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tating upon the Saints' everlasting Rest; and ever honoured by the church ought both their names to be, who have opened, what under the divine blessing their writings have often proved to be,“ a well of water springing up to everlasting life.”
Ill, depressed, and suffering from extreme physical debility, as Dr. Watts was at the commencement of the year 1739, we find him entering upon one of the most debatable topics, and publishing in March his “Essay on Civil Power in things sacred.” In this cautious production the doctrine of toleration is discussed with great moderation and candour ; and the leading principles of religious liberty are very satisfactorily explained and defended. The writer endeavours to confine civil government to its legitimate domain, viz. civil affairs to assert the claims which its enactments have in this respect upon the obedience of the subject — to prove magisterial interference in religious matters, to be an unjust and unauthorised usurpation — and to show that Christianity achieved its proudest triumphs when unallied with human power, and free from the beggarly elements of this world, it went forth with nothing but that moral energy with which it was invested by its divine Founder. Its early diffusion was not effected by the aid and interposition of civil authority — it met with its most deadly opposition - the natural prejudices of the Jew, philosophic pride and imperial power, were brought to bear upon itand yet it made its way, and went forth from conquering to conquer. History is full of instructive lessons of the evils resulting from connecting the church with the throne, and employing the secular arm to enforce the adoption of its creeds and dogmas. Civil government, indeed, in his first section, he recognises as an ordinance of God, necessary to preserve the just liberties and peace of mankind from invasion and injury; and to pay prompt and implicit obedience to its legislation he upholds as the duty of every individual. But to render unto Cæsar the things that are God's — to place the conscience under the control of human authority — he distinctly disclaims
as one of the inventions of men. The subjection to “higher powers,” which the scriptures inculcate — the obedience to magistrates, which the apostles enjoin - is in secular and not in religious matters, for this very obvious reason, that the magistracy was pagan when such precepts were first given. “The province of the magistrate,” says Sir Henry Vane, “is the world and man's body, not his conscience or the concerns of eternity.” The professed design, however, of Dr. Watts in his essay is, to inquire whether there might not be an established religion consistent with the just liberties of mankind, and practicable under every form of civil government; an object which, as expounded in the treatise, may be regarded as a harmless, but not very feasible speculation. He thinks that officers might be appointed by the state, to explain the laws and the great duties of morality; that such officers labouring for the national weal, should be paid out of the national exchequer; that to secure the attendance of the people upon these teachers of natural religion, a fine might be levied upon absentees; for “I fear,” he remarks, “it will hardly be esteemed a sufficient penalty, that persons by neglect will continue ignorant of the laws moral and civil;" and that the magistrate, at the conclusion of such services, might appoint the “celebrations of his own peculiar religion to follow, providing the people have notice of it, and as many as please are permitted to depart without penalty or reproach.”
The scheme laboriously drawn out, of which this is an outline, however fair and goodly it might appear to its projector, is liable to several fatal objections - its utter insusceptibility of establishment, and the scanty prospect of an experiment yielding any benefit commensurate with the evils which it would inflict. Plausible in theory it would soon be found mischievous in practice, at variance with the first principles of civil and religious freedom. Besides, all the advantages which could possibly be supposed to flow from such an insti. tute, might be obtained in another and wholly unexceptionable
way - a national system of education, which would embrace elementary knowledge in morals as well as the common branches of learning ; securing the respect of the people by its proffered benefits, and not compelling their adoption by the penalties of the statute book. Strictly speaking, the establishment which Dr. Watts sketches, cannot be styled religious — it is purely civil — connected with no forms of worship or exposition of doctrine, but enouncing those duties, a breach of which is cognizable by the laws of the realm. Notwithstanding the visionary end aimed at in the essay, the reader will find in it many valuable hints; a firm and unflinching advocacy of the right of private judgment; and an exhibition of those enlightened views of toleration, which won for the Independents the applause of Hume, and which have adorned the history as they marked the rise of the denomination. Along with this treatise Dr. Colman of Boston acknowledges the reception of another, entitled “ Self-lore and Virtue reconciled only by Religion,” which probably, therefore, appeared about the same time. A purely speculative question is discussed in this pamphlet, whether the rules of virtue and our obligations to practise them, are eternal and immutable in themselves, or dependent upon the will and appointment of God. The latter part of this proposition is maintained; for though reason may discover some of the boundaries between good and evil, yet the divine authority, and the revelation of reward and punishment, are necessary to induce the practice of the one and the avoidance of the other. A mystical divinity has, indeed, preached up the figment, that virtue should be embraced without any regard to these impressive sanctions, simply because of its inherent excellency; and a deistical philosophy has stigmatised such motives as selfish and mercenary, beneath the dignity of a wise man, who, as the ancient Stoics reported, is happy even in Phalaris's bull: but experience amply proves, that the abstract propriety of moral duties, their eternal fitness, are con
siderations which go little way towards recommending them to the observance of a fallen and deteriorated nature.
During the period devoted to this chapter the work on the “ Ruin and Recovery of Mankind” made its appearance, and probably in May, 1740. The doctrine of the primitive innocence of man, his fall, and the subsequent depravity of his posterity, is the subject of this volume. On the importance of maintaining the degeneracy of human nature, as a theological and practical question, a strong opinion is expressed, rightly regarding it as one of the essentials of religion, and the foundation upon which the temple of Christian truth is built. The Deistical and Socinian representation of man, as born into the world pure and upright, dimmed by no cloud of sin and shame, is not only an injurious but a fatal error; it may be flattering to his pride, but its reception is ruinous to his interests; for until a belief obtains, that he has gone astray, a fugitive from God, there will be neither solicitude nor exertion to return. Upon this hypothesis, the whole scheme of revelation becomes superfluous, and is reduced to a needless display of means, an exhibition of useless instrumentality; for if our common nature is not corrupt, provision for its purification is not necessary — if it is not dead in trespasses and in sins,” the agent whose office is to quicken and revive is not requisite. But in opposition to this dream of proud philosophy, the testimonies of divine truth, of human experience, of daily observation, and of impartial history, are brought forward, furnishing irresistible evidence, that the seeds of sin are sown with the stamina of our being, and that depraved propensities are coeval with the commencing term of mortal life. The attention of theologians was called to this subject by the dangerous speculations of the latitudinarian divines, in whose writings the doctrine was scouted as a relic of the dark ages, as one of the demon-haunting terrors invented by ancient priestcraft, unworthy of any serious notice from persons of intellect and refinement. Dr. Ridgley, in 1725, pub
lished “ The Doctrine of Original Sin considered, the substance of two sermons at Pinner's Hall;” and in 1731 he recurred to the subject in his valuable Body of Divinity, broaching, however, some singular sentiments. Mr. Hebden, of Suffolk, also contributed some able pieces; but the work of Dr. John Taylor, very improperly styled “ The Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin proposed to free and candid Examination," soon afterwards drew forth the most considerable writers on the orthodox side. Taylor, it is well known, was a convert to the theology of the Racovian Catechism; from his elegant chapel in Norwich* the plain and homely truths of the gospel had been dismissed ; and no antiquated and illiberal insinuations against the native dignity of humanity offended the ears of the fashionable audience he addressed. He pronounces the common opinion “one of the greatest absurdities in all the system of corrupt religion ;" he animadverts upon several parts of Dr. Watts's treatise in a Supplement; and attributes the gloomy colours in which he portrayed mankind, to his retirement from the world engendering a melancholy and nervous temperament. To measure his strength with such an antagonist, learned and ingenious as he was, was not upon such a question a very arduous task ; but inclination and age alike forbade it; and the labours of his friends rendered it the less necessary. In a second edition of the “Ruin and Recovery” he notices most of the objections advanced by Dr. Taylor, repeats and strengthens his own positions, and warns his opponent in the case of whose pupils it was exemplified) of the danger of running into deism. Dr.
* The splendour of Dr. Taylor's meeting house attracted the notice of Wesles, who has commemorated his visit by a description of it: "Wednesday, Dec. 23, 1757. I was shown Dr. Taylor's new meeting-house, perhaps the most elegant ove in Europe. It is eight square, built of the finest brick, with sixteen sash windows below, as many above, and eight sky-lights in the dome, which indeed are purely ornamental. The inside is finished in the highest taste, and is as clean as any nobleman's saloon. The communion table is fine mahogany; the very latches of the pew doors are polished brass. How can it be thought that the old, coarse gospel should find admission here!” Journals, vol. iii. 315.