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ARCHDEACONRY OF MIDDLESEX, &c.
years been more talked of than ever; and I am afraid there has been too much occasion for it. Yet I am willing to believe, that the advances supposed to have been lately made on that side, carry a great deal more of noise and show in them, than of real strength. Deism may perhaps have become fiercer or bolder than formerly; and it may be owing, not so much to any additional advantages it has really gained, as to the disappointments it has met with.
If we look between thirty and forty years backwards, we shall find that the complaints of good men then ran in very high and strong terms. “It is dreadful to think (says a noted “ author of that time a) what numbers of men are poisoned by “ infidel principles. For—they begin to talk them in shops “ and stalls; and the cavils of Spinosa and Hobbes are grown
common even to the rabble.” What more deplorable could
* Nicholls's Conference with a Theist, Pref. p.5.
be said of us at this day? The like complaints were made some time after, about twenty years ago : “ That infidelity had taken
deep root, had been cultivated with care, had spread its “ branches wide, shot up to an amazing height, and brought “ forth fruits in great abundance. The Mosaic account of the “ creation was represented as mere allegory and fable : the inspi“ration of holy Writ so explained as to amount to a denial of it; “ the authority of the present Canon of Scripture disputed; the
spuriousness of several passages, and some books of it, more “ than insinuated; priests, without distinction, traduced as im“posers on the credulity of mankind; and those religious ordi“nances which they were appointed to dispense, even the chief “ of them, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, spoken of with “ such a degree of ungodly mockery and insolent scorn, as filled " the hearts of good Christians with horror and astonishment : “ nay, religion itself was, in some of the loose writings, so “ described, as if it were nothing but a melancholy frenzy and “ pious enthusiasmb." Such were the representations made in those days. Yet Christianity (God be thanked) has still kept up its head, has reigned triumphant all the time, and I trust will reign, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I know not whether these licentious principles were the proper produce of our own soil, or may not be rather said to have been transplanted hither from abroadc; where, it is certain, they had taken root and spread for a hundred years or more, before they met with any favourable reception, or made any public figure in this grave and serious, and for the most part well disposed kingdom. Mr. Hobbes has been reputed the first or principal man that introduced them here, or however that openly and glaringly espoused them d. And it is not unlikely that he imbibed his loose principles in France and Italy, as he also composed his famed pieces while residing in foreign parts. Deism seems to have sprung up abroad about the middle of the sixteenth century. A learned foreigner takes notice of the rise of the sect in his time; and he wrote in 1563. His account of them is as follows: “There are several who profess to believe, " that there is a certain Deity, or God, as the Turks and Jews “ do: but as for Jesus Christ, and all the doctrine testified by " the Evangelists and Apostles, they take them for fables and “ dreams.—They have entertained some opinions concerning
b Representation of the present de Deo, p. 219. State of Religion by a Committee of In the account of the Growth of Convocation, A. D. 1711. Compare Deism, written in 1696, it is said, An Inquiry into the Causes of the late “ It is now three years since you and Growth of Infidelity, written in 1705. “ I had a serious discourse concernc“ It seems to have been brought “ ing the rise and progress of Deism,
hither from some of our neigh- “ which is an opinion of late years “ bouring countries, together with the crept into England, though not so “ rest of our fashions.” Inquiry into “ widely spread here as in other parts the Causes, &c. p. 3.
“ of Europe," p. I. Anglorum primus est (faxit Deus, The Inquiry dates the growth of sit ultimus) qui impietatem palam them from about the year 1660. ostentare ausus est. Parker, Disputat. Inquiry, &c. p. 7.
religion, which are more extravagant than those of the Turks, “or any other infidels. I hear that some of this band call “ themselves Deists, a new word in opposition to that of Atheists. “These Deists of which we speak ridicule all religion; though
they acconimodate themselves to the religion of those with “ whom they are obliged to live, out of complaisance or fear. “Some amongst them have a sort of notion of the immortality “ of the soul : others agree with the Epicureans in that, as well " as on the Divine providence with regard to mankind. I am s struck with horror, when I think that there are such monsters among
those that bear the name of Christians e. Thus far Peter Viret: for he is the man that gives this account of the modern Deists: and notwithstanding their complimenting themselves with a new plausible name, he scruples not to call their system of doctrine an execrable Atheism. Not intending, I presume, that they directly disowned the being of a God, (for he intimates the contrary,) but that they did it consequentially, or that they did as effectually undermine and destroy all the influences of religion, as if they had been professed Atheists: and so, in effect, their doctrine amounted to the same thing, but gave less offence. What Atheism chiefly aims at, is to sit loose from present restraints and future reckonings: and those two purposes may be competently served by Deismf, which is but a more
See Bayle's Dictionary in Peter Viret, p. 2973:
I« It is certain that infidelity, as it " is at present countenanced and “ maintained by those that would be “ called the Freethinkers of the age, “ does give as much encouragement “to immorality as most libertines “ either need or desire. Atheism in“ deed makes shorter work of it, and
“ at one blow cuts asunder all the ties “ of religion and duty. But that is “ too bold a step: it thwarts not only “ the common principles of reason, “ but even the general bent and incli“ nation of human nature. It is an “ affront to good breeding and civility,
as well as to good sense, and common morality : whereas infidelity will answer the ends and designs of liber
refined kind of Atheism. For when a man presumes to take God's business out of his hands, and under the name of reason prescribes both the laws and the sanctions, as his own fancy or inclination shall suggest ; it is obvious to perceive, that God is as much excluded this way from being Lord over us, as if his existence were denied. And therefore, in this view, Atheism and Deism amount very nearly to the same thing, having the same effect in application and practice ; for which reason, some conclude both under the same names. The good man, before mentioned, was struck with horror at the thought of there being such monsters as he had described; men bred up to Christianity, and acquainted also with pure and reformed Christianity. An infidel under Paganism might have something to plead from the impurities allowed of in the Pagan worship, and from the mass of superstition and imposture under which the remains of true religion lay buried : but what colourable excuse can any person invent for his infidelity, under the brightest sunshine of the Gospel ? None certainly. For, to use the words of a famous writer, and no bigot in the cause, “ Unless the reigning passion of his soul, or
some prodigious stupidity obstruct, he must see, that embracing “ the Gospel profession is infinitely a more reasonable choice " than the way he is in h.” I know not how far an affectation of singularity, or an ambition to be thought wiser than the rest of the world, may have carried some persons.
A few shining characters in history, of any kind, have often drawn after them a considerable number of very unequal imitators. There have been some extraordinary geniuses, who, by correcting vulgar errors, have acquired immense reputation. This perhaps may have stirred up others to aim at the same glory, by rejecting
“ tinism as well, but does it in a softer avowed Atheists. This was “ and a gentler way.
For there being gross to become popular, though it “ no authentic body or system of the appeared too open and barefaced : " laws of natural religion, every man “ but being not long after deserted
may believe as much or as little of as an indefensible cause, by some of “ it as he thinks tit; he is left to judge “ its greatest advocates, it daily lost “ for himself how far the obligation ground, and by degrees was mo“ of its duties extends, and no doubt “ delled and new licked into that “ will find out some favourable excep- shape wherein it now appears, and “tions for his own darling lusts and passes current for Deism, though “ vices.” Inquiry into the Cause, “ little differing, in reality, from what
“ it was before.' « These loose notions- -first
ap- & See Gastrell's Boyle's Lecture peared abroad without any disguise, Sermons, vol. i. p. 251, 252.
among those that set up for wits of h Bayle's Miscellaneous Reflections “ the age, who declared themselves on a Comet, vol. ii. p. 392.
&c. p. 4:
Ibid. p. 7.
any thing vulgar, though ever so true and right: as if it were any commendation to be singularly injudicious ; or as if, because it is honourable to exceed the common standard, it were honourable likewise only to differ from it, or not to come up to it; which is manifestly the case of our modern Deists, however highly they may please to think of themselves. For they have not so clear a discernment, nor so true a taste, nor so correct a judgment (whatever the reason be) as common Christians have. They have proved nothing of what they boast of, nor ever will: they have frequently discovered warm inclinations to maintain their principles, but have been as frequently disappointed. Take but away their rhetorications and equivocal expressions, their misrepresentations and misreports, their ostentation and their scurrilities, and their cause will be left in a manner destitute. One advantage indeed they have over us, that they run the same way with corrupt nature, and it is easy to drive down a precipice, while it is hard to climb up an ascent: on which account they can never fail to have their disciples, such as they are ; for Epicurus also before them had hisi. But then they have their disadvantages also, in other respects, and those many and great ; so that, upon the whole, they will have the less reason to triumph. 1. For, in the first place, notwithstanding the depravity of human nature, prone to listen to bad counsels, there are yet (God be thanked) great numbers of honest and conscientious Christians, who fear God, and reverence his holy Word, and upon whom these new teachers can make no impressions at all, excepting only of horror and detestation. 2. Besides those, there may be other knowing and sensible men, who, if they have less affection for religion, (being taken up with the world,) will yet give no countenance to infidelity ; either for fear of risking the reputation of their judgment, or for the regard they bear to the interests of society, which can never subsist upon infidel principles. 3. Add to this, that there may be a great many more, who, though viciously given, will yet never be mad enough to run those desperate lengths, so as to throw off all regards to revealed religion, and all prospects of heaven ; but will rather choose, for a time, to “hold the truth in unrighteousness,”
'Epicuri disciplina multo celebrior Propterea, ut ad se multitudinem consemper fuit, quam cæterorum : non trahat, apposita singulis quibusque quia veri aliquid afferat, sed quia mul- moribus loquitur. Lactant. lib. iii. tos populare nomen voluptatis invitat: cap. 17. p. 145. nemo enim non in vitia pronus est.