Dr. Young held in horror the Materialist's 'universe of dust.' But there is nothing either bad or contemptible in dust—man is dust—all will be dust. A dusty universe, however, shocked the poetic Doctor, whose writings analogise with—
Rich windows that exclude the light, And passages that lead to nothing.
A universe of nothing was more to his taste than a universe of dust, and he accordingly amused himself with the 'spiritual' work of imagining one, and called its builder 'God.'
The somewhat ungentle 'Shepherd' cordially sympathises with Dr. Young in his detestation of the Materialist's universe of dust, and is sorely puzzled to know how mere dust contrives to move without the assistance of 'an immaterial power between the particles;' as if he supposed anything could be between everything—or nothing be able to move something. Verily this gentleman is as clever a hand at 'darkening counsel by words without knowledge' as the cleverest of those he rates so soundly.
The names of Newton and Clarke are held in great esteem by all who are familiar with the history of mechanical and metaphysical philosophy. As a man of science, there is no individual, ancient, or modern, who would not suffer by comparison with Sir Isaac Newton; while common consent has assigned to Dr. Samuel Clarke the first place among religious metaphysicians. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to cite any other Theists of better approved reputation than these two, and therefore we introduce them to the reader's notice in this place; for as they ranked among the most philosophic of Theists, it might be expected that their conceptions of Deity, would be clear, satisfactory, and definite.—Let us see, then, in their own writings, what those conceptions were.
Newton conceived God to be one and the same for ever, and everywhere, not only by his own virtue or energy, but also in virtue of his substance.—Again, 'All things are contained in him and move in him, but without reciprocal action' (sed sine muta passione) God feels nothing from the movements of bodies; nor do they experience any resistance from his universal presence. [33:1]
Pause, reader, and demand of yourself whether such a conception of Deity is either clear, satisfactory, or definite,—God is one. Very good—but one what? From the information, 'He is the same for ever and everywhere,' we conclude that Newton thought him a Being. Here, however, matter stops the way; for the idea of Being is in all of us inseparably associated with the idea of substance. When told that God is an 'Immense Being,' without parts, and consequently unsubstantial, we try to think of such a Being; but in vain. Reason puts itself in a quandary, the moment it labours to realise an idea of absolute nothingness; yet marvellous to relate, Newton did distinctly declare his Deity 'totally destitute of body,' and urged that fact as a reason why He cannot be either seen, touched, or understood, and also as a reason why he ought not to be adored under any corporeal figure!
The proper function of 'Supernaturality or Wonder,' according to Phrenologists, is to create belief in the reality of supernatural beings, and begets fondness for news, particularly if extravagant. Most likely then, such readers of this book as have that organ 'large' will be delighted with Newton's rhodomontade about a God who resists nothing, feels nothing, and yet with condescension truly divine, not only contains all things, but permits them to move in His motionless and 'universal presence;' for 'news' more extravagant, never fell from the lips of an idiot, or adorned the pages of a prayer-book.
By the same great savan we are taught that God governs all, not as the soul of the world, but as the Lord and sovereign of all things: that it is in consequence of His sovereignty He is called the Lord God, the Universal Emperor—that the word God is relative, and relates itself with slaves—and that the Deity is the dominion or the sovereignty of God, not over his own body, as those think who look upon God as the soul of the world, but over slaves—from all which slavish reasoning, a plain man who had not been informed it was concocted by Europe's pet philosopher, would infallibly conclude some unfortunate lunatic had given birth to it. That there is no creature now tenanting Bedlam who would or could scribble purer nonsense about God than this of Newton's, we are well convinced—for how could the most frenzied of brains imagine anything more repugnant to every principle of good sense than a self-existent, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent Being, creator of all the worlds, who acts the part of 'universal emperor,' and plays upon an infinitely larger scale, the same sort of game as Nicholas of Russia, or Mohammed of Egypt, plays upon a small scale. There cannot be slavery where there is no tyranny, and to say, as Newton did, that we stand in the name relation to a universal God, as a slave does to his earthly master, is practically to accuse such God, at reason's bar of tyranny. If the word God is relative, and relate itself with slaves, it incontestably follows that all human beings are slaves, and Deity is by such reasoners degraded into the character of universal slave-driver. Really, theologians and others who declaim so bitterly against 'blasphemers,' and take such very stringent measures to punish 'infidels', who speaks or write of their God, should seriously consider whether the worst, that is, the least superstitious of infidel writers, ever penned a paragraph so disparaging to the character of that God they effect to adore, as the last quoted paragraph of Newton's.
If even it could be demonstrated that there is a super-human Being, it cannot be proper to clothe Him in the noblest human attributes—still less can it be justifiable in pigmies, such as we are, to invest Him with odious attributes belonging only to despots ruling over slaves. Besides, how can we imagine a God, who is 'totally destitute of body and of corporeal figure,' to have any kind of substance? Earthly emperors we know to be substantial and common-place sort of beings enough, but is it not sheer abuse of reason to argue as though the character of God were at all analogous to theirs; or rather, is it not shocking abuse of our reasoning facilities to employ them at all about a Being whose existence, if we really have an existence, is perfectly enigmatical, and allowed to be so by those very men who pretend to explain its character and attributes? We find no less a sage than Newton explicitly declaring as incontestible truth, that God exists necessarily—that the same necessity obliges him to exist always and everywhere—that he is all eyes, all ears, all brains, all arms, all feeling, all intelligence, all action—that he exists in a mode by no means corporeal, an yet this same sage, in the self-same paragraph, acknowledges God is totally unknown to us.
Now, we should like to be informed by what reasonable right Newton could pen a long string of 'incontestible truths,' such as are here selected from his writings, with respect to a Being of whom, by his own confession, he had not a particle of knowledge. Surely it is not the part of a wise man to write about that which is 'totally unknown' to him, and yet that is precisely what Newton did, when he wrote concerning God.
So much for the Theism of Europe's chief religious philosopher. Turn we now to the Theism of Dr. Samuel Clarke.
He wrote a book about the being and attributes of God, in which he endeavoured to establish, first, that 'something has existed from all eternity;' second, that 'there has existed from eternity some one unchangeable and independent Being;' third, that 'such unchangeable and independent Being, which has existed from all eternity, without any external cause of its existence, must be necessarily existent;' fourth, that 'what is the substance or essence of that Being, which is necessarily existing, or self-existent, we have no idea—neither is it possible for us to comprehend it;' fifth, that 'the self-existent Being must of necessity be eternal as well as infinite and omnipresent;' sixth, that 'He must be one, and as he is the self-existent and original cause of all things, must be intelligent;' seventh, that 'God is not a necessary agent, but a Being endowed with liberty and choice;' eighth, that 'God is infinite in power, infinite in wisdom, and, as He is supreme cause of all things, must of necessity be a Being infinitely just, truthful, and good—thus comprising within himself all such moral perfections as becomes the supreme governor and judge of the world.'
These are the leading dogma contained in Clarke's book—and as they are deemed invincible by a respectable, though not very numerous, section of Theists, we will briefly examine the more important important of them.
The dogma that something has existed from all eternity, as already shown, is perfectly intelligible, and may defy contradiction—but the real difficulty is to satisfactorily determine what that something is. Matter exists, and as no one can even imagine its non-existence or annihilation, the Materialist infers that must be the eternal something. Newton as well as Clark thought the everlasting Being destitute of body, and consequently without parts, figure, motion, divisibility, or any other such properties as we find in matter—ergo, they did not believe matter to be the eternal something; but if not matter, again we ask, what can it be? Of bodilessness or incorporiety no one, even among those who say their God is incorporeal, pretend to have an idea. Abady insisted that the question is not what incorporiety is, but whether it be? Well, we have no objection to parties taking that position, because there is nothing more easy than to dislodge those who think fit to do so—for this reason: the advocates of nothing, or incorporiety, can no more establish by arguments drawn from unquestioned facts, that incorporiety is than they can clearly show what it is. It has always struck the author as remarkable that men should so obstinately refuse to admit the possibility of matter's necessary existence, while they readily embrace, not only as possibly, but certainly, true, the paradoxical proposition that a something, having nothing in common with anything, is necessarily existent. Matter is everywhere around and about us. We ourselves are matter—all our ideas are derived from matter—and yet such is the singularly perverse character of human intellect that, while resolutely denying the possibility of matter's eternity, an immense number of our race embrace the incredible proposition that matter was created in time by a necessarily existing Being, who is without body, parts, passions, or positive nature!
The second dogma informs us that this always-existing Being is unchangeable and independent. One unavoidable inference from which is that Deity is itself immoveable, as well as unconnected with the universe—for a moveable Being must be a changeable Being, by the very fact of its motion; while an independent Being must be motiveless, as it is evident all motives result from our relationship to things eternal; but an independent Being can have no relations, and consequently must act without motives. Now, as no intelligent human action can be imagined without necessary precursors in the shape of motives, reasoning from analogy, it seems impossible that the unchangeable and independent Being, Clarke was so sure must ever have existed, could have created the universe, seeing he could have had no motive or inducement to create it.
The third dogma may be rated a truism—it being evidently true that a thing or Being, which has existed from eternity without any eternal cause of its existence, must be self-existent: but of course that dogma leaves the disputed question, namely, whether matter, or something not matter, is self-existent, just where it found it.
The fourth dogma is not questioned by Universalists, as they are quite convinced that it is not possible for us to comprehend the substance or essence of an immaterial Being.
The other dogmas we need not enlarge upon, as they are little more than repetition or expansion of the preceding one. Indeed, much of the foregoing would be superfluous, were it not that it serves to illustrate, so completely and clearly theistical absurdities. The only dogma worth overturning, of the eight here noticed, is the first, for if that fall, the rest must fall with it. If, for example, the reader is convinced that it is more probable matter is mutable as regards form but eternal as regards essence, than that it was willed into existence by a Being said to be eternal and immutable, he at once becomes a Universalist—for if matter always was, no Being could have been before it, nor can any exist after it. It is because men in general are shocked at the idea of matter without beginning and without end, that they do readily embrace the idea of a God, forgetting that if the idea of eternal matter shock our sense of the probable, the idea of an eternal Being who existed before matter, if well considered, is sufficient to shock all sense of the possible.
The man who is contented with the universe, who stops at that has at least the satisfaction of dealing with something tangible—but he who don't find the universe large enough for him to expatiate in, and whirls his brains into a belief that there is a necessarily existing something beyond the limits of a world unlimited, is in a mental condition no reasonable man need envy.
Of the universe, or at least so much of it as our senses have been operated upon by, we have conceptions clear, vivid, and distinct; but when Dr. Clarke tell us of an intelligent Being, not part but creator of that universe, we can form no clear, vivid, distinct, or, in point of fact, any conception of such Being. When he explains that it is infinite and omnipresent, like poor Paddy's famed ale, the explanation 'thickens as it clears;' for being ourselves finite, and necessarily present on one small spot of our very small planet, the words infinite and omnipresent do not suggest to us either positive or practical ideas—of course, therefore, we have neither positive nor practical ideas of an infinite and omnipresent Being.
We can as easily understand that the universe ever did exist, as we now understand that it does exist—but we cannot conceive its absence for the millionth part of an instant—and really it puzzles one to conceive what those people can be dreaming of who talk as familiarly about the extinction of a universe as the chemist does of extinguishing the flame of his spirit-lamp. The unsatisfactory character of all speculations having for their object 'nonentities with formidable names,' should long ere this have opened men's eyes to the folly of multiplying causes without necessity—another rule of philosophising, for which we are indebted to Newton, but to which no superstitious philosophiser pays due attention. Newton himself in his theistical character, wrote and talked as though most blissfully ignorant of that rule.
The passages given above from his 'Principia' palpably violate it. But Theists, however learned, pay little regard to any rules of philosophising, which put in peril their fundamental crotchet.
A distinguished modern Fabulist [38:1] has introduced to us a philosophical mouse who praised beneficent Deity because of his great regard for mice: for one half of us, quoth he, received the gift of wings, so that if they who have none, should by cats happen to be exterminated, how easily could our 'Heavenly Father,' out of the bats re-establish our exterminated species.
Voltaire had no objection to fable if it were symbolic of truth; and here is fable, which, according to its author, is symbolic of the little regarded truth, that our pride rests mainly on our ignorance, for, as he sagely says, 'the good mouse knew not that there are also winged cats.' If she had her speculations concerning the beneficence of Deity would have been less orthodox, mayhap, but decidedly more rational. The wisdom of this pious mouse is very similar to that of the Theologian who knew not how sufficiently to admire God's goodness in causing large rivers almost always to flow in the neighbourhood of large towns.
To jump at conclusions on no other authority than their own ignorant assumption, and to Deify errors on no other authority than their own heated imagination, has in all ages been the practice of Theologians. Of that practice they are proud, as was the mouse of our Fabulist. Clothed in no other panoply than their own conceits they deem themselves invulnerable. While uttering the wildest incoherencies their self-complacency remains undisturbed. They remind one of that ambitious crow who, thinking more highly of himself than was quite proper, strutted so proudly about with the Peacock's feathers in which he had bedecked himself.—Like him, they plume themselves upon their own egregious folly, and like him should get well plucked for their pains.
Let any one patiently examine their much talked of argument from design, and he will be satisfied that these are no idle charges. That argument has for its ground-work beggarly assumption, and for its main pillar, reasoning no less beggarly. Nature must have had a cause, because it evidently is an effect. The cause of Nature must have been one God, because two Gods, or two million Gods, could not have agreed to cause it. That cause must be omnipotent, wise, and good, because all things are double one against another, and He has left nothing imperfect. Men make watches, build ships or houses, out of pre-existing metals, wood, hemp, bricks, mortar, and other materials, therefore God made nature out of no material at all. Unassisted nature cannot produce the phenomena we behold, therefore such phenomena clearly prove there is something unnatural. Not to believe in a God who designed Nature, is to close both ears and eyes against evidence, therefore Universalists are wilfully deaf and obstinately blind.
These are samples of the flimsy stuff, our teachers of what nobody knows, would palm upon us as demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God.
By artfully taking for granted what no Universalist can admit, and assuming cases altogether dissimilar to be perfectly analogous, our natural theologians find no difficulty in proving that God is, was, and ever will be; that after contemplating His own perfections, a period sufficiently long for 'eternity to begin and end in,' He said, let there be matter, and there was matter; that with Him all things are possible, and He, of course, might easily have kept, as well as made, man upright and happy, but could not consistently with his own wisdom, or with due regard to his own glorification. Wise in their generation, these 'blind leaders of the blind' ascribe to this Deity of their own invention powers impossible, acts inconceivable, and qualities incompatible; thus erecting doctrinal systems on no sounder basis than their own ignorance; deifying their own monstrous errors, and filling the earth with misery, madness, and crime.
The writer who declared theology ignorance of natural causes reduced to system, did not strike wide of the true mark. It is plain that the argument from design, so vastly favoured by theologians, amounts to neither more nor less than ignorance of natural causes reduced to system. An argument to be sound must be soundly premised. But here is an argument whose primary premise is a false premise—a mere begging of the very question in dispute. Did Universalists admit the universe was contrived, designed, or adapted, they could not deny there must have been at least one Being to contrive, design, or adapt; but they see no analogy between a watch made with hands out of something, and a universe made without hands out of nothing. Universalists are unable to perceive the least resemblance between the circumstance of one intelligent body re-forming or changing the condition of some other body, intelligent or non-intelligent, and the circumstance of a bodiless Being creating all bodies; of a partless Being acting upon all parts; and of a passionless Being generating and regulating all passions. Universalists consider the general course of nature, though strangely unheeded, does proclaim with 'most miraculous organ,' that dogmatisers about any such 'figment of imagination' would, in a rational community, be viewed with the same feelings of compassion, which, even in these irrational days, are exhibited towards confirmed lunatics.
The author, while passing an evening with some pleasant people in Ashton-under-Lyne, heard one of them relate that before the schoolmaster had made much progress in that devil-dusted neighbourhood, a labouring man walking out one fine night, saw on the ground a watch, whose ticking was distinctly audible; but never before having seen anything of the kind, he thought it a living creature, and full of fear ran back among his neighbours, exclaiming that he had seen a most marvellous thing, for which he could conceive of no better name than CLICKMITOAD. After recovering from their surprise and terror, this 'bold peasant' and his neighbours, all armed with pokers and other formidable weapons, crept up to the ill-starred ticker, and smashed it to pieces.
The moral of this anecdote is no mystery. Our clickmitoadist had never seen watches, knew nothing about watches, and hearing as well as seeing one for the first time, naturally judged it must be an animal. Readers who may feel inclined to laugh at his simplicity, should ask themselves whether, if accustomed to see watches growing upon watch trees, they would feel more astonished than they usually do when observing crystals in process of formation, or cocoa-nuts growing upon cocoa-nut trees; and if as inexperienced with respect to watches, or works of art, more or less analogous to watches, they would not under his circumstances have acted very much as he did.
Supposing, however, that theologians were to succeed in establishing an analogy between 'the contrivances of human art and the various existences of the universe,' is it not evident that Spinoza's axiom—of things which having nothing in common one cannot be the cause of the others—is incompatible with belief in the Deity of our Thirty-Nine Articles, or, indeed, belief in any unnatural Designer or Causer of Material Nature. Only existence can have anything in common with existence.
Now, an existence, properly so called, must have at least two attributes, and whatever exhibits two or more attributes is matter. The two attributes necessary to existence are solidity and extension. Take from matter these attributes and matter itself vanishes. That fact was specially testified to by Priestley, who acknowledged the primary truths of Materialism though averse to the legitimate consequences flowing from their recognition.
According to this argument, nothing exists which has not solidity and extension, and nothing is extended and solid but matter, which in one state forms a crystal, in another a blade of grass, in a third a butterfly, and in other states other forms. The essence of grass, or the essence of crystal, in other words, those native energies of their several forms constituting and keeping them what they are, can no more be explained than can the essentiality of human nature.
But the Universalist, because he finds it impossible to explain the action of matter, because unable to state why it exhibits such vast and various energies as it is seen to exhibit, is none the less assured it naturally and therefore necessarily acts thus energetically. No Universalist pretends to understand how bread nourishes his frame, but of the fact that bread does nourish it he is well assured. He understands not how or why two beings should, by conjunction, give vitality to a third being more or less analogous to themselves, but the fact stares him in the face.
Our 'sophists in surplices,' who can no otherwise bolster up their supernatural system than by outraging all such rules of philosophising as forbid us to choose the greater of two difficulties, or to multiply causes without necessity, are precisely the men to explain everything. But unfortunately their explanations do, for the most part, stand more in need of explanation than the thing explained. Thus, they explain the origin of matter by reference to an occult, immense, and immensely mysterious phantasm without body, parts or passions, who sees though not to be seen, hears though not to be heard, feels though not to be felt, moves though not to be moved, knows though not to be known, and, in short, does everything, though not to be done by anything. Well might Godwin say the rage of accounting for what is obviously unaccountable, so common among philosophers of this stamp, has brought philosophy itself into discredit.
There is an argument against the notion of a Supernatural Causer which the author does not remember to have met with, but which he considers an argument of great force—it is this. Cause means change, and as there manifestly could not be change before there was anything to change, to conceive the universe caused is impossible.
That the sense here attached to the word cause is not a novel one every reader knows who has seen an elaborate and ably written article by Mr. G.H. Lewes, on 'Spinoza's Life and Works,' where effect is defined as cause realised; the natura naturans conceived as natura naturata; and cause or causation is define as simply change. When, says Mr. Lewes, the change is completed, we name the result effect. It is only a matter of naming.
These definitions conceded accurate, the conclusion that neither cause nor effect exist, seems inevitable, for change of being is not being itself any more than attraction is the thing attracted. One might as philosophically erect attraction into reality and fall down and worship it as change which is in very truth a mere "matter of naming." Not so the things changing or changed; they are real, the prolific parent of all appearance we behold, of all sensation we experience, of all ideas we receive, in short, of all causes and of all effects, which causes and effects, as shown by Mr. Lewis, are merely notional, for "we call the antecedent cause, and the sequent effect; but these are merely relative conceptions; the sequence itself is antecedent to some subsequent change, and the former antecedent was once only a sequent to its cause, and so on."
Ancient Simonides, when asked by Dionysius to explain the nature of Deity, demanded a day to "see about it," then an additional two days, and then four days more, thus wisely intimating to his silly pupil, that the more men think about Gods, the less competent they are to give any rational account of them.
Cicero was sensible and candid enough to acknowledge that he found it much easier to say what God was not, than what he was. Like Simonides, he was mere Pagan, and like him, arguing from the known course of nature, was unable, with all his mastery of talk, to convey positive ideas of Deity. But how should he convey to others what he did not, could not, himself possess? To him no revolution had been vouchsafed, and though my Lord Brougham is quite sure, without the proof of natural Theology, revelation has no other basis than mere tradition; we have even better authority than his Lordship's for the staggering fact that natural Theology, without the prop of revelation, is a 'rhapsody of words,' mere jargon, analogous to the tale told by an idiot, so happily described by our great poet as 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' We have a Rev. Hugh M'Neil 'convinced that, from external creation, no right conclusion can be drawn concerning the moral character of God,' and that 'creation is too deeply and disastrously blotted in consequence of man's sin, to admit of any satisfactory result from an adequate contemplation of nature.' [42:1] We have a Gillespie setting aside the Design Argument, on the ground that the reasonings by which it is supported are 'inapt' to show such attributes as infinity, omnipresence, free agency, omnipotency, eternality, or unity,' belong in any way to God. On this latter attribute he specially enlarges, and after allowing the contrivances we observe in nature, may establish a unity of counsel, desires to be told how they can establish a unity of substance. [42:2] We have Dr. Chalmors and Bishop Watson, whose capacities were not the meanest, contending that there is no natural proof of a God, and that we must trust solely to revelation. [42:3] We have the Rev. Mr. Faber in his 'Difficulties of Infidelity' boldly affirming that no one ever did, or ever will 'prove without the aid of revelation, that the universe was designed by a single designer.' Obviously, then, there is a division in the religious camp with respect to the sufficiency of natural Theology, unhelped by revelation. By three of the four Christian authors just quoted, the design argument is treated with contempt. Faber says, 'evident design must needs imply a designer,' and that 'evident design shines out in every part of the universe.' But he also tells us 'we reason exclusively, if with the Deist we thence infer the existence of one and only one Supreme Designer.' By Gillespie and M'Neil, the same truth is told in other words. By Chalmers and Watson we are assured that, natural proof of a God there is none, and our trust must be placed solely in revelation; while Brougham, another Immense Being worshipper, declares that revelation derives its chief support from natural Theology, without which it has 'no other basis than vague tradition.'
Now, Universalists agree with Lord Brougham as to the traditionary basis of Scripture; and as they also agree with Chalmers and Watson with respect to there being no natural proof of a God, they stand acquitted to their own consciences of 'wilful deafness' and 'obstinate blindness,' in rejecting as inadequate the evidence that 'God is,' drawn either from Nature, Revelation, or both.
It was long a Protestant custom to taunt Roman Catholics with being divided among themselves as regards topics vitally important, and to draw from the fact of such division an argument for making Scripture the only 'rule of faith and manners.' Chillingworth said, there are Popes against Popes, councils against councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves—a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers of another age, the church of one age against the church of another age. Traditive interpretations of Scripture are pretended, but there are few or none to be found. No tradition but only of Scripture can derive itself from the fountain, but may be plainly proved, either to have been brought in in such an age after Christ, or that in such an age it was not in. In a word, there is no sufficient certainty but of Scripture only for any considering man to build on. [43:1] And after reading this should 'any considering man' be anxious to know something about the Scripture on which alone he is to build, he cannot do better than dip into Dr. Watt's book on the right use of Reason, where we are told every learned (Scripture) critic has his own hypothesis, and if the common text be not favourable to his views a various lection shall be made authentic. The text must be supposed to be defective or redundant, and the sense of it shall be literal or metaphorical according as it best supports his own scheme. Whole chapters or books shall be added or left out of the sacred canon, or be turned into parables by this influence. Luther knew not well how to reconcile the epistle of St. James to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and so he could not allow it to be divine. The Papists bring all their Apocrypha into their Bible, and stamp divinity upon it, for they can fancy purgatory is there, and they find prayers for the dead. But they leave out the second commandment because it forbids the worship of images. Others suppose the Mosaic history of the creation, and the full of man, to be oriental ornaments, or a mere allegory, because the literal sense of those three chapters of Genesis do not agree with their theories.
These remarks are certainly not calculated to make 'considering men' put their trust in Scripture. Coming from a Protestant Divine of such high talent and learning, they may rather be expected to breed in 'considering men' very unorthodox opinions as well of the authenticity as the genuineness of both Testaments, and a strong suspicion that Chillingworth was joking when he talked about their "sufficient certainty." The author has searched Scripture in vain for 'sufficient certainty,' with respect to the long catalogue of religious beliefs which agitate and distract society. Laying claim to the character of a 'considering man,' he requires that Scripture to be proved the word of a God before appealed to, as His Revelation; a feat no man has yet accomplished. Priests, the cleverest, most industrious, and least scrupulous, have tried their hands at the pious work, but all have failed. Notwithstanding the mighty labours of our Lardner's and Tillemont's and Mosheim's, no case is made out for the divinity of either the Old or New Testament. 'Infidels' have shown the monstrous absurdity of supposing that any one book has an atom more divinity about it than any other book. These 'brutes' have completely succeeded in proving that Christianity is a superstition no less absurd than Mohammedanism, and to the full as mischievous.
Christian practice is after all, the best answer to Christian theory. Men who think wisely, do not, it is true, always act wisely; but generally speaking, the moral, like the physical tree, is known by its fruit, and bitter, most bitter, is the fruit of that moral tree, the followers of Jesus planted. Notwithstanding their talk about the pure and benign influence of their religion, an opinion is fast gaining ground, that Bishop Kidder was right, when he said, were a wise man to judge of religion by the lives of its professors, perhaps, Christianity is the last he would choose.
He who agrees with Milton that
To know what every day before us lies Is the prime wisdom,
will in all likelihood not object to cast his eyes around and about him, where proofs of modern priestly selfishness are in wonderful abundance. By way of example may be cited the cases of those right reverend Fathers in God the Bishops of London and Chester, prelates high in the church; disposers of enormous wealth with influence almost incalculable; the former more especially. And how stand they affected towards the poor? By reference to the Times newspaper of September 27th, 1845, it will be seen that those very influential and wealthy Bishops are supporters en chef of a Reformed Poor Law,' the virtual principle of which is 'to reduce the condition of those whose necessities oblige them to apply for relief, below that of the labourer of the lowest class.' A Reformed Poor Law, having for its 'object,' yes reader, its object, the restoration of the pauper to a position below that of the independent labourer.' This is their 'standard' of reference, by rigid attention to which they hope to fully carry out their 'vital principle,' and thus bring to a satisfactory conclusion the great work of placing 'the pauper in a worse condition than the 'independent labourer.' It appears, from the same journal, that in reply to complaints against their dietary, the Commissioners appointed to work the Reformed Poor Law, consider that twenty-one ounces of food daily 'is more than the hard working labourer with a family could accomplish for himself by his own exertions.' This, observes a writer in the Times, being the Commissioners' reading of their own 'standard,' it may be considered superfluous to refer to any other authority; but, as the Royal Agricultural Society of England have clubbed their general information on this subject in a compilation from a selection of essays submitted to them, we are bound to refer to such witnesses who give the most precise information on the actual condition of the independent labourer, with minute instructions for his general guidance, and the economical expenditure of his income. 'He should,' they say, 'toil early and late' to make himself 'perfect' in his calling. 'He should pinch and screw the family, even in the commonest necessaries,' until he gets 'a week's wages to the fore.' He should drink in his work 'water mixed with some powdered ginger,' which warms the stomach, and is 'extremely cheap.' He should remember that 'from three to four pounds of potatoes are equal in point of nourishment to a pound of the best wheaten bread, besides having the great advantage of filling the stomach. He is told that 'a lot of bones may always be got from the butchers for 2d., and they are never scraped so clean as not to have some scraps of meat adhering to them.' He is instructed to boil these two penny worth of bones, for the first day's family dinner, until the liquor 'tastes something like broth.' For the second day, the bones are to be again boiled in the same manner, but for a longer time. Nor is this all, they say 'that the bones, if again boiled for a still longer time, will once more yield a nourishing broth, which may be made into pea soup.'
This is the system and this is the schoolmastership expressly sanctioned by the Bishops of London and Chester. In piety nevertheless those prelates are not found wanting. They may starve the bodies but no one can charge them with neglecting the souls of our 'independent labourers.' Nothing can exceed their anxiety to feed and clothe the spiritually destitute. They raise their mitred fronts, even in palaces, to proclaim and lament over the spiritual destitution which so extensively prevails—but they seldom condescend to notice physical destitution. When the cry of famine rings throughout the land they coolly recommend rapid church extension, thus literally offering stones to those who ask them for bread. To got the substantial and give the spiritual is their practical Christianity. To spiritualise the poor into contentment with the 'nourishing broth' from thrice boiled bones, and to die of hunger rather than demand relief, are their darling objects.
Did Universalists thus act, did they perpetrate, connive at, or tolerate such atrocities as were brought to light during the Andover inquiry, such cold blooded heartlessness would at once be laid to the account of their principles. Oh yes, Christians are forward to judge of every tree by its fruit, except the tree called Christianity.
The vices of the universalist they ascribe to his creed. The vices of the Christian to anything but his creed. Let professors of Christianity be convicted of gross criminality, and lo its apologists say such professors are not Christian. Let fanatical Christians commit excesses which admit not of open justification, and the apologist of Christianity coolly assures us such conduct is mere rust on the body of his religion—moss which grows on the stock of his piety.
From age to age the wisest among men have abhorred and denounced superstition. It is true that only a small section of them treated religion as if necessarily superstition, or went quite as far as John Adams, who said, this would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it. But an attentive reading of ancient and modern philosophical books has satisfied the author that through all recorded time, religion has been tolerated rather than loved by great thinkers, who had will, but not power to wage successful war upon it. Gibbon speaks of Pagan priests who, 'under sacerdotal robes, concealed the heart of an Atheist.' Now, these priests were also the philosophers of Rome, and it is not impossible that some modern philosophical priests, like their Pagan prototypes, secretly despise the religion they openly profess. Avarice, and lust of power, are potent underminers of human virtue. The mighty genius of Bacon was not proof against then, and he who deserves to occupy a place among 'the wisest and greatest' has been 'damned to eternal fame' as the 'meanest of mankind.'
Nor are avarice and lust of power the only base passions under the influence of which men, great in intellect, have given the lie to their own convictions, by calling that religion which they knew to be rank superstition. Fear of punishment for writing truth is the grand cause why their books contain so little of it. If Bacon had openly treated Christianity as mere superstition, will any one say that his life would have been worth twenty-four hours' purchase?
There is an old story about a certain lady who said to her physician, 'Doctor, what is your religion?' My religion, madame, replied the Doctor, 'is the religion of all sensible men.' 'What kind of religion is that?' said the lady. 'The religion, madame,' quoth the Doctor, 'that no sensible man will tell.'
This doctor may be given as a type of the class of shrewd people who despise superstition, but will say nothing about it, lest by so doing they give a shock to prejudice, and thus put in peril certain professional or other emoluments. Too sensible to be pious, and too cautious to be honest, they must be extremely well paid ere they will incur the risk attendant upon a confession of anti-superstitious faith.
Animated by a vile spirit of accommodation, their whole sum of practical wisdom can be told in four words—BE SILENT AND SAFE. They are amazed at the 'folly' of these who make sacrifices at the shrine of sincerity; and while sagacious enough to perceive that superstition is a clumsy political contrivance, are not wanting in the prudence which dictates at least a seeming conformity to prevailing prejudices.
None have done more to perpetrate error than these time-serving 'men of the world,' for instead of boldly attacking it, they preserve a prudent silence which bigots do not fail to interpret as consent. Mosheim says, [47:1] 'The simplicity and ignorance of the generality in those times (fifth century) furnished the most favourable occasion for the exercise of fraud; and the impudence of impostors, in contriving false miracles, was artfully proportioned to the credulity of the vulgar, while the sagacious and the wise, who perceived these cheats, were overawed into silence by the dangers that threatened their lives and fortunes, if they should expose the artifice. Thus,' continues this author, 'does it generally happen, when danger attends the discovery and the profession of truth, the prudent are silent, the multitude believe, and impostors triumph.'
Beausobre, too, in his learned account of Manicheism reads a severe lesson to those who, under the influence of such passions as fear and avarice, will do nothing to check the march of superstition, or relieve their less 'sensible,' but more honest, fellow-creatures from the weight of its fetters. After alluding to an epistle written by that 'demi-philosopher,' Synesius, when offered by the Patriarch the Bishopric of Ptolemais, [48:1] Beausobre says, 'We see in the history that I have related a kind of hypocrisy, which, perhaps, has been far too common in all times. It is that of ecclesiastics, who not only do not say what they think, but the reverse of what they think. Philosophers in their closet, when out of them they are content with fables, though they know well they are fables. They do more; they deliver to the executioner the excellent men who have said it. How many Atheists and profane persons have brought holy men to the stake under the pretext of heresy? Every day, hypocrites consecrate the host and cause it to be adored, although firmly convinced as I am that it is nothing more than a piece of bread.'
Whatever may be urged in defence of such execrable duplicity, there can be no question as to its anti-progressive tendency. The majority of men are fools, and if such 'sensible' politicians as our Doctor and the double doctrinising ecclesiastics, for whose portraits we are indebted to Mosheim and Beausobre, shall have the teaching of them, fools they are sure to remain. Men who dare not be 'mentally faithful' to themselves may obstruct, but cannot advance, the interests of truth. In legislation, in law, in all the relations of life, we want honesty not piety. There is plenty of piety, and to spare, but of honesty—sterling, bold, uncompromising honesty—even the best regulated societies can boast a very small stock. The men best qualified to raise the veil under which truth lies concealed from vulgar gaze, are precisely the men who fear to do it. Oh, shame upon ye self-styled philosophers, who in your closets laugh at 'our holy religion,' and in your churches do it reverence. Were your bosoms warmed by one spark of generous wisdom, silence on the question of religion would be broken, the multitude cease to believe, and imposters to triumph.
London: Printed by Edward Truelove, 240, Strand.
[4:1] 25th November, 1845.
[4:2] Vide 'Times' Commissioner's Letter on the Condition of Ireland, November 28, 1845.
[8:1] 'Essay on Providence and a Future State.'
[9:1] Essay of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy. [9:2] Critical remarks on Lord Brougham's 'Lives of Men of Letters and Science, who flourished in the time of George III.'—The Times, Wednesday, October 1, 1845.
[10:1] History of American Savages.
[11:1] Appendix the Second to 'Plutarchus and Theophrastus on Superstition.'
[11:2] Philosophy of History.
[12:1] See a Notice of Lord Brougham's Political Philosophy, in the number for April, 1845.
[15:1] 'Apology for the Bible,' page 133.
[15:2] Unusquisque vestrum non cogitat prius se debere Deos nosse quam colere.
[20:1] See a curious 'Essay on Nature,' Printed for Badcock and Co., 2, Queen's Head Passage, Paternoster Row. 1807.
[23:1] Elements of Materialism, chapter 1.
[24:1] Discussion on the Existence of God, between Origen Bachelor and Robert Dale Owen.
[29:1] Hume's Treastise on Human Nature.
[29:2] This sexing is a stock receipt for mystification.—Colonel Thompson.
[30:1] The Rev. J.K. Smith.
[31:1] 'An Address on Cerebral Physiology and Materialism,' delivered to the Phrenological Association In London, June 20, 1842.
[33:1] Principia Mathematica, p. 528, Lond. edit., 1720.
[42:1] Lecture by the Rev. Hugh M'Neil, Minister of St. Jude's Church, Liverpool, delivered about seven years since, in presence of some 400 of the Irish Protestant Clergy.
[42:2] The necessary existence of Deity, by William Gillespie.
[42:3] Page 106 of a Discussion on the Existence of God, between Origen Batchelor and R.D. Owen.
[43:1] Quoted by Dr. Samuel Clarke, in his introduction to the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.
[47:1] Ecclesiastical History, vol. ii, page 11.
[48:1] Manicheisme, tome ii, p. 568.