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The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D. — Volume 03 Swift's Writings on Religion and the Church — Volume 1   By: (1667-1745)

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First Page:

BOHN'S STANDARD LIBRARY

THE PROSE WORKS OF JONATHAN SWIFT

VOL. III

[Illustration: Jonathan Swift,

from a picture by Frances Bindon

In the possession of Sir F R Falkiner ]

THE PROSE WORKS

OF

JONATHAN SWIFT, D.D.

EDITED BY

TEMPLE SCOTT

WITH A BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION BY

THE RT. HON. W. E. H. LECKY, M.P.

VOL III

1898

SWIFT'S

WRITINGS ON RELIGION AND THE CHURCH

VOL. I

EDITED BY

TEMPLE SCOTT

1898

PREFACE.

The inquiry into the religious thought of the eighteenth century forms one of the most interesting subjects for speculation in the history of the intellectual development of western nations. It is true, that in that history Swift takes no special or distinguished part; but he forms a figure of peculiar interest in a special circle of his own. Swift had no natural bent for the ministry of a church; his instincts, his temperament, his intellect, were of that order which fitted him for leadership and administration. He was a born magistrate and commander of men. It is, therefore, one of the finest compliments we can pay Swift to say, that no more faithful, no more devoted, no stauncher servant has that Church possessed; for we must remember the proud and haughty temper which attempted to content itself with the humdrum duties of a parish life. Swift entered the service of that Church at a time when its need for such a man was great; and in spite of its disdain of his worth, in spite of its failure to recognize and acknowledge his transcendent qualities, he never forgot his oath, and never shook in his allegiance. To any one, however, who reads carefully his sermons, his "Thoughts on Religion," and his "Letter to a Young Clergyman," there comes a question whether, for his innermost conscience, Swift found a satisfying conviction in the doctrines of Christianity. "I am not answerable to God," he says, "for the doubts that arise in my own breast, since they are the consequence of that reason which he hath planted in me, if I take care to conceal those doubts from others, if I use my best endeavours to subdue them, and if they have no influence on the conduct of my life." We search in vain, in any of his writings, for any definite expression of doubt or want of faith in these doctrines. When he touches on them, as he does in the sermon "On the Trinity," he seems to avoid of set purpose, rational inquiry, and contents himself with insisting on the necessity for a belief in those mysteries concerning God about which we cannot hope to know anything. "I do not find," he says, in his "Letter to a Young Clergyman," "that you are anywhere directed in the canons or articles to attempt explaining the mysteries of the Christian religion; and, indeed, since Providence intended there should be mysteries, I don't see how it can be agreeable to piety, orthodoxy, or good sense to go about such a work. For to me there seems a manifest dilemma in the case; if you explain them, they are mysteries no longer; if you fail, you have laboured to no purpose."

It must at once be admitted that Swift had not the metaphysical bent; philosophy in our modern sense of the word was to him only a species of word spinning. That only was valuable which had a practical bearing on life and Christianity had that. He found in Christianity, as he knew it in the Church of England, that is to say an excellent organization, which recognized the frailties of human nature, aimed at making healthier men's souls, and gave mankind a reasonable guidance in the selection of the best motives to action. He himself, as a preacher, made it his principal business, "first to tell the people what is their duty, and then to convince them that it is so." He had a profound faith in existing institutions, which to him were founded on the fundamental traits of humanity. The Church of England he considered to be such an institution; and it was, moreover, regulated and settled by order of the State. To follow its teachings would lead men to become good citizens, honest dealers, truthful and cleanly companions, upright friends... Continue reading book >>


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