Henry St. John Bolingbroke.

The works of the late Right Honourable Henry St. John, lord viscount Bolingbroke (Volume 8) online

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whose traditions and histories deserve, at least, as
much credit as those of ancient nations, that
have been known to us longer, and which our
scholars quote with so much assurance. Now
natural religion seems to have been preserved more
pure and unmixed in this country than in any
other, and for a longer time from that when it was
first inhabited, and government was first establish-



ed in it*. The ancient Chinese held it unlawful
to dispute about the divine nature, about the attri-
butes of God, the exercise of his power, or the
conduct of his providence; and it see.ns very
plain, that the concise manner in which their sages
expressed themselves, whenever they spoke of the
Supreme Being, and upon which their refilling
successors have endeavoured to found, in part at
least, their atheism, proceeded from this modest,
this reasonable, and this pious principle. They
observed the order of nature, and from thence
they deduced all the rules of private morality and
publick policy. To compare his conduct with the
law of Heaven and Earthf, is the character of a
perfect prince, in the works of Confucius. That
teason should preside over passion, was the great
rule of life, and to walk according to it, was to
walk in the great high way of lifej. Thus they
were led, by simple and plain reasonings, from the
works to the will of God, and to three kinds of
moral obligations, to those of an individual, of
the member of a family, and of the member of a
political society. Bare reason enforced so well
the practice of natural religion, by the laws and
constitutions of this empire, and the duties of it
became so habitual by education and custom, that
this people enjoyed, under their two first impe-
rial families, which continued eleven hundred

* Scient. Sinica.

f Confer! res a se gestas cum Coeli Terraeque lege.

J Orbis universalis regula, rcgia humani generis via*

VOL. VIII. E years,


years, all the blessings of publick and private vir*
tue, that humanity is capable of enjoying. So wo
piust understand the descriptions of this golden
age ; for though the Chinese lived in a state of
innocence and simplicity while it lasted, yet as
they \\eie subject, like other nations, to physical
evils, so may \ve assure ourselves that they were
neither infallible nor impeccable, nor therefore
entirely exempt from moral evil. It is enough
for the honour of reason, and of natural religion,
that these principles, enforced by civil authority,
appear in this instance to have answered the pur-
poses of true religion much better by themselves,
than thei>e purposes have been ever answered by
all the expedients, and all the adventitious helps,
that philosophers, legislators, and priests have de-

Whether any other nation afforded an example
of the same kind, we know not. But this WQ
know, that when other nationi begin to appear,
they appear already under the influence of absurd
theology and gross superstition, and that the Chi-
nese began in the same remote antiquity to fall
into the same errours, and all the consequences
of them. Under their third imperial family, the
affectation of imagining and unfolding mysteries,
and of explaining the first principle of all things,
grew into fa.shion among them, and the table of
Fohi, or the book Yekim, which is nothing more
than a draught of sixty-four figures, compose^ of
three hundred and eighty-four lines, some broken,
a,nd some entire, furnished to the studious labours



of Venvam and Cheucum, and other commenta-
tors, as much sublime knowledge as ever the first-
chapter of Genesis furnished to a profound caba-
list or whimsical divine. - From the various
changes, and different combinations of these lines,
they proceeded, as Pythagoras did from numbers,
and Plato from immaterial forms and incorporeal
essences, to erect systems of natural and moral
philosophy. When they had once departed from
simplicity and truth, in the search of mystery,
they soon imagined themselves capable of attain-
ing unattainable knowledge ; the most chimerical
passed for real, and they boasted of nothing less
than to explain the whole scheme, order, and state
of things. Thus reason was abused by pretended
science, and natural religion was deformed by
metaphysical speculations, and superstitious de-

Li Lao Kium was a philosopher of the same
gge with Confucius, and both of them of the
same with Pythagoras. Whether the Chinese and
the Samian had the same masters, I know not.
But if they had, these masters were rather Indian
gymnosophists than Hebrew prophets. Several
circumstances incline to think so The dogma,
particularly, in the Taosu, where it is said, that the
first reason produced one, one two, two three,
and three all things, is a jargon very like to that
of Pythagoras, which Diogenes Laertius has pre-
served, which he and Li Lao Kium might have
learned in India, but which there is no pretence
to suspect that the latter could have learned in

E 2


Palestine. The Chinese taught the same moral
philosophy that had been always taught in China,
but he took advantage of the metaphysical folly
which pi trailed at that time, and which even
Confucius hnd countenanced, to broach a new
and a most extravagant theology. He founded it,
perhaps, on some interpretations of the look Ye-
kim ; but however he founded it, he established it
with so much success, that he himself was wor-
shipped at lasi: temples and statues were erected
to many of his sect, all that imposture could im-
pose on credulity was imposed, natural theology
was abominably corrupted, and a ridiculous ex-
ternal service took the place, in great measure, of
real virtue and true devotion.

This sect prepared the way for another, which
had prevailed in India near a thousand years be-
fore our Christian sera, but was not introduced
into China till sixty-five years after it. This sect
was that of Foe, who raised a spiritual empire in
the East, that has equalled, if not exceeded, all
others, under different forms and appellations, in
extent and duration. Foe lived in a desert, under
the care of four jogues, or gymnosophists, till he
was thirty years old. Then he appeared in the
world, assumed divinity, and declared himself to
be the saviour of men, for whose sakes he had
condescended to be born, that he might recover
them from their errours, expiate their sins, and
lead them into the way of being happy hereafter;
for he threatened future punishments to those
\ho did not believe in him, nor submit to his doc-


trines. Voluminous legends of miracles, wrought
at his birth, and in the course of his life, were
published by ten of his disciples. Well might they
be voluminous, since his pretended mission lasted
nine and forty years, and we may assure ourselves
that attestations were not wanting, since the num-
ber of proselytes he made in that time was im-
mense. They were divided into different classes;
To believe implicitly, and to observe the rules of
morality were required from all, and the least cre-
dible austerities were practised by some, as they
continue to be at this day.

Both these religions are still subsisting in China.
What has been the effect of them ? The ancient
laws and customs of the empire are inviolably
kept, and good government is maintained by
them, independently of these. But are the Chi-
nese grown better men ? No. They build monas-
teries for bonzes, they endow them richly, they
adorn their pagods or temples, they prostrate
themselves, they pray, they make their offerings,
and they burn gilded paper in them, after which
they rob or cheat without scruple, and indulge
themselves in practices which natural religion ab-
hors the most. There is something worse than
this. The true principles of religion being re-
moved, and these fantastick principles placed in
lieu of them, the foundation of all religion is
sapped at once. They who cannot persuade
themselves, that the religion they see practised is a
service fit to be paid to a Supreme Being, nor
consequently required by any such being, slide

3 easily


easily from the belief, that there is no religioa, to
the belief that there is no God. This happened
in China, where the literati, or learned men, are
in truth a sect of atheists, and theism seems to be
the portion of the vulgar alone. Such has been,
and is at this day the effect of artificial theology
and superstitious devotion in that country. The
Jesuits, from whose relations, as from the best
authority in this case, 1 have taken what I have said
on the subject, pretend that Foe, or Xaca himself,
gave occasion to the atheism that has been since
established, by declaring, before his death, to some
of his disciples, his inward doctrine, which trans-
pired afterward. He confessed, they say, that
he had concealed the truth under the veil of types,
of metaphors, and parables ; that vacuity and in-
anition were the first principles of all things, be-
yond which nothing was to be sought, because no-
thing was to be found. What is meaned by the
terms that the Jesuits translate " vacuum et inane,"
I know not, nor is it worth our while to guess.
Thus much is plain, the consequence of refining
jn matters of religion, beyond the obvious dic-
tates of nature and reason, has been superstition,
And enthusiasm, or atheism, not reformation of
manners, in China.


IF we return now to those countries, with
which we are better acquainted, we shall find in



them much the same course of things. We shall
find, indeed, natural religion no where established
in it's full extent and purity, as it seems to have!
been once in China. Some first principles of it
were known and practised by people the least ci-
vilsed, as Justin* represents them to have been by
the Scythians. No people were wholly ignorant
of them, no sort of government could subsist
without them. But then, as their light shone
dimly among these half savages, through the
clouds of a superstition I somewhere called na-
tural, and not improperly, we shall find this light
actually obscured, and put out, in great part,
among the most civilised and learned nations.
Instead of dispelling these clouds, and improving
natural religion, they had increased, by fantastick
knowledge, what ignorance had begun, and we
trace the same ill consequences of pretended reve-
lations, and artificial theology, on this side the
Ganges, as we have traced, on the other, the
abominable consequences which have followed
establishments made on the ruins of natural reli-

It is true, that the heathen philosophers were
unable to propagate natural religion, and to re-
form the manners of men effectually. But it is


not true, that they were so for the reasons Clarke
gives, which have been shown, I think, to be fu-
tile and insufficient. They were so for another
reason principally, which has been touched, and

* Lib. 2, c. 2.

E 4 requires


requires to be more fully developed. The reason
is, that they proceeded, in the doctor's own me-
thod, to lay the first principles of all religion,
and to reason from them.

The doctor, whom I cite so often, because his
book is the last I have read on this subject, and
has been received with the greatest applause, re-
peats over and over, and very dogmatically, such
maxims as these, " that goodness, and justice, and
" all the moral attributes, are the same in God, as
" they are in our ideas ; that the relations,
" respects, and proportions of things are just such
" as they appear to be to our understandings ;
" that from hence there results a rule, which is
" the nature and reason of things ; that this rule
" is common to God and man ; that it is the law
" of all his actions, in the government of the
" world ; and that, as it always determines his
" will, it should always determine ours." From
this assumed knowledge of the divine attributes,
and of the abstract nature and reason of things,
the most extravagant opinions concerning the will
of God, and the most audacious judgments on
the conduct and dispensations of his providence,
have been deduced." How should it be other-
wise ? They who reason " & posteriori" from the
constitution of the human system, and from the
works of God, have indeed a rule to go by, pre-
cise, invariable, certain. But they who reason
" & priori" from the moral attributes of God, and
from the abstract nature and reason of things,

o *

have no such rule. Theists will concur in ascrib-


Ins, all possible perfections to the Supreme Being;
but they will always differ when they descend into
any detail, and presume to be particular about
them, as they always have differed in their notions
of these perfections, and consequently in the ap
plications of them. I have said, I believe,
already, and I shall not recal what is said, agreea-
bly to universal and constant experience, that the
eternal reason of things, founded in the couside*
ration of their abstract nature, is, for tlie inosl;
part, as we see it employed by believers aud infi-
dels, by the orthodox and the heterodox, nothing
better than the reason of party, of prejudice, of
system, and of profession. Yet this is the me-
thod which some men prescribe, and which
Clarke * describes to be, of all others, the best
and clearest, the certainest and most universal,
that the light of nature affords, to discover the will
of God in matters of morality, and to account for
the dispensations and conduct of his providence.
This author goes even further, and the other me-
thod is styled by him f, a collateral consideration,
which may come in aid of the former, notfoioor
more. This other method, however, extends as
far as human wants require, and human know-
ledge can reach. Where it does not extend, the
want is imaginary, and the knowledge fantastick;
and if philosophers and divines had aitned at
establishing the belief of a Supreme Being, and ilie

* Evid. p. 113. f Jb.



duties of natural religion alone, they might, and
they would have been contented with it.

But they meaned something more. They aim-
ed at superiority and fame, at power and riches.
He who had never presumed to define the moral
attributes of an All-perfect Being, who contented
himself to know that such a being existed by the
necessity of his nature, and that his wisdom and
power are infinite ; he who had never troubled
himself about eternal respects, relations, and pro-
portions of things, and collected the will, as he
collected the existence of this Being, " a poste-
" riori ;" he, I say, knew as much of God, and
of his duty to God and man, as natural religion
required that he should know. But it was for the
interest of philosophers and priests, that men
should think there xvas much more to be known;
and if r those *of Egypt had taught nothing more
than natural theology, instead of theurgick ma-
gick, nothing more than the plain duties of reli-
gion, instead of mysterious rites, it is highly pro-
bable the Mercuries would not have been honoured
as they were, in all succeeding ages, nor the cler-
gy have possessed a third part of the revenue of
the kingdom.

Such as have been mentioned were the princi-
ples on which artificial theology arose among the
heathens, and as the principles were laid neither
in reason nor truth, which are always one, it is
no wonder, that this theology became as various as
errour could make it. Some of the motives to
invent and embrace it were such likewise as have



been mentioned. I say some ; because we may
well conceive, that when principles, not only false,
but vague like tht-se, had been once adopted by
the delirium of meiaphysicks, the enthusiasm of
superstition, or the prejudices of ignorance, the
men who iiad been accustomed to reason upon
them, and lo take for true every thing that u'se
had made familiar, might run into the greatest
absurdities, sometimes without having any bad
motive, nay, with a pious intention of promoting
true religion, and of attaching men to it, by a
greater authority, and by greater hopes and fears.
This might be the case of many, as we shall easily
believe, if we consider what has passed in later
days. But, however it was brought about, art
took every where the place of nature, and faith of
reason. Artificial theology spread far and wide ;
philosophers taught it ; lawgivers established it ;
priests improved it ; here it was employed to en-
force, there it was substituted to natural reli-
gion ; the main principles of it, and even particu-
lar opinions and local institutions, have been va-
riously mingled in different systems, and are to be
discerned in them even now. This has happened
naturally, and almost necessarily. All these sys-
tems lean on certain primitive notions, which the
human mind is so prone to frame or to receive.
The same affections and passions maintain them,
work upon them, and direct them in different
imaginations. The matter is the same, the form

alone is changed.




AMONG many doctrines that were taught by
those who pretended to explain the whole scheme
and order of divine oeconomy with respect to man,
that of rewards and punishments in a future state
was one. It began to be taught long before we
have any light into antiquity, and where we begin
to have any, we find it established. How pow-
erful is the desire of continuing to exist? How-
predominant is the pride of the human heart ?
Nothing seems more natural to man, than to wish
to live without restraint or fear ; and yet how-
ready was the multitude, in the pagan world, to
embrace the hope of immortality, though it
vas accompanied with the fear of damnation !
Jjke the elementary people of the cabalists*, one
may think, they would have chosen to be damned
eternally, rather than to cease to exist. But every
one was flattered by a system, that raised him in
imagination, above corporeal nature, as every
one was at liberty tQ flatter himself further, that
he should pass this immortality in the fellowship
of the gods, " in contubernio deorum."

The hypothesis of a life after this, especially
when it was accompanied by that of a life preced-
ing this, which was founded on a supposed me-
tempsychosis, that several systems of religion ad-
mitted, served two purposes. It furnished an
answer to the accusation which atheists brought,
and which theists were too ready to admit in

* See Borri's Letters.



those days, as well as in ours, of unjust dispensa-
tions of Providence, in the distribution of good
and evil. This purpose seems very unnecessary
to me, who am firmly persuaded, that the accusa-
tion is a mere sophism, and void of any founda-
tion. But the other purpose was, no doubt, very
necessary, since the belief of future rewards and
punishments could not fail to have some effect on
the manners of men, to encourage virtue, and to
restrain vice. For this purpose the doctrine was
strongly inculcated from time immemorial. Egypt
was the greatest mistress of religions as well as of
arts and sciences, and the doctrines and rites of
her church weie dispersed wherever she sent her
colonies ; these of the " mythologia de inferis"
among the rest. Whatever Melampus, Cadmus,
and others carried into Greece, Orpheus carried
these. He propagated them by his verges and
his institutions. But it was your Homer who
spread them most, and gave them the greatest
vogue, by his Odyssey and Iliad, those stupendous
works, which Virgil alone could imitate, and you
translate, with success.

One cannot see, without surprise, a doctrine
so useful to all religions, and therefore incorpo-
rated into all the systems of paganism, left wholly
out of that of the Jews. Many probable reasons
might be brought to show, that it was an Egyptian
doctrine before the Exode, and this particularly,
that it was propagated from Egypt so soon at least
afterward, by all those who were instructed, like
Moses, in the wisdom of that people. He trans-


ported much of this wisdom into the scheme of
religion and government, which lie gave the Israel-
ites; and among other things certain rites, which
may seem to allude or have a remote relation to
this very doctrine. Though this doctrine, there-
fore, had not been that of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, he might have adopted it, with as little
scruple as he did many customs and institutions
purely Egyptian. He had to do with a rebellious,
but a superstitious people. In the first character,
they made it necessary, that he should neglect no-
thing which might add weight to his ordinances,
and contribute to keep them in awe. In the se-
cond, their disposition was extremely proper to
receive such a doctrine, and to be influenced by
it. Shall we say, that an hypothesis of future re-
wards and punishments was useless among a peo-
ple who lived under a theocracy, and that the
future judge of other people was their immediate
judge and king, who resided in the midst of them,
and who dealed out rewards and punishments on
every occasion ? Why then were so many precau-
tions taken? Why was a solemn covenant made
with God, as with a temporal prince ? Why were
so many promises and threatenings of rewards and
punishments, temporal indeed, but future and
contingent, as we find in the book of Deuteronomy,
most pathetically held out by Moses ? Would
there have been any more impropriety in holding
out those of one kind, than those of another, be-
cause the Supreme Being, who disposed and or-
dered both, was in a particular manner present



among them ? Would an addition of rewards and
punishments more remote, hut eternal, and iri all
respects far greater, to the catalogue, have had
no effect? I think neither of these things can be

What shall we say then? How came it to pass
this addition was not made ? I will mention what
occurs to me, and shall not be over solicitous
about the weight, that my reflection may deserve.
If the doctrines of the immortality of the soul,
and of a future state, had been revealed to Moses,
thai he might teach them to the Israelites, he
vould have taught them most certainly. But he
did not teach them. They were, therefore, not
revealed to him. Why they were not so revealed,
some pert divine, or other, will be ready to tell
you. For me, I dare not presume to guess. But
this I may presume to advance, that since these
doctrines were not revealed by God, to his servant
Moses, it is highly probable, that this legislator
made a scruple of teaching them to the Israelites,
howsoever well instructed he might be in them
himself, and howsoever useful to government he
might think them. The superstitious and idola-
trous rites of the Egyptians, like those of other
rations, were founded on the polytheism and the
mythology that prevailed, and were suffered to
prevail among the vulgar, and that made the sum
of their religion. It seemed to be a point of po-
licy to direct all these absurd opinions and prac-
tices to the service of government, instead of at-
tempting to root them out. But then the great



difference between rude and ignorant nations,
and such as were civilised and learned like the
Egyptians, seems to have been this, that the for-
mer had no other svstem of religion than these


absurd opinions and practices, whereas the latter
had an inward; as well as an outward doctrine.
There is reason to believe, that natural theology
and natural religion had been taught and practised
in the ancientTheban dynasty ; and it is probable,
that they continued to be an inward doctrine in
the rest of Egypt, while polytheism, idolatry, and
all the mysteries, all the impieties, and all the
follies of magick, were the outward doctrine.
Moses might be let into a knowledge of both, and
under tae patronage of the princess, whose found-
ling he was, he might be initiated into those mys-
teries,, where the secret doctrine alone was taught,
and the outward was exploded. But we cannot
imagine, that the children of Israel, in general,
enjoyed the same privilege, nor that the masters
were so lavish to their slaves of a favour so dis-
tinguished, and often so hard to obtain. No.
The children of Israel knew nothing more than
the outside of the religion of Egypt, and if the
doctrine we speak of was known to them, it was

Online LibraryHenry St. John BolingbrokeThe works of the late Right Honourable Henry St. John, lord viscount Bolingbroke (Volume 8) → online text (page 4 of 35)