A sect in the ancient church, composed of persons, who, being prepossessed with that maxim in philosophy, “ex nihilo mihil fit,” out of nothing nothing can arise, had recourse to an eternal matter, on which they supposed God wrought in the creation, instead of admitting Him alone as the sole cause of the existence of all things. Tertulian vigoriously opposed them in his treatise against Hermogenes, who was one of their number.
Materialists are also those who maintain that the soul of man is material, or that the principle of perception and thought is not a substance distinct from the body, but the result of corporeal organization.
There are others called by this name, who have maintained that there is nothing but matter in the universe.
The followers of the late Dr. Priestley are considered as Materialists, or philosophical Necessarians. According to the doctor’s writings, he believed,–
1. That man is no more than what we now see of him: his being commences at the time of his conception, or perhaps at an earlier period. The corporeal and mental faculties, inhering in the same substance, grow, ripen, and decay together; and whenever the system is dissolved, it continues in a state of dissolution, till it shall please that Almighty Being who called it into existence, to restore it to life again. For if the mental principle were, in its own nature, immaterial and immortal, all its peculiar faculties would be so too, whereas we see that every faculty of the mind, without exception, is liable to be impaired, and even to become wholly extinct, before death. Since, therefore, all the faculties of the mind, separately taken, appear to be mortal, the substance, or principle, in which they exist, must be pronounced mortal too. Thus we might conclude that the body was mortal, from observing that all the separate senses and limbs were liable to decay and perish.
This system gives a real value to the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, which is peculiar to revelation; on which alone the sacred writers build all our hope of future life: and it explains the uniform language of the Scriptures, which speak of one day of judgment for all mankind; and represent all the rewards of virtue, and all the punishments of vice, as taking place at that awful day, and not before. In the Scriptures, the heathens are represented as without hope, and all mankind as perishing at death, if there be no resurrection of the dead.
The apostle Paul asserts, in 1 Cor. 15:16. that if the dead rise not, them is not Christ risen; and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins: then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. And again, ver. 32, If the dead rise not let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. In the whole discourse, he does not even mention the doctrine of happiness or misery without the body.
If we search the Scriptures for passages expressive of the state of man at death, we shall find such declarations as expressly exclude any trace of sense, thought, or enjoyment. See Ps. 6:5. Job 45:7, &c.
2. That there is some fixed law of nature respecting the will as well as the other powers of the mind, and every thing else in the constitution of nature; and consequently that it is never determined without some real or apparent cause foreign to itself; i. e. without some motive of choice; or that motives influence us in some definite and invariable manner, so that every volition, or choice, is constantly regulated and determined by what precedes it: and this constant determination of mind, according to the motives presented to it, is what is meant by its necessary determination. This being admitted to be fact, there will be a necessary connexion between all things past, present, and to come, in the way of proper cause and effect, as much in the intellectual as in the natural world; so that according to the established laws of nature, no event could have been otherwise than it has been, or is to be, and therefore all things past, present, and to come, are precisely what the Author of Nature really intended them to be, and has made provision for.
To establish this conclusion, nothing is necessary but that throughout all nature the same consequences should invariably result from the same circumstances. For if this be admitted, it will necessarily follow, that at the commencement of any system, since the several parts of it and their respective situations were appointed by the Deity, the first change would take place according to a certain rule established by himself, the result of which would be a new situation; after which the same laws containing another change would succeed, according to the same rules, and so on for ever; every new situation invariably leading to another, and every event, from the commencement to the termination of the system, being strictly connected, so that, unless the fundamental laws of the system were changed, it would be impossible that any event should have been otherwise than it was. In all these cases, the circumstances preceding any change are called the causes of that change: and since a determinate event, or effect, constantly follows certain circumstances, or causes, the connexion between cause and effect is concluded to be invariable, and therefore necessary.
It is universally acknowledged, that there can be no effect without an adequate cause. This is even the foundation on which the only proper argument for the being of a God rests. And the Necessarian asserts, that if, in any given state of mind, with respect both to dispositions and motives, two different determinations, or volitions, be possible, it can be on no other principle, than that one of them should come under the description of an effect without a cause; just as if the beam of a balance might incline either way, though loaded with equal weights. And if any thing whatever, even a thought in the mind of man, could arise without an adequate cause, any thing else, the mind itself, or the whole universe, might likewise exist without an adequate cause.
This scheme of philosophical necessity implies a chain of causes and effects established by infinite wisdom, and terminating in the greatest good of the whole universe; evils of all kinds, natural and moral, being admitted, as far as they contribute to that end, or are in the nature of things inseparable from it. Vice is productive not of good, but of evil to us, both here and hereafter, though good may result from it to the whole system; and, according to the fixed laws of nature, our present and future happiness necessarity depend on our cultivating good dispositions.
This scheme of philosophical necessity is distinguished from the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination in the following particulars:
1. No Necessarian supposes that any of the human race will suffer eternally: but that future punishments will answer the same purposes as temporal ones are found to do; all of which tend to good, and are evidently admitted for that purpose. Upon the doctrine of necessity, also, the most indifferent actions of men are equally necessary with the most important; since every volition, like any other effect, must have an adequate cause depending upon the previous state of the mind, and the influence to which it is exposed.
2. The Necessarian believes that his own dispositions and actions are the necessary and sole means of his present and future happiness; so that, in the most proper sense of the words, it depends entirely on himself whether he be virtuous or vicious, happy or miserable.
3. The Calvinistic system entirely excludes the popular notion of free-will, viz, the liberty or power of doing what we please, virtuous or vicious, as belonging to every person, in every situation; which is perfectly consistent with the doctrine of philosophical necessity, and indeed results from it.
4. The Necessarian believes nothing of the posterity of Adam’s sinning in him, and of their being liable to the wrath of God on that account; or the necessity of an infinite Being making atonement for them by sufferings in their stead, and thus making the Deity propitious to them. He believes nothing of all the actions of any man being necessarily sinful; but, on the contrary, thinks that the very worst of men are capable of benevolent intentions in many things that they do; and likewise that very good, men are capable of falling from virtue, and consequently of sinking into final perdition. Upon the principles of the Necessarian, also, all late repentance, and especially after long and confirmed habits of vice, is altogether and necessarily ineffectual; there not being sufficient time left to produce a change of disposition and character, which can only be done by a change of conduct of proportionably long continuance.
In short, the three doctrines of Materialism, Philosophical Necessity, and Socinianism, are considered as equally parts of one system. The scheme of Necessity is the immediate result of the materiality of man; for mechanism is the undoubted consequence of materialism, and that man is wholly material, is eminently subservient to the proper or mere humanity of Christ. for if no man have a soul distinct from his body, Christ, who in all other respects appeared as a man, could not have a soul which had existed before his body: and the whole doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, of which the opinion of the pre- existence of Christ is a branch, will be effectually overturned.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.