Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XV.: The Absurdity and Impossibility of Church-Power, as independent on the State. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XV.: The Absurdity and Impossibility of Church-Power, as independent on the State. - 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 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.
[* ]Dr. Benjamin Headley, now Bishop of Winchester.
[† ]Dr. Francis Atterbury, late Bishop of Rochester, and Dean of Westminster.