Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number VIII.: Of Uninterrupted Succession. P t . II. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number VIII.: Of Uninterrupted Succession. P t . II. - 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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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.