the most active promoters of them were fain to acknowledge. Their proposed measures of comprehension, of revision, of reform, were often defective in principle, and in some respects as one-sided as the evils they were intended to cure. But if their ideas were not properly matured, or if the time was not properly matured for them, they at all events contained the germs of much which may be realised in the future. Meanwhile the comprehensive spirit which is absolutely essential in a national Church was kept alive. The Church of England would have fallen, or would have deserved to fall, if a narrow exclusiveness had gained ground in it without check or protest.
It is proposed to invite, in this chapter, a more particular attention to the writings of Archbishop Tillotson. He lived and died in the seventeenth century, but is an essential part of the Church history of the eighteenth. The most general sketch of its characteristics would be imperfect without some reference to the influence which his life and teaching exercised upon it. Hallam contrasts the great popularity of his sermons for half a century with the utter neglect into which they have now fallen, as a remarkable instance of the fickleness of religious taste. Something must certainly be attributed to change of taste. If Tillotson were thoroughly in accord with our own age in thought and feeling, the mere difference of his style from that which pleases the modern ear would prevent his having many readers. He is reckoned diffuse and languid, greatly deficient in vigour and vivacity. How different was the tone of criticism in the last age! Dryden considered that he was indebted for his good style to the study of Tillotson's sermons. Robert Nelson spoke of them as the best standard of the English language. Addison expressed the same opinion, and thought his writing would form a proper groundwork for the dictionary which he once thought of compiling.
But it was not the beauty and eloquence of language with which Tillotson was at one time credited that gave him the immense repute with which his name was surrounded; neither is it a mere change of literary taste that makes a modern reader disinclined to admire, or even fairly to appreciate, his sermons. He struck the key-note which in his own day, and for two generations or more afterwards, governed the predominant tone of religious reasoning and sentiment. In the substance no less than in the form of his writings men found exactly what suited them -- their own thoughts raised to a somewhat higher level, and expressed just in the manner which they would most aspire to imitate. His sermons, when delivered, had been exceedingly popular. We are told of the crowds of auditors and the fixed attention with which they listened, also of the number of clergymen who frequented his St. Laurence lectures, not only for the pleasure of hearing, but to form their minds and improve their style. He was, in fact, the great preacher of his time. Horace Walpole, writing in 1742, compared the throngs who flocked to hear Whitefield to the concourse which used to gather when Tillotson preached. The literature of the eighteenth century abounds in expressions of respect for his character and admiration of his sermons. Samuel Wesley said that he had brought the art of preaching 'near perfection, had there been as much of life as there is of politeness and generally of cool, clear, close reasoning and convincing arguments.' Even John Wesley puts him in the very foremost rank of great preachers. Robert Nelson specially recommended his sermons to his nephew 'for true notions of religion. 'I like,' remarked Sir Robert Howard, 'such sermons as Dr. Tillotson's, where all are taught a plain and certain way of salvation, and with all the charms of a calm and blessed temper and of pure reason are excited to the uncontroverted, indubitable duties of religion; where all are plainly shown that the means to obtain the eternal place of happy rest are those, and no other, which also give peace in the present life; and where everyone is encouraged and exhorted to learn, but withal to use his own care and reason in working out his own salvation.' Bishop Fleetwood exclaims of him that 'his name will live for ever, increasing in honour with all good and wise men.' Locke called him 'that ornament of our Church, that every way eminent prelate.' In the 'Spectator' his sermons are among Sir Roger de Coverley's favourites. In the 'Guardian' Addison tells how 'the excellent lady, the Lady Lizard, in the space of one summer furnished a gallery with chairs and couches of her own and her daughter's working, and at the same time heard Dr. Tillotson's sermons twice over.' In the 'Tatler' he is spoken of as 'the most eminent and useful author of his age.' His sermons were translated into Dutch, twice into French, and many of them into German. Even in the last few years of the eighteenth century we find references to his 'splendid talents.'
But, as a rule, the writers of the eighteenth century seem unable to form anything like a calm estimate of the eminent bishop. Many were lavish in their encomiums; a minority were extravagant in censures and expressions of dislike. His gentle and temperate disposition had not saved him from bitter invectives in his lifetime, which did not cease after his death. He was set down by his opponents as 'a freethinker.' In the violent polemics of Queen Anne's reign this was a charge very easily incurred, and, once incurred, carried with it very grave implications. By what was apt to seem a very natural sequence Dean Hickes called the good primate in downright terms an atheist. Charles Leslie speaks of him as 'that unhappy man,' and said he was 'owned by the atheistical wits of all England as their primate and apostle.' Of course opinions thus promulgated by the leaders of a party descended with still further distortion to more ignorant partisans. Tom Tempest in the 'Idler' believes that King William burned Whitehall that he might steal the furniture, and that Tillotson died an atheist. John Wesley, as has been already observed, held the Archbishop in much respect. He was too well read a man to listen to misrepresentations on such a matter, too broad and liberal in his views to be scared at the name of Latitudinarian, too deeply impressed with the supreme importance of Christian morality to judge anyone harshly for preaching 'virtue' to excess. But Whitefield and Seward were surpassed by none in the unsparing nature of their attack on Tillotson, 'that traitor who sold his Lord.' It is fair to add that later in life Whitefield regretted the use of such terms, and owned that 'his treatment of him had been far too severe.' With many of the Evangelicals Tillotson was in great disfavour. It is not a little remarkable that a divine who had been constantly extolled as a very pattern of Christian piety and Christian wisdom should by them be systematically decried as little better than a heathen moralist.
The foregoing instances may serve to illustrate the important place which Tillotson held in the religious history of the eighteenth century. They may suffice to show that while there was an extraordinary diversity of opinion as to the character of the influence he had exercised -- while some loved and admired him and others could scarcely tolerate the mention of him -- all agreed that his life and writings had been a very important element in directing the religious thought of his own and the succeeding age. His opponents were very willing to acknowledge that he was greatly respected by Nonconformists. Why not? said they, when he and his party are half Presbyterians, and would 'bring the Church into the Conventicle or the Conventicle into the Church.' They allowed still more readily that he was constantly praised by Rationalists and Deists. Collins put a formidable weapon into their hands when he called Tillotson 'the head of all freethinkers.' But they also had to own that in authority as well as in station he had been eminently a leader in the English Church. A majority of the bishops, and many of the most distinguished among them, had followed his lead. The great bulk of the laity had honoured him in his lifetime, and continued to revere his memory. Men like Locke, and Somers, and Addison were loud in his praise. Even those who were accustomed to regard the Low Churchmen of their age as 'amphibious trimmers' or 'Latitudinarian traditors' were by no means unanimous in dispraise of Tillotson. Dodwell had spoken of him with esteem; and Robert Nelson, who was keenly alive to 'the infection of Latitudinarian teaching,' not only maintained a lifelong friendship with him, and watched by him at his death, but also, as was before mentioned, referred to his sermons for sound notions of religion.
A study of Tillotson's writings ought to throw light upon the general tendency of religious thought which prevailed in England during the half-century or more through which their popularity lasted; for there can be no doubt that his influence was not of a kind which depends on great personal qualities. He was a man who well deserved to be highly esteemed by all with whom he came in contact. But in his gentle and moderate disposition there was none of the force and fire which compels thought into new channels, and sways the minds of men even, against their will. With sound practical sense, with pure, unaffected piety, and in unadorned but persuasive language, he simply gave utterance to religious ideas in a form which to a wide extent satisfied the reason and came home to the conscience of his age. Those, on the other hand, who most distrusted the direction which such ideas were taking, held in proportionate aversion the primate who had been so eminent a representative of them.
Tillotson was universally regarded both by friends and foes as 'a Latitude man.' His writings, therefore, may well serve to exemplify the moderate Latitudinarianism of a thoughtful and religious English Churchman at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Perhaps the first thing that will strike a reader of his works is the constant appeal on all matters of religion to reason. That Christianity is 'the best and the holiest, the wisest and the most reasonable religion in the world;' that 'all the precepts of it are reasonable and wise, requiring such duties of us as are suitable to the light of nature, and do approve themselves to the best reason of mankind' -- such is the general purport of the arguments by which he most trusts to persuade the heart and the understanding. And how, on the other hand, could he better meet the infidelity of the age than by setting himself 'to show the unreasonableness of atheism and of scoffing at religion?' If the appeal to reason will not persuade, what will?
The primary and sovereign place assigned to reason in Tillotson's conception of man as a being able to know and serve God involved some consequences which must be mentioned separately, though they are closely connected with one another.
It led him, if not to reject, at all events to regard with profound distrust all assumptions of any gift of spiritual discernment distinguishable from ordinary powers of understanding. Tillotson's view was that the Spirit of God enlightens the human mind only through the reason, so that the faith of Abraham, for example, 'was the result of the wisest reasoning.' He allows that the spiritual presence may act upon the reason by raising and strengthening the faculty, by making clear the object of inquiry, by suggesting arguments, by holding minds intent upon the evidence, by removing the impediments which hinder assent, and especially by making the persuasion of a truth effectual on the life. This, however, is the very utmost that Tillotson could concede to those who dwell upon the presence within the soul of an inward spiritual light.
Tillotson gave great offence to some of his contemporaries by some expressions he has used in relation to the degree of assurance which is possible to man in regard of religious truths. He based all assent upon rational evidence. But he unhesitatingly admitted that mathematics only admit of clear demonstration; in other matters proof consists in the best arguments that the quality and nature of the thing will bear. We may be well content, he said, with a well-grounded confidence on matters of religious truth corresponding to that which is abundantly sufficient for our purposes in the conduct of our most important worldly interests. A charge was thereupon brought against him of authorising doubt and opening a door to the most radical disbelief. The attack scarcely deserved Tillotson's somewhat lengthy defence. He had but re-stated what many before him had observed as to the exceptional character of demonstrative evidence, and the folly of expecting it where it is plainly inapplicable. A religious mind, itself thoroughly convinced, may chafe against possibility of doubt, but may as well complain against the conditions of human nature. Yet the controversy on this point between Tillotson and his opponents is instructive in forming a judgment upon the general character of religious thought in that age. Tillotson appears, on the one hand, to have been somewhat over-cautious in disclaiming the alleged consequences of his denial of absolute religious certainty. He allows the theoretical possibility of doubt, but speaks as if it were essentially unreasonable. He shows no sign of recognising the sincere faith that often underlies it; that prayerful doubt may be in itself a kind of prayer; that its possibility is involved in all inquiry; that there is such a thing as an irreligious stifling of doubt, resulting in a spiritual and moral degradation; that doubt may sometimes be the clear work of the Spirit of God to break down pride and self-sufficiency, to force us to realise what we believe, to quicken our sense of truth, and to bid us chiefly rest our faith on personal and spiritual grounds which no doubts can touch. In this Tillotson shared in what must be considered a grave error of his age. Few things so encouraged the growth of Deism and unbelief as the stiff refusal on the part of the defenders of Christianity to admit of a frequently religious element in doubt. There was a general disposition, in which even such men as Bishop Berkeley shared, to relegate all doubters to the class of Deists and 'Atheists.' Tillotson strove practically against this fatal tendency, but his reasonings on the subject were confused. He earned, more perhaps than any other divine of his age, the love and confidence of many who were perplexed with religious questionings; but his arguments had not the weight which they would have gained if he had acknowledged more ungrudgingly that doubt must not always be regarded as either a folly or a sin.
Tillotson had learnt much from the Puritan and Calvinistic teaching which, instilled into him throughout his earlier years, had laid deep the foundations of the serious and fervent vein of piety conspicuous in all his life and writings. He had learnt much from the sublime Christian philosophy of his eminent instructors at Cambridge, Cudworth and Henry More, John Smith and Whichcote, under whom his heart and intellect had attained a far wider reach than they could ever have gained in the school of Calvin. But his influence in the eighteenth century would have been more entirely beneficial, if he had treasured up from his Puritan remembrances clearer perceptions of the searching power of divine grace; or if he had not only learnt from the Platonists to extol 'that special prerogative of Christianity that it dares appeal to reason,' and to be imbued with a sense of the divine immutability of moral principles, but had also retained their convictions of unity with the Divine nature, implied alike in that eternity of morality and in that supremacy of the rational faculties, -- together with a corresponding belief that there may be intimate communion between the spirit of man and his Maker, and that 'they who make reason the light of heaven and the very oracle of God, must consider that the oracle of God is not to be heard but in His holy temple,' that is to say, in the heart of a good man purged by that indwelling Spirit. Considering the immense influence which Tillotson's Cambridge teachers had upon the development of his mind, it is curious how widely he differs from them in inward tone. It is quite impossible to conceive of their dwelling, as he and his followers did, upon the pre-eminent importance of the external evidences.
Tillotson could not adopt as unreservedly as he did his pervading tenet of the reasonableness of Christianity without yielding to reason all the rights due to an unquestioned leader. Like Henry More, he would have wished to take for a motto 'that generous resolution of Marcus Cicero, -- rationem, quo ea me cunque ducet, sequar.' 'Doctrines,' he said, 'are vehemently to be suspected which decline trial. To deny liberty of inquiry and judgment in matters of religion, is the greatest injury and disparagement to truth that can be, and a tacit acknowledgment that she lies under some disadvantage, and that there is less to be said for her than for error.' 'Tis only things false and adulterate which shun the light and fear the touchstone.' He has left a beautiful prayer which his editor believed he was in the habit of using before he composed a sermon. In it he asks to be made impartial in his inquiry after truth, ready always to receive it in love, to practise it in his life, and to continue steadfast in it to the end. He adds, 'I perfectly resign myself, O Lord, to Thy counsel and direction, in confidence that Thy goodness is such, that Thou wilt not suffer those who sincerely desire to know the truth and rely upon Thy guidance, finally to miscarry.'
These last words are a key to Tillotson's opinion upon a question about which, in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, there was much animated controversy -- in what light sincere error should be regarded. If free inquiry on religious subjects is allowable and right, is a man to be held blameless if he arrives at false conclusions in respect of the fundamental articles of faith? That the answer to be given might involve grave issues continually appeared in discussion alike with Roman Catholics and with Deists. The former had no stronger argument against liberty of private judgment than to ask how those who freely granted it could pass any moral censure upon the heresies which might constantly result from it. The latter insisted that, whether they were right or wrong, no Protestant had any title to hold them in the slightest degree blameable before God or man for any opinions which were the result of conscientious research. Much was written on the subject by theologians of the generation which succeeded next after Tillotson, as for instance by Hoadly, Sykes, Whitby, Law, Hare, and Balguy. But in truth, if the premisses be granted -- if free inquiry is allowable and the inquiry be conducted with all honesty of heart and mind -- no candid person, whatever be his opinions, can give other than one answer. Kettlewell, High Churchman and Nonjuror, readily acknowledged that 'where our ignorance of any of Christ's laws is joined with an honest heart, and remains after our sincere industry to know the truth, we may take comfort to ourselves that it is involuntary and innocent.' In this he agreed with his Low Church contemporary, Chillingworth, who said that 'To ask pardon of simple and involuntary errors is tacitly to imply that God is angry with us for them, and that were to impute to Him this strange tyranny of requiring brick where He gives no straw; of expecting to gather where He strewed not; of being offended with us for not doing what He knows we cannot do.' Tillotson always speaks guardedly on the subject. He was keenly alive to the evil practical consequences which may result from intellectual error, -- very confident that in all important particulars orthodox doctrine was the true and safe path, very anxious therefore not to say anything which might weaken the sense of responsibility in those who deviated from it. But he never attempted to evade the logical conclusion which follows from an acknowledged right of private judgment. In his practice as well as in his theory, he wholly admitted the blamelessness of error where there was ardent sincerity of purpose. He wrote several times against the Unitarians, but gladly allowed that many of them were thoroughly good men, honest and candid in argument, nor did he even scruple to admit to a cordial friendship one of their most distinguished leaders, Thomas Firmin, a man of great beneficence and philanthropy.
There was no reservation in Tillotson's mind as to the general right of private judgment. 'Any man that hath the spirit of a man must abhor to submit to this slavery not to be allowed to examine his religion, and to inquire freely into the grounds and reasons of it; and would break with any Church in the world upon this single point; and would tell them plainly, |If your religion be too good to be examined, I doubt it is too bad to be believed.|' He grounded the right on three principles. The first was, that essentials are so plain that every man of ordinary capacities, after receiving competent instruction, is able to judge of them. This, he added, was no new doctrine of the Reformation, but had been expressly owned by such ancient fathers as St. Chrysostom and St. Augustine. The second was, that it was a Scriptural injunction. St. Luke, in the Acts, St. Paul and St. John in their Epistles, had specially commended search, examination, inquiry, proof. The third was, that even those who most disputed the right were forced nevertheless to grant it in effect. Whenever they make a proselyte they argue with him, they appeal to his reason, they bid him to use his judgment. If it were urged that it could not be accordant to the Divine purpose to give full scope to a liberty which distracted unity and gave rise to so much controversy and confusion, -- we must judge, he replied, by what is, not by what we fancy ought to be. We could be relieved from the responsibilities of judging for ourselves only by the existence of an infallible authority to which we could appeal. This is not granted either in temporal or in spiritual matters. Nor is it needed. A degree of certainty sufficient for all our needs is attainable without it. Even in Apostolic times, when it might be said to have existed, error and schism were not thereby prevented. 'With charity and mutual forbearance, the Church may be peaceful and happy without absolute unity of opinion.' Let it be enough that we have guides to instruct us in what is plain, and to guide us in more doubtful matters. After all, 'there is as much to secure men from mistakes in matters of belief, as God hath afforded to keep men from sin in matters of practice. He hath made no effectual and infallible provision that men shall not sin; and yet it would puzzle any man to give a good reason why God should take more care to secure men against errors in belief than against sin and wickedness in their lives.'
Tillotson, however, did not omit to add four cautions as to the proper limits within which the right of private judgment should be exercised. (1) A private person must only judge for himself, not impose his judgment on others. His only claim to that liberty is that it belongs to all. (2) The liberty thus possessed does not dispense with the necessity of guides and teachers in religion; nor (3) with due submission to authority. 'What by public consent and authority is determined and established ought not to be gainsaid by private persons but upon very clear evidence of the falsehood or unlawfulness of it; nor is the peace and unity of the Church to be violated upon every scruple and frivolous pretence.' (4) There are a great many who, from ignorance or insufficient capacity, are incompetent to judge of any controverted question. 'Such persons ought not to engage in disputes of religion; but to beg God's direction and to rely upon their teachers; and above all to live up to the plain dictates of natural light, and the clear commands of God's word, and this will be their best security.'
There has probably been no period in which liberty of thought on religious subjects has been debated in this country so anxiously, so vehemently, so generally, as in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. The Reformation had hinged upon it; but general principles were then greatly obscured in the excitement of change, and amid the multiplicity of secondary questions of more immediate practical interest. For a hundred and fifty years after the first breach with Rome, it may be said that private judgment was most frequently considered in connection with a power of option between different Church communions. A man had to choose whether he would adhere to the old, or adopt the new form of faith -- whether he would remain staunch to the reformed Anglican Church, or cast in his lot with the Puritans, or with one or other of the rising sects, -- whether Episcopacy or Presbyterianism most conformed to his ideas of Church government. When at last these controversies had abated, the full importance of the principles involved in this new liberty of thought began to be fully felt. Their real scope and nature, apart from any transient applications, engaged great attention, first among the studious and thoughtful, among philosophers and theologians, but before long throughout the country generally. Locke among philosophers, Tillotson and Chillingworth among divines, addressed their reasonings not to the few, but to the many. Their arguments however would not have been so widely and actively discussed, had it not been for the Deists. Free-thought in reference to certain ecclesiastical topics had been for several generations familiar to every Englishman; but just at a time when reflecting persons of every class were beginning to inquire what was implied in this liberty of thought and choice, the term was unhappily appropriated by the opponents of revelation, and, as if by common consent, conceded to them. Notwithstanding all that could be urged by a number of eminent and influential preachers and writers, freethinking became a term everywhere associated with Deism and disbelief. It was a suicidal error, which rapidly gained ground, and lingers still. The Deists gained great advantage from it. They started as it were with an unchallenged verbal assumption that the most fundamental principle of correct reasoning was on their side. All inquiries as to truth, all sound research, all great reforms, demand free thought; and they were the acknowledged Freethinkers. A name could not have been chosen more admirably adapted to create, especially in young and candid minds, a prejudice in their favour. For the same reason, all who asserted the duty of fearless investigation in the interests of Christianity could only do so under penalty of incurring from many quarters loudly expressed suspicions of being Deists in disguise. Tillotson was by strong conviction an advocate of freethought. 'He is a Freethinker,' said all who were afraid of liberty. 'Therefore no doubt he is undermining Revelation, he is fighting the battle of the Deists.' 'Yes,' echoed the Deists, glad to persuade themselves that they had the sanction of his authority. 'He is a Freethinker; if not one of us, at all events he is closely allied with us.' Yet, on the whole, his fame and influence probably gained by it. Many who were inclined to Deistical opinions were induced to read Tillotson, and to feel the force of his arguments, who would never have opened a page of such a writer as Leslie. Many, again, who dreaded the Deists, but were disturbed by their arguments, were wisely anxious to see what was advanced against them by the distinguished prelate who had been said to agree with them in some of their leading principles. Meanwhile liberty of thought, independently of 'Freethinking,' in the obnoxious sense of the word, attracted a growing amount of attention. The wide interest felt in the ponderous Bangorian controversy, as it dragged on its tedious course, is in itself ample evidence of the desire to see some satisfactory adjustment of the respective bounds of authority and reason. No doubt Tillotson did more than any one else, Locke only excepted, to create this interest. It was an immense contribution to the general progress of intelligent thought on religious subjects, to do as much as was effected by these two writers in removing abstract ideas from the domain of theological and philosophical speculation, and transferring them, not perhaps without some loss of preciseness and definition, to the popular language of ordinary life. The eighteenth century erred much in trusting too implicitly to the powers of 'common sense.' Yet this direct appeal to the average understanding was in many ways productive of benefit. It induced people to realise to themselves, more than they had done, what it was they believed, and to form intelligible conceptions of theological tenets, instead of vaguely accepting upon trust what they had learnt from their religious teachers. Even while it depressed for the time the ideal of spiritual attainment, the defect was temporary, but the work real. 'By clearing away,' says Dorner, 'much dead matter, it prepared the way for a reconstruction of theology from the very depths of the heart's belief.'
In calling upon all men to test their faith by their reason, Tillotson had to explain the relations of human reason to those articles of belief which lie beyond its grasp. There was the more reason to do this, because of the difficulties which were felt, and the disputes which had arisen about 'mysteries' in religion. Undoubtedly it is a word very capable of misuse. 'Times,' says the author last quoted, 'unfruitful in theological knowledge are ever wont to fall back upon mystery and upon the much abused demand of |taking the reason prisoner to the obedience of faith.|' With some, religion has thus been made barren and ineffectual by being regarded as a thing to be passively accepted without being understood. Among others, it has been degraded into superstition by the same cause. When an appetite for the mysterious has been cherished, it becomes easy to attribute spiritual results to material causes, to the confusion of the first principles alike of morality and of knowledge. Some, through an ambition of understanding the unintelligible, have wasted their energies in a labyrinth of scholastic subtleties; others have surrendered themselves to a vague unpractical mysticism.
But, whatever may have been the errors common in other ages, it was certainly no characteristic of the eighteenth century to linger unhealthily upon the contemplation of mysteries. The predominant fault was one of a directly opposite nature. There was apt to be an impatience of all mystery, a contemptuous neglect of all that was not self-evident or easy to understand. 'The Gospel,' it was said, 'professes plainness and uses no hard words.' Whatever was obscure was only the imperfection of the old dispensation, or the corruption of the new, and might be excluded from the consideration of rational beings. Even in the natural world there was most mystery in the things which least concern us; Divine providence had ordered that what was most necessary should be least obscure. Much too was added about the priestcraft and superstition which had commonly attended the inculcation of mysterious doctrines. In all such arguments there was a considerable admixture of truth. But in its general effect it tended greatly to depress the tone of theological thought, to take away from it sublimity and depth, and to degrade religion into a thing of earth. Even where it did not controvert any of the special doctrines of revealed religion, it inclined men to pass lightly over them, or at all events to regard them only in their directly practical aspects, and so to withdraw from the soul, as if they were but idle speculations, some of the most elevating subjects of contemplation which the Christian faith affords. Such reasoners were strangely blind to the thought that few could be so inertly commonplace in mind and feeling, as to rest satisfied with being fired to virtuous deeds by the purely practical side of transcendental truths, without delighting in further reflection on the very nature of those mysteries themselves. Nor did they at all realise, that independently of any direct results in morality and well-being, it is no small gain to a man to be led by the thought of Divine mysteries to feel that he stands on the verge of a higher world, a higher nature, of which he may have scarcely a dim perception, but to which creatures lower than himself in the scale of being are wholly insensible. There was little feeling that truths which baffle reason may be, and must be, nevertheless accordant with true reason. It was left to William Law, a writer who stood much apart from the general spirit of his age, to remark: 'This is the true ground and nature of the mysteries of Christian redemption. They are, in themselves, nothing else but what the nature of things requires them to be ... but they are mysteries to man, because brought into the scheme of redemption by the interposition of God to work in a manner above and superior to all that is seen and done in the things of this world.'
Nothing very instructive or suggestive must be looked for from Tillotson on the subject of Divine mysteries. He was too much of an eighteenth-century man, if it may be so expressed, to be able to give much appreciative thought to anything that lay beyond the direct province of reason. Yet, on the other hand, he was too deeply religious, and too watchful an observer, not to perceive that the unspiritual and sceptical tendencies of his age were fostered by the disparagement of all suprasensual ideas. The consequence is, that he deals with the subject without ease, and with the air of an apologist. This remark does not so much relate to the miracles. Upon them he constantly insists as a very material part of distinctly rational evidence. But mysteries, apart from any evidential character which they may possess, he clearly regards almost entirely in the sense of difficulties, necessary to be believed, but mere impediments to faith rather than any assistance to it. 'Great reverence,' he says, 'is due to them where they are certain and necessary in the nature and reason of the thing, but they are not easily to be admitted without necessity and very good evidence.' He is not sure whether much that seems mysterious may not be in some degree explained as compliances, for the sake of our edification, with human modes of thought. On the whole, he is inclined to reduce within as narrow a compass as possible the number of tenets which transcend our faculties of reason, to receive them, when acknowledged, with reverential submission, but to pass quickly from them, as matters in which we have little concern, and which do not greatly affect the practical conduct of life. His extreme distaste for anything that appeared to him like idle speculation or unprofitable controversy, often blinded him in a very remarkable degree to the evident fact, that the very same mysterious truths which have given occasion to many futile speculations, many profitless disputes, are also, in every Christian communion, rich in their supply of Christian motives and practical bearings upon conduct.
Tillotson's opinions on points of doctrine were sometimes attacked with a bitterness of rancour only to be equalled by the degree of misrepresentation upon which the charges were founded. Leslie concludes his indictment against him and Burnet by saying that 'though the sword of justice be (at present) otherwise employed than to animadvert upon these blasphemers, and though the chief and father of them all is advanced to the throne of Canterbury, and thence infuses his deadly poison through the nation,' yet at least all 'ought to separate from the Church communion of these heretical bishops.' Yet, if we examine the arguments upon which this invective is supported, and compare with their context the detached sentences which his hot-blooded antagonist adduces, we shall find that Tillotson maintained no opinion which would not be considered in a modern English Churchman to be at all events perfectly legitimate. Had his opponents been content to point out serious deficiencies in the general tendency of his teaching, they would have held a thoroughly tenable position. When they attempted to attach to his name the stigma of specific heresies, they failed. He thought for himself, and sometimes very differently from them, but never wandered far from the paths of orthodoxy. Accusations of Socinianism were freely circulated both against him and Burnet, on grounds which chiefly serve to show within what narrow grooves religious thought would have been confined by the objectors. Burnet, whose theological discourses received Tillotson's hearty commendation, has fully stated what appears to have been the less clearly conceived opinion of the archbishop. There was no tincture of Arianism in it; he showed on the contrary, with much power, the utter untenability of that hypothesis. The worship of Christ, he said, is so plainly set forth in the New Testament, that not even the opposers of His divinity deny it; yet nothing is so much condemned in Scripture as worshipping a creature. 'We may well and safely determine that Christ was truly both God and Man.' But he held that this true Divinity of Christ consisted in 'the indwelling of the Eternal Word in Christ,' which 'became united to His human nature, as our souls dwell in our bodies and are united to them.' As Leslie said, he did in effect explain the doctrine of the Trinity as three manifestations of the Divine nature. 'By the first, God may be supposed to have made and to govern all things; by the second, to have been most perfectly united to the humanity of Christ; and by the third, to have inspired the penmen of the Scriptures and the workers of miracles, and still to renew and fortify all good minds. But though we cannot explain how they are Three and have a true diversity from one another, so that they are not barely different names and modes; yet we firmly believe that there is but one God.' A jealous and disputatious orthodoxy might be correct in affirming that this exposition of the Trinity was a form of Sabellianism, and one which might perhaps be accepted by some of the Unitarians. It is stated here rather to show on what scanty grounds the opponents of the 'Latitudinarian bishops' founded one of their chief accusations of Socinian heresy.
But this was only part of the general charge. It was also said that Tillotson was a 'rank Socinian' in regard of his views upon the doctrine of the satisfaction made by Christ for the sins of men. The ground of offence lay in his great dislike for anything which seemed to savour less of Scripture than of scholastic refinements in theology. He thought it great rashness to prescribe limits, as it were, to infinite wisdom, and to affirm that man's salvation could not possibly have been wrought in any other way than by the incarnation and satisfaction of the Son of God. A Christian reasoner may well concede that he can form no conjecture in what variety of modes redeeming love might have been manifested. He has no need to build theories upon what alone is possible, when the far nobler argument is set before him, to trace the wisdom and the fitness of the mode which God's providence actually has chosen. Tillotson raised no question whatever as to the manner in which redemption was effected, but stated it in exactly such terms as might have been used by any preacher of the day. For example: 'From these and many other texts it seems to be very plain and evident, that Christ died for our sins, and suffered in our stead, and by the sacrifice of Himself hath made an atonement for us and reconciled us to God, and hath paid a price and ransom for us, and by the merits of his death hath purchased for us forgiveness of sins.'
Nevertheless the charge was brought against him, as it was in a less degree against Burnet and other Low Churchmen of this time, of 'disputing openly against the satisfaction of Christ.' This deserves some explanation. For though in the mere personal question there can be little historical interest, it is instructive, as illustrating an important phase of religious thought. The charge rested on three or four different grounds. There was the broad general objection, as it seemed to some, that Tillotson was always searching out ways of bringing reason to bear even on Divine mysteries, where they held its application to be impertinent and almost sacrilegious. His refusal, already mentioned, to allow that the sacrifice of Christ's death was the only conceivable way in which, consistently with the Divine attributes, sin could be forgiven, was a further cause for displeasure. It did not at all fall in with a habit which, both in pulpit and in argumentative divinity, had become far too customary, of speaking of the Atonement with a kind of legal, or even mathematical exactness, as of a debt which nothing but full payment can cancel, or of a problem in proportion which admits only of one solution. Then, although Tillotson defended the propriety of the term 'satisfaction,' he had observed that the word was nowhere found in Scripture, and would apparently have not regretted its disuse. It was a graver proof of doctrinal laxity, if not of heresy, in the estimation of many, that although for his own part he always spoke of Christ suffering 'in our stead,' he had thought it perfectly immaterial whether it were expressed thus or 'for our benefit.' It was all 'a perverse contention which signified just nothing.... For he that dies with an intention to do that benefit to another as to save him from death, doth certainly, to all intents and purposes, die in his place and stead.' Certainly, in these words Tillotson singularly underrated a very important difference. Our whole conception of the meaning of Redemption, that most fundamental doctrine of all Christian theology, is modified by an acceptance of the one rather than of the other expression. In our own days one interpretation is considered as legitimate in the English Church as the other. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, a cramped and mistaken orthodoxy, which did much harm, was apt to represent the translation 'for our sakes' as connected exclusively with Deistical or Unitarian opinions. From that point of view, we can understand how Leslie declared with bitterness, that although the Archbishop wrote against the Socinians, 'it was really to do them service, and reconcile men more to their principles by lessening the differences which are conceived betwixt them and us.'
Another cause which stirred great animosity against Tillotson as a theological writer consisted in his partial acceptance of that principle of 'accommodation' which was afterwards made so much use of by Semler and many other German writers. Thus, the natural love of mystery which, in man's unenlightened state, had been fruitful in fantastical and unworthy superstitions, was gently guided to the contemplation of a mystery of godliness -- God manifested in the flesh -- so great, so wonderful, so infinite in mercy, as to 'obscure and swallow up all other mysteries.' The inclination of mankind to the worship of a visible and sensible Deity was diverted into its true channel by the revelation of one to whom, as the 'brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person,' divine worship might be paid 'without danger of idolatry, and without injury to the divine nature.' The apotheosis of heroes, the tendency to raise to semi-divine honours great benefactors of the race, was sublimely superseded by the exaltation to the right hand of the Majesty on high of one who is not half but wholly infinite, and yet true man and the truest benefactor of our race; One that 'was dead and is alive again, and lives for evermore.' The religious instinct which craved for mediation and intercession was gratified, and the worship of saints made for the future inexcusable, by the gift of one Mediator between God and men, a perpetual advocate and intercessor. It was the same, Tillotson added, with sacrifice. On this point he dilated more at length. The sacrificial character, he said, of the atonement was not to be explained in any one manner. To open a way of forgiveness which would at the same time inspire a deep feeling of the guilt and consequences of sin, and create a horror of it, which would kindle fervent love to the Saviour, and pity for all in misery as He had pity on us; these are some of the effects which the sacrifice of Christ is adapted to fulfil, and there may be other divine counsels hidden in it of which we know little or nothing. But he thought that further explanation might be found in a tender condescension to certain religious ideas which almost everywhere prevailed among mankind. Unreasonable as it was to suppose that the blood of slain animals could take away sin, sacrifice had always been resorted to. Perhaps it implied a confession of belief that sin cannot be pardoned without suffering. Whatever the ground and foundation may have been, at all events, both among Jews and heathens, it was an established principle that 'without shedding of blood there is no remission.' God's providence may be deemed to have adapted itself to this general apprehension, not in order to countenance these practices, but for the future to abolish them, deepening at the same time and spiritualising the meaning involved in them. 'Very probably in compliance with this apprehension of mankind, and in condescension to it, as well as for other weighty reasons best known to the divine wisdom, God was pleased to find out such a sacrifice as should really and effectually procure for them that great blessing of the forgiveness of sins which they had so long hoped for from the multitude of their own sacrifices.'
It is curious to see in what sort of light these not very formidable speculations were construed by some of Tillotson's contemporaries. 'He makes,' says Leslie, 'the foundation of the Christian religion to be some foolish and wicked fancies, which got into people's heads, he knows not and says no matter how; and instead of reforming them, and commanding us to renounce and abhor them, which one would have expected, and which Christ did to all other wickedness, the doctor's scheme is, that God, in compliance with them, and to indulge men in these same wild and wicked fancies, did send Christ, took His life, and instituted the whole economy of the Christian religion.' The construction put upon the Archbishop's words is curious but deplorable. It is not merely that it exemplifies, though not in nearly so great a degree as other passages which might be quoted, the polemical virulence which was then exceedingly common, and which warped the reasoning powers of such men of talent and repute as Leslie. The encouragement which attacks made in this spirit gave to the Deism and infidelity against which they were directed, was a far more permanent evil. Much may be conceded to the alarm not unnaturally felt at a time when independent thought was beginning to busy itself in the investigation of doctrines which had been generally exempt from it, and when all kinds of new difficulties were being started on all sides. But the many who felt difficulties, and honestly sought to find a solution of them, were constantly driven into open hostility by the unconciliatory treatment they met with. Their most moderate departures from the strictest path of presumed orthodox exposition were clamorously resented; their interpretations of Christian doctrine, however religiously conceived, and however worthy of being at least fairly weighed, were placed summarily under a ban; and those Church dignitaries in whom they recognised some sort of sympathy were branded as 'Sons of Belial.' There can be no doubt that at the end of the seventeenth, and in the earlier part of the eighteenth centuries, many men, who under kindlier conditions would have been earnest and active Churchmen, were unconsciously forced, by the intolerance which surrounded them, into the ranks of the Deists or the Unitarians.
In the general charge preferred against Tillotson of dangerous and heretical opinion there was yet another item which attracted far more general attention than the rest. 'This new doctrine,' says Leslie, 'of making hell precarious doth totally overthrow the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ.' Of this particular inference, which would legitimately follow only upon a very restricted view of the meaning of atonement, there is no need of speaking. But the opinion itself, as stated in Tillotson's sermon on what was often described as 'the dispensing power,' is so important that any estimate of his influence upon religious thought would be very imperfect without some mention of it. There are many theological questions of great religious consequence which are discussed nevertheless only in limited circles, and are familiar to others chiefly in their practical applications. The future state is a subject in which everyone has such immediate personal concern, that arguments which seem likely to throw fresh light upon it, especially if put forward by an eminent and popular divine, are certain to obtain very wide and general attention. Tillotson's sermon not only gave rise to much warm controversy among learned writers, but was eagerly debated in almost all classes of English society.
Perhaps there has never been a period in Christian history when the prospects of the bulk of mankind in the world beyond the grave have been enwrapped in such unmitigated gloom in popular religious conception, as throughout the Protestant countries of Europe during a considerable part of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is no place to compare Scripture texts, or to show in what various senses the words of Christ and His Apostles have been interpreted. It may be enough to remark in passing that perhaps no Christian writer of any note has ever doubted the severe reality of retribution on unrepented sin. Without further reference then to the Apostolic age, it is certain that among the early fathers of the Church there was much difference of opinion as to the nature, degree, and duration of future punishment. Hermas, in one of those allegories which for three centuries enjoyed an immense popularity, imagined an infinite variety of degrees of retribution. Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, in closely corresponding words, speak of its period of duration as simply dependent upon the will of God. The Christian Sibylline books cherished hopes in the influence of intercession. Ambrose and Lactantius, Jerome, and in a far more notable degree, Clement of Alexandria and Origen write of corrective fires of discipline in the next world, if not in this, to purify all souls, unless there are any which, being altogether bad, sink wholly in the mighty waters. 'Augustine's writings show how widely those questions were discussed. He rejects the Origenian doctrine, but does not consider it heretical.... None of the first four general councils laid down any doctrine whatever concerning the everlasting misery of the wicked. Yet the question had been most vehemently disputed.' Throughout the Middle Ages, religious terrorism in its barest and most material form was an universal, and sometimes no doubt a very efficient instrument of moral control; but small consideration is needed to perceive how these fears must have been at once tempered and partly neutralised by the belief in purgatory -- tempered by the hope that pains preceding judgment might take the place of ultimate penalties, and almost neutralised by the superstitious idea that such purgatorial sufferings might be lightened and shortened by extraneous human agencies independent of the purification and renewal of the sinful soul. Throughout the earlier period of the Reformation, and especially in England, the protest of Protestantism was mainly against specific abuses in the Church, and against the Papal supremacy. Two or three generations had to pass away before habits of thought engrained for ages in the popular mind were gradually effaced. In spite of the rapid growth of Puritanism, and of the strong hold gained by an extreme form of Calvinism on some of the leading Churchmen of Queen Elizabeth's time, the faith of the mass of the people was still a combination, in varied proportions, of the old and the new. The public mind had utterly revolted against the system of indulgences; but it would be very rash to assume that men's ideas of the eternal state were not largely and widely modified by an undefined tradition of purifying fires. Although this may not have been the case with the clergy and others who were familiar with controversy, there was certainly among them also a strong disinclination to pronounce any decided or dogmatical opinion about that unknown future. This is traceable in the various writings elicited by the omission of the latter part of the third article in the Revision under Archbishop Parker; and is more palpably evident in the entire excision of the forty-second article, which for ten years had committed the Church of England to an express opinion as to the irreparable state of the condemned. But long before the seventeenth century had closed, orthodox opinion seems to have set almost entirely in the direction of the sternest and most hopeless interpretation possible. Bishop Rust of Dromore, who died in 1670, ardently embraced Origen's view. So also did Sir Henry Vane, the eminent Parliamentary leader, who was beheaded for high treason in 1662. A few Nonconformist congregations adopted similar opinions. The Cambridge Platonists -- insisting prominently, as most writers of a mystical turn have done, upon that belief in the universal fatherhood of God, which had infused a gentler tone, scarcely compatible with much that he wrote, even into Luther's spirit -- inclined to a milder theology. Henry More ventured to hope that 'the benign principle will get the upper hand at last, and Hades, as Plutarch says, [Greek: apoleipesthai], be left in the lurch.' But these were exceptions. For the most part, among religious writers of every school of thought there was perfect acquiescence in a doctrine of intolerable never-ending torments, and no attempt whatever to find some mode of explanation by which to escape from the horrors of the conception. Pearson and Bull, Lake and Kettlewell, Bentley, Fleetwood, Worthington, Sherlock, Steele and Addison, Bunyan and Doddridge -- theologians and scholars, Broad Churchmen and Nonjurors, preachers and essayists, Churchmen and Nonconformists -- expressed themselves far more unreservedly than is at all usual in our age, even among those who, in theory, interpret Scripture in the same sense. The hideous imagery depicted by the graphic pencil of Orcagna on the walls of the Campo Santo was reproduced no less vividly in the prose works of Bunyan, and with equal vigour, if not with equal force of imagination, by almost all who sought to kindle by impassioned pulpit appeals the conscience of their hearers. Young's poem of 'The Last Day,' in which panegyrics of Queen Anne are strangely blended with a powerful and awe-inspiring picture of the most extreme and hopeless misery, was highly approved, we are told, not only by general readers but by the Tory Ministry and their friends. No doubt the practical and regulative faith which exercised a real influence upon life was of quite a different nature. A tenet which cannot be in the slightest degree realised, except perhaps in special moments of excitement or depression, is rendered almost neutral and inefficacious by the conscience refusing to dwell upon it. Belief in certain retribution compatible with human ideas of justice and goodness cannot fail in practical force. A doctrine which does not comply with this condition, if not questioned, is simply evaded. 'And dost thou not,' cried Adams, 'believe what thou hearest in Church?' 'Most part of it, Master,' returned the host. 'And dost not thou then tremble at the thought of eternal punishment?' 'As for that, Master,' said he, 'I never once thought about it; but what signifies talking about matters so far off?' But if by the majority the doctrine in point was practically shelved, it was everywhere passively accepted as the only orthodox faith, and all who ventured to question it were at once set down as far advanced in ways of Deism or worse.
Nothing can be more confirmatory of what has been said than the writings of Tillotson himself. His much-famed sermon 'On the Eternity of Hell Torments' was preached in 1690 before Queen Mary, a circumstance which gave occasion to some of the bitterest of his ecclesiastical and political opponents to pretend that it was meant to assuage the horrors of remorse felt by the Queen for having unnaturally deserted her father. His departure, however, from what was considered the orthodox belief was cautious in the extreme. He acknowledged indeed that the words translated by eternal and 'everlasting' do not always, in Scripture language, mean unending. But on this he laid no stress. He did not doubt, he said, that this at all events was their meaning wherever they occurred in the passages in question. He mentioned, only to set aside the objection raised by Locke and others, that death could not mean eternal life in misery. He thought the solemn assertion applied typically to the Israelites, and confirmed (to show its immutability) by an oath that they should not 'enter into his rest,' entirely precluded Origen's idea of a final restitution. He even supposed, although somewhat dubiously, that 'whenever we break the laws of God we fall into his hands and lie at his mercy, and he may, without injustice, inflict what punishment on us he pleases,' and that in any case obstinately impenitent sinners must expect his threatenings to be fully executed upon them. But in this lay the turning-point of his argument. 'After all, he that threatens hath still the power of execution in his hand. For there is this remarkable difference between promises and threatenings -- that he who promiseth passeth over a right to another, and thereby stands obliged to him in justice and faithfulness to make good his promise; and if he do not, the party to whom the promise is made is not only disappointed, but injuriously dealt withal; but in threatenings it is quite otherwise. He that threatens keeps the right of punishing in his own hands, and is not obliged to execute what he hath threatened any further than the reasons and ends of government do require.' Thus Nineveh was absolutely threatened; 'but God understood his own right, and did what he pleased, notwithstanding the threatening he had denounced.' Such was Tillotson's theory of the 'dispensing power,' an argument in great measure adopted from the distinguished Arminian leader, Episcopius, and which was maintained by Burnet, and vigorously defended by Le Clerc. It was not, however, at all a satisfactory position to hold. Intellectually and spiritually, its level is a low one; and even those who have thought little upon the subject will feel, for the most part, as by a kind of instinct, that this at all events is not the true explanation, though it may contain some germs of truth. To do reasonable justice to it, we must take into account the conflicting considerations by which Tillotson's mind was swayed. No one could appeal more confidently and fervently than he does to the perfect goodness of God, a goodness which wholly satisfies the human reason, and supplies inexhaustible motives for love and worship. We can reverence, he said, nothing but true goodness. A God wanting in it would be only 'an omnipotent evil, an irresistible mischief.'
But side by side with this principal current of thought was another. Dismayed at the profligacy and carelessness he saw everywhere around him, he was evidently convinced that not fear only, but some overwhelming terror was absolutely necessary for even the tolerable restraint of human sin and passion. 'Whosoever,' he said, 'considers how ineffectual the threatening even of eternal torments is to the greatest part of sinners, will soon be satisfied that a less penalty than that of eternal sufferings would to the far greater part of mankind have been in all probability of little or no force.'
The result, therefore, of this twofold train of thought was this -- that when Tillotson had once disburdened himself of a conviction which must have been wholly essential to his religious belief, and upon which he could not have held silence without a degrading feeling of insincerity, he then felt at liberty to suppress all further mention of it, and to lay before his hearers, without any qualification, in the usual language of his time, that tremendous alternative which he believed God himself had thought it necessary to proclaim. Probably Tillotson's own mind was a good deal divided on the subject between two opinions. In many respects his mind showed a very remarkable combination of old and new ideas, and perceptibly fluctuated between a timid adherence to tradition and a sympathy with other notions which had become unhappily and needlessly mixed up with imputations of Deism. In any case, what he has said upon this most important subject is a singular and exaggerated illustration of that prudential teaching which was a marked feature both in Tillotson's theology and in the prevailing religious thought of his age.
In spite of what Tillotson might perhaps have wished, the suggestions hazarded in his thirty-fifth sermon made an infinitely greater impression than the unqualified warnings contained in the hundreds which he preached at other times. It seems to have had a great circulation, and probably many and mixed results. So far as it encouraged that abominable system, which was already falling like a blight upon religious faith, of living according to motives of expedience and the wiser chance, its effects must have been utterly bad. It may also have exercised an unsettling influence upon some minds. Although Tillotson was probably entirely mistaken in the conviction, by no means peculiar to him, that the idea of endless punishment adds any great, or even any appreciable, force to the thought of divine retribution awaiting unrepented sin, yet there would be much cause for alarm if (as might well be the case) the ignorant or misinformed leaped to the conclusion that the Archbishop had maintained that future, as distinguished from endless punishments, were doubtful. We are told that 'when this sermon of hell was first published, it was handed about among the great debauchees and small atheistical wits more than any new play that ever came out. He was not a man of fashion who wanted one of them in his pocket, or could draw it out at the coffee-house.' In certain drawing-rooms, too, where prudery was not the fault, there were many fashionable ladies who would pass from the scandal and gossip of the day to applaud Tillotson's sermon in a sense which would have made him shudder. Nothing follows from this, unless it be assumed that the profligates and worldlings of the period would have spent a single hour, not to say a life, differently, had he never preached the sermon which they discredited with their praise. It is possible, however, that through misapprehension, or through the disturbing effects upon some minds, quite apart from rational grounds, of any seeming innovation upon accustomed teaching, there may have been here and there real ground for the alarm which some very good people felt at these views having been broached. It must be acknowledged that Tillotson's theory of a dispensing power is not only unsatisfactory on other grounds, but possesses a dangerous quality of expansibility. However much he himself might protest against such a view, there was no particular reason why the easy and careless should not urge that God might perchance dispense with all future punishment of sin, and not only with its threatened endlessness.
Tillotson's theological faults were of a negative, far rather than of a positive character. The constant charges of heresy which were brought against him were ungrounded, and often serve to call attention to passages where he has shown himself specially anxious to meet Deistical objections. But there were deficiencies and omissions in his teaching which might very properly be regarded with distrust and alarm. In the generality of his sermons he dwells very insufficiently upon distinctive Christian doctrine. His early parishioners of Keddington, in Suffolk, were more alive to this serious fault than the vast London congregations before whom he afterwards preached. He has himself, in one of his later sermons, alluded to the objection. 'I foresee,' he observed, 'what will be said, because I have heard it so often said in the like case, that there is not one word of Jesus Christ in all this. No more is there in the text, and yet I hope that Jesus Christ is truly preached, whenever His will, and the laws, and the duties enjoined by the Christian religion are inculcated upon us.' Tillotson never adequately realised that the noblest treatise on Christian ethics will be found wanting in the spiritual force possessed by sermons far inferior to it in thought and eloquence, in which faith in the Saviour and love of Him are directly appealed to for motives to all virtuous effort. This very grave deficiency in the preaching of Tillotson and others of his type was in great measure the effect of reaction. Brought up in the midst of Calvinistic and Puritan associations, he had gained abundant experience of the great evil arising from mistaken ideas on free grace and justification by faith only. He had seen doctrines 'greedily entertained to the vast prejudice of Christianity, as if in this new covenant of the Gospel, God took all upon Himself and required nothing, or as good as nothing, of us; that it would be a disparagement to the freedom of God's grace to think that He expects anything from us; that the Gospel is all promises, and our part is only to believe and embrace them, that is, to believe confidently that God will perform them if we can but think so;' 'that, in fact, religion [as he elsewhere puts it] consists only in believing what Christ hath done for us, and relying confidently upon it.' He knew well -- his father had been a bright example of it -- that such doctrines are constantly found in close union with great integrity and holiness of life. But he knew also the deplorable effects which have often attended even an apparent dissociation of faith and morality; he had seen, and still saw, how deep and permanent, both by its inherent evil and by the recoil that follows, is the wound inflicted upon true religion by overstrained professions, unreal phraseology, and the form without the substance of godliness. He saw clearly, what many have failed to see, that righteousness is the principal end of all religion; that faith, that revelation, that all spiritual aids, that the incarnation of the Son of God and the redemption He has brought, have no other purpose or meaning than to raise men from sin and from a lower nature, to build them up in goodness, and to renew them in the image of God. He unswervingly maintained that immorality is the worst infidelity, as being not only inconsistent with real faith, but the contradiction of that highest end which faith has in view. Tillotson was a true preacher of righteousness. The fault of his preaching was that by too exclusive a regard to the object of all religion, he dwelt insufficiently on the way by which it is accomplished. If some had almost forgotten the end in thinking of the means, he was apt to overlook the means in thinking of the end. His eyes were so steadfastly fixed on the surpassing beauty of Christian morality, that it might often seem as if he thought the very contemplation of so much excellence were a sufficient incentive to it. His constantly implied argument is, that if men, gifted with common reason, can be persuaded to think what goodness is, its blessedness alike in this world and the next, and on the other hand the present and future consequences of sin, surely reason itself will teach them to be wise. He is never the mere moralist. His Christian faith is ever present to his mind, raising and purifying his standard of what is good, and placing in an infinitely clearer light than could otherwise be possible the sanctions of a life to come. Nor does he speak with an uncertain tone when he touches on any of its most distinctive doctrines. Never either in word or thought does he consciously disparage or undervalue them. Notwithstanding all that Leslie and others could urge against him, he was a sincere, and, in all essential points, an orthodox believer in the tenets of revealed religion. But he dwelt upon them insufficiently. He regarded them too much as mysteries of faith, established on good evidence, to be firmly held and reverently honoured; above all, not to be lightly argued about in tones of controversy. He never fully realised what a treasury they supply of motives to Christian conduct, and of material for sublime and ennobling thought; above all, that religion never has a missionary and converting power when they are not prominently brought forward.
Throughout the eighteenth century the prudential considerations against which Shaftesbury and a few others protested weighed like an incubus both upon religion and on morals. 'Oh Happiness! our being's end and aim,' was the seldom failing refrain, echoed in sermons and essays, in theological treatises and ethical studies. And though the idea of happiness varies in endless degrees from the highest to the meanest, yet even the highest conception of it cannot be substituted for that of goodness without great detriment to the religion or philosophy which has thus unduly exalted it. When Tillotson, or Berkeley, or Bishop Butler, or William Law, as well as Chubb and Tindal, spoke of happiness as the highest end, they meant something very different from 'the sleek and sordid epicurism, in which religion and a good conscience have their place among the means by which life is to be made more comfortable.' William Law's definition of happiness as 'the satisfaction of all means, capacities, and necessities, the order and harmony of his being; in other words, the right state of a man,' has not much in common with the motives of expedience urged by Bentham and Paley, utilitarian systems, truly spoken of as 'of the earth, earthy.' But, in any case, even the highest conception of the expedient rests on a lower plane of principle than the humblest aspiration after the right. The expedient and the right are not opposites; they are different in kind. They may be, and ought to be, blended as springs of action. No scheme of morals, and no practical divinity can be wholly satisfactory in which virtue and holiness are not equally mated with prudence and heavenly wisdom, each serving but not subservient to the other. 'Art thou,' says Coleridge, 'under the tyranny of sin -- a slave to vicious habits, at enmity with God, and a skulking fugitive from thine own conscience? Oh, how idle the dispute whether the listening to the dictates of prudence from prudential and self-interested motives be virtue or merit, when the not listening is guilt, misery, madness, and despair.' The self-love which Butler has analysed with so masterly a hand is wholly compatible with the pure love of goodness. Plato did not think it needful to deny the claims of utilitarianism, however much he gave the precedence to the ideal principle.
But when the idea of goodness is subordinated to the pursuit of happiness, the evil effects are soon manifest. It is not merely that 'Epicureanism popularised inevitably turns to vice.' Whenever in any form self-interest usurps that first place which the Gospel assigns to 'the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,' the calculating element draws action down to its own lower level. 'If you mean,' says Romola, 'to act nobly and seek the best things God has put within reach of men, you must learn to fix your mind on that end and not on what will happen to you because of it.' It has been observed, too, with a truth none the less striking for being almost a commonplace, that there is something very self-destructive in the quest for happiness. Happiness and true pleasure ultimately reward the right, but if they are made the chief object, they lose in quality and elude the grasp. 'So far as you try to be good, in order to be personally happy, you miss happiness -- a great and beautiful law of our being.'
Utilitarianism or eudaemonism has no sort of intrinsic connection with a latitudinarian theology, especially when the word 'latitudinarian' is used, as in this chapter, in a general and inoffensive sense. In this century, and to some extent in the last, many of its warmest opponents have been Broad Churchmen. But prudential religion, throughout the period which set in with the Revolution of 1688, is closely associated with the name of Tillotson. It is certainly very prominent in his writings. His keen perception of the exceeding beauty of goodness might have been supposed sufficient to guard him from dwelling too much upon inferior motives. Tillotson, however, was very susceptible to the predominant influences of his time. If he was a leader of thought, he was also much led by the thought of others. There were three or four considerations which had great weight with him, as they had with almost every other theologian and moralist of his own and the following age. One, which has been already sufficiently discussed, was that feeling of the need of proving the reasonableness of every argument, which was the first result of the wider field, the increased leisure, the greater freedom of which the reasoning powers had become conscious. It is evident that no system of morality and practical religion gives so much scope to the exercise of this faculty as that which pre-eminently insists upon the prudence of right action and upon the wisdom of believing. Then again, the profligate habits and general laxity which undoubtedly prevailed to a more than ordinary extent among all classes of society, seem to have created even among reformers of the highest order a sort of dismayed feeling, that it was useless to set up too high a law, and that self-interest and fear were the two main arguments which could be plied with the best hopes of success. Thirdly, a very mistaken notion appears to have grown up that infidelity and 'free-thinking' might be checked by prudent reflections on the safeness of orthodoxy and the dangers of unbelief. Thought is not deterred by arguments of safety; and a sceptic is likely to push on into pronounced disbelief, if he commonly hears religion recommended as a matter of policy.
In all these respects Tillotson did but take the line which was characteristic of his age -- of the age, that is, which was beginning, not of that which was passing away. Something, too, must be attributed to personal temperament. He carried into the province of religion that same benign but dispassionate calmness of feeling, that subdued sobriety of judgment, wanting in impulse and in warmth, which, in public and in private life, made him more respected as an opponent than beloved as a friend. To weigh evidence, to balance probabilities, and to act with tranquil confidence in what reason judged to be the wiser course, seemed to him as natural and fit in spiritual as in temporal matters. This was all sound in its degree, but there was a deficiency in it, and in the general mode of religious thought represented by it, which cannot fail to be strongly felt. There is something very chilling in such an appeal as the following: 'Secondly, it is infinitely most prudent. In matters of great concernment a prudent man will incline to the safest side of the question. We have considered which side of these questions is most reasonable: let us now think which is safest. For it is certainly most prudent to incline to the safest side of the question. Supposing the reasons for and against the principles of religion were equal, yet the danger and hazard is so unequal, as would sway a prudent man to the affirmative.' It must not be inferred that nobler and more generous reasonings in relation to life and goodness do not continually occur. But the passage given illustrates a form of argument which is far too common, both in Tillotson's writings and throughout the graver literature of the eighteenth century. Without doubt it did much harm. So long as moralists dwelt so fondly upon self-interest and expedience, and divines descanted upon, the advantages of the safe side; so long as the ideal of goodness was half supplanted by that of happiness; so long as sin was contemplated mainly in its results of punishment, and redemption was regarded rather as deliverance from the penalties of sin than from the sin itself, Christianity and Christian ethics were inevitably degraded.
Many of the subjects touched upon in this chapter have little or no connection with Latitudinarianism, so far as it is synonymous with what are now more commonly called Broad Church principles. But in the eighteenth century 'reasonableness' in religious matters, although a characteristic watchword of the period in general, was especially the favourite term, the most congenial topic, upon which Latitudinarian Churchmen loved to dwell. The consistency of the Christian faith with man's best reason was indeed a great theme, well worthy to engage the thoughts of the most talented and pious men of the age. And no doubt Tillotson and many of his contemporaries and successors amply earned the gratitude, not only of the English Church, but of all Christian people in England. Their good service in the controversy with Deism was the first and direct, but still a temporary result of their labours. They did more than this. They broadened and deepened the foundations of the English Church and of English Christianity not only for their own day, but for all future time. They laboured not ineffectually in securing to reason that established position without which no religious system can maintain a lasting hold upon the intellect as well as upon the heart. On the other hand, their deficiencies were great, and appear the greater, because they were faults not so much of the person as of the age, and were displayed therefore in a wide field, and often in an exaggerated form. They loved reason not too well, but too exclusively; they acknowledged its limits, but did not sufficiently insist upon them. They accepted the Christian faith without hesitation or reserve; they believed its doctrines, they reverenced its mysteries, fully convinced that its truth, if not capable of demonstration, is firmly founded upon evidence with which every unprejudiced inquirer has ample reason to be satisfied. But where reason could not boldly tread, they were content to believe and to be silent. Hence, as they put very little trust in religious feelings, and utterly disbelieved in any power of spiritual discernment higher than, or different from reason, the greater part of their religious teaching was practically confined to those parts of the Christian creed which are palpable to every understanding. In their wish to avoid unprofitable disputations, they dwelt but cursorily upon debated subjects of the last importance; and in their dread of a correct theology doing duty for a correct life, they were apt grievously to underestimate the influences of theology upon life. Their moral teaching was deeply religious, pervaded by a sense of the overruling Providence of a God infinite in love and holiness, and was enforced perseveringly and with great earnestness by motives derived from the rewards and punishments of a future state. If a reader of Tillotson feels a sense of wonder that the writings of so good a man -- of such deep and unaffected piety, so sympathetic and kindly, so thoroughly Christian-hearted -- should yet be benumbed by the presence of a cold prudential morality which might seem incompatible with the self-forgetful impulses of warm religious feeling, he may see, in what he wonders at, the ill effects of a faith too jealously debarred by reason from contemplations in which the human mind quickly finds out its limits. When religion, in fear lest it should become unpractical, relaxes its hold upon what may properly be called the mysteries of faith, it not only loses in elevation and grandeur, but it defeats the very end it aimed at. It takes a lower ethical tone, and loses in moral power. To form even what may be in some respects an erroneous conception of an imperfectly comprehended doctrine, and so to make it bear upon the life, is far better than timidly, for fear of difficulties or error, to lay the thought of it aside, and so leave it altogether unfruitful. Tillotson and many of his successors in the last century had a great tendency to do this, and no excellences of personal character could redeem the injurious influence it had upon their writings. His services in the cause of religious truth were very great: they would have been far greater, and his influence a far more unmixed good, if as a representative leader of religious thought, he had been more superior to what was to be its most characteristic defect.
The Latitudinarian section of the Church of England won its chief fame, during the years that immediately followed the Revolution of 1688, by its activity in behalf of ecclesiastical comprehension and religious liberty. These exertions, so far as they extend to the history of the eighteenth century, and were continued through that period, will be considered in the following chapter.
[Footnote 195: H.S. Skeats, History of the Free Churches, 315.]
[Footnote 196: H. Hallam, Literature of Europe, iv, 177.]
[Footnote 197: Life of Tillotson, T. Birch, ccxxxv.]
[Footnote 198: Letter to G. Hanger, in Nichols' Lit. An., iv.215.]
[Footnote 199: Birch, ccxxxv.]
[Footnote 200: Letters, ed. Berry, ii.181.]
[Footnote 201: Birch, cccxxxviii.]
[Footnote 202: J. Wesley, Works, x.299.]
[Footnote 203: Nichols, iv.215.]
[Footnote 204: Sir R. Howard, History of Religion, 1694, preface.]
[Footnote 205: Fleetwood's Works, 516.]
[Footnote 206: No.106.]
[Footnote 207: No.155.]
[Footnote 208: No.101. In the Whig Examiner (No.2) it is observed, as an instance of the singular variety of tastes, that 'Bunyan and Quarles have passed through several editions, and please as many readers as Dryden and Tillotson.']
[Footnote 209: Reflections on the Clergy, &c., 1798, iv.; J. Napleton's Advice to a Student.1795, 26.]
[Footnote 210: Swift's Works, viii.190.]
[Footnote 211: C. Leslie's Works, ii.543.]
[Footnote 212: Id. ii.596.]
[Footnote 213: No.10.]
[Footnote 214: Lavington's Enthusiasm of Meth. and Pap., &c., 11, and Polwhele's Introduction to id. ccxxxii.]
[Footnote 215: Qu. Rev., 31, 121.]
[Footnote 216: Sacheverell, Nov.5, Sermon 'On False Brethren.']
[Footnote 217: Birch, ccxxxiii.]
[Footnote 218: Serm. v., Works, i.465.]
[Footnote 219: Id. i.448.]
[Footnote 220: S. lvi., Works, iv.35.]
[Footnote 221: S. ccxxii., Works, ix.219.]
[Footnote 222: H. More, Gen. Pref. Sec.3.]
[Footnote 223: Id. Sec.6.]
[Footnote 224: Id. Sec.3.]
[Footnote 225: S. xx., Works, ii.277.]
[Footnote 226: Works, x.199.]
[Footnote 227: Qu. in J. Hunt's Religious Thought in England, iii.45.]
[Footnote 228: Id.]
[Footnote 229: S. xliv., Works, iii.310.]
[Footnote 230: S. lviii., Works, v.84.]
[Footnote 231: S. xxi., Works, ii.207.]
[Footnote 232: Id.273.]
[Footnote 233: Id.277.]
[Footnote 234: S. xxi., Works, ii.265-7.]
[Footnote 235: J.A. Dorner, History of Protestant Theology, ii.77.]
[Footnote 236: Sir R. Howard's History of Religion, 1694.]
[Footnote 237: Cf. M. Pattison in Essays and Reviews, 293-4.]
[Footnote 238: W. Law, 'Spirit of Love,' Works, viii.141.]
[Footnote 239: S. xlvi., Works, iii.359.]
[Footnote 240: Id.]
[Footnote 241: C. Leslie, Works, ii.669.]
[Footnote 242: Burnet's Four Discourses, 122.]
[Footnote 243: Id.127.]
[Footnote 244: Id.]
[Footnote 245: Id.134.]
[Footnote 246: S. xlvi., Works, iii.359, and 383, 389.]
[Footnote 247: S. ccxxvii., Works, ix.337.]
[Footnote 248: S. xlvii., Works, iii.403.]
[Footnote 249: C. Leslie, Works, ii.281.]
[Footnote 250: S. xlvi., Works, iii.362.]
[Footnote 251: Id.363.]
[Footnote 252: Id.364.]
[Footnote 253: S. xlvi., Works iii.365]
[Footnote 254: S. xlvii. Works, iii.398.]
[Footnote 255: Leslie, ii.562.]
[Footnote 256: Leslie, ii.596.]
[Footnote 257: Quotations from the Shepherd of Hermas, in a review of vol. i. of the Ante-Nicene Library in the Spectator, July 27, 1867, p.836.]
[Footnote 258: Just. Mart. Dial. cum Tryph. i. b. i. Sec. v.20 (ed. W. Trollope, 1846); also Iren. Haer. ii.34, 3, quoted in note to above.]
[Footnote 259: Sibyll. ver.331. De Psalm. 36, v.15; Serm. xx. Sec.12; Lactant. Div. Inst. vii.21, all quoted in H.B. Wilson's speech, 1863, 102-10.]
[Footnote 260: Jerome, Com. in Is. tom.3, ed. Ben.514, quoted by Le Clerc, Bib. Choisie, vii.326.]
[Footnote 261: Clem. Alex. Strom. vii. Sec.6, p.851, quoted in Blunt, J.J., Early Fathers, p.80.]
[Footnote 262: Origen, Hom. 6, in Ex. N. 4, quoted by Wilson, and De Princip. iii. c. v-vi. quoted by Blunt, Early Fathers, 99, and Le Clerc, Bibliotheque Choisie, vii.327.]
[Footnote 263: Wilson, 119 and 99.]
[Footnote 264: J.T. Rutt, note to Calamy's Own Life, i.140.]
[Footnote 265: Biog. D., Vane.]
[Footnote 266: H. More, Works, ed.1712. On the Immortality of the Soul, b. iv. ch. xix. Sec.9.]
[Footnote 267: Worthington's unhesitating acceptance of the tenet in question (Essay on Man's Redemption, 1748, 308) is particularly noticeable, because he was an ardent believer in the gradual restoration of mankind in general to a state of perfection.]
[Footnote 268: Life of Young. Anderson's British Poets, x.10.]
[Footnote 269: Fielding's Joseph Andrews, b. ii. ch.3.]
[Footnote 270: Birch, T., Life of Tillotson, cliv.]
[Footnote 271: Locke, J., Reasonableness of Christianity, Preface.]
[Footnote 272: S. xxxv., Works, iii.85.]
[Footnote 273: Id.84.]
[Footnote 274: Id. and i.511; S. cxl.]
[Footnote 275: Birch, clvi.]
[Footnote 276: Bibliotheque Choisie, tom. vii. art.7.]
[Footnote 277: S. ccxii., Works, ix.84.]
[Footnote 278: C. Leslie, Works, ii.596-7.]
[Footnote 279: Young's Poems, Sat. vi.]
[Footnote 280: They complained that Jesus Christ had not been preached among them since Mr. Tillotson had been settled in the parish. -- (Birch, xviii.) This was in 1663. The contrast between Tillotson's style and that of the Commonwealth preachers would in any case have been very marked, the more so as Puritanism gained a strong footing in the eastern counties.]
[Footnote 281: S. xlii., Works, iii.275.]
[Footnote 282: S. vii., Works, i.495.]
[Footnote 283: S. xxxiv., Works, iii.65.]
[Footnote 284: S. vii., Works, i.499.]
[Footnote 285: Pope's Essay on Man, Ep.4.]
[Footnote 286: In Guardian, No.55.]
[Footnote 287: 'Ground, &c., of Morality,' Chubb's Works, iii.6.]
[Footnote 288: Dorner, iii.81.]
[Footnote 289: M. Pattison in Essays and Reviews, 275.]
[Footnote 290: Quoted in F.D. Maurice's Preface to Law's Answer to Mandeville, lxx.]
[Footnote 291: Channing and Aikin's Correspondence, 46.]
[Footnote 292: Mackintosh's Progress of Ethical Philosophy, sect. i.]
[Footnote 293: S.T. Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, i.37.]
[Footnote 294: Mackay, R.W., Introduction to The Sophists, 36.]
[Footnote 295: Ecce Homo, 114.]
[Footnote 296: G. Eliot, Romola, near the end.]
[Footnote 297: Ecce Homo, 115; cf. Coleridge, The Friend Ess. xvi. i.162.]
[Footnote 298: F.W. Robertson, Life and Letters, i.352.]
[Footnote 299: Cf. F.D. Maurice's Introduction to Law on Mandeville, xxiii.]
[Footnote 300: S. ccxxiii., Works, ix.275.]
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