תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

The contest occasioned by the pe. Becker.

xxxv. The controversy set on foot by the ingenious Bal

thazar Becker, minister at Amsterdam, must not

be omitted here. This learned ecclesiastic took culiars enti occasion, from the Cartesian definition of spirit, of

the truth and precision of which he was intimately persuaded, to deny boldly all the accounts we have in the holy Scriptures, of the seduction, influence, and operations of the devil and his infernal emissaries; as also all that has been said in favour of the existence of ghosts, spectres, sorcerers, and magicians. The long and laboured work he published, in the year 1691, upon this interesting subject, is still extant. In this singular production, which bears the title of The World Bewitched, he modifies and perverts, with the greatest ingenuity, but also with equal temerity and presumption, the accounts given by the sacred writers of the power of Satan and wicked angels, and of persons possessed by evil spirits ; he affirms, moreover, that the unhappy and malignant being, who is called in Scripture Satan, or the devil, is chained down with his infernal ministers in hell; so that he can never come forth from this eternal prison to terrify mortals, or to seduce the righteous from the paths of virtue. According to the Cartesian definition above mentioned, the essence of spirit consists in thought; and from this definition, Becker drew his doctrine; since none of that influence, or of those operations that are attributed to evil spirits, can be effected by mere thinking." Rather therefore than call into question the accuracy or authority of Des Cartes, Becker thought proper to force the narrations and doctrines of Scripture into a conformity with the principles and definitions of this phi

DP u Our historian relates here somewhat obscurely the reasoning which Becker founded upon the Cartesian definition of mind or spirit. The tenor and amount of his argument is as follows : “ The essence of mind is thought, and the essence of matter is extension. Now, since there is no sort of conformity, or connexion between a thought and extension, mind cannot act upon matter unless these two substances be united, as soul and body are in inan; therefore no separate spirits, either good or evil, can act upon mankind. Such acting is miraculous, and miracles can be performed by God alone. It follows of consequence, that the Scripture accounts of the actions and operations of good and evil spirits, inust be understood in an allegorical sense.” This is Becker's argument; and it does, in truth, little honour to his acuteness and sagacity. By proving too much, it proves nothing at all; for if the want of a connexion or conformity between thought and extension renders mind incapable of acting upon matter, it is hard to see how their union should remove this incapacity, since the want of conformity and connexion remains, notwithstanding this union. Beside, according to this reasoning, the Supreme Being cannot act upon material beings. In vain does Becker maintain the affirmative, by having recourse to a miracle ; for this would imply, that the whole course of nature was a series of miracles, that is to say, that there are no miracles at all,

Dutch sects, Verschorists,

losopher. These errors nevertheless excited great tumults and divisions, not only in all the United Provinces, but also in some parts of Germany, where several doctors of the Lutheran church were alarmed at its progress, and arose to oppose it. Their inventor and promoter, though refuted victoriously by a multitude of adversaries, and publicly deposed from his pastoral charge, died in the year 1718, in the full persuasion of the truth of these opinions, that had drawn upon him so much opposition, and professed, with his last breath, his sincere adherence to every thing he had written on that subject. Nor can it be said, that this his doctrine died with him ; since it is abundantly known, that it has still many votaries and patrons, who either hold it in secret, or profess it publicly.

xxxvr. The curious reader can be no stranger to the multitude of sects, some Christian, some half Christian, some totally delirious, that have started up, at different times, both in England and Hol- Hattemists. land. It is difficult indeed, for those who live in other countries, to give accurate accounts of these separatists, as the books that contain their doctrines and views are seldom dispersed in foreign nations. We have however been lately favoured with some relations, that give a clearer idea of the Dutch sects, called Verschorists and Hattemists, than we had before entertained; and it will not therefore be improper to give here some account of these remarkable communities. The former derives its denomination from Jacob Verschoor, a native of Flushing, who, in the year 1680, out of a perverse and heterogeneous mixture of the tenets of Cocceius and Spinoza, produced a new form of religion equally remarkable for its extravagance and impiety. His disciples and followers were called Hebrews, on account of the zeal and assiduity with which they all, without distinction of age or sex, applied themselves to the study of the Hebrew language.

The Hattemists were so called from Pontian Van Hattem, a minister in the province of Zealand, who was also addicted to the sentiments of Spinoza, and was, on that account, degraded from his pastoral office. The Verscho

w See Lilienthalii Selectæ Historia Literar. p. i. observat. ii. p. 17. Miscellan. Lipsiens. tom. i. p. 361, 364, where there is an explication of a satirical medal, struck to expose the sentiments of Becker. See also Noweau Diction. Hist. et Critique, tom. in

P. 193

rists and Hattemists resemble each other in their religious systems, though there must also be some points in which they differ; since it is well known, that Van Hattem could never persuade the former to unite their sect with his, and thus to form one communion. Neither of the two have abandoned the profession of the reformed religion ; they affect, on the contrary, an apparent attachment to it; and Hattem, in particular, published a treatise upon the Catechism of Heidelberg. If I understand aright the imperfect relations that have been given of the sentiments and principles of these two communities, both their founders began by perverting the doctrine of the reformed church concerning absolute decrees, so as to deduce it from the impious system of a fatal and uncontrollable necessity. Having laid down this principle, to account for the origin of all events, they went a step further into the domain of atheism, and denied “the difference between moral good and evil, and the corruption of human nature.” From hence they concluded, “That mankind were under no sort of obligation to correct their manners, to improve their minds, orto endeavour after a regular obedience to the divine laws; that the whole of religion consisted, not in acting, but in suffering ; and that all the precepts of Jesus Christ are reducible to this single one, that we bear with cheerfulness and patience the events that happen to us through the divine will, and make it our constant and only study to maintain a permanent tranquillity of mind.”

This, if we are not mistaken, was the common doctrine of the two sects under consideration. There were however certain opinions or fancies, that were

peculiar to Hattem and his followers, who affirmed, “ That Christ had not satisfied the divine justice, nor made an expiation for the sins of men by his death and sufferings, but had only signified to us, by his mediation, that there was nothing in us that could offend the Deity.” Hattem maintained, “ that this was Christ's manner of justifying his servants, and presenting them blameless before the tribunal of God.” These opinions seem perverse and pestilential in the highest degree; and they evidently tend to extinguish all virtuous sentiments, and to dissolve all moral obligation. It does not however appear, that either of these innovations directly recommended immorality and vice, or thought that men might safely follow, without any restraint, the

the Consensus oř Form of Concord.

impulse of their irregular appetites and passions. It is at least certain, that the following maxim is placed among their tenets, That God does not punish men for their sins, but by their sins; and this maxím seems to signify, that, if a man does not restrain his irregular appetites, he must suffer the painful fruits of his licentiousness, both in a present and future life, not in consequence of any judicial sentence pronounced by the will

, or executed by the immediate hand of God, but according to some fixed law or constitution of nature. The two sects still subsist, though they bear no longer the names of their founders.

XXXVII. The churches of Switzerland, so early as the year 1669, were alarmed at the progress which the disputes the opinions of Amyraut, De la Place, and Cap-concentration pel, were making in different countries; and they were apprehensive that the doctrine they had received from Calvin, and which had been so solemnly confirmed by the synod of Dort, might be altered and corrupted by these new improvements in theology. This

apprehension was so much the less chimerical, as at that very time there were, among the clergy of Geneva, certain doctors eminent for their learning and eloquence, who not only adopted these new opinions, but were also desirous, notwithstanding the opposition and remonstrances of their colleagues, of propagating them among

the people. To set bounds to the zeal of these innovators, and to stop the progress of the new doctrines, the learned John Henry Heidegger, professor of divinity at Zurich, was employed in the year 1673, by an assembly, composed of the most eminent Helvetic divines, to draw up a form of doctrine, in direct opposition to the tenets and principles

of the celebrated French writers mentioned above. The magistrates were engaged, without much difficulty, to give this production the stamp of their authority; and to add to it the other confessions of faith received in the Helvetic church, under the peculiar denomination of the Form of Concord. This step, which seemed to be taken with pacific views, proved an abundant source of division and discord. Many declared, that they could not conscientiously subscribe this new form; and thus unhappy tumults and

x See Theod. Hasæ Dissert. in Museo Bremensi Theol. Philolog. vol. ii. p. 144. BihPiotheque Belgique, tom. ii. p. 203.

See Leti Istoria Genevrina, part iv. book v. p. 448, 488, 497, &c.

contests arose in several places. Hence it happened, that the canton of Basil, and the republic of Geneva, perceiving the inconveniences that proceeded from this new article of church communion, and strongly solicited, in the year 1686, by Frederic William, elector of Brandenburg, to ease the burdened consciences of their clergy, abrogated this form. It is nevertheless oertain, that in the other cantons it maintained its authority for some time after this period; but, in our time, the discords it has excited in many places, and more particularly in the university of Lausanne, have contributed to deprive it of all its authority, and to sink it into utter oblivion.

I z It must not be imagined, from this expression of our historian, that this form, entitled the Consensus, was abrogated at Basil by a positive edict. The case stood thus ; Mr. Peter Werenfels, who was at the head of the ecclesiastical consistory of that city, paid such regard to the letter of the elector, as to avoid requiring a subscription to this form from the candidates for the ministry; and his conduct, in this respect, was imitated by his successors. The remonstrances of the elector do not seem to have had the same effect upon those that governed the church of Geneva; for the Consensus, or Form of Agreement, maintained its credit and authority there until the year 1706, when, without being abrogated by any positive act, it fell into disuse. In several other parts of Switzerland, it was still imposed as a rule of faith, as appears by the letters addressed by George 1. king of England, as also by the king of Prussia, in the year 1723, to the Swiss cantons, in order to procure the abrogation of tbis form or Consensus, which was considered as an obstacle to the union of the reformed and Lutheran churches. See the ‘Memoires pour servir a l'Histoire des troubles arrivees en Suisse a l'occasion du Consensus,' published in 8vo. at Amsterdam, in the year 1726.

a See Christ. Matth. Pfaffii Schediasma de Formula Consenzus Helvetica,' published in 4to. at Tubingen, in the year 1723. "Memoires pour servir a l'Histoire des troubles arrivees en Suisse a l'occasion du Consensus.'

« הקודםהמשך »