The Law of Nature Revived: Christianity and Natural Religion in the Sermons of John Tillotson

By Hill, Harvey | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2001 | Go to article overview

The Law of Nature Revived: Christianity and Natural Religion in the Sermons of John Tillotson


Hill, Harvey, Anglican and Episcopal History


INTRODUCTION

During the seventeenth century, a new term of theological abuse appeared: "latitudinarian." To those who coined the term, Latitudinarians appeared excessively willing to compromise on important matters of Christian doctrine, worship, and polity. Despite such criticisms, the Latitudinarians gradually achieved prominence under Kings Charles II and James II, and they assumed leadership of the Church of England under William III in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. Perhaps the leading Latitudinarian was John Tillotson, archbishop of Canterbury from 1691 until his death in 1694. In the words of one scholar, his sermons are "great rhetorical exemplars of latitudinarianism" and "as clear and important a source of latitudinarian ideas as there is."1

Like the Latitudinarians more generally, Tillotson's legacy has been contested. During his lifetime, he was accused of believing "nothing that lay beyond the compass of humane reason."2 Shortly after his death, leading Deists claimed that he had supported their position.3 At least some eighteenth-century evangelicals agreed, if with a very different value judgement. George Whitefield described Tillotson's sermons as "such husks, fit only for carnal, unawakened, unbelieving reasoners to eat" and famously said that Tillotson knew no more of true Christianity than Muhammad.4 Twentieth-century scholars have sometimes agreed with this assessment. For example, Gerald Cragg comments on the "prosaic worldliness," "pedestrian common sense," even the "unabashed hedonism" of Tillotson's sermons. "If the next age treated religion either as an exercise in logic or as an invitation to be upright on the most advantageous terms," Cragg claims, "it was because Tillotson had taught it the lesson."5

On the other hand, scholars such as Gerard Reedy, William Spellman, J. O'Higgins, and Roger Emerson have rejected this assessment.6 Most influentially, Reedy argues that Tillotson was "more orthodox than is often assumed, with reason and revelation ably integrated."7 To defend his position, Reedy advocates viewing six sermons that Tillotson preached on the nature and work of Christ as the "canon within a canon" for interpreting his thought as a whole. Reedy presents a powerful case, but one that is not fully persuasive. Tillotson preached and published these sermons primarily to answer accusations against him of heterodoxy.8 Although any adequate account of Tillotson's thought must surely consider these sermons, to take them as the key to his thought seems exaggerated.

How, then, can we assess these competing claims about Tillotson? Tillotson's work supports both. On one hand, as we will see below, he could argue that Christianity simply revived natural religion. On the other, he insisted on the necessity of the Incarnation, revelation, and supernatural grace. The task is further complicated by the nature and extent of Tillotson's work. Over the course of more than thirty years, he delivered hundreds of sermons. Two hundred and fifty four of them are preserved in his collected works, along with miscellaneous other writings. The sheer volume of his output along with the time span that it covered makes it difficult to describe his work systematically. And he himself never wrote a systematic treatise offering a key to interpret the whole. However, Tillotson did provide a clue in the preface to his collected works. He described his purpose: "to establish men in the principles of religion, and to recommend to them the practice of it."9 If we can see how and why Tillotson established the principles of religion and persuaded people to practice it, then we have arrived at the heart of his theology and can see how he attempted to integrate such apparently disparate claims about nature and grace. Christianity, we will see, had value for Tillotson not so much because it added to natural religion, but because it restored fallen human nature to the point that people could discern and follow the otherwise almost impossible dictates of natural religion. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Law of Nature Revived: Christianity and Natural Religion in the Sermons of John Tillotson
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.