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THE Independent Whig. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743) 
The Independent Whig: or, a Defence of Primitive Christianity, And of Our Ecclesiastical Establishment, against The Exorbitant Claims and Encroachments of Fanatical and Disaffected Clergymen. The Seventh Edition, with Additions and Amendments (London: J. Peele, 1743). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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THE Independent Whig.
Wednesday, January 20. 1720.
WHOEVER goes about to reform the World, undertakes an Office obnoxious to Malice, and beset with Difficulties. It speaks a Confidence of his own Capacity, which prompts him to set up for the Schoolmaster of Mankind; and it infers a Charge of Corruption or Ignorance in his Pupils, out of which he assumes to whip them. As every Man has a good Conceit of his own Merit, he thinks himself undervalued by Instruction, and is provoked by Correction. The Confession of our own Weakness, and that of another’s better Sense, is generally, both, contained in the taking of Advice, which is seldom taken for that Reason.
Besides, Blindness and Prejudice are seldom to be resigned but with Pain: and therefore, for the most part, are not resigned at all. It is but an unacceptable Civility to offer to let in the Rays of Understanding upon those Minds, which are us’d to subsist in the Dark. It is like opening Day-light upon a Nest of Owls, it always sets them a Screeching.
The Difference, however, is considerable between natural and acquired Ignorance, and the last is much more incurable than the first. The one is capable, and often willing, to be informed; whereas the other thinks itself above it, and is too wise to learn. There can be no Cure for one who is taught to be a Blockhead: His Ignorance is the Fruit of Instruction, and has cost him great Pains; and so his Pride is engaged to support it. As he has improved his Mind into learned Darkness, he stands upon his Guard against Common Sense, is Proof against all the Assaults of Reason, and scorns its Power. If he do not take you for his Enemy, and use you accordingly; yet, at least, he will pity your Mistakes, and, perhaps, pray for your Illumination.
It will probably be said, by some of my Readers, that I here describe myself and my own Performances, and perhaps with too much Truth. There lived, not long since, a Poet, who made excellent Criticisms upon the most applauded Plays, and afterwards writ one himself obnoxious to them all.
But neither these, nor any other Difficulties or Discouragements, shall hinder me from the generous Attempt of endeavouring to reform Mankind. I have the Magnanimity to face them all, and set about the Work; though I am sufficiently sensible of the Greatness of the Design, and have long wished, that some abler Genius would have undertaken it.
I confess there have been some seeming Attempts of this kind, which were carried on with great Dexterity and Wit, and brought great Credit, and other valuable Advantages, to the Authors; but I should be glad to know what Service they have done to the Public. The exposing of small Faults can do but small Service; and People may be singular in their Humours, and vain in their Dress, without hurting human Society. A Beau may wear a fine Coat, and a gaudy Sword knot, without prejudicing the Commonwealth, or indeed any one Member of it: Nor can I see any dreadful Malignity in a hooped Petticoat. A Lady may keep a Squirrel, and diversify her Face with fifty Patches on a Side, without invading private or public Property. There is no Mischief in a harmless Snuff-box, or a Diamond-ring; nor do laced Cloaths, or a clouded Cane, prejudice Trade; nor the Flirting of a Fan shake our Constitution. A terrible Fellow with a long Sword may be a peaceable Neighbour; and a Coquette may salute her Lap-dog, and yet not endanger our Liberties.
These little Sallies and Excrescences of Humour, as they give real Pleasure and Happiness to the Proprietors themselves, so they often entertain wiser People, who might otherwise grow too severe for want of a little Laughing. And yet, I will own, that many Papers upon that Subject have justly merited universal Esteem and Admiration.
But the greater and more important Mischiefs, which afflict human Society, have been, for the most part, left untouched by our finest Writers: Priestcraft and Tyranny have been seldom attacked by any, but rather flattered and supported. Mr. Saville is said to have replied to a Frenchman, who exulted upon the fine Writings of his Countrymen, That there werebut Two Subjects in Nature worth a Wise Man’s Thoughts, namely, Religion and Government; and they durst speak of neither. But it is our peculiar Happiness to live in a Country, where we may speak our Minds freely and openly upon any Subject, within the Bounds of good Manners and Virtue; which, I hope, I shall never transgress.
I own, the Free-Thinker is an useful, as well as a fine Paper. I have seen some Discourses of his, which, in my Opinion, are inimitable; especially those upon Superstition and Enthusiasm. Most that come from him are instructive, and all are elegant. I hope so worthy a Writer has suitable Encouragement. I have not the good Fortune to know that ingenious and deserving Gentleman; but I am told, that, besides his Capacity and public Principles, and the Work he is now engaged in, he has done personal Services to the Government, which, in any other Country, would intitle him to a very good Station in it: If he have none in This, it is, no doubt, owing to the public Spirit of the Great; who will, by no Fault or Courtesy of theirs, divert him from instructing his Country twice a Week. I shall only add upon this Head, that as no Man is so well qualified as the Free-Thinker himself to execute his own Plan, mine will not by any means interfere with his, as will be shewn in my next Paper.
There was one weekly Paper, which, had it gone on, would have prevented this; I mean the Free-Thinker Extraordinary. It breathed an uncommon Spirit of public Liberty, and shewed sufficiently the Capacity of the Author to do Service to Mankind. But when he had shewed his Skill, and engaged our Attention, he dropped us and his Subject; and made it necessary, though dangerous, to succeed him. It was never asked why he undertook it; for every one saw the Reasons and Advantages of it: But why he deserted it, has been the Subject of Inquiry; and the rather, because it was evident, that he wanted neither Art nor Materials.
For myself, who have no manner of Attachment to any Party, I shall not be afraid to speak my Mind of All, with that Freedom which becomes Truth and Independency; and the Flattering of Power, in any Shape or Hands whatsoever, shall be the last Charge against me.
There is no Power in Names to consecrate Persons or Things, or to alter their Nature; and yet the Majority of Mankind have always worshipped the Idols of Words and Sounds; and a Monosyllable has often done more than an Army, towards keeping them under Awe and Servitude. In Catholic Countries, the Word Pope, or Priest, carries with it more Reverence than does the Old or New Testament, and more Terror than an armed Host. And lately in France, the Words, Grand Monarque, or the Glory of the Grand Monarque, could keep a vast Nation in Misery and Wooden-shoes, and carry a Hundred Thousand of them at a time to the Slaughter.
This blind Devotion to Names, so inconsistent with true Liberty, which shews itself in Judging as well as Acting, has also prevailed in this free Nation to a Degree shameful and dangerous. We know what terrible Lengths the Words Church, Clergy, Divine Right, and the like undefined Nonsense, have gone towards enslaving us; and what a steady and ridiculous Reverence is still paid to them, even when they are evidently applied to Purposes the most impious and tyrannical.
Nor does this Charge of worshipping Words lie altogether at the Door of one Party only. Even that Side, which boasts a greater Share of Reason and Freedom, is manifestly guilty of the like Idolatry to Names and Persons, and in Instances of the greatest Importance. They do not consider the Speech, but the Speaker; nor what is done, but the Door; and consequently praise, by the Great, in their own Leaders, what they would loudly condemn in any others.
Credulity and implicit Belief are equally dangerous in Government as in Religion: They have made the World Slaves, and they keep it so. Every Party has its Pope, and some have several; who, like him at Rome, never fail to make an ill Use of the Faith of their Followers, and deceive those who trust in them.
I have said thus much to apprise the Reader, that this will be an Independent Paper, which will stoop to no Party, nor have any Friends or Enemies, but such as make themselves so, by espousing the Interests of Truth or Falshood.
The Design of thisPaper.
Wednesday, January 27. 1720.
RELIGION was design’d by Heaven for the Benefit of Men alone. It teaches us to moderate our Desires, calm our Passions, and be useful and beneficent to one another; and whatever does not contribute to these Ends, ought not to be called by that Name. For Almighty God has infinite Happiness in himself, which we can neither diminish nor add to; and therefore he can require nothing of us, but for our own Sakes; nor command any thing but what tends to our own Good, both here and hereafter.
I say it with the utmost Sincerity, that no Man living desires to pay a more true and affectionate Esteem and Reverence than myself to those Clergymen, who answer this End of their Institution, and whose Lives and Manners grace and adorn their Profession and Doctrine.
I thank God, I know many such; and perceive, with Pleasure and Transport, a noble Spirit of Liberty and true Religion rising up among them; which will soon flame out far and wide, if it be not stifled by those, whose true Interest and Honour call upon them aloud to give it Assistance and Protection.
That Profession must be always most honourable and deserving from Mankind, which is most useful and advantageous to Men. As it is therefore impossible to shew too much Respect to virtuous Clergymen, so the corrupt Part of them cannot be too much exposed. Since the Possession which they have of the Fears and Panic of superstitious People, and in the tenderest Seasons too, enables them to do the greatest Mischief; the strongest Antidotes ought to be applied to their Poison. It will be ridiculous to call for Protection from that Character, which they constantly disgrace, and to ask Assistance from the Religion, which they neither believe nor practise.
I here list myself under the Banners of the former Sort; and design by this Work to illustrate the Beauty of Christianity, by exposing the Deformity of Priestcraft; to distinguish the good Clergy from the bad, by giving to each his Share of Praise or Infamy, according to the different Deeds done by them. I will lose no Opportunity of doing Justice to the former, nor, willingly, to the latter.
In doing this, I shall go far backward, and, taking Things from the Beginning, shew in the Course of these Papers the infinite Evils brought upon Mankind, from Age to Age, by the Pride and Imposture of corrupt Ecclesiastics. I shall shew what a Babel they have built upon the Foundation of Christ and his Apostles, who were made to father Doctrines which they never taught; and to countenance Power which they always disclaimed. I shall shew by what Arts and Intrigues they came, from being Alms-men of the People, to be Masters of Mankind; and how, by pretending to dispose of the Other World, they actually usurped and ruled This.
I shall shew, that notwithstanding Christianity was first propagated by Miracles and Mildness only, and the Teachers of it had no Power but to persuade; making it withal appear, in the whole Course of their Lives and Preaching, that they sought no manner of personal Advantage, or any manner of Jurisdiction over their Hearers and Converts; yet they who, without their Inspiration and Manners, called themselves their Successors, did by virtue of their Names lay insolent Claim to Dominion, and carried all Things before them, by the Dint of Terror and Excommunication.
I shall shew, that though the Clergy, like other Militia, were raised and paid for protecting Mankind from their Spiritual Enemy, yet they soon made use of the Sword put into their Hands against their Masters, and set up for themselves. I shall shew, that notwithstanding the whole End of their Institution was to make Men wiser and better, yet where-ever They prevailed, Debauchery and Ignorance also prevailed; and the constant Lesson they taught, was blind Belief, and blind Obedience, of both which they made themselves the Objects. So that Superstition was an inseparable Creature of their Power, and the perpetual Issue of it; and tainted Morals, and darkened Minds, were the great Props of their Dominion. A good Understanding, and an inquisitive Spirit, led directly to Heresy; a pious Life was of ill Example, and a Reproach to the Clergy; and if any one gave Offence this way, it was but calling him Heretic, and delivering him over to Satan: The Man was then undone, and the Clergy safe.
I shall shew how they soon banished the meek Spirit of the Christian Religion, and, growing to as great Variance with Mercy, as they were with Reason, perverted Religion into Rage, and Zeal into Cruelty. They made the peaceable Doctrine of Jesus a Doctrine of Blood, and excommunicated and damned by that Name, by which alone Men could be saved. It is true they damned one another as much as they did the rest of the World; for, agreeing in nothing but the great Principle of Interest, though they rode upon the Necks of their People, yet they never could be at Peace, nor Ease, among themselves, so long as each Individual was not in the highest Place. And therefore, because every one of them could not be above all the rest, they were eternally quarrelling, and giving one another to the Devil.
If one of them held any Proposition, true or false, it was Reason enough for another to deny it, and curse him into the bargain. At last, there was not one Principle in their System but what was contested, and they agreed in nothing but their own Power; though, at the same time, they disputed what that was.
In this everlasting Scuffle, and Civil War, they had so mangled Truth, and muffled it up, that few could distinguish it from the false Images which they had made of it. And yet these Men, who, by their constant Discords and Debates, confessed themselves in endless Uncertainties, were the sure and infallible Guides to others, who were obliged to believe their Guesses and Contradictions, on pain of Hell-fire.
I shall shew what a shameful Hand they have always had in bringing and keeping Mankind under Tyranny and Bondage to such Princes as would divide the Spoil with them. In such Case, it was a Point of Conscience, and a religious Duty, for Subjects to be miserable Slaves; and Damnation but to strive to be happy. But if the Prince happened to be a Lover of Mankind, and endeavoured to protect his People in their Civil and Sacred Rights; then were they the constant Incendiaries of every popular and wicked Faction. They preached nothing but Sedition and Blood, till they had worked up their blind and stupid Votaries to Rebellions and Assassinations. To such Conduct is owing a great Part of their Power and Wealth.
I think no one, who is the least conversant with Ecclesiastical History, will deny that this was the Condition of Christianity before the Reformation. The chief Intent of this Paper is to let all the World know it, that they may be upon their Guard against the like Mischiefs. It is certain, that the Demands of the High Clergy, upon the Laity, are as great, if not greater than they were at that Time. As Father Paul says of England, The Horse is bridled and saddled, and the old Rider is just getting upon his Back.
It is Time now to conclude this Paper, by saying, that if my hearty Endeavours shall any ways contribute to detect the Impostures, and expose the wicked Practices, of those, who, under the prostituted Name of Sanctity, are Foes to Truth, to Liberty, and Virtue; I shall think my Time and Pains well spent. But if not, I shall have the internal Satisfaction of having attempted at least to attack Vice and Corruption, however dignified or distinguished; and the worst which can be said of me, is,
---- magnis tamen excidit ausis.
Of the Contempt of the Clergy.
Wednesday, February 3. 1720.
RING the Bells backward! The Temple, the Temple is on Fire! The High-priests look aghast, and the People stare, and all cry out, The Craft, the Craft is in Danger!
This I expected, and was prepared for, when I first engaged in the Undertaking: Touch a galled Horse, and he will wince, though ’tis in order to cure him. I knew a Gentleman, who found out a Murderer, by looking stedfastly in his Face: When any one is conscious of his own Crimes or Infirmities, he is jealous of every Approach towards a Discovery, and often makes one by it.
It is remarkable, that no Order or Society of Men is so apprehensive of Disrespect, or can so little bear the Examination into their Pretensions, as the greatest Part of the Ecclesiastics. If you ridicule or laugh at the Professions of Law and Physic, the Lawyers and Physicians will laugh with you. The same is true of Soldiers, Merchants, and the Professors of almost all Arts and Sciences, who generally are the first to expose the Knaves and Fools amongst them.
If a Lawyer, Soldier, or Merchant, deserve the Pillory; neither Westminster-hall, the Army, or the East-India Company, are in an Uproar; or complain that the Law, Trade, or the Soldiery, are wounded through his Sides; nor endeavour to raise a Mob in his Behalf, or rebel in token of their unlimited Submission to Government. The Fair Sex do not think themselves ill used, when a Baud is tied to a Cart, or naughty Nymph beats Hemp: The Eleven Apostles lost no Credit when Judas hanged himself; nor would any honest Clergyman, tho’ even so many of the other Sort did the same, or if it was done for them.
But I do not know by what Judgment or Family it happens, that if you but touch the Pretences or Vices of the Meanest of the Ecclesiastics, so many of their Body are in an Uproar: They roar aloud, their Order is exposed, their Mysteries derided and profaned, and Religion itself in Danger of being subverted; and Socinian, Deist, or Atheist, is the best Word, that is often given to their best Friend; and sometimes all of them are given.
All other Societies of Men are contented with the Esteem and Honour, which result from the Usefulness of their Employments and Professions, from the Worth and Capacity of their Members: Yet none stand in such a Situation, none have so many Advantages to acquire Respect and Homage, as the Clergy.
Their Office is evidently adapted to promote the Welfare of Human Nature, to propagate its Peace and Prosperity in this World, as well as its eternal Felicity in the next; so that it is the Interest of all Men to honour it; and none but a Madman will condemn and ridicule what has a manifest Tendency to the Security and Happiness of all Mankind.
The Temporal Condition of the Clergy does likewise place them far above Contempt: They have great Revenues, Dignities, Titles, and Names of Reverence, to distinguish them from the rest of the World; and it is too well known, that Wealth, Power, and Learning, carry to the Vulgar a kind of Mystery, and distant Grandeur, and command not only Admiration and Reverence, but often a superstitious Veneration.
Added to this, they have the Possession and Direction of our Fears; they are admitted in Health and Sickness: Every Sunday they have the sole Opportunity of gaining our Esteem by worthy and useful Instructions, and all the Week by their good Lives: They educate us whilst young, influence us in our middle Age, govern us in our Dotage, and we neither live nor die without them.
A numerous Body of Men, so constituted and endowed, so privileged and posted, are capable of being most useful and beneficent to Society, if their Actions be suitable to their Professions. All the World will acknowledge, and pay a willing Homage to their Merit, and there will be no need of demanding, much less of extorting Respect, or of Complaints and Exclamations for want of it. The Danger lies on the other Side; for there are such Seeds of Superstition in human Nature, that all our Prudence and Caution will be little enough to prevent even Adoration to their Persons. If, therefore, they want that Respect which they are so fond of, they cannot be to seek for the true Reasons, namely, their own Corruptions and Worthlessness, which must be exceeding great, to get the better of so many Advantages.
If Clergymen would avoid Contempt, let them avoid the Causes of it. Let them not be starting and maintaining eternal Claims to worldly Power: Let them not be hunting after Honours, courting Preferments, and bustling for Riches: Let them not be assuming to give Models of human Government, or to adjust and determine the Titles of Princes: Let them not pretend to punish any Man for his Way of Worship, and to give him to the Devil for his Money or Opinion: Let them not join in Factions, and foment Rebellions: Let them not defy Heaven by swearing falsly: Let them not promote Servitude in the People, and Barbarity in the Prince: and let them not flatter wicked Kings, and plague and disturb good ones.
Let them win Respect, and wear it; but let them not earn Infamy, and demand Veneration. Let not those of them, who gratify brutish Appetites, and live in all Vileness, add Want of Shame to their Want of Grace, and bewail that they are contemned, while they are deserving it. If a Man pretending to great Gravity and Regard, should dress himself up in a Fool’s Coat, and a Pair of Horns, would not People laugh at him in spite of themselves? And would not his Resentment and Rebukes add still to their Mirth? A Clergyman, who is drunk on Saturday, will but, with an ill Grace, talk of his Dignity and Embassadorship on Sunday. Ought we to own and reverence that Man as our Guide to Heaven, who is himself going a contrary Road, and rioting in those Vices which his whole Duty is to restrain?
The Honour therefore of the good Clergy is consulted and promoted, by exposing the bad. A profane Priest is the Disgrace and Bane of his own Order, and they who stand by him, adopt his Infamy, and defile themselves. If he neglect God, and disturb Human Society, how do the Clergy suffer, though he be whipp’d or hang’d? His Punishment is their Credit and Security, because by it is lopped off from their Body a gangrened Limb, that incumbred and deformed the rest.
Atheists, who are not restrained by the Fear of God, which is stronger than all the Laws in the World, ought, in the Opinion of Politicians, as well as Casuists, to be expelled from the Society of Men. And shall more Mercy be shewn to those, who are so hardened in Impiety, that though they believe a God, yet dread not his Vengeance, but swear by his great and terrible Name to an avowed Falshood? Or can the Clergy suffer by the Loss of such execrable Company?
An unfortunate Levite, some Years since, had his Head cleft by a Butcher, who caught him in Bed with his Wife; and neither the Number of Reverend Auditors, who attended the Tryal, a due Regard to the Cloth, or an Apprehension of the Carnage it might produce, could hinder the Judge from directing the Jury to call the Crime only Man-slaughter. This so provoked the meek Spirit, and Patience, of a Holy Brother, then present, that he cried out in the Court, Here’s a fine World! If these Things be suffered, there will be no living for us.
No chaste or sober Clergyman could be terrified with such an Example, or think the Church in any Danger by it. Does any virtuous Member of the Holy Order suffer either in his Person or Character, if Biss divert his Spectators in a Pillory, or Parson Paul his Auditors upon a Gallows? None can share in their Disgrace but those who sympathize in their Crimes, or censure their Punishment. How much more honest, as well as prudent, would it be to remove the Guilt from themselves, by throwing it all upon the devoted Head; to put the evil Thing out of the City; and to imitate the Sagacity of the horned Herd, who always drive the blown Deer from amongst them, where he seeks his Refuge, though at the Hazard of involving the whole Tribe in his Misfortune!
T. & G.
Of the Explication of the Scripture.
Wednesday, February 10. 1720.
TO fear God, and keep his Commandments, is the Summary of the Old Testament; and to believe, that Jesus Christ is come in the Flesh, is the Compendium of the New. Whoever can prove his Obedience and Faith, by these two plain Duties, fulfils the Law and the Gospel.
It was most agreeable to the infinite Goodness and tender Mercies of God, to make every thing which he requires of us weak Men obvious and clear. The Importance of the Duty implies its Certainty, which is not to be found in Phrases either doubtful or obscure. The Scriptures are justly styled the Revealed Will of God; they are addressed to all Mankind, and given to remain as a Rule of Faith and Manners to the End of the World. It must therefore follow, that whatever is necessary to be known in them, is to be as easy and intelligible at one Time as another, and to all Men alike.
Where their Meaning cannot be positively determined, a new Inspiration will be necessary to reduce them to Certainty; and if that be wanting, every thing else is but Conjecture. Whoever therefore goes about to put a Construction upon such Passages in Scripture, and injoins us to believe his Interpretation, does not demand Submission to the Word of God, but to his own Authority and Imagination.
What Use is there of an unintelligible Proposition? Or of a Revelation which wants to be revealed? Almighty God will never require of us to see in the Dark, till he has given us new Eyes; nor to believe any Article, or obey any Precept, till we understand him, and know what he means. A Rule, which is not plain, is no Rule at all: Nor will he make a Law binding, or the Transgression of it a Sin, till we know what it is.
It is true, that human Laws oblige all Men to submit to the Penalty annexed to the Transgression, though many perhaps may never hear of them. But this is to prevent the constant Plea of Ignorance, which otherwise would be made by all Offenders. The Corruption and Imbecility of human Nature make this Procedure necessary. But it is far otherwise in the Dispensation of Providence. The Author of it sees our Hearts, penetrates the most secret Recesses of our Souls, makes indulgent Allowances for our Weaknesses, and expects nothing from us, but what he has given us the Means and Abilities of knowing and performing. He requires us not to make Brick without Straw. He judges by the Intention, not the Action. We cannot offend him, but voluntarily, much less offer him an Affront, when we design Respect and Obedience.
The Creator and Preserver of Mankind cannot take Delight in puzzling his Creatures with Darkness and Ambiguities, and in Points too where their Souls are in Danger. He is not a rigid Master, who would reap where he did not sow. This would be a cruel Mockery, unworthy of the Divine Being, who has brought Life and Immortality to Light.
Nothing is plainer than the Law and the Gospel. Whoever says the contrary, does no less than accuse the great and good God, and justify wicked and wilful Men, whom he has left without Excuse, by telling them clearly what he expects from them. Whatdoes God require of thee, O Man, but to do Justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly? said one of his Prophets out of his Mouth. I am very sure there is no Difficulty in understanding this.
The obscure Passages in Scripture could not be intended for our Instruction. Infinite Wisdom has hid them from our Eyes, to be brought to Light in his own Time, and then to answer the Ends of his Providence; or perhaps to baffle our vain Pride and Curiosity. Who art thou, O Man, who wouldst be wiser than the Omniscient; make those Things necessary, which he has not made so; discover what he has thought fit to conceal; and know his Secrets whether he will or no? This would be to mend the Scripture; to make it more useful than God has made it; to help the Holy Ghost, and to teach the Almighty how to express himself.
How absurd would it be to send Cookmaids and Day-labourers to study Aristotle and Suarex; to rake into the Jargon of the Schools; to learn all Languages, examine all Systems; and to discover of themselves all Errors, Interpolations and Mistakes; or to do what is much more ridiculous, that is, wholly throw themselves, and their Salvation, in most Countries, upon a Confederacy of Men, who have an Interest to deceive and oppress them, and ever did so when they had an Opportunity; who have been always at Variance with one another, and with themselves; and have agreed in nothing but the misleading of those who trusted them! And yet one of these must be the unhappy Circumstance of the greatest Part of Mankind, if what I have said before be not true; which we may be sure the Divine Goodness cannot permit.
Nothing is more evident from History, than that most, if not all, the Improvements and Reformations of Religion have been made, not only without, but in Opposition to these Men. There have been near a Million of them kept in constant Pay for the best Part of Seventeen hundred Years, to teach the World by their Precepts, and reform it by their Example; and yet I am persuaded, they will not pretend, that Religion is plainer, the Scriptures better understood, or that Mankind are more wise or virtuous for all their Instructions. So little have we been benefited by their Labours, and for all the Money they have received! I wish I could not say, that the World has gradually decreased in Piety and Virtue, as these its Teachers have advanced in Riches and Power. It is owned by the best of themselves.
It is the farthest from my Thoughts, by any thing I have before said, to undervalue their true Office, much less to make it useless. I sincerely think it absolutely necessary to the Peace and Happiness of Society. The Roman Consuls had an Officer attending their Triumphal Chariots, whose Business it was to cry out, Memento mori.
I would have these too answer the same End of their Institution; to press the Reading of the Scripture upon their Hearers; to shew its Excellency and Advantages; to inculcate the plain Precepts of Faith and Morality contained in it; and to demonstrate the Goodness of God to Men by proving, that he has laid down to us in plain Words, every Duty which he requires of us, either to himself, our Neighbour, or ourselves. But let them not distract instead of instructing, and confound ignorant People with Metaphysical Subtilties, which the Wisest cannot comprehend. Let them not strain ridiculous and selfish Consequences from obscure Parts of Scripture, and make the Almighty mean what he never said. Let them give us God’s Will in God’s Words.
Another End of their Office, is to execute those Duties of our most Holy Religion, which the Word of God has left at large for every one to do, but which indeed are necessary to be performed by single Persons in the several Churches or Societies of Christians; such as Reading the Scriptures, and public Prayers, aloud to the Congregation, and Administring the Sacraments: What by the Gospel Liberty is the Right of every one, (as shall be unanswerably made out hereafter) is by the Consent of voluntary and national Churches become the Duty and Business of particular Persons, who are set aside and paid for that Purpose.
In what I have before said, I have the Concurrence of the best and wisest of our own Clergy, who acknowledge and contend, that we are not to take the Almighty’s Meaning at Second-hand, nor receive that for his Will, which we ourselves do not find to be so; but that we are to inquire before we believe, and to be convinced before we assent; every Assertion or Proposition, before it is examined, being alike to the Understanding, as every Colour is to the Blind. They own, that our Judgment ought to be at no Man’s Service, nor our Minds controuled in religious Matters, but by God alone; for as no Man’s Soul can be saved by Proxy, so no Man ought to exercise his Faith by Proxy.
The Unfitness of the Clergy to Teach Others.
Wednesday, February 17. 1720.
AS in my last Paper, I hope, I have fully shewn, that Clergymen have no Right to interpret the Scriptures for other People; so I shall endeavour in this, to prove that they are, for the generality, the least qualified to do so, of any Set or Society of Men, in their present State of Learning and Virtue. This I do with a sincere Design to serve them, as well as the Laity; hoping, that when they see from what Source the Neglect and Contempt, which they so much complain of, proceed, they will join hearitly in their own Reformation, in answering the Ends of their Institution, and in being hereafter as useful to their Country, as many of them have been formerly mischievous.
Use makes every Posture familiar to the Body, and every Opinion to the Mind. We are told, that the Brahmans, in India, do, by long Habit, so distort their Limbs, that they grow in the Situation which they are put in. Every Day’s Experience proves, that we assimilate with the Company we keep, as well in our Sentiments, as in the Air and Mien of our Bodies. Not only different Nations, but often Sects, Professions, and Trades, are to be known by their Phiz and Behaviour. A Sailor, or a Taylor, (to say nothing of their Betters) may be found out, however they disguise themselves.
Nothing but keeping the best Company can give a free and easy Carriage; and an open and generous Conversation alone can disengage our Minds from the strong Impressions of our early Education. The Habit of thinking freely, and of expressing freely those Thoughts on all Occasions, enables us to judge well of Men and Things. Our Minds are polished by Collision, and a liberal Conversation not only starts all Difficulties, but solves them, if they are to be solved.
Almighty God gives us Faculties to use them; and it is Ingratitude, as well as Folly, to return the Gift upon his Hands. Truth can never suffer by an impartial Examination, but on the contrary will receive Strength and Advantage from it. It is Error and Imposture alone, which dread a fair Inquiry, as being conscious of their own Weakness.
I think I may therefore safely affirm, that whatever Body or Society of Men are most restrained by themselves or others, from Reasoning freely on every Subject, and especially on the most important of all, are the least qualified to be the Guides and Directors of Mankind.
I will now examine how far this is the Circumstance of the Clergy in most Countries. They are no sooner discharged from the Nurse and the Mother, but they are delivered over to Spiritual Pedagogues, who have seldom the Capacity, and never the Honesty and Courage, to venture at a Free Thought themselves, and must consequently be improper Chanels to convey any to their Pupils.
From thence they are sent to the Universities, (very commonly upon Charity) where they are ham-stringed and manacled with early Oaths and Subscriptions, and obliged to swear to Notions before they know what they are. Their Business afterwards is not to find out what is Truth, but to defend the received System, and to maintain those Doctrines which are to maintain Them. Not only their present Revenues and Subsistence, but all their Expectations are annexed to certain Opinions, established, for the most part, by Popes and Synods, in corrupt and ignorant Ages; and even then often carried by Faction and Bribery, in Concert with the Designs and Intrigues of Statesmen; but become sanctified by Time, and now to be received without Inquiry.
No one can fairly examine what is Truth, who has an Interest on either Side of the Question. We are bribed by our Inclinations, in spite of our best Resolutions. Who can be heartily angry at an Opinion, which will keep a Coach and Six, or strenuously endeavour to find out any Heresy in it? Besides, all Men are fond of Respect and Homage, and when they are in Possession, will esteem it but an unprofitable Study to find out, that they do not deserve them.
As Clergymen so educated cannot, for the Reasons aforesaid, be fair and impartial Judges themselves of what is Truth, so their Authority can give but little Weight to such Doctrines as they may think fit to teach to others. The first Question asked of a suspected Witness in every Court of Judicature is, Whether he gets or loses by the Success of the Cause? And, if either appears, he is constantly set aside, and not trusted with an Oath.
It is demonstrable in Reason, that every Man’s Pretences ought to be tried by the same Test and Rule; and where the Evidence of a Proposition cannot be clearly shewn by one who has an Interest to advance it, nor proved by Miracles, all other Persons have Reason to suspect it of Imposture: When what he offers will indisputably conduce to his own Benefit, and I have only his Word, that it will conduce to mine, I cannot doubt but his Kindness is greater for himself than for me, and shall consequently believe, that he is not doing my Business, but his own.
The Apostles, and some of the first Christians, did not so teach Christ. They not only convinced Mankind of the Truth of what they said by Miracles, but made it apparent to all the World, that they sought no temporal Benefit: On the contrary, they left their Families, their Professions, and all the Comforts of Life, to wander about the Earth, and preach a Doctrine infinitely advantageous to the present, as well as eternal State of others; and expected no Reward to themselves in this Life, but Beggary, Stripes, and even Death itself.
It is not to be wondered, that, in Universities abroad, no such Discourses, or even such distant Hints, are countenanced or permitted, which have the least Tendency to oppose the Pride or temporal Grandeur of the Clergy; nor any Speculations suffered to be vented there, which ever so little break in upon received Opinions. It is not only a certain Stop to all Hopes of Preferment, to question the Truth of any of their darling Notions; but you are in Danger of being expelled, and are sure to be discountenanced and contemned.
The Philosophy and Learning, there taught and encouraged, are exactly calculated and adapted to this State of Darkness and Ignorance: These are nothing but an unintelligible Jargon of undefined Words, and bare Sounds, which mean nothing, and yet can prove every thing. With this Gibberish the Pupils there are diverted from sound Knowledge, by being put upon a wrong Scent; and are hindered from attaining true Wisdom, by believing that they have got it.
All Attempts towards useful Learning are neglected and discouraged; and nothing is found out to be true in Philosophy, but is made false in Religion; and the Authors and Discoverers are branded with Heresy, if not Atheism. Of this the Examples are infinite.
Thus accoutred, and thus set out, our young Ecclesiastic commences Governor and Director of Mens Consciences. He is impatient of the least Contradiction, and is all in a Flame at an Opposition which he has not been used to. As he never questioned the Truth of any of his own Notions himself, he grows outrageous at any one else who does, and immediately cries out aloud for Fire and Faggot.
To this it is owing, that the Difference between the controversial Writings of Gentlemen, and those of Divines, is so very remarkable. The first are carried on, for the most part, with Humanity, and always with good Manners, even when the Matter is most poignant and sarcastical. In the latter, at first Sight, appears the Odium Theologorum; and Rage, Ill-breeding, and Revenge, breathe thro’ every Part of them. A proper Disposition this to make Converts, and govern the World!
This Temper has (even in England) shewn itself visibly, in their Treatment of a modern Bishop* , whom neither his great Penetration, his pious Life, nor the pretended Regard to his pastoral Function, could protect from Ecclesiastical Hatred and Fury, for his having dared to engage in the Interest of Mankind.
As it is undeniably true, that what I have before described is the unhappy Circumstance of the Clergy, in most Countries; so no Man, who has the least Desire to promote useful Knowledge, true Virtue, and sound Religion amongst Mankind, but must endeavour to manumit them from this State of Servitude and Darkness, even though they should oppose it themselves. Birds and Beasts used to Lodges or Dens, are afraid to go out of them; and even Men long shut up in dark Dungeons, cannot for some Time bear the Light of the Day. Galley-Slaves, not knowing what to do with Liberty given them, have often, of their own Accord, returned to their Chains; nay, God’s own People themselves longed again for Egyptian Flesh-pots, and Egyptian Slavery, when they were fed with Food from Heaven; notwithstanding which, Moses would not gratify their brutish Appetites, but made them happy in spite of themselves.
I would therefore have every Clergyman enjoy the full Liberty which every Layman enjoys. We are not confined in our Searches after Truth; and why should the Clergy be confined, in whose Hands it is more powerful and advantageous than in ours? The granting of Ecclesiastical Freedom to Churchmen is as equitable as that of Civil Freedom to Laymen. I thank God, we possess a glorious Portion of the latter; and I heartily wish them an equal Portion of the former.
Of Creeds and Confessions of Faith.
Wednesday, February 24. 1720.
I Have shewn in my Fourth Paper, the Boldness and Absurdity of the Exposition of Holy Scripture, when that Exposition is maintained and imposed for Canonical Truth. I shall here prosecute the same Subject merely as it relates to Creeds and Confessions of Faith.
In our Disputes with the Church of Rome, we contend, that the Scripture alone is a sufficient Rule of Faith and Practice; and our Divines have proved it unanswerably. But when our High-Church Priests argue with Dissenters, and those whom they are pleased to christen Heretics, Holy Writ is not so highly complimented: It is then very subject to lead us into Mistakes, and hard to be understood. It is true, ’tis infallible, and was given us from Heaven to be Light unto our Feet, and a Lamp unto our Paths; but still it is dark and insufficient without human Aid and Explication. For, though it be exceeding plain to us of the Established Church of England, and proves us to be in the Right in every Article, Ceremony and Habit whatsoever; yet it is utterly hid from those who will not accept of our Guideance, and submit to our Authority. And therefore if they refuse to believe and obey our Supplements and Improvements of the Bible, and to accept of the Salvation, which is to be had in our Church, and the Church of Rome, they shall have no Salvation at all. It is fit and orthodox, that Men should perish for following their Consciences, and for understanding the Scripture without the Leave of the Ordinary.
Thus, when they debate with the Papists, they praise the Scriptures, inveigh against the imposing of Opinions, and speak in the Style of Dissenters. But when they are pleased to rebuke Nonconformists, they borrow the Language of Papists, urge the Authority of our Apostolic Church, and hear Divine Right to judge for others; and deal hard Language, and worse Usage, to all that take the same Privilege which they do. There is, however, this small Difference between us Conformists and the Schismatics: We have good Pay for being Orthodox, and the Separatist pays dear for being in the Wrong. If these are not two good Reasons for delivering him over to Satan, I despair of finding better.
In Consequence of this Power in High-Churchmen to be the Mouthsmen of the Bible, which, if we take their Word, cannot speak for itself, they claim a Right to make Creeds for others: And this is what I am now to examine.
I think it but Justice to the Goodness of God to affirm, that Belief or Disbelief can neither be a Virtue or a Crime in any One, who uses the best Means in his Power of being informed. If a Proposition be evident, we cannot avoid believing it; and where is the Merit or Piety of a necessary Assent? If it be not evident, we cannot help rejecting it, or doubting of it; and where is the Crime of not performing Impossibilities, or not believing what does not appear to us to be true? Are Men, who have good Eyes, the more righteous for seeing? Or do they offend in seeing too well? Or do blind Men sin in not distinguishing Colours?
When we clearly see the Connection of a Proposition, or know that we have God’s Word for it, our Assent is inevitable. But if we neither comprehend it ourselves, nor see God’s Authority for it, and yet swallow it, this is Credulity, and not divine Faith, which can have nothing less than divine Truth for its Object. When we are sure, that God Almighty speaks to us, we readily believe him, who cannot lye, nor be mistaken, nor deceive us: But when Men speak, though from God himself, our Belief in them is but human Confidence, if we have only their own Authority, that they had it from God: Their being Bishops, their being learned, their meeting together in Synods; all this alters not the Case: We can judge of their Opinions no otherwise, than as of the Opinions of Men; and of their Decisions, but as of human Decisions.
When the Articles of any Creed appear to be contained in Scripture, whoever believes that, does in Consequence believe them; and then such Creed is unnecessary: But when we cannot, or think we cannot, find them in Scripture, and yet give equal Credit to them, we depreciate and profane the Divine Authority itself, by accepting the Words of Man’s Invention as wiser, and more significant, than the Words of God’s own choosing.
We are sure, that the Scripture-Phrases were inspired by the Holy Ghost, and as sure, that our own Forms and Injunctions are human, and framed by Priests. It is therefore strange, that the former should be insufficient and unintelligible, and the latter infallible, and to be embraced and obeyed on the Pain of Damnation; and that the Priests must do what God Almighty has, without Success, endeavoured to do.
Besides, as the Imposition of human Creeds is contrary to Reason, so is it also to Charity. They were generally made in a Passion, not to edify, but to plague, those for whom, or rather against whom, they were intended. They were the Engines of Wrath and Vengeance, nor could they serve any other Purpose. Those who believed them already, did not want them; and those who disbelieved them, were not the better for them. But this was not the worst of it; for they who did not receive them against their Conscience, were cursed; and they who did, deserved it. So that either the Wrath of God on one hand, or the Wrath and Cruelty of the Clergy on the other, was unavoidable. If People said they believed, and did not, they mocked God, and shipwrecked their Souls; and if they did not believe, and owned it, though they saved their Souls, they provoked their Reverend Fathers, and were destroyed.
Whenever these Dictators in Faith had a mind to be mischievous, and to undo one who gave them signal Offence, either by his good Reputation, or good Bishoprick, they began his Ruin by their great Care for his Soul; and so invented a Creed for him, which ruined him effectually, by giving him, as they said, to Satan, but, in Truth, to Beggary, Stripes, or Flames. He therefore who had any Virtue or Religion, was a certain Sufferer by these Systems of Faith, which were contrived for that Purpose. The Man that had no Conscience nor Honesty, was not worthy of their Anger; or, which is most likely, was on the Orthodox Side; or at least quickly became a Convert to it, being, like themselves, able to swallow any thing.
Thus Creeds, as they were the Result of Revenge, Pride, or Avarice, were the constant Preludes and Introductions to Ignorance, Cruelty and Blood; and the wretched Laity were craftily, as well as inhumanly, made the deluded and unnatural Instruments of butchering one another, to prove the Infallibility of the Faith-makers; who, while they were wantonly shedding Christian Blood, and dooming to Damnation those who called upon the Name of the true God, had the shameless Assurance to miscal themselves the Embassadors of the meek Jesus.
And indeed, what better could be expected from Men so chosen, so unqualified, and so interested, as the Members of these general Creed-making Councils for the most part were? They were chosen from several Parts by a Majority of Votes; and they who were most aspiring, factious or crafty, carried it: They sprung from the meanest of the People: They were bred in Cells: They popped into the World without Experience or Breeding: They knew little of Mankind, and less of Government, and had not the common Qualifications of Gentlemen: They were governed by Passion, and led by Expectation: And, either eager for Preferment, or impatient of missing it, they were the perpetual Flatterers, or Disturbers of Princes.
These were the Men, this their Character. When these Reverend Fathers were got together in a Body, by the Order of a Prince, or a Pope; who, having his Necessities, or the Ends of his Ambition, to serve, chose proper Tools for those Purposes; they were directed to form such Creeds and Systems of Faith, as his present Views or Interests made requisite for Mankind to believe.
In this new Imployment every Member, we may be sure, was forward to shew his Talents in starting new Tenets, or in contradicting those already started, and so to make himself considerable enough for that Preferment which he was resolved to earn one way or another. And this being the great Aim of them all, Jealousies and hard Words were carried to the most violent Pitch. There was no End of their Wrangling and Reviling. Not content to abuse each other by Word of Mouth, they sometimes scolded in Writing; and every Reverend Father drew up a bitter Billingsgate Petition against another Reverend Father. Sometimes, not satisfied with Vollies of Scurrility, unheard of in Assemblies of Gentlemen, they had recourse to Club-law, and made good their Inventions and Distinctions with Blows and Blood. And if the Truth could not be found out by Scolding, Contradiction, and Battle, it was not found out at all.
Thus any Emperor or Pope might have what Creed he pleased, provided he would be at the Pains and Price of it. And for the rest of Mankind, they had this short Choice, To comply, or be undone.
Of Uninterrupted Succession.
Wednesday, March 2. 1720.
SINCE all the most idle and visionary Pretences of the Popish and Popishly-affected Clergy, have their Ends, and their Danger, and therefore should be narrowly watched, and vigorously opposed, I shall in this Paper inquire into the Validity of a principal Claim of theirs, I mean that of Uninterrupted Succession; and endeavour to find whether there is any Foundation to support this Corner-stone of their Authority, except in their own wild Imaginations.
One might reasonably imagine, that a Doctrine of so much Importance to the temporal and eternal State of all Mankind should be expresly laid down, and fully explained, in the Holy Scriptures, to prevent all Possibility of Mistake about it. But, instead of this, the Word, as far as I remember, is not once mentioned there, nor any other Word equivalent to it; so that we are under a Necessity of recurring to the Clergy themselves for Information: And here too we are as much bewildered as before; for some of them boldly assert it, and others flatly deny it.
Besides, those who hate and damn one another, claim it equally to themselves, and deny it to others. Those who are Successors to the Apostles in England, disown their Brother-successors beyond the Tweed, and about the Lake; and they their Brother-successors at Rome; and they theirs in Greece and Armenia, as well as every-where else. Now all these, who so confidently assume the Successorship to themselves alone, are as opposite to each other in Sentiments and Worship, as Light is to Darkness. They cannot therefore all have it; and if only one has it, how shall we know who he is? No Man’s Testimony ought to be taken in his own Case; and, if we take that of other People, there are twenty to one against them all.
If the Clergy of the Church of England, as by Law established, be, of all the Reformed, supposed to enjoy this Line of Entail intire to themselves; pray, how came they by it? Not from the Reformation, which began not till near Fifteen Centuries after the Apostles were dead; and Cranmer owned Ordination then to be no more than a Civil Appointment to an Ecclesiastical Office. It is certain, that at that Time this Utopian Succession was not so much as thought of by any who embraced the Protestant Religion. At present, indeed, and for a good while past, the Jacobite High Clergy contend for it with equal Modesty and Truth. But, in order to adopt it, they are forced to drop the Reformation: For,
You must know, courteous Reader, that this same Succession is now deduced from Rome, and the Pope has had the keeping of it, who, by all that adhered to the Reformation, was held to be Antichrist, and the Man of Sin. He was often an Atheist, often an Adulterer, often a Murderer, always an Usurper; and his Church has constantly lived in gross Idolatry, and subsisted by Ignorance, Frauds, Rapine, Cruelty, and all the blackest Vices. It is certain, that she was full of Wickedness and Abomination, and void of all Goodness and Virtue, but that of having kept the Apostolic Orders pure and undefiled for our modern High-Churchmen.
However, I think, they themselves seem to be now sensible, that it will be a difficult Matter to make out, this way, their Kindred to the Apostles, without being nearer akin to Popery. They are therefore forced to own the Church of Rome to be a true Church. Nor ought we to be surprised, if, in succeeding to the Orders of that Church, they also succeed to most of her good Qualities. I confess, amongst us Laymen, it would look a little absurd, if any one should gravely assert, that “indeed Lais was a filthy Strumpet, and no virtuous Woman would converse with her; but, for all that, she was a true Virgin, and all Chastity was derived from her!”
But such Absurdities as these go for nothing amongst some Sorts of Ecclesiastics. We will therefore, in the next Place, inquire what it is which they would succeed to. The Apostles had no Ambition, Jurisdiction, Dignities, or Revenues, to which they could be Successors. We read not in Scripture one Word of Ecclesiastical Princes, Popes, Patriarchs, Primates, &c. On the contrary, our Saviour himself declares, that his Kingdom is not of this World; and when the young Man in the Gospel (St. Matth. chap. xix.) asked of him, What he should do to obtain eternal Life? he answered, that, besides keeping the Commandments, he should sell all that hehad, and give it to the Poor. N. B. He did not bid him give a Peny to the Priests.
In the xxth Chapter of the same Gospel, our Saviour takes Notice to his Disciples, that the Princes of this World exercise Dominion over them; but, says he, it shall not be so amongst YOU; but whoever will be great amongst you, let him be your Minister; and whoever will be Chief, let him be your Servant. Nay, he says, that even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. In the xxiiid Chapter he condemns the Scribes and Pharisees, for loving the uppermost Rooms, and the chief Seats in the Synagogue, and their desiring to be called of Men Rabbi; and he forbids all this Pride to his Disciples, as well as his other Hearers; and orders them not to call one another Master: For one, says he, is your Master, even Christ; and he that is greatest among you shall be your Servant. Nor do I find, that, while he was upon Earth, he laid Claim to any Power but to do the Will of Him that sent him. Indeed, after his Resurrection, he tells his Disciples, that all Power is given to him in Heaven and in Earth; and he bids them teach it to all Nations, and baptize them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; but he does not give them the least Power or Dominion, of any kind whatsoever.
And it is plain, that his Disciples understood him so. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, in his second Epistle to them, Chap. i. that they had not Dominion over their Faith, but were Helpers of their Joy. In the fourth Chapter of the same Epistle, he tells them, that they preach not themselves, but Christ Jesus their Lord, and themselves THEIR Servants for Jesus sake. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians, Chap. iii. he admonishes them not to glory in Men, no not in himself, nor Apollos’ nor Cephas; and tells the People, that even the Apostles themselves, and all Things, are Theirs, and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. In the ninth Chapter he tells them, that though he is free from all Men, yet he has made himself Servant unto all, that he might gain the more. St. Peter also, in his first Epistle, Chap. v. exhorts the Elders to feed the Flock of Christ, and to take the Oversight thereof, not by Constraint, but willingly; not for filthy Lucre, but of a ready Mind; neither as being Lordsover God’s Heritage, but as being Examples to the Flock.
Now either these Elders were Clergymen, or they were not: If they were Clergymen, their pretended Successors may see upon what Terms they are to be Feeders, and Overseers of the Flock of Christ: But, if they were only Laymen, then it is plain, that no other Qualifications were necessary to a Spiritual Shepherd, than a willing, disinterested, and humble Mind; and all Subjection is, in the fifth Verse, commanded to be reciprocal --- Likewise, ye Younger, submit yourselves to the Elders: Yea, all of you be subject to one another, and be cloathed with Humility; for God resisteth the Proud, and giveth Grace to the Humble.
For myself, I confess, that I am not Master enough of any Language to find Words more expressive, or which can more fully renounce all Sorts of Jurisdiction and Dominion, than those in the Passages which I have here quoted: And nothing can be more ridiculous, as well as impious, than to oppose them with equivocal, doubtful, and figurative Expressions. If the Popish Priests could but find out one such clear Text on their Side, how would they exult upon it!
As I have made it fully appear, that the Apostles understood our Saviour in this Sense; so it is evident, that the first Christians had not the least Apprehension, that the Apostles claimed any Power or Authority to themselves. They were poor Men, of mean and mechanical Professions, who left Fathers, Mothers, Children, Families, Trades, and renounced all the good Things of this World, to wander about it, and preach Christ. Their Disinterestedness and Sufferings were powerful Arguments of the Truth of their Doctrines: Whereas, if they had told their Hearers, in the modern High-Church Strain, That “as soon as they became their Converts, they became also their Spiritual Subjects; That they themselves were Ecclesiastical Princes; and that Spiritual Government was as much more excellent than the Civil, as Heaven was than Earth, yea much more so; That the Episcopal Honour, and sublime Dignity, could not be equalled by the Glory of Kings, and the Diadems of Princes; That Kings and Queens ought to bow down to the Priests with their Face towards the Earth, and lick up the Dust of their Feet” ----- With whole Volumes more of such blasphemous Trash, as is vended by Dr. Hickes, Mr. Lesley, and indeed by almost all the High-Church Writers; and yet not publicly disapproved or censured by the Convocation, or any Body of the Clergy, though they have shewn an outrageous Enmity to all who have asserted the contrary Principles: If the Apostles had told them too, That they themselves had a Right, not only to the Tenth Part of their Estates, but of their Labour; and “that since they (their Hearers) administered so many Things to a King, who administers Peace and War for bodily Safety; how ought they not to adminster more liberally to him, who administers the Priesthood towards God, and secures both Body and Soul by his Prayers?”
I say, if any of this choice Fustian had been broached to the World, at the first Opening of the Gospel, what Progress could Chiristianity have made? How could the Apostles have been disinterested Witnesses of the Truth of the Doctrines, which gave them such Jurisdiction, Dominion and Riches? And how justly would the Princes and Powers of the Earth have punished such Usurpations upon their Civil and Ecclesiastical Authority?
The Silence alone of the Enemies to Christianity, is a sufficient Confutation of this wicked and black Calumny, cast upon them by their pretended Successors; but which their bitterest Opposers had more Modesty than to charge them with, though they ransacked Earth and Hell for all other Sorts of Scandal.
T. & G.
Of Uninterrupted Succession. Pt. II.
Wednesday, March 9. 1720.
DR. Tillotson, in his Sermon against Transubstantiation, tells us, that “it might well seem strange, if any Man should write a Book to prove, that an Egg is not an Elephant, and that a Musquet-bullet is not a Pike.” He might have added, that this was the hard Circumstance which the Laity were reduced to in their Disputes about Religion with most Sets of Ecclesiastics; and, what is still worse, when they had proved these Propositions, they were never the better.
The greatest Part of Mankind have learned to judge of Religious Matters by other Faculties and Senses, than those which God Almighty has given them. The first Thing they are taught is, that Reason may be on one Side of the Question, and Truth on the other; which Maxim being well established, there will be an End of all Reasoning ever after; and there can be no longer any Criterion between Truth and Falshood: But those, who, by Education and Custom, have once got Possession of their Superstition and Fears, may impose upon them what crafty and advantageous Doctrines they please.
By these means the Christian Religion, most easy and intelligible in itself, and adapted to the meanest Capacities, is become, in most Countries, a Metaphysical Science, made up of useless Subtleties, and insignificant Distinctions; calculated to gratify the Pride of corrupt Clergymen, by making them admired and reverenced by the People, for their profound Knowledge, and deep Learning; and consequently Religion is wholly left to their Care and Conduct, as being infinitely above poor Lay-apprehensions. And to this the World is beholden for the Depravation of Virtue and Morality; and for all the Domination, Pomp and Riches of the Popish Priesthood.
I therefore hope, that no one will condemn an Undertaking intended to restore Christianity to its primitive Innocence, and native Simplicity; to oppose common Sense against pompous Nonsense, and learned Absurdity; and to shew how, and in what Meaning, The Kingdom of Heaven is said to be revealed to Babes and Sucklings, and hid from the Learned and Wise: That is to say, it is easily learned and known, by those who make use of their natural Faculties, and uncorrupted Reason; but will always be hid from such, who hunt after it in the Schools of the Philosophers, or in any ambitious and factious Assemblies and Synods of Popish Ecclesiastics. I shall therefore endeavour to keep this plain and easy Subject clear of all vain Philosophy, and Metaphysical Gibberish, with which the Adversaries always attempt to entangle it; as knowing well, that if they can but make it unintelligible, their Authority alone will decide every Question in their own Favour.
As I conceive I have fully shewn, in my last Paper, that the Apostles claimed no Jurisdiction, Authority, or coercive Power of any kind whatsoever, over their Hearers; but only obeyed the Will of their Master, in delivering a Message from Heaven, for the infinite Benefit of Mankind; and to prove their Mission, brought their Credentials, namely, The Power of doing Miracles, along with them: So I shall shew, that what Power they had, (except that which was miraculous, and died with them) or, to speak more properly, what Right they had to perform the Duties and Offices of Christianity, did not descend to one Christian more than another; but that all were equally impowered to exercise alike the Functions of their most holy Religion.
When a Command is given from God to Men, to do and perform any Action, it is not only the Right of every one, but it becomes his Duty, to execute it himself, when he is capable of doing it; unless the Precept directs some other Manner of Performance: And whoever asserts, that it does, is obliged to prove it. And he must not be surprised, if in a Case of this great Consequence, we shall expect plain and direct Texts, describing the Extent of the Power demanded, and the Persons to whom it is given. It will not do his Business to pick up Two or Three scattered and disjointed Sentences, and, putting them upon the Rack, torture them till they confess what they never meant, against the whole Current of Scripture. It must be laid down plainly and directly, and made obvious to the meanest Capacities; not depending upon the Criticisms of Rabbinical Learning; not sublimated from Jewish and Heathen Traditions; nor extorted from doubtful, equivocal, and unintelligible Expressions. It is not consistent with the Goodness of God, to suffer a Power, upon which the Being of Christianity, and the Temporal and Eternal Happiness of all the World, depend, to remain in Obscurity and Darkness; and therefore we may be sure, that whatever of this kind does so, is the Invention of ambitious and wicked Men, and not the Will of the great and good God.
It will be incumbent on them to shew one clear and direct Text, where our Saviour confines the Administration of the Sacraments to any Set of Men whatsoever. The contrary of which is so evident, that there is not in Scripture one Instance where the Sacrament of our Lord’s Supper was ever administered by any one, who, in our Translation of the New Testament, is styled Bishop or Presbyter. And it is as plain, that the Right of Baptizing belonged to all Christians equally. Both which I shall make out unanswerably hereafter, in separate Papers. I shall also shew, that the boasted Power of Excommunication is nothing else but a Liberty, which every Man has over his own Actions, in conversing or mingling with what Society he pleases; or, at most, only a Precept or Exhortation, not to keep ill Company, and to remove such, or separate from them.
But to proceed with my Subject: If a Chain of uninterrupted Succession had been necessary, an uninterrupted Course of Talents, Grace and Abilities, superior to those of all other Lay-Christians, had been necessary also, to have made the Clergy resemble those whom they were to succeed in an Employment which required the highest. But there is no such peculiar Genius or Virtue found amongst them. They are qualified by Means evidently human for this Divine Calling. They are sent to Schools and Universities to learn to be Successors to the Apostles (I will not say of them, what Mr. Dodwell says of the Jewish Priests, that they make use of Wine, amongst other bodily Helps, to obtain the Prophetic Spirit): And all who have the same Sense and Opportunities, thrive at least as fast as those who are Candidates for the Priesthood. They might, if they pleased, apply their Learning to the same Uses. And as to Grace, Piety, and Humanity, I think verily, that the Modesty of the Clergy will not let them pretend to excel their Lay-neighbours in those Endowments.
The Apostles were inspired, had the Gift of working Miracles, could bestow the Holy Ghost, had the Discernment of Spirits: They were consequently proper Judges of the Fitness of Men for the Ministry, and could confer that Fitness. Our modern Divines are not inspired, cannot work Miracles, nor give the Holy Ghost; nor can many of them even find out their own Spirit, so far are they from discerning that of other People.
The Apostles were a Set of extraordinary Persons, appointed by the Son of God to convert all Nations, and had extraordinary Endowments given them for that End. Their pretended Successors are a Race of very ordinary Men, possessed of no extraordinary Abilities; sent by no Divine Authority; nor to convert any Nation; but only take up a Trade to get a Livelihood.
Christ’s Apostles were Pen-men of the Holy Ghost, and writ Books of Scripture: But, pray, what New Gospel do our modern Apostles give us? (I wish none of them had ever confounded the Old) They are at best but Notemakers and Commentators; in which Characters Laymen have succeeded as well, even by their own Acknowledgment.
Minellius and Gronovius have written Notes upon Virgil and Livy: Pray, are they Successors to Virgil and Livy, for that Reason? And are the stupid Commentators Successors to the great Roman Orator, because they have slept over his Works, and darkened them with Illustrations? Or is every one, who sails to America for Gain, a Successor to Christopher Columbus, who discovered and pointed out the Way to the New World?
The great Business and Commission of the Apostles, was to convert Mankind. Now, I would be glad to know how they can be succeeded in a Thing, which could be done but once; and in Countries, where it is already done? I mean, the Converting of a Nation, suppose Greece, England, or any other. What must the Jews have thought of a Set of hare-brained Israelites, who would have demanded of them vast Respect and Revenues, for succeeding Moses in redeeming them from Captivity to Pharaoh, and for leading them every Day of their Lives out of the Land of Egypt, Seventeen Hundred Years after they had left it? Or could any Number of Jews succeed Nehemiah in bringing back the captive Tribes from Persia and Babylon? Can any one succeed the Duke of Marlborough, in fighting the Battle of Hochtsted, and relieving the German Empire? I presume, that every Foot-Soldier is not a Successor to Alexander the Great; nor every Sergeant of the Guards descended in a Military Line from Julius Cæsar.
N. B. Having shewn that the Apostles have left no Successors, there is an End of the Question, Whether their No-Succession is Interrupted or not? But my Respect to the High Clergy obliging me to give them all Advantages, I will, in some future Paper, admit, that such a Succession had once a Being: And then will undeniably prove, that it has been frequently, I may almost say constantly, interrupted and broken, under all those Heads which they make necessary to the Continuance of it.
T. & G.
Of the Clearness of Scripture.
Wednesday, March 16. 1720.
I Shall in this Paper endeavour to confirm what I have said in my last; by shewing, that God Almighty, in revealing his Will to Mankind, has always taken effectual Care, that it could not be mistaken; and therefore made it so plain, as to need no farther Explanation, in all Things which are necessary for us to know.
When God would have his Pleasure known to Men, it is agreeable to his Goodness to make it evident; when he would not, it is agreeable to his Wisdom to make it impenetrable. Scripture was not given to make Work for Interpreters; nor to teach Men how to doubt, but how to live. The Holy Spirit has made undeniably clear and manifest, all those Precepts that injoin Faith and Obedience, which are the great Points of Religion; and weak Men cannot correct him, and do it better themselves.
I think it is generally granted, that Revelations are no more, and that Prophecy hath ceased. The Reason given for this, I take to be a very good one; namely, that God has already sufficiently discovered his Mind to Men, and made his Meaning manifest: If it were otherwise, we should, doubtless, have his extraordinary Presence still; but as we have not, it is to be presumed, that we have no Occasion. He appeared himself, whilst Men were in Darkness; but now, that he has shewn them his marvellous Light, he appears no more. His Presence is supplied by his Word; which being addressed to all Men equally, and not to one Tribe of Men to interpret it for the rest, it follows, that all Men have in their Power the Means to understand it. Old Revelation therefore does not want the Assistance of New, nor has the Omnipotent any need of Prolecutors.
While God is delivering his Law to the World, he is plain even to Exactness; and his Orders are full and circumstantial even about the minutest Points. This is eminently proved by his Manner of giving Laws to the Jews. Every Ceremony, every Instrument and Garment, used in their Worship, is precisely described and directed. The Trumpets, the Candlesticks, the Lamps, the Spoons, the Snuffers, are all of his own Appointment, both as to the Materials, and the Use of them. He makes it impossible to mistake him. He calls the Priests by their Names, points out their Persons, and shews them every Branch of their Office. He limits and governs their Behaviour while they are about it; and does not leave it to their Wisdom to invent such Postures and Ceremonies, as they think fit to call decent and significant. They had not the Privilege to chuse their own Garments. Moses, who was the Civil Magistrate, had it in his Charge to sanctify and consecrate their Persons. Their Business in the Sacrifices, is pointed out to them: They are to put their Hands upon the Head of the Beast, and to receive its Blood, and to make Fires. They are not, as I remember, once made use of to speak God’s Mind to his People; That is the Duty and Commission of the Civil Magistrate, and Moses performs it. They had not the least Hand in the Celebrating of the Passover, the Jewish Sacrament, to which ours of the Lord’s Supper hath, it is said, succeeded: And as little were they employed in that other of Circumcision, the reputed Ancestor of Baptism. In short, their whole Function was to be Servants and Operators in the House of Sacrifice.
If Almighty God was thus punctual and particular in the Rituals and Outside of his Worship, can we imagine, that he was defective or obscure, in declaring the more weighty Points of the Law? No ---- When our first Parents broke the Covenant, they did it wilfully, and could not pretend, that they understood it not: Of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it, was all the Injunction that was laid upon them. And there was no need of a Commentator here. The Text might have been rendered more perplexed, but not more plain.
The Covenant which he made with Abraham, was not less clear. He was to be the God of Abraham, and of his Seed; and every Male of his Race, and those that were bought with Money, were to be circumcised. There were no more Words to this Contract; and the Patriarch and his Issue had but one short System of Divinity, most intelligible of itself, and in no wise darkened with Glosses.
The Decalogue, or the Law of the Ten Commandments, delivered by God himself from Mount Sinai, with great Glory, and astonishing Circumstances, was little else but the Law of Nature reduced into Tables, and expressed in Words of God’s own chusing; and they were worthy of the Omnipotent and Infallible Author; for they were so plain and indisputable, that not a single Person of all the Twelve Tribes, so addicted on other Occasions to Contradiction and Wrangling, so much as pretended not to understand them: Nor was there one Man, much less a Body of Men, set apart to explain them.
When God spoke to the Jews by his Prophets, the same Method of Clearness was observed. The Admonitions given, and the Judgments denounced, were adapted to the Capacity of every one concerned. The Jews, it is true, did not often believe them, at least not mind them; but it was never pleaded, that they did not comprehend them. God inspired, the Prophets spake, and all understood; but neither Creeds nor Paraphrases were made, for they were not necessary. At last, indeed, the Priests and Pharisees made void the Word of God by their Traditions, and very rigidly tithingMint and Camin, neglected the greater Things of the Law, and taught for Doctrines the Commandments of Men. But we know what Thanks and Character they had for their Pains from the Saviour of the World, and what a terrible Doom he pronounced against them. Read the xxiiid Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and see the Description of these vile Hypocrites, and then consider, whether they be at this Day without Heirs and Successors. Indeed it seems to me to be the only Succession which has not been interrupted.
The Gospel, when it came, as it was to excel all other Laws, in its End and Usefulness, so was it the shortest and plainest Institution in the World. It only added the Duty of Faith to that of good Works, which was the great, if not the only, Business of the Moral Law. To believe that Jesus Christ was the only Son of God, was the great Principle of the Christian Religion. Nor was the Practice of this Belief attended with the least Difficulty, since our Saviour proved his Mission and Omnipotence, by Miracles that were undeniable and convincing. For the Truth of them he appealed to Mens Senses; there was neither Mystery nor Juggling in his Actions, nor did they want any body to explain them.
All this is further confirmed by the Conduct of the Apostles. The constant Drift and Tenour of their Lives and Preaching, was to persuade Mankind to believe in Jesus Christ. In order to which they worked Miracles, and gave the Holy Ghost. The Precept was thus short, and the Motives to comply with it, were thus irresistible. Hence it was, that sometimes Thousands were convinced in a Moment, without either Commentaries, or Creeds, or Catechisms. And indeed who could avoid believing a Proposition that proved itself?
The Apostles, when they had converted one City, did not stay to establish a Hierarchy there only, and to tell the same Thing over and over again to those that knew it already. No———when they had planted the Faith in one Place, they travelled to another, and preached the Gospel to the unconverted World; leaving those already converted, to perform Christian Worship their own Way. If they believed in Christ, and lived soberly, the Apostles desired no more. Those were the Two Things needful; nor were they more needful than clear.
In this plain Manner did God Almighty always discover himself in his Will, whenever he dispensed his Laws to Men. On the other hand, while he hid himself from the Heathen World, did their Priests ever discover him? No, they had Deities without Number; they worshiped Stocks and Stones, Trees, Rivers, Bulls, Serpents, Monkeys and Garlick. Both their Religion and their Gods were of the Priests making, and therefore we may be sure they were hopeful ones. They created their Deities after their own Likeness; angry, cruel, covetous, and lustful. Their Mysteries were full of Horror, Obsceneness, Craft, and Delusion. The Will of their God was searched in the Guts and Ordure of dead Beasts; and a Coop of Chickens were his Privy Counsellors. His Favour or Displeasure depended upon their Craws; if they had puny Stomachs, the God was in a Fit of the Spleen; if ravenous, he was in a giving Humour, and would grant you any thing, even to the Cutting of the Throats of a whole Army, or Burning of a City, or plundering a Province: And when he was tired of his Kindness to you, he would perhaps in a Day or two do all this for your Enemy.
Upon the Whole, when Almighty God reveals his Will, he does it effectually; but when he disguises it in dark and doubtful Expressions, it is plain, that the Time of making himself further known to Men, is not yet come, and it is in vain for them to pry into his Secrets.
The all-merciful Being does never require of us, that which we cannot find he requires. It is not consistent with his Wisdom and Goodness, to make that necessary which he hath not made plain. He has, with the greatest Perspicuity, described the Candlesticks, Tongs, and other Tools of Worship under the Jewish Law; and yet in the Gospel has not said one Word of some Doctrines, which we are told are necessary to Salvation. Altars and Priests are divinely appointed in the Old Dispensation, but are neither directed nor described in the New; and yet we know of what Importance they are present in the Popish Church and elsewhere. The Priest’s Office is particularized and circumscribed, even to the Killing of a Goat, or a Pair of Pigeons; and yet under the Gospel it is not so much as hinted, that a Priest shall administer either of the Sacraments; though, if we will take their own Words for it, there can be no Sacrament without them. In the Levitical Law, the Sons of Levi are expresly appointed to be Priests continually; but it is not once said in the Christian Law, that there must be an uninterrupted Race of Bishops, or Popes, or Priests, to the End of the World; and that there can be no Church where it is not; tho’, if this had been needful, it must have been particularized. So essential a Part of the Christian Religion, and so absolutely necessary to every Man’s Salvation, could never have been wholly omitted, or so much as left in Doubt.
As, by the Law of Moses, the Priests Office and Duty were minutely described, so their Maintenance was ascertained: But by the Law of Christ, there is not any Priesthood at all appointed, (as I shall fully make out hereafter) and consequently no certain Provision made for them. It is indeed said, that the Labourer is worthy of his Hire; and I acknowledge it is fit, that those who hire them should pay them: But sure this Text leaves every one at Liberty to chuse his own Labourer, and to make as good a Bargain as he can, or to do his own Business himself. What Pretence is there of a Divine Right to just a Tenth Part; and not only of our Estates, but of our Stock and Industry too, which, in some Corn-Lands, comes to double the Rent that the Landlord receives?
The Tribe of Levi amongst the Jews were the Twelfth Tribe of Israel, and, in the Division of the Lands, had a Right to the Twelfth Share, without any Regard had to their Priestly Office; and consequently were allowed but a very small Proportion towards their Hire, and much less, than, I doubt, their pretended Successors would be satisfied with. I would therefore, as a sincere Friend to their Order, recommend to their Consideration, whether it would not be most adviseable, to quit their Divine Right, and be even content with the Laws of the Land.
Wednesday, March 23. 1720.
I Take Honesty and Knowledge to be the essential Talents required for the Work of the Ministry: The one is acquired by Study, and the other depends upon the Disposition of the Heart, or the Grace of God. He therefore who has the Capacity to teach and edify, has a Right to do both.
Those who are Candidates for the Priesthood, carry their Qualifications along with them; and having passed Examination, receive a Power from the Bishop, which he receives from the Law, to put these Qualifications in Practice. But if, upon Trial, they be found insufficient, they are, or ought to be, rejected.
A Physician does not receive from the College an Ability to practise; but only a Declaration that he already has it. Such a Declaration, are Holy Orders: They convey nothing; neither Righteousness, nor Learning, nor Wisdom. They are only a Diploma or Privilege to exercise a certain Calling, during good Behaviour. Any further than this, what signifies the Hand of a Bishop laid upon the Head of a Stripling, who seeks Promotion or a Livelihood? If that Hand puts any thing into that Head, I would ask what it is, and how does it appear? What Alteration for the better is to be found in the Person, or Endowments, or Spirit, of the Party ordained? How does it appear, that he has any Moral Sufficiency which he had not before? Or any Spiritual Gift, besides that which he carries home in his Pocket; and which was conferred by the Bishop’s Secretary, for a Fee? Can there be any new Ability or Character without some Marks of it? Or is there an Alteration without a Change? It is an inconceivable Mystery to me, that the same Man should be another Man! I have known many a Man’s Pride swell, and his Morals decay, after Orders; but very seldom his Manners, or his Capacity, enriched by them. He who has the Spirit, will do the Works of the Spirit: By their Fruits ye shall know them. The Thing, were it true, is very capable of Proof. Indeed, it could not be hid nor disputed. On the contrary, when neither the Heart is mended, nor the Understanding enlightened, it is manifest, that the Holy Ghost has nothing to do with either.
Alearned and virtuous Layman can instruct more effectually, and pray more devoutly and successfully, than an ignorant and profane Priest; and is consequently a more proper and secure Guide to others. To say that he has no Call, is no more than to say that he has not entered his Name: Besides, it is false; for I will lay it down as a Proposition, which I will abide by, that he who has a Power to do Good, has a Call to do Good; and the promoting of Virtue, and securing of Souls, is doing the greatest Good of all. St. James tells us, that the effectual fervent Prayer of a righteous Man availeth much; but he does not say, that he must be in Orders, or that he must perform the same in a consecrated Place: Though the Convocation, in the latter Part of the Queen’s Reign, thought fit to differ with the Apostle in this Point.
Apollos, without any Call at all, but from his own Abilities, being an eloquent Man, and mighty in the Scriptures, and instructed in the Way of the Lord, and fervent in the Spirit, spake and taught diligently the Things of the Lord, and boldly in the Synagogue. It is plain, that he had not the Holy Ghost, for that he knew only the Baptism of John: And it is also plain, that he was not ordained, unless it was by the Tent-maker and his Wife, Aquila and Priscilla: And they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the Way of God more perfectly. (Acts xviii. 24, &c.)
I doubt the Holy Ghost is too often made free with in Popish Countries, upon the Occasion of young Mens taking Orders. I believe it will be found, that their Motives are much more temporal. It is considered as a secular Employment, as much as any other; and the Labour of a Clergyman is as evidently bought and sold, as that of an Attorney, or any Tradesman. Besides, the Way to this Calling is easy and obvious: Where is the Difficulty of learning a little Greek, or chopping a little Logic, and of getting by Heart a few Questions in School-Divinity? Nay, there are many ordained there, even without any of these momentous Accomplishments.
There are some who take the Orders of Clergymen, and yet never exercise the Function of Clergymen, either through Idleness, or Weakness. Does the Holy Ghost call Men to the Work of the Ministry, not to do the Work of the Ministry? Or does he call Men to an Office, without giving them Gifts and Grace to perform it? It was not so in the Apostles Days, when God inspired all whom he sent; and where the Divine Commission or Call was given, a Door of Utterance was also given. But there were then no Sine-Cures, no great Revenues; no great Doctors, nor small Curates.
It is evident, that neither the Church of Rome in general, nor any of its Bishops in particular, believe a Word of this pretended Call of the Holy Ghost, in the Business of taking Orders. For, by the Canons, the Person demanding Ordination, is to be examined as to his Capacity for the Ministry, and must produce a Certificate as to the Innocence and Morality of his Life; both which were unnecessary, if there was any Proof or Assurance of his Call from God. And the Questions asked him upon that Occasion are such as demand no more than ordinary human Aid to answer them. Nor is it at all expected of him, that the Goodness of his Life should exceed that of other Laymen: If it be as good, it is well.
Whenever the Holy Ghost was given, it was given upon some extraordinary Occasion, for the doing of some extraordinary Action; as it was to the Apostles, for converting the Heathen World. They shewed the Power which they had, by the Wonders which they did; and gave effectual Evidences, that they were divinely assisted. But some modern Priests, who have no extraordinary Work to do, assert, notwithstanding, that they have an extraordinary Call from the Spirit; which would also infer his extraordinary Assistance. But they say it without shewing it, and pretend to it without proving it. It is a Happiness, that we are not obliged to take their Word; for though Faith itself be the Evidence of Things not seen, yet still it is the Evidence: that is, Proof must precede Belief.
When the Popish Clergy are charged with Frailties, Vices, and Immoralities, they then confess the Truth, and are pleased to become Flesh and Blood as well as other Men, and subject to the like Infirmities and Passions; if they said greater, we could readily believe them. But when a Point of Gain or Dominion is to be contended for, they grow all of sudden more than Men; they are then the Lord’s Ambassadors, Successors to the Epostles, a sacred Society; and the Lord knows how many more fine Things. Now this Management is very unlucky for them, and full of palpable Contradiction; for if they had a greater Share of God’s Grace and Spirit than others, it would be especially evident in the superior Piety of their Lives, since Holiness is shewn in Practice: Whereas the Spirit of this World manifests itself in the Love of Power and Wealth; and hence those who pursue them are called Worldly-minded, in Opposition to God’s Elect, who are the Spiritually-minded. I need not recommend it to such Clergy, which to chuse, carnal Minds with Riches and Authority, or Heavenly-mindedness without them. It is certain, that the Apostles were as pious as poor.
If, by the Call of the Holy Ghost, on this Occasion, be meant no more than a serious and devout Bent of Mind to administer in the public Worship of God, as some Reverend Divines, Lovers of Truth, do, I think, confess; then is the Claim of a Divine Mission, and successive Right, utterly at an End; and the taking of Orders is no more, than taking a Licence to perform a religious Office; for which every religious intelligent Man is already qualified.
And indeed such a Man is, without the Consent of any Bishop, intitled to be a Pastor, in the Scripture Sense of the Word, though not to receive the legal Wages of a Pastor. He may preach and pray, and deliver the Sacrament, when temporal Laws do not restrain him, but cannot take Tithes, which are annexed to certain Conditions and Opinions established by the State. As every State has its own Religion, so almost every Religion is directed and modelled by some State; and therefore they, who are Orthodox Conformists in one, are often Schismatical Dissenters in another. But such is the singular Modesty and Submission of the Clergy, that they, in most Countries, humbly acquiesce in the established Faith; and not only meekly accept of all the Ecclesiastical Powers and Revenues to themselves, but gratefully condescend to persecute all those Consciences that are not as complaisant and supple as their own. And indeed, it is but generous in them to be zealous for those Notions and Ceremonies, which bring them Reverence and Hire: But, methinks, it is a little unreasonable to expect, that others should, without their Motives, adopt their Zeal.
P. S.Having in my last Paper asserted, that there is no particular Priesthood at all directed by the New Testament; I am told, that it is from thence surmised by some, through Malice, and by others, through Mistake, that I do by this insinuate, that there is therefore no Occasion for any Church-Ministry whatsoever, notwithstanding my former Declarations upon this Head. I particularly say, in my Third Paper, speaking of the Clergy:
“Their Office is evidently adapted to promote the Welfare of human Nature, and to propagate its Peace and Prosperity in this World, as well as its eternal Felicity in the next; so that it is the Interest of all Men to honour it: And none but a Madman will condemn and ridicule what has a manifest Tendency to the Security and Happiness of all Mankind.”
I say also in my Fourth Paper, that I sincerely think their Office to be absolutely necessary to the Peace and Happiness of Society. I could likewise refer to other Passages. But to give full Satisfaction, once for all, to such as will be satisfied, I declare, that I do only contend for the Right of every national and voluntary Society to appoint their own Pastors, and to judge of their Doctrines and Behaviour: Further than this I have no Aim. Nor do I desire to lessen the Respect due to the Clergy from their Merit and Usefulness; or the Dignities, Privileges, and Revenues, which they derive from the Law, or from the Good-will and Contributions of the People. And I intend very soon to defend the Church of England, upon the Principles and Authority of the Scripture and the Law; as well as the Toleration granted to Dissenters, by the same Law, and the same Scripture.
The Advantageous Situation of the Clergy, strangely inconsistent with their common Cry of Danger.
Wednesday, March 30. 1720.
VIRTUE and Innocence were created naked and undisguised; nor did our First Parents cover themselves till they had offended. Truth can never sin, and therefore need not, and ought not, ever to appear in Masquerade: She is most amiable, when most uncovered; and appears truly majestic, and in greatest Lustre, when disrobed of all gaudy and affected Ornaments: Her natural Features want no Varnish or Colouring, nor has she any Need of Dressers and Tire-women.
Knavery and Deformity alone want Daubing and Disguise. Actors do not care, that any one should look into the Tiring-room, nor Jugglers or Sharpers into their Hands or Boxes; whereas Honesty and Sincerity appear always barefaced, and shew themselves most in open Day; they scorn all indirect Advantages, and borrowed Helps; but trust alone to their own native Beauty, and intrinsic Strength: The Lion is never known to use Cunning.
I confess, that I am not Master enough of my Temper, to avoid Laughter, and Indignation, by Turns, at the noisy Clamours of the High Clergy, against the Freedom of the Age, and the Liberty of the Press; as if Virtue was inconsistent with good Sense, or Truth could suffer by Knowledge, or Religion by a free and thorough Examination. What Figure would a grave Lawyer make in Westminster Hall, if, after he had been tiring his Auditors for two Hours together, he should desire the Judges not to hear the Counsel of the other Side, lest they should perplex the Cause, and mislead the Court?
Every Stander-by would take it for granted, that he was conscious of the Weakness of his Client’s Cause, and that it could no otherwise be defended, than by being not understood. This is, in Point, the Case of those, who demand of all Mankind to be heard by the Clock, and will yet hear nobody; who talk and rail by Wholesale, whilst they cannot bear a single Jest, or ludicrous Expression; and who write Volumes by the Yard themselves, and are in an Uproar, and outrageous, at a single Half-sheet of other Peoples.
How absurd would it appear for an Army of an Hundred thousand Men, intrenched up to the Ears, to call aloud for the Assistance of the Constable and Watch to defend their Camp against the Assaults and Storms of Highwaymen and House-breakers! Just such a Request do the Popish Clergy abroad make, when they cry out, Fire, Fire! Help, Help! when they demand the Assistance of the Secular Power; and insist, that no Sermons be preached, Books printed, or Harangues made, but their own. They have already more Advantages than Truth can desire, and indeed enough to offend her Modesty, and to make her ashamed and blush; they are too well armed for a fair Adversary, and yet are always complaining of the Shortness of their Weapons; and declaring themselves overcome by calling out for more Help.
Besides the Piety and Example of their Lives, they are vastly aumerous, and in Possession of great and various Dignities, of immense Revenues and Dependencies; are all bred up to Letters; have the Prejudices of the People, the sole Education of Youth, the Fears as well as the Favours of the Fair Sex on their Side; and have the Weekly Opportunity of haranguing to the People upon their own Usefulness and Importance: And they tell us too, that they have a sole Right to the Scripture Prophecy, That the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against them.
Crowned Heads always have thought it their Interest to keep Measures with them; Ministers of State are not able to trick succesfully, and play the Knave, without their Leave and Assistance: They take Advantage, and make their Market, of all Factions and Disturbances in States, and apply them to their own Benefit: Knaves shelter themselves under their Protection; Hypocrites court and seem to admire them, and Bigots and Enthusiasts adore them. Every Event of Life contributes to their Interests: They Christen; they Educate; they Marry; they Church; they Bury; they Persuade; they Frighten; they Govern; and scarce any thing is done without them. Notwithstanding all this, they roar aloud, that they cannot keep their Ground, but that Contempt and Infidelity pour upon them like an Inundation.
It is very remarkable, that the first Christians were not only destitute of all the before-mentioned Advantages, but their Enemies enjoyed them. They themselves were persecuted and contemned, buffetted, ridiculed and calumniated constantly in Books and Libels, published by the greatest Philosophers and Wits of the Heathen World. Yet Christianity every Day spread far and wide, and made a wonderful Progress; insomuch that, in an Age or two, Superstition and Idolatry were driven from a great Part of the Earth.
A Speculation upon this Head, and an Inquiry into the Causes of so prodigious a Change, would be worthy the Endeavours of the brightest Wits and Genius’s of our Age and Country, who undoubtedly must be found amongst our own genuine Clergy. I have long wished to see a Dissertation upon this great and useful Subject; and with the greatest Humility propose to the Consideration of the Lower House of Convocation at their next (so much desired) Meeting, to give the World their Thoughts upon it, in a second Representation of the Causes of Vice and Infidelity. In Hopes to encourage them in so public an Undertaking, I intend before that happy Day to give them my poor Assistance, and in some measure to alleviate their Labours, by endeavouring to prove, that no Part of this Misfortune ought to be laid at the Door of the Laity.
Indeed, it would be unbecoming the Respect and Reverence which I have always professed, and hope shall always pay, to these Reverend Gentlemen, even to hint at any thing so improbable as the contrary Conjecture: For since human Nature is always the same, who can entertain so indecent a Thought of their Designs, or have such a Contempt of their Performances, as to imagine, that Mankind can grow worse under the Light of the Gospel, in Defiance of their pious Lives and Examples; of the numerous Forms of public and private Prayer; of their constant Sermons, and godly Exhortations; of so many Creeds, Catechisms, Systems, Commentaries, and whole Cart-loads of other ghostly Geer, which the World is every Day blessed with from the laborious Endeavours of above a Million of Ecclesiastics, or more; who have always, and do still, cost the People more than their whole Civil and Military Expence put together? Since, therefore, we may be sure, that this great Change and Degeneracy cannot be owing to any remaining Defect amongst the Laity, it may well be expected from Persons of their Penetration and Perpiscuity, to let us into the true Causes of so surprising a Phænomenon
In the mean time, (though with all the due Submission of an humble Votary) I shall for once presume to advise them, not to level so many Batteries against good Sense, and human Reason, which are impregnably fortified and secure against the fiercest Assaults. A great Philosopher tells us, when Reason is against a Man, a Man will be against Reason. I therefore much fear, if these my Friends and Patrons should continue to hold forth, and exert their Eloquence, against private Judgment, Freedom of Inquiry, and a daily and diligent Search after a religious Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, that the World may mistake their Endeavours, and imagine that all these good Things make against them; and yet unfortunately they are in such Repute, that there are little Hopes of depreciating or putting them out of Countenance.
Besides, I humbly conceive it to be impolitic upon other Accounts too. It appears to me to be very indiscreet in Persons Militant, to endeavour to put an End to a War, which, for the most part, puts an End to themselves, and their own Pay. A jovial Country Parson, once, in a merry Mood, passing by a Waggon which was overturned, told the Carter, That he had killed the Devil; to which the profane Wretch replied, That he was glad of it with all his Heart, because then, quoth Ralph, I have spoiled your Trade. A Word to the Wise is sufficient.
Methinks also, it should be doing too much Credit to his Satanic Majesty, to suppose him more than a Match for a Million of consecrated Persons, with all their Hierarchical Powers, and, as they say, Divine Assistances about them.
The Enmity of the High Clergy to the Reformation, and their Arts to Defeat the End of it.
Wednesday, April 6. 1720.
MACHIAVEL advises any one, who would change the Constitution of a State, to keep as much as possible to the old Forms; for then the People, seeing the same Officers, the same Formalities, Courts of Justice, and other outward Appearances, are insensible of the Alteration, and believe themselves in Possession of their old Government.
ThusCæsar, when he seized the Roman Liberties, caused himself to be chosen Dictator, (which was an antient Office) continued the Senate, the Consuls, the Tribunes, the Censors, and all other Powers of the Commonwealth; and yet changed Rome from the most free, to the most tyrannical Government in the World.
This Policy is yet more necessary to be observed in altering the Religion of a Country; for very few Persons, of any Sect or Party in Faith, are conversant with the Speculations or distinguishing Tenets of their own Church, or so much as know what they are.
Whilst they see the same broad-brimmed Hats, Bands, Cassocks, and long Gowns; and hear the same Psalms sung in the same Tone, and in the same fashioned Buildings; they think that they have the same Religion, and will be angry with any one who shall tell them the contrary.
But if the Ceremonies or other Forms of Religious Worship are to be altered too, the Change must be made insensibly, and by Degrees, that the Difference may be unobserved, or thought of no Consequence; and all Advantages must be taken of Revolutions in Government, of public Calamities, and of Factions, when they beat high, and are ready to fall into any Measures to oppose and mortify each other.
The Priesthood in all Ages have made these Arts, and a Thousand others, contribute to their Greatness; the High-Church Jacobite Clergy of England have put them all in Practice to regain every thing which they lost at the Reformation; and if they could but have prevailed upon their Flocks to have followed them, they had long ago sold them again in the Roman Market: But since we of the Laity are so refractory, and hang backward, they now seem resolved to gallop away by themselves, and leave us to come our own Pace after; insomuch that a Clergyman of the Church of England, as by Law established, is, at present, become, I am far from saying an uncommon, I am sure I may say, a most agreeable Sight, and many of his Brethren treat him as a Monster.
It must be evident to any one, who has read our Ecclesiastical Story, that the Reformation in England was carried on, not only without, but against the Consent of the whole Body of the Clergy, (very few excepted) who always opposed every Step towards their own Amendment: It was, indeed, every-where, properly speaking, an Effort or Insurrection of the Laity, against the Pride and Oppression or the Priests, who had cheated them of their Estates, imposed upon their Consciences, debauched their Wives, and were ever insulting Persons.
The poor injured People had long felt the Malady, but were so intimidated by their own Superstition, and the over-grown Power of their haughty Masters, that they durst not think of a Remedy, till a bold and disobliging Frier or Two dissolved the Inchantment; and then the whole Christian World seemed to rise at once against this Fairy and Fantastical Empire.
But People long used to Servitude, knowing not what Freedom is, or how to preserve it when thrown into their Laps, have always recourse to some Leaders, of whose Honesty and greater Wisdom they have conceived an Opinion; and these for the most part abuse such Confidence, to advance their own Views of Wealth and Power.
So it happened in this Case; and consequently the Reformation went partially on, according to the Direction under which it fell. Where Priests were at the Head of it, they attempted only to make it a Reformation of Sounds and Distinctions: They took no Offence at the Riches and Grandeur of the Clergy, (which was the Source of all other Evils) but were angry, that they had not their Share of them; and so looked upon the Revolt only as a Means to aggrandize themselves: They condemned not the Tyranny, but the Tyrants; and attempted to usurp that Power in their own Persons, which they loudly exclaimed against in the Romish Priesthood: Most Sects of them wonderfully well agreed, that there was a Divine Right in the Clergy to dictate to the Laity in Religious Matters; but every Sect claimed that Power to themselves, independent of all others.
They could not agree about sharing the Prey, but each would have had the Whole; which had this good Effect, however, that they were all obliged to abate much of their Pretensions, in order to engage Customers; and, I thank God, they have not yet been able to raise the Price again to the old Market; though, to do them Justice, they are no ways answerable to their Successors, for having let slip any Opportunity to that Purpose.
But whilst they were thus carrying on their Project for Dominion, they found it necessary to throw out a Barrel to the Whale, and keep the People’s Minds busied, and their Passions afloat, with Metaphysical Subtilties and Distinctions, of no Use to true Religion and Morality, though very conducive to their own ambitious tyrannical Designs.
I would gladly know, from these Reverend Venders of Trifles, Whether it would have been worth the Thousandth Part of the Combustion which has been made, or the Blood which has been spilt, only to have settled a few Speculations, if they could have been settled? Pray where is the essential Difference between Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, and the RealPresence? What the Consequence, whether a Child be baptized by one sort of Priests, or by another? Or of what Use to Mankind are the abstruse Questions about Predestination, Free-Will, or Free-Grace? What is the Difference, as to the Duties or Ordinances of Christianity, if they be administred under the Direction of a single Person, a Bench of Bishops, or a Lower House of Convocation, or none of them all, so they be piously administred? Or whether the chimerical Line of Succession be broken, or ever had a Being?
Since ’tis agreed amongst all our present Sects of Christians, that the Saviour of the World is the Son of God, descended from Heaven to teach Virtue and Goodness to Men, and to die for our Redemption; how are we concerned in the Scholastic Notions of the Trinity? Will the Scripture be more regarded, or the Precepts of it be better observed, if the Three Persons are believed to be Three Divine distinct Spirits and Minds, who are so many real subsisting Persons? Whether the Son and Holy-Ghost are Omnipotent of themselves, or are subordinate, and dependent on the Father? Or, if they are independent, whether their Union consist in a mutual Consciousness of one another’s Thoughts and Designs, or in any thing else? Whether they are Three Attributes of God, viz. Goodness, Wisdom and Power? Or Three internal Acts, viz. Creation, Redemption and Sanctification? Or Two internal Acts of the One subsisting Person of the Father; that is to say, the Father understanding and willing himself and his own Perfections? Or Three internal Relations, namely, the Divine Substance and Godhead confidered as Unbegotten, Begotten, and Proceeding? Or Three Names of God ascribed to him in Holy Scripture, as he is Father of all Things, as he did inhabit in an extraordinary Manner in the Man Jesus Christ, and as he effected every thing by his Spirit, or his Energy and Power? Or lastly, Whether the Three Persons are only Three Beings, but what sort of Beings we neither know, nor ought to pretend to know? which I take to be the Trinity of the Mob, as well as of some other wiser Heads.
As far as I can remember, these are the important Questions which have set Mankind together by the Ears, for so many Ages; and it seems are yet thought of Consequence enough to create new Feuds, and mortal Dudgeon, amongst all our Sects of Ecclesiastics. But why must we of the Laity quarrel about them too? What have Beaux and Belles, old Women, Coblers, and Milk-Maids, to do with Homo-ousios, Consubstantiality, Personality, HypostaticalUnion, Infinite Satisfaction, &c.? none of which hard Words, or any like them, are to be found in Scripture; and therefore, I think, we may even return them to Rome, that being the Place from whence they came, and be contented to be good Christians without them.
We ought to shew our Faith and Obedience to God, by a chearful Submission to his Commands, and not affect a vain Curiosity of prying into his Secrets; pretend to philosophize upon his abstracted Nature and Essence; and, with our limited and corrupt Understandings, assume to comprehend infinite Wisdom and Power, and define the Modus of its Existence and Operations. Almighty God would not make himself farther known even to Moses, nor suffer himself to be otherwise described to the Children of Israel, (though to get them out of the Land of Bondage) than by the comprehensive Words, I am that I am; which methinks might baffle our officious Impertinence, and put us in mind of the Danger of peeping into the Ark.
The above Disputes make us neither wiser nor better. Men are not intended for Speculation; exceeding few are capable of it. The Faculties of our Minds, as well as the Frame of our Bodies, are adapted to Labour, and to supply the Exigencies of our Nature. We are formed for Society and mutual Help, and the Goodness of God has implanted in us Qualities suited to these Ends; he has, besides, given us Precepts for our Assistance, and annexed infinite Rewards to the Observance of them. We know how to be good Parents, good Children, good Neighbours, and good Subjects: But how small a Part of Mankind understand, or are capable of understanding, Metaphysical Questions! When they use the Terms, it is plain, that they have no Ideas annexed to them, but fight at Blind-man’s-buff, and quarrel about what none of them understand. It is evident therefore, that the All-wise Providence could not intend to perplex and confound weak Minds with such Subtilties, for the Knowledge of which he has not given them suitable Qualifications.
The Church proved a Creature of the Civil Power, by Acts of Parliament, and the Oaths of the Clergy.
Wednesday, April 20. 1720.
I Have observed, in my last Paper, that many of the Protestant Priests endeavoured to divert the growing Spirit in the Christian World for Reformation, to metaphysical and useless Speculations, of no Benefit to the present or eternal Happiness of Mankind, whilst they were seating themselves at leisure in the Chairs of their Predecessors.
But far otherwise was it, where it fell under the Direction of Laymen; who considered it as an Opportunity put by Heaven into their Hands, to free themselves from the Usurpations, and unjust Domination, of the Priesthood. They made no Scruple (notwithstanding the loud Cry of Sacrilege) to seize, and apply to public Uses, a great Part of those Riches, which the Clergy had extorted from old Women, and superstitious and inchanted Bigots; the Compositions for Murders, for public and private Robberies; the Plunder of dying and despairing Sinners; and the Supports of their own Idleness, Pride, Ignorance, and Debauchery.
A bold and honest Physician (whose Name was Erastus) at this time started up, and told the World, that all these Squabbles of the Clergy about their own Power, were Disputes de lana caprina, (concerning a Non-Entity) and that none of them had any Right to what they almost all claimed: That the Quarrel amongst them was only which of them should oppress the Laity, who were independent of them all; for that their Ministers were their Servants, Creatures of their own making, and not of God Almighty’s. He shewed them from Reason and Scripture, that every State had the same Authority of modelling their Ecclesiastical as Civil Government; that the Gospel gave no Pre-eminence or Authority to Christians over one another, but every Man alike (who had suitable Abilities) was qualified to execute all the Duties and Offices of their most holy Religion; and that it was only a Matter of Prudence and Convenience to appoint particular Persons to officiate for the rest, with proper Rewards and Encouragements; which Persons would be intitled to no more Power than they themselves gave them.
This Doctrine, as little as it pleased the Clergy, yet prevailed so far with the Laity, that most Protestant States modelled their Ecclesiastical Polity according to their own Inclinations or Interests; and particularly, in England, the whole Reformation was built upon this Principle, which ever, till lately, was esteemed the great Characteristic of the Church of England; and therefore ’tis the last Degree of Priestly Insolence for a Body of Men to call themselves the only true Churchmen, at the same time that they deny, and every-where exclaim against, the fundamental and essential Article which distinguishes it from most other Churches, and particularly from Presbytery; for as to the rest of the Articles, the Calvinists are more Orthodox than the Churchmen themselves.
At the very Beginning of the Reformation, the Clergy here in England, conscious of their own Enormities, and the just Vengeance which hung over their Heads, were contented to disgorge their ill-gotten, and as ill-used Power; and, in full Convocation, threw themselves upon the King’s Mercy, acknowledging his Supremacy in the fullest and most significant Words; and promised in verbo sacerdotii, that for the future they would never presume to attempt, alledge, claim, or put in Use, enact, or promulgate any Canons, Constitutions, or Ordinances, without the King’s most Royal Licence and Assent had thereunto; and humbly besought his Majesty to appoint Thirty-two Persons, half Clergy and half Laity, to examine the Canons and Constitutions in being, and to abrogate and confirm them, as they should think good.
This Petition was changed into an Act of Parliament by the 25th of Henry the VIIIth, Cap. 19. But it is there declared, That the Crown and Convocation together shall not put in Execution any Canons, Constitutions, or Ordinances, which shall be contrariant or repugnant to the King’s Prerogative, or the Laws of the Kingdom: The same Statute also gives an Appeal from the supreme Ecclesiastical Court, to the King’s Commission.
In the same Session of Parliament, the Manner of Proceeding upon the Congé d’Elire is directed; viz.* A Licence from the Crown is to be sent to the Chapter, to chuse or elect an Archbishop or Bishop, and a Letter missive with it, to nominate the Person whom they are to chuse; which if they do not obey, nor signify the same, according to the Tenor of the Act, within twenty Days, they are subjected to a Præmunire; and if the Election be not made within Twelve Days, the King may nominate a Bishop by Letters Patents, without any Election at all, as is now done in Ireland, and formerly was so in Scotland, where their Bishops were durante beneplacito.
The next Year the Parliament* , reciting, That the King justly and rightly is, and ought to be, supreme Head of the Church of England, enact the same; and that he shall have full Power to visit, redress, reform, correct, and restrain all Errors, Heresies, Abuses, Offences, Contempts, and Enormities, whatsoever they be, which, by any manner of spiritual Authority or Jurisdiction, ought or may be reformed, redressed, &c.
Afterwards, in the 37th Year of the same Reign, the Parliament, reciting, That the Bishop of Rome, and his Adherents, minding utterly to abolish, obscure, and delete the Power given by God to the Princes of the Earth, whereby they might get and gather to themselves the Rule and Government of the World, had decreed, that no Layman might exercise Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, lest their false and usurped Power, which they pretended to have in Christ’s Church, might decay, wax vile, and be of no Reputation (which Power they affirm to be contrary to the Word of God, and to his Majesty’s most high Prerogative); and reciteing also, That Archbishops, Bishops, Archdeacons, and other Ecclesiastical Persons, have no manner of Jurisdiction Ecclesiastical, but by, from, and under the King’s Majesty; enact, That Laymen qualified as the Law appoints, may exercise all Parts of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, and all Censures and Coercions appertaining, or in any wise belonging thereunto.
The 2d and 3d of Edward the Sixth, Cap. 1. enacts the Common-Prayer Book, (which was before compiled and drawn up the King’s Authority) and makes it a Law.
The 3d and 4th of Edward the Sixth, Cap. 12. appoints such Form and Manner of making and consecrating Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and other Ministers of the Church, as by Six Prelates, and Six other Men of this Realm, by the King to be appointed and assigned, or by the greater Number of them, shall be devised, &c. and none other. These two Acts were confirmed with some Alterations, in the 5th and 6th Year of this Reign.
The 1st of Queen Elizabeth, Cap. 1. establishes and enacts, That all Jurisdictions, Privileges, Superiorities, and Pre-eminences, Spiritual and Ecclesiastical, at any Time lawfully used or exercised, for the Visitation of the Ecclesiastical State or Persons, and for the Reformation, Order, and Correction of the same, and of all manner of Errors, Heresies, Schisms, Abuses, Contempts, Offences, and Enormities, shall be annexed to the Imperial Crown of this Realm; and gives Power and Authority to it to appoint any Persons, being natural-born Subjects, to exercise all forts of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction; and declares at the same time what, and what only, shall be deemed Heresy.
The Oath of Supremacy (which is an Assent to these Laws, and obliges those who take it, to assist and defend them) is appointed in this Act; which Oath all Ecclesiastical Persons, as well as any others, who shall be promoted and preferred to any Degree or Order in the University, are to take under severe Penalties.
The 8th of Queen Elizabeth, reciting, That the Queen had in her Order and Disposition, all Jurisdiction, Power, and Authority, Ecclesiastical as well as Civil; and had caused divers Archbishops and Bishops to be duly elected and consecrated; does confirm all the said Elections and Consecrations; as also the Common-Prayer Book, and the Orders and Forms for the making of Priests, Deacons, and Ministers, which were added to it in the Fifth and Sixth Years of Edward the Sixth.
All which before-mentioned Acts are now in being, in full Force, and sworn to by all the Clergy, who are subjected to a Præmunire, if they contradict them.
Thus our Parliaments, at or just after the Reformation, whilst the Memory of Sacerdotal Oppressions continued in their Minds, were resolved to pare their Claws, curb their Insolence, and not leave it in their Power to corrupt Religion any more; and therefore put it under the Care of the Civil Magistrate, who could seldom have any Interest in perverting it: Whereas there is not any Instance, where, when it has been left to the Conduct of any Set of Ecclesiastics whatsoever, they have not abused and sacrificed it to the Advancement of their own Wealth and Power.
EvenAaron himself, (though a High-Priest of God’s own Appointment) when Moses, the Civil Magistrate, was but a little while absent, to receive the Almighty’s Commands, cheated the Israelites of their Ear-rings, melted them into a Golden Calf, and encouraged the Dupes to say, These were the Gods which brought them out of the Land of Egypt. He built an Altar before his Idol, proclaimed a Fast, and then made use of all this Deceit to extort from that stupid and superstitious People, Burnt-Offerings and Peace-Offerings. This provoked Almighty God to that degree, that his Wrath was kindled against the whole Nation, and he was inclined to consume all, till Moses, the Lay-Sovereign, turned his fierce Wrath by his Prayers, and by remembring him of the Oath he sware to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, namely, that he would multiply their Seed like the Stars in Heaven, &c. And then it is true, that the Lord repented of the Evil which he thought to do unto them: But no Thanks to the Priest, who had drawn them into this Scrape. Exod. Chap. xxxii.
The Clergy proved to be Creatures of the Civil Power, by the Canons, and their own public Acts.
Wednesday, April 20. 1720.
IN my last Discourse, I have shewn what is meant by the Supremacy of the Crown of England; by virtue of which, our Kings sometimes with, and sometimes without their Parliaments, have governed and modelled the Ecclesiastical State, ever since the Reformation. Bishops, as well as inferior Clergymen, have been often suspended and deprived by the King’s Authority; and, in the Instance of Archbishop Abbot, for his Pleasure. The Popish Bishops were all deprived by Queen Elizabeth, and some Thousands of the Parochial Clergy were ejected by the Act of Uniformity; and many also of all Orders were deprived at the Revolution.
I shall now proceed to shew what have been the Opinions and Practice of the whole Body of Ecclesiastics, since the making of these Laws; in doing which, I shall take notice only of their public and authentic Acts: For as to the Whimsies of private Doctors, I think them of so little Weight, that I shall be ashamed to quote them on either side of the Question.
Upon the Clergy’s owning the King Head of the Church at the Reformation, all the Bishops took out Commissions for the exercising their Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction; which were renewed again upon his Son’s coming to the Throne. In these Commissions, all Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction is owned to proceed from the Crown, as from a supreme Head, and Fountain, and Spring of all Magistracy in the Kingdom; and they acknowledge, that they executed it formerly only ex precario, and that now with grateful Minds they accepted the Favour from the King’s Liberality and Indulgence; and would be always ready to yield it up again, when his Majesty pleased to require it.
These Commissions recited, amongst other Particulars of Spiritual Power, That of Ordaining Presbyters, and of Ecclesiastical Correction.
The 2d Canon excommunicates every one who shall endeavour to hurt or extenuate the King’s Authority in Ecclesiastical Cases, as it is settled by the Laws of the Kingdom; and declares he shall not be restored till he has publicly recanted such impious Errors.
The 37th Canon obliges all Persons, to their utmost, to keep and observe all and every one of the Statutes and Laws made for restoring to the Crown, the antient Jurisdiction it had over the Ecclesiastical State.
The 12th of King James’s Canons declares, That whoever shall affirm, that it is lawful for the Order either of Ministers or Laics to make Canons, Decrees, or Constitutions in Ecclesiastical Matters, without the King’s Authority, and submits himself to be governed by them, is, ipso facto, excommunicated, and is not to be absolved before he has publicly repented and renounced these Anabaptistical Errors.
ArchbishopBancroft, when, at the Head of all the Bishops in England, he delivered Articles to King James against the Secular Courts, for encroaching upon the Ecclesiastical, owns, that all Jurisdictions, Ecclesiastical as well as Civil, are annexed to the Imperial Crown of this Realm, as may be read more at large in the Lord Coke’s Third Institute; which I would recommend to the Perusal of every one, as a Specimen of the Difference between Ecclesiastics and Laymen.
I shall think it necessary only here to add, that the Clergy have never presumed, by any public Act, directly to controvert this Prerogative, or indeed even to nibble at it, unless in one Instance during the last Reign; which the Queen resented highly, and let the Convocation know, by a Letter to the Archbishop, that she was resolved to maintain her Supremacy, as a Fundamental Part of the Constitution of the Church of England.
This is the Supremacy of the Crown; these are the genuine Principles of the Church of England; which whoever denies, may be a Papist, a Presbyterian, a Muggletonian, a Fifth-Monarchy Man, or any thing else, besides a Member of our Communion. This Doctrine, and these Opinions, have been acknowledged and sworn to by every Ecclesiastic since the Reformation; and we daily see they are All ready to swear them over again upon any fresh Motives of Advantage; and sure no one will suggest, that the Whole Clergy of England have lived in the State of Perjury for near Two hundred Years: I am sure, if this be the Case, it is not their Interest to let us know it, since their Authority must be of very little Weight in any thing else.
We have it here upon Oath, that all Jurisdiction, Power and Authority, Spiritual or Ecclesiastical, of what Kind or Sort soever it be, does flow from, and is derived from, the King’s Majesty; and I readily allow them to have all the rest by Divine Right. They have been always very happy at Distinctions and Discoveries; and therefore if they can find out any Power or Authority, which is of no Kind or Sort whatsoever, I think they ought to have it for their Pains; I wish them much Joy with it; and shall own it always to be Sacrilege in any one who shall attempt to take it from them: but, if there be any such Thing, it is plain, that it belongs to them as Governors of the Invisible Church, and is of a Nature which we know nothing of.
For it is certain, that Archbishops and Bishops are Creatures of the Civil Power, and derive their Being and Existence from it. They are chosen by the Direction of one Act of Parliament, and ordained and consecrated according to a Model prescribed by another; in which those who officiate, act only ministerially; and all other Methods of chusing them which the Clergy can devise, are declared void and ineffectual, and will not convey any Spiritual Power at all: Nor, I dare say, will any Clergyman in England pay Submission to such a Choice, if he do not like the Man; nor if he do, provided he thinks, that he shall lose any thing by it. If the Bishops have no Power but what they derive from the Crown, they can convey none but of the same sort to the Inferior Clergy.
I durst not have stood the Imputation of Calumny, in charging any of the present Clergy with Principles or Practices so directly in Defiance of these glaring and notorious Declarations of the whole Body, as well as their own repeated Oaths and Subscriptions, if I had not the Authority of the brightest Luminary of the present Church and Age (our great Metropolitan) to bear me out, who assures us in his Appeal, “That a new Sort of Disciplinarians are arisen up from amongst ourselves, who seem to comply with the Government of the Church, much upon the same Account as others do with that of the State; not out of Conscience to their Duty, or any Love they have for it, but because it is the Established Church, and they cannot keep their Preferments without it: They hate our Constitution, and All who stand up in good earnest for it; but for all that, they hold fast to it; and so go on to subscribe and rail..”
To these wild and enthusiastic Notions we owe the present Disaffection; and most, if not all the Calamities and public Disturbances that have happened since the Revolution; and yet (which is amazing to think of) they have prevailed so far amongst the corrupt Part of the Ecclesiastics, that I wish we could find more even of the Low-Church Clergymen, who dare thoroughly to renounce these Impious and Anabaptistical Errors, as their own Canons call them.
DOMINION! Dominion is the loud Cry; which, as it has already produced all the Cruelties and Absurdities of Popery, so it is still teeming with, or bringing forth, new Monsters; and what other Issue can be expected from so unnatural a Copulation as that of the Christian Priesthood with worldly Power?
To this we are beholden for all the Corruptions and Fopperies brought into religious Worship, as well as the ill-shapen and ungainly Brats of Passive Obedience; the Divine Right of Kings and Bishops; the uninterrupted Succession; the Priests Power of the Keys; of Binding and Loosing; Remitting and Retaining Sins; the Real Presence in the Sacrament; the Altar and Unbloody Sacrifice upon it; the giving the Holy Ghost; of Excommunication, as laid Claim to; and Consecration of Churches, and Church-yards; the Reconciliation of God’s knowing what we shall do, with a Power in us not to do it; of Persecution for Opinions, and the Tritheistical Charity; with a long Train of Monkish Fooleries besides: All, or any Part of which, could never have entered into the Heart of one Layman, or Clergyman either, if nothing had been to be got by them.
The Absurdity and Impossibility of Church-Power, as independent on the State.
Wednesday, April 27. 1720.
I Have shewn, in my last Two Discourses, that the Clergy of England have no Jurisdiction, Power, or Authority whatsoever, which is not derived mediately or immediately from the Legislature; and that they have all sworn to this Principle: I now own myself so much concerned for their Reputation, that I will even run the Hazard of incurring the Displeasure of some of them, by proving, that they have taken true Oaths, and that it is impossible to constitute a Protestant National Church upon any other Foundation.
I intend to shew, in the Course of these Papers, that there is not the least Colour or Pretence for the chimerical Distinction of Ecclesiastical and Civil, in any other Sense than as the Words Maritime and Military are used to denote different Branches of the executive Power: For, take away the legal Establishment, and the Clergy can have no Power at all, but what flows from the Consent of voluntary Societies; a Proposition which I undertake hereafter demonstratively to make out; and I defy all the Ecclesiastics in the World, united together, to take one Step towards proving the contrary, without plunging themselves in everlasting Nonsense and Absurdity.
But to keep them a little in good Humour, I will suppose, for the present, that their wild Hypothesis is true; and that our Saviour, whilst upon Earth, (even against his own Declarations) had Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction over the whole Earth: That he gave it the Apostles; that they conveyed it on to their Successors; and that the Church of Rome, and the present Clergy of the Church of England, as by Law established, are their undoubted Successors: Nay, I will be so civil as not to ask one Question, what sort of Power that was; but take it for granted, that it was worldly Authority, and ought to be rewarded and supported by worldly Equipage, Wealth, and Titles; and if they have any thing more to ask of me, I will grant that too, and then examine what Use can be made of these Concessions to the present Purpose.
I desire first to be informed, from whence they will fetch their Ecclesiastical Heraldry of Archbishops, Diocesan Bishops, Deans, Chapters, Arch-deacons, the new Office of Deacons, Officials, Commissaries, the Two Houses of Convocation with co-ordinate Powers, Ecclesiastical Courts, Parish Priests, and Curates, with the whole Train of inferior Machines, and Spiritual Under-strappers. Here I doubt all their Texts, all their Schemes, will fail them; for very few of these hard Names will be found even in their own Translations of the Bible, and they must have recourse to Human Authority at last.
If they say, (as I suspect they will) that the Government of the Church being conveyed down to the Bishops from the Apostles, they must have all Power which is necessary to it; and consequently have a Right to appoint Courts of Judicature, and Ecclesiastical Officers, as also to give them proper Powers to answer the Ends of their Trust:
I would then ask them, whether this great Episcopal Authority is given to every Bishop, independent of all the rest; to all the Bishops of the whole Church every-where dispersed, agreeing together; to the Majority of this Whole; or to the Majority of any Number of them meeting in one Place, either by Consent, Accident, or the Appointment of Princes or States? For, I think, it must be agreed by all the World, that if the Bishops had any Power from God, which is independent of the Civil Sovereign, he cannot restrain, model, or limit it; and that any accidental Alterations of the Bounds of Dominions, either from Conquest, Chance or Consent, can no way affect the Divine Authority, or hinder its Operation.
If every Bishop has this whole Power delegated to him from God; then by what Authority can the Exercise of it be afterwards restrained to a particular District or Diocese, so as to make his Actions out of it, not only invalid, but schismatical and criminal? Who can limit a Power given by the Almighty? Not the Civil Sovereign, who has nothing to do in another Jurisdiction; nor the Bishop himself, who must accept it upon the Terms which God has given it.
It cannot be supposed, that he receives it for his own Sake, but as a Trust for the Benefit of Christianity; and it must be the highest Breach of this great Trust, not to discharge it personally, but to divide it with others, of whose Honesty he can have no sufficient Knowledge.
Besides, when these Bishops differ with one another, (which will happen as often as they have different Complexions, Interests, or Understandings) what must the Christian World then do? Must they follow the Bishop of Bangor* , or the Abbot of Westminster†? Or suspend their Christianity till they are all agreed? A solid Rock truly to build God’s Church upon!
So great a Body of Men as the whole Christian Church, or the Majority of them, never did or could meet together; and if such a thing were possible, they would only scold or fight; and therefore any one may with great Modesty affirm, that no Ecclesiastical Establishment now in the World did or could take its Rise from such an Assembly.
Nothing therefore remains, but that, once upon a Time, a certain Number of Bishops met together, and settled such Constitutions, from which the rest are derived; otherwise we must fetch them from the Civil Magistrate, or confess them all to be Usurpations.
Those who suppose the first, are obliged to tell us, What Number are necessary to this Purpose; and if another equal Number should settle a different Establishment in the same District or Province, who will be the Schismatics? I think it is agreed by all High-Churchmen, That every one of these can make as many other Bishops, and Governors of the whole Church, as he pleases; and therefore, if one of them in a frolicksome Humour should create Two or Three Hundred of these Ecclesiastical Princes, are they all to have Votes in the Episcopal College? And I ask this Question the rather, because I myself once knew a drunken Popish Bishop in Ireland, who would have made these Spiritual Sovereigns from Morning to Night, for a Pot of Ale apiece.
If it should be said, (as indeed what is not or may not be said by Persons of their Perspicuity?) that the Power itself comes from God, but the Exercise of it is to be limited and directed by the Civil Sovereign; I answer, that, besides the egregious Blunder of distinguishing between Power and the Exercise of Power, the first being only a Right to do certain Actions, in which the other consists: This gives up the whole Question; for there can be no greater Power necessary to give an Authority, than to take it away; and every Restriction and Limitation is taking it away in Part: No one can have a Right to depose a Temporal Prince from any Part of his just Dominions, without having also the same Right to deprive him of the Whole; and in this respect there can be no Difference between Temporal and Ecclesiastical Sovereignties.
If these Gentlemen were not in Possession of sanctifying Nonsense, they could not venture to tell us, that our Saviour has given Power to Bishops to execute Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction through the whole Earth; and consequently all Mankind must be their Spiritual Subjects: But that this great Power may here, below, be limited and restrained to Cities or Provinces, and parcelled out and divided in such a manner, that some may have large Districts, others small ones, in which no one else must officiate; nay, that many more may have none at all, and yet every one have universal Jurisdiction, and be a Bishop of the whole Earth.
These, with a huge Heap besides of glareing Absurdities and Contradictions, must be maintained by those, who would reconcile the Divine Right of Bishops with any Protestant Establishment now in the World. I have so amply shewn how inconsistent it is with our own, from the whole Tenor of our Laws and Canons, as well as the repeated Acknowledgments of the Clergy themselves, that I should think it not only needless, but impertinent, to say any thing further of it, did we not daily hear of such Numbers of our Spiritual Guides, who rail against these Laws at the time they swear and subscribe to them, and complain aloud of them as Violations of their own Divine Rights, and denounce Judgments upon the Nation for such Usurpations.
I shall therefore, in my next Paper, descant a little upon the voluntary and most applauded Actions of the highest, even of these High Gentlemen; and shew that they cannot help acknowledging the Principles which I maintain, even in the Instances where they would oppose it, and amidst their greatest Demands for Power. This I intend to do, not with the least Expectation, or vain Hope, of inducing them to alter their Measures, (there being a Prescription among the Ecclesiastics against such Lay Follies) but (if possible) to open the Eyes of their blind and stupid Adorers, and to let them see what wretched Idols they are worshipping.
The Inconsistency of the Principles and Practices of High-Church; with some Advice to the Clergy.
Wednesday, May 4. 1720.
IF the Ecclesiastics have any Divine Right which is neither derived from the Civil Magistrate, nor the Consent of voluntary Societies, it must be vested in a single Person; in a certain Number of Persons, which we all call Bishops; or in common to them all: The First is Popery, and the Last Presbytery. But I think, that there is no Establishment which now subsists, or ever did subsist in the World, which does, or did, assert the Divine Right of Bishops, independent of the Pope; and consequently it is the Proprium or peculiar Whimsy of our own perjured High-Churchmen, not only in Opposition to their Oaths and Subscriptions, (as I have shewed already) but to the most applauded Actions of their greatest Champions; which ’tis the Business of this Paper to make out.
If there be a Divine Right in the Bishops to govern the Church, it is spiritual Rebellion, and the highest Sacrilege, to usurp upon this great Authority; but then, what will become of all the daily Daubing, and fulsome Panegyric, upon the best established Church in the World? Since I think it is agreed by all the Clergy, that the Power of Legislation, as far as they have any thing to do with it, is vested in the Convocation, which consists of two Houses, one of Bishops, the other of Presbyters; a Constitution utterly inconsistent with this Divine Right; which the High-Clergy have been so far from regretting, or complaining of, that it is one of their most essential Characteristics, to maintain the Power of the Lower House against the Upper; that is, of Presbyters against their own Diocesans.
They claim a co-ordinate Power with them in the supremest Acts of Church-Government; an Authority of acting by themselves, to chuse their own Time of meeting, to sit as often and as long as they please, to adjourn by their own Authority, to begin what Business they think sit, to chuse their own Committees, excuse Absence, receive Proxies, judge of Elections, censure their own Members, and do all other Acts, which ought to be done by the sole Authority of a House which is its own Master and Judge: All which, though they are rank Presbytery, yet are also become the genuine Principles of modern High-Churchmen: At the same time that they assert a sole, divine, apostolic, and independent Power in the Bishops to govern the Church.
The asserting of these Rights of the Lower House, is the Merit of their present Champion* , supplies the Want of Charity in him, and covers a Thousand Faults; and ’tis much to be feared and lamented, that all the late Zeal of a much greater Man† , and the present Services which he is doing, will scarcely atone for his having acted formerly upon Low-Church Principles, in defending the Prerogative of the Crown, and maintaining the Power of the Upper House over the Lower.
What Persons or Party have supported the Bishops, and their Authority, ever since the Revolution, against their own Presbyters? All Low-Churchmen. Who were those who have been always aspersing, calumniating and libelling the Two last Archbishops, our present Metropolitan, till very lately, the last Bishop of Salisbury, and indeed every worthy Prelate, but the High-Church Priests, and their Followers? And who have honoured and defended their Persons and Characters, but Low-Churchmen?
Who exhibited Articles against a present Bishop, for having preached the King’s Supremacy in Ecclesiastical Affairs, (wholly inconsistent with the Divine Right of Bishops) but the High-Church Clergy? Who supported the late Dean of Carlisle against his own Diocesan? All High-Churchmen. And who defended both these Bishops? All Low-Churchmen. Who burnt by the Hands of the common Hangman, a Book written by a Right Reverend Bishop, which asserted King William’s Title upon the once genuine Principles of Conquest, and passed a scandalous and groundless Vote upon the late learned Bishop of Worcester, but High-Churchmen? And who voted for these Bishops? All Low-Churchmen.
Such open Blunders, and glaring Inconsistencies, must these Men be reduced to, who measure all Opinions by their present Interest and Passions; and who have no other Standard of Right and Wrong, but what most gratifies their Ambition, Pride, Covetousness, or Revenge.
I can safely say, that, as I had no Interest in entering upon this Design, nor can have any in continuing it, but to promote the Cause of Virtue and Truth, and to support our present legal Establishment; by shewing the Laity, that they are free, both by the Laws of God and their Country, from all the wild and enthusiastic Pretensions of the high-flown Ecclesiastics: As I was willing also, not wholly to despair of being able to restore again the Apostate Clergymen to the Church of England, and to make them really of the Principles which they swear to, pretend to monopolize, and yet constantly oppose; so I shall have the utmost Pleasure, if I can contribute to these great Ends, and shall rejoice over such an Occasion, to drop this Paper.
As the High Clergy can have no other Motive to pursue these Principles, but the temporal Interest of their Order, in Opposition to Christianity, and the apparent Laws of their Country; so I shall endeavour to convince them, that they are grasping at what they can never reach; and, with the Dog in the Fable, losing a Substance to catch at a Shadow.
It was a Saying of the wise Lord Halifax, that Dr. Echard, in his Treatise of the Contemptof the Clergy, had omitted the chief Cause of it, namely, (not their Ignorance, but) the Knowledge of the Laity; and it is very true, that the Mists of Superstition and Fear, which have been so long raising before our Eyes, are pretty well dissipated and dispersed; nor will an horizontal Hat, a starched Band, and long Petticoats, pass in this Age for essential Marks of Wisdom and Virtue.
TheRehearsal has long since told us, that the gravest of all Beasts is an Ass, and the gravest of all Birds is an Owl; and indeed the World seems generally of Opinion now, that sound Sense, polite Learning, good Breeding, and an easy and affable Conversation, are not only consistent with true Religion, but are most productive of it; and sure it cannot be denied, that the Laity, for the most part, exceed in these Qualities.
They are resolved, at last, to see with their own Eyes, hear with their own Ears, and feel with their own Hands: Ipse dixit will pass no longer. It is a ridiculous Attempt to endeavour to deceive any one, who will not consent to be hood-winked: A Jade will not be put into an Horse-Mill, till she is blinded; nor could Samson be led about by the Philistines, till they had put out his Eyes. I would therefore give my old Friends a Hint, though, I doubt, to little Purpose, namely, to change the Course of their Sailing, according to the Shifting of the Winds and the Tides, and not run the Danger of Shipwreck upon those Coasts, where their Predecessors formerly found deep Water, and safe Riding.
I am sensible, that many of the High-Church Popish Clergy will laugh in their Sleeves at this Advice, and think there is Folly enough yet left among the Laity, to support their Authority; and will hug themselves, and rejoice over the Ignorance of the Universities, the Stupidity of the drunken ’Squires, the Panic of the tender Sex, and the never to be shaken Constancy of the Multitude; but I would put them in mind, that all these fine Visions have once already misled and deceived them, and therefore may again.
I desire that they will count their Gains, and recollect what Addition of Power they got, or were like to have got, by the late great Revolution of temporal Politics, which they were so instrumental to bring about: Indeed they were called together, and had a Liberty given them to scold and quarrel with one another; but they were not suffered to hurt so much as a Mouse; and even Mr. Whiston laughed at them. Whilst their Patrons were making their Court to France and the Pretender, for Preferments; the Lower House of Convocation was very usefully employed and diverted, in compiling Forms of Prayer for consecrating Churchyards, and for Criminals who were to be hanged; which, ’tis said, a certain great Person then called, Throwing out a Barrel to the Whale.
I am afraid, that they are not well informed of what it much concerns them to know, namely, that even the Tories themselves will not be Priest-ridden; and that those amongst them, who have any Sense, laugh at High-Church Principles in private, though they bow to the Broachers of them, and seem to admire them, in public; of the Truth of which I myself have been frequently a Witness: So that of whatever Importance they may seem to themselves, they are, in Truth, but Tools to factious Men; are only employed to do their Drudgery, and run down their Game; and will scarce have for their Pains even the picking of the Bones, when (like Jackals) they have hunted down the Lion’s Prey.
I should not have thought myself at Liberty to have unburdened my Mind thus freely, if it had not been to have served some of my Friends among these High-Church Clergy, by helping them to a little of that Understanding, which is not to be learnt in Universities, and in Conversation with one another; and I wish, (tho’ I cannot hope, much less persuade myself to believe) that when they have duly considered what I have said, they will change their Style, and endeavour to atone for all the Mischiefs which they have hitherto done, by being hereafter Advocates for Civil and Ecclesiastical Liberty; will make use of the Influence they have over the poor deluded Multitude to promote true Religion, as well as Peace and Happiness, amongst Mankind; and be no longer the Boutefeus or Incendiaries of every popular Faction and Tumult. Which God, of his infinite Mercy, grant, &c.
Reasons why the High-Church Priests are the most Wicked of all Men.
Wednesday, May 11. 1720.
IT seems natural and reasonable to suppose, that Clergymen, who have a learned, ingenuous and Christian Education; who are bred up in strict Discipline; who, in their Youth, study the Works of PLATO, ARISTOTLE, CICERO, and other Heathen Moralists; as also the Books of the Old and New Testament, which they believe to be divinely inspired; who attend daily Prayers, and frequent Sacraments; who pretend to have a Call from the Holy Ghost, to teach the World; who spend a great Part of their Time in composing divine Discourses or Sermons; who are obliged to pray and converse daily with weak, sick, and scrupulous Parishioners, about heavenly Matters; who, by Conversation and close Union with one another at Visitations, and other holy Meetings, and (I presume) by Prayers together, have great Opportunities of improving themselves in Virtue and Godliness; and who are under a particular Obligation to set good Examples, and under a sort of Necessity to observe some Decorum; should be better, than other Men. But yet, it is a Matter of common Observation, that they are not so; almost all in the Roman Church, and too many in other Churches, being in an eminent Degree notoriously guilty of those Vices, which are of most pernicious, or most extensive ill Consequences, and most Antichristian; such as Ambitior, Pride, Anger, Hatred, Malice, Revenge, Litigiousness, Uncharitableness, Hypocrisy, Persecution, Sedition, Treason, Equivocation, and Perjury (whereof Multitudes of the Laity are not only wholly innocent, but remarkable for the Virtues opposite to them); to say nothing of their equal Guilt with other Men in respect to the inferior Vices of Swearing, Drunkenness, and such-like. And this Fact is honestly confessed by the late Bishop of Sarum, who in his Memoirs (which we expect with the utmost Impatience soon to see published) tells us, “That he always believes well of Laymen, till he sees Cause to change his Mind; though as to Churchmen, it is otherwise with him; for he has seen so much amiss in that Profession, that he is inclined always to think ill of them, till he sees Cause to think otherwise.”
Whereupon it is a frequent Subject of Inquiry, how it comes to pass, or what are the Causes of this Fact, which would never be credited, if it was not very manifest. Some are at a Loss about this Matter; but, for my part, I am not. And the Fact is no more surprising to me, than are other common Facts concerning Men; which, by being common, must have plain and manifest Causes. The Causes of this Fact, in particular, are so plain to me, that from the mere Consideration of them, I should wonder if I found the Clergy better than they are; and I esteem those Causes to be so necessarily productive of their Effect, that I do not think it Presumption to pretend to know the Doings of the High Clergy, in all Ages, to have been wicked, even without History or Testimony, which are requisite to give us the Knowledge of other Mens Crimes. Grotius’s Observation,*Qui legit Historiam Ecclesiasticam, quid legit nisi Vitia Episcoporum? must be true, and justly applied to all other Clergy as well as the Christian.
It is not the Design of this Paper, to assign the general Causes of this Fact, or all the particular Causes, which render so many of our Clergy so bad as they are. That Subject I reserve for a Treatise by itself. I shall at present only assign some of those Causes, which I conceive to have the most direct Influence on the Morals of so many of our Clergy.
Youth is the great Opportunity of Life, which settleth and fixeth most Men either in a good or bad Course; and the Impressions, especially bad Impressions, then made, are usually lasting. Youth is also a Time of Innocence, when Men have Horror for Vice, which they never commit at first without offering Violence to themselves. The first and most natural Thoughts of Man are to be honest, and just, and reasonable, as the best Things which he can do for his own Sake; and it is the Influence of ill Example, and of the common Practice of the World, which, for the most part, changes his Sentiments, and puts him upon ill Actions. But the natural Innocence of Youth being once broken in upon, Man, by Degrees, grows hardened and impudent in Wickedness, and commits it without Shame or Remorse.
Nothing therefore has so direct a Tendency to debauch the World, as to debauch the Youth: And the earlier, the more effectual; for thereby Innocence and Virtue may be so effaced, as in a little time to leave no Memory or Trace of them, no more than QUARTILLA in PETRONIUS ARBITER had, who, though a young Woman, did not remember, that she had ever been a Maid.
Now it seems to me peculiar to the Clergy, in most Parts of Christendom, to begin the World with the greatest Breach upon the natural Honesty and Integrity of Youth, and with the greatest Violence upon their own Consciences, that can be imagined; as will be evident from the following Particulars.
1.First, the Youth who are sent to Universities, are early initiated into Perjury, by being obliged to take College-Oaths, in some respects impertinent or ridiculous, in others wicked, or impossible to be kept; by which means, false Swearing becomes familiar to them, and they esteem Oaths only as Matters of Form, and their Breach to be but common Qualifications for Preferment.
2.Secondly, When they go into Holy Orders, they profess, that they are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them their Office: though nothing is more notorious, than that many are inwardly moved by the Prospect of Power and Wealth, and by Necessity of a Maintenance; and that many use all the Arts and Means, to no purpose, to procure to themselves Law and Physic Fellowships in Colleges, in other Lay-preferments, (where no Engagements contrary to their Judgments and Consciences are requisite) in order to avoid the Burden of going into Orders: And by Consequence, that they feel no inward Motions of the Holy Ghost; unless the Holy Spirit can be supposed constantly to concur, just as serves the Purposes of Men engaged in the Pursuit of their temporal Interests. Here then is a solemn Lye, and Prostitution of the Conscience, in all those who do not feel themselves moved by the Holy Ghost.
3.Thirdly, Many of the Clergy abroad subscribe Articles of Religion, which they do not believe. Mr. WHISTON (Essays, &c. p. 237.) says, “he believes there is scarce one Clergyman, even of our reformed Church, that has considered and examined Things with any Care, who believes all the 39 Articles in their proper and original Meaning.” This implies, that the Unbelievers, among the Clergy, of the Articles, are very numerous; unless it be supposed, that few of the Clergy consider and examine Things with any Care. But the Thing is manifest, from the Sophistry and Knavery used by many of them to palliate their Subscription to the Articles; which imply, that they do not believe those Articles. (1.) Some pretend to subscribe them as Articles, which, though in Part erroneous, they oblige themselves not to contradict. (2.) Some pretend to subscribe them in any Sense, wherein they can understand them according to the Rules of Grammar. (3). Some pretend to subscribe them in any Sense, wherein they can reconcile them to Scripture. (4.) And others chuse the Sense, which they pretend to subscribe them in, out of the several Senses which they suppose intended to be held forth by the same Articles. And I wish more of them pretended to subscribe them honestly and fairly, namely, in the Sense really intended by the Imposers, who, to prevent Diversity of Opinions, impose their own Sense, as agreeable to Scripture; and therefore cannot be supposed to have intended, that the Articles should differ from all other Writings, which all Readers endeavour to understand in the one Meaning intended by the Authors. Nay, to subscribe the Articles without believing them, is so reputable among the High-Church Priests, that a fair Subscriber, that is, one who subscribes in the one Sense, which he supposes originally intended, passes among them for the worst of Men, namely, a Presbyterian, and an Enemy to the Church.
4.Fourthly, Every Clergyman instituted into any Benefice, swears, That he has made no Simoniacal Payment, Contract, or Promise, directly or indirectly, by himself, or by any other, to his Knowledge, or with his Consent, to any Person or Persons whatsoever, for or concerning the procuring and obtaining of his Ecclesiastical Dignity, Place, Preferment, Office, or Living, (respectively and particularly naming the same whereunto he is to be admitted, instituted, collated, installed, or confirmed) nor will at any Time hereafter perform or satisfy any such kind of Payment, Contract or Promise, made by any other, without his Knowledge or Consent: So help him God, throughJesus Christ. Now, whether any of them break this Oath, I leave to the Consideration of the Reader, who ought to esteem all Clergymen taking it guilty, that either make Presents to any body, or marry, or compound with the Patron about Tythes, in order to get the Benefice; no less than those who, by Bargain, pay Money before or after the Benefice is procured, are guilty.
5.Fifthly, An Oath of Allegiance to his Majesty King GEORGE is taken by all Beneficed Clergymen; who may be justly deemed perjured, if they do not pay the same Regard to his Majesty, which they pretend to have been due to King CHARLES the First or Second, or to Queen ANNE, at the Beginning and latter End of her Reign. The Popularity and Credit to which this Perjury intitles the High-Church Clergy among one another, and the Disgrace attending those who are faithful to the Oaths which they have taken, (the former being dubbed by them honest Men, and good Churchmen, for breaking their Oaths; and the latter Rogues, and Betrayers of the Church, for keeping them) leaves us no room to doubt, that the Perjured of this Kind are but too numerous. However, I am willing to think, it would be Injustice to say, that many Laymen need not go out of their own Parishes, to find one at least, and often more, where there are Lecturers and Curates.
The Difficulty therefore mentioned in the Beginning of this Paper, admits of a plain Solution; and it is as easy to conceive, that Men, who begin the World in this manner, should exceed others in Wickedness, who either begin the World innocently, or are under no Necessity to begin it wickedly; as it is to conceive, that Butchers and Soldiers should be less humane than others; or that young Women, once prostituted, should lose all Modesty.
A general Idea of Priestcraft.
Wednesday, May 18. 1720.
I Have, in my Eighth and other Papers, vindicated the Almighty from the Imputation of Obscurity in revealing his Will to Mankind; and shewn, that he is plain, exact, and even circumstantial, when he delivers his Precepts to them. I shall now expose the contrary Proceedings of weak and corrupt Men; by giving a general Idea of the principal Arts, by which the designing Priests of all Religions have kept their Craft and Impostures from a Discovery, and made the Truth, as far as they could, inaccessible.
Every mad Action, or Principle, in Religion and Government, must have some appearing Cause assigned for it, proper to make the People stare, and to hide the true one. Mankind, as tame as Priests and Tyrants have made them, will not be content to be deceived or butchered without having a Reason for it. The Pope, who assumes a Power to judge for all Men, and devotes whole Nations to Damnation and Massacre, and sends People to Heaven or Hell in Colonies, just as their Money or Disobedience determines him, acts a very consistent Part in tying the Keys of both Worlds to his Girdle, and in styling himself God’s absolute Vicar General. These are his Reasons; and the Catholic and more Orthodox Parts of Europe are well content with them.
In former Reigns, when many of our English Clergy thought fit to tye us Hand and Foot, and deliver us over to our Kings, as their proper Goods and Chattels, to be fed or flayed according to their sacred Will and Pleasure, they told us, it was the Ordinance of God, that one Man might glut his Lust, or his Cruelty, with the Destruction of Millions; and if we kept out of Harm’s way, we were assuredly damned. And these were their Reasons then. Of late, it is true, many of them have changed their Doctrine, and their Behaviour. We are, it seems, at present, living in the Guilt of Rebellion, which is a damnable Sin; and so we are to rebel upon Pain of Damnation, to free ourselves from the Damnation which follows Rebellion. These are their Reasonings now.
Formerly, when some certain Persons were content to be Protestants, the Church of Rome was the Spiritual Babylon, and the Scarlet Whore, and Sodom; and the Pope was Antichrist; for he sat in the Temple of God, and exalted himself above all that is called God. But this was Truth, and could not hold long, considering into whose Hands it was fallen; and therefore in a little time, when they had a Mind to get into the Pope’s Place, and to do and say as he did, the Church of Rome became all of a sudden a true Church, and an old Church, and our Mother Church. In short, the old withered Harlot, and Mother of Whoredoms, grew a great Beauty, and her Daughter here in England resembled her Mamma more and more every Day she lived, and gave the foregoing Reasons for it.
From hence it is plain, that though for every Imposture some Cause must be assigned, yet a very indifferent one will serve the Turn. The Gross of the World are dull and credulous: Few make any Inquiries at all, and sewer make successful ones. It is, however, still best, if the Cheat stands upon such a Foundation, that it cannot be searched nor examined by any human Eye.
WhenNuma Pompidius told the Romans, that he conversed familiarly with the Nymph Egeria; which of them could pay her a Visit, and ask her, whether the Prince and she were in earnest such very good Neighbours? And when Mahomes took such a wide Range [Editor: illegible word]’ the other World upon his Nag Elborach, and told Wonders at his Return; there was neither Man nor Horse in all Arabia, that could take the same Journey to disprove him; or, when he was pleased to be thought conversant with the Angel Gabriel, I do not hear, that ever the Angel signed a Certificate, that they were no-wise acquainted. The Quack, who had found out the true Fern-Seeds [Editor:?] and the Green Dragon, thought it, no doubt, a hard Matter to prove him a Lyar.
In the Heathen Temples of old, neither the Sibyls, nor any other Priests or Belchers of Prophecy, Male or Female, were answerable for the Oracles, and dark Sayings, which they uttered. They had what they said from God, who never once contradicted them. It was impossible to come at him for personal Information; and a very profane Crime not to believe his Priest; and to distract the Deity himself, was almost as bad: You had nothing to do, but to captivate your Reason to your Faith, and swallow the Verdum Sacerdotis. If you did not, the Judgment of the God, that is, the Anger of his Priest, was sure to pursue you.
The same Policy has been ever practised by the Deluders of Mankind in all Names and Shapes. They have always entrenched themselves behind the Ramparts of Mystery, Uncertainties and Terrors. The Romish Clergy maintain all their Pretensions and Power by Doctrines which are calculated to make the People either wonder or tremble. And when a Man has lost his Courage, and his Understanding, you may easily cheat or terrify him into as tractable an Animal as the Creation affords. The Doctrines of Purgatory, and of the Priests Power to forgive or damn, are alone strong enongh to frighten most Folks into what Liberality and Submission the Church thinks fit to demand of them. And we all know, that she is not over-modest upon such Occasions: Bring me all thou hast, and follow me, is her Style.
I wish I could keep these Impostures, and wild Claims, altogether out of England, and confine them to Popish and Infidel Countries only. But that which is obvious and avowed, cannot be hid. Very many of our high Jacobite Clergy aim at Dominion by the same wicked Means, and hood-wink and alarm us all they can. They lead us out of the Road of Reason, and play their Engines in the Dark; and all the Illumination we can get from them is, that we are all in a Mist. Without their Guidance we go astray, and with it we go blindsold. All their Arguments are fetched from their own Authority. Their Assertions are no less than Rules and Laws to us; and where they lead, we must follow, though into Darkness and Servitude. If we grow wilful, and break loose from our Orthodox Ignorance, we are pursued with hard Names and Curses. Doubting is Infidelity, Reason is Atheism. What can we do in this Case? There is no Medium between a Blockhead and a Schismatic: If we follow them blindly, we are the First; the Second, if we leave them. We want Faith, if we will not take their Word; we want Eyes, if we do.
They indeed give a Sugar-plum, and refer us to the Bible for Proof of all that they say. But, in Truth, this Privilege, if we examine it, will appear none at all; but, on the contrary, an arrant Trick, and gross Mockery. For when they have sent us to a Text, will they allow to construe it our own way? No such Matter: They have nailed a Meaning to it, and will permit it to bear no other. You may read, provided you read with their Spectacles; and examine their Propositions freely, provided you take them every one for granted. You may exert your Reason freely, but be sure let it be to no Purpose; and use your Understanding independently, under their absolute Direction and Controul. I wonder how these Men could ever have the Front to accuse the Church of Rome for locking up the Bible in an unknown Tongue!
The eternal War that they wage against Reason, which they use just as they do Scripture, is founded upon good Policy; but it is pleasant to observe their Manner of attacking it. They reason against Reason, use Reason against the Use of Reason, and shew, from very good Reason, that Reason is good for nothing. When they think it on their own Side, then they apply all its Aids to convince or confound those who dare to think without their Concurrence: Therefore, in their Controversies about Religion, they frequently appeal to Reason; but we must not accept the Appeal, for if our Reason be not their Reason, it is no Reason. They use it, or the Appearance of it, against all Men; but no Man must use it against them. As there is no such thing as arguing and persuading without the Assistance of Reason, it is a little absurd, if not ungrateful, in these Gentlemen, to decry it at the same time that they are imploying it; to turn the Batteries of Reason against Reason, and make itself destroy itself.
Neither Scripture, therefore, nor Reason, by these Rules, signify any thing till the Priests have explained them, and made them signify something; and the Word of God is not the Word of God, till they have declared its Sense, and made it so. Thus, by the time that Scripture and Reason have been modelled, and qualified, and cooked up by the High-Church Jacobite Clergy, they are neither Scripture nor Reason, but a perfect French Dish, or what the Spiritual Cooks please; an Oleo or Hodge-podge of Nonsense, Jargon and Authority.
From all that has been said, the following Conclusions may be drawn: Such Clergymen as I have been above describing, prove every thing by asserting it, and make any Pretence support any Claim. They build Systems upon pretended Facts, and argue from Propositions which are either highly improbable, or certainly false. When they cannot convince, they confound us; when they cannot persuade, they terrify. We have but two Ways to try the Truth of their Doctrines, and the Validity of their Demands, namely, Reason and Revelation; and they deprive us of both, by making the one dark, the other dangerous.
WHAT a Contempt must this Tribe have for Mankind!
Ecclesiastical Authority, as claimed by the High Clergy, an Enemy to Religion.
Wednesday, May 25. 1720.
SINCE there are so many different Opinions and Apprehensions in the World about Matters of Religion, and every Sect and Party does with so much Confidence pretend, that they, and they only, are in the Truth; the great Difficulty and Question is, By what Means Men may be secured from dangerous Errors and Mistakes in Religion. For this End some have thought it necessary, that there should be an infallible Church, in the Communion whereof every Man may be secured from the Dangers of a wrong Belief: And others have thought it necessary, that their several fallible Churches should have Authority in Matters of Faith, in order to keep up a right Faith in the People of the Fundamentals of Religion.
But it seems God has not thought either necessary: If he had, he would have revealed himself more plainly in this Matter than in any particular Point of Faith whatsoever. He would have told us expresly, and in the plainest Words, that he had appointed an infallible Guide and Judge in Matters of Religion, or Men who should have Authority in Matters of Faith; and would likewise have plainly marked out him or them, for Men to have had recourse to on all Occasions; because our Belief depending on this infallible Judge, or on these Men who had Authority, we could not be safe from Mistake in particular Points, without so plain and clear a Revelation of this infallible Judge, or of these Men who had Authority, that there could be no Mistake about him or them; nor could there be an End of any other Controversies in Religion, unless this Matter of an infallible Judge, or of Men who had Authority, were out of our Controversy.
It is not pretended by any Advocates of Infallibility or Authority, that God has delivered the Matter expresly and plainly in the Scriptures. They proceed, and build only on Inferences and Deductions from thence. And the Papists are divided among themselves as to the Seat and Extent of Infallibility; as the Protestant-Papists are, in respect to the Seat and Extent of Authority. And both Infallibility and Authority are manifestly absurd Pretences in point of Reason; though Infallibility seems less absurd than Authority. The Pretence of Infallibility is plainly absurd; because the Infallible Church gives constant and daily Proofs of its Fallibility: And the Pretence of Authority is absurd; because that may lead Men into any Mistakes whatsoever. But, as I observed, Infallibility is less absurd; because that is of a Piece, and consistent with, and necessarily follows from Authority: Whereas Authority without Infallibility, supposes a Power given Men by God to lead the World into any Mistakes, and to subvert Christianity itself. But however this be, they are both sufficiently ridiculous; and it is ridiculous to send Men, in order to their Salvation, to believe either in the Pope, or Dr. Swift, or Dr. Burgess, on whose Authority if Men depend, they can only be Papists, or Swiftites, or Burgesites, and not Christians.
If then God has not provided an infallible Judge, nor any Men with Authority in Matters of Religion; there is some other Way, whereby Men may be secured against all dangerous Errors and Mistakes in Religion, and whereby they may discern all such Truths as are necessary to their Salvation. Now that Way our Saviour has declared to us in these Words, If any Man desire to do his Will, he shall know of the Doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself: That is, if a Man has an honest and sincere Mind, and a hearty Desire to do the Will of God, he has the best Preservative against dangerous Mistakes in Matters of Religion; and God, or his Understanding, will enable him to distinguish sufficiently, whether Doctrines be of God or of Men, and will conduct him into all necessary Truths.
This is a true and plain Answer to the Question proposed; and also true and plain Religion, or Christianity, if Men will be governed by Christ, the Author and Finisher thereof. This is easy to be known, and requires little Time to learn. This frees Men from all Concern about the intricate and endless Squabbles of Divines, disputing which of them are to have Authority, and wherein their own Authority consists; and ought to set them at Ease; for, as Christians, or Followers of Christ, they have nothing to do to inquire, what Priests are to have an Antichristian Authority over one another, and the Laity.
But notwithstanding the Plainness of the Case, it is no wonder, that weak People now-a-days should believe in Priests, and not in Christ; should be Priestlings, and not Christians; when, in our Blessed Saviour’s own Time, the Jews were ready to believe in any Impostors, and averse to believing in him, as he himself tells us. I am come, says he, in my Father’s Name, and ye receive me not: If an other shall come in his own Name; him ye will receive: How can you believe, which receive Honour one of another? That is, (to make a sort of Application to our present Times) “You have the Bible among you, wherein I teach you in my Father’s Name, wherein I bid you search, examine, and try all things for yourselves, and to call no Man Master in Religion upon Earth: That Bible you reject, in not understanding it for yourselves; but if any Man set up for an authoritative Interpreter of it, him you will receive for your Master, and call yourselves after his Name. How can you be Believers in, and Followers of me, who believe upon the Authority of Men, and reject the Authority of God?”
Christianity, or Religion, thus truly understood, has too many Enemies to make it lost Labour to prove it true by Arguments. And therefore I observe, in Proof of our Saviour’s Doctrine, “That a hearty Desire and Endeavour to do the Will of God, is the Preservative against dangerous Mistakes.” First, That therein our Saviour recommends the best and most proper Disposition of Mind to qualify a Man to receive Truths from God, to enable him to make a right Judgment as to what proceeds from God, and what from Men. For a good Man is most likely to have right Apprehensions of God and Divine Things. Secondly, Such a Disposition in a Man supposes his Impartiality in the Search of Truth; that he has no Partiality to any particular Doctrine; and that he is superior to the Temptations of any Passions, (which blind the Mind) and has no Reason to deceive himself by receiving Things without Evidence, nor Inclination to reject what has Evidence. Thirdly, God will not suffer the best disposed Minds to fall into dangerous Mistakes; but will, as he says himself, Guide them in Judgment, and shew them his Way. Again, God says by SOLOMON, If thou incline thine Ear unto Wisdom, and apply thy Heart to Understanding; yea, if thou criest after Knowledge, and liftest up thy Voice for Understanding, if thou seekest her as Silver, and fearchest for her as for hid Treasure; then shalt thou understand the Fear of the Lord, and find the Knowledge of God. Indeed, the Bible is so plain, as to all necessary Truths, that he that runs may read; and a Day-labourer cannot fail of finding Truth, that searches it there; and is in no Danger of failing, unless he delivers himself up absolutely to some Guide to interpret the Bible for him. Fourthly and Lastly, Living honestly, and seeking after Truth, are the best Things which a Man can do, and the very Perfection of his Nature; by consequence all that God, who is a good and reasonable Being, can require of him.
I shall conclude this Paper, which I have written in behalf of Christianity, and against Antichristianism, with another Divine Saying of our Blessed Saviour: He that speaketh of himself, seeks his own Glory; but he that seeks his Glory that sent him, the same is true, and no Unrighteousness is in him. As if he had said, “Hereby you may distinguish one that comes from God, from an Impostor: If any Man seek his own Glory and Authority, you may conclude, that God has not sent him; but whatever he pretends, that he speaks of himself, preaches himself, and from himself: But he that seeks the Honour of God, and not his own Interest, Advantage and Authority, by directing Men to the Authority of God alone; that Man has no Falshood, no Design to deceive; you may conclude him to be no Deceiver or Impostor.”
The followingQueries,andLettersto a Clergyman, written by the Author of the foregoing Paper, and never before printed, are thought proper to be here inserted.
Queries concerning Authority in Matters of Faith.
1. IS there any Authority among Men in Matters of Faith?
2.Wherein does that Authority consist?
3.Who are the Men that have that Authority? and particularly, Who are the Men that have that Authority in China, Turkey, France, Scotland, England, Hanover, Holland, and Sweden?
4.Have Men in one Country Authority over others in another Country in Matters of Faith? And who are those Men that have that Authority?
5.Are there any Persons in the Roman Communion, who have Authority, in Matters of Faith, over the other Members of that Communion? And who are they?
6.Are there any Persons in the Communion of the Church of England, who have Authority, in Matters of Faith, over the other Members of that Communion? And who are they?
7.Have any Persons in the Roman Church Authority, in Matters of Faith, over the Members of the Church of England?
8.If some Persons of the Church of England have an Authority, in Matters of Faith, over the other Members of the Church of England; and if no Person of the Roman Church have such an Authority over the other Members of the Roman Church; what Reason can be assigned, for giving such Authority to some Persons of the Church of England, over the other Members of the Church of England, that will not equally hold for giving such Authority to some Persons in the Church of Rome, over the other Members of the Church of Rome?
9.If any Person in the Roman Church have now Authority, in Matters of Faith, over the other Members of the Roman Church; were there not Persons in the Roman Church, who had such Authority, before the Reformation?
10.Have private People in the Roman Church (that is, all but those who have an Authority in Matters of Faith) any Right to oppose those Persons in the Exercise of their Authority, who have an Authority, in Matters of Faith in that Church? Are not private People obliged to submit to such, exercising their Authority?
11.Have private People in the Church of England any Right to oppose those Persons in the Exercise of their Authority, who have an Authority in Matters of Faith, in that Church? Are not private People obliged to submit to such, exercising their Authority?
12.Have private Men in all Churches a Right to judge, whether the Matters of Faith of their Church be erroneous or no?
13.Have private Men a Right to separate from the Communion of a Church, whose Matters of Faith they judge to be erroneous?
14.Have private Men a Right to separate from the Communion of all Churches, if they deem them all erroneous in Matters of Faith?
15.Have private People, separating from the Communion of all Churches, as deeming them erroneous in Matters of Faith, a Right to form a new Church among themselves? Or ought they to live without public Worship, and without being Members of any particular Church?
16.If private Men have a Right to judge, whether the Matters of Faith received in their Church be erroneous or no; if they have a Right to separate from the Communion of a Church, whose Matters of Faith they judge to be erroneous; and from all Churches, if they deem them erroneous in Matters of Faith: And if private People have a Right to form a new Church upon such Separation from all Churches: What Authority in Matters of Faith can there be in any Persons of any Church?
17.Will it not follow, from the Answers that shall be given to the foregoing Queries, either, that there can be no Authority at all among Men in Matters of Faith; or, that all Authority in Matters of Faith rests in some Person or Persons in the Roman Church?
18.If there be an Authority in Matters of Faith in some Person or Persons of the Roman Church; must not that Person, or those Persons, be infallible in the Exercise of it; that is, Is not Infallibility a Consequence of Authority? Or, at least, must not the said Authority have the same Effect as Infallibility, namely, produce an intire Submission of Mind and Actions in the People subject to the said Authority?
19.If there be no Authority among Men in Matters of Faith; and if every Man has a Right to judge for himself in Matters of Faith; Can the Civil Magistrate have a Right to enact by Law any Articles (meaning such Articles as have no Relation to the Peace of Civil Society) as Matters of Faith, by rewarding Men to maintain them, and by punishing those who oppose them, or any way putting them upon a worse Foot for their Opposition, than other Subjects? Does he not hereby set up for an Authority in Matters of Faith, and invade the Right of private Judgment?
20.If Men have a Right of private Judgment in Matters of Faith, Ought the Civil Magistrate to hinder them from being free and impartial in the Use of their private Judgment?
21.Is being rewarded for maintaining certain Articles as Matters of Faith, and being punished, or suffering for opposing them, proper to produce a free and impartial Use of our Judgments, in relation to the Truth or Falshood of those Matters of Faith?
A Letterto a Clergyman, shewing the Impossibility of assenting to what we do not understand.
LAST Night I was surprised with yours of the 24th, relating to a Conversation between us at Mr. B——’s, (above a Year since) wherein you say, That I maintained several Paradoxes, the main whereof was, That a Mancannot possibly give his Assent to what he does not understand: But that you might possibly fall short in the Defence of what you espoused; and besides, was not solicitous what Answers you gave me; and therefore now write to me to prove the Falshood of the Paradox before-mentioned, and (if I think you fail in it) to desire me to lay your Mistakes before you.
I have read over your Letter four or five times, in order to comply with you; but not understanding what it is you say with respect to the Point in question, I cannot possibly do it: For while I understand not, I can neither submit to the Force of what you say, nor can I give you any Answer to it. Understanding is with me not only a necessary Part of religious Belief, but ought to be an Ingredient in all Reasoning, and common Discourse; and I can no more propose to talk about what I do not understand, than I can believe what I do not understand.
However, determining to write to you, I will endeavour to put you in the best Method of Conviction I am able, though without any manner of Design to convince you. For I desire you only to understand this Letter, as a Letter for a Letter.
Since you proposed to convince me of the Falshood of a Proposition which I advanced and explained at large to you, your Business was to refute it in the Sense which I explained it. But, as far as I can understand your Letter, you seem not to me to enter at all into the Question.
For,First, If you did, How could you make my Assent to Relations of Matters of Fact done before I was born, and Relations of foreign Countries which I never saw, to be proper Instances to convince me, that I can’t assent to what I do not understand; and appeal to my Experience in the Case? which I must tell you is against you: And I assure you, That I know not, that I assent to any Proposition about Facts, whether they be past or present, or about Things done at Rome or in England, but what I understand.
2dly,If you did enter into the Question, How could you imagine it incumbent on me to shew, That whatever bears no Relation to my Understanding, can bear none to any other? What has that to do with the Question in Dispute? The Question in Dispute is as consistent with our Ignorance of Ten thousand Things that exist, and with the Supposition of other Beings knowing more than we do, as any Proposition that can be advanced, and by no means supposes our Knowledge to reach the Extent of Things. What I affirm is, “That what cannot be understood by me, cannot be expressed to me in a Proposition; and what cannot be expressed to me in a Proposition, cannot be assented to by me.”
3dly,If you entered into the Question, How could you imagine these Words of St. Paul, We know in part, and we prophesy in part, to be decisive against me? Where is the Connection, We know in part, and we prophesy in part; Ergo, We can assent to what we do not understand? For my part, I am so much a Stranger to this way of arguing, that the Connection is to me as remote, as if you had argued; I am a Divine of the Church of England, as by Law established: Ergo, The Laity must assent to what they cannot understand.
But to proceed to what I principally intend: The Proposition which you call a Paradox, is, in my Opinion, self-evident to those who are capable of Thinking, and understanding the Terms; is the Foundation of all Discourse and Reasoning; and unless Two Men agree in it, they want a common Principle whereby to discourse and reason with one another, unless Discourse among Men be like Discourse among Jack-daws and Parrots, mere Sounds without Sense or Meaning (which I own is an Opinion I am not very remote from). And therefore I can think of no better way than to explain the Proposition in such a manner as you may understand it: And if what I say supposes the Thing in Dispute; viz. That you must understand what I say, before you can assent to it; I cannot help it, till I can find out a way to inform you without making you understand.
1.All Assent, whatever, is to some Proposition.
2.All Propositions whatever, whether they relate to Speculations or Matters of Fact, consist of Words or Terms that have each of them a distinct Meaning; and every Proposition must at least have Three Words or Terms, the Extremes whereof are either denied or affirmed to have some Agreement with one another.
3.Assent to a Proposition is an Assent to the Meaning, or the Thing signified by the Terms of a Proposition, and to no more than is signified by the Terms.
4.Knowing the Meaning of the Terms of a Proposition, is what I call understanding a Proposition.
All this I take to be self-evident with relation to all Propositions, whether they proceed from God or Man, whether they teach us Matter of Fact or Speculation; and to put you in a way of apprehending it, I will put Three Cases, which will comprehend the whose Dispute abont Mysteries.
First,Suppose God, for the Information of all Mankind, causes a Book to be published in Welsh, which, among others, contains the following Proposition, Three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, (each of which is perfect God by himself) constitute one God. Now the State of my Mind, with respect to this Case, while I understand not the Sense of the Words in Welsh, is, that I am ignorant of the Meaning of God’s Words, and consequently, do not assent to that Meaning, which is signified by them; but knowing God to be Truth itself, as soon as I do understand what God says, I am ready to give my Assent to it.
2dly,Let the Proposition be in English, the Case is just the same. If the Terms are used in Ten thousand Senses, and no Two English Authors agree in putting the same Sense or Meaning on them, and God does not any-where declare what he means by those Terms, I am as much at a loss as if he spoke in Welsh, and must only say, that I am ready to assent as soon as I know to what.
Thirdly and Lastly,Let us suppose, that God publishes the foregoing Proposition, and does at the same time only give us a partial and inadequate Conception of the Meaning of the Terms, in respect of what they signify in the Minds of Angels, and other Beings more enlightened than ourselves: It is evident, that our Assent can only be to what God thinks fit us reveal; what he with-holds from us, is not signified to us by those Terms; and as to that dark Part, we can only profess our Ignorance, and be ready to assent to more whenever he reveals more. And here I think it proper to answer a Question you put to me, Whether I admit or assent to any thing as true or probable, which is not in all its Parts the Object of my Understanding? To which I answer, That so much Sense and Meaning as is conveyed to me about any thing by the Terms of a Proposition, I may admit or assent to as true or probable: But that Part of any thing which is not conveyed to me by the Terms of a Proposition, is not a Part of a Proposition to me, and by consequence not the Subject of Assent.
So that, upon the Whole, I take it to be clear, self-evident Matter of Fact, that a Man cannot possibly assent to what he does not understand; and by consequence, all perfectly mysterious Propositions, and so much of any Proposition as is mysterious, are Matters about which we can exercise no other Act of our Minds but of Humility, in professing our Ignorance, and a Readiness to be informed about them.
Pursuant to these Notions, I readily profess to you, (and I think I may do it without Vanity, since it is all Mens Duty to be Christians) That I think I understand all the fundamental Articles of the Christian Faith; and that hereby I am ready to give a Reason of the Hope that is in me, and defend it against all Objections; which I think every Man is the more able to do, with respect to any Cause, the better he understands it: But how any Man can think himself a Christian, who owns that he understands not some of the Articles necessary to be believed to make him one; how he can preach a Religion to others, which he professes not to understand; that is, how he can make others understand what he does not understand himself; and how others can be persuaded to think themselves either the wiser or the better for hearing what they don’t understand, (one of which you must allow to be the End of Preaching) would be great Mysteries to me, did I not, by conversing with Mankind, see, that they generally consist of Two Sorts, learned Parrots, and unlearned Parrots: To the first whereof, Absurdity is the peculiar Privilege; and to the latter, Ignorance: For they have few or no Notions, and no Opportunity of taking those Academical Pains, which are absolutely necessary to make Men absurd to any Degree.
Another Paradox that you fansy I advanced was, That the Distinction of Things above and contrary to Reason, is a Distinction without a Difference. Whether I said so or no, I remember not: But as to the Distinction, I answer briefly, That tell me clearly and distinctly what you mean by the Words, (for I understand not your Explication of them) and then I will tell you whether it be a Distinction without a Difference. Till you define the Terms, so that I can know what you mean, I can understand nothing by them, and by consequence neither affirm nor deny any thing about that Distinction.
Though your Letter contains so much which I do not understand, yet, for your Satisfaction, I will point out some Questions started by you, which I do understand: As,
First,Whether I am sincere or no (implied in these Words, that You hope I am sincere).
2dly,Whether I was in Jest, or in Earnest (implied in your doubting whether I was serious with you).
3dly,Whether I believe the Scriptures or no (implied in your saying, If the Authority of St. Paul might decide the Controversy, I must be silenced for ever, &c.).
But these Matters being purely personal, and no ways relating to the Question, I give you no Trouble about them. Besides, they are of no Use in a private Letter, how good Arguments soever they may be thought to clear a Point in Divinity, either from the Pulpit or the Press.
I am, SIR,