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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XI. Berkeley and Contemporary Philosophy

§ 13. Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation

In some respects—and these, perhaps, the most important—the most significant work of the whole deistical movement was Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation: or, the Gospel, a Republication of the Religion of Nature (1730). It is no mere defence of the use of reason, nor attack on Christian mysteries. It is a masterly presentation of the prevalent philosophical ideas of the time and a comparison of them with the rational theology which found favour with leaders of the church. “The will of God,” said Samuel Clarke, then the most prominent figure in British philosophy and theology, “always determines itself to act according to the eternal reason of things,” and “all rational creatures are obliged to govern themselves in all their actions by the same eternal rule of reason.” “The religion of the Gospel,” said Sherlock, preaching a missionary sermon, “is the true original religion of reason and nature,” and its precepts are “declarative of that original religion which was as old as the creation.” These extracts Tindal prints on his title-page; and his own aim is to show that “natural religion and external revelation, like two tallies, exactly answer one another, without any other difference between them but as to the manner of their being delivered.” Tindal grasps firmly the principles of natural religion, as they were taught by Clarke and Wollaston and other theologians of the day. Reason convinces us of the being and attributes of God, and of the truths of morality; the goodness of God makes it impossible that He should have concealed from any of His creatures what was necessary to their well-being. Christianity, therefore, cannot displace deism, as Clarke held that it could: it can only confirm it. And, as reason suffices to establish the truths of deism, it would seem that Christianity is superfluous. Tindal, however, did not expressly draw this conclusion: he was seventy years of age when he wrote this book, and he retained his fellowship at All Souls, through many changes of government and of personal creed, till his death.