Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number IX.: Of the Clearness of Scripture. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number IX.: Of the Clearness of Scripture. - 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 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.