« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
sacred authority the canons of a church that elevates the humble ministers of Him who had not where to lay his head, to the splendours of a palace or the pretended honours of an archiepiscopal throne-to a necessary alliance, under every danger to personal and ministerial character, with profligate noblemen or intriguing and imperious ministers. But Butler drew his title to memory, in subsequent ages, neither from the tinsel of rank, the staff and lawn of office, nor the attendant pomp and grandeur arising from the possession of one of the richest benefices in England. Butler the prelate will be forgotten: Butler the author of the Analogy will live to the last recorded time.
In the few remains of the Life of Butler, we lament, still more than any thing we have mentioned, that we learn nothing of his habits of study, his mode of investigation, and, especially, the process by which he composed his Analogy. We are told, indeed, that it combines the results of his thoughts for twenty years, and his observations and reading during that long period of his life. He is said to have written and re-written different parts of it, to have studied each word and phrase, until it expressed precisely his meaning, and no more. It bears plenary evidence that it must have been written by such a condensing and epitomizing process. Any man may be satisfied of this who attempts to express the thoughts in other language than that employed in the Analogy. Instinctively the sentences and paragraphs will swell out to a much greater size, and defy all the powers we possess to reduce them to their primitive dimensions, unless they be driven within the precise enclosures prescribed by the mind of Butler. We regret in vain that this is all our knowledge of the mechanical and mental process by which this book was composed. We are not permitted to see him at his toil, to mark the workings of his mind, and to learn the art of looking intensely at a thought until we see it standing
alone, aloof from all attendants, and prepared for a permanent location where the author intended to fix its abode, to be contemplated, as he viewed it, in all coming ages. We can hardly repress our indignation that those who undertake to write the biography of such gifted men, should not tell us less of their bodies, their trappings, their honours, and their offices, and more of the workings of the spirit, the process of subjecting and restraining the native wanderings of the mind. Nor can we suppress the sigh of regret that he has not himself revealed to us what no other man could have done, and admitted subsequent admirers to the intimacy of friendship, and to a contemplation of the process by which the Analogy was conceived and executed. Over the past, however, it is in vain to sigh. Every man feels that hitherto we have had but little biography. Sketches of the external circumstances of many men we have genealogical tables without number and without end-chronicled wonders, that such a man was born and died, ran through such a circle of honours, and obtained such a mausoleum to perpetuate his memory. But histories of mind we have not; and, for all the great purposes of knowledge, we should know as much of the man, if we had not looked upon the misnamed biography.
We now take leave of Butler as a man, and direct our thoughts more particularly to his great work.
Those were dark and portentous times which succeeded the reign of the Second Charles. That voluptuous and witty monarch had contributed more than any mortal, before or since his time, to fill a nation with infidels and debauchees. Corruption had seized upon the highest orders of the state, and it flowed down on all ranks of the community. Every grade in life had caught the infection of the court. Profligacy is alternately the parent and the child of unbelief.
thinking multitude of courtiers and flatterers that fluttered
around the court of Charles, had learned to scoff at Christianity, and to consider it as not worth the trouble of anxious thought. The influence of the court extended over the nation. It soon infected the schools and professions; and perhaps there has not been a time in British history when infidelity had become so general, and had assumed a form so malignant. It had attached itself to dissoluteness, deep, dreadful, and universal. It was going hand in hand with all the pleasures of a profligate court; it was identified with all that actuated the souls of Charles and his ministers; it was the kind of infidelity which fitted an unthinking age-scorning alike reason, philosophy, patient thought, and purity of morals. In the language of Butler, "it had come to be taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry, but that it is now, at length, discovered to be fictitious; and, accordingly, they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were, by way of reprisals for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world." In times of such universal profligacy and infidelity arose, in succession, Locke, Newton, and Butler; the two former of whom, we need not say, have been unsurpassed in great powers of thought and in the influence which they exerted on the sentiments of mankind. It needed such men to bring back a volatile generation to habits of profound thought in the sciences. It needed such a man as Butler, in our view not inferior in profound thought to either, and whose works will have a more permanent effect on the destinies of men than both, to arrest the giddy steps of a nation; to bring religion from the palace of a scoffing prince and court to the bar of sober thought, and to show that Christianity was not undeserving of sober inquiry. This was the design of the Analogy. It was not so much to furnish a
complete demonstration of the truth of religion, as to show that it could not be proved to be false. It was to show that it accorded with a great system of things actually going on in the world, and that attacks made on Christianity were, to the same extent, assaults on the course of nature and of nature's God. Butler pointed the unbeliever to a grand system of things in actual existence, a world with every variety of character, feeling, conduct, and results-a system of things deeply mysterious, yet developing great principles, and bearing proof that it was under the government of God. He traced certain indubitable acts of the Almighty in a course of nature, whose existence could not be denied. Now, if it could be shown that Christianity contained like results, acts, and principles; if it was a scheme involving no greater mystery, and demanding a correspondent conduct on the part of man, it would be seen that it had proceeded from the same author. In other words, the objections alleged against Christianity, being equally applicable against the course of nature, could not be valid. To show this was the design of Butler. In doing this he carried the war into the camp of the enemy. He silenced the objector's arguments; or, if the objector still continued to urge them, he showed him that, with equal propriety, they could be urged against the acknowledged course of things; against his own principles of conduct on other subjects; against what indubitably affected his condition here, and what might, therefore, affect his doom hereafter.
We are fond of thus looking at the Bible as part of one vast plan of communicating truth to created intelligences. We know it is the fullest and most grand of all God's ways of teaching men, standing amidst the sources of information, as the sun does amid the stars of heaven, quenching their feeble glimmerings in the fulness of its meridian splendour. But, to carry forward the illustration, the sun does, indeed,
cause the stars of night to "hide their diminished heads;" but we see in both but one system of laws; and whether in the trembling of the minutest orb that emits its faint rays to us from the farthest bounds of space, or the full light of the sun at noon-day, we trace the hand of the same God, and feel that "all are but parts of one stupendous whole." Thus it is with revelation. We know that its truths comprise all that the world elsewhere contains; that its authority is supreme over all the other sources of knowledge, and all the other facts of the moral system. But there are other sources of information-a vast multitude of facts that we expect to find in accordance with this brighter effulgence from heaven; and it is these facts which the Analogy brings to the aid of revelation. The Bible is in religion what the telescope is in astronomy. It does not contradict any thing before known; it does not annihilate any thing before seen: it carries the eye forward into new worlds, opens it upon more splendid fields of vision, displays grander systems, where we thought there was but the emptiness of space or the darkness of illimitable and profound night, and divides the milky way into vast clusters of suns and stars, of worlds and systems. In all the boundlessness of these fields of vision, however, does the telescope point us to any new laws of acting, any new principle by which the universe is governed? The astronomer tells us not. It is the hand of the same God which he sees, impelling the new worlds that burst on the view in the immensity of space with the same irresistible and inconceivable energy, and encompassing them with the same clear fields of light. So we expect to find it in revelation. We expect to see plans, laws, purposes, actions, and results, uniform with the facts in actual existence before our eyes. Whether in the smiles of an infant, or the rapt feelings of a seraph; in the strength of manhood, or the power of Gabriel; in the rewards of virtue here, or the crown of glory hereafter, we expect to find the