|« Prev||Preface by the Editor.||Next »|
PREFACE BY THE EDITOR
“When I consider how light a matter very often subjects the best established characters to the suspicions of posterity, posterity often as malignant to virtue as the age that saw it was envious of its glory; and how ready a remote age is to catch at a low revived slander, which the times that brought it forth saw despised and forgotten almost in its birth; I cannot but think it a matter that deserves attention.”—Letter to the Editor of the Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, &c., by Bishop Warburton. See his Works, vol. vii. p. 547.
THE Charge to the Clergy of the Diocese of Durham was printed and published in the year 1751, by the learned Prelate whose name it bears; and, together with the Sermons and Analogy of the same writer, both too well known to need a more particular description, completes the collection of his Works. It has long been considered as a matter of curiosity, on account of its scarceness; and it is equally curious on other accounts—its subject, and the calumny to which it gave occasion, of representing the Author as addicted to superstition, as inclined to popery, and as dying in the communion of the Church of Rome. The improved edition of the Biographia Britannica, published under the care of Dr Kippis, having unavoidably brought this calumny again into notice, it may not be unseasonable to offer a few reflections in this place, by way of obviating any impressions that may hence arise to the disadvantage of so great a character as that of the late Bishop Butler; referring those who desire a more particular account of his life, to the third volume of the same entertaining work, printed in 1784. art. BUTLER (Joseph).11The account here alluded to is subjoined to this Preface.
I. The principal design of the Bishop in his Charge is, to exhort his Clergy to “do their part towards reviving a practical sense of religion amongst the people committed to their care;” and, as one way of effecting this, to “instruct them in the Importance of External Religion,” or the usefulness of outward observances in promoting inward piety. Now, from the compound xnature of man, consisting of two parts, the body and the mind, together with the influence which these are found to have on one another, it follows, that the religious regards of such a creature ought to be so framed, as to be in some way properly accommodated to both. A religion which is purely spiritual, stripped of every thing that may affect the senses, and considered only as a divine philosophy of the mind, if it do not mount up into enthusiasm, as has frequently been the case, often sinks, after a few short fervours, into indifference: an abstracted invisible object, like that which natural religion offers, ceases to move or interest the heart; and something further is wanting to bring it nearer, and render it more present to our view, than merely an intellectual contemplation. On the other hand, when, in order to remedy this inconvenience, recourse is had to instituted forms and ritual injunctions, there. is always danger lest men be tempted to rest entirely on these, and persuade themselves that a painful attention to such observances will atone for the want of genuine piety and virtue. Yet surely there is a way of steering safely between these two extremes; of so consulting both the parts of our constitution, that the body and the mind may concur in rendering our religious services acceptable to God, and at the same time useful to ourselves. And what way can this be, but precisely that which is recommended in the Charge; such a cultivation of outward as well as inward religion, that from both may result, what is the point chiefly to be laboured, and at all events to be secured, a correspondent temper and behaviour; or, in other words; such an application of the forms of godliness, as may be subservient in promoting the power and spirit of it? No man, who believes the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and understands what he believes, but must know, that external religion is as much enjoined, and constitutes as real a part of revelation, as that which is internal. The many ceremonies in use among the Jews, in consequence of a divine command; the baptism of water, as an emblem of moral purity; the eating and drinking of bread and wine, as symbols and representations of the body and blood of Christ, required xiof Christians, are proofs of this. On comparing these two parts of religion together, one, it is immediately seen, is of much greater importance than the other; and, whenever they happen to interfere, is always to be preferred: but does it follow from hence, that therefore that other is of little or no importance, and, in cases where there is no competition, may entirely be neglected? Or rather is not the legitimate conclusion directly the reverse, that nothing is to be looked upon as of little importance, which is of any use at all in preserving upon our minds a sense of the Divine authority, which recalls to our remembrance the obligations we are under, and helps to keep us, as the Scripture expresses it, “in the fear of the Lord all the day long?”22Prov. xxiii. 17. If, to adopt the instance mentioned in the Charge, the sight of a church should remind a man of some sentiment of piety; if, from the view of a material building dedicated to the service of God, he should be led to regard himself, his own body, as a living “temple of the Holy Ghost,”331 Cor. vi. 19. and therefore no more than the other to be profaned or desecrated by any thing that defileth or is impure; could it be truly said of such a one, that he was superstitious, or mistook the means of religion for the end? If, to use another, and what has been thought a more obnoxious instance, taken from the Bishop’s practice, a cross, erected in a place of public worship,44Dr Butler, when Bishop of Bristol, put up a cross, a plain piece of marble inlaid, in the chapel of his episcopal house. This, which was intended by the blameless Prelate merely as a sign or memorial, that true Christians are to bear their cross, and not to be ashamed of following a crucified Master, was considered as affording a presumption that he was secretly inclined to Popish forms and ceremonies, and had no great dislike to popery itself. And, on account of the offence it occasioned, both at the time and since, it were to be wished, in prudence, it had not been done. should cause us to reflect on Him who died on a cross for our salvation, and on the necessity of our “own dying to sin,”55Rom. vi. 11. and of “crucifying the flesh with its affection and lusts;”66Gal. v. 24. would any worse consequences follow from such sentiments so excited, than if the same sentiments had been excited by the view of a picture, of the crucifixion suppose, such as is commonly placed, and with this very design, in foreign churches, and indeed in many of our own? Both the instances here adduced, it is very possible, may be xiifar from being approved, even by those who are under the most sincere convictions of the importance of true religion: and it is easy to conceive how open to scorn and censure they must be from others, who think they have a talent for ridicule, and have accustomed themselves to regard all pretensions to piety as hypocritical or superstitious. But “Wisdom is justified of her children.”77Matt. xi. 19. Religion is what it is, “whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear;”Ezek. ii. 5 and whatever in the smallest degree promotes its interests, and assists us in performing its commands, whether that assistance be derived from the medium of the body or the mind, ought to be esteemed of great weight, and deserving of our most serious attention.
However, be the danger of superstition what it may, no one was more sensible of that danger, or more in earnest in maintaining, that external acts of themselves are nothing, and that moral holiness, as distinguished from bodily observances of every kind, is that which constitutes the essence of religion, than Bishop Butler. Not only the Charge itself, the whole intention of which is plainly nothing more than to enforce the necessity of practical religion, the reality as well as form, is a demonstration of this, but many passages besides to the same purpose, selected from his other writings. Take the two following as specimens. In his Analogy he observes thus: “Though mankind have, in all ages, been greatly prone to place their religion in peculiar positive rites, by way of equivalent for obedience to moral precepts; yet, without making any comparison at all between. them, and consequently without determining which is to have the preference, the nature of the thing abundantly shows all notions of that kind to be utterly subversive of true religion: as they are, moreover, contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture; and likewise to the most express particular declarations of it, that nothing can render us accepted of God, without moral virtue.”88Analogy, Part II. Chap. I And to the same purpose in his Sermon, preached before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in February, 1738-9. “Indeed, amongst creatures xiiinaturally formed for religion, yet so much under the power of imagination as men are, superstition is an evil, which can never be out of sight. But even against this, true religion is a great security, and the only one. True religion, takes up that place in the mind, which superstition would usurp, and so leaves little room for at; and likewise lays us under the strongest obligations to oppose it. On the contrary, the danger of superstition cannot but be increased by the prevalence of irreligion; and, by its general prevalence, the evil will be unavoidable. For the common people, wanting a religion, will of course take up with almost any superstition which is thrown in their way: and in process of time, amidst the infinite vicissitudes of the political world, the leaders of parties will certainly be able to serve themselves of that superstition, whatever it be, which is getting ground; and will not fail to carry it to the utmost length their occasions require. The general nature of the thing shows this; and history and fact confirm it. It is therefore wonderful, those people who seem to think there is but one evil in life, that of superstition, should not see that atheism and profaneness must be the introduction of it.”99Ser. xvi.
He who can think and write in such a manner, can never be said to mistake the nature of real religion: and he, who, after such proofs to the contrary, can persist in asserting of so discreet and learned a person, that he was addicted to superstition, must himself be much a stranger both to truth and charity.
And here it may be worth our while to observe, that the same excellent Prelate, who by one set of men was suspected of superstition, on account of his Charge, has by another been represented as leaning to the opposite extreme of enthusiasm, on account of his two discourses On the Love of God. But both opinions are equally without foundation. He was neither superstitious, nor an enthusiast: his mind was much too strong, and his habits of thinking and reasoning much too strict and severe, to suffer him to descend to the weaknesses of either character. His piety was at once fervent and rational. xivWhen impressed with a generous concern for the declining cause of religion, he laboured to revive its dying interests; nothing he judged would be more effectual to that end, among creatures so much engaged with bodily things, and so apt to be affected with whatever strongly solicits the senses, as men are, than a religion of such a frame as should in its exercise require the joint exertions of the body and the mind. On the other hand, when penetrated with the dignity and importance of “the first and great commandment,”1010Matt. xxii. 38. love to God, he set himself to inquire, what those movements of the heart are, which are due to Him, the Author and Cause of all things; he found, in the coolest way of consideration, that God is the natural object of the same affections of gratitude, reverence, fear, desire of approbation, trust, and dependence, the same affections in kind, though doubtless in a very disproportionate degree, which any one would feel from contemplating a perfect character in a creature, in which goodness, with wisdom and power, are supposed to be the predominant qualities, with the further circumstance, that this creature was also his governor and friend. This subject is manifestly a real one; there is nothing in it fanciful or unreasonable: this way of being affected towards God is piety, in the strictest sense: this is religion, considered as a habit of mind; a religion, suited to the nature and condition of man.1111Many of the sentiments, in these Two Discourses of Bishop Butler, containing the sovereign good of man; the impossibility of procuring it in the present life; the unsatisfactoriness of earthly enjoyments; together with the somewhat beyond and above them all, which once attained, there will rest nothing further to be wished or hoped; and which is then only to be expected, when we shall have put off this mortal body, and our union with God shall be complete; occur in Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity. Book I. § 11.
II. From superstition to Popery, the transition is easy: no wonder then, that, in the progress of detraction, the simple imputation of the former of these, with which the attack on the character of our Author was opened, should be followed by the more aggravated imputation of the latter. Nothing, I think, can fairly be gathered in support of such a suggestion from the Charge, in which Popery is barely mentioned, and occasionally xvonly, and in a sentence or two; yet even there, it should be remarked, the Bishop takes care to describe the peculiar observances required by it, “some as in themselves wrong and, superstitious, and others of them as being made subservient to the purposes of superstition.” With respect to his other writings, any one at all conversant with them needs not to be told, that the matters treated of both in his Sermons and his Analogy did none of them directly lead him to consider, and much less to combat, the opinions, whether relating to faith or worship, which are peculiar to the Church of Rome: it might therefore have happened, yet without any just conclusion arising from thence, of being himself inclined to favour those opinions, that he had never mentioned, so much as incidentally, the subject of Popery at all. But fortunately for the reputation of the Bishop, and to the eternal disgrace of his calumniators, even this poor resource is wanting. to support their malevolence. In his Sermon at St Bride’s before the Lord Mayor in 1740, after having said that “our laws and whole constitution go more upon supposition of an equality amongst mankind, than the constitution and laws of other countries;” he goes on to observe, that “this plainly requires, that more particular regard should be had to the education of the lower people here, than in places where they are born slaves of power, and to be made slaves of superstition:1212Serm. xvii. meaning evidently in this place, by the general term superstition, the particular errors of the Romanists. This is something: but we have a still plainer indication what his sentiments concerning Popery really were, from another of his additional Sermons, I mean that before the House of Lords on June the 11th, 1747, the anniversary of his late Majesty’s accession. The passage alluded to is as follows; and my readers will not be displeased that I give it them at length. “The value of our religious Establishment ought to be very much heightened in our esteem, by considering what it is a security from; I mean that great corruption of Christianity, Popery, which is ever hard at work to bring us again under its yoke. Whoever will consider the Popish xviclaims, to the disposal of the whole earth, as of divine right, to dispense with the most sacred engagements, the claims to supreme absolute authority in religion; in short, the general claims which the Canonists express by the words, plenitude of power—whoever, I say, will consider Popery as it is professed at Rome, may see, that it is manifest, open usurpation of all human and divine authority. But even in those Roman Catholic countries where these monstrous claims are not admitted, and the civil power does, in many respects, restrain the papal; yet persecution is professed, as it is absolutely enjoined by what is acknowledged to be their highest authority, a general council, so called, with the Pope at the head of it; and is practised in all of them, I think, without exception, where it can be done safely. Thus they go on to substitute force instead of argument; and external profession made by force, instead of reasonable conviction. And thus corruptions of the grossest sort have been in vogue, for many generations, in many parts of Christendom; and are so still, even where Popery obtains in its least absurd form: and their antiquity and wide extent are insisted upon as proofs of their truth; a kind of proof, which at best can only be presumptive, but which loses all its little weight, in pro.. portion as the long and large prevalence of such corruptions have been obtained by force.”1313Serm. xx. In another part of the same Sermon, where he is again speaking of our ecclesiastical constitution, he reminds his audience that it is to be valued, “not because it leaves us at liberty to have as little religion as we please, without being accountable to human judicatories; but because it exhibits to our view, and enforces upon our consciences, genuine Christianity, free from the superstitions with which it is defiled in other countries; which superstitions, he observes, “naturally tend to abate its force.” The date of this Sermon should here be attended to. It was preached in June, 1747; that is, four years before the delivery and publication of the Charge, which was in the year 1751; and exactly five years before the Author died, which was in June, 1752. We xviihave then, in the passages now laid before the reader, a clear and unequivocal proof, brought down to within a few years of Bishop Butler’s death, that Popery was held by him in the utmost abhorrence, and that he regarded it in no other light, than as the great corruption of Christianity, and a manifest, open usurpation of all human and divine authority. The argument is decisive; nor will any thing be of force to invalidate it, unless from some after-act during the short remainder of the Bishop’s life, besides that of delivering and printing his Charge (which, after what I have said here, and in the Notes added to this Preface and to the Charge I must have leave to consider as affording no evidence at all of his inclination to Papistical doctrines or ceremonies), the contrary shall incontrovertibly appear.
III. One such after-act, however, has been alleged, which would effectually demolish all that we have urged in behalf of our Prelate, were it true, as is pretended, that he died in the communion of the Church of Rome. Had a story of this sort been invented and propagated by Papists, the wonder might have been less:
Hoc Ithacus velit, et magno mercentur Atridæ.
But to the reproach of Protestantism, the fabrication of this
calumny, for such we shall find it, originated from among ourselves. It is pretty
remarkable, that a circumstance so extraordinary should never have been divulged
till the year 1767, fifteen years after the Bishop’s decease. At that time Dr Thomas
Secker was Archbishop of Canterbury; who of all others was the most likely to know
the truth or falsehood of the fact asserted, having been educated with our Author
in his early youth, and having lived in a constant habit of intimacy with him to
the very time of his death. The good Archbishop was not silent on this occasion:
with a virtuous indignation he stood forth to protect the posthumous character of
his friend; and in a public newspaper, under the signature of Misopseudes,
called upon his accuser to support what he had advanced, by whatever proofs he could.
No proof, however, nor any thing like a proof, appeared in reply; and every man
of sense and candour at that
xviiitime was perfectly convinced the assertion was entirely groundless.1414
When the first edition of this Preface was published, I had in
vain endeavoured to procure a sight of the papers, in which Bishop Butler was accused
of having died a Papist, and Archbishop Secker’s replies to them; though I well
remembered to have read both, when they first appeared in the public prints. But
a learned Professor ill the University of Oxford has furnished me with the whole
controversy in its original form; a brief history of which it may not be unacceptable
to offer here to the curious reader.
The attack was opened in the year 1767, in an anonymous pamphlet, entitled, ‘The Root of Protestant Errors examined;” in which the author asserted, that, “by an anecdote lately given him, that same Prelate” (who at the bottom of the page is called B—p of D—m) “is said to have died in the communion of a Church, that makes much use of saints, saints’ days, and all the trumpery of saint worship.” When this remarkable fact, now first divulged, came to be generally known, it occasioned, as might be expected, no little alarm; and intelligence of it was no sooner conveyed to Archbishop Secker, than in a short letter, signed Misopseudes, and printed in the St James’s Chronicle of May 9, he called upon the writer to produce his authority for publishing “so gross and scandalous a falsehood.” To this challenge an immediate answer was returned by the author of the pamphlet, who, now assuming the name of Phileleutheros, informed Misopseudes, through the channel of the same paper, that “such anecdote had been given him; and that he was yet of opinion, that there was nothing improbable in it; when it is considered that the same Prelate put up the Popish insignia of the cross in his chapel, when at Bristol; and in his last Episcopal Charge has squinted very much towards that superstition.” Here we find the accusation not only repeated, but supported by reasons, such as they are, of which it seemed necessary that some notice should be taken: nor did the Archbishop conceive it unbecoming his own dignity to stand up on this occasion, as the vindicator of innocence against the calumniator of the helpless dead. Accordingly, in a second letter in the same newspaper of May 23, and subscribed Misopseudes as before, after reciting from Bishop Butler’s Sermon before the Lords the very passage here printed in the Preface, and observing, that “there are, in the same Sermon, declarations as strong as can be. made against temporal punishments for heresy, schism, or even for idolatry;” His Grace expresses himself thus: “Now he (Bishop Butler) was universally esteemed throughout his life, a man of strict piety and honesty, as well as uncommon abilities. He gave all the proofs, public and private, which his station led him to give, and they were decisive and daily, of his continuing to the last a. sincere member of the Church of England. Nor had ever any of his acquaintance, or most intimate friends, nor have they to this day, the least doubt of it.” As to putting up a cross in his chapel, the Archbishop frankly owns, that for himself he wishes he had not; and thinks that in so doing the Bishop did amiss. But then he asks, “Call that be opposed, as any proof of Popery, to all the evidence on the other side; or even to the single evidence of the above-mentioned Sermon? Most of our churches have crosses upon them: are they therefore Popish churches? The Lutherans have more than crosses in theirs: are the Lutherans therefore Papists?” And as to the Charge, no Papist, his Grace remarks, would have spoken as Bishop Butler there does, of the observances peculiar to Roman Catholics, some of which he expressly censures as wrong and superstitious, and others, as made subservient to the purposes of superstition, and, on these accounts, abolished at the Reformation. After the publication of this letter Phileleutheros replied in a short defence of his own conduct, but without producing any thing new in confirmation of what he had advanced. And here the controversy, so far as the two principals were concerned, seems to have ended..
But the dispute was not suffered to die away quite so soon. For in the same year. and in the same newspaper of July 21, another letter appeared; in which the author not only contended that the cross in the Episcopal chapel at Bristol, and the Charge to the Clergy of Durham in 1751, amount to full proof of a strong attachment to the idolatrous communion of the Church of Rome, but, with the reader’s leave, he would fain account for the Bishop’s “tendency this way.” And this he attempted to do, “from the natural melancholy and gloominess of Dr Butler’s disposition; from his great fondness for the lives of Romish saints, and their books of mystic piety; from his drawing his notions of teaching men religion, not from the New Testament, but from philosophical and political opinions of his own; and above all, from his transition from a strict Dissenter amongst the Presbyterians to a rigid Churchman, and his sudden and unexpected elevation to great wealth and dignity in the Church.” The attack, thus renewed, excited the Archbishop’s attention a second time, and drew from him a fresh answer, subscribed also Misopseudes, in the St James’s Chronicle of August 4. In this letter, our excellent Metropolitan, first of all obliquely hinting, at the unfairness of sitting in judgment on the character of a man who had been dead fifteen years; and then reminding his correspondent, that “full proof had been already published, that Bishop Butler abhorred Popery as a vile corruption of Christianity, and that it might be proved, if needful, that he held the Pope to be Antichrist;” (to which decisive testimonies of undoubted aversion from the Romish Church, another is also added in the Postscript, his taking, when promoted to the see of Durham, for his domestic Chaplain, Dr Nath. Forster, who had published, not four years before, a Sermon, entitled, Popery destructive of the Evidence of Christianity;) proceeds to observe, “that the natural melancholy of the Bishop’s temper would rather have fixed him amongst his first friends, than prompted him to the change he made: that he read books of all sorts, as well as books of mystic piety, and knew how to pick the good that was in them out of the bad: that his opinions were exposed without reserve in his Analogy and his Sermons, and if the doctrine of either be Popish or unscriptural, the learned world hath mistaken strangely in admiring both: that, instead of being a strict Dissenter, he never was a communicant in any Dissenting assembly; on the contrary, that he went occasionally, from his early years, to the established worship, and became a constant conformist to it when he was barely of age, and entered himself, in 1714, of Oriel College: that his elevation to great dignity in the Church, far from being sudden and unexpected, was a gradual and natural rise, through a variety of preferments, and a period of thirty-two years: that, as Bishop of Durham, he had very little authority beyond his brethren, and in ecclesiastical matters, had none beyond them; a larger income than most of them h3 had; but this he employed, not, as was insinuated, in augmenting the pomp of worship in his cathedral, where indeed it is no greater than in others, but for the purposes of clarity, and in the repairing of his houses.” After these remarks, the letter closes with the following words: “Upon the whole, few accusations, so entirely groundless, have been so pertinaciously, I am unwilling to say maliciously, carried on, as the present: and surely it is high time for the authors and abettors of it, in mere common prudence, to show some regard, if not to truth, at least to shame.”
It only remains to be mentioned, that the above letters of Archbishop Secker had such an effect on a writer, who signed himself in the St. James’s Chronicle of August 25, A Dissenting Minister, that he declared it as his opinion, that “the author of the pamphlet, called, ‘The Root of Protestant Errors examined,’ and his friends, were obliged in candour, in justice, and in honour to retract their charge, unless they could establish it on much better grounds than had hitherto appeared: and he expressed his “hopes, that it would be understood that the Dissenters in general had no hand in the accusation, and that it had only been the act of two or three mistaken men.” Another person also, “a foreigner by birth,” as he says of himself, who had been long an admirer of Bishop Butler, and had perused with great attention all that had been written on both sides in the present controversy, confesses he had been “wonderfully pleased with observing, with what candour amid temper, as well as clearness and solidity, he was vindicated from the aspersions laid against him.” All the adversaries of our Prelate, however, had not the virtue or sense to be thus convinced; some of whom still continued, under the signatures of Old Martin, Latimer, An Impartial Protestant, Paulinus, Misonothos, to repeat their confuted falsehoods in the public prints; as if the curse of calumniators had fallen upon them, and their memory, by being long a traitor to truth, had taken at last a severe revenge, and compelled them to credit their own lie. The first of these gentlemen, Old Martin, who dates from Newcastle, May 29, from the rancour and malignity with which his letter abounds, and from the particular virulence he discovers towards the characters of Bishop Butler and his defender, I conjecture to be no other than the very person who had already figured in this dispute, so early as the year 1752; of whose work, entitled, “A Serious Inquiry into the Use and Importance of External Religion,” the reader will find some account in the notes subjoined to the Bishop’s Charge in the volume of Sermons. As a further confirmation of the rectitude xixof this judgment, it may not be amiss to mention, there is yet in existence a strong presumptive argument at least in its favour, drawn from the testimony of those who attended our Author in the sickness of which he died. The last days of this excellent Prelate were passed at Bath; Dr Nathanael Forster, his chaplain, being continually with him; and for one day, and at the very end of his illness, Dr Martin Benson also, the then Bishop of Gloucester, who shortened his own life in his pious haste to visit his dying friend. Both these persons constantly wrote letters to Dr Secker, then Bishop of Oxford, containing accounts of Bishop Butler’s declining health, and of the symptoms and progress of his disorder, which, as was conjectured, soon terminated in his death. xxThese letters, which are still preserved in the Lambeth library,1515The letters, with a sight of which I was indulged by the favour of our present most worthy Metropolitan, are all, as I remember, wrapped together under one cover; on the back of which is written, in Archbishop Secker’s own hand, the following words, or words to this effect: “Presumptive Arguments that Bishop Butler d not die a Papist.” I have read; and not the slenderest argument can be collected from them, in justification of the ridiculous slander we are here considering. If at that awful season the Bishop was not known to have expressed any opinion tending to show his dislike to Popery, neither was he known to have said any thing, that could at all be construed in approbation of it; and the natural presumption is that whatever sentiments he had formerly entertained concerning that corrupt system of religion, he continued to entertain them to the last. The truth is, neither the word nor the idea of Popery seems once to have occurred either to the Bishop himself, or to those who watched his parting moments: their thoughts were otherwise engaged. His disorder had reduced him to such debility, as to render him incapable of speaking much or long on any subject: the few bright intervals that occurred were passed in a state of the utmost tranquillity and composure; and in that composure he expired. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.”1616Psalm xxxvii. 37. “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!”1717Numb. xxiii. 10.
Out of pure respect for the virtues of a man, whom I xxihad never the happiness of knowing, or even of seeing, but from whose writings I have received the greatest benefit and illumination, and which I have reason to be thankful to Providence for having early thrown in my way, I have adventured, in what I have now offered to the public, to step forth in his defence, and to vindicate his honest fame from the attacks of those, who, with the vain hope of bringing down superior characters to their own level, are for ever at work in detracting from their just praise. For the literary reputation of Bishop Butler, it stands too high in the opinion of the world, to incur the danger of any diminution: but this in truth is the least of his excellences. He was more than a good writer, he was a good man; and what is an addition even to this eulogy, he was a sincere Christian. His whole study was directed to the knowledge and practice of sound morality and true religion: these he adorned by his life, and has recommended to future ages in his writings; in which, if my judgment be of any avail, he has done essential service to both, as much, perhaps, as any single person, since the extraordinary gifts of “the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge”18181 Cor. xii. 8. have been withdrawn.
In what follows I propose to give a short account of the Bishop’s moral and religious systems, as these are collected from his Works.
I. His way of treating the subject of morals is to be gathered from the volume of his Sermons, and particularly from the three first, and from the preface to that volume.
“There is,” as our Author with singular sagacity has observed, “a much more exact correspondence between the natural and moral world, than we are apt to take notice of.”1919Serm. vi. The inward frame of man answers to his outward condition; the several propensities, passions, and affections, implanted in our hearts by the Author of nature, are in a peculiar manner adapted to the circumstances of life in which he hath placed us. This general observation, properly pursued, leads to several important xxiiconclusions. The original internal constitution of man, compared with his external condition, enables us to discern what course of action and behaviour that constitution leads to, what is our duty respecting that condition, and furnishes us besides with the most powerful arguments to the practice of it.
What the inward frame and constitution of man is, is a question of fact; to be determined, as other facts are, from experience, from our internal feelings and external senses, and from the testimony of others. Whether human nature, and the circumstances in which it is placed, might not have been ordered otherwise, is foreign to our inquiry, and none of our concern: our province is, taking both of these as they are, and viewing the connexion between them, from that connexion to discover if we can, what course of action is fitted to that nature and those circumstances. From contemplating the bodily senses, and the organs or instruments adapted to them, we learn that the eye was given to see with, the ear to hear with. In like manner, from considering our inward perceptions and the final causes of then, we collect that the feeling of shame, for instance, was given to prevent the doing of things shameful; compassion, to carry us to relieve others in distress; anger, to resist sudden violence offered to ourselves. if, continuing our inquiries in this way, it should at length appear, that the nature, the whole nature, of man leads him to and is fitted for that particular course of behaviour which we usually distinguish by the name of virtue, we are authorized to conclude, that virtue is the law we are born under, that it was so intended by the Author of our being; and we are bound by the most intimate of all obligations, a regard to our own highest interest and happiness, to conform to it in all situations and events.
Human nature is not simple and uniform, but made up of several parts; and we can have no just idea of it as a system or constitution, unless we take into our view the respects and relations which these parts have to each other. As the body is not one member, but many; so our inward structure consists of various instincts, appetites, and propensions. Thus far there is no difference xxiiibetween human creatures and brutes. But besides these common passions and affections, there is another principle, peculiar to mankind, that of conscience, moral sense, reflection, call it what you please, by which they are enabled to review their whole conduct, to approve of some actions in themselves, and to disapprove of others. That this principle will of course have some influence on our behaviour, at least at times, will hardly be disputed: but the particular influence which it ought to have, the precise degree of power in the regulating of our internal frame that is assigned it by Him who placed it there, is a point of the utmost consequence in itself, and on the determination of which the very hinge of our Author’s Moral System turns. If the faculty here spoken of be, indeed, what it is asserted to be, in nature and kind superior to every other passion and affection; if it be given, not merely that it may exert its force occasionally, or as our present humour or fancy may dispose us, but that it may at all times exercise an uncontrollable authority and government over all the rest; it will then follow, that, in order to complete the idea of human nature, as a system, we must not only take in each particular bias, propension, instinct, which are seen to belong to it, but we must add besides the principle of conscience, together with the subjection that is due to it from all the other appetites and passions: just as the idea of a civil constitution is formed, not barely from enumerating the several members and ranks of which it is composed, but from these considered as acting in various degrees of subordination to each other, and all under the direction of the same supreme authority, whether that authority be vested in one person or more.
The view here given of the internal constitution of man, and of the supremacy of conscience, agreeably to the conceptions of Bishop Butler, enables us to comprehend the force of that expression, common to him and the ancient moralists, that virtue consists in following nature. The meaning cannot be, that it consists in acting agreeably to that propensity of our nature which happens to be the strongest; or which propels us towards certain objects, without any regard to the methods by which xxivthey are to be obtained: but the meaning must be, twat virtue consists in the due regulation and subjection of all the other appetites and affections to the superior faculty of conscience; from a conformity to which alone our actions are properly natural, or correspondent to the nature, to the whole nature, of such an agent as man. From hence too it appears, that the author of our frame is by no means indifferent to virtue and vice, or has left us at liberty to act at random, as humour or appetite may prompt us; but that every man has the rule of right within him; a rule attended in the very notion of it with authority, and such as has the force of a direction and a command from Him who made us what we are, what course of behaviour is suited to our nature, and which he expects that we should follow. This moral faculty implies also a presentiment and apprehension, that the judgment which it passes on our actions, considered as of good or ill desert, will hereafter be confirmed by the unerring judgment of God; when virtue and happiness, vice and misery, whose ideas are now so closely connected, shall be indissolubly united, and the divine government be found to correspond in the most exact proportion to the nature he has given us. Lastly, this just prerogative or supremacy of conscience it is, which Mr Pope has described in his Universal Prayer, though perhaps he may have expressed it rather too strongly where he says,
“What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns me not to do,
This teach me more than hell to shun,
That more than heaven pursue.”
The reader will observe, that this way of treating the subject of morals, by an appeal to facts, does not at all interfere with that other way, adopted by Dr Samuel Clarke and others, which begins with inquiring into the relations and fitnesses of things, but rather illustrates and confirms it. That there are essential differences in the qualities of human actions, established by nature, and that this natural difference of things, prior to and independent of all will, creates a natural fitness in the agent to act agreeably to it, seems as little to be denied, as that there. is the moral difference before explained, from xxvwhich we approve and feel a pleasure in what is right, and conceive a distaste to what is wrong. Still, however, when we are endeavouring to establish either this moral or that natural difference, it ought never to be forgotten, or rather it will require to be distinctly shown, that both of these, when traced up to their source, suppose an intelligent Author of nature and moral Ruler of the world; who originally appointed these differences, and by such an appointment has signified his will that we should conform to them, as the only effectual method of securing our happiness on the whole under his government.2020“Far be it from me,” says the excellent Dr T. Balguy (Discourse ix.) “to dispute the reality of a moral principle in the human heart. I feel its existence: I clearly discern its use and importance. But in no respect is it more important, than as it suggests the idea of a moral Governor. Let this idea be once effaced, and the principle of conscience will soon be found weak and ineffectual. Its influence on men’s conduct has, indeed, been too much undervalued by some philosophical inquirers. But be that influence, while it lasts, more or less, it is not a steady and permanent principle of action. Unhappily we always have it in our power to lay it asleep.—Neglect alone will suppress and stifle it, and bring it almost into a state of stupefaction. Nor can any thing, less than the terrors of religion, awaken our minds from this dangerous and deadly sleep. It can never be a matter of indifference to a thinking man, whether he is to be happy or miserable beyond the grave.” And of this consideration our Prelate himself was not unmindful; as may be collected from many expressions in different parts of his writings, and particularly from the following passages in his eleventh Sermon. “It may be allowed, without any prejudice to the cause of virtue and religion, that our ideas of happiness and misery are of all our ideas the nearest and most important to us; that they will, nay if you please, they ought to prevail over those of order, and beauty, and harmony, and proportion, if there should ever be, as it is impossible there ever should be, any inconsistence between them.” And again, “Though virtue or moral rectitude does indeed consist in affection to and pursuit of what is right and good, as such; yet, when we sit down in a cool hour, we can neither justify to ourselves this or any other pursuit, till we are convinced that it will be for our happiness, or at least not contrary to it.”2121Serm. xi.
Besides the general system of morality opened above, our Author in his volume of Sermons has stated with accuracy the difference between self-love and benevolence; xxviin opposition to those who, on the one hand, make the whole of virtue to consist in benevolence,2222See the second Dissertation “On the Nature of Virtue,” at the end of the Analogy. and to those who, on the other, assert that every particular affection and action is resolvable into self-love. In combating these opinions, he has shown, I think unanswerably, that there are the same kind of indications in human nature, that we were made to promote the happiness of others, as that we were made to promote our own: that it is no just objection to this, that we have dispositions to do evil to others as well as good; for we have also dispositions to do evil as well as good to ourselves, to our own most important interests even in this life, for the sake of gratifying a present passion: that the thing to be lamented is, not that men have too great a regard to their own real good, but that they have not enough: that benevolence is not more at variance with or unfriendly to self-love, than any other particular affection is: and that by consulting the happiness of others a man is so far from lessening his own, that the very endeavour to do so, though he should fail in the accomplishment, is a source of the highest satisfaction and peace of mind.2323See Serm. i. and xi. and the preface to the volume of Sermons. He has also, in passing, animadverted on the philosopher of Malmsbury, who, in his book “Of Human Nature,” has advanced, as discoveries in moral science, that benevolence is only the love of power, and compassion the fear of future calamity to ourselves. And this our Author has done, not so much with the design of exposing the false reasoning of Mr Hobbes, but because on so perverse an account of human nature he has raised a system, subversive of all justice and honesty.2424See the Notes to Serm. i. and v.
II. The religious system of Bishop Butler is chiefly to be collected from the treatise, entitled, “The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature.”
“All things are double one against another, and God hath made nothing imperfect.“.“2525Eccles. xlii. 24. On this single observation of the son of Sirach, the whole fabric of our Prelate’s defence of religion, in his Analogy, is raised. Instead xxviiof indulging in idle speculations, how the world might possibly have been better than it is; or, forgetful of the difference between hypothesis and fact, attempting to explain the divine economy with respect to intelligent creatures, from preconceived notions of his own; he first inquires what the constitution of nature, as made known to us in the way of experiment, actually is; and from this, now seen and acknowledged, he endeavours to form a judgment of that larger constitution, which religion discovers to us. If the dispensation of Providence we are now under, considered as inhabitants of this world, and having a temporal interest to secure in it, be found, on examination, to be analogous to, and of a piece with, that further dispensation, which relates to us as designed for another world, in which we have an eternal interest, depending on our behaviour here; if both may be traced up to the same general laws, and appear to be carried on according to the same plan of administration; the fair presumption is, that both proceed from one and the same Author. And if the principal parts objected to in this latter dispensation be similar to and of the same kind with what we. certainly experience under the former; the objections, being clearly inconclusive in one case, because contradicted by plain fact, must, in all reason, be allowed to be inconclusive also in the other.
This way of arguing from what is acknowledged to what is disputed, from things known to other things that resemble them, from that part of the divine establishment which is exposed to our view to that more important one which lies beyond it, is on all hands confessed to be just. By this method Sir Isaac Newton has unfolded the system of nature; by the same method Bishop Butler has explained the system of grace; and thus, An use the words of a writer, whom I quote with pleasure, “has formed and concluded a happy alliance between faith and philosophy.”2626Mr Mainwaring’s Dissertation, prefixed to his volume of Sermons.
And although the argument from analogy be allowed to be imperfect, and by no means sufficient to solve all difficulties respecting the government of God, and the designs of his Providence with regard to mankind (a xxviidegree of knowledge, which we are not furnished with faculties for attaining, at least in the present state); yet surely it is of importance to learn from it, that the natural and moral world are intimately connected, and parts of one stupendous whole or system; and that the chief objections which are brought against religion may be urged with equal force against the constitution and course of nature, where they are certainly false in fact. And this information we may derive from the work before us; the proper design of which, it may be of use to observe, is not to prove the truth of religion, either natural or revealed, but to confirm that proof, already known, by considerations from analogy.
After this account of the method of reasoning employed by our Author, let us now advert to his manner of applying it, first to the subject of Natural Religion, and secondly to that of Revealed.
1. The foundation of all our hopes and fears is a future life; and with this the treatise begins. Neither the reason of the thing, nor the analogy of nature, according to Bishop Butler, give ground for imagining, that the unknown event, death, will be our destruction. The states in which we have formerly existed, in the womb and in infancy, are not more different from each other than from that of mature age in which we now exist: therefore, that we shall continue to exist hereafter, in a state as different from the present as the present is from those through which we have passed already, is a presumption favoured by the analogy of nature. All that we know from reason concerning death, is the effects it has upon animal bodies: and the frequent instances among men of the intellectual powers continuing in high health and vigour, at the very time when a mortal disease is on the point of putting an end to all the powers of sensation, induce us to hope that it may have no effect at all on the human soul, not even so much as to suspend the exercise of its faculties; though, if it have, the suspension of a power by no means implies its extinction, as sleep or a swoon may convince us.2727Part I. chap. i.
The probability of a future state once granted, an important xxixquestion arises, How best to secure our interest in that state. We find from what passes daily before us, that the constitution of nature admits of misery as well as happiness; that both of these are the consequences of our own actions; and these consequences we are enabled to foresee. Therefore, that our happiness or misery in a future world may depend on our own actions also, and that rewards or punishments hereafter may follow our good or ill behaviour here, is but an appointment of the same sort with what we experience under the divine government, according to the regular course of nature.2828Chap. ii.
This supposition is confirmed from another circumstance, that the natural government of God, under which we now live, is also moral; in which rewards and punishments are the consequences of actions, considered as virtuous and vicious. Not that every man is rewarded or punished here in exact proportion to his desert; for the essential tendencies of virtue and vice, to produce happiness and the contrary, are often hindered from taking effect from accidental causes. However, there are plainly the rudiments and beginnings of a righteous administration to be discerned in the constitution of nature: from whence we are led to expect, that these accidental hindrances will one day be removed, and the rule of distributive justice obtain completely in a more perfect state.2929Chap. iii.
The moral government of God, thus established, implies in the notion of it some sort of trial, or a moral possibility of acting wrong as well as right, in those who are the subjects of it. And the doctrine of religion, that the present life is in fact a state of probation for a future one, is rendered credible, from its being analogous throughout to the general conduct of Providence towards us with respect to this world; in which prudence is necessary to secure our temporal interest, just as we are taught that virtue is necessary to secure our eternal interest; and both are trusted to ourselves.3030Chap. iv.
But the present life is not merely a state of probation, implying in it difficulties and danger; it is also a state of discipline and improvement; and that both in our temporal xxxand religious capacity. Thus childhood is a state of discipline for youth; youth for manhood; and that for old age. Strength of body, and maturity of understanding, are acquired by degrees; and neither of them without continual exercise and attention on our part, not only in the beginning of life, but through the whole course of it. So again with respect to our religious concerns, the present world is fitted to be, and to good men is in event, a state of discipline and improvement for a future one. The several passions and propensions implanted in our hearts incline us, in a multitude of instances, to forbidden pleasures: this inward infirmity is increased by various snares and temptations, perpetually occurring from without: hence arises the necessity of recollection and self-government; of withstanding the calls of appetite, and forming our minds to habits of piety and virtue; habits, of which we are capable, and which, to creatures in a state of moral imperfection, and fallen from their original integrity, must be of the greatest use, as an additional security, over and above the principle of conscience, from the dangers to which we are exposed.3131Part I. chap. v.
Nor is the credibility here given, by the analogy of nature, to the general doctrine of religion, destroyed or weakened by any notions concerning necessity. Of itself it is a mere word, the sign of an abstract idea; and as much requires an agent, that is, a necessary agent, in order to effect any thing, as freedom requires a free agent. Admitting it to be speculatively true, if considered as influencing practice, it is the same as false: for it is matter of experience, that, with regard to our present interest, and as inhabitants of this world, we are treated as if we were free; and therefore the analogy of nature leads us to conclude, that, with regard to our future interest, and as designed for another world, we shall be treated as free also. Nor does the opinion of necessity, supposing it possible, at all affect either the general proof of religion, or its external evidence.3232Chap. vi.
Still objections may be made against the wisdom and goodness of the divine government, to which analogy, which can only show the truth or credibility of facts, xxxiaffords no answer. Yet even here analogy is of use, if it suggest that the divine government is a scheme or system, and not a number of unconnected acts, and that this system is also above our comprehension. Now the government of the natural world appears to be a system of this kind; with parts, related to each other, and together composing a whole: in which system ends are brought about by the use of means, many of which means, before experience, would have been suspected to have had a quite contrary tendency; which is carried on by general laws, similar causes uniformly producing similar effects: the utility of which general laws, and the inconveniences which would probably arise from the occasional or even secret suspension of them, we are in some sort enabled to discern;3333See a treatise on Divine Benevolence, by Dr Thomas BaIguy, part ii. but of the whole we are incompetent judges, because of the small part which comes within our view. Reasoning then from what we know, it is highly credible, that the government of the moral world is a system also, carried on by general laws, and in which ends are accomplished by the intervention of means; and that both constitutions, the natural and the moral, are so connected, as to form together but one scheme. But of this scheme, as of that of the natural world taken alone, we are not qualified to judge, on account of the mutual respect of the several parts to each other and to the whole, and our own incapacity to survey the whole, or, with accuracy, any single part. All objections therefore to the wisdom and goodness of the divine government may be founded merely on our ignorance;3434The ignorance of man, is a favorite doctrine with Bishop Butler. It occurs in the Second Part of the Analogy; it makes the subject of his Fifteenth Sermon; and we meet with it again in his Charge. Whether sometimes it be not carried to a length which is excessive, may admit of doubt. and to such objections our ignorance is the proper, and a satisfactory answer.3535Part I. chap. vii.
2. The chief difficulties concerning Natural Religion being now removed, our Author proceeds, in the next place, to that which is Revealed; and as an Introduction to an inquiry into the Credibility of Christianity, begins with the consideration of its Importance.xxxii
The importance of Christianity appears in two respects. First, in its being a republication of Natural Religion, in its native simplicity, with authority, and with circumstances of advantage; ascertaining in many instances of moment, what before was only probable, and particularly confirming the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments.3636Admirable to this purpose are the words of Dr T. Balguy, in the Ninth of his Discourses already referred to, p. xxv. “The doctrine of a life to come, some persons will say, is a doctrine of natural religion; and can never therefore be properly alleged to show the importance of revelation. They judge perhaps from the frame of the world, that the present system is imperfect; they see designs in it, not yet completed; and they think they have grounds for expecting another state, in which these designs shall be farther carried on, and brought to a conclusion, worthy of infinite wisdom. I am not concerned to dispute the justness of this reasoning; nor do I wish to dispute it. But how far will it reach? Will it lead us to the Christian doctrine of a judgment to come? Will it give us the prospect of an eternity of happiness? Nothing of all this. It shows us only, that death is not the end of our being; that we are likely to pass hereafter into other systems, more favourable than the present to the great ends of God’s providence, the virtue and the happiness of his intelligent creatures. But into what systems we are to be removed; what new scenes are to be presented to us, either of pleasure or pain; what new parts we shall have to act, and to what trials and temptations we may yet be exposed; on all these subjects we know just nothing. That our happiness for ever depends on our conduct here, is a most important proposition, which we learn only form revelation.” Secondly, as revealing a new dispensation of Providence, originating from the pure love and mercy of God, and conducted by the mediation of his Son, and the guidance of his Spirit for the recovery and salvation of mankind, represented in a state of apostasy and ruin. This account of Christianity being admitted to be just, and the distinct offices of these three divine Persons being once discovered to us, we are as much obliged in point of duty to acknowledge the relations we stand in to the Son and Holy Ghost, as our Mediator and Sanctifier, as we are obliged in point of duty to acknowledge the relation we stand in to God the Father; although the two former of these relations be learnt from Revelation only, and in the last we are instructed by the light of nature; the obligation in either case arising from the offices themselves, and not at all depending on the manner in which they are made known to us.3737Part II. chap. i.
The presumptions against Revelation in general are, that it is not discoverable by reason, that it is unlike to what is so discovered, and that it was introduced and supported by miracles. But in a scheme so large as xxxiiithat of the universe, unbounded in extent and everlasting in duration, there must of necessity be numberless circumstances which are beyond the reach of our faculties to discern, and which can only be known by divine illumination. And both in the natural and moral government of the world, under which we live, we find many things unlike one to another, and therefore ought not to wonder if the same unlikeness obtain between things visible and invisible; although it be far from true, that revealed religion is entirely unlike the constitution of nature, as analogy may teach us. Nor is there any thing incredible in Revelation, considered as miraculous; whether miracles be supposed to have been performed at the beginning of the world, or after a course of nature has been established. Not at the beginning of the world; for then there was either no course of nature at all, or a power must have been exerted totally different from what that course is at present: all men and animals cannot have been born, as they are now; but a pair of each sort must have been produced at first, in a way altogether unlike to that in which they have been since produced; unless we affirm, that men and animals have existed from eternity in an endless succession; one miracle therefore at least there must have been at the beginning of the world, or at the time of man’s creation. Not after the settlement of a course of nature, on account of miracles being contrary to that course, or, in other words, contrary to experience; for, in order to know whether miracles, worked in attestation of a divine religion, be contrary to experience or not, we ought to be acquainted with other cases, similar or parallel to those, in which miracles are alleged to have been wrought. But where shall we find such similar or parallel cases? The world which we inhabit affords none: we know of no extraordinary revelations from God to man, but those recorded in the Old and New Testament; all of which were established by miracles; it cannot therefore be said, that miracles are incredible, because contrary to experience, when all the experience we have is in favour of miracles, and on the side of religion.3838“In the common affairs of life, common experience is sufficient to direct us. But will common experience serve to guide our judgment concerning the fall and redemption of mankind? From what we see every day, can we explain the commencement, or foretell the dissolution of the world? To judge of events like these, we should be conversant in the history of other planets; should be distinctly informed of God’s various dispensations to all the different orders of rational beings. Instead then of grounding our religious opinions on what we call experience, let us apply to a more certain guide, let us hearken to the testimony of God himself. The credibility of human testimony, and the conduct of human agents, are subjects perfectly within the reach of our natural faculties; and we ought to desire no firmer foundation for our belief of religion, than for the judgments we form in the common affairs of life where we see a little plain testimony easily outweighs the most specious conjectures, and not seldom even strong probabilities.” Dr Balguy’s Fourth Charge. See also an excellent pamphlet, entitled, “Remarks on Mr Hume’s Essay on the Natural History of Religion,” sect. 5; and the Sixth of Dr Powell’s Discourses.Besides, in reasoning concerning xxxivmiracles, they ought not to be compared with common natural events, but with uncommon appearances, such as comets, magnetism, electricity; which, to one acquainted only with the usual phenomena of nature, and the common powers of matter, must, before proof of their actual existence, be thought incredible.3939Chap. ii.
The presumption against Revelation in general being dispatched, objections against the Christian Revelation in particular, against the scheme of it, as distinguished from objections against its evidence, are considered next. Now supposing a revelation to be really given, it is highly probable beforehand, that it must contain many things appearing to us liable to objections. The acknowledged dispensation of nature is very different from what we should have expected: reasoning then from analogy, the revealed dispensation, it is credible, would be also different. Nor are we in any sort judges at what time, or in what degree, or manner, it is fit or expedient for God to instruct us, in things confessedly of the greatest use, either by natural reason, or by supernatural information. Thus, arguing on speculation only, and without experience, it would seem very unlikely that so important a remedy as that provided by Christianity, for the recovery of mankind from ruin, should have been for so many ages withheld; and, when at last vouchsafed, should be imparted to so few; and, after it has been imparted, should be attended with obscurity and doubt. And just so we might have argued, before experience, concerning the remedies provided in nature for bodily diseases, to which by nature we are exposed: for many of these were unknown to mankind for a number of ages; xxxvare known but to few now; some important ones probably not discovered yet; and those which are, neither certain in their application, nor universal in their use: and the same mode of reasoning that would lead us to expect they should have been so, would lead us to expect that the necessity of them should have been superseded, by there being no diseases; as the necessity of the Christian scheme, it may be thought, might also have been superseded, by preventing the fall of man, so that he should not have stood in need of a Redeemer at all.4040Chap. iii.
As to objections against the wisdom and goodness of Christianity, the same answer may be applied to them as was to the like objections against the constitution of nature. For here also, Christianity is a scheme or economy, composed of various parts, forming a whole; in which scheme means are used for the accomplishing of ends; and which is conducted by general laws, of all of which we know as little as we do of the constitution of nature. And the seeming want of wisdom or goodness in this system is to be ascribed to the same cause, as the like appearances of defects in the natural system; our inability to discern the whole scheme, and our ignorance of the relation of those parts which are discernible to others beyond our view.
The objections against Christianity as a matter of fact, and against the wisdom and goodness of it, having been obviated together, the chief of them are now to be considered distinctly. One of these, which is levelled against the entire system itself, is of this sort: the restoration of mankind, represented in Scripture as the great design of the Gospel, is described as requiring a long series of means, and persons, and dispensations, before it can be brought to its completion; whereas the whole ought to have been effected at once. Now every thing we see in the course of nature shows the folly of this objection. For in the natural course of Providence, ends are brought about by means, not operating immediately and at once, but deliberately, and in a way of progression; one thing being subservient to another, this to somewhat further. The change of seasons, the ripening xxxviof fruits, the growth of vegetable and animal bodies, are instances of this. And therefore, that the same progressive method should be followed in the dispensation of Christianity, as is observed in the common dispensation of Providence, is a reasonable expectation, justified by the analogy of nature.4141Chap. iv.
Another circumstance objected to in the Christian scheme is the appointment of a Mediator, and the saving of the world through him. But the visible government of God being actually administered in this way, or by the mediation and instrumentality of others, there can be no general presumption against an appointment of this kind, against his invisible government being exercised in the same manner. We have seen already, that with regard to ourselves this visible government is carried on by rewards and punishments; for happiness and misery are the consequences of our own actions, considered as virtuous and vicious; and these consequences we are enabled to foresee. It might have been imagined, before consulting experience, that after we had rendered ourselves liable to misery by our own ill conduct, sorrow for what was past, and behaving well for the future, would, alone and of themselves, have exempted us from deserved punishment, and restored us to the divine favour. But the fact is otherwise; and real reformation is often found to be of no avail, so as to secure the criminal from poverty, sickness, infamy, and death, the never-failing attendants on vice and extravagance, exceeding a certain degree. By the course of nature then it appears, God does not always pardon a sinner on his repentance. Yet there is provision made, even in nature, that the miseries, which men bring on themselves by unlawful indulgences, may in many cases be mitigated, and in some removed; partly by extraordinary exertions of the offender himself, but more especially and frequently by the intervention of others, who voluntarily, and from motives of compassion, submit to labour and sorrow, such as produce long and lasting inconveniences to themselves, as the means of rescuing another from the wretched effects of former imprudences. xxxviiVicarious punishment, therefore, or one person’s sufferings contributing to the relief of another, is a providential disposition in the economy of nature:4242Dr Arthur Ashley Sykes, from whose writings some good may be collected out of a multitude of things of a contrary tendency, in what he is pleased to call “The Scripture Doctrine of Redemption,” (see the observations on the texts cited in his first chapter, and also in chapters the fifth and sixth,) opposes what is here advanced by Bishop Butler; quoting his words, but without mentioning his name. If what is said above be not thought a sufficient answer to the objections of this author, the reader may do well to consult a Charge “On the Use and Abuse of Philosophy in the Study of Religion,” by the late Dr Powell; who seems to me to have had the observations of Dr Sykes in his view, where he is confuting the reasonings of certain philosophizing Divines against the doctrine of the Atonement. Powell’s Discourse. Charge III. p. 342-348. and it ought not to be matter of surprise, if by a method analogous to this we be redeemed from sin and misery, in the economy of grace. That mankind at present are in a state of degradation, different from that in which they were originally created, is the very ground of the Christian revelation, as contained in the Scriptures. Whether we acquiesce in the account, that our being placed in such a state is owing to the crime of our first parents, or choose to ascribe it to any other cause, it makes no difference as to our condition: the vice and unhappiness of the world are still there, notwithstanding all our suppositions: nor is it Christianity that hath put us into this state. We learn also from the same Scriptures, what experience and the use of expiatory sacrifices from the most early times might have taught us, that repentance alone is not sufficient to prevent the fatal consequences of past transgressions: but that still there is room for mercy, and that repentance shall be available, though not of itself, yet through the mediation of a divine Person, the Messiah; who, from the sublimest principles of compassion, when we were dead in trespasses and sins,4343Ephes. ii. 1. suffered and died, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust,44441 Pet. iii. 18. that we might have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.4545Colos. i. 14. In what way the death of Christ was of that efficacy it is said to be, in procuring the reconciliation of sinners, the Scriptures have not explained; it is enough that the doctrine is revealed; that it is not contrary to any truths which reason and experience teach us; and that it accords in xxxviiiperfect harmony with the usual method of the divine conduct in the government of the world.4646Chap. v.
Again, it hath been said, that if the Christian revelation were true, it must have been universal, and could. not have been left upon doubtful evidence. But God, in his natural providence, dispenses his gifts in great variety, not only among creatures of the same species, itut to the same individuals also at different times. Had the Christian revelation been universal at first, yet, from the diversity of men’s abilities, both of mind and body, their various means of improvement, and other external advantages, some persons must soon have been in a situation, with respect to religious knowledge, much superior to that of others, as much perhaps as they are at present: and all men will be equitably dealt with at last; and to whom little is given, of him little will be required. Then as to the evidence for religion being left doubtful, difficulties of this sort, like difficulties in practice, afford scope and opportunity for a virtuous exercise of the understanding, and dispose the mind to acquiesce and rest satisfied with any evidence that is real. In the daily commerce of life, men are obliged to act upon great un certainties, with regard to success in their temporal pursuits: and the case with regard to religion is parallel. However, though religion be not intuitively true, the proofs of it which we have are amply sufficient in reason to induce us to embrace it; and dissatisfaction with those proofs may possibly be men’s own fault.4747Chap. vi
Nothing remains but to attend to the positive evidence there is for the truth of Christianity. Now, besides its direct and fundamental proofs, which are miracles and prophecies, there are many collateral circumstances, which may be united into one view, and all together may be considered as making up one argument. In this way oi treating the subject, the revelation, whether real or otherwise, may be supposed to be wholly historical: the design of which appears to be, to give an account of the condition of religion, and its professors, with a concise narration of the political state of things, as far as religion is affected by it, during a great length of time, near six xxxixthousand years of which are already past. More particularly it comprehends an account of God’s entering into covenant with one nation, the Jews, that he would be their God, and that they should be his people; of his often interposing in their affairs; giving them the promise, and afterwards the possession, of a flourishing country; assuring them of the greatest national prosperity, in case of their obedience, and threatening the severest national punishment, in case they forsook him, and joined in the idolatry of their Pagan neighbours. It contains also a prediction of a particular person to appear in the fulness of time, in whom all the promises of God to the Jews were to be fulfilled: and it relates, that, at the time expected, a person did actually appear, assuming to be the Saviour foretold; that he worked various miracles among them, in confirmation of his divine authority; and, as was foretold also, was rejected and put to death by the very people who had long desired and waited for his coming; but that his religion, in spite of all opposition, was established in the world by his disciples, invested with supernatural powers for that purpose; of the fate and fortunes of which religion there is a prophetical description, carried down to the end of time. Let any one now, after reading the above history, and not knowing whether the whole were not a fiction, be supposed to ask, Whether all that is here related be true? and instead of a direct answer, let him be informed of the several acknowledged facts, which are found to correspond to it in real life; and then let him compare the history and facts together, and observe the astonishing coincidence of both: such a joint review must appear to him of very great weight, and to amount to evidence somewhat more than human. And unless the whole series, and every particular circumstance contained in it, can be thought to have arisen from accident, the truth of Christianity is proved.4848Chap. vii. To the Analogy are subjoined two Dissertations, both originally inserted in the body of the work. One on Personal Identity, in which are contained some strictures on Mr Locke, who asserts that consciousness makes or constitutes personal identity: whereas, as our Author observes, consciousness makes only personality, or is necessary to the idea of a person, i. e. a thinking intelligent being, but presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity: just as knowledge presupposes truth, but does not constitute it. Consciousness of past actions does indeed show us the identity of ourselves, or gives us a certain assurance that we are the same persons or living agents now, which we were at the time to which our remembrance can look back: but still we should be the same persons as we were, though this consciousness of what is past were wanting, though all that had been done by us formerly were forgotten; unless it be true, that no person has existed a single moment beyond what he can remember. The other Dissertation is On the Nature of Virtue, which properly belongs to the moral system of our Author, already explained.
The view here given of the moral and religious systems xlof Bishop Butler, it will immediately be perceived, is chiefly intended for younger students, especially for students in Divinity; to whom it is hoped it may be of use, so as to encourage them to peruse, with proper diligence, the original works of the Author himself. For it may be necessary to observe, that neither of the volumes of this excellent Prelate are addressed to those who read for amusement, or curiosity, or to get rid of time. All subjects are not to be comprehended with the same ease; and morality and religion, when treated as sciences, each accompanied with difficulties of its own, can neither of them be understood as they ought without a very peculiar attention. But morality and religion are not merely to be studied as sciences, or as being speculatively true; they are to be regarded in another and higher light, as the rule of life and manners, as containing authoritative directions by which to regulate our faith and practice. And in this view, the infinite importance of them, considered, it can never be an indifferent matter whether they be received or rejected. For both claim to be the voice of God; and whether they be so or not, cannot. be known, till their claims be impartially examined. If they indeed come from Him, we are bound to conform to them at our peril; nor is it left to our choice, whether we will submit to the obligations they impose upon us or not; for submit to them we must, in such a sense, as to incur the punishments denounced by both against wilful disobedience to their injunctions.xli
|« Prev||Preface by the Editor.||Next »|