The Law of Nature, Mosaic Judaism, and Primitive Christianity in John Locke and the English Deists
Keywords:Christianity, Deism, John Locke, John Toland, Judaism, Law of Nature, Matthew Tindal, Peter Annet, Thomas Chubb, Thomas Morgan
In their attempts to revive “true religion,” Locke and several English deists, such as Toland, Tindal, Chubb, Morgan, and Annet, focused on the relationship between the Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and Christ’s teaching. However, Locke and the deists formulated different conceptions of the Law of Nature and its relationship with natural religion, Mosaic Judaism, and primitive Christianity. Locke saw the history of human knowledge of morality and religion as a process of gradual disclosure of divinely given truths—a process culminating in Christian revelation. He argued that the Law of Faith, established by Christ, had complemented the Law of Nature and superseded the Law of Moses. Conversely, the deists maintained that the only true religion was the universal, eternal, necessary, and sufficient religion of nature founded on the Law of Nature. They thought that Jesus had merely reaffirmed the Law of Nature, accessible to natural reason, without adding anything to it. Concerning Mosaic Judaism, there were significant differences between Toland and later deists. Toland considered Mosaic Judaism to be on a par with primitive Christianity, since he viewed both the Law of Moses and Christ’s precepts as essentially grounded in the Law of Nature. Conversely, Tindal and Chubb judged the ritual prescriptions of the Mosaic Law superseded by Christ’s revival of natural religion. Morgan and Annet went even further, for they identified true Christianity with the religion of nature, but criticized Mosaic Judaism as a corruption of natural religion. Briefly, Locke and the English deists aimed to recover true religion from long-lasting distortions. However, their rethinking of the relationship between the Law of Nature, the Mosaic Law, and Christ’s message led to different conceptions, uses, and appropriations of natural religion, Mosaic Judaism, and primitive Christianity in their attempts to restore what they perceived as true religion.
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