Bekker, Balthasar

, a once celebrated Dutch divine, was born in 1634-, at Warthuisen, a village in the province of Groningen. He learned the Latin tongue at home under his father, and at sixteen years of age was entered at the university of Groningen, where he applied iiirnself to the study of the Greek and Hebrew languages, and made also a considerable proficiency in history and philosophy. He went afterwards to Franeker, where he studied divinity for four years and a half, when he was chosen minister at Oosterlingen, a village about six miles from Franeker. He discharged his duty with great diligence, and found time to read and examine the writings of the most eminent philosophers and divines. He kept a constant correspondence with James Alting, under whom he had studied the Hebrew tongue, and with the famous Cocceius. In 1665 he took his degree of doctor of divinity, at Franeker, and the next year was chosen one of the ministers of that city. When he was minister at Oosterlingen, he composed a short catechism for children, and in 1670 he published another for persons of a more advanced age. This last being strongly objected to by several divines, the author was prosecuted before the ecclesiastical assemblies; and notwithstanding many learned divines gave their testimonies in favour of this catechism, yet in the synod held in 1671, at Bolswart in Friezland, it was voted there, to contain several strange expressions, unscriptural positions, and dangerous opinions, which ought not to be printed, or, being printed, not to be published, but that if revised and corrected, it might be printed. Bekker appealed to the next synod, which met at Franeker, in July 1672, who | chose a committee of twelve deputies, to inquire into this affair, and to finish it in six weeks. They examined Bekker’s catechism very carefully, and at last subscribed an act in which were the following words: “That they had altered all such expressions as seemed to be offensive, strange, or uncommon: that they had examined, sccundum fidei analogiam, what had been observed by the several classes as unscriptural; and that they judged Dr. Bekker’s book, with their corrections, might, for the edification of God’s church, be printed and published, as it contained several wholsome and useful instructions.” This judgement was approved of by the synod held at Harlingen next year; but such is the constitution of synods in the seven provinces, that one can annul what another has established, and Bekker suffered for two years longer much trouble and vexation.

In 1674 he was chosen minister at Loenen, a Tillage near Utrecht; but he did not continue here long, being about two years after called to Wesop, and in 1679 chosen minister at Amsterdam. The comet which appeared in 1680 and 1681, gave him an opportunity of publishing a small book in Low Dutch, entitled “Ondersock over de Konietei,” that is, “An inquiry concerning Comets,” wherein he endeavoured to shew, that comets are not the presages or forerunners of any evil. This piece gained him great reputation, as did likewise his Exposition on the prophet Daniel, wherein he gave many proofs of his learning and sound judgment; but the work which rendered him most famous, is his “De betover Wereld,” or the “World bewitched,” published in 1691, 4to and 8vo. In this work he took occasion, from the Cartesian definition of spirit, to deny boldly, all the accounts we have in scripture of the seduction, influence, and operations of the devil and his infernal emissaries, and combines with this, the denial of all that has been said in favour of the existence of ghosts, spectres, and magicians. He modifies and perverts, with the greatest ingenuity, but also with equal temerity and presumption, the accounts given by the sacred writers of the power of Satan, and wicked angels, and of persons possessed by evil spirits: he affrrms, likewise, that the unhappy and malignant being, who is called in scripture, Satan, or the devil, is chained down with his infernal ministers in hell: so that he can never come forth from this eternal prison to terrify mortals, or to seduce the righteous | from the paths of virtue. The substance of his argument, as far as it is founded on the Cartesian definition of mind or spirit, is this: “The essence of mind is thought, and the essence of matter extension. Now, since there is no sort of conformity or connection between thought and extension, mind cannot act upon matter, unless these two substances be united, as soul and body are in man; therefore no separate spirits, either good or evil, can act upon mankind. Such acting is miraculous, anel miracles can be performed by God alone. It follows, of consequence, that the scriptural accounts of the actions and operations of good and evil spirits must be understood in an allegorical sense.” Such an argument does little honour to Bekker’s acuteness and sagacity. By proving too much, it proves nothing at all: for if the want of a connection or conformity between thought and extension renders the mind incapable of acting upon, matter, it is difficult to see how their union should remove this incapacity, since the want of conformity and of connection remains, notwithstanding this union. Besides, according to this reasoning, the supreme being cannot act upon material beings. In vain does Bekker maintain the affirmative, by having recourse to a miracle: for this would imply, that the whole course of nature is a series of miracles, that is to say, that there are no miracles at all.

This work excited great tumults and divisions, not only in the United Provinces, but also in some parts of Germany, where several divines of the Lutheran church were alarmed at its progress, and arose to oppose it. Bekker, however, although successfully refuted, and publicly deposed from his pastoral charge, obstinately adhered to his opinions until his death, which happened June 11, 1698. According to his biographer in the Gen. Dict. " he was a laborious, learned, and ingenious man, always desiring to improve in nowledge. As he was inclined to think freely, he would

ver admit any one’s opinion implicitly, but used to examine every thing according to the strictest rules of reason, or what appeared reason to him. He was of a very obliging temper, and knew how to make himself acceptable to those who conversed with him. He had a quick genius, and when he had once imbibed any opinion, it was very difficult to make him change it, and sometimes he trusted too much to his own judgment. He was, like men who use to meditate deeply, more able to raise doubts and difficulties, than

Vol. IV. B B | to solve them. He was not endowed with the external gifts of preaching, and though he was skilled in mathematics, the best logic in the world, yet his sermons were not very methodical; but then they were suited to the capacity of the vulgar, and he was always ready to preach extempore, without preparation. He was of a very facetious temper, and sometimes could not forbear to jest even in the pulpit. It seems he had the vanity of becoming the head of a sect; and has had the pleasure to see that his followers were called from his name Bekkerians. Mr. Bayle calls him a rank rationalist, who, preferring philosophical arguments before the authority of the scripture, put such a sense upon the words and expressions of the holy writers, as favoured his hypothesis." The reader will readily perceive much in this character that applies to free-thinkers of all nations and ages. 1

1 Gen. Dict. —Mosheim’s Eccl. History. —Moreri in Bekkon —Saxii Onomasticon.