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Flattery and Detraction, 290 Hymns,
OUR CHRISTIAN CLASSICS.
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
“ HOLY HERBERT," as men love to call the author of “ The Temple,” had an older brother Edward, who was created by Charles I. LORD HERBERT OF CHERBURY. This older brother was a dashing soldier, a spirited diplomatist, and an accomplished English gentleman. Besides representing King James at the Court of France, and distinguishing himself in the single-combats which were still the fashion of the age,
under Maurice of Nassau he fought the Spaniards as recklessly as if he really wished to throw his life away. But, like his devout and gentle brother, Lord Herbert was a scholar and a genius, and his stirring career was interrupted by occasional fits of profound and careful meditation. There was a difference, however, betwixt the themes of the brothers. To the pure, meek spirit of George, the sayings of Scripture were conclusive, and he craved no truth more absolute than the utterances of the Great Amen. But in the mind of the warrior the place of faith was pre-occupied by philosophy. Instead of sitting under the Tree of Life, and eating the pleasant fruits, or grouping in bright garlands the leaves and blossoms, he addressed himself to a different task. He analysed the soil, and experi
mented on the sap, and came to the conclusion, that fruits as fair, and leaves as healing, could be manufactured by human alchemy. Asking " What is Truth ?” he found particles of it in every creed and worship, and by extracting them and recombining them under the guidance of enlightened reason, he produced a system 'of natural religion, absolute, universal, and sufficient for all purposes! 1. That there is a Supreme Being; 2. That He is to be worshipped ; 3. That He is best worshipped by the exercise of virtue ; 4. That, if repented of, sin will be pardoned ; 5. And that there is a future state, with punishments for vice, and with rewards for virtue :-into these five ultimate articles he crystallised the essence of all creeds, and as a substitute for more cumbrous systems, offered to the world his Eclectic Theism.
It frequently happens that, whilst faith is shut out at the door, superstition gets in at the window. When Lord Herbert had finished his book, one object of which was to bring into question everything like special revelation, he could not persuade himself to publish it until he had personally received
a sign from heaven.” “Being thus doubtful in my chamber," he tells
us, one fair day in the summer, my casement being open towards the south, the sun shining clear, and no wind stirring, I took my book “De Veritate' in my hands, and kneeling on my knees, devoutly said these words : 0 Thou eternal God, author of this light which now shines upon me, and giver of all inward illuminations, I do beseech Thee of Thine infinite goodness, to pardon a greater request than a sinner ought to make. I am not satisfied enough, whether I ought to publish this book; if it be for Thy glory, I beseech Thee give me some sign from heaven; if not, I shall suppress it.' I had no sooner spoken these words, but a loud though gentle voice came forth from the heavens-for it was like nothing on earthwhich did so cheer and comfort me, that I took my petition for granted, and that I had the sign I de
HERBERT AND HOBBES,
manded : wherefore, also, I resolved to print my book. This, how strange soever it may seem, I protest before the eternal God, is true : neither am I in any way superstitiously deceived herein, since I did not only clearly hear the voice, but in the serenest sky that ever I saw, being without all cloud, did, to my thinking, see the place from whence it came.” Lord Herbert having thus received the special communication from heaven, which in the case of John and Paul he deemed impossible, sent his book to Paris to be published. It appeared in 1624.
Quarter of a century later—that is, in 1651-appeared the
Leviathan," -a treatise on the nature of a commonwealth, in which religion is referred to the will of the governor, and is declared to be a mere matter of political convenience. The production of one of the most powerful intellects which our country has ever yielded, distinguished by its marvellous symmetry and system, abounding in caustic epigrams, annihilating those affections and better elements of human nature of which the writer himself knew nothing, with frequent apparent truth ascribing the best actions to the meanest of motives, and laying the axe at the root of all religion—this work created a prodigious sensation, which outlasted the long life of its author, THOMAS HOBBES of Malmsbury.* Its irreligion, its contemptuous way of treating mankind, and its cleverness endeared it to Charles II. and his jovial courtiers ; whilst, among general readers, at first carried along by its shrewd remarks and its plain and vigorous language, many found themselves at last involved in the meshes of its sophistry, and shut up to the conclusion that men are miserable mutually-exterminating machines, with no higher power to help or pity, and with no future existence to compensate the miseries of this one.
From the dragon teeth sown by Herbert and Hobbes in England, and by Spinoza in Holland, a mighty crop grew up in the following century, and it would be dreary work to follow through its varying phases, the infidelity of Blount and Toland, Collins and Woolcot, Tindal and Morgan, Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, and Thomas Paine in Britain, coinciding with the brilliant scepticism of Voltaire, and the Encyclopedists in France, and the more disastrous, because more treacherous unbelief of the Neologians in Germany. The times were favourable. Throughout the greater part of this century, there was little faith in Europe, and both in our own country and on the Continent, men were glad of such apologies for debauchery, and such opiates to their consciences as were supplied by the sentimentalism of Rousseau and the jests of Voltaire. It was the October of our modern Europe. The Reformation summer was past, and the harvest of English Puritanism and Continental Pietism had gone home to God's garner, and now the cold earth and damp air had only force sufficient for fungoid vegetation. A hot sunshine is fatal to toadstools, and so is frost : but the sunny days of faith and zeal had passed away, and the winter of war and revolution had not yet set in. Accordingly, the right of private judgment, the free discussion, the intellectual energy of the Reformation passing into the sear and yellow leaf, from the soil strewn with the honours of that noble forest nothing sprang save poisonous boleti and mould of many colours the Phallus fætidus of Gibbon and Tom Paine, the Tremella, cold and clammy, of Hume and other life-destroying parasites.
* Born April 5, 1588; died Dec. 4, 1679.
But if unbelief was the form in which ungodliness then ramped and rioted, an earnest contending for the faith was the characteristic of English theology. That century was pre-eminently THE AGE OF APOLOGETICS ; and without further preface, we hasten to give a few specimens of the way in which the faith was defended by its more distinguished champions. These may be divided into two classes—the exponents of Natural Theology, and the advocates of Revealed Religion.