Henry St. John Bolingbroke.

The works of the late Right Honourable Henry St. John, lord viscount Bolingbroke (Volume 6) online

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various degrees in others, never designed, that
we should oppose probability, in any case, to
certainty, nor believe against knowledge. Dr.
Barrow, in a discourse concerning the virtue and
reasonableness of faith, after begging the question
long, and talking in a theological cant more
worthy of Paul than of a man like him, as he was


bound by his profession to do, talks like a philo-
sopher, and a man of superior sense. He says,
that "if we seriously weigh the case, we shall
" find, that to require faith without reason is to
" demand an impossibility ; and that God, there-
" fore neither doth, nor can enjoin us faith with-
" out reason." Now I ask, if we are not obliged
to believe without reason, can we be obliged to
believe against it ? He says, " that no man can
" believe he knoweth not what nor why ;" and,
therefore, that he who " truly believeth, must
" apprehend the proposition, and must discern
" it's connection with some principle of truth,
" which, as more notorious to him, he before
" doth admit." Now let me ask again, can any
man be said to apprehend a proposition which
contains a mystery, that is, something unintelli-
gible ; or any thing more than the sound of
words ? Will not the argument against believing
become still stronger, if a proposition is repug-
nant to the principles of truth, which we have
before admitted on evident demonstration ? I am
Vol. VI. X J*oud


proud to have Dr. Barrow on my side, and will,
therefore, conclude as he does, that the man,
who pretends to believe otherwise, " doth only
" pretend to believe out of some design, or from
" affection to some party ; his faith is not so
" much really faith, as hypocrisy, craft, fondness,
" or faction."

This being premised, let us own, that when a
revelation has passed successfully through these
trials, when it has all the authenticity of human
testimony, when it appears consistent in all it's
parts, and when it contains nothing inconsistent
with any real knowledge which we have of the
Supreme all-perfect Being, and of natural re-
ligion, such a revelation is to be received with the
utmost profound reverence, the most intire sub-
mission, and the most unfeigned thanksgiving.
Reason has exercised her whole prerogative then,
and delivers us over to faith. To believe before
all these trials, or to doubt after them, is alike
unreasonable ; for nothing can be more absurd
and contemptible, than that St. Austin somewhere
or other, for in his works I have read it, advances,
about believing first, in hopes of understanding
afterward ; which is a proposition much like
that which Calvin *, as absurd and as dogmatical
a father as Austin, maintains, when he makes the
authority of the Scriptures to depend on the in-
ward testimony of the Spirit alone, and then men-
tions tbe proofs proper to establish the authen-

* Vid. Calvin's Inst. 1. 1, c. 8,



ticity and divinity of these books, as props, " ad-
" minicula," that may help to support the faith
they could not have raised.

"*.-?: ' ndvr f>,


IF such absurdities as these have induced some
to ridicule all religions that assume themselves
founded on divine revelation, there are those
who take occasion from the effects of them to
form objections of a graver kind, and of greater
consequence. These men would have it believed,
that all such religions are incompatible with civil
sovereignty ; because they introduce a private
conscience, that may be, and often is, contrary
to the publick conscience of the state; and not
only set up private judgment in opposition to that
of the legislature, but enforce the dictates of it
by a greater authority, even by that of God him-
self. The Jews were unsociable members of the
great commonwealth of mankind : and the same
private conscience, which determined them to the
exercise of every kind of cruelty on other nations
and other religions, made them rebels to govern-
ment, even to their own, upon some occasions,
and frequently persecutors and assassins of one
another. They thought themselves authorised by
their religion to commit such barbarities as even
they, perhaps, if they had had no religion, would
not have committed ; and zeal for it, that is
private conscience, inspired a sanguinary rage,
that might be called, very justly, religious mad-
x 2 ness.


ness. To subdue those, and reduce them to a
state of servitude who do not receive the Koran,
is a first principle, that made innumerable coun-
tries the scenes of slaughter and misery. Ma-
homet, who taught it, practised it; and his suc-
cessors have exercised the same violence, as far
as they have been able to carry their arms. But
this violence is not confined to those whom they
call infidels, for the sects of Omar and Aly detest
each other as much as they both do Christanity :
and the doctors of Mecca gave as good a bull to
Miriweis, to satisfy private consciences in taking
arms against the sophy, as any pope ever gave to
justify rebellion, and the deposition of a lawful
prince *.

But to leave Judaism and Mahometanism, and to
speak of the Christian religion, against which the
objection is particularly directed, and which I
mean particularly to defend ;jt must be confessed,
that from the time it made any figure in the
world, it appeared divided into sects, that even
heathen persecution could not unite : and that
from the time it became an established religion,
it deluged the world with blood, at the suggestion,
as well as under the pretence, of private con-
science. Whatever sect prevailed, by ecclesiastical
cabals, or by court intrigues, out of which the

* N. B. A manuscript in the king of France's library, writ
fct the time, and on the spot, gives *n account of a journey
%vhich Miriwets made to Mecca for this purpose, before he
iavaded Per ia and dethroned the sophy.



ladies* were not always excluded, that sect die*
tated one publick conscience in the religion of
the state. Another sect, that prevailed at another
time, or in another place, by much the same
means, dictated another ; and of this we need no
other proof than the several revolutions from
Athanasianism to Arianism, and from Arianism to
Athanasianism. One alone could prevail at once,
and as there were many, there was always a re-
sistance of private to publick conscience, more
or less open, and which broke out in mutiny or
rebellion on one side, and in massacres and per-
secutions on the other, very frequently. How it
happened, I know not. Let divines tell that, or
rather let us forbear to pry over curiously into the
secret dispositions of Providence. But so it has
happened, that the Christian religion has been
attended by the same course of accidents as are
common with it to every institution purely human.
The best of these answer their end in part
only from the first, and while the impression
of the force, that set them a going, lasts ;
and never fail to slacken afterward, or to take
new impressions from contingent events, by
which they degenerate, and become insensibly new
institutions under old names. A man who denies
this, or who does not confess, like Charron f ,

* If Irene had a determining influence over the fathers of
the second Niccean council, there is room to think, that ano-
ther theological princess took part with Euscbius of Nicomcdia
in the first.

t De la Sagesse.

x 3 that


that, "after all, nothing shows more than religion
" the weakness of humanity," is too ignorant, or
too disingenuous to deserve an answer. But as
government is not to be banished out of society,
and anarchy to be introduced ; because govern-
ment, instead of securing the peace, and procur-
ing the happiness of states, is often the cause of
all their disorders, and of their final subversion :
so neither is religion to be banished out of govern-
ment, because, instead of strengthening and sup-
porting, it serves often to weaken and to dissolve
those that are the most firmly established.

What is here said of religion in general is emi-
nently true of Christianity in particular. Though
this religion was born, if I may say so, in a de-
sert, and educated by a sect of the most obscure
people in the Roman empire, and though it seemed
calculated, in many instances, to be rather the
institution of an order of reformers, than of a
national governing religion ; yet no religion ever
appeared in the world, whose natural tendency
was so much directed to promote the peace and
happiness of mankind. If it has had a contrary
effect, it has had it apparently, not really. The-
ology is in fault, not religion. Theology is a
science that maybe compared justly to the box of
Pandora. Many good things lie uppermost in it.
But many evil lie under them, and scatter plagues
and desolation through the world. If we cannot
shut the box, it is of use, however, to know that
the box is open ; and to be convinced the more
of this truth, let us make a general analyse of



Christianity, and then observe, as generally, the
rise, progress, and effects of theology.

SECT. v. ; >0 "

IN the first place then, Christianity is founded
on the universal law of nature. I will not say,
that Christianity is a republication of it. But I
will say, that the Gospel teaches the great and
fundamental principle of this law, universal bene-
volence, recommends the precepts of it, and com-
mands the observation of them in particular in-
stances occasionally, always supposes them, al-
ways enforces them, and makes the law of right
reason a law in every possible definition of the
word beyond all cavil. I say beyond all cavil,
because a great deal of silly cavil has been em-
ployed to perplex the plainest thing in nature,
and the best determined signification of the words,
according to the different occasions on which they
are used.

I shall attempt, perhaps, at some other time,
to expose more fully the solemn trifling that has
been employed on this subject, if what will be
here said should not be thought sufficient, as I
believe it ous&t to be.

x O *,'."*

Without entering, therefore, into metaphysical
and logical refinements, concerning fitnesses and
unfitnesses, resulting from the supposed eternal
relations of things, which determine, according
to some writers, the will of God himself; without

x 4 amusing


amusing ourselves to distinguish between natural
differences, that arise in this manner, and moral
differences, that are said to arise from will alone,
let us observe, that not only self-preservation,
but a desire to be happy, are the immediate or
improved effects of a natural instinct, the first in
the whole animal kind, the last in the human
species at least. As soon as men's appetites and
passions are awake, they are determined by these
to indulge every agreeable, and to abhor every
disagreeable sensation ; for pleasure which is tem-
porary, and therefore not real happiness, passes
for it, and is alone the object of appetite and
passion. But as soon as their reason is formed,
they discover the momentous difference between
pleasure and happiness. Experience and reflection
bring them acquainted with the system in which
they are placed, and with the essential, I do not
say eternal differences of things, according to the
constitution of it, by which some tend to their
pleasure, some to their happiness,, some to both,
aad some to neither ; or to the very contrary, to
pain and misery. By these consequences they
distinguish natures, and on these essential dif-
ferences reason establishes the principles necessary
to promote and secure the human happiness of
every individual in the happiness of society.
These principles are called, very properly, the
laws of nature ; because, although it be true that
the Supreme Being willed into existence this
system, as he did every other, and by consequence
all the relations of things contained in it, yet it



is not this will that imposes in a state of nature,
and among men who have no knowledge, perhaps,
of their Creator; it is in truth the constitution of
the system alone that imposes these laws on man*
kind originally, whatever power made the system,
or supposing it to have been never made ; and
when they are thus imposed, they determine the
will of our species as effectually, and oblige as
strongly, as the most powerful principle of human
nature can determine and oblige human crea-

I do not say, that they have their effect ab-
solutely, nor constantly. Appetite, passion, and
the force of immediate objects, are often too hard
for reason, even among those who hearken the most
to her voice : and no wonder they should be so,
since they are too hard for revelation. If the
law of nature, collected by human reason from
the essential differences of things, cannot procure
a perfect obedience from those who profess them-
selves subject to it, without the assistance of
civil laws and political institutions, nor even with
this assistance ; so may we see even in every
Christian country, that the will of God, declared
in his works, and in his word, cannot determine
the rebellious will of man to conform to it in any
near degree, even where it is enforced by the ter-
rour of present, as well as future punishments,
that are held out to the transgressors of it. If
we consider effects, the law of nature is as much
a law as the law of the Gospel, and creates as
really an obligation in choice to prefer good to



eyil. If we consider original institution and au-
thority, it will not indeed correspond in the mind
of a Stratonick philosopher with his notion of a
human law imposed by will, but he will be under
no necessity of applying that notion to it. He
may think, and call it a law imposed on him by
the operations of a superior, though unintelligent
power, the course of which he cannot alter, and
must, therefore, conform himself to it, in order
to be happy ; and something of this kind even
Grotius* was forced to allow, a little unwillingly,

when he said " et hasc quidem: -locum ali-

" quern haberent etiamsi daremus non essc

" Deum." The morality of actions does not, I
think, consist in this, that they are prescribed by
will, even the will of God ; but in this, that
they are the means, however imposed the prac-
tice of them may be, of acquiring happiness agree-
able to our nature. Morality regards manners
and the conduct of human life, and therefore I
see as little reason to deny, that atheists may
have knowledge of the morality of actions, as I
do to deny, that the practice of this morality is
enjoined by a law in the sense of obliging and
binding ; for if it should be said, that it cannot
pass for a law in this sense, because every man's
own reason imposes it on him, and he can-
not be at once the obliger and the obliged, the
binder and the bound, I should think the sophism
scarce worthy of an answer ; or should content

* De Jure Belli ct Pacis : proleg. 2.

.. . . *



myself to mform the sophister, that there may be
obligation without a law by will, and a law by
will without obligation, and then leave him to
ponder on the matter.

But now, though the law of nature be a law in
a strict and proper sense, and as really pro-
mulgated by God in his works as it would have
been in his word, if he had spoke by men who
frame and change definitions just as their different
purposes require ; yet is this law more completely,
and more effectually such to a theist than to an
atheist, and Mr. Bayle's famous paradox can
never be received for truth by common sense,
nor by good policy. The same use of sense and
reason shows to both the constitution of nature,
the essential differences of things, and the obli-
gations that have the force of laws derived from

thence. But the former rises from a knowledge

of the phaenomena to a knowledge of the God of
nature, and in the law he discovers the lawgiver.
The atheist sees it is his interest, the theist sees
it is his duty, to observe this law, and he adores
tho divine wisdom and goodness, that have blend-
ed together so marvellously, and so graciously,
his greatest interest and his greatest duty. Every
kind of knowledge, whereof our nature is capable,
combines to show the theist, that God speaks to
man in his works, and signifies his will by them.
He can neither be in doubt whether it is God
who speaks, nor be at a loss to understand the
divine language. An atheist, who has much
imagination, much elevation of mind, and a
great warmth of inward sentiment, may, perhaps,



contemplate the differences of things in abstract
consideration, and contrast the beauty of virtue
and the deformity of vice, till he falls in love, if I
may use the expression after Tully, with the for-
mer, and grows to abhor every appearance of
the latter. He may create, in this manner, in
himself, as it were, an artificial moral sense ;
for to assume anysuch natural instinct is as absurd
as to assume innate ideas, or any other of the
Piatonick whimsies. But how much more lively
must this sense be in the theist, who knows not
only, that virtue is the perfection of his nature,
but that he conforms himself by the practice of it
to the designs of Infinite Wisdom, and co-
operates in some sort with the Almighty ?

As a knowledge of the essential differences of
things may leid men who know not God, to a
knowledge of the morality of actions, so do these
essential differences serve as so many clews by
which the theist may guide himself through all
the intricacies of errour and of disputation, to a
knowledge of the will of God. Since Infinite
Wisdom, that must always proportion means to
ends, has made happiness the end or instinctive
object of all his human creatures ; and has so
constituted them, and the system in which he has
placed them, that they can neither attain to this
happiness, nor be secure in the possession of it
by any other means than the practice of morality,
or the social virtues ; it is demonstrated, that
God wills we should pursue these means to arrive
at this end. We know more certainly the will of



God in this way, than we can know it in any
other. We may take the word of man for the
word of God, and, in fact, this has been, and is
still the case of many. But we can never mistake
the works of God for the works of men, and may
be, therefore, assured, that a revelation, evidently
manifested in them, is a divine revelation. But
though natural religion is an object of knowledge,
and all other religions, even that of the Gospel,
can rest on nothing more than probability, yet
may that probability be such as will and ought to
force our assent. He, therefore, who thinks,
that the Christian religion is founded on such a
probability, may affirm, that the Gospel, thought
he does not think it, in propriety of speech, a
republication, is a confirmation of the law of na-
ture, and renders this a law beyond all cavil about
the term.

Sanctions of this law are implied in the theistical
system ; because it assumes, and to be sure very
justly, that the general happiness or misery of
mankind depends on the observation of this law,
and that the degrees of one and the other bear
always a proportion to the exercise and to the
neglect of publick and private virtue, in every
community. But these motives are such as par-
ticular men will be apt to think do not imme-
diately, nor directly concern them, because they
are apt to consider themselves as individuals,
rather than as members of society, and to catch
at pleasure without any regard to happiness. To
give ah additional strength, therefore, to these



motives, that are determining in their own nature,
but not so according to the imperfection of ours;
decisive to our reason, but not so to our appetites
and passions, the ancient theists and polytheists,
philosophers or legislators, invented another;
that, I mean, of future rewards and punishments
represented under various forms, but always di-
rected to the same purpose. This motive, every
man who believes it, may, and must apply to him-
self, and hope the reward, and fear the punish*
ment, for his secret as well as his publick actions.
What effect this motive had in remote antiquity
we cannot say, but it had lost it's force long be-
fore the institution of Christianity. The fear of
Hell particularly was ridiculed by some of the
greatest moralists- ; and to show how little it was
kept up in the minds of the vulgar, we may ob-
serve, thatTully * treated it in some of his publick
pleadings as he would have avoided scrupulously
to do, whatever he thought of it himself, if this
fear had been at that time prevalent even among
the vulgar.


Though future rewards and punishments are

I / i 'f.J J J li

* - quid tandorn iili niali mors attulit ? nisi forte
incptiis et fabulis ducimur, ut cxistimemus apud inferos impi-
orurn supplicia perferre. actum esse praecipitem in sce-
leratorum sedcm atquc rogionera. Quae si falsa sunt, id quod
omnes intelligunt; quid ci tandem aliud mors crip uit, praeter
sensum doloris ? pro Clurntio. Ut aliqua in vita for-

mido improbis cssct posita, apud inferos ejusmodi quaedarn illi
autiqui supplicia impiis.constituta csse volucrunt : quod vide-
licet intelligebant, his remotis, non esse mortem ipsam per-
iimescendam. Orut. 4, in Catilin.


. ' * *% I


not original nor direct sanctions of the law of na-
ture, because not coeval with it, yet they became
such when the Christian revelation was made.
They are original sanctions of Christianity, and
Christianity, which includes, was designed to en-
force, the law of nature. We may, therefore, be
allowed to wonder, and to seek the reason, why
the law of nature, thus enforced, has served so
little to correct the manners of men, and to pro-
mote the peace and happiness of the world ?
Why Christianity has served, on the contrary, to
determine men to violate the very law it con-
firms, and has opened a new source of mischief
wherever it has prevailed ? I said above, that the-
ology is in fault, not religion. We shall see this
verified in every part of the analyse we make of
Christianity. A few reflections will show it to
be so in this part, where we consider the Gospel
as a system of natural religion.


THE law of nature then, or natural religion, as
it is the most important, is the plainest of all laws ;
and if the Heavens do not declare the will, as well
as the glory of God, according to an observation
my Lord Bacon* makes in a chapter, that con-
tains some of the idols of the den, and of the
theatre particularly, sure I am, that the Earth, and

* De Aug. Scien. lib. 9, chap. 1.



the inhabitants of it, declare both. The will of
God has been revealed in his works to all those
u*ho have applied themselves to the contempla-
tion of them, even to those who did not discover
him in them, from the time that men have used
their reason ; and where reason improved, and
knowledge increased, morality was carried as
high in speculation, and in practice too, by some
of the heathen worthies, as by any of the Chris-
tian saints; even as high as the very precept
which the chancellor * quotes, and which he de-
clares, a little rashly, to be more than human,
and above the light of nature, since it was taught
by some who had no other light. Notwithstand'-
ing this, divines, who cannot bear, that the will,
any more than the existence, of God should be
deduced from his works, the clearest and the
most authentick of all revelations, affirm, against
fact and reason both, that men may have,
indeed, some true notions of virtue and vice,
and of good and evil, by the light of nature, but
that the moral law is too sublime for reason to
attain to every part of it ; and, on this affirma-
tion, a great deal of theological policy has been
established. Thus they give too another instance
of their inconsistency, for nothing is more com-
mon than to find in their writings, nay in the
course of the same argument, the religion of na-

* Diligite inimicos ; benefacite his qui odcrunt ros quae
certe vcrba plausum ilium merentur, nee vox hominem sonat;
si quidem vox est> quae lumen r.aturae supcrat. ib.

Online LibraryHenry St. John BolingbrokeThe works of the late Right Honourable Henry St. John, lord viscount Bolingbroke (Volume 6) → online text (page 20 of 31)