« PreviousContinue »
The Subscribers to the London Encyclopædia cannot but be gratified by the introduction of the following Article on INFIDELITY, from the pen of the late Rev. ROBERT HALL; and its importance; the publishers bope, will be a sutficient apology for giving it prominence, by placing it at the beginning of this Part.
INFIDELITY is the joint offspring of an and the guides of life, they proposed to revoluirreligious temper and unholy speculation, em- tionize the morals of mankind; to regenerate the ployed, not in examining the evidences of Chris- world, by a process entirely new; and to rear iianity, but in detecting the vices and imperfec. the temple of virtue, not merely without the aid tions of professing Christians. It has passed of religion, but on the renunciation of ils printhrough various stages, each distinguished by ciples, and the derision of its sanctions. higher gradations of impiety; for when men With respect to the sceptical and religious arrogantly abandon their guide, and wilfully shut systems, the inquiry at present is not so much their eyes on the light of heaven, it is wisely which is the truest in speculation, as which is ordained that their errors shall multiply at every the most useful in practice; or, in other words, step, until their extravagance confutes itself, and whether morality will be best promoted by conthe mischief of their principles works its own sidering it as a part of a great and comprehenantidote. That such has been the progress of sive law, emanating from the will of a supreme, infidelity will be obvious from a slight survey of omnipotent legislator, or as a mere expedient, its history.
adapted to our present situation, enforced by no Lord Herbert, the first and purest of our other motives than those which arise from the English free-thinkers, who flourished in the be- prospects and interests of the present state. ginning of the reign of Charles I., did not so The subject, viewed in this light, may be conmuch impugn the doctrine or the morality of sidered under two aspects; the influence of the the Scriptures, as attempt to supersede their opposite systems on the principles of_morals, necessity, by endeavouring to show that the and on the formation of c!aracter. The first great principles of the unity of God, a moral may be styled their direct, the latter their government, and a future world, are taught with equally important, but indirect consequence and sufficient clearness by the light of nature.
Bo- tendency. lingbroke, and others of his successors, advanced 1. The sceptical, or irreligious, system submuch farther, and attempted to invalidate the verts the whole foundation of morals. It may proofs of the moral character of the Deity, and, be assumed as a maxim that no person can be consequently, all expectations of rewards and required to act contrary to his greatest good, or punishments; leaving the Supreme Being no his highest interest, comprehensively viewed Other perfections than those which belong to a in relation to the whole duration of his being. first cause, or Almighty contriver. After him, It is often our duty to forego our own interest at a considerable distance, followed Hume, the partially, to sacrifice a smaller pleasure for the most subtle, if not the most philosophical, of the sake of a greater, to incur a present évil in purDeists; who, by perplexing the relations of suit of a distant good of more consequence. In cause and effect, boldly aimed to introduce an a word, to arbitrate amongst interfering claims universal scepticism, and to pour more than of inclination is the moral arithmetic of human Egyptian darkness into the whole region of life. But, to risk the happiness of the whole morals. Since his time sceptical writers have duration of our being in any case whatever, adsprung up in abundance, and infidelity has mitting it to be possible, would be foolish; allured multitudes to its standard : the young because the sacrifice must, by the nature of it, and superficial by its dextrous sophistry, the be so great as to preclude the possibility of vain by the literary fame of its champions, and compensation. the profligate by the licentiousness of its princi- As the present world, on sceptical principles, ples. Atheism, the most undisguised, has at is the only place of recompeuse, whenever the length began to make its appearance.
practice of virtue fails to promise the greatest Animated by numbers, and emboldened by sum of present good, cases which often occur in success at the commencement of the French reality, and much oftener in appearance, every revolution, infidels gave a new direction to their motive to virtuous conduct is superseded ; a efforts, and impressed a new character on the deviation from rectitude becomes the part of ever-growing mass of their impious speculations. wisdom; and should the path of virtue, in addi
By uniting more closely with each other, by tion to this, be obstructed by disgrace, torment, giving a sprinkling of irreligion to all their liter- or death, to persevere would be madness and aly productions, they aimed to engross the form- folly, and a violation of the first and most essenation of the public mind; and, amidst the tial law of nature. Virtue, on these principles, warmest professions of attachment to virtue, eing in numberless instances at war with selfetiect an entire disruption of morality from re- preservation, never can or ought to become a ligion. Pretending to be the teachers of virtue, fixed habit of the mind. VOL. XII.- Part 1.
The system of infidelity is not only incapable immense advantage, what is to restrain an of arming virtue for great and trying occasions, Atheist from its commission ? To say that rebut leaves it unsupported on the most ordinary morse will deter him is absurd ; for remorse, as occurrences. In vain will its advocates appeal to distinguished from pity, is the sole offspring of a moral sense, to benevolence and sympathy. religious belief, the extinction of which is the In vain will they expatiate on the tranquillity great purpose of the infidel philosophy. The and pleasure attendant on a virtuous course; for dread of punishment, or infamy, from his fellowit is undeniable that these impulses may be over- creatures, will be an equally ineffectual barrier, come; and though you may remind the offender because crimes are only committed under such that in disregarding them he has violated his circumstances as suggest the hope of concealnature and that a conduct consistent with them ment; not to say that crimes themselves will is productive of much internal satisfaction; yet, soon lose their infamy and their horror, under if he reply that his taste is of a different sort, that the influence of that system which destroys the there are other gratifications which he values sanctity of virtue, by converting it into a low more, and that every man must choose his own calculation of worldly interest. Here the sense pleasures, the argument is at an end.
of an ever-present Ruler, and of an avenging Rewards and punishments, awarded by omni- Judge, is of the most awful and indispensable potent power, afford a palpable and pressing necessity; as it is that alone which impresses on motive, which can never be neglected without all crimes the character of folly, shows that duty renouncing the character of a rational creature : and interest in every instance coincide, and that but tastes and relishes are not to be proscribed. the most prosperous career of vice, the most
A motive in which the reason of man shall brilliant successes of criminality, are but an acquiesce, enforcing the practice of virtue at all accumulation of wrath against the day of wrath. times and seasons, enters into the very essence As the frequent perpetration of great crimes of moral obligation. Modern intidelity supplies is an inevitable consequence of the diffusion of no such motives: it is therefore essentially and sceptical principles, so, to understand this coninfallibly a system of enervation, turpitude, and sequence in its full extent, we must look beyond vice.
their immediate effects, and consider the disrupThis chasm in the construction of morals can tion of social ties, the destruction of confidence, only be supplied by the firm belief of a reward- the terror, suspicion, and hatred, which must ing and avenging Deity, who binds duty and prevail in that state of society in which barbarhappiness, though they may seem distant, in an ous deeds are familiar. The tranquillity which indissoluble chain, without which, whatever pervades a well-ordered community, and the usurps the name of virtue, is not a principle, mutual good offices which bind its members but a feeling; not a determinate rule, but a together, is founded on an implied confidence fluctuating expedient, varying with the tastes of in the indisposition to annoy; in the justice, huindividuals, and changing with the scenes of manity, and moderation of those among whom life.
we dwell. So that the worst consequence of Nor is this the only way in which infidelity crimes is, that they impair the stock of public subverts the foundation of morals. All reason- charity and general tenderness. The dread and ir.g on morals pre-supposes a distinction between hatred of our species would infallibly be grafted inclinations and duties, affections and rules. on a conviction that we were exposed every The former prompt, the latter prescribe. The moment to the surges of an unbridled ferocity, former supply motives to action; the latter re- and that nothing but the power of the magistrate gulate and control it. Hence it is evident, if stood between us and the daggers of assassins. virtue have any just claim to authority, it ‘must In such a state, laws deriving no support from be under the latter of these notions, that is, public manners are unequal to the task of curbing under the character of a law. It is under this the fury of the passions, which, from being notion, in fact, that its dominion has ever been concentrated into selfishness, fear, and revenge, acknowledged to be paramount and supreme. acquire new force. Terror and suspicion beget
But, without the intervention of a superior cruelty, and inflict injuries by way of prevention. will, it is impossible there should be any moral Pity is extinguished in the stronger impulse laws, except in the lax metaphorical sense in of self-preservation. The tender and generous which we speak of the laws of matter and motion. affections are crushed ; and nothing is seen but Men being essentially equal, morality is, on these the retaliation of wrongs; the fierce and unmiprinciples, only a stipulation, or silent compact, tigated struggle for superiority. This is but a into which every individual is supposed to enter, faint sketch of the incalculable calamities and as far as suits his convenience, and for the breach horrors we must expect, should we be so unforof which he is accountable to nothing but his tunate as ever to witness the triumph of modern own mind. His own mind is his law, his tri- infidelity. bunal, and his judge !
2. This system is a soil as barren of great and Two consequences, the most disastrous to sublime viriues as it is prolific in crimes. By society, will inevitably follow the general pre- great and sublime virtues are meant those which valence of this system; the frequent perpetra- are called into action on great and trying occation of great crimes, and the total absence of sions, which demand the sacrifice of the dearest great virtues.
interests and prospects of human life, and some1. In those conjunctions which tempt avarice, times of life itself. The virtues, in a word, which, or inflame ambition, when a crime flatters with by their rarity and splendour, draw admiration, the prospect of impunity, and the certainty of and have rendered illustrious the characters of patriots, martyrs, and confessors, It requires Its influence on the formation of character rebut little reflection to perceive that whatever mains to be examined. The actions of men are veils a future world, and contracts the limits of oftener determined by their character than their existence within the present life, must tend, in interest: their conduct takes its colour more a proportionable degree, to diminish the gran- from their acquired taste, inclinations, and deur, and narrow the sphere of human agency. habits, than from a deliberate regard to their
As well might you expect exalted sentiments greatest good. It is only on great occasions of justice from a professed gamester, as look for the mind awakes to take an extended survey noble principles in the man whose hopes and of her whole course, and that she suffers the fears are all suspended on the present moment, dictates of reason to impress a new bias upon and who stakes ihe whole happiness of his being her movements. The actions of each day are, on this vain and fleeting life. If he be ever for the most part, links which follow each other impelled to the performance of great achieve in the chain of custom. Hence the great effort ments in a good cause, it must be solely by the of practical wisdom is to imbue the mind with hope of fame, a motive which, besides that it right lastes, afiections, and habits; the elements makes virtue the servant of opinion, usually of character, and masters of action. grows weaker at the approach of death, and I. The exclusion of a Supreme Being, and of which, however it may surmount the love of ex- a superintending Providence, tends directly to istence in the heat of battle, or in the moment of the destruction of moral taste. It robs the unipublic observation, can seldom be expected 10 verse of all finished and consummate excellence, operate with much force on the retired duties of even in idea. The admiration of perfect wisdoin a private station.
and goodness, for which we are formed, and In affirming that infidelity is unfavorable to which kindles such unspeakable rapture in the the higher class of virtues, we are supported as soul, finding in the regions of scepticism nothing well by facts as by reasoning. We should be to which it corresponds, droops and languishes. sorry to load our adversaries with uninerited In a world which presents a fair spectacle of reproach, but to what history, to what record order and beauty, of a vast family nourished and will they appeal for the traits of moral greatness supported by an Almighty Parent, in a world exhibited by their disciples ? Where shall we which leads the devout mind, step by step, to look for the trophies of infidel magnanimity, or the contemplation of the first fair and the first aiheistical virtue? Not that we mean to accuse good, the sceptic is encompassed with nothing them of inactivity; they have recently filled the but obscurity, meanness, anii disorder. world with the fame of their exploits; exploits
When we reflect on the manner in which the of a different kind, indeed, but of imperishable idea of Deity is formed, we must be convinced memory, and disastrous lustre.
that such an idea, intimately present 10 the mind, Though it is confessed great and splendid ac- must have a most powerful effect in refining the tions are not the ordinary employment of life, moral taste. Composed of the richest elements, but must, from their nature, be reserved for high it embraces, in the character of a beneficent and eminent occasions, yet that system is essen- Parent and Almighty Ruler, whatever is vener. tially defective which leaves no room for their able in wisdom, whatever is awful in authority, cultivation. They are important, both from whatever is touching in goodness. Human extheir immediate advantage and their remoter cellence is blended with many imperfections, influence. They often save, and always illus- and seen under many limitations. It is beheld trate the age and nation in which they appear. only in detached and separate portions, nor ever They raise the standard of morals; they arrest appears in any one character whole and entire. the progress of degeneracy; they diffuse a lustre So that when, in imitation of the Stoics, we wislı over the path of life; monuments of the great- 10 form out of these fragments the notion of a ness of the human soul, they present to the perfecily wise and good man, we know it is a world the august image of virtue in her sub- mere fiction of the mind, without any real being limest form, from which streams of light and in whom it is embodied and realised. In the glory issue to remote times and ages, while their belief of in Deity, these conceptions are reduced commemoration, by the pen of historians and to reality; the scattered rays of an ideal excelpoets, awakens in distant bosoms the sparks of lence are concentrated, and become the real kindred excellence.
attributes of that Being with whom we stand in Combine the frequent and familiar perpetra- the nearest relation, who sits supreme at the tion of atrocious deeds with the dearth of great head of the universe, is armed with infinite and generous actions, and you have the exact power, and pervades all nature with his prepicture of that condition of society which completes the degradation of the species—the fright- The efficacy of these sentiments in producing ful contrast of dwarfish virtues and gigantic and augmenting a virtuous taste, will indeed be vices, where every thing good is mean and little, proportioned to the vividness with which they and every thing evil is rank and luxuriant. A are formed, and the frequency with which they dead and sickening uniformity prevails, broken recur; yet some benefit will not fail to result only at intervals by volcanic eruptions of anarchy from them, even in their lowest degree. The and crime.
idea of the Supreme Being has this peculiar II. Hitherto we have considered the influence property; that as it admits of no substitute, so, of scepticism on the principles of virtue; and from the first moment it is impressed, it is capahave endeavoured to show that it despoils it of ble of continual growth and enlargement. God iis dignity, and lays its authority in the dust. himself is immutable; but our conception of his
character is continually receiving fresh acces- all superior powers, affords no standard at all. sions, is continually growing more extended and Human nature knows nothing better or higher refulgent, by having transferred upon it new than itself. All above and around it being perceptions of beauty and goodness; by attracte shrouded in darkness, and the prospect confined ing to itself, as a centre, whatever bears the im- to the tame realities of life; virtue has no room press of dignity, order, or happiness. It borrows upwards to expand, nor are any excursions persplendour from all that is fair; subordinates to mitted into that unseen world, the true element itself all that is great; and sits enthroned on the of the great and good, by which it is fortified riches of the universe.
with motives equally calculated to satisfy the As the object of worship will always be, in a reason, to delight the fancy, and to impress the degree, the object of imitation, hence arises a heart. fixed standard of moral excellence, by the con- 2. Modern infidelity not only tends to cortemplation of which, the tendencies to corruption rupt the moral taste; it also promotes the growth are counteracted, the contagion of bad example of those vices which are the most hostile to is checked, and human nature arises above its social happiness. Of all the vices incident 10 natural level.
human nature, the most destructive to society When the knowledge of God was lost in the are vanity, ferocity, and unbridled sensuality'; world, just ideas of virtue and moral obligation and these are precisely the vices which infidelity disappeared along with it. How is it to be is calculated to cherish. otherwise accounted for, that in the polished That the love, fear, and habitual contemplanations, and in the enlightened times of Pagan tion of a Being infinitely exalted, or in other antiquity, the most unnatural lusts and detest- words, devotion, is adapted to promote a sober able impurities were not only tolerated in private and moderate estimate of our own excellencies, lise, but entered into religion, and formed a ma- is incontestible; nor is it less evident that the terial part of public worship. While among the exclusion of such sentiments must be favorable Jews, a people so much inferior in every other to pride. The criminality of pride will, perbranch of knowledge, the same vices were re- haps, be less readily admitted ; for, though there garded with horror.
is no vice so opposite to the spirit of Christianity, The reason is this : the true character of God yet there is none which, even in the Christian was unknown to the former, which, by the light world, has, under various pretences, been treated of divine revelation was imparted to the latter. with so much indulgence. The former cast their deities in the mould of There is, it will be confessed, a delicate sentheir own imaginations, in consequence of which sibility to character, a sober desire of reputation, they partook of the vices and defects of their a wish to possess the esteem of the wise and worshippers. To the latter, no scope was left good, felt by the purest minds, and which is the for the wanderings of fancy, but a pure and per- farthest remove from arrogance and vanity. The fect model was prescribed.
humility of a noble mind scarcely dares to apFalse and corrupt, however, as was the reli- prove of itself until it has secured the approbagion of the Pagans (if it deserve the name), and tion of others. Very different is that restless defective, and often vicious, as was the character desire of distinction, that passion for theatrical of their imaginary deities, it was still better for display, which inflames the heart, and occupies the world for the void of knowledge to be filled the whole attention of vain men. This, of all with these, than abandoned to total scepticism; the passions, is the most unsocial; avarice itself for if both systems are equally false, they are is not excepted. The reason is plain. Property not equally pernicious. When the fictions is a kind of good which may be more easily of Heathenism consecrated the memory of attained, and is capable of more minute subdiits legislators and heroes, it invested them for visions than fame. In the pursuit of wealth, the most part with those qualities which were men are led by an attention to their own interest in the greatest repute. They were supposed to to promote the welfare of each other; their ad. possess in the highest degree the virtues in which vantages are reciprocal ; the benefits which each it was most honorable to excel, and to be the is anxious to acquire for himself, he reaps in witnesses, approvers, and patrons of those per. the greatest abundance from the union and confections in others, by which their own character junction in society. The pursuits of vanity are was chiefly distinguished. Men saw, or rather quite contrary. The portion of time and alfancied they saw, in these supposed deities, the tention mankind are willing to spare from their qualities they most admired, 'dilated to a larger avocations and pleasures, to devote to the admisize, moving in a higher sphere, and associated ration of each other is so small, that every sucwith the power, dignity, and happiness of supe- cessful adventurer is felt to have impaired the rior natures.
With such ideal models before common stock. The success of one is the disthem, and conceiving themselves continually appointment of multitudes. For though there acting under the eye of such spectators and be many rich, many virtuous, many wise men, judges, they felt a real elevation, their eloquence fame must necessarily be the portion of but few. became more impassioned, their patriotism in- Hence every vain man, every man in whom flamed, and their courage exalted.
vanity is the ruling passion, regarding his rival Revelation, by displaying the true character as his enemy, is strongly tempted to rejoice in of God, affords a pure and perfect standard of his miscarriage, and repine at his success. virtue : heathenism, one in many respects de- Besides, as the passions are seldom seen in a fective and vicious; the fashionable scepticism simple, unmixed state, so vanity, when it sucof the present day, which excludes the belief of ceeds, degenerates into arrogance; when it is