The English Church in the Eighteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 665 pages of information about The English Church in the Eighteenth Century.
its limits, but did not sufficiently insist upon them.  They accepted the Christian faith without hesitation or reserve; they believed its doctrines, they reverenced its mysteries, fully convinced that its truth, if not capable of demonstration, is firmly founded upon evidence with which every unprejudiced inquirer has ample reason to be satisfied.  But where reason could not boldly tread, they were content to believe and to be silent.  Hence, as they put very little trust in religious feelings, and utterly disbelieved in any power of spiritual discernment higher than, or different from reason, the greater part of their religious teaching was practically confined to those parts of the Christian creed which are palpable to every understanding.  In their wish to avoid unprofitable disputations, they dwelt but cursorily upon debated subjects of the last importance; and in their dread of a correct theology doing duty for a correct life, they were apt grievously to underestimate the influences of theology upon life.  Their moral teaching was deeply religious, pervaded by a sense of the overruling Providence of a God infinite in love and holiness, and was enforced perseveringly and with great earnestness by motives derived from the rewards and punishments of a future state.  If a reader of Tillotson feels a sense of wonder that the writings of so good a man—­of such deep and unaffected piety, so sympathetic and kindly, so thoroughly Christian-hearted—­should yet be benumbed by the presence of a cold prudential morality which might seem incompatible with the self-forgetful impulses of warm religious feeling, he may see, in what he wonders at, the ill effects of a faith too jealously debarred by reason from contemplations in which the human mind quickly finds out its limits.  When religion, in fear lest it should become unpractical, relaxes its hold upon what may properly be called the mysteries of faith, it not only loses in elevation and grandeur, but it defeats the very end it aimed at.  It takes a lower ethical tone, and loses in moral power.  To form even what may be in some respects an erroneous conception of an imperfectly comprehended doctrine, and so to make it bear upon the life, is far better than timidly, for fear of difficulties or error, to lay the thought of it aside, and so leave it altogether unfruitful.  Tillotson and many of his successors in the last century had a great tendency to do this, and no excellences of personal character could redeem the injurious influence it had upon their writings.  His services in the cause of religious truth were very great:  they would have been far greater, and his influence a far more unmixed good, if as a representative leader of religious thought, he had been more superior to what was to be its most characteristic defect.

The Latitudinarian section of the Church of England won its chief fame, during the years that immediately followed the Revolution of 1688, by its activity in behalf of ecclesiastical comprehension and religious liberty.  These exertions, so far as they extend to the history of the eighteenth century, and were continued through that period, will be considered in the following chapter.

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The English Church in the Eighteenth Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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