Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Timothy Dwight on Bolingbroke

Eighth President of Yale Timothy Dwight -- that great foe of "infidelity" -- examines and criticizes Bolingbroke's creed in Dwight's classic, The Nature And Danger of Infidel Philosophy.

If you read it line by line, Dwight apparently sees Bolingbroke as a philosopher full of contradictions.  He accuses Bolingbroke of having a libertine and hedonistic philosophy.  I focus on how Dwight understands Bolingbroke's creed insofar as it relates to "Christianity" and "Deism."

This is a taste of Dwight's analysis:
[Bolingbroke asserted] 
That Self-love is the great Law of our nature; and yet, That Universal Benevolence is the great Law of our nature: That Christianity is a republication of the Religion of Nature, and a benevolent system; that its morals are pure; and that he is determined to seek for genuine Christianity with the simplicity of spirit, with which Christ himself taught it in the Gospel; and. yet, 
A great part of his Works, particularly of his Philosophical Works, was written for no other end, but to destroy Christianity. 
How to resolve the contradiction?  It's HOW Bolingbroke understands "Christianity."  Elsewhere Dwight informs:
Even now, Unitarians, as well as Infidels, hold out a distinction between the Gospelthat is, as they intend, the personal instructions of Christ; and the Epistles, which they consider as the mere Comments of Christ's followers. Thus Lord Bolingbroke declares the system of religion, both Natural and Revealed, to be excellent, and plainly taught; as it was taught by Christ, and recorded by his Evangelists: "a complete system to all the purposes of Religion*." nay, he speaks of it directly, as revealed by God himself. "Christianity, genuine Christianity," he says again, "is contained in the Gospel, it is the Word of God + ." 
At the same time, Lord Bolingbroke declares, that St. Paul has preached another Gospel; and that the New Testament contains two Gospels. In the same manner, Mr. Chubb declares, that St. Paul preached another Gospel, which was contradictor to that of Christ. Unitarians, also, are plainly unwilling to allow the same respect, and confidence, to be due to the Apostolic writings, which they appear to consider as due to the words of Christ; and, like the Infidels above mentioned, admit, that the Gospels possess a higher character than the Epistles.

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