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Law against Tindal, the Deist.
THE 'CASE OF REASON, ETC., AGAINST TINDAL.
WHETHER,' writes a correspondent to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' in October 1800, “the “Serious Call” be Mr. Law's masterpiece, I have some doubt ; I should give the palm to his “Case of Reason,” stated in answer to " Christianity as old as the Creation.”' It is difficult to compare works of so different a scope and character ; each is good of its kind, but it may safely be asserted that Law did not diminish the reputation he had justly won by his 'Serious Call’ by his next work, published probably about three years later, in 1732.
Law always selected foemen worthy of his steel to do battle with. As he had formerly pitted himself against the ablest champion of the Low, or, as we should now call it, the Broad, Church party, so now he pitted himself against the ablest champion of Deism ; and the unprejudiced reader will admit that he at least holds his own as successfully in the one case as he does in the other. Tindal was an old enemy, or perhaps we should rather say friend, of Law's; for Law had found his book, written thirty years earlier, the Rights of a Christian Church,' a useful ally in his controversy with Hoadly, as tending to show what was the real conclusion of the bishop's argument-a conclusion to which the bishop would naturally have objected, since it gave him no locus standi as a bishop at all. It will
'Christianity as old as the Creation.'
be remembered that Law was constantly twitting Hoadly for not recognising the author of the Rights of a Christian Church' as his ally. Tindal's Christianity as old as the Creation' was a more able and important work than its predecessor. No book on the Deist's side created so great a sensation ; and justly so, for it marks the climax of Deism. Oddly enough, the title of the book contained a truth which Law, especially in his mystic days, not only held, but actually made the cardinal point of his whole system. As we shall see presently, Law insisted as strongly as Tindal did that Christianity was as old as the Creation, in one sense; only that sense was certainly not Tindal's sense. It is worth remarking, however, that in the work now before us Law never finds fault with the title of Tindal's book; but the contents of the book were not necessarily indicated by the title. The way that Tindal proved that Christianity was as old as the Creation was by magnifying Reason at the expense of Revelation, and on this point Law joined issue with him. He will by no means admit what Tindal had laid down as an almost self-evident axiom, viz. that man is obliged to abide by the sole light of his own reason. He contends à priori that this may be a mere groundless pretension. If humility be a duty, then this lofty claim for reason may be nothing better than spiritual pride. This being in Law's view the true point of the controversy, he discusses it at some length, and it need scarcely be said with what result.
The earlier part of the Case of Reason’ is concerned with a question which belongs to the province of Ethics as much or more than to that of Theology. Whether morality depended upon the will of God, or upon the eternal and immutable fitness of things, had long been a bone of contention between moral philosophers. Tindal took the latter view, but turned it to a purpose which its
Man, no fit Judge of God's Actions.
Christian advocates (among whom Law himself may to a certain extent' be reckoned) never intended. The way in which Law deals with his adversary on this point affords a good specimen of that adroitness which he always showed as a controversialist. “You argue,' he says in effect, ‘that the relation of things and persons, and the fitness resulting from thence, is the sole rule of God's actions. I grant it most readily; but I contend that instead of proving what you suppose, it proves the exact opposite. I appeal to this one common and confessed principle as a sufficient proof that man cannot walk by the sole light of his own reason without contradicting the nature and reason of things and denying this to be the sole rule of God's actions. For, God's nature being divinely perfect, the fitness of things implies that He must necessarily act by a rule above all human comprehension. This idea is powerfully worked out by a reference to Creation, Providence, the miseries of life, the nature and origin of the soul, the origin of evilin fact, to all the topics of natural religion. What,' he asks, 'can we know of such matters by such means as our own poor reason can grope out of the nature and fitness of things ?' 'We have the utmost certainty that we are vastly incompetent judges of the fitness or unfitness of any methods that God uses in the government of so small a part of the universe as mankind are.'
Law shows how the line of argument which Tindal was using must end in 'horrid Atheism.' 'For,' he says, “it is just as wise and reasonable to allow of no mysteries in revelation as to allow of no mysteries or secrets in Creation and Providence. And, whenever this writer or any other shall think it a proper time to attack natural religion with as
" I say 'to a certain extent,' because Law rather held that the eternal and immutable fitness of things' and the will of God' were only different modes of expressing one and the same thing.
Deism leads to Atheism.
much freedom as he has now fallen upon revealed, he need not enter upon any new hypothesis or different way of reasoning. For the same turn of thought, the same manner of cavilling, may soon find materials in the natural state of man for as large a bill of complaints against natural religion, and the mysteries of Providence, as is here brought against revealed doctrines. It is interesting to remark, as illustrative of the clearness with which Law always saw the exact drift of an argument, how he here anticipates and, in fact, obviates an objection which was made in the last century, and has been repeated more than once in our own, against Butler's famous argument in the 'Analogy. To prove that there are the same difficulties in natural religion as there are in revealed is, it is said, a dangerous process, because it may lead to Atheism.'' 'It not only may,' says Law in effect, but it must lead either to Atheism or to the complete dislodgment of the Deist from his position.' Now, when it is remembered that the Deist (as his very name implies) based his whole position on the assumption that God's existence, wisdom, power, love, &c., were all knowable without revelation, the force of this argument, as against Tindal, will be apparent. In fact, Law, by anticipation, carried Butler's train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and in so doing hit exactly upon the true weakness of the Deist's position. That position was, in fact, quite untenable, because his weapons might be turned against himself. This was the chief reason of the sudden and utter collapse of Deism. And no one saw this more clearly than William Law. Others, no doubt, Bishop Butler among the number-pursued more or less decidedly the same course of argument; but no one, in my opinion, realised its full force as the true key of the position so thoroughly as Law. He
See inter alia, Miss Hennel's essay. On the Sceptical Tendency of Butler's Analogy,' and Mr. Martineau's MS. Studies of Christianity. The objection is as old as the days of the first Pitt.
Tindal's grovelling Conceptions of God.
recurs to the same argument when he deals with the special objections which Tindal raised against the Christian revelation. Instead of answering them in detail, he felt and felt quite rightly—that, as against a Deist, it was sufficient to take the line marked out in the following fine passage: 'There is nothing half so mysterious in the Christian revelation, considered in itself, as there is in that invisible Providence, which all must hold that believe a God. And though there is enough plain in Providence to excite the adoration of humble and pious minds, yet it has often been a rock of Atheism to those who make their own reason the measure of wisdom.' Again : ‘Though the creation plainly declares the glory, and wisdom, and goodness of God, yet it has more mysteries in it, more things whose fitness, expedience, and reasonableness human reason cannot comprehend. Thus does this argument [of Tindal] tend wholly to Atheism, and concludes with the same force against Creation and Providence as it does against revelation.' He then applies the same kind of reasoning to the miracles and the prophecies.
Remembering, again, that Law was addressing a Deist, that is, a man who professed to have the highest reverence and appreciation of the perfection of the Deity, we shall see that there is something very telling and apposite in his dignified exposure of Tindal's somewhat grovelling and anthropomorphic conception of God. Writing, for instance, on what he calls the relative characters of God'—that is, God's relations to us as our Father, Governor, and Preserver, Law says: “That which is plain and certain in these relative characters of God plainly shows our obligations to every instance of duty, homage, adoration, love, and gratitude. And that which is mysterious and inconceivable in them is a just and solid foundation of that profound humility, awful reverence, internal piety, and tremendous