« AnteriorContinuar »
THAT spirit of inquiry which produced the Reformation, operated in France, as in all other countries, and gave being to an endless variety of different sentiments of religion. All the reformers, however, agreed in one grand article, that is, in substituting the authority of the holy scriptures in the place of the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome.
The elevation of an obscure book, (for such, to the shame of Popery, the Bible had been,) to the dignity of a supreme judge, whose decisions were final, and from which there lay no appeal, naturally excited the attention of some who were capable, and of many who thought themselves so, to examine the authenticity of so extraordinary a book. At the Reformation, the infallibility of the Pope was the popular inquiry; and, aster it, the infallibility of Jesus Christ came under consideration. Curiosity and conscience concurred to search, and several circumstances justified the inquiry.
Many spurious books had been propagated in the world: the Jewish nation, and the Romish church, paid as much regard to tradition as to the holy scriptures: Protestants derived different, and even contrary doctrines, from the same scriptures; the authenticity of some books of both testaments had never been universally acknowledged, and the points in litiga
tion were of the last importance. These considerations excited the industry of a multitude of critics. One examined the chronology of the Bible, another the geography of it, a third its natural philosophy, a fourth its history; one tried its purity by the rules of grammar, another measured its style by the laws of rhetoric; and a most severe scrutiny the book underwent.
Nothing came to pass in this inquiry but what might have been expected.
Some defended the book by solid, and some by silly arguments; while others reprobated it, as void of any rational proof at all. There are certain pre-requisites essential to the investigation of truth, and it is hardly credible, that all who examined, or who pretended to examine, the divinity of the christian canon, possessed them.
No sooner had Charles IX. published the first edict of pacification in France, in 1562, than there appeared at Lyons, along with many other sects, a party who called themselves Deists. The edict
provided, that no person should be prosecuted on account of matters of conscience, and this sect claimed tlie benefit of it.
Deists differ so much from one another, that it is hard to define the term Deism, and to say precisely what the word stands for. Dr. Clarke takes the denomination in the most extensive signification, and distinguishes Deists into four sorts.
“ The first class believe the existence of a Supreme Being, who made the world, but who does not at “all concern himself in the management of it.
« The second consists of those who believe, not only the being, but also the providence of God “ with respect to the natural world; but who, not " allowing any difference between moral good and “evil, deny that God takes any notice of the mor
ally good or evil actions of men; these things depending, as they imagine, on the arbitrary constitutions of human laws.
“ The third sort, having right apprehensions con“cerning the natural attributes of God, and his all
governing Providence, and some notions of his “ moral perfections also, yet being prejudiced against " the notion of the immortality of the human soul, “ believe that men perish entirely at death, and that “one generation shall perpetually succeed another, “ without any future restoration, or renovation of “ things.
“The fourth consists of those who believe the ex“ istence of a Supreme Being, together with his
providence in the government of the world, as also “the obligations of natural religion : but so far only
as these things are discoverable by the light of na“ture alone, without believing any divine revelation, “ These last are the only true Deists."
The rise of the Deists, along with that of other sects and parties among the reformed churches, seemed to confirm one argument of the Roman catholics against the Reformation. When the reformers had pleaded for the sufficiency of revelation, and for the private right of judging of its meaning, the divines of the church of Rome had always replied, that unaniinity in the faith is the
test of the true church of Christ ; that the church of Rome had always enjoyed such an unity: that the allowance of liberty of conscience would produce innumerable opinions ; that people of the saine sentiments would associate for the support and propagation of their pretended faith ; and that, consequently, religious parties would counteract one another, to the entire subversion of christianity itself. Hence they inferred the absurdity of that principle on which protestantism stood, and the absolute necessity of a living infallible judge of religious truths. The event above-mentioned seemed to confirm this reasoning.
When these ideas entered the mind of a man of fruitful genius in the church of Rome, they operated in the most eccentric manner imaginable. A popular orator, or, who did ten times more mischief, a court-chaplain, would collect a few real improprieties among protestants, subjoin a thousand more irregularities of his own invention, mere creatures of his superstitious fancy, paint them in colours the most frightful, exhibit them to public view under images the most tragical, ascribe them all to that horrid monster the right of private judgment, and by these means endeavour to establish the old system, that destroyed inen's lives, on the ruins of that new one, which benevolently proposed to save them.
The weaker protestants were intimidated by this vile bombast; and the wiser, who had been educated papists, that is to say, whose tender minds had been perverted with a bad philosophy, and a worse divinity, were hard pressed with this idle argument.