Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number V.: The Unfitness of the Clergy to Teach Others. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number V.: The Unfitness of the Clergy to Teach Others. - 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 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.
[* ]Dr. Benjamin Hoadley, then Bishop of Bangor, and now Bishop of Winchester.