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The Greatness of God.


sense of the Divine Majesty, with which devout and pious persons think of God, and assist at the offices and institutions of religion. . . . And if some people, by a long and strict attention to reason, clear ideas, the fitness and unfitness of things, have at last arrived at a demonstrative certainty, that all these sentiments of piety and devotion are mere bigotry, superstition, and enthusiasm ; I shall only now observe, that youthful extravagance, passion, and debauchery, by their own natural tendency, without the assistance of any other guide, seldom fail of making the same discovery.'

Tindal, again, objected to the popular conception of God as an arbitrary Being, acting out of humour and caprice.' How finely Law meets this objection! Though will and power, when considered as blind or imperfect faculties in men, may pass for humour and caprice, yet as attributes of God they have the perfection of God. His own will is wisdom, and His wisdom is His will. His goodness is arbitrary, and His arbitrariness is goodness. In the same vein Law answers Tindal's question, Was it not as easy for God to have communicated His revelation to all nations as to any one nation or person, or in all languages as in any one ?' *This argument,' he replies,' is built upon the truth and reasonableness of this supposition, that God does things because they are easy, or forbears things because they are difficult to be performed ;' and then, summing up generally the argument on this point, 'We will not,' he says, ' allow a Providence to be right, unless we can comprehend and explain the reasonableness of all its steps ; and yet it could not possibly be right, unless its proceedings were as much above our comprehension as our wisdom is below that which is infinite.'

In the latter part of his treatise, Law turns, as it were, to the reverse side of the medal. Having vindicated the greatness of God, he now asserts the littleness of man.


The Littleness of Man,

Perhaps on this topic he is in some danger of being run away with by his favourite hobby ; certainly he was in some danger of offending the popular feeling of the day, which on both sides, Christian and Deist alike, ran strongly in favour of reason, and of proving religion to be of all things reasonable. But whether we can quite endorse all his assertions or not, we can hardly help admiring the ingenuity and adroitness with which he cuts away the whole ground from under his antagonist. He shows that this grand discovery of the Deists that man has the right to judge and act according to reason, is really nothing else than the discovery of a mare's nest. It was no more than if they said, a man has a right to see only with his own eyes, or hear only with his own ears. It was not a matter of duty, but of necessity. The real question between Christians and unbelievers was not whether reason is to be followed, but when it is best followed. But, after all, what do we mean by our own reason'? We have by nature only a bare capacity of receiving good or bad impressions; our light is really little more than the opinions and customs of those among whom we live. Talk of the perfection and sufficiency of our own reason! Why we are nothing better than a kind of foolish helpless animals till education and experience have revealed to us the wisdom and knowledge of our fellow-creatures. Tindal himself calls education a second nature. There are, then, according to him, two natures. This pleader for the sufficiency of the light of nature should have told us to which of the two natures we are to resign ourselves, the first or the second. They may be as different as good and evil ; yet, as they are both natures, both internal lights, which are we to follow ?. Which of the two is the perpetual, standing rule for men of the meanest as well as the highest capacities, which carries its own evidence with it, those internal and inseparable marks of truth?'!

i Christianity as old as the Creation, p. 243.

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Law, who appears to have perceived almost instinctively the weakest points of his adversaries' position, dwells with great force upon another flaw in Tindal's argument, a flaw which belonged to him in common with most Deists, and which was probably one of the chief causes of the utter collapse of Deism. It is this: The Deists boldly asserted the perfection of human reason, but they offered no proof, nor even a pretence of proof, from fact or experience, of their assertion. “The history,' says Law very truly, 'of all ages for near six thousand years past demonstrates quite the contrary. And yet the matter rests wholly upon fact and experience; all speculative reasonings upon it are as idle and visionary as a sick man's dreams about health.' So far, most thoughtful people will agree with Law; but they will not perhaps be disposed to follow him so readily when, pursuing his raid against his pet aversion, he goes on to declare that all the disorders of human nature are the disorders of human reason, and that all the perfection or imperfection of our passions is nothing else but the perfection or imperfection of our reason. Medea, when she killed her children, and Cato, when he killed himself, acted as truly according to the judgment of their reason at that time as the confessor who chooses rather to suffer than deny his faith ; the difference is purely the different state of their reason. For the passions may be said to govern our actions only as they denote the disordered state of our reason. Law finally sums up the whole' case of reason,' which in this part might more fairly be called a case against reason, in the following vigorous manner : ‘In a word, when self-love is a proper arbitrator betwixt a man and his adversary ; when revenge is a just judge of meekness ; when pride is a true lover of humility; when falsehood is a teacher of truth ; when lust is a fast friend of chastity ; when the flesh leads to the spirit ; when sensuality delights in self-denial ; when partiality is a promoter

I 28

'Case of Reason' not a Popular Work.

of equity ; when the palate can taste the difference between sin and holiness; when the hand can feel the truth of a proposition ;-then may human reason be a proper arbitrator between God and man, the sole, final, just judge of all that ought or ought not to be matter of a holy, divine, and heavenly religion.'

When it is remembered that the title of Locke's famous treatise - the ‘Reasonableness of Christianity '-gave the keynote to the dominant theology of Law's day, one can hardly be surprised that this vigorous crusade against reason should have been received by the friends of the Christian cause with indifference, if not with actual hostility. At any rate, such appears to have been the fact. Although the Case of Reason’ was published when the Serious Call’ was just in the first flush of popularity, and although the writer had long been recognised as one of the most powerful and successful contributors to the Bangorian controversy, his new controversial piece was certainly not appreciated. Leland barely mentions Law as one of the answerers to Tindal, without one word of commendation, although he can find room for a word of praise for the ingenious Mr. Anthony Atkey' (whoever he may have been), and has a panegyrical epithet for almost all the rest of the many replies to Christianity as old as the Creation 'which he notices. Dr. Waterland gives all the weight of his great name against Law's performance, and the majority of contemporary or nearly contemporary writers simply ignore the work. But Law has been better appreciated in later years, and few who read the Case of Reason' in the present day will deny that it is a powerful work, fully worthy of the great writer who penned it. It was reprinted at the request of a friend in 1755.3

See Leland's View of the Deistical Writers,' Letter IX., pp. 79-85. ? See Waterland's Works' (Van Mildert's edition), vol. vi. p. 454.

* This is worth noting, because one might perhaps have expected that it would not have accorded with Law's later views. See •Works, vii. (2) 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 29.


Law accused of Romanising.




DURING the years 1731–32, Law wrote three letters which are worthy of a short separate chapter, among other reasons because they furnish us with almost the only materials which we possess for judging of his attitude towards the Church of Rome. Like other nonjurors, he was constantly charged with a tendency to Romanism. His three letters on the Bangorian controversy, in especial, were accused of leading men in this direction. The Papists,' wrote Gilbert Burnet,' should rejoice in your doctrines, which would do you little service but be of great advantage to them.'' Mr. Pyle, another antagonist, spoke of Law as 'triumphing over his lordship [Bishop Hoadly), under no banner but that of the Pope ;'? and, in another work, declared that · Law's principles can possibly serve nobody but a Romanist.'3 The same accusation was hinted at, if not actually made, by Mr. Jackson, of Rossington, and others. The charge was

1 An Answer to Mr. Law's Letter to the Bishop of Bangor in a letter to Mr. Law. By Gilbert Burnet (second son of the Bishop of Salisbury). Published 1717.

? Vindication of the Bishop of Bangor in Answer to Law. By T. Pyle, Lecturer of Lynn Regis 1718.

3 Second Vindication. By the same. 1718.

* See An Answer to Mr. Law's Letter to the Bishop of Bangor concerning his late Sermon and Preservative. By John Jackson, rector of Rossington. 1718; and the literature on the Bangorian controversy, passim. Mr. Jackson way subsequently vicar of Doncaster, and became well known in connection with the controversy between Drs. Waterland and Clarke on the subject of the Trinity.


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