MODERN DEFENCES OF CHRISTIANITY: A. D. 1617—A, D.
§ 1. Preliminary Statements.
The Reformers themselves were too much occupied with stating and defending the Christian system in opposition to the ^corrupted theology of the Papal Church, to enter into a defence of it against the objections of skepticism. Hence the Reformatory age yields but little material of an apologetic character, and we pass directly to the most important section in the history of modern Apologetics, that, namely which relates to the English Deism of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The latter half of the 17th century was marked by great excitability and fermentation, both in the political and the religious world. England was passing through those revolutions which resulted in the restriction of the royal prerogative, the strengthening of the commonalty, and the settlement of the government in 1688 upon the basis of the Bill of Rights. Continental Europe was witnessing the great struggle by which the predominance of political power passed from the Southern to the Central nations,—from the Papal to the Protestant powers. Corresponding movements were occurring in the ecclesiastical world. The Lutheran church, at the close of the 17th century, was feeling an exciting influence of two very different kinds. The Pietists under the lead of Spener and Francke were infusing into the Old Lutheran orthodoxy some of the warmth and life that glowed in the Moravian Brethren; while, on another side, fanatical preachers and sectaries were breaking in upon the unity of the ancient ecclesiastical organization that had come down from the days of Luther. In the Reformed Church there was more or less reaction against the strict Calvinistic symbols; while in the Papal Church the Jansenists were attempting to revive the Augustinian orthodoxy which the council of Trent had covertly rejected, though pretending to receive it. Contemporaneously with this general excitement in the political and ecclesiastical world, there arose in England a class of minds, who with greater or less decision and bitterness rejected the Old and New Testaments as a revelation from God, and stood upon the principles of natural religion, though in some instances lapsing down from this position into that of sensualism and atheism.
§ 2. Intellectual Deiem of Herbert of Gherbury.
Deism, the name given to the system of these men, is the general belief in a God, coupled with the disbelief in a written revelation, and of all those particular views of God and man which are taught in the Scriptures. In its best form it would, therefore, include the doctrine of the divine existence, of the divine unity, of the immortality of the soul, and of indefinite rewards and punishments hereafter; and it would reject the doctrines of the trinity, of the deity and incarnation of the Son, of the apostasy of man, of redemption, and of endless rewards and punishments. Deism appears in this highest form in the system of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (f 1648), who may be regarded as the founder of the school of English Deists, though holding a much more elevated skepticism than any of his successors. After a survey of the various religions that have appeared, he reduces them to one universal religion, which he maintains is adequate to meet all the religious wants of mankind. This universal system consists of five articles: 1. That there is one supreme God. 2. That he is to be worshipped. 3. That piety and virtue are the principal part of his worship. 4. That man should repent of sin, and that if he does so, God will pardon it. 5. That there are rewards for the good, and punishments for the evil, partly in this life, and partly in a future state.1 These articles Lord Herbert represents as sentiments inscribed by God on the minds of all men, and attempts to show that they have been universally acknowledged in all nations. It is obvious, at the first glance, that this system is much in advance of the later forms of English infidelity. It contains a mixture of truth and error, so far as natural religion is concerned; but is erroneous so far as relates to revealed religion. That there is one Supreme Being, that he is to be worshipped, and that there are future rewards and punishments, are, indeed, truths that belong to the constitution of the human mind. But they have not been so generally acknowledged by all classes in all nations, as Lord Herbert represents. On the contrary, the recognition of these fii-st truths of natural religion, like the recognition of the first truths of geometry, has been confined to a portion of mankind. They have been distinctly taught by only a few of the more thoughtful pagan philosophers, in different nations, and have constituted an esoteric system for particular schools. The great masses of the pagan world, on the contrary, have adopted the mythological religions, in which these theistic teachings of natural reason and conscience glimmer only here and there, and even these are contradicted or neutralized by polytheistic views and representations. With respect to the specific nature and extent of future rewards and punishments, there is indefiniteness in the views of many of the pagan writers; although, in some instances, as in that of Plutarch, there is great decision in the assertion of a fearful and awful vengeance upon the guilty.1 And this indefiniteness appears in the representations of Lord Herbert himself, upon this important point.
1 Herrert: Do religione Gentilium, Caput I. Ed. Amstel. 1700.
The fourth tenet in Herbert's scheme, that of pardon upon repentance, is taught neither by natural nor revealed religion. For the light of nature gives no assurance that the deity will ever act upon any principles but those of justice. Hence the pagan religions were full of devices to propitiate justice; and yet they could never make it certain that justice had really been propitiated. "With yet more emphasis than the inspired writer asserts it of the Jewish sacrifices, can it be, said of all Pagan oblations, that they can never, though offered year by year continually, make the comers thereunto perfect in things pertaining to conscience (Heb. x. 1). The "universal consent" of mankind makes against the fourth article in Lord Herbert's creed rather than for it. The whole system of sacrifices in the pagan world, as well as the reasoning of some of the pagan philosophei-s, and particularly of the earlier Grecian poets, goes to prove that the pagan mind felt the natural incompatibility of pardon with justice, and by implication acknowledged the need of an atonement in order to its exercise.
1 According to Pltttaroh (De are severer than those of Poena,
sera nnminis vindicta) there are and their duration depends upon
three subordinate ministers of j us- the degree of guiltiness. The last
tice, under Nemesis the chief, and most terrible minister of Ne
The first, Poena, executes her of- mesis is Erinny*, or Fury, who
fice mainly in the present life, punishes those who remain incor
and is the author of the pains and rigiblo after the other means have
penalties which are the more im- failed. She scourges her victims
mediate effects of guilt. The sec- from place to place, and finally
ond is Dike (aivij), who punishes plunges them headlong into an
in the future world those who abyss whose horrors no language
havo been but partially punished can describe, 'by Poena in this. Her inflictions
The possibility of a special revelation from God Lord Herbert denies, except in its immediate form to each individual. This form he very singularly concedes, and claims for himself in the following remarkable passage from his very interesting Autobiography. Hesitating whether he should publish or suppress his principal work he says: "Being thus doubtful, in my chamber, one fair day in the summer, my casement being open towards the south, the sun shining clear, and no wind stirring, I took my book De Veritate in my hands, and kneeling on my knees, devoutly said these words: 'O thou eternal God, author of this light which now shines upon me, and giver of all inward illuminations, I do beseech thee, of thine infinite goodness, to pardon a greater request than a sinner ought to make: I am not satisfied enough, whether I shall publish this book; if it be for thy glory, I beseech thee give some sign from heaven; if not I shall suppress it.' I had no sooner spoken these words, but a loud, though yet gentle noise, came forth from the heavens (for it was like nothing on earth); which did so cheer and comfort me, that I took my petition as granted, and that I had the sign demanded; whereupon also I resolved to print my book. This, how strange soever it may seem, I protest before the eternal God, is true; neither am I any way superstitiously deceived herein; since I did not only clearly hear the noise, but in the serenest sky that ever I saw, being without all cloud, did, to my thinking, see the place whence it came."
The deism of Lord Herbert was evidently somewhat spiritualized by the Christianity in the midst of which it sprung up. He himself was the brother of the saintly George Herbert, whose religious poetry is among the purest expressions that have yet been made of the emotions and feelings of the penitent heart. And although the principles of his scheme, when logically carried out, conduct to the same conclusions to which the Tindals and Shaftesburys afterwards arrived, yet there is a serious and humane tone in the writings of Lord Herbert that elevates them much above the general level of deism.
§ 3. Materialistic and Sensual Deism.
Disbelief in revealed religion, and reliance upon natural religion as sufficient to meet the necessities of human nature, showed themselves most energetically in that political and religious reaction which followed the Cromwellian period. Deism in its most extreme forms now arises, and is characterized by bitter hatred of the church, both Established and Nonconforming, of the clergy, of theological science, and of the Scriptures as the source and support of all these. And inasmuch as the church in England was closely connected with the state, and the clergy were identified with the existing government, Deism was frequently found in alliance with the democratic, and sometimes the revolutionary, tendencies in the nation.
This was not always the case however. Thomas Hobbes (f 1679) was a most servile advocate of kingly authority, and of the right of the state to coerce individual opinions. He is somewhat guarded in his treatment of the Scriptures, because the English state and church were founded upon them. Yet he expressly teaches that "we have no assurance of the certainty of scripture but by the authority of the church, and this he resolves into the authority of the commonwealth." Hobbes declares that until the sovereign ruler has prescribed them, "the precepts of scripture are not obligatory laws, but only counsel and advice "; Christians, he holds, are bound in conscience to obey the laws of an infidel king in matters of religion; "thought is free; but when it comes to confession of faith, the private reason must submit to the public, that is to say to God's lieutenant." Hence the subject, if commanded by the sovereign, may allowably deny Christ in words, if holding firmly in his heart the faith of Christ; for in that case "it is not he that denieth Christ before men, but his governor and the laws of his country."
Hobbes acknowledges the existence of God, but denies that we know any more of him than that he exists; denies free will to man, and asserts that he is by creation a necessitated agent; asserts the materiality and mortality of the human soul, and represents the distinction between soul and body as an error contracted from the demonology of the Greeks; teaches that the belief in a future state is merely "a belief grounded upon other men's saying, that they knew it supernaturally, or that they knew those, that knew them, that knew others, that knew it supernaturally."l Thus in the general principles of his system, Hobbes falls far below Lord Herbert. Herbert is serious in maintaining the more important truths of natural religion, though rejecting revealed religion altogether, while Hobbes lays down positions that result in sheer materialism and atheism. And such in fact was the practical result of Hobbism. The licentious age of the second Charles was characterized by a large class of minds who had no belief in God, or in man's accountability.2
From Hobbes downward, English Deism grows more and more materialistic and sensual; for error like truth runs its own natural course of developement, and expands by its own internal law into more and more extreme forms. Shaftesbury (+1Y13), in his work entitled "Characteristics of Man, Manners, Opinions, and Times," sets up ridicule as the test of truth, and labors hard to show the pernicious influence upon mankind of a belief in the doctrine of a future state, aud of future rewards and punishments. Toland (f 1722), a native of Ireland, in some of his works adopts the pantheism of Spinoza, and in others attempts to disprove the genuineness of the canonical scriptures by arguments built upon the apocryphal gospels and the forged writings of the first centuries. Collins (f 1729) combats the proof for Christianity derived from the prophecies, which he represents as a species of mystical allegorizing peculiar to the Jewish mind. Woolston (f 1733) seizes upon the allegorical method of interpreting the gospel narratives which many Christian writers had employed, and uses it as a medium of a coarse and ribald attack upon the person and character of Christ. Tindal (f 1733) composed a work in which he argues against the very idea and possibility of revelation,—the earliest work of the kind, and written with more than ordinary ability and thoroughness. Tindal rejects from the Scriptures all that relates to man's apostasy and redemption, and regards the remainder as only the teachings of natural reason; so that "Christianity" is "as old as the creation," and the "Gospel" is only "a republication of the law of nature.1'1 The scheme of Tindal bears a close resemblance to that of Herbert. Morgan (f 1743) follows Tindal in respect to his general principles, but devotes his attention mainly to an attack upon the Old Testament and the religion of Moses. Chubb (f 1747) also takes the same position with Tindal and Morgan, so far as natural religion is concerned, and labors strenuously to show that true Christianity has been entirely misapprehended, and that it needs to be cleared of a class of doctrines which are foreign to it. In this reconstruction, or "True Gospel asserted," as he entitles his work, Chubb, as would be expected, reduces Christianity to Deism. Bolingbroke (f 1751) constructed a scheme of which the following are the principal features: 1. There is one Supreme Being of almighty power and skill, but possessing no moral attributes distinct from his physical. He has no holiness, justice, or goodness, nor anything equivalent to these qualities as they exist in man; and to deduce moral obligations from these attributes, or to speak of imitating God in his moral attributes, is enthusiasm or blasphemy. 2. God made the world and established the laws of nature at the beginning; but he does not concern himself with the affairs of men, or at most, if he does, his providence extends only to collective bodies and not to individuals. 3. The soul is not a distinct substance from the body, and the whole man is dissolved at death. The doctrine of future rewards and punishments is a fiction, though a useful one to mankind. 4. The law of nature is sufficient, and therefore there is no need of a special revelation, and none has been made. 5. The Old Testament history is false and incredible, and the religion taught in it unworthy of God, and repugnant to his perfections. The New Testament contains two different systems contradictory to each other,—that of Christ, and that of Paul. Only the first is genuine Christianity, and may be regarded as a republication of the law of nature, or rather of the theology of Plato. Yet that portion of Christ's teaching which relates to the redemption of mankind by his own death, and to future rewards and punishments, is absurd and contrary to the attributes of God.1
'leland: Deistical Writers, 'maoau^at: History of EngLetter HI. land, Chap. III.
'His work is entitled: Chris- the Gospel a Republication of the tianity as old as the Creation, or Law of Nature.
The sentiments of these Deists penetrated the English literature of the 18th century to some extent, and exerted some indirect influence upon English theology itself. Alexander Pope, whose speculative opinions were very much shaped by Bolingbroke, his "guide, philosopher, and friend," has set forth natural religion and omitted revealed, in the most brilliant and polished poetry that has yet been composed. Jonathan Swift, a member of the ecclesiastical establishment, though opposed to Deism because Deism was opposed to the English church and state, has yet left nothing in his religious or theological writings that betokens any sympathy with New Testament Christianity. In these instances, it would not be correct to charge an avowed adoption of deistical sentiments ; for there was none in either. But the leaven of unbelief in the distinctively evangelical truths of Christianity, and the disposition to regard natural religion and ethics as sufficient for the religious necessities of mankind, had imperceptibly penetrated both the poet and the divine.1
1 Compare Lei.And: Deistical Writers; andLscHLBB: Englischea Deism us.
The skepticism of England reached its full developement in the system of David Hume (f 1776). The views of this writer are too generally known to need stating. It is sufficient to say respecting the speculation of Hume, that it is a system of universal doubt, like that of the Greek Pyrrho. As a consequence, the truths of natural religion, as well as of revealed, are invalidated. Hume concludes his "Natural History of Religion" with the remark: "The whole subject [of religion] is a riddle and an inexplicable mystery; doubt, uncertainty, suspension of the judgment, are the sole result of our close investigation of this subject." Deism could not continue to stand upon the comparatively elevated position of its English founder, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. It deteriorates by its own law of evo
1 Hallam (Literature of Europe, morality, not only as the basis of
II. 967, Harper's Ed.) remarks this all revelation, without a depend
same tendency in as influential a ence upon -which it cannot be be
divine, as archbishop Tillotson. lieved, but as nearly coincident
"What is most remarkable in Til- with Christianity in its extent,—
lotson is his strong assertion, in a length to which few at present
almost all his sermons, of the would be ready to follow him." principles of natural religion and
lution, as the latent elements are elicited one by one, and in its final form contains not even that small element of truth which is to he found in its earlier forms, and by means of which alone it could obtain any credence or acceptance among men. Had English infidelity made its first appearance in its last form; had the Pyrrhonism of David Hume, or the sensuality of Mandeville,1 instead of the comparatively elevated and ethical system of Lord Herbert or Matthew Tindal, been the first form of English Deism, the national mind would have started back in alarm and disgust. But the process was a gradual one. The English infidel himself was prepared for the invalidation and rejection of all religion, only by the slow movement of more than a hundred years.
§ 4. Replies to English Deism.
A brief sketch of the principal Apologetic Treatises composed in opposition to English Deism, will properly follow this account of the English deistical writers.2
The views of Lord Herbert did not attract much attention in his own century. Cudworth and Locke merely allude to him as a writer of learning and talent, but enter upon no criticism of his religious system. Richard Baxter, in his apologetic treatise entitled "More reasons for the Christian religion, and no reason against it," cites some positions from Lord Herbert's work De Veritate, and controverts them. Baxter speaks with respect of Lord Herbert, and concedes that there is truth in what he says respecting the necessary nature of the doctrines of natural religion. The remark which Baxter makes, that he has replied to the positions of Herbert, lest "never having been answered, they might be thought unanswerable," would indicate that the writings of Lord Herbert had attracted but little attention.
1 Mandeville (t 1738) publish- first attempt to found vice upon
ed a treatise entitled "Private the principles of political econo
"Vices Public Benefits," in which my, and justify it by a reference
he maintains that the luxury and to the general welfare,
voluptuousness of one class in so- * Compare Leohler: Englisches
ciety give employment and sup- Deismus, pp. 54, sq. port to another class. It is the
The scheme of Herbert next received a criticism and reply from Thomas Halyburton, a professor in the Scotch university of St. Andrews. His work entitled "Natural religion insufficient, and revealed necessary to man's happiness," was published in 1714, and contains a detailed refutation of Herbert's sentiments. The following are Halyburton's principal positions: 1. Lord Herbert's five articles are not so universally acknowledged as he represents. 2. The clearness with which some pagans have perceived the truths of natural religion is not due solely to the workings of their own reason, but in part to the remnants of a primitive revelation. 3. Natural religion is not sufficient to secure the eternal welfare of man, because of man's apostasy and sinfulness. Human corruption is too deep and inveterate to be overcome by merely ethical principles. It requires a redemptive power and agency.
A learned and profound defence of the truths of natural religion, in opposition to the system of Hobbes, was made by two distinguished Platonists connected with the university of Cambridge; namely, Henry More (f 1678), and Ralph Cudworth (f 1688). The first-mentioned, in his "Antidote against Atheism," and tract upon the "Immortality of the Soul," presents both the a priori and a posteriori arguments for the divine existence, and the immateriality of the human mind, with great clearness and ingenuity. The "Intellectual System of the Universe," by Cudworth, aims to establish the doctrine of the divine existence, and the reality and immutability of the distinction between right and wrong upon an impregnable position; and in accomplishing this aim, the resources of a vastly learned, as well as profoundly contemplative intellect, are brought into requisition. The tenets of Hobbes and others are refuted, among other methods, by a most exhaustive citation of the views of pagan antiquity. The primary origin and source of natural religion was investigated by the learned Puritan, Theophilus Gale, in his work published 1669-1677 entitled, "The Court of the Gentiles." By a very extensive and minute examination of all the theism of the pagan world, he endeavours to show that what was correct in the religions of paganism sprang from sporadic portions of the Patriarchal and Jewish revelations,—that "Pythagoras's College, Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Peripatum, Zeno's Stoa, and Epicurus's Gardens were all watered with rivulets, which though in themselves corrupt were originally derived from the sacred fountain of Siloam ;" and that "there was none that opened a more effectual door for the propagating of philosophical principle and light, than Moses, who laid the main foundations of all that philosophy, which first the Phenicians and Egyptians, and from them the Grecians, were masters of."1
1 It is noteworthy that this reference of the theism of the elder pagan world to Hehrew sources has also been adopted by one of the most profound modern investigators of the philosophy of mythology. Scheixing, in his Gottheiten von Samothrace, takes the following positions: 1. The names of the deities of Samothrace, as well as of the priests (who were named after tho gods they served) were Phoenician, which language was substantially that of the Hebrews. Regard therefore must bo had to the Hebrew archives and language, in investigating the Oabirio mysteries. 2. The esoterio religious system of the Greeks exhibits fragments of a system older than any that is to be found in the historical memorials of [pagan] antiquity, even the most ancient, and these fragments are
not to be regarded as opening a fountain of knowledge absolutely new, but as parts of an earlier knowledge confined to a definite portion of the race, and a particular locality. This esoteric religious system of the Greeks must, therefore, be traced back to higher sources than Egyptian or Indian systems; and was drawn from a point nearer the original source of all religion, than the Egyptian, and Indian theogonies. 8. This esoteric doctrine, according to the Greeks themselves, came to them from the "barbarians;" but not necessarily from Egypt (nicht gerade eben aus Aegypten). This statement was in part only the tradition of the priests of Dodona, and in part a private opinion of Herodotus; and besides, many of the names in the Grecian religion can bo explained far more easily from the Ilebrew the seriousness of the esoteric
The celebrated natural philosopher Robert Boyle (f 1691) left in his will a provision for an annual series of lectures, the object of which should be to defend the truth of the Christian religion against unbelievers of all kinds, viz: Atheists, Deists, Pagans, Jews, and Mohammedans. The first preacher upon this foundation was the renowned classical scholar Richard Bentley, who endeavoured to show the "Folly and Unreasonableness of Atheism," from the marks of design everywhere visible in the natural world. Bentley aimed more particularly at the sentiments of Hobbes. In the years 1704 and 1705, Samuel Clarke preached the Boylean lectures, and bent the whole force of his metaphysical mind and close logic, to a demonstration of the existence of God by the a priori method. In connection with this argument, he also endeavoured to demonstrate the immutable validity of the truths of natural religion, and the truth and certainty of Christianity. These arguments of Clarke enter as deeply into the first principles of all religion, as any that were called out by the English infidelity of the 17th and 18th centuries.
No portion of the English Deism, on the whole, gave the Christian Apologist more trouble and taxed his resources more, than did those productions which earnestly asserted the validity of natural religion, but just as earnestly affirmed that revealed religion is for this very reason unnecessary. The position of Tindal,—that the religion of nature is absolutely valid and cannot be dispensed with, but that the Gospel is only a republication of the law of nature, and that Christianity is therefore as old as creation and the mind of man,—made it necessary for the Apologist to show, first, precisely what is the difference between natural and revealed religion, and, secondly, that the additional truths of the latter are not a mere expansion of data and elements contained in the former. Among the most successful treatises upon this subject, is that of John Conybeare,1 in reply to the treatise of Tindal. It is characterized, says Lechler, by a distinctness in conception, a simplicity in the mode of presenting the subject, and a logical cogency in union with a dignified polemic attitude and a broad philosophic culture, that render it a masterly performance.
than the Egyptian language. 4. doctrine is to restore everything
If the poet, particularly Homer, to its true relations again.
in the naive and childlike play of Creuzrr, on the other hand, in
the poet's fancy, presents a my- his Symbolik, traces this mono
tholngical world of divinities, he theism of the elder world to Egyp
neverthcless does it with the res- tian and Oriental sources, errntion and understanding that
Conybeare, in the outset, directs attention to the two significations which the term "natural" may have, in the phrases "natural reason" and "natural religion." It may denote, first, that which is founded in the nature and reason of things, or, secondly, that which is discoverable by the use of man's natural powers of mind.1 It is by confounding the two significations, and passing from one to the other, that Tindal, he shows, is led to attribute "absolute perfection" to natural religion. Truth, as a matter of course, is absolutely perfect, but man's perception of it is not necessarily so. Hence Conybeare concedes a relative perfection, but not "absolute" perfection, to that body of truth which is reached by the natural operations of the human mind, and which goes under the name of natural religion. For the law of nature, or natural religion, in this sense of the word " natural," cannot be more perfect than the human mind is. But the human mind is not absolutely perfect, since in this case it would be infallible and incapable of error. Natural religion, consequently, however much validity may be attached to it, cannot claim to be an infallible religion, inasmuch as it is liable to be vitiated by the medium through which it is apprehended,—viz: the powers of the human mind. Moreover, it must be remembered that this apprehension is itself only gradual and approximate. For we must distinguish between human reason as it is shared by all mankind, and human reason as it exists in single individuals. No individual, even of the highest capacities, has ever completely exhausted a single art or a single science. The same is true in morals. No merely human individual has ever yet published a perfect and complete code of morality, or completely fathomed the sphere of ethics. It is only through the successive and collective endeavours of many wise men, that even an approximate apprehension of the truths of natural religion is attained,—a completely exhaustive one being impossible.
1A Defence of Revealed Reli- Christian^ as old as the Creagion against the exceptions of a tion. London, 1782. late writer in his book entitilled:
1 " This gentleman begins his second chapter with an explication of what he means by the religion of nature. 'By natural religion,' saith he, 'I understand the belief of the existence of a God, and the sense and practice of those duties which result from the knowledge we by our reason have of him and his perfections.' According to this account, natural religion can reach no further than natural light and reason can carry us. For it comprehends under it those duties only, which result from the knowledge we by our reason have of God.
"Yet notwithstanding this plain expression of his meaning, he immediately subjoins: 'So that the religion of nature takes in every
thing that is founded in the reason and nature of things.' What I doth the religion of nature take in everything that is founded in the reason and nature of things, when, according to this gentleman's own account it reaches no further than we by our reason are able to carry it? And if it reaches no further than we by our reason can carry it, doth it therefore follow, that it takes in everything which is founded in the nature and reason of things? I know but one way to get over this difficulty: viz. by asserting roundly that human reason is commensurate to all truth." CoNyrrare: Defence of Revealed Religion, p. 12.
In the second place, says Conybeare, there is required in order to the absolute perfection of a law, or a religion, perfect clearness and certainty in its sanctions; but in this respect the law of nature, or natural religion, is manifestly deficient. The effective power of law lies in the definite reward, or the definite penalty affixed to certain acts; in the good or evil consequences attending them. But in the actual course of events in this life, it often happens that the good are not rewarded, and the evil go unpunished. It was for this reason that the pagan philosophers postulated a retribution after death, to balance the scales of justice left unbalanced upon earth. With regard, however, to the manner and amount of this future punishment, natural religion could give no authentic and infallible information from the Supreme Judge who appoints it. That absolute sanction of the moral law which consists in a precise statement of the nature and quantity of the penalty affixed to it by its Author, the unassisted human mind is unable to specify, however bold and impressive may be its intimations and expectations of such a sanction.
In the third place, Conybeare directs attention to the fact of human apostasy as bringing man into a condition of guilt and corruption, and necessitating a species of knowledge for which natural religion makes no provision, because natural religion is adapted only to a state of innocency and holiness. Man is a transgressor, is obnoxious to penalty, and needs assurance of pardon on the one hand, and of purification on the other. The law of nature, or natural religion, can give him no assurance of mercy, but only of stark rigid justice; and the mere imperatives of conscience cannot subdue the will, or cleanse the heart.
In reference, then, to these three particulars,— an imperfect perception upon the part of the human mind, an imperfect sanction of the moral law, and the lack of provision for human apostasy,—Conybeare argues, in opposition to Tindal, that natural religion is inadequate, and needs to be supplemented and perfected by revealed. The Scriptures impart an "absolutely perfect" religion, because their contents are the teachings of the Supreme Mind, and are not liable to those vitiating influences from sense and earth, which so often, as the history of human opinions shows, modify and pervert even the best natural intuitions of the human intelligence. Revelation also imparts an absolute validity to. the sanctions of natural religion, by authoritatively announcing in distinct and definite terms an endless penalty, or reward, and a final adjudication in the day of doom. And, lastly, the written revelation alone makes known a remedial plan adapted to that fallen and guilty condition of mankind, for which the "light of nature" has no remedy.
Nearly contemporaneously with the appearance of this vigorous and logical treatise of Conybeare, Joseph Butler (f 1752) published his "Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed," in which he answers the objections of infidelity to revealed religion, by the negative method of pointing out equal or greater difficulties in natural religion. The argument is handled with great skill and fairness, and the work has had a more extensive circulation, and exerted a greater influence than any other apologetic treatise of the Modern Church. It supposes however that the objector concedes the truths of ethics and natural religion, and therefore is less effective as a reply to universal skepticism, or to such materialistic systems as those of Hobbes and Bolingbroke, than the work of Conybeare. The purely defensive attitude, moreover, which it assumes, in being content with merely showing that the same difficulty besets the religion of nature that lies against the religion of the Bible, imparts something of a cautious and timid tone to the work, though rendering it an exceedingly difficult one to be replied to.
The success with which the Christian Apologete conducted the controversy with the Deist depended very much upon the clearness and comprehensiveness of his views of revealed religion. In case he grasped with power the doctrines of the trinity, incarnation, apostasy, and redemption, it was a very easy task to show that revealed religion contains elements that are not to be found in natural religion, and ministers to moral wants for which natural religion has no supply. The assertion of the Deist, that Christianity is merely the republication of the law of nature, was easily disposed of by one who held, and could prove, that New Testament Christianity presupposes the fact of sin and guilt, and that its chief function is to provide an expiation for the one, and cleanse away the other. But if, as was the case sometimes, the Apologist himself adopted an inadequate and defective anthropology and soteriology, and his view of Christianity was such as to reduce it almost to the level of natural religion, it then became very difficult for him to show that it contains any additional elements, and thus to refute the most specious and subtle of all the positions of the skeptic. The 18th century was characterized by a low evangelical feeling within the English Church, and an indistinct apprehension of the doctrine of the cross. It is not surprising, consequently, that some of the defences of Christianity that were made at this time should possess but little value, so far as concerns the distinctive doctrines of revelation, inasmuch as they are occupied almost entirely with those truths which revelation presupposes indeed, but with which it by no means stops. Moreover, in being thus silent upon the distinguishing truths, there was an implication that these do not constitute the essence of Christianity; and in this way, while professing to defend Christianity, the Apologist was in fact merely defending natural religion, and conceding the position of one class of skeptics, that the law of nature and Christianity are one and the same thing. As an example of an Apologist of this class, may be mentioned Thomas Sherlock, who in a "Sermon before the Society for propagating the Gospel" took the ground, "that Christ came into the world not merely to restore the religion of nature, but to adapt it to the state and condition of man; and to supply the defects, not of religion, which continuated in its first purity and perfection, but of nature." This "adaptation" or reconstruction of the religion of nature, by the Author of Christianity, consisted according to the representations of this class of Apologists in a clearer statement of the doctrine of immortality, and of future rewards and punishments, together with the announcement of the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead. It is not difficult to see how upon this ground, and in this mode of defending Christianity, the intellectual and serious deist of Lord Herbert's school might come to fraternize with the Christian divine.
The attacks of some of the English Deists upon the authenticity and genuineness of the Scripture Canon elicited replies from some of the Apologists. The English infidel criticism of the 18th century, however, falls far behind the infidel criticism of Germany in the 19th, in respect to learning and ingenuity. Toland is perhaps the most learned of these critics, but his ignorance and mistakes were clearly exposed by Samuel Clarke, and Nathaniel Lardner. The latter, in his work entitled, "The Credibility of the Gospel History," evinces the genuineness of the New Testament Canon, and the spuriousness of the Apocryphal writings with which Toland had attempted to associate the received canonical scriptures, by a careful and learned exhibition of all the citations and references from the earliest authorities. Collins, in his "Discourse of Free Thinking," ventured, in one portion of it, upon
a line of criticism upon the Canon, which called out a reply from Richard Bentley, in a tractate entitled "Remarks upon a late discourse of Free Thinking, by Phileleutherus Lipsiensis." This treatise of Bentley is a complete reply to the various positions of Collins, in his defence of skeptical thinking. The immensity and accuracy of the learning, the searching thoroughness of the analysis, the keenness and brilliancy of the retort, and the calm and conscious mastery of the whole ground, render this little work of the Master of Trinity College and the first classical scholar of his century, one of the most striking. and effective in apologetic literature.
§ 5. French Encyclopaedism, and German
The Deism of England lies at the root of the Continental infidelity, and having examined the former with some particularity, a very rapid survey of the course of skeptical thought in France and Germany will be all that will be attempted.
The materialistic philosophy of Bolingbroke had more affinity with, and exerted more influence upon the French mind, than any other one of the English skeptical theories. But upon passing into the less thoughtful French nation, this type of infidelity immediately assumed an extremely superficial, but striking and brilliant form. Helvetius (f 1V71), and Condillac (f 1780) were the philosophers for the party, and Voltaire (f 1778), and Rousseau (f 1778) were its litterateurs. The "Systeme de la Nature" published by Condillac in 1740 exhibits materialism in its grossest form. The distinction between mind and matter is annihilated; all intellectual and spiritual processes are represented as purely sensational, or, in the phrase of a stern critic of the theory, "as the liver secretes bile so the brain secretes thought." God is only a name for nature, and nature is a concourse of material atoms.
The application of these principles to social and political life, and the attempt to give them popular currency, was the task undertaken by the so-called Encyclopaedists, the chief of whom were d'Alembert (f 1783), and Diderot (f 1784). The "Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Universel," published in 1751 and onward, is an endeavour to construct a compendium of universal knowledge by the theories of materialism and atheism, and thereby to inject infidel ideas into all the history and products of the past. The literary treatment and decoration of this scheme fell into the hands of Rousseau and Voltaire; the former of whom by his fascinating sentimentality invested it with a strange charm for the young and dreaming visionary, while the latter, by the gayest of wit, and the sharpest and most biting of sarcasm, insinuated it into the hard and frivolous man of fashion, and man of the world.
This form of infidelity ebcited hardly any reply from the Christian Church. The old defences produced in the preceding century in England were the principal reliance, so far as a literary answer was concerned; but the great and stunning reply was in the utter demoralization of social and political life, and the chaotic horrors of the French Revolution.
The skeptical direction which the German mind took in the last half of the 18th and first half of the 19th century is a much more important phenomenon than the infidelity of France. Taken as a whole, German Rationalism has been learned and serious, comparing it with ancient and modern skepticism generally. In the philosopher Kant (f 1804), it resembles the deism of the school of Herbert. In such theologians as Ammon (f 1850), Wegscheider (fl848), Rohr (fl848), and Paulus (f 1851), we observe the influence of Biblical education, and ecclesiastical connections in restraining the theorist, and holding him back from all the logical consequences of his principles. Yet this intellectual and ethical unbelief operated for a season all the more disastrously upon the interests of Christianity, from the very fact that, while it rejected the doctrines of sin and grace, and by a learned criticism attacked the canonical Scriptures, it maintained so loftily the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, and urged so strenuously the imperatives of duty and the moral law. Had it taught the bald and sensual theories of Bolingbroke or Condillac, the popular mind of one of the most naturally devout and religious races would have revolted. But the substitution of an elevated ethics for the doctrine of Redemption was temporarily successful, by reason of the appeal that was made to conscience, and the higher religious aspirations. The secret of its final failure lay in the utter impotence of the human will to realize these ideas of the moral reason, which were so earnestly set forth as the only religion necessary for man. A system like Rationalism which holds up before mankind the ideal of virtue, while it rejects the only power by which that ideal can be made actual in character and life, is a ministry of condemnation. The principles of ethics and natural religion can become inward impulses of thought and action in the human soul, only through the regenerating influences of revealed religion. The serious and thoughtful Schiller, whose "muse was conscience" in the phrase of De Stael, and who presents one of the finest examples of a lofty and cultivated Rationalism, seems to have learned this truth after years of futile moral endeavour. In a letter to Goethe he thus enunciates the difference between morality and religion, ethics and the gospel: "The distinguishing characteristic of Christianity, by which it is differentiated from all other monotheistic systems, lies in the fact that it does away with the law, the Kantean imperative, and in the place of it substitutes a free and spontaneous inclination of the heart,"1—a sentiment coincident with the Pauline affirmation, that the Christian, as distinguished from the moralist, is "not under the law but under grace" (Rom. vi. 15).
1 IlAGENDAcn: Kirchcngeschichte dea 18 und 19 Jahrhunderts,