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While the Judeo-Christian tradition is oftentimes regarded as an inordinately anthropocentric religion, it may come as a surprise to many that otherwise staunchly conservative Calvinistic theologians took quite seriously the biblical injunction to care for one’s animals: “The righteous man cares for the life of his animal”(Prov. 12:10). Contemporary conservative Christians can oftentimes be quite crass and brutish when it comes to treating animals. Fortunately, there have been some helpful correctives to this unfortunate tendency among many conservative Christians. So the Irish covenanter Thomas Houston:
“The lower animals, too, have justly been assigned a distinct place in the efforts of Christian philanthropy. Man is regarded as their natural protector; and the bondage to which his apostasy and rebellion against God has reduced them, he is bound, by every means in his power, consistent with the design of their position in the scale of existence, to alleviate. The degradation and sufferings of the irrational creation furnish at once an affecting memorial of man’s “first disobedience,” and a powerful motive to treat the lower animals with kindness and compassion.
The future era of the dominion of knowledge and true religion will be distinguished by the cessation of the groans of creation, and by freedom from the primeval curse, to a large extent, of the inferior animals. “For the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. For the creature was made to subject to vanity, not willingly but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, became the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” [Romans 8:20-2] It is certainly the duty of every Christian to do all that is in his power to hasten this joyful consummation; and as we may ourselves antedate the millennium, by living in the spirit of true devotedness, so should we strenuously labour to realize one of its special characteristics, when the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and shall be introduced to be a sharer, according to its capacity, in “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Likewise, he says elsewhere:
In the items of sporting intelligence, it is quite common to read of a horse in the steeple-chase thrown in the mire, falling against a fence, or in a river, in leaping, and of injuries of wind and limb, which are not likely to be soon repaired, while others are reported as having been deprived of the life in a moment. Has any person a right thus to treat animals which have peculiar claims upon human protection? Should public feeling tolerate such abuses? Ought not the laws which punish cruelty to animals be applied here? and should not the authorities compel the promoters of the steeple-chase to desist from their unnatural practices, or heavily punish them if they persist? It is certainly too bad to fine a poor carman for cruelty to his horse that is of little use, and suffer those who cruelly maltreat and cause the death of animals that are very valuable to go on their reckless course, inflicting grievous injuries unrestrained.
James Ussher was also quite concerned with the welfare of animals:
So much of the respect which we do owe our Neighbours. Is it not required also, that we should show mercifulness unto our beasts?
Yes. A righteous man is to regard the life of his beast. Pro. 12. 10. And all hard usage of the creatures of God is forbidden, (Deut. 22. 6, 7. and 25. 4.) yet not so much in regard of them, (1 Cor. 9. 9, 10) as that the Lord would train us forward to show mercy to our Neighbor. For it being unlawful to use the dumb creatures cruelly; it is much more unlawful to use men so.
James Ussher, A body of divinity: or, the sum and substance of Christian religion, ed. Michael Nevarr (1648; Herndon VA, 2007), p. 248.
Thomas Houston, The races: the evils connected with horse-racing and the steeple-chase and their demoralizing effects (1853) in Works doctrinal and practical of the Rev. Thomas Houston, D.D, Knockbracken (4 vols, Edinburgh, 1876), iv, 393-4.