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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
This term appears to have had an honourable origin, being of the same import as Theists, designating those who believe in the existence of a supreme intelligent cause, in opposition to the Epicureans, and other Atheistical philosophers. The name, in modern times, is said to have been first assumed about the middle of the sixteenth century, by some persons on the continent, in order to avoid the imputation of Atheism. Peter Viret, a divine of that century, mentions it as a new name assumed by those who rejected Christianity. Lord Edw. Herbert, baron of Cherbury, in the seventeenth century, has been regarded as the first Deistical writer in this country, or at least, the first who reduced Deism to a system; affirming the sufficiency of reason and natural religion, and rejecting divine revelation as unnecessary and superfluous. His system, however, embraced these five articles:—
1. The being of God.
2. That he is to be worshipped.
3. That piety and moral virtue are the chief parts of worship.
4. That God will pardon our faults on repentance. And,
5. That there is a future state of rewards and punishment.
Some have divided all Deists into two classes—those who admit a future state, and those who deny it. But Dr. S. Clarke, taking the term in the most extensive sense, arranges them under four classes:—
1. Those who admit a Supreme Being, but deny that he concerns himself with the conduct or affairs of men; maintaining, with Lucretius, that God
"Ne'er smiles at good, nor frowns at wicked, deeds."
2. Those who admit not only the being but the providence of God, with respect to the natural world; but who allow no difference between moral good and evil, nor that God takes any notice of our moral conduct.
3. Such as believe in the natural attributes of God, and his all-governing providence; yet deny the immortality of the soul, or any future state.
4. Such as admit the existence of God, his providence, and the obligations of natural religion; but so far only as these things are discoverable by the light of nature, without any divine revelation. Some of the Deists have attempted to overthrow the Christian dispensation, by opposing to it what they call the absolute perfection of natural religion. Others, as Blount, Collins, and Morgan, have endeavoured to gain the same purpose, by attacking particular parts of the Christian scheme, by explaining away the literal sense and meaning of certain passages, or by placing one portion of the sacred canon in opposition to the other. A third class, wherein we meet with the names of Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke, advancing farther in their progress, expunge from their creed the doctrine of future existence, deny or controvert all the moral perfections of the Deity, and wholly reject the Scriptures.
The Deists of the present day are distinguished by their zealous efforts to diffuse the principles of infidelity among the common people. Hume, Bolingbroke, and Gibbon, addressed themselves solely to the more polished classes of the community; but of late the writings of Paine, Carlile, and others, have diffused infidelity among the lower orders of society, and clothed it in the dress of vulgar ridicule, the more effectually to destroy in the common people all reverence for sacred things. Among the disciples of this school, Deism has led to the most disgusting Atheism. Thus "evil men and seducers wax worse and worse."
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Deists'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/d/deists.html. 1831-2.