Abbildungen der Seite


A, D, 1725

to 1735.

Other of his objections serve to display as much CHAP. thoughtlessness as those we have mentioned do inconsistency. When he objected, “ that the tradition of Noah's deluge is vouched by no other authority than that of Moses, and that the memory of that catastrophe was known only to one people and preserved in one corner of the earth,” he could not have forgotten the traditions which in every country obtained of such an occurrence; nor could he have been ignorant of the fact, that all the phenomena of geology prove the highest points of the earth to have been at some remote period submersed by water.

He here relied very venturously either upon the ignorance of his readers, or their implicit deference to his authority.

His objection, that the priests were the guardians of the public records, and his inquiry, “ With what face can we suspect the authenticity of the Egyptian accounts by Manetho and others, which were compiled and preserved by Egyptian priests, when we received the Old Testament on the faith of Jewish scribes, a most ignorant and lying race ?” hardly requires comment. Bolingbroke could discover no difference between the hieroglyphic records of the Egyptians and the generally known and publicly taught law of the Jews.

After many objections of equal validity, he finally rejects the authority of the Old Testament either as a history or a revelation ; declaring, that none but a Don Quixote would believe that all the wonders


A.D. 1725

to 1735.

CHAP. related by romance-writers were historical truths ;

and that those who implicitly admit the miracles of the Old Testament are as credulous as be, and little less mad. “When I sit down,” he says, " to read this history with the same indifference as I should read

any other,- for so it ought to be read, -I am ready to think myself transported into a sort of fairy-land, where everything is done by magic and enchantment-where a system of nature very different from ours prevails, and all I meet with is repugnant to my experience, and to the clearest and most distinct ideas I have. Two or three incredible anecdotes in a decade of Livy are easily passed over: I reject them, and I return with my author into the known course of human affairs, where I find many things extraordinary, but none incredible. I cannot do this in reading the history of the Old Testament: it is founded in incredibility. Almost every event in it is incredible in its causes or consequences; and I must accept or reject the whole."


An Examination of Bolingbroke's Philosophical Works,



A. D. 1725

to 1735.

BOLINGBROKE having thus decided that he would CHAP. reject any revelation which was not accompanied by miraculous evidence for want of authority, and any which was so accompanied for want of probability, passes on to attack the arguments of the New Testament: or rather, according to the plan we have adopted, this class of his arguments come next under consideration; for, as we have before observed, to be examined within the bounds which such a work as the present prescribes, they must first be classed.

In these objections the reasoner assumes such a Protean form, that it is difficult to discover what he is attacking, or the end he has in view; and he often leaves us in doubt whether indeed he had any other purpose

than to distract the attention, and to prevent a rigid examination of his position. Now he approaches us in the garb of a friend, lauding the morality and celebrating the excellence of the principles of our religion ; now in that of a bitter enemy,


A.D. 1725

to 1735.

CHAP. sneering at its defences, and openly questioning its

truth: here we have a page of eulogy; there, twenty of abuse. Take, for instance, the conclusion of the fourth and the commencement of the fifth section of his fourth essay.

It runs thus : “Though this religion (Christianity) was born, if I

may say so, in a desert, 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.' *

Again. “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 benevolence; recommends the precepts of it, and commands the observation of them in particular instances occasionally, always supposes them, always 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 employed to perplex the plainest thing in nature, and the best determined signification of words according to the different occasions on which they are used.” |

* Works, vol. iv. p. 282.

+ Ibid.


A. D. 1725

to 1735.

Surely a religion so excellent must have the

approbation of the statesman and the philosopher. “It is above all others directed to promote the happiness of mankind.” This must command for it the approval of the philosopher. “ It recommends the precepts and commands the observation of the universal law of nature.” This must secure for it the protection of the statesman. Accordingly we find Bolingbroke seriously declaring that he means to defend the Christian religion,* and afterwards seriously asserting his implicit belief in its truth.

The conclusion of his fourth essay is too remarkable to be passed over.t “ Christianity, genuine Christianity, is contained in the Gospels. IT IS THE WORD OF God. It requires, therefore, our veneration and a strict conformity to it. Traditional Christianity, or that artificial theology which passes for genuine, is derived from the writings of fathers and doctors of the church, and from the decrees of councils. It is, therefore, the word of man,—and of man for the most part either very weak, very mad, or very knavish. It requires, therefore, no regard, nor any inward conformity to it. You have, I know, at your elbow, a very foul-mouthed and very trifling critic, who will endeavour to impose upon you on this occasion, as he did on a former. He will tell you again that I contradict myself, and by going about to destroy the authority of the fathers and the * Works, vol. iv. p. 280. Essay iv. sec. 4.

+ Ib. p. 632.

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