Morgan, Thomas (2)
Morgan, Thomas (2)
a distinguished English deist, noted for his attempt to make moral excellence the only test of every system of religion, and for his rejection of a historic revelation of positive duties as inadmissible, flourished about the middle of last century. Of his life we know but very little, and the following meagre facts are taken from Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mr. William Whiston (1749, page 318). "Morgan ministered for some time to an orthodox Presbyterian congregation, but in 1726 was deposed for Arianism by the presbytery. He then seems to have practiced medicine among the Quakers at Bristol, but finally devoted himself entirely to literary labors, and died at London January 14, 1743" (see Baumgarten, Hall. Bibl. 5:331 sq.; 6:181). Morgan published a number of works against the Holy Scriptures, the best known of which is The Moral Philosopher, in a Dialogue between Philalethes, a Christian Deist, and Theophanes, a
Christian Jew (Lond. 1737). This work was supplemented by a second volume, Being a Further Vindication of Moral Truth and Reason, in 1739, and by a third, Superstition and Tyranny inconsistent with Theocracy, in 1740. This work elicited many answers, for a list of which see Lowndes, Brit. Libr. page 1203; see also the references at the end of this article. Morgan acknowledges himself a firm believer in God as the almighty creator and ruler of the universe. He lays especial stress on God's continued presence, power, and agency. "God governs the natural and moral worlds by his constant, uninterrupted presence, power, and incessant action upon both, and not by any such essential, inherent powers or properties in the things themselves as might set aside the continued presence, power, and agency of God as unnecessary, or as having nothing to do in the government of either the natural or moral world" (Moral Philosopher, 1:186). Like his predecessors, Hobbes (q.v.), Blount (q.v.), and Toland (q.v.), Morgan refuses, however, to acknowledge any revelation of the divine will. He asserts the supremacy of reason, or, as bishop Van Mildert expresses it (Boyle Lectures), "Morgan allows the possibility and even the utility of revelation, but artfully destroys the effect of the admission by confounding revelation with man's natural reason." In his examination of Judaism, Morgan rejects its claims wholly on grounds similar to those explained by Chubb, as incompatible with the moral character of God. According to his view, there exists an irreconcilable opposition between the Jehovah of the Jews and the God of the Christians, or, in other words, between the two religious systems — the Law and the Gospel. The O.T. and the N.T. he considered essentially antagonistic. The love and charity which are manifested in the Gospel of Christ he is unable to find in the 0. T. He calls Moses "a more fabulous, romantic writer than Homer or Ovid" (Moral Philosopher, 1:251; 3:94 sq.). The moral law of the O.T., he argues, was but national, and has reference to this life only; "none of its (the law's) rewards or punishments relating to any future state, or extending themselves beyond this life" (Moral Philosopher, 1:27). The old dispensation was, according to his view, the reign of a " national tutelar God," but not of the almighty Jehovah who chose the Jews for his own people." Their God was an "idol, after the manner of the Egyptians." The Israelites, from the days of Moses, believed their national tutelar God to be Jehovah, or the supreme God, but no other nation upon earth ever believed it (Moral Philosopher, 1:315). In short, he looked upon the O.T. as a religious system not only differing from, but entirely opposed to Christianity. Lechler (Gesch. d. Englischen Deismus, page 383) calls Morgan the modern Marcion; and in reality the system of Morgan bears a close resemblance to that of Marcion. In examining the New Testament, he, like his deistical predecessors, attacked the evidence of miracles and prophecy, and asserted the necessity of moral right and wrong as the ground of the interpretation of Scripture. Morgan wrote against religion, wishing to set up morality in its stead. Leland judges him thus (Deistical Writers, page 107): "By a prevarication and a disingenuousness which is not easily paralleled except among some of those that have appeared on the same side, under all his fair pretences and disguises he hath covered as determined a malice against the honor and authority of the Christian revelation as any of those that have written before him." Morgan's writings all created quite a sensation, and called forth numerous refutations. Among his opponents were Hallet, Leland, Chapman, Chandler, and bishop Warburton. The last named was provoked by Morgan to write his celebrated treatise, On the Divine Legalism of Moses (1737-38). See Walch, Bibl. Theol. 1:773 sq., 807-810; Mosheim, Eccl. Hist.; Leland, Deistical Writers; Von Milcert, Boyle Lect.; Schlosser, Hist. of the 18th Cent. (Davison's transl.) 1:47; Lechler. Gesch. d. Englischen Deismus, page 380 sq.; Farrar, Crit. Hist. of Free Thought, page 140 sq.