This sketch of Joseph Butler was written by Professor Henry Rogers, author of "The Eclipse of Faith," "The Supernatural Origin of the Bible," etc. It was prepared for the "Encyclopedia Britannica." 1875:
JOSEPH BUTLER, Bishop of Durham—one of the most profound and original thinkers this or any other country ever produced—well deserves a place among the dii majores of English philosophy, with Bacon, Newton, and Locke.
The following brief sketch will comprise an outline of his life and character, some remarks on the peculiarity of his genius, and an estimate of his principal writings.
He was born at Wantage, in Berkshire, May 18, 1692, His father, Thomas Butler, had been a linen-draper in that town, but before the birth of Joseph, who was the youngest of a family of eight, had relinquished business. He continued to reside at Wantage, however, at a house called the Priory, which is still shown to the curious visitor.
Young Butler received his first instructions from the Rev. Philip Barton, a clergyman, and master of the grammar school at Wantage. The father, who was a Presbyterian, was anxious that his son, who early gave indications of capacity, should dedicate himself to the ministry in his own communion, and sent him to a Dissenting academy at Gloucester, then kept by Mr. Samuel Jones. " Jones," says Professor Fitzgerald with equal truth and justice, " was a man of no mean ability or erudition;" and adds, with honorable liberality, "could number among his scholars many names that might
confer honor on any university in Christendom." He instances among others Jeremiah Jones, the author of the excellent work on the Canon; Secker, afterward Archbishop of Canterbury ; and two of the most Learned, acute, and candid apologists for Christianity England has produced—Nathaniel Lardner and Samuel Chandler.
The academy was shortly afterward removed to Tewkesbury. While yet there Butler first displayed his extraordinary aptitude for metaphysical speculation in the letters he sent to Clarke on two supposed flaws in the reasoning of the recently published a priori demonstrations; one respecting the proof of the Divine omnipresence, and the other respecting the proof of the unity of the "necessarily existent Being." It is but just to Clarke to say that his opponent subsequently surrendered both objections. Whether the capitulation be judged strictly the result of logical necessity will depend on the estimate formed of the value of Clarke's proof of the truths in question—truths which are happily capable of being shown to be so, independently of any such a priori metaphysical demonstration. In this encounter, Butler showed his modesty not less than his prowess. He was so afraid of being discovered, that he employed his friend Secker to convey his letters to the Gloucester postoffice, and bring back the answers.
About this time he began to entertain doubts of the propriety of adhering to his father's Presbyterian opinions, and, consequently, of entering the ministry of that communion; doubts which at length terminated in his joining the Church of England. His father, seeing all opposition vain, at length consented to his repairing to Oxford, where he was entered as a commoner of Oriel College, March 17, 1714. Here he early formed an intimate friendship with Mr. Edward Talbot, second son of the Bishop of Durham, a connection to which his future advancement was in a great degree owing.
The exact period at which Butler took orders is not known, but it must have been before 1717, as by that date he was occasionally supplying Talbot's living, at Hendred, near Wantage. In 1718, at the age of twenty-six, he was nominated preacher at the Rolls, on the united recommendation of Talbot and Dr. Samuel Clarke.
At this time the country was in a ferment. What is called the " Bangorian Controversy," and which originated in a sermon of Bishop Hoadley, "On the Nature of Christ's Kingdom," (a discourse supposed to imperil "all ecclesiastical authority,") was then raging. One pamphlet which that voluminous controversy called forth has been attributed to Butler. " The external evidence, however, is," as Mr. Fitzgerald judges, " but slight; and the internal, for the negative, at least equally so." The writer says, " On the whole, I feel unable to arrive at any positive decision on the subject." Readers curious respecting it may consult Mr. Fitzger aid's pages, where they will find a detail of the circum stances which led to the publication of the pamphlet, and the evidence for and against its being attributed to Butler.
In 1721 Bishop Talbot presented Butler with the living of Haughton, near Dorkington, and Secker (who had also relinquished nonconformity, and after some considerable fluctuations in his religious views had at length entered the Church) with that of Haughton-le-Spring. In 1725 the same liberal patron transferred Butler to the more lucrative benefice of Stanhope.
He retained his situation of preacher at the Rolls till the following year, (1726) and before quitting it, published the celebrated Fifteen Sermons delivered there ; among the most profound and original discourses which philosophical theologian ever gave to the world As these could have been but a portion of those he preached at the Rolls, it has often been asked what could become of the remainder? We agree with Mr. Fitzgerald in thinking that the substance of many was afterward worked into the Analogy. That many of them were equally important with the Fifteen may be inferred from Butler's declaration in the preface, that the selection of these had been determined by "circumstances in a great measure accidental." At his death, Butler desired his manuscripts to be destroyed; this he would hardly" have done, had he not already rifled their chief treasures for his great work. Let us hope so, at all events; for it would be provoking to think that discourses of equal value with the Fifteen had been wantonly committed to the flames.
After resigning his preachership at the Rolls, he retired to Stanhope, and gave himself up to study and the duties of a parish priest. All that could be gleaned of his habits and mode of life there has been preserved by the present Bishop of Exeter, his successor in the living of Stanhope eighty years after, and it is little enough. Tradition said that " Rector Butler rode a black pony, and always rode very fast; that he was loved and respected by all his parishioners; that he lived very retired, was very kind, and could not resist the importunities of common beggars, who, knowing his infirmity, pursued him so earnestly as sometimes to drive him back into his house as his only escape." The last fact the bishop reports doubtful; but Butler's extreme benevolence is not so.
In all probability, Butler in this seclusion was meditating and digesting that great work on which his fame and what is better than fame, his usefulness, principally rests, the Analogy. " In a similar retirement." says Professor Fitzgerald, " The Ecclesiastical Polity of Hooker, The Intellectual System of Cudworth, and The Divine Legation of Warburton—records of genius `which posterity will not willingly let die '—were ripened into maturity." Queen Caroline once asked Archbishop Blackburne whether Butler was not "dead." " No," said he, "but he is buried." It was well for posterity that he was thus, for awhile, entombed.
He remained in this meditative seclusion seven years. At the end of this period, his friend Secker, who thought Butler's health and spirits were failing under excess of solitude and study, succeeded in dragging him from his retreat. Lord Chancellor Talbot, at Secker's solicitation, appointed him his chaplain in 1733, and in 1736 a prebendary of Rochester. In the same year, Queen Caroline, who thought her Court derived as much luster from philosophers and divines as from statesmen and courtiers—who had been the delighted spectator of the argumentative contests of Clarke and Berkeley, Hoadley and Sherlock—appointed Butler clerk of the closet, and commanded his " attendance every evening from seven till nine."
It was in 1736 that the celebrated Analogy was published, and its great merits immediately attracted public attention. It was perpetually in the hands of his royal patroness, and passed through several editions before the author's death. Its greatest praise is that it has been almost universally read, and never answered.
I am not aware," says Mr. Fitzgerald, "that any of those whom it would have immediately concerned have ever attempted a regular reply to the Analogy; but particular parts of it have met with answers, and the whole, as a whole, has been sometimes unfavorably criticized." Of its merits, and precise position in relation " to those whom it immediately concerns," we shall speak presently.
Some strange criticisms on its general character in Tholuck's Vermischte Scriften, showing a singular infelicity in missing Butler's true "stand Punkt," as Tholuck's own countrymen would say, and rather unreasonably complaining of obscurity, considering the quality of German theologico-philosophical style in general, are well disposed of by Professor Fitzgerald.
About this time Butler had some correspondence with Lord Karnes, on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. Karnes requested a personal interview, which Butler declined in a manner very characteristic of his modesty and caution. It was, " on the score of his natural diffidence and reserve, his being unaccustomed to oral controversy, and his fear that the cause of truth might thence suffer from the unskillfulness of its advocate."
Hume was a kinsman of Lord Kames, and when pre-paring his treatise of Human Nature for the press, was recommended by Lord Karnes to get Butler's judgment on it. "Your thoughts and mine," says Hume, "agree with respect to Dr. Butler, and I should be glad to be introduced to him." The interview, however, never took place, nor was Butler's judgment obtained. One cannot help speculating on the possible consequences. Would it have made any difference ?
In the year 1737 Queen Caroline died, but on her death-bed recommended her favorite divine to her husband's care. In 1738 Butler was accordingly made Bishop of Bristol, in place of Dr. Gooch, who was translated to Norwich. This seems to have been a politic stroke of Walpole, " who probably thought," says Fitzgerald. " that the ascetic rector of Stanhope was too unworldly a person to care for the poverty of his preferment, or perceive the slight which it implied." In the reply, however, in which Butler expresses his sense of the honor conferred, he shows that he understood the position of matters very clearly. The hint he gave seems to have had its effect, for in 1740 the king nominated him to the vacant Deanery of St. Paul's, whereupon he resigned Stanhope, which he had hitherto held in cammendam. The revenues of Bristol, the poorest see, did not exceed 400.
A curious anecdote of Butler has been preserved by his domestic chaplain, Dr. Tucker, afterward Dean of Gloucester. He says : " His custom was, when at Bristol, to walk for hours in his garden in the darkest night which the time of year could afford, and I had frequently the honor to attend him. After walking some time, he would stop suddenly and ask the question, ' What security is there against the insanity of individuals? The physicians know of none, and as to divines we have no data, either from Scripture or from reason, to go upon in relation to this affair.' ` True, My Lord, no man has a lease of his understanding any more than of his life ; they are both in the hands of the Sovereign Disposer of all things.' He would then take another turn, and again stop short : ` Why might not whole communities and public bodies be seized with fits of insanity, as well as individuals ? ' ` My Lord, I have never considered the case, and can give no opinion concerning it.' ` Nothing but this principle, that they are liable to insanity equally at least with private persons, can account for the major part of those transactions of which we read in history.' I thought little of that odd conceit of the bishop at that juncture; but I own I could not avoid thinking of it a great deal since, and applying it to many cases."
In 1747, on the death of Archbishop Potter, it is said that the primacy was offered to Butler, who declined it, with the remark that " it is too late for me to try to support a falling Church." If he really said so it must have been in a moment of despondency, to which his constitutional melancholy often disposed him. No such feeling, at all events, prevented his accepting the bishopric of Durham in 1750, on the death of Dr. Edward Chandler. About the time of his promotion to this dignity he was engaged in a design for consolidating and extending the Church of England in the American Colonies. With this object he drew up a plan marked by his characteristic moderation and liberality; the project, however, came to nothing.
Soon after his translation to the see of Durham, Butler delivered and published his charge on the Use and Importance of External Religion, which gave rise, in conjunction with his erection of a "white marble cross" over the communion table in his chapel at Bristol, and one or two other slight circumstances, to the ridiculous and malignant charge of popery; a charge, as Mr. Fitzgerald observes, " destitute of a shadow of positive evidence, and contradicted by the whole tenor of Butler's character, life, and writings."
The revenues from his see were lavishly expended in the support of public and private charities, Butler must have been of a naturally munificent as well as benevolent disposition. He was extremely fond, it appears, of planning and building; a passion not always very prudently indulged, or without danger, in early days, of involving him in difficulties ; from which, indeed, on one occasion Secker's intervention saved him. He spent large sums in improving his various residences. It was probably in the indulgence of the love of ornamentation to which this passion led that the " marble cross," and other imprudent symbols which were so ridiculously adduced to support the charge of popery, originated. while his own mode of life was most simple and unostentatious. Of the frugality of his table the following anecdote is proof: "A friend of mine, since deceased, told me," says the Rev. John Newton, " that when he was a young man he once dined with the late Dr. Butler, at that time Bishop of Durham; and, though the guest was a man of fortune, and the interview by appointment, the provision was no more than a joint of meat and a pudding. The bishop apologized for his plain fare by saying that it was his way of living; `that he had long been disgusted with the fashionable expense of time and money in entertainments, and was determined that it should receive no countenance from his example.' " No prelate ever owed less to politics for his elevation, or took less part in them. If he was not "wafted to his see of Durham," as Horace Walpole ludicrously said, " on a cloud of metaphysics," he certainly was not carried there by political intrigue or party maneuvers. He was never known to speak in the House of Peers, though constant in his attendance there.
He had not long enjoyed his new dignity before symptoms of decay disclosed themselves. He repaired to Bath in 1752, in the hope of recovering his health, where he died, June 16, in the sixty-first year of his age.
His face was thin and pale, but singularly expressive of placidity and benevolence. " His white hair," says Hutchinson, "hung gracefully on his shoulders, and his whole figure was patriarchal." He was buried in the cathedral of Bristol, where two monuments have been erected to his memory. They record in suitable inscriptions (one in Latin by his chaplain, Dr. Foster, and the other in English by the late Dr. Southey) his virtues and genius. Though epitaphs, they speak no more than simple truth.
A singular anecdote is recorded of his last moments. As Mr. Fitzgerald observes, " it wants direct testimony," " but is in itself neither uninstructive nor incredible, for a dying hour has often given strange vividness and intensity to truths neither previously unknown nor uninfluential. It. is generally given thus: "When Bishop Butler lay on his death-bed, he called for his chaplain and said, ` Though I have endeavored to avoid sin, and to please God to the utmost of my power; yet, from the consciousness of perpetual infirmities, I am still afraid to die.' ` My Lord,' said the chaplain, ` you have forgotten that Jesus Christ is a Saviour.' ` True,' was the answer, ` but how shall I know that he is a Saviour for me ? ' ` My Lord, it is written, Him that cometh unto me, I will in nowise cast out.' ` True,' said the bishop, `and I am surprised that though I have read that Scripture a thousand times over, I never felt its virtue till this moment; and now I die happy.'"
The genius of Butler was almost equally distinguished by subtlety and comprehensiveness, though the latter quality was perhaps the most characteristic. In his juvenile correspondence with Clarke—already referred to—he displays an acuteness which, as Sir James Mackintosh observes, "neither himself nor any other ever surpassed ;" an analytic skill, which, in earlier ages, might easily have gained him a rank with the most renowned of the schoolmen. But in his mature works, though they are every-where characterized by subtle thought, he manifests in combination with it qualities yet more valuable : patient comprehensiveness in the survey of complex evidence, a profound judgment and a most judicial calmness in computing its several elements, and a singular constructive skill in combining the materials of argument into a consistent logical fabric. This "architectural power" of mind may be wholly or nearly wanting, where the mere analytic faculty may exist in much vigor. The latter may even be possessed in vicious excess, resulting in little more than the disintegration of the subjects presented to its ingenuity. Synthetically to reconstruct the complex unity, when the task of analysis is completed, to assign the reciprocal relations and law of subordination of its various parts, requires something more. Many can take a watch to pieces who would be sorely puzzled to put it together again.
Butler possessed these powers of analysis and synthesis in remarkable equipoise. What is more, he could not only recombine, and present in symmetrical harmony, the elements of a complex unity when capable of being subjected to an exact previous analysis—as in his remarkable sketch of the Moral Constitution of Man—but he had a wonderfully keen eye for detecting remote analogies and subtle relations where the elements are presented intermingled or in isolation, and insusceptible of being presented as a single object of contemplation previous to the attempt to combine them. This is the case with the celebrated Analogy. In the Sermons on Human Nature, he comprehensively surveys that nature as a system or constitution; and after a careful analysis of its principles, affections, and passions, views these elements in combination, endeavors to reduce each of these to its place, assigns to them their relative importance, and deduces from the whole the law of subordination—which he finds in the Moral Supremacy of Conscience, as a key-stone to the arch—the ruling principle of the " Constitution." In the Analogy he gathers up and combines, from a wide survey of scattered and disjointed facts, those resemblances and relations on which the argument is founded, and works them into one of the most original and symmetrical logical creations to which human genius ever gave birth. The latter task was by far the more gigantic of the two. To recur to our previous illustration, Butler is here like one who puts a watch together without being permitted to take it to pieces—from the mere presentation of its disjointed fragments. In the former case he resembled the physiologist who has an entire animal to study and dissect; in the latter he resembled Cuvier, constructing out of disjecta membra—a bone scattered here and there—an organized unity which man had never seen except in isolated fragments.
All Butler's productions—even his briefest--display much of this "architectonic " quality of mind; in all he not only evinces a keen analytic power in discerning the "differences," (one phase of the philosophic genius, according to Bacon, and hardly the brightest,) but a still higher power of detecting the " analogies " and " resemblances of things," and thus of showing their relation and subordination. These peculiarities make his writings difficult; but it makes them profound, and it gives them singular completeness.
It is not difficult to assign the precise sphere in which Butler, with eminent gifts for abstract science in general, felt most at home. Facts show us, not only that there are peculiarities of mental structure which prompt men to the pursuit of some of the great objects of thought and speculation rather than others—peculiarities which circumstances may determine and education modify; but which neither circumstances nor education can do more than determine or modify; but that even in relation to the very same subject of speculation, there are minute and specific varieties of mind, which prompt men to addict themselves rather to this part of it than to that. This was the case with Butler. Eminently fitted for the prosecution of metaphysical science in general, it is al-ways the philosophy of the moral nature of man to which he most naturally attaches himself, and on which he best loves to expatiate. Neither Bacon nor Pascal ever revolved more deeply the phenomena of our moral nature, or contemplated its inconsistencies, its intricacies, its paradoxes, with a keener glance or more comprehensive survey, or drew from such survey reflections more original or instructive. As in reading Locke the young metaphysician is perpetually startled by the palpable apparition, in distinct, sharply defined outline, of facts of consciousness which he recognizes as having been partially and dimly present to his mind before—though too fugitive to fix, too vague to receive a name; so in reading Butler he is continually surprised by the statement of moral facts and laws which he then first adequately recognizes as true, and sees in distinct vision face to face. It is not without reason that Sir James Mackintosh says of the sermons preached at the Rolls, "That in them Butler has taught truths more capable of being exactly distinguished from the doctrines of his predecessors, more satisfactorily established by him, more comprehensively applied to particulars, more rationally connected with each other, and therefore more worthy of the name of discovery, than any with which we are acquainted."
His special predilections for the sphere of speculation we have mentioned are strikingly indicated in his choice of the ground from which he proposes to survey the questions of morals. " There are two ways," says he, in the preface to his three celebrated sermons on Human Nature, " in which the subject of morals may be treated. One begins inquiring into the abstract relations of things; the other from a matter of fact, namely, what the particular nature of man is, its several parts, their economy or constitution; from whence it proceeds to determine what course of life it is which is correspondent to this whole nature." As might be expected, from the tendencies of his mind, he selects his latter course.
The powers of observation in Butler must have been, in spite of his studious life and his remarkable habits of abstraction, not much inferior to his keen faculty of introspection, though this last was undoubtedly the main instrument by which he traced so profoundly the mysteries of our nature. There. have doubtless been other men, far less profound, who have had a' more quick and more vivid perception of the peculiarities of character which discriminate individuals, or small classes of men, (evincing after all, however, not so much a knowledge of man as a knowledge of men;) still the masterly manner in which Butler often sketches even these, shows that he must have been a very sagacious observer of those phenomena of human nature which presented themselves from without, as well as of those which revealed themselves from within. In general, however, it is the characteristics of man, the generic phenomena of our nature, in all their complexity and subtlety, that he best loves to investigate and exhibit. The spirit of his profound philosophy is mean-time worthy both of the Christian character and ample intellect of him who excogitated it. It is the very reverse of that of the philosophical satirist or caricaturist; however severely just the foibles, the inconsistencies, the corruptions of our nature, it is a philosophy every-where compassionate, magnanimous, and philanthropic. Its tone, indeed, like that of the philosophy of Pascal, (though not shaded with the same deep melancholy,) is entirely modulated by a profound conviction of the frailty and ignorance of man, of the little we know compared with what is to be known, and of the duty of humility, modesty, and caution, in relation to all those great problems of the universe, which tempt and exercise man's ambitious speculations. His constant feeling amid the beautiful and original reasonings of the Analogy, is identical with that of Newton when, reverting at the close of life to his sublime discoveries, he declared he seemed only like a child who had been amusing him. self with picking up a few shells on the margin of the ocean òf universal truth, while the infinite still lay unexplored before him. In a word, it is the feeling, not only of Pascal and of Newton, but of all the profoundest speculators of our race, whose grandest lesson from all they learned was the vanishing ratio of man's knowledge to man's ignorance. Hence the immense value (if only as a discipline) of a careful study of Butler's writings to every youthful mind. They cannot but powerfully tend to check presumption, and teach modesty and self-distrust.
The feebleness of Butler's imagination was singularly contrasted with the inventive and constructive qualities of his intellect, and the facility with which he detected and employed " analogies " in the way of argument. He is, indeed, almost unique in this respect. Other philosophic minds, (Bacon and Burke are illustrious examples,) which have possessed similar aptitudes for "analogical " reasoning, have usually had quite sufficient of the. kindred activity of imagination to employ "analogies for the purpose of poetical illustration. If Butler possessed this faculty by nature in any tolerable measure, it must (as has been the case with some other great thinkers) have been repressed and absorbed by his habits of abstraction. His defect in this respect is, in some respects, to be regretted, since unquestionably the illustrations which imagination would have supplied to argument, and the graces it would have imparted to style, would have made his writings both more intelligible and more attractive. It is said that once, and once only, " he courted the muses," having indicted a solitary "acrostic to a fair cousin " who for the first and, as it seems, the only time, inspired him with the tender passion. But, as one of his biographers says, we have probably no great reason to lament the loss of this fragment of his poetry.
Butler's composition is almost as destitute of wit as of the graces of imagination. Yet is he by no means without that dry sort of humor which often accompanies very vigorous logic, and, indeed, is in some instances inseparable from it; for the neat detection of a sophism, or the sudden and unexpected explosion of a fallacy, produces much the same effect at wit on those who are capable of enjoying close and cogent reasoning. There is also a kind of simple, grave, satirical pleasantry, with which he sometimes states and refutes an objection, by no means without its piquancy.
As to the complaint of obscurity, which has been so often charged on Butler's style, it is difficult to see its justice in the sense in which it has usually been preferred. He is a difficult author, no doubt, but he is so from the close packing of his thoughts, and their immense generality and comprehensiveness; as also from what may be called the breadth of his march, and from occasional lateral excursions for the purpose of disposing of some objection which he does not formally mention, but which might harass his flank; it certainly is not from indeterminate language or (ordinarily) involved construction. All that is really required in the reader, capable of understanding him at all, is to do just what he does with lyrical poetry, (if we may employ an old, and yet in this one point not inapt comparison;) he must read sufficiently often to make all the transitions of thought familiar, he must let the mind dwell with patience on each argument till its entire scope and bearing are properly appreciated. Nothing certainly is wanting in the method or arrangement of the thoughts, and the diction seems to us selected with the utmost care and precision. In-deed, as Professor Fitzgerald justly observes, a collation of the first with the subsequent editions of the Analogy (the variations are given in Mr. Fitzgerald's edition) will show, by the nature of the alterations, what pains Butler bestowed on a point on which he is erroneously supposed to have been negligent. In subjects so abstruse, and involving so much generality of expression, the utmost difficulty must always be experienced in selecting language which conveys neither, more nor less than what is intended; and this point Butler must have labored immensely, it may be added successfully, since he has at least produced works which have seldom given rise to disputes as to his meaning. Though he may be difficult to be understood, few people complain of his being liable to be misunderstood. In short, it may be doubted whether any man of so comprehensive a mind, and dealing with such abstract subjects, ever condensed the results of twenty years' meditations into so small a compass with so little obscurity. No doubt greater amplification would have made him more pleasing, but it may be questioned whether the perusal of his writings would have been so useful a discipline, and whether the truths he has delivered would have fixed themselves so indelibly as they now generally do in the minds of all who diligently study him. It is the result of the very activity of mind his writings stimulate and demand. But, at any rate, if precision in the use of language, and method and consecutiveness in the thoughts, are sufficient to rebut the charge of obscurity, Butler is not chargeable with the fault in the ordinary sense. We must never forget what Whately in his Rhetoric has so well illustrated—that perspicuity is a "relative quality." To the intelligent, or those who are willing to take sufficient pains to understand, Butler will not seem chargeable with obscurity. The diction is plain, downright Saxon-English, and the style, however homely, has, as the writer just mentioned observes, the great charm of transparent simplicity of purpose and unaffected earnestness.
The immortal Analogy has probably done more to silence the objections of infidelity than any other ever written, from the earliest " apologies " downward. It not only most critically met the spirit of unbelief in the author's own day, but is equally adapted to meet that which chiefly prevails in all time. In every age some of the principal, perhaps the principal, objections to the Christian Revelation have been those which men's pre-conceptions of the Divine character and administration—of what God must be, and what God must do—have suggested against certain facts in the sacred history, or certain doctrines it reveals. To show the objector then (supposing him to be a theist, as nine tenths of all such objectors have been) that the very same or similar difficulties are found in the structure of the universe and the divine administration of it, is to wrest every such weapon completely from his hands, if he be a fair reasoner and remains a theist at all. He is bound by strict logical obligation either to show that the parallel difficulties do not exist, or to show how he can solve them, while he cannot solve those of the Bible. In default of doing either of these things, he ought either to renounce all such objections to Christianity, or abandon theism al-together. It is true, therefore, that though Butler leaves the alternative of atheism open, he hardly leaves any other alternative to nine tenths of the theists who have objected to Christianity.
It has been sometimes said, by way of reproach, that Butler does leave that door open; that his work does not confute the atheist. The answer is, that it is not its object to confute atheism; but it is equally true, that it does not diminish by one grain any of the arguments against it. It leaves the evidence for theism—every particle of it—just where it was. Butler merely avails himself of facts which exist, undeniably exist, (whether men be atheists or theists,) to neutralize a certain class of objections against Christianity. And, as the exhibition of such facts as form the pivot on which Butler's argument turns does not impugn the truth of theism, but leaves its conclusions, and the immense preponderance and convergence of evidence which establish them, just as they were, so it is equally true that Butler has sufficiently guarded his argument from any perversion. He has also, with his accustomed acuteness and judgment, shown that, even on the principles of atheism itself, its confident assumption that, if its principles be granted, a future life, future happiness, future misery, is a dream—cannot be depended on ; for since men have existed, they may again; and if in a bad condition now, in a worse hereafter. It is not, on such an hypothesis, a whit more unaccountable that man's life should be renewed or preserved, or perpetuated forever, than that it should have been originated at all. On this point he truly says, " That we are to live hereafter is just as reconcilable with the scheme of atheism, and as well to be accounted for by it, as that we are now alive, is; and therefore nothing can be more absurd than to argue from that scheme that there can be no future state."
It has been also alleged that the analogy only "shifts the difficulty from revealed to natural religion," and that " atheists might make use of the arguments, and have done so. The answer is, not only (as just said) that the arguments of Butler leave every particle of the evidence for theism just where it was, and that he has sufficiently guarded against all abuse of them ; but that the facts, of which it is so foolishly said that the atheist might make ill use, had always been the very arguments which he had used, and of which Butler only made a new and beneficial application. The objections with which he perplexes and baffles the deist, he did not give to the atheist's armory; he took them from thence merely to make an unexpected and more legitimate use of them. The atheist had never neglected such weapons. nor was likely to do so, previous to Butler's adroit application of them. The charge is ridiculous. As well might a man, who had wrested a stiletto from an assassin to defend himself, he accused of having put the weapon into the assassin's hands! It was there before; he merely wrested it thence. It is just so with Butler.
Further, we cannot but think that the conclusiveness of Butler's work as against its true object, The Deist, has often been underrated by many even of its genuine admirers. Thus Dr. Chalmers, for instance, who gives such glowing proofs of his admiration of the work, and expatiates in a congenial spirit on its merits, affirms that " those overrate the power of analogy who look to it for any very distinct or positive contribution to the Christian argument. To repel objections, in fact, is the great service which analogy has rendered to the cause of Revelation, and it is the only service which we seek for at its hands." This, abstractedly, is true; but in fact, considering the position of the bulk of the objectors, that they have been invincibly persuaded of the truth of theism, and that their objections to Christianity have been exclusively or chiefly of the kind dealt with in the Analogy, the work is much more than an argumentum ad hominem; it is not simply of negative value. To such objectors it logically establishes the truth of Christianity, or it forces them to recede from theism, which the bulk will not do. If a man says, "I am invincibly persuaded of the truth of proposition A, but I cannot receive proposition B, because objections a ß y are opposed to it; if these were removed, my objections would cease ;" then, if you can show that a ß y equally apply to the proposition A, his reception of which, he says, is based on invincible evidence, you do really compel such a man to believe that not only B may be true, but that is true, unless he 'be willing (which few in the parallel case are) to abandon proposition A as well as B. This is precisely the condition in which the majority of deists have ever been, if we may judge from their writings. It is usually the à priori assumption, that certain facts in the history of the Bible, or some portions of its doctrine, are unworthy of the Deity, and incompatible with his character or administration, that has chiefly excited the incredulity of the deist; far more than any dissatisfaction with the positive evidence which substantiates the Divine origin of Christianity. Neutralize these, objections by showing: that they are equally applicable to what he declares he cannot relinquish—the doctrine of theism—and you show him, if he has a particle of logical sagacity, not only that Christianity may be true, but that it is so; and his only escape is by relapsing into atheism, or resting his opposition on other objections of a very feeble character in comparison, and which, probably, few would have ever been contented with alone ; for apart from these objections which Butler repels, the historical evidence of Christianity—the evidence on be-half of the integrity of its records, and the honesty and sincerity of its founders, showing that they could not have constructed such a system if they would, and would not, supposing them impostors, if they could—is stronger than that for any fact in history.
In consequence of this position of the argument, Butler's book, to large classes of objectors, though practically an argumentum ad hominem, not only proves Christianity may be true, but in all logical fairness proves it is so. This he himself, with his usual judgment, points out. He says: "And objections, which are equally applicable to both natural and revealed religion, are, properly speaking, answered by its being shown that they are so, provided the former be admitted to be true."
The praise which Mackintosh bestowed on this great work is alike worthy of it and himself. " Butler's great work, though only a commentary on the singularly original and pregnant passage of Origen, which is so honestly prefixed to it as a motto, is, notwithstanding, the most original and profound work extant in any language on the Philosophy of Religion." [A far different and utterly inconsistent judgment in all respects is reported, in his " Life," to have fallen from him. But as Professor Fitzgerald shows, it is so strangely, and, indeed, amusingly contrary to the above, that it must have been founded on some mistake of something that must have been said in conversation, even simultaneous inventions or discoveries; and then ensues much debate as to the true claimants. Thus it was in relation to the calculus, the analysis of water, the invention of the steam-engine, and the discovery of Neptune.] The favorite topics of the Sermons are, of course, largely insisted on in the Analogy: such as the "ignorance of man;" the restrictions which the limitations of his nature and his position in the universe should impose on his speculations; his subjection to "probability as the guide of life;" the folly and presumption of pronouncing, à prior', on the character and conduct of the Divine Ruler from our contracted point of view, and our glimpses of but a very small segment of his universal plan. These topics Butler enforces with a power not less admirable than the sagacity with which he traces the analogies between the " Constitution and Course of Nature," and the disclosures of "Divine Revelation." These last, of course, form the staple of the argument ; but to enforce the proper deductions from them the above favorite topics are absolutely essential.
It has been sometimes, though erroneously, surmised that Butler was considerably indebted to preceding writers. That in the progress of the long deistical controversy many theologians should have caught glimpses of the same line of argument, is not wonderful. The constant iteration by the English deists of that same class of difficulties to which the Analogy replies, could not fail to lead to a partial perception of the powerful instrument it was reserved for Butler effectually to wield. It has been here as with almost every other great intellectual achievement of man; many minds have been simultaneously engaged by the natural progress of events about the same subject of thought; there have beer_ "coming shadows" and "vague anticipations," perhaps In the present case, however, there can be no doubt that the merit of the systematic construction of the en-tire argument rests with Butler. Nor would it have much detracted from his merit, even if he had derived far larger fragments of the fabric from his contemporaries than we have any reason to believe he did. They would have been but single stones; the architectural genius which brought them from their distant quarries and polished them, and wrought them into a massive evidence, was his alone.
Professor Fitzgerald has truly remarked, that the work of Dr. James Foster against Tindal (an author Butler evidently has constantly in his eye) presents some curious parallelisms with certain passages of the Analogy. We have ourselves noted in Conybeare's reply to the same infidel writer (published six years before the Analogy) other parallelisms not less striking. But it seems quite improbable that Butler should have derived aid from any such sources, since his work was being excogitated for many years before it was published; nay, as we have seen, it may be conjectured that he largely transfused into it portions of the sermons delivered so long before at the Rolls, and of which a far greater number must have been preached than the fifteen he published ; so that perhaps, it is more near the truth to say that con-temporary writers had been indebted to him than he to them.
The "pregnant sentence " from Origen, however, is not the only thing which may have suggested to Butler his great work. Berkeley, in a long passage of the " Minute Philosopher," cited by Mr. Fitzgerald, clearly lays down the principle on which such a work as the Analogy might be constructed.
The spirit of the Analogy is admirable. Though eminently controversial in its origin and purpose; and though the author must constantly have had the deistical writers of the day in his eye, his work is calm and dignified, and divested of every trace of the controversial spirit. He does not even mention the names of the men whose opinions he is refuting; and if their systems had been merely some new minerals or ærolites dropped upon the world from some unknown sphere, he could not have analyzed them with less of passion.
Of Butler's ethical philosophy, as expounded especially in the Sermons on Human Nature, Sir James Mackintosh's remarks prefixed to this Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Britannica supersede further notice in the present brief article. But it may be remarked in general of the sermons preached at the Rolls, that though not so much read (if we except, perhaps, the three just mentioned) as the Analogy, they are to the full as worthy of being read; they deserve all that is so strikingly said of them in the Preliminary Dissertation. Some of them fill one with wonder at the sagacity with which the moral paradoxes in human nature are investigated and reconciled. Take, for example, the sermon on Balaam. The first feeling in many a mind on reading the history in the Old Testament is, that man could not so act in the given circumstances. We doubt if ever any man deeply pondered the sermon of Butler, in which he dwells on the equally unaccountable phenomena of human conduct, less observed, indeed, only because more observable, and questioned any longer man's powers of self-deception, even to such feats of folly and wickedness as are recorded of the prophet.
The editions of Butler's writings, separately or altogether, have been numerous, and it is impossible within the limits of this article to specify them, still less to do justice to the literature which they have produced. His commentators have been many and most illustrious : seldom has a man who wrote so little engaged so many great minds to do him homage by becoming his exponents and annotators. It may be permitted, however, to mention with deserved honor the remarks of Sir James Mackintosh, prefixed to this Encyclopedia ; the " Prelections " of Dr. Chalmers on the Analogy; the valuable " Essay" of Dr. Hampden on the " Philosophical Evidences of Christianity ;" some beautiful applications of Butler's principle in Whately's " Essays on the Peculiarities of Christianity;" and the admirable edition of the Analogy by Professor Fitzgerald, which is enriched by many very acute and judicious notes, and by a copious and valuable index.
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