Volume 45 - Issue 3

A Generous Reading of John Locke: Reevaluating His Philosophical Legacy in Light of His Christian Confession

By C. Ryan Fields


Locke is often presented as an eminent forerunner to the Enlightenment, a philosopher who hastened Europe’s departure from Christian orthodoxy and “turned the tide” toward a modern, secularist orientation. Yet there are reasons to think that such an understanding of Locke has not sufficiently taken into account his Christian faith as it relates to his philosophical project. A more generous reading of Locke requires further grappling with the works which emerged during the final period of his life (1695–1704), works which demonstrate distinctly religious interests and provide greater clarity regarding his proper philosophical legacy. Locke’s views on human nature serve as a case study.

It is largely recognized that the last sentiments of a person’s life (and particularly the last words of that person upon their death bed) are to be respected and understood as summarizing the concerns and even the ultimate values of that person. One such example comes from the year 1704 when an Englishman of renown called for a reading from the Psalms with his dying breath, exhorting those around his bed to study the Holy Scriptures with care and noting that such study would bring them happiness in this world and the next, even eternal life. The man instructed friends who came to say their final goodbyes that his own reading of the Bible had brought him again and again to admire the stunning revelations of God Almighty. Those who looked on as this man breathed his last left convinced that he was “sincere and Christian” and that his demeanor matched his earlier proclamation: “A Christian I am sure I am, because I believe ‘Jesus to be the Messiah,’ the King and Saviour promised, and sent by God; and, as a subject of his Kingdom, I take the rule of my faith and life from his kingdom [and] from his will, declared and left upon record in the inspired writings of the apostles and evangelists in the New Testament; which I endeavor to the utmost of my power, as is my duty, to understand in their true sense and meaning.”1 While this all might be quite ordinary for a typical Englishmen at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it is actually quite striking when we learn that the identity of the man in question is none other than the eminent philosopher and supposed forerunner to the Enlightenment, John Locke.2

Indeed, such an account of Locke’s final days highlights aspects of his biography that are often downplayed or even ignored when he is presented as a philosopher who helped “turn the tide” in the Christian West toward a modern, secularist orientation. One only need to look at Hans Aarsleff’s essay, “Locke’s Influence,” to see that his contention that “John Locke is the most influential philosopher of modern times” is certainly not because of his religious sentiments but rather because he offered a “great message … to set us free from the burden of tradition and authority, both in theology and knowledge.”3 Though Aarsleff does acknowledge in passing that he “was a pious believer in Scriptural revelation,” it is clear that in the predominant story of Western intellectual history the religious aspects of his life and work have been severely neglected.4 Nicholas Wolterstorff agrees and has noted that Locke’s role in the story of Europe’s modernization has not sufficiently taken into account Locke’s professed faith and what Wolterstorff labels his “ethics of belief.”5 His point is that Locke is often grievously misunderstood as a willing developer of secular modernity and passionate catalyst of a post-Christian Europe.6 Wolterstorff questions this dominant narrative, sensing that there are good reasons to suspect the way the story has been told; indeed, he sees Locke not as an ivory-tower modernist philosopher seeking to hasten a cultural revolution but instead as “the philosopher in the street offering advice to his anxious combative compatriots on how to overcome the cultural crisis engulfing them.”7 All that to say, the question is put before us: do we know John Locke, or only a caricature of him? In other words: will the real John Locke please stand up?

Another way to ask this question would be: has Locke been fully understood in his own context (rather than simply through the Enlightenment tradition history) and, more importantly, on his own terms? It is the contention of this paper that, though Locke studies has made some steps in the right direction in this regard, we still don’t have a sufficiently “generous reading” of Locke, one that assesses his project and his legacy in view of his own sense of what he was up to and what he had accomplished. It will be argued here that such a generous reading requires more grappling with the “later Locke” and the works which emerged during the final period of his life (1695–1704), works which are dedicated to distinctly religious interests. These later works have been relatively ignored even though they give us keen insight into Locke’s own evaluation of his philosophical project. Indeed, along with insights into aspects of his work that he wanted to clarify, revise, or even recant, they also provide us with clarity on what Locke wanted his philosophical legacy to be. As we will see, these insights ultimately muddy the waters of a streamlined narrative which understands Locke as a philosophical forerunner of a monolithic Enlightenment movement, particularly by demonstrating his desire to uphold and strengthen, rather than overthrow, Europe’s Christian foundations.

In seeking to establish this more generous reading of Locke we would do well to follow the advice of W. M. Spellman, who asks whether “it might be of some use to return to Locke himself, especially on this very basic question of the nature of man, in order to identify whether or not the philosopher deliberately broke with the historic Christian view of man as is so readily assumed.”8 Indeed, Spellman is right to imply that if, in fact, Locke remained a man thoroughly informed by a Christian worldview, even an orthodox Protestant, “then our perspective on Locke both as a thinker and as an educator is bound to change … [particularly] that Locke [would] emerge [as] something other than the precursor and prophet of the European Enlightenment.”9 Here we seek to build on Spellman’s insights by further assessing Locke and his philosophical legacy on his own terms, genuinely grappling with the religious aspect of his thought, particularly as it relates to the case study of his views on human nature.10 We will do so by examining three critical sources in this regard: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), On the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) and A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul (1704).11

1. Assessing Locke’s Understanding of Human Nature: A Case Study

First, we must briefly examine why Locke’s understanding of human nature is such a critical issue when it comes to grappling with Locke’s philosophical legacy and assessing the extent to which Locke ought to be understood as a forerunner to the Enlightenment movement which largely called for the renunciation of Christian orthodoxy. There is no question that Locke’s view of human nature (with its familiar concept of the tabula rasa and its inherent questioning of the doctrine of original sin) is a key battleground for interpreting Locke, not just in our own day but going all the way back to the controversies over Locke’s work in his own. From the first publishing of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding until today there have been many who have seen “Locke’s rejection of innate ideas as tantamount to the dismantling of Christianity.”12 Spellman has summarized well how Locke’s perceived questioning of the Christian teaching on humanity and sin led to “the claim that Locke laid the foundations of what was to be one of the most influential forms of eighteenth and nineteenth-century perfectibilism … [placing Locke] at the forefront of an important movement that was committed to undermining one of the central beliefs of the historic Christian faith.”13

Indeed, in Enlightenment studies this has been the line which has predominated since the work of Paul Hazard, who argued that just as Newton overthrew the doctrine of providence by discovering the laws of nature, so Locke overthrew the biblical doctrines of sin and a fallen humanity by discovering that human beings are morally innocent tabulae rasae rather than depraved sinners predisposed to sin and error.14 The argument was picked up and developed by Roger Mercier, who asserted that Locke was a crucial figure in establishing the key project of the Enlightenment: the rehabilitation of human nature.15 John Woodbridge summarizes the point nicely:

Locke’s epistemology, in which the premise of innate ideas was denied, seemed to imply … [that] the orthodox Christian view of man was deeply flawed. Did not Christians affirm that man has a sinful nature at birth? Locke’s stance appeared to suggest by contrast that we are morally neutral at birth and that in one sense we become morally what our experience of the external world happens to make of us…. [Thus] we are not bound to sin due to a sinful nature inherited from Adam.16

He goes on to show how Enlightenment scholars (especially Hazard and Mercier) connected the dots between Locke’s controversial work and the Enlightenment project: “those who read Locke in this fashion believed that the English philosopher had overthrown the Christian doctrine of original sin with its needlessly pessimistic teachings about our sinful nature. For many partisans of the “Enlightenment” Locke had rehabilitated human nature and given hope that we humans can progress morally and be more successful in our pursuit of happiness…. For the philosophes, Locke had opened up the possibilities of genuine Enlightenment.’”17 On Hazard and Mercier’s interpretation of Locke, then, he is indeed the philosopher who opened the doors wide for the deists and philosophes to finish the job of overthrowing Europe’s Christian fetters, at least where anthropology was concerned.

One prominent example in this regard is the influence which Locke had upon that most infamous of French philosophes, Voltaire. That Voltaire favored Locke highly is beyond dispute; indeed, Maurice Cranston can note with confidence that “the English philosopher whom Voltaire praised most frequently was Locke.”18 Voltaire himself speculated that “perhaps no man had a more judicious or more methodical mind, or was a more acute logician than Mr. Locke”19 and confessed to finding himself returning again and again to Locke “like a prodigal son returning to his father … [throwing] myself into the arms of that modest man, who never pretends to know what he does not know.”20 And there are certainly places in Voltaire’s corpus where we see him directly building on Locke’s work (in ways that, as we will see, Locke would not exactly have intended or approved). One telling example is the sustained reflection which Voltaire gives to Locke’s declaration that “we shall perhaps never be capable of knowing whether a being, purely material, thinks or not.”21 Such a statement provides a classic example of how Locke seemed to prepare the way, in the arena of human nature, for the overthrow of Christian thought, in this case opening the door for certain materialist perspectives which deny that a spiritual nature is absolutely necessary to be capable of thinking.22 But when it came to religious influence, Voltaire was quite underwhelmed with Locke, noting in his brief comments on The Reasonableness of Christianity that “it was a bad book, that in it Locke had degraded his understanding, and that its lack of influence was proof of the incompatibility of Christianity and reason.”23 Considering that it is the significance of Locke’s Christian confession and later religious works (with which Voltaire vehemently disagreed) which are in question here, we would do well to keep Voltaire’s appropriation of Locke in perspective and ultimately ask if a reevaluation of the significance of Locke’s religious convictions would in fact bring into greater question the narrative that understands him as a forerunner to Voltaire, the Enlightenment, and the post-Christian modernity which followed in their wake. In other words, there is clearly more work still to be done to understand Locke on his own terms, especially when it comes to how Locke’s Christianity informed his view of human nature and his overall philosophical project.

1.1. Source #1: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

We begin with what is Locke’s most well-known and influential work. Lex Newman in his introduction to the Essay provides us with characteristic praise for the text by calling it “an undisputed philosophical masterpiece. The systematic empiricism he develops would become the standard for subsequent theorists. The importance of … the Essay continues to the present day … [remaining] a philosophical gold mine.”24 As such, any reading of Locke that is going to be compelling has to go through the Essay. We do so now not because it comes during the period of Locke’s life we are most interested in (1695–1704), nor because it has religious concerns at its very center (though, as we will see, they are certainly present and pervasive), but because a generous reading which takes Locke’s religious views seriously must demonstrate that Locke’s Christian convictions (which emerge strongest in his final years) don’t contradict but are in fact compatible with the content of the Essay. We need to show that the work which has been more influential than all his others in establishing Locke as an Enlightenment forerunner is both religious in its own right and blends well with Locke’s later religious revival. We want to argue, with Pearson, that the question of Locke’s religious orientation in the Essay is of great significance. For we agree with his assertion that, to date, “Locke’s fame as the author of the Essay and father of modern empiricism and the appropriation of his ideas by the deists have suggested a narrow understanding of his religious views.”25

Though we don’t have space to provide a detailed overview of the work, we will highlight aspects of the Essay that suggest a religious grounding and orientation. We begin at the beginning, for as Pearson has reminded us, “Even the Essay, an attempt to elaborate a new epistemology…grew out of a discussion of ‘the principles of morality and revealed religion.’”26 Indeed, Locke confesses at the beginning of the Essay in his “Epistle to the Reader” that in a conversation with friends regarding ethics and things of faith they “found themselves quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that rose on every side … without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us.”27 Convinced they had started on a wrong course, Locke believed that “before we set ourselves upon inquires of that nature” (that is, of an ethical and religious nature) “it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not fitted to deal with.”28 So when Locke says that he sees himself as an “under-laborer in clearing ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way of knowledge,” we should understand that for him this work was necessary so that he could ultimately move into the arena of moral and religious issues that were of great interest to him, his friends, and a large number of the original readers of the Essay.29 In some sense we can say that Locke viewed his groundbreaking epistemological work as serving the ultimate end of ethical and religious pursuits.

Then we move into the heart of the vast work, where it can be easy to lose our orientation in light of Locke’s technical and often repetitive discussions of innate notions, of clear and distinct ideas, and of knowledge, judgment, and probability (among many other subjects). Essentially the Essay breaks down into four books: in Book 1 Locke sets forth his famous thesis that there are no innate ideas (contra Descartes); in Book 2 he begins to set forth more positively his view of understanding (by exploring the concepts of ideas, perception, identity, etc.); in Book 3 he focuses on the specifics of language; and in Book 4 he gives his attention to the difference between knowledge and opinion and between certainty and probability. Our approach to analyzing the work will resemble that of Wolterstorff, who argues convincingly that “The traditional schoolbook interpretation of Locke, which places the Essay’s center of gravity in Book II, must be rejected. The center of gravity is Book IV; that is clear from Locke’s own comments on the Essay.”30 What Wolterstorff means is that the vast majority of the Essay (Books 1–3) is essentially clearing the land for what Locke is really up to, which only emerges in Book 4 with his discussion of the degrees of knowledge that contribute to our understanding. This is where discussion of religion and faith becomes explicit and prolonged, though it is clear that Locke’s Christian faith also pervades Books 1–3.31 Thus from 1.1.5, where Locke says “we have cause enough to magnify the bountiful Author of our being … [who] has put within the reach of [our] discovery the comfortable provision for this life and the way that leads to a better,” to 3.10.12 where he condemns “empty speculations” and “useless … disputes” regarding affairs of religion and the laws of God, we see that religion is certainly a matter that is on Locke’s mind throughout the Essay, his own convictions informing and shaping the work in various ways.32

But it is indeed with Book 4 that we see the centrality of Locke’s religious concerns emerge. For, as Nicholas Jolley has pointed out regarding the whole of the Essay, “what is at issue for Locke is not the reliability of reason or of our natural faculties in general, but rather their scope; Locke wants to chart the limits of our human understanding in such a way that we come to know where we may reasonably hope to achieve knowledge.”33 It is only by Book 4 that the limits have been set in place, allowing Locke to begin making some conclusions regarding the questions of understanding and our capacity to know that he initially set out to answer (and, we will remember, that he sees as preparing the way to answer questions of ethics and religion). Again, Wolterstorff is helpful here, for he picks up on the very image that Locke himself uses to describe the shift which is made in the middle of Book 4: from the bright light that accompanied “the certainty of true knowledge” to the “twilight of probability” which covers the landscape of belief and judgment.34 In a significant chapter entitled “Of Faith and Reason, and their Distinct Provinces” (4.17), Locke sets out some crucial definitions that make this transition more understandable. He says, “Reason … I take to be the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, which it has got by the use of its natural faculties, viz. by sensation or reflection.” He then goes on: “Faith … is the assent to any proposition, not thus made only by deductions of reason; but upon credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication. This way of discovering truths to men we call revelation.”35 Thus here, almost at the end of the Essay, Locke introduces a whole other way of acquiring truth (a significant addition indeed!). He says, “where the principles of reason have not evidenced a proposition to be certainly true or false, there clear revelation, as another principle of truth, and ground of assent, may determine; and so it may be [a] matter of faith, and be also above reason.”36 Of course for Locke this is no small claim, for indeed Book 4 in many ways sets forth, in the words of Pearson, “the limited content of intuitive and demonstrative knowledge, the failure of sensitive knowledge to reach ‘perfectly to either of the foregoing degrees of certainty,’ our ‘want of ideas,’ our ‘want of a discoverable connection between the ideas we have,’ [and] our ‘want of tracing and examining our ideas.’”37 Locke’s exploration of these limits and his understanding of their extent lead him to conclude, again in the words of Pearson, that “our knowledge is narrow and our ignorance great.”38 The fact that there is another avenue for knowledge apart from reason (understood as being above it, not opposed to it), even if it does involve judging claims of revelation as more or less probable, is a stunning assertion, one that is more informed by his Christian faith than any sort of proto-Enlightenment position.

To return to our larger concern, we see that, contrary to the Locke proposed by Mercier and Hazard, Richard Ashcraft is correct when he argues that “what is striking about the Essay is not the claims it advances on behalf of human reason, but rather, its assertion of the meagerness of human knowledge.”39 It is not the unencumbered potential of human reason or the unlimited possibilities of human knowledge that emerge in the Essay (as we would expect on the traditional reading). Instead, it is the inadequacies of human reason and the realistic, limited view of human nature which seem to be highlighted, and even the few cognitive capacities we do have are compared only to a candle (significantly, a candle Locke believes we have received from the Lord [1.1.5]). Parker is thus right when he notes that the Essay particularly has been seized upon and abused to portray Locke as having the kind of supreme confidence in the efficacy of reason that made him a key harbinger of “eighteenth-century deism and, ultimately, the death of God.”40 Yes, Locke makes statements such as “Reason must be our last Judge and Guide in every Thing” (4.19.14), endorses reason over revelation when it comes to the certainty of what we can know (4.18.3–6), and adds a chapter in the last edition of the Essay on the abuses of religious enthusiasm.41 But none of these things put Locke in the position of an overthrower of Christianity, or even a precursor to one. On his own terms, Locke is simply being realistic about the limitations of human knowledge, holding that reason can only provide certain knowledge about very few things and that revelation can provide certain knowledge regarding many other things (though claims to revelation must be judged regarding their probability by reason). It seems that, when we start reading Locke on his own terms, we find ourselves in agreement with Parker that “the Essay is more properly understood as a book about the limits of our knowledge rather than propaganda about its unlimited potential,” and thus we find ourselves increasingly unable to agree with the picture of Locke as a key contributor to the Enlightenment view of an unencumbered human nature.42

Indeed, even when we begin to examine the religious criticisms brought against Locke’s Essay in his own day, we see how Locke responds out of a desire to show that “all the great ends of religion and morality” were secured rather than destroyed.43 This is especially seen in Locke’s interaction with the Bishop of Worchester, Edward Stillingfleet, who argued that Locke’s attack on innate ideas undermined the principles of Christianity. Locke disagreed, holding that neither the teaching of Scripture nor the truth of Christianity was at risk if Cartesian notions of human nature were proven false. As Ashcraft points out, Locke seems to see what many others in his day could not, that if there were in fact no innate ideas, there were still other (better!) foundations for our knowledge of religion and morality to be built upon.44 Locke sought to remedy what he saw as a flawed epistemological orientation, with the end that he might fully pursue truth in matters of morality and religion (which were founded for him ultimately in biblical revelation, as we shall see).

And indeed, Locke would move on to that very investigation at the end of his life, turning more explicitly to matters of religion and directly examining the claims of Christianity. But for now, we ought to notice what is happening at this stage of his life and work. It is clear that Locke’s conclusions in the Essay are not only compatible with his Christian faith but actually demonstrate deep-seated religious convictions. As Pearson says, in the Essay Locke sought “to provide a way to think about reason and revelation which would carefully delimit the realms of faith and reason and use reason to guide faith along a sane but narrow … course between authoritarianism and enthusiasm.”45 We can thus conclude that “in the Essay no less than in the Reasonableness Locke’s concern is that of a latitudinarian Anglican firmly committed to the Christian faith.”46 Indeed, we affirm with Ashcraft over and against the interpretation of Hazard and Mercier that “the purpose of the Essay is essentially a conservative one … [seeking] a renovation and reinforcement of the faith by which the men of the seventeenth century lived.” 47 This claim is strengthened by the fact that “whenever others employed his epistemological principles in an assault on Christianity, Locke renounced them and sought refuge in the safety of his commitment to that faith within which he had confined the arguments of the Essay.”48

1.2. Source #2: On the Reasonableness of Christianity

Locke’s turn to religion is one of the defining characteristics of his later years, a fact acknowledged, but interpreted very differently, by his many biographers. This religious turn or revival was, quite significantly, professed by Locke himself. Woolhouse, for instance, quotes Locke’s own words throughout in saying,

After a lifetime much of which had been devoted to what he now referred to as “the wisdom of the world … [that is], the knowledge, discoveries, and improvements … attainable by human industry, parts and study,” he was now concerned with his ultimate destiny and his mind was almost entirely on the “wisdom of God … [that is], the doctrine of the gospel coming immediately from God by the revelation of his spirit.”49

Such sentiments emerged not only in Locke’s official publications (of which Reasonableness is the most obvious) but also in his personal correspondence. As one example of the way that Locke began (re)evaluating his life and work, he wrote in what would end up being his last letter to his friend Anthony Collins that, “this life is a scene of vanity that … affords no solid satisfaction but in the consciousness of doing well and in hopes of another life.”50 And we only need to recall Locke’s deathbed scene to see how this turn shaped his sentiments. Indeed, we have an account from Lady Masham that on that day Locke spoke surely “of the goodness of God … [and] exalted the love which God showed to man, in justifying him by faith in Jesus Christ.”51

The beginning of this religious turn is easy to identify as it corresponds with the publishing of one of the most significant works of Locke’s career, On the Reasonableness of Christianity, in 1695. It was published anonymously and only fully identified with Locke after his death (though many of his contemporaries had their strong suspicions). But its anonymous publication, perhaps initially a reason to suspect Locke’s Christian convictions, is seen in proper perspective when we remember that at the end of the seventeenth century religious innovation of any kind (even if it was still within the broad bounds of Christian orthodoxy) was severely frowned upon and even punished. Though Locke was certainly one to question religious traditions of his day, it is another claim entirely that Locke sought to fully subvert the truth claims of Christianity as a whole. Rather, a generous reading of Locke allows us to hear his own testimony regarding why he wrote and published the work.

On that issue, Locke himself says that he wrote Reasonableness to “convince … men of the mission of Jesus Christ, [and] make them … see the truth, simplicity, and reasonableness, of what he himself taught, and required to be believed by his followers.”52 In the opening pages he confesses, though, that there was more than just that motive alone. Indeed, the work begins with Locke proclaiming that he took it upon himself to read the Scriptures and come to an understanding of Christianity because of “the little Satisfaction and Consistency [he had] found in most of the Systems of Divinity [he had] met with.”53 He goes on to describe two extremes which he saw emerging in the doctrinal systems of the day: authoritarianism (manifested in doctrinal teachings which were unreasonable, going against “the plain and direct meaning of the words and phrases” of Scripture) and naturalism (manifested among those who make “Jesus Christ nothing but the Restorer and Preacher of pure Natural Religion” and thus making “Christianity almost nothing”).54 Regarding the first extreme, Locke wants to establish the basic message of the Scriptures in contrast to unwieldy, complex theological systems that distract “the illiterate bulk of Mankind” from the plain instruction of the Word of God and “the way to Salvation.”55 A few pages into the work Locke identifies what he understands to be the basic message of Christianity and the necessary content that one must believe to be saved: “Jesus is the Messiah.”56 Pickard understands this highly inclusivist statement of faith as designed both to undercut the strong exclusivism generated by competing ecclesial traditions of the day and to call Christians back to the basics of the faith directly asserted in Scripture rather than derived (with much less probability) from it.57 As Pickard emphatically put it, Locke was clearly reacting to “the rivalry between different theological systems of the seventeenth century—e.g., Calvinist, Lutheran, Catholic—[that] had left its heritage in blood.”58 On the other side, Locke clearly wanted to avoid the extreme that was embodied by the deists, who equated Christianity with natural religion and made Jesus nothing more than its finest guru. Reedy is right in arguing that by the “reasonableness of Christianity” Locke primarily meant not the equation of true Christian doctrine with natural reason/religion (as is often assumed by those who see Locke as an Enlightenment forerunner) but rather “that Scripture can reasonably be shown to come from God, through the argument from testimony, and that, befitting its source, the saving truth of Scripture has a decorous simplicity and plainness.”59 This conforms to Locke’s final words of the work, where he wonders at the “simplicity of the Gospel, [which makes] way for those poor, ignorant, illiterate, Who heard and believed promises of a Deliverer; and believed Jesus to be him; Who could conceive a Man dead and made alive again, and believe that he should at the end of the World, come again and pass Sentence on all Men, according to their deeds.” Locke concludes that this “Gospel … was without doubt … as the poor could understand, plain and intelligible.”60 It is such a Gospel that Locke found reasonable thanks to the testimony of the Scriptures rather than the scrutinizing of the philosopher or the systematizing of the theologian.

In terms of Locke’s larger philosophical project, Pearson rightly argues that we see in the Reasonableness continuity rather than discontinuity with the Essay, noting that in the work Locke returned “to the unfinished task of clarifying the relationship of reason and revelation which he had begun in the Essay and [undertook] the further task of explicating the content and authentication of revelation.”61 Like in the Essay, Locke clarifies the goal from the beginning; in this case it is clarifying the content of revelation found in the Christian Scriptures, and specifically their teaching regarding “the Doctrine of Redemption, and consequently of the Gospel … founded upon the Supposition of Adam’s Fall … [and] what we are restored to in Jesus Christ.”62 Yolton notes how Locke guides the reader through this content by saying that he “takes the reader carefully through the Scriptures in order to show the exact, plain meaning of Adam’s fall and Jesus’s redemption,” giving special attention to the Gospels and the book of Acts.63 Wolterstorff connects the dots between the Essay and Reasonableness by saying that, for Locke, “most of the content of Christianity is reasonable—that is to say, probable on satisfactory evidence available to us human beings.”64 Locke, by setting forth the most reasonable elements of the Christian faith, “had drawn into theological form the epistemology developed in the Essay.”65 Thus, as we have been arguing, Locke’s epistemology and anthropology are shown to be integrally related to his theology.

Critical reactions of the day and Locke’s responses to them further inform our view of what Locke was up to in Reasonableness. The most pressing critique came from John Edwards, a Calvinist divine who accused Locke of being an atheist and a Socinian (particularly on grounds that he denied the doctrine of the Trinity). Locke composed two different vindications of the work in response to Edwards, where he was able to further identify his purposes and defend his cause. Justin Champion can note that, contrary to Locke’s own intentions, many of his readers (Edwards included) “claimed that the Reasonableness asserted definitive doctrinal claims … [and thus] contradicted the purpose of [the work], which was to show people how to read Scripture, not what to believe.”66 He goes on to explain that “Locke’s method placed great emphasis upon the individual mind searching for its own understanding, rather than aiming to determine how scripture confirmed an external set of doctrinal positions.”67 To be pigeon-holed into one particular doctrinal system, much less to be accused of subtly seeking to impose that system upon his readers, was not only offensive to Locke but went against the very grain of his deeply held theological convictions. Locke had an aversion to “Systems of Divinity” and set forth a consistent call for believers to read and believe the words of the Scriptures themselves in their plain, original sense. It is this commitment to the authority of the Scriptures alone and the clarity of their content that makes caricatures of Locke as a crypto-deist or forerunner to a secularist Enlightenment untenable. Indeed, Locke’s own words in answer to Stillingfleet’s concern that the Essay jettisoned the authority of Scripture and the possibility of revelation drives this home: “The Holy Scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide to my assent; and I shall always harken to it, as containing infallible truth, relating to things of highest concernment … and I shall presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation of Holy Scripture.”68 Similarly he later assures Edwards in defense of Reasonableness that “I know no other infallible guide but the Spirit of God in the Scriptures.”69 This is clearly a man whose religious convictions, specifically about the infallibility and perspicuity of Holy Scripture, cannot be denied without compromising a proper assessment of his work and legacy.

In light of all this, what view of Locke’s religious convictions should we hold based upon his Reasonableness? As John Marshall has rightly noted, the task of definitively pinning Locke down theologically is not exactly an easy one. He says, “Contradictory estimates of Locke’s religious thought abound even in the best works on his thought. Boxing the compass of Protestantism, Locke is seen as essentially Calvinist, as the ideologist of dissent, as a Latitudinarian Anglican or Arminian, and as a Unitarian (or Socinian).”70 We shouldn’t be too surprised at the variety of “Lockes” that exist, given what Woolhouse has said: “If the Reasonableness of Christianity has been less misunderstood than the Essay, it is only because less attention has been paid to it.”71 But at the same time, it does seem clear that we can go beyond an agnostic stance toward Locke’s religious convictions, especially vis-à-vis his supposed Enlightenment heirs. For one, we can say with Ashcraft that, “It is nothing less than a total misconception to regard the Reasonableness as a denigration of Christianity and a defense of philosophy. Rather, the precepts of faith are necessary precisely because of the failure of philosophy.”72 Locke’s decidedly Christian convictions and his commitment to the authority of Scripture puts him at odds with the Enlightenment trajectory after him. We can’t affirm summaries such as Nuovo’s that “Locke’s book…exemplifies the wisdom of modernity … [and is] a milestone on the highway towards human enlightenment.”73 Such conclusions seem to go against the grain of a generous reading that allows Locke to speak for himself. Such a reading would insist that, rather than reading between the lines to determine what Locke actually thought (but couldn’t write due to the restrictions of his day), we ought to allow the lines to speak for themselves, hearing Locke’s straightforward exposition of the reasonable basics of Christianity according to the Scriptures, basics which he believed were sure and true.

1.3. Source #3: A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul

Lastly, we turn to the Paraphrase, published posthumously in 1704. As the last work of Locke’s life it is of particular significance in helping us understand what captivated Locke’s attention at the end. The Paraphrase essentially exhibits Locke’s method of Bible study with a focus on certain Pauline epistles: Galatians, 1–2 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians. Pickard picks up on the continuity of Locke’s emphases from the Reasonableness and notes that in the Paraphrase “Locke’s method of Scripture analysis—of disregarding customary chapter and verse divisions and focusing on the natural flow of the text—was designed to undercut the fancies of the system makers and to obtain access to the one original meaning of the text.”74 Champion concurs: “The Reasonableness and A Paraphrase delivered to the reading public the results of his own reading and study of scripture … [offering] a meticulous explanation of [its] meaning.”75 The choice of Pauline epistles was likely not coincidental; it may very well have related to the fact that one of the criticisms John Edwards brought against Locke regarding his Reasonableness was that it seemed to demonstrate that the philosopher was operating with a “canon within the canon,” setting aside the epistles to give priority to the Gospels and Acts. It is all the more significant, then, that Locke, in the preface to the Paraphrase, admits that he had not previously grasped the significance of Paul’s letters, confessing, “I found that I [had] understood them not; I mean the doctrinal and discursive parts of them: though the practical directions … appeared to me very plain, intelligible, and instructive.”76

Though we can only briefly peruse this work due to space constraints, we would do well to look at a couple of biblical passages that touch directly upon our continuous case study: Locke’s view of human nature. The most significant that Locke touches upon is Paul’s discussion of Adam’s trespass and its implications for all of humanity in Romans 5:12–21. Locke summarizes the content of the passage thus: “Here [Paul] shews that Adam transgressing the law … forfeited immortality, and becoming thereby mortal, all his posterity descending from the loins of a mortal man were mortal too, and all died, though none of them broke that law but Adam himself. But by Christ they are all restored to life again; And God justifying those who believe in Christ they are restored to their primitive state of righteousness and immortality … it being all wholly and solely from Grace.”77 In his actual paraphrase of verse 12 he says “by the act of one man Adam the father of us all, sin entered into the world, and death, which was the punishment annexed to the offence of eating the forbidden fruit, entered by that sin so that Adam’s posterity thereby became mortal,” and explains in a footnote that “‘have sinned’ I have rendered ‘became mortal’ following the rule I think very necessary for understanding St Paul’s Epistles, [that is] the making him as much as is possible his own interpreter.”78 Thus for Locke his departure from an Augustinian/Reformed interpretation of Adam’s Fall and its associated notion of original sin is not because of a rejection of the Scriptures (and of a Christian understanding of human nature) but because he sees it as incompatible with what Paul says elsewhere (and ultimately as incompatible with a ‘reasonable’ understanding of God’s justice, for Locke sees it as unjust that God would punish humanity for sins not committed by their own person). Locke’s interpretation of Romans 5 thus resembles more of an Arminian or Latitudinarian interpretation of the passage, and we would do well to remember that while this departs from the Calvinism prevalent in England at the time, it does not necessarily depart from Christian orthodoxy on the whole. Locke’s making much of humanity’s need of salvation from sin and death (and that by the grace of God) seems very much to be an expression of what we would characterize today as evangelical Arminianism.

A glance at Ephesians 2:1–10 further confirms this position. There Locke paraphrases verses 1–2 to say, “You also being dead in Trespasses and Sins, in which you Gentiles, before you were converted to the Gospel, walked according to the State and Constitution of the World, Conforming your selves to the Will and Pleasure of the Prince of the Power of the Air.”79 After setting forth the sinful nature of humanity and the need for conversion he then celebrates “the great things that were done for them, and the glorious estate they were in under the Gospel … by their Faith alone in Jesus Christ, to whom they are united.”80 Such proclamations of the depth of sin and the glories of the gospel of grace, accepted by faith alone, certainly seem to represent strong Protestant convictions. When we remember that such expressions of human depravity (of a certain kind) and a need for humanity to be saved by faith in Christ came at the very end of his life, we would do well to reflect on what Locke’s supposed Enlightenment heirs would have thought of this profound thinker had they more closely consulted the Paraphrase.

We can see in these passages that Locke was still very much informed by the biblical witness when it came to understanding human nature and the human condition. In this regard Parker notes that “through the story of the Fall we can glimpse Locke’s own despairing views about the nature of the human condition…. Whether Locke drastically broke with the Christian view of an impaired human reason, as is so often assumed, is a debatable point…. [But we can say that at] the center of Locke’s world-view was the concept of Adam’s Fall and a general strain of pessimism about human nature and human reason.”81 He goes on, “Locke’s conception of the Fall, coupled with his doctrine that there are no innate ideas, is an effective rebuttal of the Augustinian notion of original sin … [but] not [a] break with the traditional Christian view of the impaired reason of all individuals.”82 This is a crucial point, for many who have linked Locke up to the Enlightenment trajectory have failed to realize that a departure from one strand of the Christian tradition does not entail a departure from the Christian tradition entirely. Polinska, in filling this point out, brilliantly observes that, “Although Locke denies that we are guilty for Adam’s sin, he recognizes that the whole of humanity is guilty and corrupted by personal sins.”83 It does seem then, in light of the Paraphrase, that Locke is drinking deeply from Scripture in his final days and that this saturation is producing a view of human nature that would not resonate with the philosophes in the least.

This vision of Locke as a philosopher grappling with Christian scripture and his own religious convictions is further confirmed when we examine Locke’s correspondence, especially from this later period in his life. For instance, in writing to Philip Limborch on May 10, 1695, Locke made his intentions in writing the Reasonableness quite clear:

For this winter, considering diligently wherein the Christian faith consists, I thought it ought to be drawn from the very fountains of Holy Writ.… From an intent and careful reading of the New Testament the conditions of the New Covenant and the teaching of the Gospel became clearer to me … than the noontide light, and I am fully convinced that a sincere reader of the Gospel cannot be in doubt as to what the Christian faith is.84

His later correspondence thus helps us to see how central Locke’s religious sensibilities were, for far from the public sphere he freely and frequently made appeal to his Christian faith. One prominent example is the letter Locke wrote to Peter King on October 4, 1704, just days before Locke passed away. There, in reflecting on his Paraphrase, he expresses his hope that it will “be of great use to religion in giving the true sense of those Epistles … [in light] of what St Paul taught.”85 He goes on, “St Paul I have made my guide as much as possible, and concluding him to be as I every where find him a rational pertinent arguer … I have every where endeavored to follow [him] impartially.”86 In the same letter he also offers this moving salutation to the man who was his closest friend and primary heir: “I wish you all manner of prosperity in this world and the everlasting happiness of the world to come. That I loved you I think you are convinced. God send us a happy meeting in the resurrection of the Just. Adieu.”87 That such a letter could be full of both affirmations of the authority of Scripture and final greetings where the mercy of God is implored in this life and the next is yet another proof that Locke’s worldview, especially at the end of his life, was thoroughly Christian, and that of an orthodox variety.88

2. Concluding Thoughts and Further Trajectories

After having only briefly surveyed three critical sources and some of Locke’s correspondence, we are left to finally evaluate the significance of Locke’s Christian confession for his philosophical legacy, particularly vis-à-vis the Enlightenment. Polinska, commenting on the Paraphrase, notes that, “while Locke’s emphasis on the superiority of divine revelation is evident in those passages, I do not think that Locke changed his position from that presented in the Essay.”89 Polinska thus signals an important debate regarding how to interpret Locke’s final years, and that is the debate between whether change or continuity with the earlier Locke should predominate. Polinska and Spellman represent Locke scholars who argue for continuity throughout Locke’s life, holding that his religious sensibilities always informed his work but became particularly explicit in his final days. For instance, Spellman argues regarding Locke’s view of human nature that he was “a man working throughout his adult life, with unflagging dedication, to articulate and defend what was still very much a Christian view of human nature and human potential.”90 He can thus conclude, “Locke remained, throughout his adult life, loyal to the Christian view of man’s essential nature as it was understood by so many of his Latitudinarian friends, and by not a few of his Puritan enemies.”91

But there are also scholars who argue for discontinuity in Locke’s life, even of a radical variety. One such scholar, John Marshall, argues (against Spellman, and against the notion that Locke’s change was toward religion rather than away from it) that, “The story of the development of Locke’s theology is the story of the transition from the Reformation towards the Enlightenment, whose Protestant theology was often Unitarian as well as Deist. Locke did not stand as firmly on the Reformation side of the divide as Spellman wishes to suggest.”92 Here we see emerge once again the old story of Locke as part of the European crisis and as a crucial forerunner to the Enlightenment. For Marshall, despite Locke’s own protests to the contrary, he is indeed a Socinian who sought to subvert traditional Christianity but was unable to speak as openly as he would have liked.93 Others, such as Woolhouse and Pearson, argue for a narrative of discontinuity but believe that the change was toward an increasingly religious perspective. The debate acknowledged, it would still seem that all sides agree (to some degree) with the emphasis of this article that a revival of Locke’s religious convictions later in life prompted him to have a greater focus than he had previously on how such convictions ought to inform the whole of his philosophical project and specifically his view of human nature. Even Marshall notes that in his latter days, “Locke’s theological enquiries and his reliance on Christ for a saving faith and for information about virtue, about its rewards and about the very existence of an afterlife, did clearly become more important.”94

That further work needs to be done in Locke studies in order to resolve such debates and better determine the relationship between Locke’s Christian confession and his philosophical project (especially vis-à-vis the Enlightenment) is evident. One possible avenue for this work95 would be to explore the link that may exist between Locke and Boyle’s view of reason as it relates to faith (specifically whether, and to what extent, Locke is influenced by Boyle’s understanding of “right reason”).96 Another avenue of study would be (following the lead of Polinska and Spellman) to explore the connections between John Tillotson and Locke, further articulating how Locke’s religious convictions could be understood as squarely within the Latitudinarian camp and thus within Christian orthodoxy. A third avenue would involve exploring in greater depth the three crucial issues set forth by Pearson regarding the nature of Locke’s religious thought: (1) the relationship between Locke’s theology and his epistemology, (2) the question of the evolution/revolution in Locke’s religious views, and (3) the character and authenticity of Locke’s personal religious views.97 Each of these issues is only at the beginning stages of exploration, but it is the opinion of this writer that these paths of inquiry are worth pursuing.

That being said, it does seem at the end of this article that there are things about Locke’s religious views, specifically as they relate to the Enlightenment and his overall philosophical legacy, that we can say. We can say with Spellman, “The optimism of the Latitudinarians, and of Locke, was always tempered by their Christian consciousness of the power of sin, of human frailty and disobedience, of mankind’s constant need for that grace which was available only through the God of mercy and forgiveness. It was not, surely, an outlook easily amenable to the Age of Enlightenment.”98 We can say with Polinska, “Locke’s commitment to the infallibility of the Scriptures and his appreciation of the God given ability to reason need to be seen as signs of his great concern for the truthfulness of the Christian tradition. These should be also seen as signs that, contrary to some critics, Locke is quite consistently the Christian thinker he wished to be.”99 We can say with Wolterstoff and Pearson among others that the place of John Locke in the story of Western civilization has been vastly misunderstood, especially in failing to see Locke as one who recognized “the dramatic transformations taking place in European thought and society … [and sought] to assure the place of religion and morality in the new era … [struggling] to clarify the great issues of the relationship of reason to revelation and of church to state … [and understating that] what was at stake was the validity of any kind of religious interpretation of the universe.”100 Lastly, we can say with Mouw that “the entire framework of Locke’s thinking was ‘theocentric’ and the key commitment of his intellectual life as a whole was the epistemological vindication of this framework.”101 In all of this we are rightly exhorted that a generous reading of Locke must lead us to reconsider the significance of Christianity for his work and thus to reevaluate the nature of his philosophical legacy downstream.

To close, we could do no better than once again returning to Locke’s final sentiments, this time to the epitaph that Locke prepared for himself. It read, in part, “A scholar by training, he devoted himself wholly to the pursuit of truth.”102 Marshall notes that these words “enunciated very clearly … his central concern at the end of his life” and concludes from them that “it is in this daring to know and to inquire that Locke most clearly deserves his place in the pantheon of the Enlightenment.”103 But in light of the present study, we can’t help but think that such an interpretation of Locke’s words and legacy might not be recognized by the man himself. We are more inclined to think that there is another way to interpret what Locke meant by the “pursuit of truth,” one that better resonates with his own concerns rather than the concerns of his eighteenth century (supposed) heirs. Such a reading would look a little further down the epitaph where he goes on to point people to the Gospels and to Christ as an example of virtue.104 It is from this Locke, the one who uttered with conviction “A Christian I am sure I am, because I believe ‘Jesus to be the Messiah,’ the King and Saviour promised, and sent by God,”105 that we hear an exhortation from the grave not to abandon Christianity and its understanding of human nature, but rather to more fully study the Scriptures in order to see how they provide a reasonable understanding of God, humanity, and the gospel message of reconciliation through Christ. As we gain a greater picture of “the real John Locke,” it becomes more and more clear that understanding him as a forerunner to the philosophes and the secularizing tendencies of the Enlightenment is not a generous enough reading of his life and work. Rather, it is best to see Locke’s philosophy as one that was deeply informed by Christian faith, leaving us a legacy that stands as a rebuke not only to much of what transpired in eighteenth century intellectual history but also to much of twenty-first century Locke scholarship. To date, both have largely failed to take Locke at his word regarding the compelling claims of Christianity, claims that he commended not only to his contemporaries but to all who are devoted wholly to the pursuit of truth.

[1] The Works of John Locke, vol. 6, quoted in Wioleta Polinska, “Faith and Reason in John Locke,” Philosophy & Theology 11 (1999): 287. All references to The Works of John Locke in this article will refer to The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, 12th ed. (London: Rivington, 1824), accessible at

[2] This description is adapted from Justin Champion, “‘A Law of Continuity in the Progress of Theology’: Assessing the Legacy of John Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity, 1695–2004,” Eighteenth-Century Thought 3 (2007): 111.

[3] Hans Aarsleff, “Locke’s Influence,” in The Cambridge Companion to Locke, ed. Vere Chappell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 252.

[4] Aarsleff, “Locke’s Influence,” 258.

[5] Nicholas Wolterstorff, John Locke and the Ethics of Belief (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), ix.

[6] Wolterstorff, John Locke and the Ethics of Belief, ix.

[7] Wolterstorff, John Locke and the Ethics of Belief, x.

[8] W. M. Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 4.

[9] Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity, 5–7.

[10] For an excellent edited volume giving exposure to Locke’s religious writings, see John Nuovo, ed., John Locke: Writings on Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[11] In each case we will also examine Locke’s personal correspondence which assists us in interpreting these works and better understanding his intentions in writing them.

[12] Nuovo, John Locke: Writings on Religion, 55.

[13] W. M. Spellman, “Locke and the Latitudinarian Perspective on Original Sin,” Revue International de Philosophie 42 (1988): 287.

[14] See, for example, Paul Hazard, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954).

[15] Roger Mercier, La Rehabilitation de la Nature Humaine (Seine, France: La Balance, 1960).

[16] John D. Woodbridge and Frank A, James III, Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 402.

[17] Woodbridge and James, Church History, Volume Two, 402.

[18] Maurice Cranston, Philosophers and Pamphleteers: Political Theorists of the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 45.

[19] Voltaire, “On Mr. Locke,” quoted in Isaac Kramnick, ed., The Portable Enlightenment Reader (New York: Penguin, 1995), 190.

[20] Voltaire, “On Mr. Locke,” quoted in Cranston, Philosophers and Pamphleteers, 46.

[21] Voltaire, “On Mr. Locke,” quoted in Kramnick, The Portable Enlightenment Reader, 193.

[22] I am indebted to John Woodbridge for this insight.

[23] Norman L. Torrey, Voltaire and the English Deists (Oxford: Marston, 1963), 144.

[24] Lex Newman, “Introduction,” in The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Lex Newman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 1, 6.

[25] Samuel C. Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke and the Character of His Thought,” Journal of Religion 58 (1978): 261.

[26] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 247.

[27] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, reprint ed. (New York: Penguin, 1997), 8.

[28] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 8.

[29] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 11.

[30] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “John Locke’s Epistemological Piety: Reason Is the Candle of the Lord,” Faith and Philosophy 11 (1994): 579.

[31] For support of this point, see Nuovo, John Locke: Writings on Religion, 245–56.

[32] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 57, 442.

[33] Jolley, “Locke on Faith and Reason,” 455.

[34] Wolterstorff, “John Locke’s Epistemological Piety,” 579.

[35] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 608, italics original.

[36] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 613, italics original.

[37] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 249.

[38] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 249.

[39] Richard Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” in John Locke: Problems and Perspectives, ed. John Yolton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 195.

[40] Kim Ian Parker, “John Locke and the Enlightenment Metanarrative: A Biblical Corrective to a Reasoned World,” Scottish Journal of Theology 49 (1996): 64.

[41] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 621.

[42] Parker, “John Locke and the Enlightenment Metanarrative,” 65.

[43] The Works of John Locke, vol. 2, quoted in Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 198.

[44] Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 201.

[45] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 256.

[46] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 256.

[47] Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 202.

[48] Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 202.

[49] R. S. Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 452.

[50] The Works of John Locke, vol. 9, quoted in Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography, 452.

[51] Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography, 459.

[52] The Works of John Locke, vol. 6, quoted in Wolterstorff, John Locke and the Ethics of Belief, 128.

[53] Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, in Nuovo, John Locke: Writings on Religion, 89.

[54] Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, 91.

[55] Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, 91.

[56] Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, 102.

[57] Stephen Pickard, “John Locke and the Fate of Systematic Theology,” in The Task of Theology Today: Doctrines and Dogmas, eds. Victor Pfitzer and Hilary Regan (Hindmarsh, Australia: Australian Theological Forum, 1998), 124.

[58] Pickard, “John Locke and the Fate of Systematic Theology,” 125.

[59] Gerard Reedy, The Bible and Reason (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 141.

[60] Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, 210.

[61] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 252.

[62] Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, 91.

[63] John W. Yolton, Locke: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), 80.

[64] Wolterstorff, “John Locke’s Epistemological Piety,” 584.

[65] Pickard, “John Locke and the Fate of Systematic Theology,” 121.

[66] Champion, “A Law of Continuity in the Progress of Theology,” 111.

[67] Champion, “A Law of Continuity in the Progress of Theology,” 127.

[68] The Works of John Locke, vol. 3, quoted in Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 223.

[69] The Works of John Locke, vol. 6, quoted in Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 223.

[70] John Marshall, “John Locke’s Religious, Educational, and Moral Thought,” Historical Journal 33 (1990): 993.

[71] Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography, 218.

[72] Ashcraft, “Faith and Knowledge in Locke’s Philosophy,” 218–19.

[73] Nuovo, John Locke and Christianity, xii.

[74] Pickard, “John Locke and the Fate of Systematic Theology,” 124.

[75] Champion, “A Law of Continuity in the Progress of Theology,” 111.

[76] The Works of John Locke, vol. 7, quoted in Richard J. Mouw, “John Locke’s Christian Individualism,Faith and Philosophy 8 (1991): 449.

[77] John Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul, reprint ed. Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 2:522–23.

[78] Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul, 2:523.

[79] Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul, 2:625–26.

[80] Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul, 2:620.

[81] Parker, “John Locke and the Enlightenment Metanarrative,” 66.

[82] Parker, “John Locke and the Enlightenment Metanarrative,” 71.

[83] Wioleta Polinska, “John Locke, Christian Doctrine and Latitudinarianism,” Zeitschrift für neuere Theologiegeschichte 6 (1999): 178.

[84] The Works of John Locke, vol. 8, quoted in Reedy, The Bible and Reason, 140.

[85] John Locke, “3647: Locke to Peter King, Oates, 4 October 1704,” in John Locke: Selected Correspondence, ed. Mark Goldie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 332.

[86] Locke, “3647: Locke to Peter King,” 332.

[87] Locke, “3647: Locke to Peter King,” 333.

[88] For an in-depth analysis of the important question of whether Locke was more Trinitarian or Socinian in his theological outlook, see Victor Nuovo, ed., John Locke and Christianity: Contemporary Responses to The Reasonableness of Christianity (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1997).

[89] Polinska, “Faith and Reason in John Locke,” 306.

[90] Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity, 205.

[91] Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity, 213.

[92] Marshall, “John Locke’s Religious, Educational, and Moral Thought,” 997.

[93] Against Marshall, see Locke’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:10 in the Paraphrase, which seems to make clear his view that the Son preexisted the man Jesus Christ.

[94] John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration, and Early Enlightenment Culture: Religious Intolerance and Arguments for Religious Toleration in Early Modern and “Early Enlightenment” Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 453.

[95] I am indebted to John Woodbridge for this insight.

[96] Indeed, Locke explicitly cites and commends Boyle in the “Epistle to the Reader” of the Essay, 11.

[97] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 244–45.

[98] Spellman, “Locke and the Latitudinarian Perspective on Original Sin,” 228.

[99] Polinska, “Faith and Reason in John Locke,” 307.

[100] Pearson, “The Religion of John Locke,” 262.

[101] Mouw, “John Locke’s Christian Individualism,” 450.

[102] See Maurice Cranston, John Locke: A Biography (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 482.

[103] John Marshall, John Locke: Resistance, Religion and Responsibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 455.

[104] See Cranston, John Locke: A Biography, 482.

[105] The Works of John Locke, vol. 6, quoted in Polinska, “Faith and Reason in John Locke,” 287.

C. Ryan Fields

C. Ryan Fields is a PhD candidate in theological studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is ordained with the EFCA.

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