Holy Dying: Evangelical Atttitudes to Death

Robert Cecil examines evangelical attitudes towards death in the eighteenth century.

When we think of religion in the eighteenth century, we are inclined to do so in terms of Deists, sceptical philosophers and other pundits appropriate to the Age of Reason. This is legitimate, if we are tracing the evolution of contemporary attitudes to religion, or studying the history of ideas; but if we wish to look at eighteenth century people as a whole, we need to recall that, even among educated men (themselves a very small minority), intellects cast in the mould of David Hume and Tom Paine were rare indeed, however great their later influence may be seen to have been. Among the overwhelming majority the faith of earlier centuries persisted; indeed if we look for a movement of thought and feeling, which penetrated of classes of society in the eighteenth century and indelibly marked that which followed, we shall find it in the revival of 'vital religion' or 'enthusiasm', as it was also called. This was the movement, initiated by Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, which came to be called Methodism among those leaving the established church, and Evangelicalism among those remaining within the Anglican fold.

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