Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXVI.: Of Faith and Morality. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXVI.: Of Faith and Morality. - 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, July 13. 1720.
REligion and Virtue consist in doing good Actions, or in a Disposition to do them. These being in our Power, as we perform or neglect them, we merit Praise or Blame. But in Matters of Speculation, or Doubt, or such as are not necessarily attended with some Consequences, it is of no Moment on which Side of the Question we stand. Where there is no Certainty, or Significancy, there can be no Duty. Faith without Works, in Scripture, has but a very indifferent Character: It is said to be dead; and we all know, that what is dead, is useless.
If you would know any Man’s Affections towards God, consult his Behaviour towards Men. Though his Professions be ever so voluminous; though his Zeal be ever so noisy; though he believe by the Lump, and swallow Creeds by Dozens; yet if he be immoral, he is worse than an Infidel. What is the Use of Belief, but to govern our Practice, and beget good Deeds? We all see the Necessity of living well; but to believe well, and do no more, is the same Thing, with regard to others, as not to believe at all: And, with regard to ourselves, worse.
A worthy Life infers worthy Principles; but a base Behaviour contradicts and dishonours an honest Profession. Will any one tell me, that a virtuous Heathen is not a better Man, and more in the Favour of God, than a profligate Christian? A Pagan, who violates not the Laws of Truth and Peace, is, in my Eyes, an infinitely more religious Person, than a turbulent and forsworn Christian Priest, though he wear a Mitre.
SOCRATES, Plato, Cato, and Brutus, were excellent Persons, though they were only governed by the simple Dictates of human Reason, and were utter Strangers to Creeds and Fathers, and our present Orthodox Notions established by Law. Who, that has any Care for his Soul, any Honour for his God, or any Love for Mankind, would not rather chuse to be animated by the rational and beneficent Sentiments of these righteous Gentiles, than he possessed with the fierce and inhuman Spirit of Father Laud, Frier Francis, or Doctor Bungy, though they were all sound Believers? I would have mentioned Aristotle here with the other Antients; but I find, that though he was very Orthodox, and a great Enemy to Dr. Clarke’s Arian Principles* , yet this true Believer was a very wicked Liver. However, as a true Friend to the Church, he died the Death of the Righteous, and, ’tis said, enjoys everlasting Life† .
Besides; saying, is not proving. If we would be thought Christians, we ought to shew ourselves Christians. Living well, is the best and only Evidence we can give, that we believe well. If a Man profess his Faith in Jesus Christ with one Breath, and swear falsly by his Name with another, Why should I give credit to one who so effectually contradicts himself? We do not credit the Propositions of Mathematicians, till they have gained our Assent by Demonstration: And why should we trust any Man’s Professions of Faith and Morality, before he has, by Works of Faith and Morality, proved them sincere? If we hear a Man full of the Praises of Loyalty, and yet see him every Day rebelling, would we not take him for a Madman, or a Deceiver? A good Life is beneficial both to ourselves and others, but a good Belief, without it, is neither.
But besides, this same Belief is perhaps the necessary Consequence of Evidence; and if so, what is unavoidable, is not virtuous. Where is the Praise or Merit of feeling the Heat of the Sun, or the Severity of the Winter; or of hearing Sounds, when our Ears are open? To believe in Christ was and is inevitable: His Miracles command Assent. But to do his Will, is a Trial of our Piety and Virtue. And for our Saviour himself, would his Law have been ever received, or his Doctrine believed, had he contradicted both by his Example? Or could the Apostles, without leading the Lives of Christians, have gained Converts to Christianity?
I have placed Faith and Practice in this Light, to shew how little valuable the Pretence of believing well makes Men, unless they also live well. I would therefore bring our High Clergy to be tried by this Test. If they be more zealous for Orthodoxy than Piety; if they abhor a virtuous Man, who prefers the Dictates of his own Conscience before those of their Ambition and Authority; and openly court and honour any Person, who is observant of the Priesthood, though he live at manifest Defiance with Heaven; if they treat Unbelievers and Debauchees as pure Churchmen, and devout Christians as Schismatics, Heretics, and the Lord knows what; their Faith is selfish and vain, and such Religion is false and absurd.
Conformity is the Word! It is the Mother of all Virtues, and the Sanctifier of all Crimes. It is, in fine, All in All. And yet, so weak and blind am I, that I take this same applauded Conformity to be in some Cases a very great Sin. If a Man, for Instance, in the Worship of God, follow the Authority of any Church whatsoever, and dissent, at the same time from the Suggestions and Persuasions of his own Conscience; it is certain, that he does not worship God at all, but mocks him; adores Men, and condemns himself. If, on the other hand, he think his Soul in Danger, or in no way of being edified in any Church, though ever so Orthodox; he ought to desert it, and join with that which appears to him better. If I should thwart or disturb my Conscience, by bowing fashionably to the Altar, I would ask the Clergy, Whether ought the Altar, or my Conscience, to be first or most regarded? He who believes at random, and obeys blindly, may give great Satisfaction to Churchmen; but he neither knows the Gospel of Truth, nor obeys the Precepts of the Holy Ghost.
It is a surprising Thing, the Selfishness and Pride of Man. What Priest is there, that (in Disputes of the most trivial Nature) does not grow hot and eager for Victory, and angry if his Opinion does not prevail? In Spiritual Affairs, this Spirit of levelling all Men to our own Conceits, is still fiercer; and Religion, which was given and intended to subdue the Passions, is turned into an Engine to raise them. We are much more zealous, that Men should conform to us, than to Holiness; and would rather have them obedient, than godly. How many High-Church Parsons would not rather see their Parishioners drunken Churchmen, than sober Dissenters!
Laymen are at least as capable of judging of Error as the Clergy, and more proper, as having no Interest on either Side of the Question. However, the latter have usurped this Privilege wholly to themselves, and with good Policy; for it has wonderfully answered their great Ends of Power and Wealth. We are not therefore to wonder, that many of them give much more Countenance and Quarter to the most heinous Immoralities, which are only Sins against God, than to the least Variation from an Orthodox Opinion, which is an unpardonable Sin against themselves. The greatest Mistakes, when involuntary, are innocent in the Sight of God; but in the Eyes of the Priests, the smallest are often damnable. Nay, many a Man has been pronounced a Heretic, and delivered to Hell and the Devil, for his pious Searches after Truth, and his devout Adherence to it.
Thus we see, that God may be pleased, and some of the Clergy provoked, by one and the same Action. From hence it wofully happens, that weak Men and Profligates, who will do and say as they are bid, without any Biass from Reason and Conscience, are caressed, encouraged and promoted; while the Wise and Virtuous, who cannot abandon Truth, and the Fear of God, to promote the Craft, and humour the Pride, of assuming Men, are brow-beaten, reproached, and persecuted. Mr. Whiston, and the Parson of his Parish* , are known Instances of this shameful Truth.
I know several, who, notwithstanding their avowed Disbelief of the Gospel, and all Revealed Religion, are in high Esteem with the High Clergy; because, though they deny our Saviour, they reverence his Successors; and are zealous for the Hierarchy, though they laugh at Religion. The Truth is, if a Man be but a hearty Churchman, it is never asked whether he be a Christian. Profligates, void of common Honesty, and common Sense, have been, and are still, reckoned true Friends to the Church, and courted by the Ecclesiastics, as their Patrons and Defenders. And indeed, where Religion is turned into Faction, such Measures and Alliances are natural and necessary.
But in the Opinion of us Christians, a wicked Liver, whether he be a Believer or no, is an Enemy to Religion, which is propagated and supported by Example; and to human Society, which is maintained by the Bonds of Morality. Whereas a good Man, though a Heretic, is a Friend to Religion, Virtue, and his Country. To conclude: He who is a Rebel to the King of Kings, is like to prove but an ill Subject to his Vicegerent; and as bad a Pattern to his Fellow-subjects.
[* ]Emanuel de Moura, and some other Orthodox Writers say, that Aristotle was a steady Believer of the Trinity.
[† ]This is the Opinion of Sepulveda, a learned Man in the 16th Century.
[* ]St. Andrew’s Holbourn, where the late Dr. Sacheverell was then Rector.