Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXIV.: Of Persecution. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXIV.: Of Persecution. - 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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Wednesday, June 29. 1720.
THERE are but Two Ways of propagating Religion, namely, Miracles and Exhortation. The one depends upon Divine Power, and the other upon the Strength of Reason. Where the Finger of God appears, all further Testimony is needless; and where the Truth is obvious to Reason, Miracles are needless. God never wills us to believe that which is above our Reason, but he at the same time commands our Faith by Miracles. He does not leave necessary Things doubtful; and for this Reason alone it is, that Men are said to be left without Excuse.
Every Point of Belief therefore must be supported either by Reason or Miracle, or else it is no Point of Belief at all. Both the Jewish and the Christian Law were delivered and enforced with manifest Signs and Demonstrations of God’s extraordinary Presence and Power. And it has been very justly boasted of the Christian Religion in particular, that it spread and prospered by Miracles, Persuasion, and Clemency, in Opposition to Violence and Cruelty.
But when Christianity became tainted and defaced by Priestcraft, it grew necessary to have many Points believed, which contradicted both Revelation and common Sense: Therefore its Foster-Fathers, who to the Worship of God added the Worship of themselves, had no other way to prove their System but by Wrath and Vengeance. Reason was against them, and Miracles not for them: So their whole Dominion stood upon Falshood, guarded by Force. This Force, when it is exercised upon a religious Account, is called Persecution; which is what I am now to consider and expose.
To punish Men for Opinions that are even plainly false and absurd, is barbarous and unreasonable. We possess different Minds, as we do different Bodies; and the same Proposition carries not the same Evidence to every Man alike, no more than the same Object appears equally clear to every Eye. A choleric Temper, when it is not corrected with Reason, and seasoned with Humanity, is naturally zealous. A phlegmatic Temper, on the other side, as it is naturally slow, so it is lukewarm and indifferent. Is there any Merit in having a warm Complexion, or any Sin in being dull?
But further, to punish a Man for not seeing the Truth, or for not embracing it, is, in the first place, to make him miserable, because he is already so; and in the second place, to pluck Vengeance out of God’s Hands, to whom alone it belongs, if we will take his own Word for it. If this Severity is pretended to be for his Good, I would ask, Is manifest Cruelty any Token of Kindness? or was it ever taken for such? Does it not always increase the Evil, which it is employed to cure? Is Destruction the Means to Happiness? Absurd and terrible!
But what if, after all, the Person persecuted should be found an Adherent to Truth and Honesty, and his Enemies should prove their Enemies? Would not this be adding Cruelty to Falshood, and heaping up Guilt with both Hands? This indeed is often the Case. And where it is not altogether so, the Persecutors are still inexcusable. He who, in the Search of Truth, does all that he can, does as much as he ought. God requires no more; and what Man dares do it, who fears Him? When He acquits, Who is it that condemns?
Besides, he that suffers, or at least dies, for Religion, gives a Testimony by so doing, that his Conscience is dearer to him than Ease or Interest: Whereas the Patrons of Persecution have manifestly personal Motives and Self-Ends in it. It gratifies their Pride, awes Mankind, and brings them Obedience and Gain.
Our blessed Saviour, who had no View but the Redemption of the World, never used his Omnipotence, or the least Force, to subdue his Enemies, though he knew their Hearts to be malicious and implacable. He neither delivered them to Death nor the Devil, even for their hellish Designs to kill him; much less for Points of Error or Speculation. He reasoned with all Men; but punished none. He used Arguments, he worked. Wonders; but Severities he neither practised nor recommended. His was a different Spirit. He rebukes his Apostles with Sharpness, when, being yet full of the Spirit of this World, and void of the Spirit of God, they were for bringing down Fire from Heaven upon the Heretical Samaritans. The merciful Jesus would not hurt these half Heathens, though they rejected him in Person; for he came not to destroy Mens Lives, but to save them: And they who take another Method, give the Lye to the Lord of Life, and disown him for their Head.
His Apostles, as soon as they had received the Holy Ghost, grew wiser and more merciful. They shewed by Miracles, that they were endowed with the Divine Power; but they never used either to compel or to burn, though they were beset with false Teachers, and opposed by Gainsayers. They were so far from giving ill Usage, that they never returned it. The Exercise of wholsome Severities was no Part of their Doctrine. Prayers and Persuasions were their only Arms, and such as became the Gospel of Peace.
This was the mild and heavenly Behaviour of Christ, and his Apostles, towards those who did not believe, or believed wrong; and it was followed by all their Successors, who aimed at the Good of Souls. But those who used the Sacred Function as a Ladder to Power and Gain, made a new Gospel of their own Decisions, and forced it upon the World, partly by Fighting, and partly by Cursing. The Apostles taught Christ, and their Successors taught themselves. It was not enough to believe the Doctrine of Christianity, but you must believe it in Words of their inventing. To dispute their Decrees, though they contradicted common Sense, and the Spirit of God, was Heresy; and Heresy was Damnation. And when, in consequence of this, they had allotted a pious Christian to eternal Flames, for his Infidelity in them, they dispatched him thither with all Speed; because he was to be damned in the other World, therefore he was to be hanged of burned in this. A terrible Gradation of Cruelty! to be cursed, burned, and damned! But it was something natural; it began from persecuting Priests, and ended in Hell, and the Devil was the last and highest Executioner.
Thus they became Prelates of both Worlds, and Proprietors of the Punishments of both. Even where the Civil Sword was not at their Command, their Vengeance was as successfully, and, in my Opinion, more terribly, executed without it, by the temporal Effect of their Excommunication. For the Person under it was looked upon as a Dæmon, and one in the Power of the Devil; and so driven out, like a wild Beast, from all the Comforts of Life, and human Society; to perish in a Desart, by Hunger, or the Elements, or Beasts of Prey. And all this, perhaps, for denying a Word, or a Phrase, which was never known in Scripture, though impudently pretended to be fetched from thence.
Such dreadful Dominion had they usurped over the Bodies and Souls of Men, and so implacably did they exercise it! And, to fill up the Measure of their Falshood and Cruelty, they blasphemously pretended to be serving God, when they were acting as if there were none.
Those who set up for Infallibility have found a good Excuse, if it were true, for the insupportable Tyranny, infinite Murders, and wide Devastations, which their Religion has every-where introduced. But those, who exact a blind Obedience to Decrees, which they own to be human, and annex Penalties to Positions, which we know to be false, and they know to be disputable; and, in fine, act and dictate as if they were infallible, without pretending to be so; are so utterly without all Excuse, that I know no Language which affords a Name proper for their Behaviour.
TheMahometan Imposture was professedly to be spread by the Sword. It had nothing else but that and Libertinism to recommend it. But to propagate the Christian Religion by Terror or Arms, is to deny it. It owns no such Spirit. It rendered itself amiable, and gained Ground, by a Principle of Peace and Love. These were the Means instituted by Christ, for the Recommendation and Defence of his Gospel; and they, who would chuse contrary ones, charge him with Folly, and have Ends to serve very different from his. Ambition, Pride, and Revenge, may make good Use of Violence and Persecution; but they are the Bane of Christianity, which always sinks when Persecution rises. The vilest and most profligate Men are ever the greatest Promoters of it; and the most virtuous are the greatest Sufferers by it. Libertines stick at nothing, but they who have the Fear of God, cannot comply with all Things.
Persecution is therefore the War of Craft against Conscience, and of Impiety against Truth. Reason, Religion, and Liberty, are its great Foes; but Ignorance, Tyranny, and Atheism, its great Seconds and Support. We ought then constantly to oppose all Claims of Dominion in the Clergy; for they naturally end in Cruelty. I believe it will be hard to shew, that ever the Priesthood, at any Time, or in any Place, enjoyed the Power of Persecution, without making use of it.