Whole Works of Joseph Butler/A Charge to the Clergy of Durham
DELIVERED TO THE CLERGY,
At the Primary Visitation of the Diocese of Durham, in the Year 1751.
CONTAINING A DEFENCE OF THE CHARGE AGAINST THE OBJECTIONS OF AN ANONYMOUS WRITER,
BY THE EDITOR.
It is impossible for me, my brethren, upon our first meeting of this kind, to forbear lamenting with you the general decay of religion in this nation, which is now observed by every one, and has been for some time the complaint of all serious persons. The influence of it is more and more wearing out of the minds of men, even of those who do not pretend to enter into speculations upon the subject: but the number of those who do, and who profess themselves unbelievers, increases, and with their numbers their zeal. Zeal! it is natural to ask—for what? Why, truly, for nothing, but against everything that is good and sacred amongst us.
Indeed, whatever efforts are made against our religion, so Christian can possibly despair of it. For He, who has all power in heaven and earth, has promised that he will be with us to the end of the world. Nor can the present decline of it be any stumbling-block to such as are considerate; since he himself has so strongly expressed what is as remarkably predicted in other passages of Scripture, the great defection from his religion which should be in the latter days, by that prophetic question, When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith upon the earth? How near this time is, God only knows; but this kind of Scripture signs of it is too apparent. For as different ages have been distinguished by different sorts of particular errors and vices, the deplorable distinction of ours is, an avowed scorn of religion in some, and a growing disregard to it in the generality.
As to the professed enemies of religion, I know not how often they may come in your way; but often enough, I fear, in the way of some at least among you, to require consideration, what is the proper behaviour towards them. One would, to be sure, avoid great familiarities with these persons, especially if they affect to be licentious and profane in their common talk. Yet, if you fall into their company, treat them with the regards which belong to their rank; for so we must people who are vicious in any other respect. We should study what St. James, with wonderful elegance and expressiveness, calls meekness of wisdom, in our behaviour towards all men, but more especially towards these men; not so much as being what we owe to them, but to ourselves and our religion; that we may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, in our carriage towards those who labour to vilify it.
For discourse with them; the caution commonly given, not to attempt answering objections which we have not considered, is certainly just. Nor need any one, in a particular case, be ashamed frankly to acknowledge his ignorance, provided it be not general. And though it were, to talk of what he is not acquainted with, is a dangerous method of endeavouring to conceal it. But a considerate person, however qualified he be to defend his religion, and answer the objections he hears made against it, may sometimes see cause to decline that office. Sceptical and profane men are extremely apt to bring up this subject at meetings of entertainment, and such as are of the freer sort; innocent ones, I mean, otherwise I should not suppose you would be present at them. Now religion is by far too serious a matter to be the hackney subject upon these occasions. And by preventing its being made so, you will better secure the reverence which is due to it, than by entering into its defence. Every one observes, that men's having examples of vice often before their eyes, familiarizes it to the mind, and has a tendency to take off that just abhorrence of it which the innocent at first felt, even though it should not alter their judgment of vice, or make them really believe it to be less evil or dangerous. In like manner, the hearing religion often disputed about in light familiar conversation, has a tendency to lessen that sacred regard to it, which a good man would endeavour always to keep up, both in himself and others. But this is not all: people are too apt, inconsiderately, to take for granted, that things are really questionable, because they hear them often disputed. This, indeed, is so far from being a consequence, that we know demonstrated truths have been disputed, and even matters of fact, the objects of our senses. But were it a consequence—were the evidence of religion no more than doubtful, then it ought not to be concluded false any more than true, nor denied any more than affirmed; for suspense would be the reasonable state of mind with regard to it. And then it ought in all reason, considering its infinite importance, to have nearly the same influence upon practice, as if it were thoroughly believed. For would it not be madness for a man to forsake a safe road, and prefer to it one in which he acknowledges there is an even chance he should lose his life, though there were an even chance likewise of his getting safe through it? Yet there are people absurd enough to take the supposed doubtfulness of religion for the same thing as a proof of its falsehood, after they have concluded it doubtful from hearing it often called in question. This shows how infinitely unreasonable sceptical men are, with regard to religion: and that they really lay aside their reason upon this subject, as much as the most extravagant enthusiasts. But, further, cavilling and objecting upon any subject is much easier than clearing up difficulties: and this last part will always be put upon the defenders of religion. Now, a man may be fully convinced of the truth of a matter, and upon the strongest reasons, and yet not be able to answer all the difficulties which may be raised upon it.
Then, again, the general evidence of religion is complex and various. It consists of a long series of things, one preparatory to and confirming another, from the very beginning of the world to the present time. And it is easy to see how impossible it must be, in a cursory conversation, to unite all this into one argument, and represent it as it ought: and could it be done, how utterly indisposed people would be to attend to it—I say, in a cursory conversation: whereas, unconnected objections are thrown out in a few words, and are easily apprehended, without more attention than is usual in common talk. So that, notwithstanding we have the best cause in the world, and though a man were very capable of defending it, yet I know not why he should be forward to undertake it upon so great a disadvantage, and to so little good effect, as it must be done amidst the gaiety and carelessness of common conversation.
But then it will be necessary to be very particularly upon your guard, that you may not seem, by way of compliance, to join in with any levity of discourse respecting religion. Nor would one let any pretended argument against it pass entirely without notice: nor any gross ribaldry upon it, without expressing our thorough disapprobation. This last may sometimes be done by silence; for silence sometimes is very expressive; as was that of our blessed Saviour before the Sanhedrim, and before Pilate. Or it may be done by observing mildly, that religion deserves another sort of treatment, or a more thorough consideration, than such a time, or such circumstances, admit However, as it is absolutely necessary that we take care, by diligent reading and study, to be always prepared, to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in us; so there may be occasions when it will highly become us to do it. And then we must take care to do it in the spirit which the apostle requires, with meekness and fear, 1 Pet. iii. 15: meekness towards those who give occasions for entering into the defence of our religion: and with fear, not of them, but of God; with that reverential fear, which the nature of religion requires, and which is so far from being inconsistent with, that it will inspire proper courage towards men. Now, this reverential fear will lead us to insist strongly upon the infinite greatness of God's scheme of government, both in extent and duration, together with the wise connection of its parts, and the impossibility of accounting fully for the several parts, without seeing the whole plan of Providence to which they relate; which is beyond the utmost stretch of our understanding. And to all this must be added, the necessary deficiency of human language, when things divine are the subject of it. These observations are a proper full answer to many objections, and very material with regard to all.
But your standing business, and which requires constant attention, is with the body of the people; to revive in them the spirit of religion, which is so much declining. And it may seem, that whatever reason there be for caution as to entering into any argumentative defence of religion in common conversation, yet that it is necessary to do this from the pulpit, in order to guard the people against being corrupted, however, in some places. But then surely it should be done in a manner as little controversial as possible. For though such as are capable of seeing the force of objections, are capable also of seeing the force of the answers which are given to them, yet the truth is, the people will not competently attend to either. But it is easy to see which they will attend to most. And to hear religion treated of, as what many deny, and which has much said against it as well as for it: this cannot but have a tendency to give them ill impressions at any time: and seems particularly improper for all persons at a time of devotion; even for such as are arrived at the most settled state of piety:—I say, at a time of devotion, when we are assembled to yield ourselves up to the full influence of the Divine Presence, and to call forth into actual exercise every pious affection of heart. For it is to be repeated, that the heart and course of affections may be disturbed, when there is no alteration of judgment. Now, the evidence of religion may be laid before men without any air of controversy. The proof of the being of God, from final causes, or the design and wisdom which appears in every part of nature, together with the law of virtue written upon our hearts; the proof of Christianity, from miracles, and the accomplishment of prophecies; and the confirmation which the natural and civil history of the world gives to the Scripture account of things: these
evidences of religion might properly be insisted on, in a way to affect and influence the heart, though there were no professed unbelievers in the world: and therefore may be insisted on, without taking much notice that there are such. And even their particular objections may be obviated without a formal mention of them. Besides, as to religion in general, it is a practical thing, and no otherwise a matter of speculation, than common prudence in the management of our worldly affairs is so. And if one were endeavouring to bring a plain man to be more careful with regard to this last, it would be thought a strange method of doing it, to perplex him with stating formally the several objections which men of gaiety or speculation have made against prudence, and the advantages which they pleasantly tell us folly has over it; though one could answer those objections ever so fully.
Nor does the want of religion, in the generality of the common people, appear owing to a speculative disbelief, or denial of it, but chiefly to thoughtlessness, and the common temptations of life. Your chief business, therefore, is to endeavour to beget a practical sense of it upon their hearts, as what they acknowledge their belief of, and profess they ought to conform themselves to. And that is to be done by keeping up, as well as we are able, the form and face of religion with decency and reverence, and in such a degree as to bring the thoughts of religion often to their minds; and then endeavouring to make this form more and more subservient to promote the reality and power of it. The form of religion may indeed be, where there is little of the thing itself; but the thing itself cannot be preserved amongst mankind without the form. And this form frequently occurring in some instance or other of it, will be a frequent admonition to bad men to repent,
and to good men to grow better; and also be the means of their doing so.
That which men have accounted religion in the several countries of the world, generally speaking, has had a great and conspicuous part in all public appearances, and the face of it been kept up with great reverence throughout all ranks, from the highest to the lowest; not only upon occasional solemnities, but also in the daily course of behaviour. In the heathen world, their superstition was the chief subject of statuary, sculpture, painting, and poetry. It mixed itself with business, civil forms, diversions, domestic entertainments, and every part of common life. The Mahometans are obliged to short devotions five times between morning and evening. In Roman Catholic countries, people cannot pass a day without having religion recalled to their thoughts, by some or other memorial of it; by some ceremony, or public religious form, occurring in their way;
besides their frequent holidays, the short prayers they are daily called to, and the occasional devotions enjoined by confessors. By these means, their superstition sinks deep into the minds of the people, and their religion also into the minds of such among them as are serious and well-disposed. Our reformers, considering that some of these observances were in themselves wrong and superstitious, and others of them made subservient to the purposes of superstition, abolished them, reduced the form of religion to great simplicity, and enjoined no more particular rules, nor left anything more of what was external in religion, than was, in
a manner, necessary to preserve a sense of religion itself upon the minds of the people. But a great part of this is neglected by the generality amongst us; for instance, the service of the church, not only upon common days, but also upon saints' days; and several other things might be mentioned. Thus they have no customary admonition, no public call to recollect the thoughts of God and religion from one Sunday to another.
It was far otherwise under the law. "These words," says Moses to the children of Israel, "which I command thee, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." And as they were commanded this, so it is obvious how much the constitution of that law was adapted to effect it, and keep religion ever in view. And without somewhat of this nature, piety will grow languid even among the better sort of men; and the worst will go on quietly in an abandoned course, with fewer interruptions from within than they would have were religious reflections forced oftener upon their minds, and consequently with less probability of their amendment. Indeed, in most ages of the church, the care of reasonable men has been, as there has been for the most part occasion, to draw the people off from laying
too great weight upon external things, upon formal acts of piety. But the state of matters is quite changed now with us. These things are neglected to a degree, which is, and cannot but be attended with, a decay of all that is good. It is highly seasonable now to instruct the people in the importance of external religion.
And doubtless under this head must come into consideration, a proper regard to the structures which are consecrated to the service of God. In the present turn of the age, one may observe a wonderful frugality in everything which has respect to religion, and extravagance in everything else. But amidst the appearances of opulence and improvement in all common things, which are now seen in most places, it would be hard to find a reason why these monuments of ancient piety should not be preserved in their original beauty and magnificence. But in the least opulent places they must be preserved in becoming repair; and everything relating to the divine service be, however, decent and clean; otherwise we shall vilify the face of religion whilst we keep it up. All this is indeed principally the duty of others. Yours is to press strongly upon their what is their duty in this respect, and admonish them of it often, if they are negligent.
But then you must be sure to take care and not neglect that part of the sacred fabric which belongs to you to maintain in repair and decency. Such neglect would be great impiety in you, and of most pernicious example to others. Nor could you, with any success, or any propriety, urge upon them their duty in a regard in which you yourselves should be openly neglectful for it.
Bishop Fleetwood has observed, that "unless the good public spirit of building, repairing, and adorning churches, prevails a great deal more among us, and be more encouraged, a hundred years will bring to the ground a huge number of our churches." This excellent prelate made this observation forty years ago; and no one, I believe, will imagine, that the good spirit he has recommended prevails more at present than it did then.
But if these appendages of the divine service are to be regarded, doubtless the divine service itself is more to be regarded; and the conscientious attendance upon it ought often to be inculcated upon the people, as a plain precept of the gospel, as the means of grace, and what has peculiar promises annexed to it. But external acts of piety and devotion, and the frequent returns of them, are moreover necessary to keep up a sense of religion, which the affairs of the world will otherwise wear out of men's hearts. And the frequent returns, whether of public devotions, or of anything else, to introduce religion into men's serious thoughts, will have an influence upon them in proportion as they are susceptible of religion, and not given over to a reprobate mind. For this reason, besides others, the service of the church ought to be celebrated as often as you can have a congregation to attend it. But since the body of the people, especially in country places, cannot be brought to attend it oftener than one day in a week; and since this is in no sort enough to keep up in them a due sense of religion; it were greatly to be wished they could be persuaded to anything which might, in some measure, supply the want of more frequent public devotions, or serve the like purposes. Family prayers, regularly kept up in every house, would have a great and good effect.
Secret prayer, as expressly as it is commanded by our Saviour, and as evidently as it is implied in the notion of piety, will yet, I fear, be grievously forgotten by the generality, till they can be brought to fix for themselves certain times of the day for it; since this is not done to their hands as it was in the Jewish church, by custom or authority. Indeed, custom, as well as the manifest propriety of the thing, and examples of good men in Scripture, justify us in insisting, that none omit their prayers, morning or evening, who have not thrown off all regards to piety. But secret prayer comprehends, not only devotions before men begin and after they have ended the business of the day, but such also as may be performed while they are employed in it, or even in company. And truly, if besides our more set devotions, morning and evening, all of us would fix upon certain times of the day, so that the return of the hour should remind us to say short prayers, or exercise our thoughts in a way equivalent to this: perhaps there are few persons in so high and habitual a state of piety, as not to find the benefit of it. If it took up no more than a minute or two, or even less time than that, it would serve the end I am proposing; it would be a recollection, that we are in the Divine presence, and contribute to our "being in the fear of the Lord all the day long."
A duty of the like kind, and serving to the same purpose, is the particular acknowledgment of God when we are partaking of his bounty at our meals. The neglect of this is said to have been scandalous to a proverb in the heathen world; but it is without shame laid aside at the tables of the highest and the lowest ranks among us.
And as parents should be admonished, and it should be pressed upon their consciences, to teach their children their prayers and catechism, it being what they are obliged to upon all accounts; so it is proper to be mentioned here, as a means by which they will bring the principles of Christianity often to their own minds, instead of laying aside all thoughts of it from week's-end to week's-end.
General exhortations to piety, abstracted from the particular circumstances of it, are of great use to such as are already got into a religious course of life, but such as are not, though they be touched with them, yet when they go away from church, they scarce know where to begin, or how to set about what they are exhorted to. And it is with respect to religion, as in the common affairs of life, in which many things of great consequence intended, are yet never done at all, because they may be done at any time, and in any manner; which would not be, were some determinate time and manner voluntarily fixed upon for the doing of them. Particular rules and directions then, concerning the times and circumstances of performing acknowledged duties, bring religion nearer to practice; and such as are really proper, and cannot well be mistaken, and are easily observed,—such particular rules in religion, prudently recommended, would have an influence upon the people.
All this, indeed, may be called form; as everything external in religion may be merely so. And therefore, whilst we endeavour in these, and other like instances, to keep up the form of godliness, 2 Tim. iii. 5: amongst those who are our care, and over whom we have any influence, we must endeavour also that this form be made more and more subservient to promote the power of it, 2 Tim. iii. 5. Admonish them to take heed that they mean what they say in their prayers, that their thoughts and intentions go along with their words, that they really in their hearts exert and exercise before God the affections they express with their mouth. Teach them, not that external religion is nothing, for this is not true in any sense; it being scarce possible, but that it will lay some sort of restraint upon a man's morals; and it is moreover of good effect with respect to the world about him. But teach them, that regard to one duty will in no sort atone for the neglect of any other. Endeavour to raise in their hearts such a sense of God as shall be an habitual, ready principle of reverence, love, gratitude, hope, trust, resignation, and obedience. Exhort them to make use of every circumstance which brings the subject of religion at all before them; to turn their hearts habitually to him; to recollect seriously the thoughts of his presence, "in whom they live, and move, and have their being;" and, by a short act of their mind, devote themselves to his service. If, for instance, persons would accustom themselves to be thus admonished by the very sight of a church, could it be called superstition? Enforce upon them the necessity of making religion their principal concern, as what is the express condition of the Gospel covenant, and what the very nature of the thing requires. Explain to them the terms of that covenant of mercy, founded in the incarnation, sacrifice, intercession of Christ, together with the promised assistance of the Holy Ghost, not to supersede our own endeavours, but to render them effectual. The greater festivals of the church being instituted for commemorating the several parts of the Gospel history, of course lead you to explain these its several doctrines, and show the Christian practice which arises out of them. And the more occasional solemnities of religion, as well as these festivals, will often afford you the fairest opportunities of enforcing all these things in familiar conversation. Indeed, all affectation of talking piously is quite nauseous; and though there be nothing of this, yet men will easily be disgusted at the too great frequency or length of these occasional admonitions. But a word of God and religion dropped sometimes in conversation, gently, and without anything severe or forbidding in the manner of it; this is not unacceptable. It leaves an impression, is repeated again by the hearers, and often remembered by plain well-disposed persons longer than one would think. Particular circumstances, too, which render men more apt to receive instruction, should be laid hold of to talk seriously to their consciences. For instance, after a man's recovery from a dangerous sickness, how proper is it to advise him to recollect and ever bear in mind, what were his hopes or fears, his wishes, or resolutions, when under the apprehension of death: in order to bring him to repentance, or confirm him in a course of piety, according as his life and character has been. So likewise the terrible accidents which often happen from riot and debauchery, and indeed almost every vice, are occasions providentially thrown in your way, to discourse against these vices in common conversation, as well as from the pulpit, upon any such accidents happening in your parish, or in a neighbouring one. Occasions and circumstances of the like kind to some or other of these occur often, and ought, if I may so speak, to be catched at, as opportunities of conveying instruction, both public and private, with great force and advantage.
Public instruction is also absolutely necessary, and can in no sort be dispensed with. But, as it is common to all who are present, many persons strangely neglect to appropriate what they hear to themselves, to their own heart and life. Now, the only remedy for this in our power is a particular personal application. And a personal application makes a very different impression from a common general one. It were therefore greatly to be wished that every man should have the principles of Christianity, and his own particular duty, enforced upon his conscience, in a manner suited to his capacity in private. And, besides the occasional opportunities of doing this, some of which have been intimated, there are stated opportunities of doing it. Such, for instance, is confirmation; and the usual age for confirmation is that time of life, from which youth must become more and more their own masters, when they are often leaving their father's house, going out into the wide world, and all its numerous temptations; against which they particularly want to be fortified, by having strong and lively impressions of religion made upon their minds. Now, the 61st canon expressly requires, that every minister that hath care of souls shall use his best endeavour to prepare and make able—as many as he can, to be confirmed; which cannot be done as it ought, without such personal application to each candidate in particular as I am recommending. Another opportunity for doing this is when any one of your parishioners signifies his name, as intending for the first time to be partaker of the communion. The Rubric requires, that all persons, whenever they intend to receive, shall signify their names beforehand to the minister; which, if it be not insisted upon in all cases, ought absolutely to be insisted upon for the first time. Now, this even lays it in your way to discourse with them in private upon the nature and benefits of this sacrament, and enforce upon them the importance and necessity of religion. However, I do not mean to put this upon the same footing with catechising youth, and preparing them for confirmation; these being indispensable obligations, and expressly commanded by our canons. This private intercourse with your parishioners, preparatory to their first communion, let it, if you please, be considered as a voluntary service to religion on your part, and a voluntary instance of docility on theirs. I will only add, as to this practice, that it is regularly kept up by some persons, and particularly by one, whose exemplary behavior in every part of the pastoral office is enforced upon you by his station of authority and influence in (this part especially of) the diocese.
I am very sensible, my brethren, that some of these things, in places where they are greatly wanted, are impracticable, from the largeness of parishes, suppose. And where there is no impediment of this sort, yet the performance of them will depend upon others, as well as upon you. People cannot be admonished or instructed in private, unless they will permit it. And little will you be able to do in forming the minds of children to a sense of religion, if their parents will not assist you in it; and yet much less, if they will frustrate your endeavours by their bad example, and giving encouragement to their children to be dissolute. The like is to be said also of your influence in reforming the common people in general, in proportion as their superiors act in like manner to such parents ; and whilst they, the lower people, I mean, must have such numerous temptations to drunkenness and riot everywhere placed in their way. And it is cruel usage we often meet with, in being censured for not doing what we cannot do, without what we cannot have, the concurrence of our censurers. Doubtless, very much reproach which now lights upon the clergy, will be found to fall elsewhere, if due allowances were made for things of this kind. But then, we, my brethren, must take care and not make more than due allowances for them. If others deal uncharitably with us, we must deal impartially with ourselves, as in a matter of conscience in determining what good is in our power to do; and not let indolence keep us from setting about what really is in our power; nor any heat of temper create obstacles in the prosecution of it, or render insuperable such as we find, when perhaps gentleness and patience would prevent or overcome them. Indeed, all this diligence to which I have been exhorting you and myself, for God forbid I should not consider myself as included in all the general admonitions you receive from me; all this diligence in these things does indeed suppose, that we give ourselves wholly to them. It supposes, not only that we have a real sense of religion upon our own minds, but also that to promote the practice of it in others is habitually uppermost in our thought and intention, as the business of our lives. And this, my brethren, is the business of our lives, in every sense and upon every account. It is the general business of all Christians as they have opportunity; it is our particular business. It is so, as we have devoted ourselves to it by the most solemn engagements; as, according to our Lord's appointment, we "live of the Gospel," I Cor, ix. 14, and as the preservation and advancement of religion, in such and such districts, are, in some respects, our appointed trust.
By being faithful in the discharge of this our trust, by thus "taking heed to the ministry we have received in the Lord, that we fulfil it," Col. iv. 17; we shall do our part toward reviving a practical sense of religion amongst the people committed to our care. And this will be the securest barrier against the efforts of infidelity; a great source of which plainly is, the endeavour to get rid of religious restraints. But whatever be our success with regard to others, we shall have the approbation of our consciences, and may rest assured, that as to ourselves at least, "our labour is not in vain in the Lord," 1 Cor. xv. 58.
- The publication of Bishop Butler's Charge, in the year 1751, was followed by a Pamphlet, printed in 1752, entitled, A Serious Inquiry into the Use and Importance of External Religion, occasioned by some Passages in the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Durham's Charge to the Clergy of that Diocese, &c., humbly addressed to his Lordship. This Pamphlet has been reprinted in a miscellaneous work: such parts of it as seemed most worthy of observation, the reader will find in the Notes subjoined to those passages of the Charge, to which the Pamphlet refers.
- The law of virtue written upon our hearts.]—The author of the Inquiry, mentioned above, informs, in his Postscript, that "the certain
consequence of referring mankind to a law of nature, or virtue, written upon their hearts, is their having recourse to their own sense of things on
all occasions; which being, in a great majority, no better than family-superstition, party-prejudice, or self-interested artifice, (perhaps a
compound of all,) will be too apt to overrule the plain precepts of the
gospel." And he declares he has "no better opinion of the clearness, certainty, uniformity, universality, &c. of this law, than" he has "of the
importance of external religion." What then must we say to St. Paul,
who not only asserts in the strongest terms the reality of such a law,
but speaks of its obligation as extending to all mankind? blaming some
among the Gentiles as without excuse, for not adverting to and obeying
it; and commending others for doing by nature (in contradistinction to
revelation) the things contained in the law, thus showing the worth of the law written in their hearts. If, because "natural religion is liable to be
mistaken, it is high time to have done with it in the pulpit;" how comes
it that the same apostle refers the Philippians to the study of this religion,
to whatsoever things are truey honest,just, lovely, and of good report?
And yet, without such a study, our knowledge of the moral law must
always remain imperfect; for a complete system of morality is certainly
nowhere to be found in the Old or New Testament.* When a Christian
minister is enforcing the duties or doctrines of revealed religion, he may
perhaps do well to tell his people he has "no other proof of the original
truth, obligations, present benefits, and future rewards of religion, to
lay before them, than what is contained in the Scriptures." But what
if his purpose be to inculcate some moral virtue? Will it not be useful
here, besides observing that the practice of that virtue is enjoined by a
divine command, to recommend it still farther to his hearers, by
showing that it approves itself to our inward sense and perception, and
accords with the native sentiments and suggestions of our minds?
Metaphysicians may say what they will of our feelings of this sort, being all
illusive, liable to be perverted by education and habit, and judged of by
men's own sense of things: they, whose understandings are yet
unspoiled by philosophy and vain deceit, will be little disposed to listen to such
assertions. Nor are there wanting arguments which prove, and, as should
seem, to the satisfaction of every reasonable inquirer, that the great
and leading principles of moral duties have in all ages been the same;
that such virtues as benevolence, justice, compassion, gratitude,
accidental obstacles removed, and when the precise meaning of the words
has been once explained, are instinctively known and approved by all
men; and that our approbation of these is as much a part of our nature
implanted in us by God, and as little liable to caprice and fashion, as the
sense of seeing, given us also by him, by which all bodies appear to us
in an erect, and not an inverted position.† Mr. Locke's authority has
been generally looked up to as decisive on such questions; and his
sentiments have been embraced implicitly, and without examination. That
great and good man, however, is not to be charged with the pernicious
consequences which others have drawn from his opinions; consequences
which have been carried to such a length, as to destroy all moral
difference of human actions; making virtue and vice altogether arbitrary;
calling evil good, and good evil; putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
[^* See the second of Dr. Balguy's Charges.]
[^† See the third of Bishop Hurd's Sermons, vol. i.].
- By keeping up the form and face of religion—in such a degree, as to bring the thoughts of religion often to their minds]—To this it is said by our Inquirer, that "the clergy of the Church of England have no way of keeping up the form and face of religion any oftener, or in any other degree, than is directed by the prescribed order of the church." As if the whole duty of a parish priest consisted in reading prayers, and a sermon on Sundays, and performing the occasional offices appointed in the Liturgy! One would think the writer who made this objection had never read more of the Charge than the four pages he has particularly selected for the subject of his animadversions. Had he looked farther he would have found other methods recommended to the clergy, of introducing a sense of religion into the minds of their parishioners, which occur much oftener than the times allotted for the public services of the church; such as family prayers; acknowledging the divine bounty at our meals; personal applications from ministers of parishes to individuals under their care, on particular occasions and circumstances; as at the time of confirmation, at first receiving the holy communion, on recovery from sickness, and the like; none of which are prescribed in our established ritual, any more than those others so ludicrously mentioned by this writer, "bowing to the east, turning their face to that quarter in repeating the creeds, dipping the finger in water, and therewith crossing the child's forehead in baptism."
- The thing itself cannot be preserved amongst mankind without the form.]—The Quakers reject all forms, even the two of Christ's own institution; will it be said, that "these men have no religion preserved among them?" It will neither be said nor insinuated. The Quakers, though they have not the form, are careful to keep up the face of religion; as appears not only from the custom of assembling themselves for the purposes of public worship on the Lord's day, but from their silent meetings on other days of the week. And that they are equally sensible of the importance of maintaining the influence of religion on their minds, is manifest from the practice of what they call inward prayer, in conformity to the direction of Scripture, to pray continually; "Which," saith Robert Barclay, "cannot be understood of outward prayer, because it were impossible that men should be always upon their knees, expressing the words of prayer; which would hinder them from the exercise of those duties no less positively commanded."—Apology for the Quakers, Prop. xi. of Worship.
- This form frequently occurring in some instance or other of it, will be a frequent admonition, &c.]—Here it has been objected, that "the number, variety, and frequent occurrence of forms in religion, are too apt to be considered by the generality as commutations for their vices, as something substituted in lieu of repentance, and as loads and incumbrances upon true Christian edification." This way of arguing against the use of a thing from the abuse of it, instead of arguing from the nature of the thing itself, is the master sophism that pervades the whole performance we are here examining. What reasonable man ever denied that the pomp of outward worship has been sometimes mistaken for inward piety? that positive institutions, when rested in as ends, instead of being applied as means, are hurtful to the interests of true religion? Not Bishop Butler, certainly, who blames the observances of the Papists on this account, some of them as being "in themselves wrong and superstitious;" and others, as being "made subservient to the purposes of superstition," and for this reason "abolished by our reformers." In the meanwhile, it will still be true, that bodily worship is by no means to be discarded, as unuseful in exciting spiritual devotion; on the contrary, that they mutually assist and strengthen each other; and that a mere mental intercourse with God, and a religious service purely intellectual, is altogether unsuitable to such a creature as man, during his present state on earth.
- In Roman Catholic countries, people cannot pass a day without having religion recalled to their thoughts—by some ceremony, or public religious form, occurring in their way.]—"What in the former period (when speaking of the Heathen world) was called superstition, becomes in this, (when speaking of Roman Catholics,) Religion, and Religious forms; which the Papists pretending to connect with Christianity, and the Charge giving no hint that this is no more than a pretence, a plain reader must needs take this as spoken of the means and memorials of true religion, and will accordingly consider these as recommended to his practice and imitation." If a plain reader, at first view of the passage alluded to, should inadvertently fall into such a mistake, he would find that mistake immediately corrected by the very next sentence that follows, where the religion of the Roman Catholics, and their superstition, are distinguished from each other in express words. But the terms in question are used with the strictest propriety. The design of the Bishop, in this part of his Charge, is to consider religion, not under the notion of its being true, but as it affects the senses and imaginations of the multitude. For so the paragraph begins: "That which men have accounted religion, in the several countries of the world, (whether religion be true or false is beside his present argument,) generally speaking, has had a great and conspicuous part in all public appearances." This position he illustrates by three examples, the Heathen, the Mahometan, and the Roman Catholic religions. The two first of these, having little or nothing of true religion belonging to them, may well enough be characterised under the common name of superstition: the last contains a mixture of both: which, therefore, the Bishop, like a good writer, as well as a just reasoner, is careful to distinguish. In Roman Catholic countries, a man can hardly travel a mile without passing a crucifix erected on the road side : he may either stop to worship the image represented on the cross, or he may simply be reminded by it of his own relation to Christ crucified: thus by one and the same outward sign, "religion may be recalled to his thoughts," or superstition may take possession of his mind. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the elements of bread and wine are regarded by a Papist as the very body and blood of Christ; to a Protestant, they appear only as symbols and memorials of that body and blood; what in one is an act of rational devotion, becomes in the other an instance of the grossest superstition, if not idolatry.
- And when thou risest up."]—Allowing that "what Moses in this passage wanted to have effected was obedience to the moral law," nothing, sure, could be of greater use in securing that obedience than the practice here enjoined. Our Inquirer, however, is of a different opinion, and "very much questions whether his Lordship could have fallen upon any passage in the Old Testament, which relates at all to his subject, that would have been less favourable to his argument." Who shall decide? &c.—The Bishop goes on, "As they (the Jews) were commanded this, so it is obvious how much the constitution of their law was adapted to effect it, and keep religion ever in view." Upon which the Inquirer remarks, "It was then very ill, or at least very unwisely done, to abrogate that law, whose constitution was adapted to so excellent a purpose." Let us first see what may be offered in defence of the Bishop, and then consider what is to be said in answer to his opponent. The purpose for which the Mosaic constitution was established was this: to preserve, amidst a world universally addicted to polytheism and idolatry, the great doctrine of the Unity of the Divine Nature, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. As a means to this end, the Israelites were not only to be kept separate from every other nation; but the better to insure such separation, they were to be constantly employed in a multifarious ritual, which left them neither time nor opportunity for deviating into the superstitious observances of their Pagan neighbours. And this, I suppose, may suffice for vindicating the Bishop's assertion, that "the constitution of the Jewish law was adapted to keep religion ever in view." But the Jewish law was not only adapted to this end; we are next to observe, that the end itself was actually gained. For though it be too notorious to be denied, that the Jews did not always confine their religious homage to the God of Israel, but polluted the service, due to him alone, with foreign worship; yet, even in their worst defection, it should be remembered, they never totally rejected the true Jehovah; and after their return from captivity, they were so thoroughly cured of all remaining propensity to the idolatrous rites of heathenism, as never again to violate their allegiance to the God of their fathers. It appears, then, that in consequence of the Jewish separation, the principle of the Unity was in fact preserved inviolate among that people till the coming of Christ. When the Mosaic constitution had thus attained its end, and mankind were now prepared for the reception of a better covenant, the law expired of course; the partition wall that had divided the Jew from the Gentile was taken down, and all distinction between them lost, under the common name of Christians. And this may suffice to show, in opposition to our Inquirer, that it was both very well and very wisely done to abrogate a law, when the purpose for which the law had been enacted was accomplished.
- Were religious reflections forced oftener upon their minds.]—"According to the Bishop's doctrine, then," says the Inquirer, "it should be not only good policy, but wholesome discipline, to force men in England to come to church, and in France to go to mass." And again, "If externals have this virtue to enforce religious reflections, it must be right to compel those who are indisposed to such reflections, to attend these memorials. "Yes; granting that the sense of the passage in the Charge is not shamefully perverted, and that we are to understand the Bishop here to speak of external force and compulsion. Whereas by "religious reflections forced," is plainly meant no more than religious reflections oftener thrown in men's way, brought more frequently into their thoughts, so as to produce an habitual recollection that they are always in the Divine presence.
- To instruct the people in the importance of external religion.]—"The importance of external religion," the Inquirer remarks, "is the grand engine of the Papists, which they play with the greatest effect upon our common people, who are always soonest taken and ensnared by form and show: and, so far as we concur with them in the principle, we are doing their work; since, if externals, as such, are important, the plain natural consequence is, the more of them the better." He had the same reflections once before: "If true religion cannot be preserved among them without forms, the consequence must be, that the Romish religion, having—more frequent occurrences of forms, is better than other religions, which have fewer of these—occurrences." To this argument I reply, Nego consequentiam. There may be too much of form in religion, as well as too little; the one leads to enthusiasm, the other degenerates into superstition; one is puritanism, the other popery; whereas, the rational worship of God is equally removed from either extreme. Did the Inquirer never hear of the possibility of having too much of a good thing? Or does he suppose, with the late historian of Great Britain, that all religion is divided into two species, the superstitious and the fanatical; and that whatever is not one of these, must of necessity be the other?
- Charge to the Clergy of St. Asaph, 1710.
- Cudworth on the Lord's Supper, p. 6. Casaub. in Athenæum, l. i. c. xi. p. 22. Duport. Præl. in Theophrastum, Ed. Needham, c. ix. p. 9335, &c.
- The Archdeaconry of Northumberland.