This is the aspect which that period of history wears to the political philosopher. The historian of moral and religious progress, on the other hand, is under the necessity of depicting the same period as one of decay of religion, licentiousness of morals, public corruption, profaneness of language -- a day of rebuke and blasphemy.' Even those who look with suspicion on the contemporary complaints from the Jacobite clergy of decay of religion' will not hesitate to say that it was an age destitute of depth or earnestness; an age whose poetry was without romance, whose philosophy was without insight, and whose public men were without character; an age of light without love,' whose very merits were of the earth, earthy.' In this estimate the followers of Mill and Carlyle will agree with those of Dr. Newman.
The Stoical moralists of the second century who witnessed a similar coincidence of moral degradation and material welfare, had no difficulty in connecting them together as effect with cause. Bona rerum secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia.' (Seneca, ad Lucil.66.) But the famous theory which satisfied the political philosophers of antiquity, viz., that the degeneracy of nations is due to the inroads of luxury, is laughed to scorn by modern economists. It is at any rate a theory which can hardly be adopted by those who pour unmeasured contempt on the 18th, by way of contrast with the revival of higher principles by the l9th century. It is especially since the High Church movement commenced that the theology of the 18th century has become a byeword. The genuine Anglican omits that period from the history of the Church altogether. In constructing his Catenæ Patrum he closes his list with Waterland or Brett, and leaps at once to 1833, when the Tracts for the Times commenced -- as Charles II. dated his reign from his father's death. Such a legal fiction may be harmless or useful for purposes of mere form, but the facts of history cannot be disposed of by forgetting them. Both the Church and the world of to-day are what they are as the result of the whole of their antecedents. The history of a party may be written on the theory of periodical occultation; but he who wishes to trace the descent of religious thought, and the practical working of the religious ideas, must follow these through all the phases they have actually assumed. We have not yet learnt, in this country, to write our ecclesiastical history on any better footing than that of praising up the party, in or out of the Church, to which we happen to belong. Still further are we from any attempt to apply the laws of thought, and of the succession of opinion, to the course of English theology. The recognition of the fact, that the view of the eternal verities of religion which prevails in any given age is in part determined by the view taken in the age which preceded it, is incompatible with the hypothesis generally prevalent among us as to the mode in which we form our notions of religious truth. Upon none of the prevailing theories as to this mode is a deductive history of theology possible.1. The Catholic theory, which is really that of Roman-Catholics, and professedly that of some Anglo-Catholics, withdraws Christianity altogether from human experience and the operation of the ordinary laws of thought.2. The Protestant theory of free inquiry, which supposes that each mind takes a survey of the evidence, and strikes the balance of probability according to the best of its judgment -- this theory, defers indeed to the abstract laws of logic, but overlooks the influences of education. If, without hypothesis, we are content to observe facts, we shall find that we cannot decline to study the opinions of any age only because they are not our own opinions. There is a law of continuity in the progress of theology which, whatever we may wish, is never broken off. In tracing the filiation of consecutive systems, we cannot afford to overlook any link in the chain, any age, except one in which religious opinion did not exist. Certainly we, in this our time, if we would understand our own position in the Church, and that of the Church in the age, if we would hold any clue through the maze of religious pretension which surrounds us, cannot neglect those immediate agencies in the production of the present, which had their origin towards the beginning of the 18th century.
Of these agencies there are three, the present influence of which cannot escape the most inattentive.1. The formation and gradual growth of that compromise between Church and State, which is culled Toleration, and which, believed by many to be a principle, is a mere arrangement between two principles. But such as it is, it is part of our heritage from the last age, and is the foundation, if foundation it can be called, upon which we still continue to build, as in the late Act for the admission of the Jews to Parliament.2. The great rekindling of the religious consciousness of the people which, without the Established Church, became Methodism, and within its pale has obtained the name of the Evangelical movement. However decayed may be the Evangelical party as a party, it cannot be denied that its influence, both on our religious ideas, and on our church life, has penetrated far beyond those party limits.3. The growth and gradual illusion through all religious thinking of the supremacy of reason. This, which is rather a principle, or a mode of thinking, than a doctrine, may be properly enough called Rationalism. This term is used in this country with so much laxity that it is impossible to define the sense in which it is generally intended. But it is often taken to mean a system opposed to revealed religion imported into this country from Germany at the beginning of the present century. A person, however, who surveys the course of English theology during the eighteenth century will have no difficulty in recognising that throughout all discussions, underneath all controversies, and common to all parties, lies the assumption of the supremacy of reason in matters of religion. The Kantian Philosophy did but bring forward into light, and give scientific form and a recognised position to, a principle which had long unconsciously guided all treatment of religious topics both in Germany and in England. Rationalism was not an anti-Christian sect outside the Church making war against religion. It was a habit of thought ruling all minds, under the conditions of which all alike tried to make good the peculiar opinions they might happen to cherish. The Church-man differed from the Socinian, and the Socinian from the Deist, as to the number of articles in his creed; but all alike consented to test their belief by the rational evidence for it. Whether given doctrines or miracles were conformable to reason or not was disputed between the defence and the assault; but that all doctrines were to stand or fall by that criterion was not questioned. The principles and the priority of natural religion formed the common hypothesis on the ground of which the disputants argued whether anything, and what, had been subsequently communicated to man in a supernatural way. The line between those who believed much and those who believed little cannot be sharply drawn. Some of the so-called Deists were, in fact, Socinians; as Toland, who expressly admits all those parts of the New Testament revelation which are, or seem to him, comprehensible by reason. (Christianity not Mysterious.) Nor is there any ground for thinking that Toland was insincere in his profession of rational Christianity, as was insinuated by his opponents -- e.g. Leland. (View of the Deistical Writers, vol. i. p.49.) A more candid adversary, Leibnitz, who knew Toland personally, is glad to believe that the design of this author, a man of no common ability, and as I think, a well-disposed person, was to withdraw men from speculative theology to the practice of its precepts. (Annotatiunculæ subitaneæ.) Hardly one here and there, as Hume, professed Rationalism in the extent of Atheism; the great majority of writers were employed in constructing a via media between Atheism and Athanasianism, while the most orthodox were diligently hewing and chiselling Christianity into an intelligible human system, which they then represented, as thus mutilated, as affording a remarkable evidence of the truth of the Bible.' (Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. No.73.) The title of Locke's treatise, The Reasonableness of Christianity, may be said to have been the solitary thesis of Christian theology in England for great part of a century.
If we are to put chronological limits to this system of religious opinion in England, we might, for the sake of a convenient landmark, say that it came in with the Revolution of 1688 and began to decline in vigour with the reaction against the Reform movement about 1830. Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity would thus open, and the commencement of the Tracts for the Times mark the fall of Rationalism. Not that chronology can ever exactly applied to the mutations of opinion. For there were Rationalists before Locke, e.g. Hales of Eton, and other Arminians, nor has the Church of England unanimously adopted the principles of the Tracts for the Times. But if we were to follow up Cave's nomenclature, the appellation Seculum rationalisticum might be affixed to the eighteenth century with greater precision than many of his names apply to the previous centuries. For it was not merely that Rationalism then obtruded itself as a heresy, or obtained a footing of toleration within the Church, but the rationalizing method possessed itself absolutely of the whole field of theology. With some trifling exceptions, the whole of religious literature was drawn in to the endeavour to prove the truth' of Christianity. The essay and the sermon, the learned treatise and the philosophical disquisition, Addison the polite writer, and Bentley the classical philologian (Addison: Evidences of the Christian Religion, a posthumous publication. Bentley: Eight Sermons at Boyle's Lecture, 1692), the astronomer Newton (Four letters, &c., Lond.1756), no less than the theologians by profession, were all engaged upon the same task. To one book of A. Collins, A Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, Lond.1724, are counted no less than thirty-five answers. Dogmatic theology had ceased to exist; the exhibition of religious truth for practical purposes was confined to a few obscure writers. Every one who had anything to say on sacred subjects drilled it into an array of argument against a supposed objector. Christianity appeared made for nothing else but to be proved;' what use to make of it when it was proved was not much thought about. Reason was at first offered as the basis of faith, but gradually became its substitute. The mind never advanced as far as the stage of belief, for it was unceasingly engaged in reasoning up to it. The only quality in Scripture which was dwelt upon was its credibility.' Even the Evangelical' school, which had its origin in a reaction against the dominant Rationalism, and began in endeavours to kindle religious feeling, was obliged to succumb at last. It, too, drew out its rational scheme of Christianity,' in which the atonement was made the central point of a system, and the death of Christ was accounted for as necessary to satisfy the Divine Justice.
This whole rationalist age must again be subdivided into two periods, the theology of which, though belonging to the common type, has distinct specific characters. These periods are of nearly equal length, and we may conveniently take the middle year of the century, 1750, as our terminus of division. Though both periods were engaged upon the proof of Christianity, the distinction between them is that the first period was chiefly devoted to the internal, the second to the external, attestations. In the first period the main endeavour was to show that there was nothing in the contents of the revelation which was not agreeable to reason. In the second, from 1750 onwards, the controversy was narrowed to what are usually called the Evidences,' or the historical proof of the genuineness and authenticity of the Christian records. From this distinction of topic arises an important difference of value between the theological produce of the two periods. A great injustice is done to the 18th century, when its whole speculative product is set down under the description of that Old Bailey theology in which, to use Johnson's illustration, the Apostles are being tried once a week for the capital crime of forgery. This evidential school -- the school of Lardner, Paley, and Whately -- belongs strictly to the latter half only of the period now under consideration. This school, which treated the exterior evidence was the natural sequel and supplement of that which had preceded it, which dealt with the intrinsic credibility of the Christian revelation. This historical succession of the schools is the logical order of the argument. For when we have first shown that the facts of Christianity are not incredible, the whole burden of proof is shifted to the evidence that the facts did really occur. Neither branch of the argument can claim to be religious instruction at all, but the former does incidentally enter upon the substance of the Gospel. It may be philosophy rather than theology, but it raises in its course some of the most momentous problems which can engage the human mind. On the other hand, a mind which occupies itself with the external evidences' knows nothing of the spiritual intuition, of which it renounces at once the difficulties and the consolations. The supply of evidences in what for the sake of a name may be called the Georgian period (1750-1830), was not occasioned by any demands of controversy. The attacks through the press were nearly at an end, the Deists bad ceased to be. The clergy continued to manufacture evidence as an ingenious exercise, a literature which was avowedly professional, a study which might seem theology without being it, which could awaken none of the scepticism then dormant beneath the surface of society. Evidences are not edged tools; they stir no feeling; they were the proper theology of an age, whose literature consisted in writing Latin hexameters. The orthodox school no longer dared to scrutinize the contents of revelation. The preceding period had eliminated the religious experience, the Georgian had lost besides, the power of using the speculative reason.
The historical investigation, indeed, of the Origenes of Christianity is a study scarcely second in importance to a philosophical arrangement of its doctrines. But for a genuine inquiry of this nature the English writers of the period had neither the taste nor the knowledge. Gibbon alone approached the true difficulties, but met only with opponents victory over whom was a sufficient humiliation.' (Autobiography.) No Englishman will refuse to join with Coleridge in the admiration' he expresses for the head and heart' of Paley, the incomparable grace, propriety, and persuasive facility of his writings.' (Aids to Reflection, p.401.) But Paley had unfortunately dedicated his powers to a factitious thesis; his demonstration, however perfect, is in unreal matter. The case, as the apologists of that day stated it, is wholly conventional. The breadth of their assumptions is out of all proportion to the narrow dimensions of the point they succeed in proving. Of an honest critical enquiry into the origin and composition of the canonical writings there is but one trace, Herbert Marsh's Lectures at Cambridge, and that was suggested from a foreign source, and died away without exciting imitators. That investigation, introduced by a bishop and a professor of divinity, has scarcely yet obtained a footing in the English Church. But it is excluded, not from a conviction of its barrenness, but from a fear that it might prove too fertile in results. This unwholesome state of theological feeling among us, is perhaps traceable in part to the falsetto of the evidential method of the last generation. We cannot justify, but we may perhaps make our predecessors bear part of the blame of, that inconsistency, which while it professes that its religious belief rests on historical evidence, refuses to allow that evidence to be freely examined in open court.
It seems, indeed, a singular infelicity that the construction of the historical proof should have been the task which the course of events allotted to the latter half of the 18th century. The critical knowledge of antiquity had disappeared from the Universities. The past, discredited by a false conservatism, was regarded with aversion, and the minds of men directed habitually to future, some with fear, others with hope. The disrespect in which history was held by the French philosophes is notorious; one of the soberest of them, D'Alembert, we believe, was the author of the wish that all record of past events could be blotted out.' (Mill, Dissertations, vol. i. p.426.) The same sentiment was prevalent, though not in the same degree, in this country. Hume writing to an Englishman in 1756, speaks of your countrymen' as given over to barbarous and absurd faction.' Of his own history the publisher, Millar, told him he had only sold forty-five copies in a twelvemonth. (My Own Life, p.5.) Warburton had long before complained of the Chronicles published by Hearne that there is not one that is not a disgrace to letters; most of them are so to common sense, and some even to human nature.' (Parr's Tracts, &c., p.109.) The oblivion into which the remains of Christian antiquity had sunk, till disinterred by the Tractarian movement, is well known. Having neither the critical tools to work with, nor the historical materials to work upon, it is no wonder if they failed in their art. Theology had almost died out when it received a new impulse and a new direction from Coleridge. The evidence-makers ceased from their futile labours all at once, as beneath the spell of some magician. Englishmen heard with as much surprise as if the doctrine was new, that the Christian faith, the Athanasian Creed, of which they had come to wish that the Church was well rid, was the perfection of human intelligence;' that, the compatibility of a document with the conclusions of self-evident reason, and with the laws of conscience, is a condition a priori of any evidence adequate to the proof of its having been revealed by God' and that this is a principle clearly laid down by Moses and St. Paul;' lastly, that there are mysteries in Christianity, but that these mysteries are reason, reason in its highest form of self-affirmation.' (Aids to Reflection, pref. Lit. Remains, iii.293.) In this position of Coleridge, the rationalist theology of England, which was in the last stage of decay and dotage, seemed to recover a second youth, and to revert at once to the point from which it had started a century before.
Should the religious historian then acknowledge that the impatient contempt with which the last century' is now spoken of, is justifiable with respect to the later period, with its artificial monotone of proof that is no proof, he will by no means allow the same of the earlier period 1688-1750. The superiority which the theological writing of this period has over that which succeeded it, is to be referred in part to the superiority of the internal, over the external, proof of Christianity, as an object of thought.
Both methods alike, as methods of argumentative proof, place the mind in an unfavourable attitude for the consideration of religious truth. It is like removing ourselves for the purpose of examining an object to the furthest point from which the object is visible. Neither the external nor the internal evidences are properly theology at all. Theology is -- 1st, and primarily, the contemplative, speculative habit, by means of which the mind places itself already in another world than this; a habit begun here, to be raised to perfect vision hereafter.2ndly, and in an inferior degree, it is ethical and regulative of our conduct as men, in those relations which are temporal and transitory. Argumentative proof that such knowledge is possible can never be substituted for the knowledge without detriment to the mental habit. What is true of an individual is true of an age. When an age is found occupied in proving its creed, this is but a token that the age has ceased to have a proper belief in it Nevertheless, there is a difference in this respect between the sources from which proof may be fetched. Where it is busied in establishing the genuineness and authenticity' of the books of Scripture, neglecting its religious lessons, and drawing out instead the undesigned coincidences,' Rationalism is seen in its dullest and least spiritual form. When, on the other hand, the contents of the Revelation are being freely examined, and reason as it is called, but really the philosophy in vogue, is being applied to determine whether the voice be the voice of God or not, the reasoner is indeed approaching his subject from a false point of view, but he is still engaged with the eternal verities. The reason has prescribed itself an impossible task when it has undertaken to prove, instead of evolve them; to argue instead of appropriate them. But anyhow, it is handling them; and by the contact is raised in some measure to the height of that great argument.'
This acknowledgment seems due to the period now referred to. It is, perhaps, rather thinking of its pulpit eloquence than its controversies, that Professor Fraser does not hesitate to call this the golden age of English theology.' (Essays in Philosophy, p.205.) Such language, as applied to our great preachers, was once matter of course, but would now hardly be used by any Anglican, and has to be sought for in the mouth of members of another communion. The names which once commanded universal homage among us -- the Souths, Barrows, Tillotsons, Sherlocks, -- excite, perhaps, only a smile of pity. Literary taste is proverbially inconstant; but theological is still more so, for here we have no rule or chart to guide us but the taste of our age. Boussuet, Bourdaloue, and Massillon have survived a dozen political revoltions. We have no classical theology, though we have not had a political revolution since 1660. For in this subject matter the most of Englishmen have no other standard of merit than the prejudices of sect. Eminence only marks out a great man for more cordial hatred; every flippant High Church reviewer has learnt to fling at Locke, the father of English Rationalism, and the greatest name among its worthies. Others are, perhaps, only less disliked because less known; qui n'a pas de lecteurs, n'a pas d'adversaires.' The principal writers in the Deistical Controversy, either side of it, have expiated the attention they once engrossed by as universal an oblivion.
The Deistical Controversy, the all-absorbing topic of religious writers and preachers during the whole of this first period, has pretty well-defined limits. Stillingfleet, who died Bishop of Worcester in the last year (1699) of the seventeenth century, marks the transition from the old to the new argument. In the six folios of Stillingfleet's works may be found the latest echoes of the Romanist Controversy, and the first declaration of war against Locke. The Deistical Controversy attained its greatest intensity in the twenties (1720-1740), after the subsidence of the Bangorian controversy, which for a time had diverted attention to itself, and it gradually died out towards the middle of the century. The decay of interest in the topic is sufficiently marked by the fact that the opinions of Hume failed to stimulate curiosity or antagonism. His Treatise of Human Nature (1739) fell dead-born from the press,' and the only one of his philosophical writings which was received with favour on its first appearance was one on the new topic -- Political Discourses (1752). Of this he says it was the only work of mine which was successful on the first publication, being well received both abroad and at home.' (My Own Life.) Bolingbroke, who died in 1751, was the last of the professed Deists. When his works were brought out by his executor, Mallet, in 1754, the interest in them was already gone; they found the public cold or indisposed. It was a rusty blunderbuss, which he need not have been afraid to have discharged himself, instead of leaving half-a-crown to a Scotchman to let it off after his death.' (Boswell, p.88.) To talk Deism had ceased to be fashionable as soon as it ceased to attract attention.
The rationalism, which is the common character of all the writers of this time, is a method rather than a doctrine; an unconscious assumption rather than a principle from which they reason. They would, however, all have consented in statements such as the following: Bp. Gibson, Second Pastoral Letter, 1730. Those among us who have laboured of late years to set up reason against revelation would make it pass for an established truth, that if you will embrace revelation you must of course quit your reason, which, if it were true, would doubtless be a strong prejudice against revelation. But so far is this from being true, that it is universally acknowledged that revelation itself is to stand or fall by the test of reason, or, in other words, according as reason finds the evidences of its coming from God to be or not to be sufficient and conclusive, and the matter of it to contradict or not contradict the natural notions which reason gives us of the being and attributes of God.'
Prideaux (Humphrey, Dean of Norwich), Letter to the Deists, 1748. Let what is written in all the books of the N. T. be tried by that which is the touchstone of all religions, I mean that religion of nature and reason which God has written in the hearts of every one of us from the first creation; and if it varies from it in any one particular, if it prescribes any one thing which may in the minutest circumstances thereof be contrary to its righteousness, I will then acknowledge this to be an argument against us, strong enough to overthrow the whole cause, and make all things else that can be said for it totally ineffectual for its support.
Tillotson (Archbishop of Canterbury), Sermons, vol. iii. p.485. All our reasonings about revelation are necessarily gathered by our natural notions about religion, and therefore he who sincerely desires to do the will of God is not apt to be imposed on by vain pretences of divine revelation; but if any doctrine be proposed to him which is pretended to come from God, he measures it by those sure and steady notions which he has of the divine nature and perfections; he will consider the nature and tendency of it, or whether it be a doctrine according to godliness, such as is agreeable to the divine nature and perfections, and tends to make us like unto God; if it be not, though an angel should bring it, he would not receive it.'
Rogers (John, D.D.), Sermons at Boyle's Lecture, 1727, p.59. Our religion desires no other favour than a sober and dispassionate examination. It submits its grounds and reasons to an unprejudiced trial, and hopes to approve itself to the conviction of any equitable enquirer.'
Butler, (Jos., Bp. of Durham), Analogy, &c., pt.2, ch.1. Indeed, if in revelation there be found any passages, the seeming meaning of which is contrary to natural religion, we may most certainly conclude such seeming meaning not to be the real one.' Ibid., ch.8: I have argued upon the principles of the fatalists, which I do not believe; and have omitted a thing of the utmost importance which I do believe: the moral fitness and unfitness of actions, prior to all will whatever, which I apprehend as certainly to determine the divine conduct, as speculative truth and falsehood necessarily determine the divine judgment.'
To the same elect the leading preacher among the Dissenters, James Foster, Truth and Excellency of the Christian Revelation, 1731. The faculty of reason which God hath implanted in mankind, however it may have been abused and neglected in times past, will, whenever they begin to exercise it aright, enable them to judge of all these things. As by means of this they were capable of discovering at first the being and perfections of God, and that he governs the world with absolute wisdom, equity, and goodness, and what those duties are which they owe to him and to one another, they must be as capable, if they will divest themselves of prejudice, and reason impartially, of rectifying any mistakes they may have fallen into about these important points. It matters not whether they have hitherto thought right or wrong, nor indeed whether they have thought at all; let them but begin to consider seriously and examine carefully and impartially, and they must be able to find out all those truths which as reasonable creatures they are capable of knowing, and which affect their duty and happiness.'
Finally, Warburton, displaying at once his disdain and his ignorance of catholic theology, affirms on his own authority, Works iii. p.620, that the image of God in which man was at first created, lay in the faculty of reason only.'
But it is needless to multiply quotations. The received theology of the day taught on this point the doctrine of Locke, as clearly stated by himself. (Essay, B. iv. ch.19. § 4.) Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light and fountain of all knowledge communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties; revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately, which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives, that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much-what the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes the better to receive the remote light of an Invisible star by a telescope.'
According to this assumption, a man's religious belief is a result which issues at the end of an intellectual process. In arranging the steps of this process, they conceived natural religion to form the first stage of the journey. That stage theologians of all shades and parties travelled in company. It only when they had reached the end of it that the Deists and the Christian apologists parted. The former found that the light of reason which had guided them so far indicated no road beyond. The Christian writers declared that the same natural powers enabled them to recognise the truth of revealed religion. The sufficiency of natural religion thus became the turning point of the dispute. The natural law of right and duty, argued the Deists, is so absolutely perfect that God could not add anything to it. It is commensurate with all the real relations in which man stands. To suppose that God has created artificial relations, and laid upon man positive precepts, is to take away the very notion of morality. The moral law is nothing but the conditions of our actual being, apparent alike to those of the meanest and of the highest capacity. It is inconsistent with this to suppose that God has gone on to enact arbitrary statutes, and to declare them to man in an obscure and uncertain light. This was the ground taken by the great champion of Deism -- Tindal, and expressed in the title of the treatise which he published in 1732, when upwards of seventy, Christianity as old as the Creation; or, the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature. This was the point which the Christian defenders laboured most, to construct the bridge which should unite the revealed to the natural. They never demur to making the Natural the basis on which the Christian rests, to considering the natural knowledge of God as the starting point both of the individual mind and of the human race. This assumption is necessary to their scheme, in which revelation is an argument addressed to the reason. Christianity is a résumé of the knowledge of God already attained by reason, and a disclosure of further truths. These further truths could not have been thought out by reason; but when divinely communicated, they approve themselves to the same reason which has already put us in possession of so much. The new truths are not of another order of ideas, for Christianity is a particular scheme under the general plan of Providence,' (Analogy, pt.2, ch.4) and the whole scheme is of a piece and uniform. If the dispensation be indeed from God, all the parts of it will he seen to be the correspondent members of one entire whole, which orderly disposition of things essential to a religious system will assure us of the true theory of the Christian faith.' (Warburton, Divine Legation, &c., B. ix. Introd. Works, vol. iii. p.600.) How these relations are made known, whether by reason or revelation, makes no alteration in the case, because the duties arise out of the relations themselves, not out of the manner in which we are informed of them. (Analogy, pt.2, ch.1.) Those very articles of belief and duties of obedience, which were formerly natural with respect to their manner of promulgation, are now in the declaration of them also supernatural.' (Ferguson, Reason in Religion, 1675, p.29.) The relations to the Redeemer and the Sanctifier are not artificial, but as real as those to the Maker and Preserver, and the obligations arising out of the one set of relations as natural as those arising out of the other.
The deference paid to natural religion is farther seen in the attempts to establish a priori the necessity of a revelation. To make this out it was requisite to show that the knowledge with which reason could supply us was inadequate to be the guide of life, yet reason must not be too much depressed, inasmuch as it was needed for the proof of Christianity. On the one hand, the moral state of the heathen world prior to the preaching of Christianity, and of Pagan and savage tribes in Africa and America now, the superstitions of the most civilized nations of antiquity, the intellectual follies of the wisest philosophers, are exhibited in great detail. The usual arguments of scepticism on the conscious weakness of reason are brought forward, but not pushed very far. Reason is to be humiliated so far as that supernatural light shall be seen to be necessary, but it must retain its competence to judge of the evidence of this supernatural message. Natural religion is insufficient as a light, and a motive to show us our way and to make us walk in it; it is sufficient as a light, and a motive to lead us to revelation, and to induce us to embrace it. How much of religious truth was contained in natural knowledge, or how much was due to supernatural communication, was very variously estimated. Locke, especially, had warned against our liability to attribute to reason much of moral truth that had in fact been derived from revelation. But the uncertainty of the demarcation between the two is only additional proof of the identity of the scheme which they disclose between them. The whole of God's government and dealings with man form one wide-spread and consistent scheme, of which natural reason apprehends a part, and of which Christianity was the manifestation of a further part. Consistently herewith they treated natural religion, not as an historical dispensation, but as an abstract demonstration. There never was a time when mankind had realized or established an actual system of natural religion, but it lies always potentially in his reason. It held the same place as the social contract in political history. The original contract' had never had historical existence, but it was a hypothesis necessary to explain the existing fact of society. No society had, in fact, arisen on that basis, yet it is the theoretical basis on which all society can be shown to rest. So there was no time or country where the religion of nature had been fully known, yet the knowledge of God is the only foundation in the human mind on which can be built a rational Christianity. Though not an original condition of any part of mankind, it is an ever-originating condition of every human mind, as soon as it begins to reason on the facts of religion, rendering all the moral phenomena available for the construction of a scientific theory of religion.
In accordance with this view they interpreted the passages in St. Paul which speak of the religion of the heathen; e.g., Rom. ii.14. Since the time of Augustine (De Spir. et Lit. § 27) the orthodox interpretation had applied this verse, either to the Gentile converts, or to the favoured few among the heathen who had extraordinary divine assistance. The Protestant expositors, to whom the words do by nature the things contained in the law,' could never bear their literal force, sedulously preserved the Augustinian explanation. Even the Pelagian Jeremy, Taylor is obliged to gloss the phrase by nature,' thus: By fears and secret opinions which the Spirit of God who is never wanting to men in things necessary was pleased to put into the hearts of men. (Duct. Dubit. B. ii. ch.1, § 3.) The rationalists, however, find the expression by nature' in its literal sense exactly conformable to their own views, (Wilkins, Of Nat. Rel. ii. c.9) and have no difficulty even in supposing the acceptableness of these works, and the salvability of those who do them. Burnet on Art. xviii., in his usual confused style of eclecticism, suggests both opinions without seeming to see that they are incompatible relics of divergent schools of doctrine.
Consequent with such a theory of religion was their notion of its practical bearings. Christianity was a republication of the moral law -- a republication rendered necessary by the helpless state of moral debasement into which the world was come by the practice of vice. The experience of ages had proved that, though our duty might be discoverable by the light of nature, yet virtue was not able to maintain itself in the world without additional sanctions. The disinterestedness of virtue was here a point much debated. The Deists, in general, argued from the notion of morality, that so far as any private regard to my own interest, whether present or future, influenced my conduct, so far my actions had no moral worth. From this they drew the inference that the rewards and punishments of Christianity -- these additional sanctions -- could not be a divine ordinance, inasmuch as they were subversive of morality. The orthodox writers had to maintain the theory of rewards and punishments in such a way as not to be inconsistent with the theory of the disinterestedness of virtue which they had made part of their theology. Even here no precise line can be drawn between the Deistical and the Christian moralists. For we find Shaftesbury placing in a very clear light the mode in which religious sanctions do, in fact, as society is constituted, support and strengthen virtue in the world, though he does not deny that the principle of virtue in the individual may suffer from the selfish passion being appealed to by the hope of reward or the fear of punishment. (Characteristicks, vol. ii. p.66.) But with whatever variation in individual disputants, the tone of the discussions is unmistakeable. When Collins was asked, Why he was careful to make his servants go to Church?' he is said to have answered, I do it that they may neither rob nor murder me.' This is but an exaggerated form of the practical religion of the age. Tillotson's Sermon (Works, vol. iii. p.43) On the Advantages of Religion to Societies;' is like Collins' reply at fuller length. The Deists and their opponents alike assume that the purpose of the supernatural interference of the Deity in revelation must have been to secure the good behaviour of man in this that the future life and our knowledge of it may be a means to this great end; that the next world, if it exist at all, bears that relation to the present. We are chiefly familiar with these views from their having been long the butt of the Evangelical pulpit, a chief topic in which was to decry the mere legal' preaching of a preceding age. To abstain from vice, to cultivate virtue, to fill our station in life with propriety, to bear the ills of life with resignation, and to use its pleasures moderately -- these things are indeed not little; perhaps no one can name in his circle of friends a man whom he thinks equal to these demands. Yet the experience of the last age has shown us unmistakeably that where this is our best ideal of life, whether, with the Deists, we establish the obligation of morality on independent' grounds; or, with the orthodox, add he religious sanction -- in Mr. Mill's rather startling mode of putting it (Dissertations, vol. ii. p.436), Because God is stronger than we, and able to damn us if we don't' -- it argues a sleek and sordid epicurism, in which religion and a good conscience have their place among the means by which life is to be made comfortable. To accuse the divines of this age of a leaning to Arminianism is quite beside the mark. They did not intend to be other than orthodox. They did not take the Arminian side rather than the Calvinistic in the old conflict or concordat between Faith and Works, between Justification and Sanctification. They had dropt the terminology, and with it the mode of thinking, which the terms implied. They had adopted the language and ideas of the moralists. They spoke not of sin, but of vice, and of virtue, not of works. In the old Protestant theology actions had only a certain exterior relation to the justified man; gute fromme Werke machen nimmermehr einen guten frommen Mann sondern ein guter frommer Mann macht gute Werke.' (Luther.) Now, our conduct was thought of, not as a product or efflux of our character, but as regulated by our understanding; by a perception of relations, or a calculation of consequences. This intellectual perception of regulative truth is religions Faith. Faith is no longer the devout condition of the entire inner man. Its dynamic nature, and interior working, are not denied, but they are unknown; and religion is made to regulate life from without, though the logical proof of the being and attributes of God, upon which an obligation to obey him can be raised.
The preachers of any period are not to be censured for adapting their style of address and mode of arguing to their hearers. They are as necessarily bound to the preconceived notions, as to the language, of those whom they have to exhort. The pulpit does not mould the forms into which religious thought in any age runs, it simply accommodates itself to those that exist. For this very reason, because they must follow and cannot lead, sermons are the surest index of the prevailing religious feeling of their age. When we are reminded of the powerful influence of the pulpit at the Reformation, in the time of the Long Parliament, or at the Methodist revival, it must also be remembered that these preachers addressed a different class of society from that for which our classical pulpit oratory was written. If it could be said that Sherlock, Hare, and Gibson preach in vain,' it was because the populace were gone to hear mad Henley on his tub. To charge Tillotson or Foster with not moving the masses which Whitefield moved, is to charge them with not having preached to another congregation than that to which they had to preach. Nor did they preach to empty pews, though their carefully-written discourses' could never produce effects such as are recorded of Burnet's extempore addresses, when he was often interrupted by the deep hum of his audience, and when, after preaching out the hour-glass, he held it up in his hand, the congregation clamorously encouraged him to go on till the sand had run off once more.' (Macaulay, vol. ii. p.177.). The dramatic oratory of Whitefield could not have sustained its power over the same auditors; he had a fresh congregation every Sunday. And in the judgment of one quite disposed to do justice to Whitefield there is nothing in his sermons such as are printed. Johnson (ap. Boswell) speaking of the comparisons drawn between the preaching in the Church and that of the Methodists to the disadvantage of the former, says, I never treated Whitefield's ministry with contempt; I believe he did good. But when familiarity and noise claim the praise due to knowledge, art, and elegance, we must beat down such pretensions.' It is, however, the substance, and not the manner, of the classical sermons of the eighteenth century which is meant, when they are complained of as cold and barren. From this accusation they cannot be vindicated. But let it be rightly understood that it is a charge not against the preachers but against the religious ideas of the period. In the pulpit, the speaker has no choice but to take his audience as he finds them. He can but draw them on to the conclusions already involved in their premises. He cannot supply them with a new set of principles, and alter their fixed forms of thought. The ideas out of which the Protestant or the Puritan movement proceeded were generated elsewhere than in the pulpit.
The Rationalist preachers of the eighteenth century are usually contrasted with the Evangelical pulpit which displaced them. Mr. Neale has compared them disadvantageously with the mediæval preachers in respect of Scripture knowledge. He selects a sermon of the eighteenth and one of the twelfth century; the one by the well-known Evangelical preacher John Newton, Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth; the other by Guarric, Abbot of Igniac. In Newton's sermon we find nine references to the Gospels, two to the Epistles, nine to the Prophets, one to the Psalms, and none to any other part of Scripture. In the sermon of Guarric we find seven references to the Gospels, one to the Epistles, twenty-two to the Psalms, nine to the Prophets, and eighteen to other parts of Scripture. Thus the total number of quotations made by the Evangelical preacher is twenty-one, by Guarric fifty-seven, and this in sermons of about equal length.' (Mediæval Preaching, Introd. xxvi.) Mr. Neale has, perhaps, not been fortunate in his selection of a specimen sermon. For having the curiosity to apply this childish test to a sermon of John Blair, taken at random out of his four volumes, I found the number of texts quoted thirty-seven. But, passing this by Mr. Neale misses his inference. He means to show how much more Scripture knowledge was possessed by the preachers of the dark ages.' This is very likely, if familiarity with the mere words of the Vulgate version be Scripture knowledge. But it is not proved by the abstinence of the eighteenth century preacher from the use of Biblical phraseology. The fact, so far as it is one, only shows that our divines understood Scripture differently, some will say better, than the Middle Age ecclesiastic. The latter had, in the mystical theology of the Christian Church, a rich store of religious sentiment, which it was an exercise of their ingenuity to find in the poetical books of the Hebrew canon. Great part of this fanciful allegorizing is lost, apart from the Vulgate translation. But of this the more learned of them were quite aware, and on their theory of Scripture interpretation, according to which the Church was its guaranteed expositor, the verbal meanings of the Latin version were equally the inspired sense of the sacred record. It was otherwise with the English divine of the eighteenth century. According to the then received view of Scripture, its meaning was not assigned by the Church, but its language was interpreted by criticism -- i.e., by reason. The aids of history, the ordinary rules of grammar and logic, were applied to find out what the sacred writers actually said. That was the meaning of Scripture, the message supernaturally communicated. Where each text of Scripture has but one sense, that sense in which the writer penned it, can only be cited in that sense without doing it violence. This was the turn by which Selden so discomfited the Puritan divines, who, like the Catholic mystics, made Scripture words the vehicle of their own feelings. Perhaps in your little pocket Bibles with gilt leaves the translation may be thus, but the Greek or Hebrew signifies otherwise.' (Whitelocke, Johnson's Life of Selden, p, 303.) If the preacher in the eighteenth century had allowed himself to make these allusions, the taste of his audience would have rejected them. He would have weakened his argument instead of giving it effect.
No quality of these Discourses' strikes us more now than the good sense which pervades them. They are the complete reaction against the Puritan sermon of the 17th century. We have nothing far-fetched, fanciful, allegoric. The practice of our duty is recommended to us on the most undeniable grounds of prudence. Barrow had indulged in ambitious periods, and South had been jocular. Neither of these faults can be alleged against the model sermon of the Hanoverian period. No topic is produced which does not compel our assent as soon as it is understood, and none is there which is not understood as soon as uttered. It is one man of the world speaking to another. Collins said of St. Paul, that he had a great respect for him as both a man of sense and a gentleman.' He might have said the same of the best pulpit divines of his own time. They bear the closest resemblance to each other, because they all use the language of fashionable society, and say exactly the proper thing. A person,' says Waterland, must have come knowledge of men, besides that of books to succeed well here; and must have a kind of practical sagacity which nothing but the grace of God joined with recollection and wise observation can bring, to be able to represent truths to the life, or to any considerable degree of advantage.' This is from his recommendatory preface prefixed an edition of Blair's Sermons (1739); not the Presbyterian Dr. Hugh Blair, but John Blair, the founder and first President of a Missionary College in Virginia, whose Sermons on the Beatitudes' were among the most approved models of the day, and recommended by the bishops to their candidates for orders. Dr Hugh Blair's Sermons, which Johnson thought excellently written, both as to doctrine and language,' (ap. Boswell, p.528), are in a different taste -- that of the latter half of the century, when solid and sensible reasoning was superseded by polished periods and flowery rhetoric. Polished as marble,' says Hugh J. Rose, but also as lifeless and as cold.' The sermons which Waterland recommends to young students of divinity comprise Tillotson, Sharp, Calamy, Sprat, Blackhall, Hoadly, South, Claggett, and Atterbury. Of these, Sharp's, Calamy's, and Blackhall's are the best models for an easy, natural, and familiar way of writing. Sprat is fine, florid and elaborate in his style, artful in his method, and not so open as the former, but harder to be imitated. Hoadly is very exact and judicious, and both his sense and style just, close, and clear. The others are very sound, clear writers, only Scot is too swelling and pompous, and South is something too full of wit and satire, and does not always observe a decorum in his style.' He advises the student to begin his divinity course with reading sermons, because they are the easiest, plainest, and most entertaining of any books of divinity; and might be digested into a better body of divinity than any that is yet extant.' (Advice to a Young Student, 1730).
Not only the pulpit, but the whole theological literature of the age, takes the same tone of appeal. Books are no longer addressed by the cloistered academic to a learnedly educated class, they are written by popular divines -- men of leisure,' Butler calls them -- for the use of fashionable society. There is an epoch in the history of letters when readers and writers change places; when it ceases to be the reader's business to come to the writer to be instructed, and the writer begins to endeavour to engage the attention of the reader. The same necessity was now laid upon the religious writer. He appeared at the bar of criticism, and must gain the wits, and the town. At the debate between the Deists and the Christian apologists the public was umpire. The time was past when Baxter talked about another world like one that had been there, and was come as a sort of express from thence to make a report concerning it.' (Calamy, Life, i.220). As the preacher now no longer spoke with the authority of a heavenly mission, but laid the state of the argument before his hearers, so philosophy was no longer a self-centered speculation, an oracle of wisdom. The divine went out into the streets, with his demonstration of the being and attributes of God printed on a broadside; he solicits your assent in the new court-jargon.' When Collins visited Lord Barrington at Torts, as they were all men of letters, and had a taste for Scripture criticism, it is said to have been their custom, after dinner, to have a Greek Testament laid on the table.' (Biog. Brit. Art. Barrington.') These discussions were not necessarily unprofitable. Lord Bolingbroke was seldom in the company of the Countess of Huntingdon without discussing some topic beneficial to his eternal interests, and he always paid the utmost respect and deference to her ladyship's opinion.' (Memoirs of Countess of Hunt., i.180.) Bishop Butler gives his clergy hints how to conduct themselves when sceptical and profane men bring up the subject (religion) at meetings of entertainment, and such as are the freer sort; innocent ones, I mean, otherwise I should not suppose you would be present at them.' (Durham Charge, 1751). Tindal's reconversion from Romanism is said to have been brought about by the arguments he heard in the coffee-houses. This anecdote, given in Curll' catch-penny Life,' rests, not on that bookseller's authority, which is worthless, but on that of the medical man who attended him in his last illness. It was the same with the controversy on the Trinity, of which Waterland says, in 1723, that it was spread abroad among all ranks and degrees of men, and the Athanasian creed become the subject of common and ordinary conversation.' (Critical Hist. of the Athan. Creed, Introd) The Universities were invaded by the spirit of the age, and instead of taking students through a laborious course of philosophy, natural and moral, turned out accomplished gentlemen upon the classics' and a scantling of logic. Berkeley's ironical portrait of the modish philosopher is of date 1732. Lysicles smiled, and said he believed Euphranor had figured to himself philosophers in square caps and long gowns, but thanks to these happy times, the reign of pedantry was over. Our philosophers are of a very different kind from those awkward students who think to come at knowledge by poring on dead languages and old authors, or by sequestering themselves from the cares of the world to meditate in solitude and retirement. They are the best bred men of the age, men who know the world, men of pleasure, men of fashion, and fine gentlemen. Euph.: I have some small notion of the people you mention, but should never have taken them for philosophers. Cri.: Nor would any one else till of late. The world was long under a mistake about the way to knowledge, thinking it lay through a tedious course of academical education and study. But among the discoveries of the present age, one of the principal is the finding out that such a method doth rather retard and obstruct, than promote knowledge. Lys.: I will undertake, a lad of fourteen, bred in the modern way, shall make a better figure, and be more considered in any drawing-room, or assembly of polite people, than one at four-and-twenty, who hath lain by a long time at school and college. He shall say better things, in a better manner, and be more liked by good judges. Euph. Where doth he pick up this improvement? Cri. Where our grave ancestors would never have looked for it, in a drawing-room, a coffee-house, a chocolate-late-house, at the tavern, or groom-porter's. In these and the like fashionable places of resort, it is the custom for polite persons to speak freely on all subjects, religious, moral, or political. So that a young gentleman who frequents them is in the way of hearing many instructive lectures, seasoned with wit and raillery, and uttered with spirit. Three or four sentences from a man of quality, spoken with a good air, make more impression, and convey more knowledge, than a dozen dissertations in a dry academical way. . . . You may now commonly see a young lady, or a petit maître non-plus a divine or an old-fashioned gentleman, who bath read many a Greek and Latin author, and spent much time in hard methodical study.' (Alciphron, Dial. i. § 11.)
Among a host of mischiefs thus arising, one positive good may be signalized. If there must be debate, there ought to be fair play; and of this, publicity is the best guarantee. To make the public arbiter in an abstract question of metaphysics is doubtless absurd, yet it is at least a safeguard against extravagance and metaphysical lunacy. The verdict of public opinion on such topics is worthless, but it checks the inevitable tendency of closet speculation to become visionary. There is but one sort of scepticism that is genuine, and deadly in proportion as it is real; that namely, which is forced upon the mind by its experience of the hollowness of mankind; for men may be read, as well as books, too much.' That other logical scepticism which is hatched by over-thinking can be cured by an easy remedy; ceasing to think.
The objections urged against revelation in the course of the Deistical controversy were no chimæras of a sickly brain, but solid charges; the points brought into public discussion were the points at which the revealed system itself impinges on human reason. No time can lessen whatever force there may be in the objection against a miracle; it is felt as strongly in one century as in another. The debate was not frivolous; the objections were worth answering, because they were not pitched metaphysically high. To a platonizing divine they look trivial; picked up in the street. So Origeu naturally thought that a faith which could be shaken by such objections as those of Celsus was not worth much.' (Cont. Cels., Pref. § 4.) Just such were the objections of the Deists; such as come spontaneously into the thoughts of practical men, who never think systematically, but who are not to be imposed upon by fancies. Persons sneer at the shallow Deism' of the last century; and it is customary to reply that the antagonist orthodoxy was at least as shallow. The truth is, the shallowness' imputed belongs to the mental sphere into which the debate was for the time transported. The philosophy of the age was not above its mission. Philosophy,' thought Thomas Reid, in 1764, has no other root but the principles of common sense; it grows out of them, it draws its nourishment from them; severed from this root, its honours wither, its sap is dried up, it dies and rots.' (Inquiry, &c., Intr. § 4.) We, in the present generation, have seen the great speculative movement in Germany die out from this very cause, because it became divorced from the facts on which it speculated. Shut up in the Universities, it turned inwards on itself, and preyed on its own vitals. It has only been neglected by the world, because it first neglected the great facts in which the world has, and feels, an interest.
If ever there was a time when abstract speculation was brought down from inaccessible heights and compelled to be intelligible, it was the period from the Revolution to the middle of the last century. Closet speculation had been discredited; the cobwebs of scholasticism were exploded; the age of feverish doubt and egotistical introspection had not arrived. In that age the English higher education acquired its practical aim; an aim in which the development of the understanding, and the acquisition of knowledge are considered secondary objects to the formation of a sound secular judgment, of the scholar and the gentleman' of the old race of schoolmasters. Burke contrasting his own times with the preceding age considered our forefathers as deeper thinkers than ourselves, because they set a higher value on good sense than on knowledge in various sciences, and their good sense was derived very often from as much study and more knowledge, though of another sort.' (Recollections by Samuel Rogers, p.81.)
When a dispute is joined, e.g. on the origin and composition of the Gospels, it is, from the nature of the case, confined to an inner circle of Biblical scholars. The mass of the public must wait outside, and receive the result on their authority. The religious public were very reluctant to resign the verse 1 John v.7, but they did so at last on the just ground that after a philological controversy conducted with open doors, it had been decided to be spurious. No serious man would consider a popular assembly a proper court to decide on the doctrine of transubstantiation, or on the Hegelian definition of God, though either is easily capable of being held up to the ridicule of the half-educated from the platform or the pulpit. It is otherwise with the greater part of the points raised in the Deistical controversy. It is not the speculative reason of the few, but the natural conscience of the many, that questions the extirpation of the Canaanites, or the eternity of hell-torments. These are points of divinity that are at once fundamental and popular. Butler, though not approving of entering into an argumentative defence of religion in common conversation,' recommends his clergy to do so from the pulpit on the ground that, such as are capable of seeing the force of objections, are capable also of seeing the force of the answers which are given to them.' (Durham Charge.) If the philosophic intellect be dissatisfied with the answers which the divines of that day gave to the difficulties started, let it show how, on the rationalist hypothesis, these difficulties are removeable for the mass of those who feel them. The transcendental reason provides an answer which possibly satisfies itself; but to the common reason the answer is more perplexing than the difficulty it would clear.
M. Villemain has remarked in Pascal, that foresight which revealed to him so many objections unknown to his generation, and which inspired him with the idea of fortifying and intrenching positions which were not threatened.' The objections which Pascal is engaged with are not only not those of his age, they are not such as could ever become general in any age. They are those of the higher reason, and the replies are from the same inspiration. Pascal's view of human depravity seems to the ordinary man but the despair and delirium of the self-tormenting ascetic. The cynical view of our fallen nature, however, is at least a possible view. It is well that it should be explored, and it will always have its prophets, Calvin or Rochefoucault. But to ordinary men an argument in favour of revelation, founded on such an assumption, will seem to be in contradiction to his daily experience. Pascal's Pensées stand alone; a work of individual genius, not belonging to any age. The celebrity which the Analogy of Bishop Butler has gained is due to the opposite reason. It is no paradox to say that the merit of the Analogy lies in its want of originality. It came (1736) towards the end of the Deistical period. It is the result of twenty year's study -- the very twenty years during which the Deistical notions formed the atmosphere which educated people breathed. The objections it meets are not new and unseasoned objections, but such as had worn well, and has borne the rub of controversy, because they were genuine. And it will be equally hard to find in the Analogy any topic in reply, which had not been suggested in the pamphlets and sermons of the preceding half century. Like Aristotle's physical and political treatises, it is a résumé of the discussions of more than one generation. Its admirable arrangement only is all its own. Its closely packed and carefully fitted older speaks of many years' contrivance. Its substance are the thoughts of a whole age, not barely compiled, but each reconsidered and digested. Every brick in the building has been rung before it has been relaid, and replaced in its true relation to the complex and various whole. In more than one passage we see that the construction of this fabric of evidence, which consists in a long series of things, one preparatory to and confirming another from the beginning of the world to the present time,' (Durham Charge) was what occupied Butler's attention. Compass of thought, even amongst persons of the lowest rank,' (Pref. to Sermon), is that form of the reflective faculty to which he is fond of looking both for good and evil. He never will forget that justice must be done to every part of a subject when we are considering it.' (Sermon iv.) Harmony, and law, and order, he will suppose even where he does not find. The tendency of his reason was that which Bacon indicates; the spirit of a man being of an equal and uniform substance doth usually suppose and feign in nature a greater equality and uniformity than is in truth.' (Advancement of Learning.) This is, probably, the true explanation of the obscurity' which persons sometimes complain of in Butler's style. The reason or matter he is producing is palpable and plain enought. But he is so solicitous to find its due place in the then stage of the argument, so scrupulous to give it its exact weight and no more, so careful in arranging its situation relatively to the other members of the proof, that a reader who does not bear in mind that the effect of the whole' is what the architect is preparing, is apt to become embarrassed, and to think that obscurity which is really logical precision. The generality of men are better qualified for understanding particulars one by one, than for taking a comprehensive view of the whole. The philosophical breadth which we miss in Butler's mode of conceiving is compensated for by this judicial breadth in his mode of arguing, which gives its place to each consideration, but regards rather the cumulative force of the whole. Many writers before Butler had insisted on this character of the Christian evidences. Dr. Jenkin, Margaret Professor at Cambridge, whose Reasonableness and Certainty of the Christian Religion was the Paley' of divinity students then, says, there is an excellency in every part of our religion separately considered, but the strength and vigour of each part is in the relation it has to the rest, and the several parts must be taken altogether, if we would have a true knowledge, and make a just estimate of the whole. (Reasonableness, &c. Pt. ii. Pref.1721.) But Butler does not merely take the hint from others. It is so entirely the guiding rule of his hand and pen that it would appear to have been forced upon him by some peculiar experience of his own. It was in society, and not in his study, that he had learned the weight of the Deistical arguments. At the Queen's philosophical parties, where these topics were canvassed with earnestness and freedom, he must have often felt the impotence of reply in detail, and seen, as he says, how impossible it must be, in a cursory conversation, to unite all this into one argument, and represent it as it ought.' (Durham Charge.) Hence his own labour to work up his materials into a connected framework, a methodized encyclopædia of all the extant topics.
Not that he did not pay attention to the parts. Butler's eminence over his contemporary apologists is seen in nothing more than in that superior sagacity which rejects the use of any plea that is not entitled to consideration singly. In the other evidential books of the time we find a miscellaneous crowd of suggestions of very various value; never fanciful, but often trivial; undeniable, but weak as proof of the point they are brought to prove. Butler seems as if he had sifted these books, and retained all that was solid in them. If he built with brick, and not with marble, it was because he was not thinking of reputation, but of utility, and an immediate purpose. Mackintosh wished Butler had had the elegance and ornament of Berkeley. They would have been sadly out of place. There was not a spark of the littleness of literary ambition about him. There was a certain naturalness in Butler's mind, which took him straight to the questions on which men differed around him. Generally it is safer to prove what no one denies, and easier to explain difficulties which no one has ever felt. A quiet reputation is best obtained in the literary quæstiunculæ of important subjects. But a simple and straightforward man studies great topics because he feels a want of the knowledge which they contain. He goes straight to the real doubts and fundamental discrepancies, to those on which it is easy to excite odium, and difficult to give satisfaction; he leaves to others the amusing skirmishing and superficial literature accessory to such studies. Thus there is nothing light in Butler, all is grave, .serious, and essential; nothing else would be characteristic of him.' (Bagehot, Estimates, &c., p.189.) Though he has rifled their books he makes no display of reading. In the Analogy he never names the author he is answering. In the Sermons he quotes, directly, only Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Wollaston, Rochefoucauld, and Fenelon. From his writings we should infer that his reading was not promiscuous, even had he not himself given us to understand how much opportunity he had of seeing the idleness and waste of time occasioned by light reading. (Sermons, Pref.)
This popular appeal to the common reason of men, which is one characteristic of the rationalist period, was a first effort of English theology to find a new basis for doctrine which should replace those foundations which had failed it. The Reformation had destroyed the authority of the Church upon which Revelation had so long rested. The attempt of the Laudian divines to substitute the voice of the national Church for that of the Church universal had met with only very partial and temporary success. When the Revolution of 1688 introduced the freedom of the press and a general toleration, even that artificial authority which, by ignoring non-conformity, had produced an appearance of unity, and erected a conventional standard of truth and falsehood, fell to the ground The old and venerated authority had been broken by the Reformation. The new authority of the Anglican establishment had existed in theory only, and never in fact, and the Revolution had crushed the theory, which was now confined to a small band of non-jurors. In reaction against Anglican authority,' the Puritan movement had tended to rest faith and doctrine upon the inward light within each man's breast. This tendency of the new Puritanism, which we may call Independency, was a development of the old, purely scriptural, Puritanism of Presbyterianism. But it was its natural and necessary development. It was consequence of the controversy with the establishment. For both the Church and Dissent agreed in acknowledging Scripture as their foundation, and the controversy turned on the interpreter of Scripture. Nor was the doctrine of the inner light, which individualized the basis of faith, confined to the Nonconformists. It was shared by a section of the Church, of whom Cudworth is the type, to whom Scripture faith is not a mere believing of historical things, and upon artificial arguments or testimonies only, but a certain higher and diviner power in the soul that peculiarly correspondeth with the Deity.' (Intellectual System, Pref.) The inner light or witness of the Spirit in the soul of the individual believer had, in its turn, fallen into discredit through the extravagances to which it had given birth. It was disowned alike by Churchmen and Nonconformists, who agree in speaking with contemptuous pity of the sectaries of the last age.' The re-action against individual religion led to this first attempt to base revealed truth on reason. And for the purpose for which reason was now wanted, the higher, or philosophic, reason was far less fitted than that universal understanding in which all men can claim a share. The inner light,' which had made each man the dictator of his own creed, had exploded in ecclesiastical anarchy. The appeal from the frantic discord of the enthusiasts to reason must needs be, not to an arbitrary or particular reason in each man, but to a common sense, a natural discernment, a reason of universal obligation. As it was to be universally binding, it must be generally recognisable. It must be something not confined to the select few, a gift of the self-styled elect, but a faculty belonging to all men of sound mind and average capacity. Truth must be accessible to the bulk of mankind.' It was a time when the only refuge from a hopeless maze, or wild chaos, seemed to be the rational consent of the sensible and unprejudiced. Have the bulk of mankind,' writes Locke, no other guide but accident and blind chance to conduct them to their happiness or misery? Are the current opinions and licensed guides of every country sufficient]evidence and security to every man to venture his great concernments on? Or, can those be the certain and infallible oracles and standards of truth which teach one thing in Christendom, and another in Turkey? Or shall a poor countryman be eternally happy for having the chance to be born in Italy? Or a day labourer be unavoidably lost because he had the ill-luck to be born in England? How ready some men may be to say some of these things, I will not here examine; but this I am sure, that men must allow one or other of these to be true, or else grant that God has furnished men with faculties sufficient to direct them in the way they should take, if they will but seriously employ them that way, when their ordinary vocations allow them the leisure.' (Essay, Book iv. ch.19, § 3.)
Such an attempt to secure a foundation in a new consensus will obviously forfeit depth to gain in comprehensiveness. This phase of rationalism -- Rationalismus vulgaris' -- resigns the transcendental, that it may gain adherents. It wants, not the elect, but all men. It cannot afford to embarrass itself with the attempt to prove what all may not be required to receive. Accordingly there can be no mysteries in Christianity. The word musterion, as Archbishop Whately points out (Essays, 2nd ser., 5th ed., p.288), always means in the New Testament not that which is incomprehensible, but that which was once a secret, though now it is revealed it is no longer so. Whately, who elsewhere (Paley's Evidence, new ed.) speaks so contemptuously of the cast-off clothes' of the Deists, is here but adopting the argument of Toland in his Christianity not Mysterious. (Cf. Balguy, Discourses, p.237.) There needs no special preparation of heart' to receive the Gospel, the evidences of religion are sufficient to convince every unprejudiced inquirer. Unbelievers are blameworthy as deaf to an argument which is so plain that they cannot but understand it, and so convincing that they cannot but be aware of its force. Under such self-imposed conditions religious proof seems to divest itself of all that is divine, and out of an excess of accommodation to the recipient faculty to cease to be a transforming thought. Rationalism can object to the old sacramental system that it degrades a spiritual influence into a physical effect. But rationalism itself, in order to make the proof of revelation universal, is obliged to resolve religion into the moral government of God by rewards and punishments, and especially the latter. It is this anthropomorphic conception of God as the Governor of the universe,' which is presented to us in the theology of the Hanoverian divines, a theology which excludes on principle not only all that is poetical in life, but all that is sublime in religious speculation. To degrade religion to the position of a mere purveyor of motive to morality is not more dishonourable to the ethics which must ask, than to the religion which will render such assistance.' (A. J. Vaughan, Essays, vol.1. p.61.) It is this character that makes the reading even of the Analogy so depressing to the soul, as Tholuck (Vermischte Schriften, i.193) says of it we weary of a long journey on foot, especially through deep sand.' Human nature is not only humbled but crushed. It is a common charge against the 18th century divines that they exalt man too much, by insisting on the dignity of human nature, and its native capacities for virtue. This was the charge urged against the orthodox by the evangelical pulpit. But only very superficial and incompetent critics of doctrine can suppose that man is exalted by being thrown upon his moral faculties. The history of doctrine teaches a very different lesson. Those periods when morals have been represented as the proper study of man, and his only business, have been periods of spiritual abasement and poverty. The denial of scientific theology, the keeping in the back-ground the transcendental objects of faith, and the restriction of our faculties to the regulation of our conduct, seem indeed to be placing man in the foreground of the picture, to make human nature the centre round which all things revolve. But they do so not by exalting the visible, but by materializing the invisible. If there be a sphere of knowledge level to our capacities and of the utmost importance to us, we ought surely to apply ourselves with all diligence to this our proper business, and esteem everything else nothing, nothing as to us, in comparison of it. . . . . Our province is virtue and religion, life and manners; the science of improving the temper and making the heart better. This is the field assigned to us to cultivate; how much it has lain neglected is indeed astonishing. . . . Ile who should find out one rule to assist us in this work would deserve infinitely better of mankind than all the improvers of other knowledge put together.' (Sermon xv.) This is the theology of Butler and his contemporaries; a utilitarian theology, like the Baconian philosophy, contemning all employment of mental power that does not bring in fruit. Intellectui non plumæ, sed plumbum addendum et pondera,' (Bacon, Nov. Or., i.104,) might be its device.
In the Analogy it is the same. His term of comparison, the constitution and course of nature,' is not what we should understand by that term; not what science can disclose to us of the laws of the cosmos, but a narrow observation of what men do in ordinary life. We see what he means by the constitution of things,' by his saying (Sermon xv.) that the writings of Solomon are very much taken up with reflections upon human nature and human life; to which he hath added, in Ecclesiastes, reflections upon the constitution of things.' In Part i. ch.3, of the Analogy, he compares the moral government of God with the natural -- the distinction is perhaps from Balguy (Divine Rectitude, p.39), that is to say, one part of natural religion with another; for the distinction vanishes, except upon a very conventional sense of the term moral.' Altogether we miss in these divines not only distinct philosophical conceptions, but a scientific use of terms. Dr. Whewell considers that Butler shunned the appearance of technical terms for the elements of our moral constitution on which he speculated,' and thinks that he was driven to indirect modes of expression.' (Moral Philosophy in England, p.109.) The truth is that Butler uses the language of his day upon the topics on which he writes. The technical terms, and strict logical forms, which had been adhered to by the writers, small as well as great, of the 17th century, had been disused as pedantic; banished first from literature, and then from education. They did not appear in style, because they did not form part of the mental habit of the writers. Butler does not, as Dr. Whewell supposes, think in one form, and write in another, out of condescension to his readers. He thinks in the same language in which he and those around him speak. Mr. Hort's remark that Butler's writings are stoic to the core in the true and ancient sense of the word' (Cambridge Essays, 1856, p.337) must be extended to their style. The English style of philosophical writing in the Hanoverian period is to the English of the 17th century, as the Greek of Epictetus, Antoninus, or Plutarch, is to that of Aristotle. And for the same reason. The English stoics and their Greek predecessors were practical men who moralised in a practical way on the facts of common life, and in the language of common life. Neither the rhetorical Schools of the Empire, nor the Universities of England, any longer taught the correct use of metaphysical language. To imitate classical Latin was become the chief aim of the University man in his public exercises, and precision of language became under that discipline very speedily a lost art.
Upon the whole, the writings of that period are serviceable to us chiefly as showing what can and what cannot be effected by common-sense thinking in theology. It is of little consequence to inquire whether or not the objections of the Deists and the Socinians were removed by the answers brought to meet them. Perhaps, on the whole, we might be borne out in saying that the defence is at least as good as the attack; and so, that even on the ground of common reason, the Christian evidences may be arranged in such a way as to balance the common-sense improbability of the supernatural -- that there are three chances to one for revelation, and only two against it.' (Tracts for the Times, No.85.) Had not circumstances given a new direction to religious interests, the Deistical controversy might have gone on indefinitely, and the amoebæan strain of objection and reply, et cantare pares et respondere parati' -- have been prolonged to this day without any other result. But that result forces on the mind the suggestion that either religious faith has no existence, or that it must be to be reached by some other road than that of the trial of the witnesses.' It is a reductio ad absurdum of common-sense philosophy, of home-baked theology, when we find that the result of the whole is that it is safer to believe in a God, lest, if there should happen to be one, he might send us to hell for denying his existence.' (Maurice, Essays, p.236.) If a religion be wanted which shall debase instead of elevating, this should be its creed. If the religious history of the eighteenth century proves anything it is this: -- That good sense, the best good sense, when it sets to work with the materials of human nature and Scripture to construct a religion, will find its way to an ethical code, irreproachable in its contents, and based on a just estimate and wise observation of facts of life, ratified by Divine sanctions in the shape of hope and fear, of future rewards and penalties of obedienceand disobedience. This the eighteenth century did and did well. It has enforced the truths of natural morality with a solidity of argument and variety of proof which they have not received since the Stoical epoch, if then. But there its ability ended. When it came to the supernatural part of Christianity its embarrassment began. It was forced to keep it as much in the background as possible, or to bolster it up by lame and inadequate reasonings. The philosophy of common-sense had done its own work; it attempted more only to show, by its failure, that some higher organon was needed for the establishment of supernatural truth. The career of the evidential school, its success and failure, -- its success in vindicating the ethical part of Christianity and the regulative aspect of revealed truth, its failure in establishing the supernatural and speculative part, have enriched the history of doctrine with a complete refutation of that method as an instrument of theological investigation.
This judgment, however, must not be left unbalanced by a consideration on the other side. It will hardly be supposed that the drift of what has been said is that common-sense is out of place in religion, or in any other matter. The defect of the eighteenth century theology was not in having too much good sense, but in having nothing besides. In the present day when a godless orthodoxy threatens, as in the fifteenth century, to extinguish religious thought altogether, and nothing is allowed in the Church of England but the formulæ of past thinkings, which have long lost all sense of any kind; it may seem out of season to be bringing forward a misapplication of common-sense in a bygone age. There are times and circumstances when religious ideas will be greatly benefited by being submitted to the rough and ready tests by which busy men try what comes in their way; by being made to stand their trial, and be freely canvassed, coram populo. As poetry is not for the critics, so religion is not for the theologians. When it is stiffened into phrases, and these phrases are declared to be objects of reverence but not of intelligence, it is on the way to become a useless encumbrance, the rubbish of the past, blocking the road. Theology then retires into the position it occupies in the Church of Rome at present, an unmeaning frostwork of dogma, out of all relation to the actual history of man. In that system, theological virtue is an artificial life quite distinct from the moral virtues of real life. Parmi nous,' says Remusat, un homme religieux est trop souvent un homme qui se croit entouré d'ennemis, qui voit avec défiance ou scandale les événements et les institutions du siècle, qui se désole d'être né dans les jours maudits, et qui a bosoin d'un grand fond de bonté innée pour empêcher ses pieuses aversions de devenir de mortelles haines.' This system is equally fatal to popular morality and to religious theory. It locks up virtue in the cloister, and theology in the library. It originates caste sanctity, and a traditional philosophy. The ideal of holiness striven after may once have been lofty, the philosophy now petrified into tradition may once have been a vital faith, but now that they are withdrawn from public life, they have ceased to be social influences. On the other hand, the eighteenth century exhibits human attainment levelled to the lowest secular model of prudence and honesty, but still, such as it was, proposed to all men as their rule of life. Practical life as it was, was the theme of the pulpit, the press, and the drawing-room. Its theory of life was not lofty, but it was true as far as it went. It did not, substitute a factitious phraseology, the pass-words of the modern pulpit, for the simple facts of life, but called things by their right names. Nullum numen habes si sit prudentia' was its motto, not denying the numen,' but bringing him very close to the individual person, as his moral governor.' The prevailing philosophy was not a profound metaphysic, but it was a soundly based arrangement of the facts of society; it was not a scheme of the sciences, but a manual for every-day use. Nothing of the wild spirit of universal negation which was spread over the Continent fifty years later belonged to the solid rationalism of this period. The human understanding wished to be satisfied, and did not care to believe that of which it could not see the substantial ground. The reason was coming slowly to see that it had duties which it could not devolve upon others; that a man must think for himself, protect his own rights, and administer his affairs. The reason was never less extravagant than in this its first essay of its strength. Its demands were modest, it was easily satisfied; far too easily, we must think, when we look at some of the reasonings which passed as valid.
The habits of controversy in which they lived deceived the belligerents themselves. The controversial form of their theology, which has been fatal to its credit since, was no less detrimental to its soundness at the time. They could not discern the line between what they did, and what they could not, prove. The polemical temper deforms the books they have written. Literature was indeed partially refined from the coarser scurrilities with which the Caroline divines, a century before, had assailed their Romanist opponents. But there is still an air of vulgarity about the polite writing of the age, which the divines adopt along with its style. The cassocked divine assumes the airs of the roaring blade,' and ruffles it on the mall with a horsewhip under his arm. Warburton's stock argument is a threat to cudgel anyone who disputes his opinion. All that can be said is that this was a habit of treating your opponent which pervaded society. At a much later period Porson complains, In these ticklish times . . . talk of religion it is odds you have infidel, blasphemer, atheist, or schismatic, thundered in your ears; touch upon politics, you will be in luck if you are only charged with a tendency to treason. Nor is the innocence of your intention any safeguard. It is not the publication that shows the character of the author, but the character of the author that shows the tendency of the publication.' (Luard's Porson,' Camb. Essays, 1857.) A license of party vituperation in the House of Commons existed, from the time of the opposition to Walpole onwards, which has long been banished by more humane manners. The men who took a foremost part seemed to be intent on disparaging each other, and proving that neither possessed any qualification of wisdom, knowledge, or public virtue. . . Epithets of reproach were lavished personally on Lord North, which were applicable only to the vilest and most contemptible of mankind.' (Massey, Hist. of England, ii.218.)
Were this blustering language a blemish of style and nothing more, it would taint their books with vulgarity as literature, but it would not vitiate their matter. But the fault reaches deeper than skin-deep. It is a most serious drawback on the good-sense of the age that it wanted justice in its estimate of persons. They were no more capable of judging their friends than their foes. In Pope's satires there is no medium; our enemies combine all the odious vices, however incongruous; our friends have every virtue under heaven.' We hear sometimes of Pope's peculiar malignity.' But he was only doing what every one around him was doing, only with a greatly superior literary skill. Their savage invective against each other is not a morally worse feature than the style of fulsome compliment in which friends address each other. The private correspondence of intimate friends betrays an unwholesome insincerity, which contrasts strangely with their general manliness of character. The burly intellect of Warburton displays an appetite for flattery as insatiable as that of Miss Seward and her coterie.
This habit of exaggerating both good and evil the divines share with the other writers of the time. But theological literature, as a written debate, had a form of malignant imputation peculiar to itself. This is one arising out of the rationalistic fiction which both parties assumed, viz., that their respective beliefs were determined by an impartial inquiry into the evidence. The orthodox writers considered this evidence so clear and certain for their own conclusions, that they could account for its not seeming so to others only by the supposition of some moral obliquity which darkened the understanding in such cases. Hence the obnoxious assumption of the divines that the Deists were men of corrupt morals, and the retort of the infidel writers, that the clergy were hired advocates. Moral imputation, which is justly banished from legal argument, seems to find a proper place in theological. Those Christian Deists who, like Toland or Collins, approached most nearly in their belief to Revelation, were treated, not better, but worse, by the orthodox champions; their larger admissions being imputed to disingenuousness or calculated reserve. This stamp of advocacy which was impressed on English theology at the Reformation -- its first work of consideration was an Apology' -- it has not to this day shaken off. Our theologians, with rare exceptions, do not penetrate below the surface of their subject, but are engaged in defending or vindicating it. The current phrases of the bulwarks of our faith,' dangerous to Christianity,' are but instances of the habitual position in which we assume ourselves to stand. Even more philosophic minds cannot get rid of the idea that theology is polemical. Theological study is still the study of topics of defence. Even Professor Fraser can exhort us that by the study of these topics we might not merely disarm the enemies of religion of what, in other times has been, and will continue to be a favourite weapon of assault, but we might even convert that weapon into an instrument of use in the Christian service.' (Essays in Philosophy, p.4,) Modern science,' as it is called, is recommended to the young divine, because in it he may find means of "confuting infidelity.'
A little consideration will show that the grounds on which advocacy before a legal tribunal rests, make it inappropriate in theological reasoning. It is not pretended that municipal law is coextensive with universal law, and therefore incapable of admitting right on both sides. It is allowed that the natural right may be, at times, on one side, and the legal title on the other; not to mention the extreme case where communis error facit jus.' The advocate is not there to supply all the materials out of which the judge is to form his decision, but only one side of the case. He is the mere representative of his client's interests and has not to discuss the abstract merits of the juridical point which may be involved. He does not undertake to show that the law is conformable to natural right, but to establish the condition of his client relatively to the law. But the rational defender of the faith has no place in his system for the variable, or the indifferent, or the non-natural. He proceeds on the supposition that the whole system of the Church is the one and exclusively true expression of reason upon the subject on which it legislates. He claims for the whole of received knowledge what the jurist claims for international law, to be a universal science. He lays before us, on the one hand, the traditional canon or symbol of doctrine. On the other hand, he teaches that the free use of reason upon the facts of nature and Scripture is the real mode by which this traditional symbol is arrived at. To show, then, that the candid pursuit of truth leads every partial intellect to the Anglican conclusion was the task which, on their theory of religious proof, their theology had to undertake. The process, accordingly, should have been analogous to that of the jurist or legislator with regard to the internal evidence, and to that of the judge with regard to the external evidence. If theological argument forgets the judge and assumes the advocate, or betrays the least bias to one side, the conclusion is valueless, the principle of free inquiry has been violated. Roman Catholic theologians consistently enough teach that apologetics' make no part of theology, as usually conducted as replies to special objections urged, but that a true apologetic must be founded (1) on a discovery of the general principle from which the attack proceeds, and (2) on the exhibition, per contra, of that general ground-thought of which the single Christian truths are developments. (Hageman, Die Aufgabe der Catholischen Apologetik.)
With rare exceptions the theology of the Hanoverian period is of the most violently partisan character. It seats itself, by its theory, in the judicial chair, but it is only to comport itself there like Judge Jefferies. One of the favourite books of the time was Sherlock's Trial of the Witnesses. First published in 1729, it speedily went through fourteen editions. It concludes in this way: --
Judge. -- What say you? Are the Apostles guilty of giving false evidence in the case of the resurrection of Jesus, or not guilty?
Foreman. -- Not guilty.
Judge. -- Very well; and now, gentlemen, I resign my commission, and am your humble servant. The company then rose up, and were beginning to pay their compliments to the Judge and the counsel, but were interrupted by a gentleman, who went up to the Judge and offered him a fee. What is this?' says the Judge. A fee, sir,' said the gentleman. A fee to a judge is a bribe,' said the Judge. True, sir,' said the gentleman; but you have resigned your commission, and will not be the first judge who has come from the bench to the bar without any diminution of honour. Now, Lazarus's case is to come on next, and this fee is to retain you on his side.' One might say that the apologists of that day had in like manner left the bench for the bar, and taken a brief for the Apostles. They are impatient at the smallest demur, and deny loudly that there is any weight in anything advanced by their opponents. In the way they override the most serious difficulties, they show anything but the temper which is supposed to qualify for the weighing of evidence. The astonishing want of candour in their reasoning, their blindness to real difficulty, ill-concealed predetermination to find a particular verdict, the rise of their style in passion in the same proportion as their argument fails in strength, constitute a class of writers more calculated than any other to damage their own cause with young ingenuous minds, bred in the school of Locke to believe that to love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues. (Locke, æt.73. Letter to Collins.) Spalding has described the moral shock his faith received on hearing an eminent clergyman in confidential conversation with another, who had cited some powerful argument against revelation, say, That's truly awkward; let us consider a little how we get out of that;' wie wir uns salviren. (Selbstbiographie, p.128.) A truthful mind is a much rarer possession than is commonly supposed, for it is as easy to close the eyes of the mind as those of the body.' (Butler, Sermon x.) And in this rarity there is a natural limit to the injury which uncandid vindications of revelation can cause. To whatever causes is to be attributed the decline of Deism, from 1750. onwards, the books polemically written against it cannot reckon among them. When Casaubon first visited Paris, and was being shown over the Sorbonne, his guide said, This is the hall in which the doctors have disputed for 300 years.' Aye! and what they settled?' was his remark.
Some exceptions, doubtless, there are to the inconclusiveness of this debate. Here again the eminent exception is the Analogy. Butler, it is true, comes forward not as an investigator, but as a pleader. But when we pass from his inferior brethren to this great master of the art we find ourselves in the hands of one who knows the laws of evidence, and carefully keeps his statements within them. Butler does not, like his fellow apologists, disguise the fact that the evidence is no stronger than it is. If it be a poor thing,' to argue in this way, the epithet poor may be applied, I fear, as properly to great part, or the whole, of human life, as it is to the things mentioned.' (Analogy, Part ii. ch.8.) Archbishop Whately, defining the temper of the rational theologian, says: -- A good man will, indeed, wish to find the evidence of the Christian religion satisfactory; but a wise man will not, for that reason, think it satisfactory, but will weigh the evidence the more carefully on account of the importance of the question.' (Essays, 2nd series, p 24.) This character Butler's argument exemplifies. We can feel, as we read, how his judgment must have been offended in his contemporaries by the disproportion between the positiveness of their assertion and the feebleness of their argument. Nor should we expect that Butler satisfied them. They thought him a little too little vigorous,' and wished he would have spoke more earnestly.' (Byrom's Journal, March, 1737.) Men who believed that they were in possession of a demonstration' of Christianity' not likely to be satisfied with one who saw so strongly the doubtfulness in which things were involved' that he could not comprehend men's being impatient out of action or vehement in it.' (Unpublished Remains, &c.) Warburton, who has a proof which is very little short of mathematical certainty, and to which nothing but a mere physical possibility of the contrary can be opposed' (Divine Leg., b. i. § 1), was the man for the age, which did not care to stand higgling with Butler over the degrees of probability. What could the world do with a man who designed the search after truth as the business of my life (Correspondence with Dr. Clarke), and who was so little prepared to "dogmatise about the future world that he rather felt that there is no account to be given in the way of reason of men's so strong attachments to the present world.' (Sermon vii.) Butler's doubtfulness, however, it should be remarked, is not the unsteadiness of the sceptical, but the wariness of the judicial mind; a mind determined for itself by its own instincts, but careful to confine its statements to others within the evidence produced in court. The Analogy does not depicture an inward struggle in his own mind, but as he told a friend, his way of writing it had been to endeavour to answer as he went along, every possible objection that might occur to any one against any position of his in his book.' (Bartlett's Life of Butler, p.50.) He does not doubt himself, but he sees, what others do not see, the difficulty of proving religion to others. There is a saying of Pitt circulating to the effect that the Analogy is a dangerous book; it raises more doubts than it solves.' All that is true in this is, that to a mind which has never nourished objections to revelation a book of evidences may be the means of first suggesting them. But in 1736 the objections were everywhere current, and the answers to them were mostly of that truly dangerous' sort in which assertion runs ahead of proof. The merit of Butler lies not in the irrefragable proof,' which Southey's epitaph epitaph attributes to his construction, but in his showing the nature of the proof, and daring to admit that it was less than certain; to own that a man may be fully convinced of the truth of a matter and upon the strongest reasons, and yet not be able to answer all the difficulties which may be raised upon it.' (Durham Charge, 1751.)
Another, perhaps the only other, book of this polemical tribe which can be said to have been completely successful as an answer, is one most unlike the Analogy in all its nobler features. This is Bentley's Remarks upon a late Discourse of Freethinking, by Phileleutherus Lipsiennis, 1713. Coarse, arrogant, and abusive with all Bentley's worst faults of style and this masterly critique is decisive. Not, of course, of the Deistical controversy, on which the critic avoids entering. The Discourse of Freethinking was a small tract published in 1713 by Anthony Collins. Collins was a gentleman of independent fortune, whose high personal character and general respectability seemed to give a weight to his words, which assuredly they do not carry of themselves. By freethinking, he means liberty of thought -- the right of bringing all received opinions whatsoever to the touchstone of reason. Among the grounds or authorities by which he supports this natural right, Collins unluckily had recourse to history, and largely, of course, to the precedent of the Greek philosophers. Collins, who had been bred at Eton and King's, was probably no worse a scholar than his contemporary Kingsmen, and the range of his reading was that of a man who had made the classics the companions of his maturer years. But that scholarship which can supply a quotation from Lucan, or flavour the style with an occasional allusion to Tully or Seneca, is quite incompetent to apply Greek or Roman precedent properly to a modern case. Addison, the pride of Oxford, had done no better. In his Essay on the Evidences of Christianity, Addison assigns as grounds for his religious belief, stories as absurd as that of the Cocklane ghost, and foreries as rank as Ireland's Vortigern, puts faith in the lie about the thundering legion, is convinced that Tiberius moved the Senate to admit Jesus among the gods, and pronounces the letter of Agbarus, King of Edessa, to be a record of great authority.' (Macaulay: Essays.) But the public was quite satisfied with Addison's citations, in which a public, which had given the victory to Boyle in the Phalaris controversy, could hardly suspect anything wrong. Collins was not to escape so easily. The Freethinker flounders hopelessly among the authorities he has invoked. Like the necromancer's apprentice, he is worried by the fiends he has summoned but cannot lay, and Bentley, on whose nod they wait, is there like another Cornelius Agrippa hounding them on and enjoying the sport. Collins's mistakes, mistranslations, misconceptions, and distortions are so monstrous, that it is difficult for us now, forgetful how low classical learning had sunk, to believe that they are mistakes, and not wilful errors. It is rare sport to Bentley, this rat-hunting in an old rick, and he lays about him in high glee, braining an authority at every blow. When he left off abruptly, in the middle of a Third Part,' it was not because he was satiated with slaughter, but to substitute a new excitement, no less congenial to his temper -- a quarrel with the University about his fees. A grace, voted 1715, tendering him the public thanks of the University, and praying him in the name of the University to finish what remains of so useful a work,' could not induce him to resume his pen. The Remarks of Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, unfinished though they are, and trifling as was the book which gave occasion to them, are perhaps the best of all Bentley's performances. They have all the merits of the Phalaris dissertation, with the advantage of far nobler subject. They show how Bentley's exact appreciation of the value of terms could, when he chose to apply it to that purpose, serve him as a key to the philosophical ideas of past times, no less than to those of poetical metaphor. The tone of the pamphlet is most offensive, not only not insipid, but exceedingly bad-tasted.' We can only say the taste is that of his age, while the knowledge is all his own. It was fair to show that his antagonist undertook to interpret the Prophets and Solomon without Hebrew; Plutarch and Zosimus (Collins spells it Zozimus) without Greek; and Cicero and Lucan without Latin.' (Remarks, Part i. No.3.) But the dirt endeavoured to be thrown on Collins will cleave to the hand that throws it. It may be worth mention that this tract of Bentley contains the original of Sidney Smith's celebrated defence of the prizes' in the Church. The passage is a favourable specimen of the moral level of a polemic who was accusing his opponent of holding opinions the most abject and base that human nature is capable of.' (Letter prefixed to Remarks.)
He can never conceive or wish a priesthood either quieter for him, or cheaper, than that of the present Church of England. Of your quietness himself is a convincing proof, who has writ this outrageous book, and has met with no punishment nor prosecution. And for the cheapness, that appeared lately in one of your parliaments, when the accounts exhibited showed that 6,000 of your clergy, the greater part of your whole number, had, at a middle rate one with another, not 50 pounds a year. A poor emolument for so long, so laborious, so expensive an education, as must qualify them for holy orders. While I resided at Oxford, and saw such a conflux of youth to their annual admissions, I have often studied and admired why their parents would, under such mean encouragements, design their sons for the church; and those the most towardly, and capable, and select geniuses among their children, who must needs have emerged in a secular life. I congratulated, indeed, the felicity of your establishment, which attracted the choice youth of your nation for such very low pay; but my wonder was at the parents, who generally have interest, maintenance and wealth, the first thing in their view, till at last one of your state-lotteries ceased my astonishment. For as in that, a few glittering prizes, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 pounds among an infinity of blanks, drew troops of adventurers, who, if the whole fund had been equally ticketted, would never have come in; so a few shining dignities in your church, prebends, deaneries, bishopricks, are the pious fraud that induces and decoys the parents to risk their child's fortune in it. Everyone hopes his own will get some prize in the church, and never reflects on the thousands of blanks in poor country livings. And if a foreigner may tell you his mind, from what he sees at home, tis this part of your establishment that makes your clergy excel ours [i. e., in Germany, from which Phileleutherus Lipsiensis is supposed to write]. Do but once level all your preferments, and you'll soon be as level in your learning. For, instead of the flower of the English youth, you'll have only the refuse sent to your academies, and those, too, cramped and crippled in their studies, for want of aim and emulation. So that, if your Freethinkers had any politics, instead of suppressing your whole order, they should make you all alike; or, if that cannot be done, make your preferments a very lottery in the whole similitude. Let your church dignities be pure chance prizes, without regard to abilities, or morals, or letters.' (Remarks, Part ii. § 40.)
It has been mentioned that Bentley does not attempt to reply to the argument of the Discourse on Freethinking. His tactic is to ignore it, and to assume that it is only meant as a covert attack on Christianity; that Collins is an Atheist fighting under the disguise of a Deist. Some excuse perhaps may be made for a man nourished on pedagogic latin, and accustomed to launch furious sarcasm at any opponent who betrayed a brutal ignorance of the difference between ac' and et.' But Collins was not a sharper, and would have disdained practices to which Bentley stooped for the sake of a professorship. When Bentley, in pride of academic dignity, could thus browbeat a person of Collins's consideration, it was not to be expected that the inferior fry of Deistical writers, -- Toland, a writer for the press; Tindal, a fellow of a college; or Chubb, a journeyman glover -- met with fairer treatment from their opponents. The only exception to this is the case of Shaftesbury, to whom, as well after his death as in his lifetime, his privileges as a peer seem to have secured immunity from hangman s usage. He is simply a late noble author.' Nor was this respect inspired by the Earl's profession of christianity. He does, indeed, make this profession with the utmost unreserve. He asserts his steady orthodoxy,' and entire submission to the truly Christian and Catholic doctrines of our holy Church, as by law established,' and that he holds the mysteries of our religion even in the minutest particulars.' (Characteristicks, Vol. iii. p.315.) But this outward profession would only have brought down upon any other writer an aggravated charge of cowardly malice and concealment of Atheism. If Shaftesbury was spared on account of his rank, the orthodox writers were not altogether wrong in fastening upon this disingenuousness as a moral characteristic of their antagonists. The excuse for this want of manliness in men who please themselves with insinuating unpopular opinions which they dare not advocate openly, is that it is an injustice perpetrated by those who have public feeling on their side. They make,' says Mr. Tayler, the honest expression of opinion penal, and then condemn men for disingenuousness. They invite to free discussion, but determine beforehand that only one conclusion can be sound and moral. They fill the arena of public debate with every instrument of torture and annoyance for the feeling heart, the sensitive imagination, and the scrupulous intellect, and then are angry that men do not rush headlong into the martyrdom that has been prepared for them.' (Religious Life of England, p.282.)
In days when the pillory was the punishment for common libel, it cannot be thought much that heresy and infidelity should be punished by public opprobrium. And public abhorrence was the most that a writer against revelation had now to fear. Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, indeed, was presented as a nuisance by the grand jury of Middlesex, in 1723, as were Bolingbroke's collected Works,' in 1752, and Toland's Christianity not Mysterious, in 1699. We find, too that Toland had to fly from Dublin, and Collins to go out of the way to Holland, for fear of further consequence. But nothing ever came of these presentments. The only prosecution for religious libel was that of Woolston, 2 George II., in which the defendant, who was not of sound mind, provoked and even compelled the law officers of the crown to proceed against him, though they were very reluctant to do so. When thus compelled to declare the law, on this occasion, the Lord Chief Justice (Raymond) would not allow it to be doubted that to write against Christianity in general was punishable at common law.' Yet both then and since, judges and prosecutors have shown themselves shy of insisting upon the naked offence of impugning the truth of Christianity.' That it is an offence at common law, independent of 9 & 10 William III., no lawyer will deny. But an instinctive sense of the incompatibility of this legal doctrine with the fundamental tenet of Protestant rationalism has always served to keep it in the background. The judges seem to have played fast and loose in this matter, in such sort as might enable the future judge to quote the tolerant or the intolerant side of their doctrine as might prove convenient; and while seemingly disavowing all interference with fair discussion, they still kept a wary hold of the precedents of Hale and Raymond, and of the great arcanum of part and parcel;' semiauimesque micant digiti, ferrumque retractant.' (Considerations on the Law, of Libel. By John Search, 1833.)
Whatever excuse the Deistical writers might have for their insidious manner of writing, it is more to the present purpose to observe that we may draw from it the conclusion that public opinion was throughout on the side of the defenders of Christianity. It might seem almost superfluous to say this, were it not that complaints meet us on every side, which seem to imply the very contrary; that in the words of Mr. Gregory, the doctrine of our Church is exploded, and our holy religion become only a name which is everywhere spoken against.' (Pref. to Beveridge's Private Thoughts, 1709.) Thirty years later Butler writes, that it is come to be taken for granted that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is now, at length, discovered to be fictitious. Accordingly they treat it as if in the present age this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals for its leaving so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.' (Advertisement to Analogy, 1736.) However a loose kind of Deism might he the tone of fashionable circles, it is clear that distinct disbelief of Christianity was by no means the general state of the public mind. The leaders of the Low-church and Whig party were quite aware of this. Notwithstanding the universal complaints of the High-church party a the prevalence of infidelity, it is obvious that this mode of thinking was confined, to a very small section of society. The Independent Whig (May 4, 1720), in the middle of its blustering and endeavours to terrify the clergy with their unpopularity, is obliged to admit that the High-church Popish clergy will laugh in their sleeves at this advice, and. think there is folly enough yet left among the laity to support their authority; and will laugh themselves, and rejoice over the ignorance of the Universities, the stupidity of the drunken squires, the panic of the tender sex, and the never-to-be-shaken constancy of the multitude.' A still better evidence is the confidence and success with which the writers on the side of Revelation appealed to the popular passions, and cowed their Deistical opponents into the use of that indirect and disingenuous procedure with which they then taunted them. The clerical sphere was much more a sphere by itself than it has since become. Notwithstanding the large toleration really practised, strict professional etiquette was still observed in the Church and the Universities. The horizontal hat, the starched band, and the cassock, were still worn in public, and certain proprieties of outward manner were expected from the cloth.' The violation of these proprieties was punished by the forfeiture of the offenders' prospects of preferment, a point on which the most extreme sensitiveness existed. In the Balguy and Waterland set an officious spirit of delation seems to have flourished. The general habit of publicly canvassing religious topics was very favourable to this espionage; as, at the Reformation, the Catholics gathered their best calumnies against Luther from his unreserved table-talk.'
It was not difficult to draw the unhappy Middleton into unguarded expressions' (Van Mildert, Life of Walerland, p.162); and something which had fallen from Rundle in his younger days was used against him so successfully that even the Talbot interest was able to procure him only an Irish bishoprick. Lord Chesterfield, seeing what advantage the High-church party derived from this tactic, endeavoured to turn it against them. He gives a circumstantial account of a conversation with Pope, which would tend to prove that Atterbury was, nearly all his life, a sceptic. The thing was not true, as Mr. Carruthers has shown (Life of Pope, 2nd ed. p.213), and true or false, the weapon in Chesterfield's hands was pointless.
Though the general feeling of the country was sufficiently decided to oblige all who wished to write against Christianity, to do so under a mask, this was not the ease with attacks upon the Clergy. Since the days of the Lollards there had never been a time when the established ministers of religion were held in so much contempt as in the Hanoverian period, or when satire upon churchmen was so congenial to general feeling. This too was the more extraordinary, as there was no feeling against the Church Establishment, nor was non-conformity as a theory ever less in favour. The contempt was for the persons, manners, and character of the ecclesiastics. When Macaulay brought out his portrait of the clergyman of the revolution period, his critics endeavoured to show that that portrait was not true to life. They seem to have brought out the fact that it was pretty fairly true to literature. The difficult point is to estimate how far the satirical and popular literature of any age may be taken as representative of life. Satire to be popular must exaggerate, but it must be exaggeration of known and recognised facts. Mr. Churchill Babington (Character of the Clergy, &c., considered, p.48) sets aside two of Macaulay's authorities, Oldham and T. Wood, because Oldham was an Atheist and Wood a Deist. Admitting that an Atheist and a Deist can be under no obligation to truth, yet a satirist, who intends to be read, is under the most inevitable engagement to the probable. Satire does not create the sentiment to which it appeals. A portrait of the country parson temp. George the Second which should be drawn verbatim from the pamphlets of the day would be no more historical, than is that portrait of the begging friar of the sixteenth century which our historians repeat after Erasmus and the Epistolæ Obscurum Virorum. History may be extracted from them, but these caricatures are not themselves history.
One inference which we may safely draw is that public feeling encouraged such representations. It is a symptom of the religious temper of the times, that the same public which compelled the Deist to wear the mask of 'solemn sneer' in his assaults upon Christian doctrine required no such disguise or reserve when the ministers of the Church were spoken of. Nor does the evidence consist in a few stray extracts from here and there a Deist or a cynic, it is the tone of all the popular writers of that time. The unedifying lives of the clergy are a standard theme of sarcasm, and continue to be so till a late period in the century, when a gradual change may be observed in the language of literature. This antipathy to the clergy visible in the Hanoverian period, admits of comparison with that vein which colours the popular songs of the Wickliffite era. In the fifteenth century, the satire is not indiscriminate. It is against the monks and friars, the bishops and cardinals, as distinct from the poor persoun of a toun.' Its point against the organized hypocrisy of the Papal Churchmen is given it by the picture of the ideal minister of Christe's Gospel' which always accompanies the burlesque. In the eighteenth century the license of satire goes much beyond this. In the early part of the century we find clerical satire observing to some extent a similar discrimination. The Tory parson is libelled always with an ostentatious reserve of commendation for the more enlightened and liberal Hanoverian, the staunch maintainer of the Protestant succession. This is the tone of the Independent Whig, one of the numerous weekly sheets called into being in imitation of the Tatler. It was started in 1720, taking for its exclusive theme the clergy, whom it was its avowed object to abuse. A paper came out every Wednesday. It was not a newspaper, and does not deal in libel or personalities, hardly ever mentioning a name, very rarely quoting a fact, but dilating in general terms upon clerical ignorance and bigotry. This dull and worthless trash not only had a considerable circulation at the time, but was reprinted, and passed through several editions in a collected form. The bishops talked of prohibiting it, but, on second thoughts, acted more wisely in taking no notice of it. The only part of the kingdom into which it could not find entrance was the Isle of Man, where the saintly Wilson combined with apostolic virtues much of the old episcopal claims over the consciences of his flock. The Independent Whig, though manifestly written by a man of no religion, yet finds it necessary to keep up the appearance of encouraging the better sort' of clergy, and affecting to despise only the political priests, the meddling chaplain, the preferment-hunter, the toper, who is notable at bowls, and dexterous at whisk.
As we advance towards the middle of the century, and the French influence begins to mingle with pure English Deism, the spirit of contempt spreads till it involves all priests of all religions. The language now is, The established clergy in every country are generally the greatest enemies to all kinds of reformation, as they are generally the most narrow-minded and most worthless set of men in every country. Fortunately for the present times, the wings of clerical power and influence are pretty close trimmed, so that I do not think their opposition to the proposed reformations could be of any great consequence, more of the people being inclined to despise them, than to follow them blindly.' (Burgh, Political Disquisition, 1774.) It was no longer for their vices that the clergy were reviled, for the philosopher now had come to understand that their virtues were more dangerous' to society. Strictness of life did but increase the dislike with which the clergyman was regarded; his morality was but double-dyed hypocrisy; religious language from his mouth was methodistical cant. Nor did the orthodox attempt to struggle with this sentiment. They yielded to it, and adopted for their maxim of conduct, surtout point de zèle.' Their sermons and pamphlets were now directed against Enthusiasm,' which became the bugbear of that time. Every clergyman, who wished to retain any influence over the minds of his parishioners, was anxious to vindicate himself from all suspicion of enthusiasm. When he had set himself right in this respect, he endeavoured to do the same good office for the Apostles. But if he were not an enthusiast,' he was an impostor.' For every clergyman of the Church had against him an antecedent presumption as a priest.' It was now well understood, by all enlightened men, that the whole sacerdotal brood were but a set of impostors, who lived by deceiving the people, and who had invented religion for their own benefit. Natural religion needed no priests' to uphold it; it was obvious to every understanding, and could maintain itself in the world without any confraternity sworn to the secret.
Again came a change. As the Methodist movement gradually leavened the mass beneath, zeal came again into credit. The old Wickliffite, or Puritan, distinction is revived between the Gospel preachers' and the dumb dogs.' The antipathy to priests was no longer promiscuous. Popular indignation was reserved for the fox-hunter and the pluralist; the Hophni and Phinehas generation; the men, who are described as careless of dispensing the bread of life to their flocks, preaching a carnal and soul-benumbing morality, and trafficking in the souls of men by receiving money for discharging the pastoral office in parishes where they did not so much as look on the faces of the people more than once a year.' In the well-known satire of Cowper, it is no longer irreligious mocking at sacred things under pretence of a virtuous indignation. It becomes again what it was before the Reformation -- an earnest feeling, a religious sentiment, the moral sense of man; Huss or Savonarola appealing to the written morality of the Gospel against the practical immorality consecrated by Church.
Something too of the old anti-hierarchical feeling accompanies this revival of the influence of the inferior clergy; a faint reflection of the bitter hatred which the Lollard had borne to pope and cardinal, or Puritan to Prelacy.' The utility of the episcopal and capitular dignities continued to be questioned long after the evangelical parish pastor had re-established himself in the affections of his flock, and 1832 saw the cathedrals go down amid the general approbation of all classes. In the earlier half of the century the reverse was the case. The boorish country parson was the man whose order was despised then, and his utility questioned. The Freethinkers themselves could not deny that the bench and the stalls were graced by some whose wit, reputation, and learning would have made them considerable in any profession. The higher clergy had with them the town and the mart, the country clergy sided with the squires. The mass of the clergy were not in sympathy, either politically or intellectually, with their ecclesiastical superiors. The Tory fox-hunter in the Freeholder (No.22.) thinks the neighbouring shire very happy for having scarce a Presbyterian in it except the bishop;' while Hickes thanks God that the main body of the clergy are in their hearts Jacobites.' The bishops of George the Second deserved the respect they met with. At no period in the history of our Church has the ecclesiastical patronage of the crown been better directed than while it was secretly dispensed by Queen Caroline. For a brief period, liberality and cultivation of mind were passports to promotion in the Church. Nor were politics a hindrance; the queen earnestly pressed an English see upon Bishop Wilson. The corruption which began with the Duke of Newcastle (1746) gradually deepened in the subsequent reign, as political orthodoxy and connexion were made the tests, and the borough-holders divided the dignities of the Church among their adherents.
Of an age so solid and practical it was not to be expected that its theology and metaphysics would mount into the more remote spheres of abstraction. Their line of argument was, as has been seen, regulated by the necessity they laid themselves under of appealing to sound sense and common reason. But not only was their treatment of their topic popular, the motive of their writings was an immediate practical necessity. Bishops and deans might be made for merit, but it was not mere literary merit, classical scholarship, or University distinction. The Deistical controversy did not originate, like some other controversies which have made much noise in their time, in speculative fancy, in the leisure of the cloister, or the college. It had a living practical interest in its complication with the questions of the day. The endeavour of the moralists and divines of the period to rationalize religion was in fact an effort to preserve the practical principles of moral and religious conduct for society. It was not an academical disputation, or a contest of wits for superiority, but a life and death struggle of religious and moral feeling to maintain itself. What they felt they had to contend against was moral depravity, and not theological error; they wrote less in the interest of truth than in that of virtue. A general relaxation of manners, in all classes of society, is universally affirmed to be characteristic of that time; and theology and philosophy applied themselves to combat this. A striking instance of this is Bishop Berekely, the only metaphysical writer of the time, besides Locke, who has maintained a very high name in philosophical history. He forms a solitary -- it might seem a singular -- exception to what has been said of the prosaic and unmetaphysical character of this moralising age. The two peculiar metaphysical notions which are connected with Berkeley's name, and which, though he did not originate, he propounded with a novelty and distinctness equal to originality, have always ranked as being on the extreme verge of rational speculation, if not actually within the region of unfruitful paradox and metaphysical romance. These two memorable speculations, as propounded by Berkeley in the Alciphron, come before us not as a Utopian dream, or an ingenious play of reason, but interwoven in a polemic against the prevailing unbelief. They are made to bend to a most practical purpose, and are Berkeley's contribution to the Deistical controversy. The character of the man, too, was more in harmony with the plain utilitarian spirit of his time than with his own refining intellect. He was not a closet-thinker like his master Malebranche, but a man of the world and of society, inquisitive and well informed in many branches of practical science. Practical schemes, social and philanthropic, occupied his mind more than abstract thinking. In pushing the received metaphysical creed to its paradoxical consequences, as much as much as in prescribing tar-water,' he was thinking only of an immediate benefit to mankind.' He seems to have thought nothing of his argument until he had brought it to bear on the practical question of the day.
Were the corruption of manners' merely the complaint of one party or set of writers, a cry of factious Puritanism, or of men who were at war with society, like the Nonjuring clergy, or of a few isolated individuals of superior piety, like William Law, it would be easily explicable. The world' at all times, and in all countries, can be described with truth as lying in wickedness,' and the rebuke of the preacher of righteousness is equally needed in every age. There cannot be a darker picture than that drawn by the Fathers of the third century of the morals of the Christians in their time. (See passages in Jewel's Apology.) The rigorous moralist, heathen or Christian, can always point in sharp contrast the vices and the belief of mankind. But, after making every allowance for the exaggeration of religious rhetoric, and the querulousness of defeated parties, there seems to remain some real evidence for ascribing to that age a more than usual moral licence, and contempt of external restraints. It is the concurrent testimony of men of all parties, it is the general strain of the most sensible and worldly divines, prosperous men who lived with this very world they censure, men whose code of morals was not large nor their standard exacting. To attempt the inquiry what specific evils were meant by the general expressions decay of religion' and corruption of manners,' the stereotype phrases of the time, is not within the limits of this paper. No historian, as far as I am aware, has attempted this examination; all have been content to render, without valuation, the charges as they find them. I shall content myself with producing here one statement of contemporary opinion on this point; for which purpose I select a layman, David Hartley. (Observations on Man, vol.ii. p.441.)
There are six things which seem more especially to threaten ruin and dissolution to the present States of Christendom.
1st. The great growth of atheism and infidelity, particularly amongst the governing parts of these States.
2nd. The open and abandoned lewdness to which great numbers of both sexes, especially in the high ranks of life, have given themselves up.
3rd. The sordid and avowed self-interest, which is almost the sole motive of action in those who are concerned in the administration of public affairs.
4th. The licentiousness and contempt of every kind of authority, divine or human, which is so notorious in inferiors of all ranks.
5th. The great worldly-mindedness of the clergy, and their gross neglect in the discharge of their proper functions.
6th. The carelessness and infatuation of parents and magistrates with respect to the education of youth, and the consequent early corruption of the rising generation.
All these things have evident mutual connexions and influences; and as they all seem likely to increase from time to time, so can scarce be doubted by a considerate man, whether he be a religious one or no, but that they will, sooner or later bring on a total dissolution of all the forms of government that subsist at present in the Christian countries of Europe.'
Though there is this entire unanimity as to the fact of the prevailing corruption, there is the greatest diversity of opinion as to its cause. Each party is found in turn attributing it to the neglect or disbelief of the abstract propositions in which its own particular creed is expressed. The Nonjurors and High-Churchmen attribute it to the Toleration Act and the latitudinarianism allowed in high places. One of the very popular pamphlets of the year 1721 was a fast-sermon preached before the Lord Mayor by Edmund Massey, in which he enumerates the evils of the time, and affirms that they are justly chargeable upon the corrupt explication of those words of our Saviour, My kingdom is not of this world' -- i.e., upon Hoadley's celebrated sermon. The latitudinarian clergy divide the blame between the Freethinkers and the Nonjurors. The Freethinkers point to the hypocrisy of the Clergy, who, they say, lost all credit with the people by having preached passive obedience' up to 1688, and then suddenly finding out that it was not a scriptural truth. The Nonconformists lay it to the enforcement of conformity and unscriptural terms of communion;; while the Catholics rejoice to see in it the Protestant Reformation at last bearing its natural fruit. Warburton characteristically attributes it to the bestowal of preferment' by the Walpole administration. (Dedication to Lord Mansfield, Works, ii.268.) The power of preferment was not under-estimated then. George II. maintained to the last that the growth of Methodism was entirely owing to ministers not having listened to his advice, and made Whitefield a bishop.' Lastly, that everyone may have his say, a professor of moral philosophy in our day is found attributing the same facts to the prevalence of that low view of morality which rests its rules upon consequences merely.'
The reverence which,' says Dr. Whewell, handed down by the traditions of ages of moral and religious teaching, had hitherto protected the accustomed forms of moral good, was gradually removed. Vice, and crime, and sin, ceased to be words that terrified the popular speculator. Virtue, and goodness, and purity were no longer things which he looked up to with mute respect. He ventured to lay a sacrilegious hand even upon these hallowed shapes. He saw that when this had been dared by audacious theorists, those objects, so long venerated, seemed to have no power of punishing the bold intruder. There was a scene like that which occurred when the barbarians broke into the Eternal City. At first, in spite of themselves, they were awed by the divine aspect of the ancient magistrates; but when once their leader had smitten one these venerable figures with impunity, the coarse and violent mob rushed onwards, and exultingly mingled all in one common destruction.' (Moral Philosophy in England, p.79.)
The actual sequence of cause and effect seems, if it be not presumptuous to say so, to be as nearly as possible inverted in this eloquent statement. The licentiousness of talk and manners was not produced by the moral doctrines promulgated; but the doctrine of moral consequences was had recourse to by the divines and moralists as the most likelyremedy of the prevailing licentiousness. It was an attempt, well-meant but not successful, to arrest the wanton proceedings of the coarse and violent mob.' Good men saw with alarm, almost with despair, that what they said in the obsolete language of religious teaching was not listened to, and tried to address the age in plain and unmistakeable terms. The new theory of consequences not introduced by men of leisure' to supplant and overthrow a nobler and purer view of religion and morality, it was a plain fact of religion stated in plain language, in the hope of deterring the wicked from his wickedness. It was the address of the Old Testament prophet, Why will ye die, O house of Israel?' That there is a God and moral governor, and that obedience to His commands is necessary to secure our interests in this world and the next -- if any form of rational belief can control the actions of a rational being, it is surely this. On the rationalist hypothesis, the morality of consequences ought to produce the most salutary effects on the general behaviour of mankind. This obligation of obedience, the appeal to our desire of our own welfare, was the substance of the practical teaching of the age. It was stated with great cogency of reasoning, and enforced with every variety of illustration. Put its proof at the lowest, let it be granted that they did not succeed in removing all the objections of the Deistical writers, it must, at least, be allowed that they showed, to the satisfaction of all prudent and thinking men, that it was safer to believe Christianity true than not. The obligation to practice in point of prudence was as perfect as though the proof had been demonstrative. And what was the surprising result? That the more they demonstrated the less people believed. As the proof of morality was elaborated and strengthened, the more it was disregarded, the more ungodliness and profaneness flourished and grew. This is certainly not what we should antecedently expect. If, as Dr. Whewell assumes, and the whole doctrinaire school with him, the speculative belief of an age determines its moral character, that should be the purest epoch where the morality of consequences is placed in the strongest light -- when it is most convincingly set before men that their present and future welfare depends on how they act; that all we enjoy and great part of what we suffer, is placed in our own hands.'
Experience, however, the testimony of history, displays to us a result the very reverse. The experiment of the eighteenth century may surely be considered as a decisive one on this point. The failure of a prudential system of ethics as a restraining force upon. society was perceived, or felt in the way of reaction, by the Evangelical and Methodist generation of teachers who succeeded the Hanoverian divines. So far their perception was just. They went on to infer that, because the circulation of one system of belief had been inefficacious, they should try the effect of inculcating a set of truths as widely remote from the former as possible. Because legal preaching, as they phrased it, had failed, they would essay Gospel preaching. The preaching of justification by works had not the power to check wickedness, therefore justification by faith, the doctrine of the Reformation, was the only saving truth. This is not meant as a complete account of the origin of the Evangelical school. It is only one point of view -- that point which connects the school with the general line of thought this paper has been pursuing. Their doctrine of conversion by supernatural influence must on no account be forgotten. Yet it appears that they thought the channel of this supernatural influence was, in some way or other, preaching. Preaching, too, not as rhetoric, but as the annunciation of a specific doctrine -- the Gospel. They certainly insisted on the heart' being touched, and that the Spirit only had the power savingly to affect the heart; but they acted as though this were done by an appeal to the reason, and scornfully rejected the idea of religious education.
It should also be remarked that even the divines of the Hanoverian school were not wholly blind to some flaw in their theory, and to the practical inefficacy of their doctrine. Not that they underrated the force of their demonstrations. As has been already said, the greater part of them over-estimated their convincingness, but they could not but see that they did not, in fact convince. When this was forced upon their observation, when they perceived that an a priori demonstration of religion might be placed before a man, and that he did not see its force, then, inconsequent with their own theory, they had recourse to the notion of moral culpability. If a person refused to admit the evidence for revelation, it was because he did not examine it with a dispassionate mind. His understanding was biassed by his wishes; some illicit passion he was resolved on gratifying, but which prudence, forsooth, would not have allowed him to gratify so long as he continued to believe in a future judgment. The wish that there were no God suggested the thought that there is not. Speculative unbelief is thus asserted to be a consequence of a bad heart: it is the grounds upon which we endeavour to prove to ourselves and others that the indulgence of our passions is consistent with a rational prudence. As levelled against an individual opponent, this is a poor controversial shift. Many of the Deists were men of worth and probity; of none of them is anything known which would make them worse men than the average their class in life. Mr. Chichester (Deism compared with Christianity, 1821, vol. iii. p.220) says Tindal was infamous for vice in general;' but I have not able to trace his authority for the assertion. As an imputation not against individual unbelievers, but against the competency of reason in general, it may be true, but is quite inconsistent with the general hypothesis of the school of reasoners who brought it. If reason be liable to an influence which warps it, then there is required some force which shall keep this influence under, and reason alone is no longer the all-sufficient judge of truth. In this way we should be forced back to the old orthodox doctrine of the chronic' impotence of reason, superinduced upon it by the Fall; a doctrine which the reigning orthodoxy had tacitly renounced.
In the Catholic theory the feebleness of Reason is met half-way and made good by the authority of the Church. When the Protestants threw off this authority, they did not assign to Reason what they took from the Church, but to Scripture. Calvin did not shrink from saying that Scripture shone sufficiently by its own light.' As long as this could be kept to, the Protestant theory of belief was whole and sound. At least it was as sound as the Catholic. In both, Reason, aided by spiritual illumination, performs the subordinate function of recognising the supreme authority of the Church, and of the Bible, respectively. Time, learned controversy, and abatement of zeal drove the Protestants generally from the hardy but irrational assertion of Calvin. Every foot of ground that Scripture lost was gained by one or other of the three substitutes: Church-authority, the Spirit, or Reason. Church-authority was essayed by the Laudian divines, but was soon found untenable, for on that footing it was found impossible to justify the Reformation and the breach with Rome. The Spirit then came into favour along with Independency. But it was still more quickly discovered that on such a basis only discord and disunion could be reared. There remained to be tried Common Reason, carefully distinguished from recondite learning, and not based on metaphysical assumptions. To apply this instrument to the contents of Revelation was the occupation of the early half of the eighteenth century; with what success has been seen. In the latter part the century the same Common Reason was applied to the external evidences. But here the method fails in a first requisite -- universality; for even the shallowest array of historical proof requires some book-learning to apprehend. Further than this, the Lardner and Paley school could not complete their proof satisfactorily, inasmuch as the materials for the investigation of the first and second centuries of the Christian era were not at hand.
Such appears to be the past history of the Theory of Belief in the Church of England. Whoever would take the religious literature of the present day as a whole, and endeavour to make out clearly on what basis Revelation is supposed by it to rest, whether on Authority, on the Inward Light, on Reason, on self-evidencing Scripture, or on the combination of the four, or some of them, and in what proportions, would probably find that he had undertaken a perplexing but not altogether profitless inquiry.