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is not indeed peculiar to this period; it existed in the seventeenth, it exists still (under certain conditions it is the natural and appropriate form of belief or unbelief), but it reached its culmination in the movement associated with the early portion of the last century. Its limits, as Mr. Pattison remarks, are “ pretty well defined.” His limits are from the death of Stillingfleet to the death of Bolingbroke, the “last of the Deists." 1 Dr. Cairns has a “threefold rubric ”—which he applies to unbelief, and under which he classifies all the leading writers—viz., the Deistic, Pantheistic, and Sceptical. These categories are helpful for purposes of greater accuracy, but usually the whole of the writers are called Deists, and the product of their activity Deism. Hume hardly belongs to Deism proper.

He is more a critical sceptic in philosophy, and although his speculations have a direct bearing on all questions about Divine Revelation, he himself wished to be considered as holding more with the “ vulgar” than his philosophy might lead us to expect.

The creed of Deism proper is not so "advanced” as the agnosticism of the nineteenth century; hence the strength in argument of the Apologists of that day. It would hardly be fair to make all Deists accept the “notitiae communes” of Herbert, or the Deists' Bible, as these have been termed, for Herbert belonged to an earlier age. At the same time we cannot but acknowledge that Herbert's Deism would have been more congenial to the leading unbelievers of the eighteenth century than would the rationalism of our day.

Herbert's articles were chiefly the following: that there is a Supreme Being, and that He is to be worshipped ; that worship consists chiefly of piety and virtue; that we must repent of our sins and cease from them; and that there are rewards and punishments here and hereafter. Starting from Herbert, and for a long time not openly opposing his view of religion, the Deists nevertheless wandered further and further from his “five points.” The Supreme Being, if He existed, had little to do with human affairs; He had created the world. Piety consisted more and more, according to the new teachers, in acting according to the dictates of reason, and the Bible was Character of Eighteenth-Century Unbelief.

1 « Tendencies of Religious Thought in England.” See Essays and Reviews.

2 See Cairns, Lecture II. p. 43.


ever more freely dealt with as Deism advanced along its course, and as these freethinkers developed their system. So with rewards and punishments hereafter. Here these might have a place; as to the hereafter, unbelief, whether in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, is ever less certain. In point of fact all distinctive Bible-truth is ignored in the creed or teaching of Deism, and the only religion it will support is a vague kind of natural religion. To all deeper aspects and relations either of truth, of man, or of God, Deism is ever indifferent.

And this is the character of eighteenth-century unbelief. Varying much in different writers, and at different periods of its history, it was in one and all a spirit of indifference to all that is spiritual or distinctively scriptural. The Deists had nothing to draw with, and the well of Gospel truth was too deep for them; they had no clear conception, because no direct consciousness of the true nature and spiritual wants of men ; they knew nothing of the nature of sin,—unbelief ever stumbles here,—and consequently they stumbled at, ignored, or rejected the essential truths of Christ's Gospel.

How came it that Deism, a system so spiritually impotent, took such strong hold of the mind and life of England ? This is a practical question, and it has considerable bearing on the more general inquiry as to the conditions under which unbelief in any age may be expected to flourish.

To trace fully the causes of eighteenth-century unbelief, even if we could do so, would demand more space than is now at our command. We must give due weight to the causes mentioned by Mr. Patrick in his suggestive article on Deism in the new edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica; such, for example, as the new conceptions about astronomy, overthrowing, as these did, the more traditional view of the universe. We know that similar causes have produced siunilar effects in our own century, and it is but fair to assume that they operated then, and to some extent changed the religious conceptions of men. The feeling expressed so well by Mr. Browning's Moor in Luria has its place in the human mind, and it may lead to serious changes in a man's view of life. Contrasting with Western conceptions of God the views prevailing in the East, the Moor says :

“My own East !
How nearer God we were ! He glows above
With scarce an intervention, presses close
And palpitatingly, His soul o'er ours !
We feel Him not by painful reason know

All changes at his instantaneous will,
Not by the operation of a law
Whose Maker is elsewhere at other work.
His hand is still engaged upon His world-
Man's praise can forward it, man's prayer suspend,
For is not God all-mighty ?”

In this England of ours, men accustomed to the conception of God being near to them—as near to them as He was to Moses, Joshua, and the great leaders of the past when they were engaged in His work—accustomed to feel His presence and invoke His aid in all that concerned their life, received a kind of shock when they were told of the new theories. These theories seemed to remove God further from them, and to put in His place laws and forces self-acting; and hence, perhaps, their perplexity. These influences, acting on men who had ceased to feel within their own hearts that “testimonium spiritus sancti,” the glory alike of Reformation and Puritan life, might predispose to wavering, uncertainty, and unbelief. So too, the philosophy of Locke might prepare the way for Deism, as it certainly supplied to both attack and defence the theory of the “ reasonableness” of Christianity.

The great cause of Deism, however, was unquestionably, as Cairns remarks, “ the decay of the Christian religion itself. The fervent interest in spiritual things which had marked the middle period of the seventeenth century, and made it, with all its faults, the greatest hitherto in English history, had, through manifold failure and defeat, been followed by the reaction of the Restoration; and the visible and notorious denial of Christianity in life and practice prepared the way for its denial in opinion and theory.”

This is, we believe, a true and sufficient account of the origin and progress of unbelief in the early portion of last century ; may we not say of unbelief in any and every century? Hence its lessons for us in these days of doubt, unrest, and

1 Cunningham Lectures, p. 63.


Moral causes of Unbelief.


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open atheism. It may be, no doubt often is, possible to separate intellectual unbelief from laxity of moral life.

No longer is it always the “ fool,” using that word in its Old Testament sense, that says "No God.” Many feel the pressure of intellectual doubt as to the Divine character of Christianity, who have no wish to shake themselves free from moral obligations. Nevertheless, there will generally be found, if not in the individual certainly in the age, a close connection between unbelief and low moral standards. Wherever,” says Christlieb, " there is a real alienation from the Gospel, ethical causes have

a much to do with it. . . . In Divine and spiritual things, no one errs entirely without his own fault.”] This, true of the individual, has a wider bearing, and may be applied to the community. It is only when there is great freshness and fervour of spiritual life in the Church, when Christians are uniting together in earnest spiritual work, and when they are manifesting the power of Christianity in their lives, that the world finds it easy to accept the New Testament faith. Science does appear to banish God from us, and to put in His place laws and forces as if self-acting; nor can Berkeley's philosophy of a constant creation, however true, supply the place of the banished Power. Only when God's living presence is felt in the Church, and through the Church is manifested to the world, is there supplied the necessary counteracting influence,-necessary alike to the Church and the world.

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Much difference of opinion exists among thinkers as to the true character of the last century. Dr. Cairns, referring more especially to Carlyle's estimate, very properly says that an age so fruitful in scientific discovery, so great in works of art and literature, so full of great moral, philanthropic, and spiritual movements cannot, with any propriety, be called barren.” This is true, and yet after saying all we can for the eighteenth century we must admit that, morally and spiritually at least, few periods have been less fruitful than its earlier decades. Mr. Pattison's estimate can hardly be set aside. The “thirty years succeeding the peace of Utrecht” (1714) may have been materially the most prosperous season England ever experienced; morally and spiritually they were barrenness itself. Worse still, and this is part of the explanation of Deism, they were productive of much evil. Not too strong are Mr. Pattison's words : “A period of decay of religion, licentiousness of morals, public corruption, profaneness of language, a day of rebuke and blasphemy' 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.” Mr. Pattison supports his estimate by giving Hartley's "six things threatening ruin to states;" among others the growth of infidelity and even atheism, the open lewdness of both sexes, the licentiousness and carelessness of the people, and the gross and unblushing worldliness of the clergy. Readers of Tyerman's Life of Wesley are familiar enough with all these features of English life. One town, not far from John Wesley's home, has the bad pre-eminence of having possessed a vicar and chief magistrate shameless enough to lead an open attack on one of his preachers. These leaders in Church and State used the public-house influence in their crusade against Methodism in a way that might do credit even to unscrupulous politicians in our time. Even if we make allowance for a certain one-sidedness in accounts given by men who themselves suffered many things at the hands of the lawless, we must still admit the substantial truthfulness of their saddest pictures. Mr. Leslie Stephen, while trying to do justice to another and better side of things, and not unwilling, perhaps, to correct, if possible, the accounts given by more zealous writers, is compelled to admit the deadness and immorality of the early part of the eighteenth century. Nor does Mr. Lecky in his very able and thorough-going History—a very model of painstaking research and judicial calmness—at all differ from Mr. Pattison.

1 Modern Doubt and Christian Belief, p. 27. * See Appendix to Cunningham Lectures, Note A.

We would not be understood as condemning everything in the eighteenth century. Thank God ! no age is left without its saints, its scholars, and its men with the heroic spirit. In spite of the worldliness, the time-serving, and the compromise, so fashionable in the early days of the century, there were in it men, surpassed in purity, devotion, and moral worth by none, equalled by but few, in any age. We speak of the great


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