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The English Deists: Matthew Tindal

Matthew Tindal (d. 1733), in his dialogue Christianity as Old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature (1730), produced the standard text-book of Deism. Proceeding from Locke's proposition of the identity of the truths of revelation with those of reason, he adduces a new array of arguments in support of that position.

The goodness of God, the vast extent of the earth, the long duration of human life on earth render it improbable that only to Jews and Christians was vouchsafed the favor of perceiving truth. We now have brought in the classic example of the three hundred million Chinese who surely could not all be excluded from the truth, and Confucianism begins to be extolled against much that is repugnant and harsh in the Mosaic law. Christianity, to be the truth, must find the substance in all religions; it must be as old as creation.

The doctrines of the fall and of original sin can not stand, since it is irrational to believe in the exclusion from the truth of the vast majority of humanity. Tindal's position is orthodox to the extent that Judaism and Christianity are acknowledged as revelations, though revelations only of the lex naturae, which is identified with natural religion, the primitive, uncorrupted faith, consisting in "the practise of morality in obedience to the will of God." An echo of the teachings of Tindal is found in Thomas Chubb (d. 1747), whose True Gospel of Jesus Christ (1738) attempts to prove that what Jesus sought to teach his followers was but natural morality, or the law of nature. (IEP)

(Below extract Wiki)

Christianity as Old as the Creation

Christianity as Old as the Creation; or, the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature (London, 1730, 2nd ed., 1731; 3rd, 1732; 4th, 1733), came to be regarded as the "Bible" of deism. It was really only the first part of the whole work, and the second, though written and entrusted in manuscript to a friend, never saw the light. The work evoked many replies, of which the ablest were by James Foster (1730), John Conybeare (1732), John Leland (1833) and Bishop Butler (1736).

Christianity as Old as the Creation was translated into German by J Lorenz Schmidt (1741), and from it dates the influence of English deism on German theology. Tindal had probably adopted the principles it expounds before he wrote his essay of 1697. He claimed the name of "Christian deist," holding that true Christianity is identical with the eternal religion of nature.

Waring states that Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730) "became, very soon after its publication, the focal center of the deist controversy. Because almost every argument, quotation, and issue raised for decades can be found here, the work is often termed 'the deist's Bible'."

Unlike the earlier system of Lord Herbert of Cherbury which relied on the notion of innate ideas, Tindal's system was based on the empirical principles of Locke. It assumed the traditional deistic antitheses of external and internal, positive and natural, revelations and religions. It starts from the assumptions that true religion must, from the nature of God and things, be eternal, universal, simple and perfect; that this religion can consist of nothing but the simple and universal duties towards God and man, the first consisting in the fulfilment of the second -- in other words, the practice of morality.

The author's moral system, is essentially utilitarian. True revealed religion is simply a republication of the religion of nature or reason, and Christianity, if it is the perfect religion, can only be that republication, and must be as old as creation. The special mission of Christianity, therefore, is simply to deliver men from the superstition which had perverted the religion of nature. True Christianity must be a perfectly "reasonable service," reason must be supreme, and the Scriptures as well as all religious doctrines must submit; only those writings can be regarded as divine Scripture which tend to the honour of God and the good of man.

Tindal's 'deist Bible' redefined the foundation of deist epistemology as knowledge based on experience or human reason. This effectively widened the gap between traditional Christians and what he called "Christian deists" since this new foundation required that revealed truth be validated through human reason. In Christianity as Old as the Creation, Tindal articulates many prominent facets of deism that held true through the subsequent centuries and still hold true among many deists today. He argues against special revelation: "God designed all Mankind should at all times know, what he wills them to know, believe, profess, and practice; and has given them no other Means for this, but the Use of Reason."

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