Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXXI.: Of Ceremonies. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXXI.: Of Ceremonies. - 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, August 17. 1720.
PLainness and Simplicity are not more inseparable Marks of Truth, than they are of true Religion, which wants neither Paint nor Pageantry to recommend itself to the Hearts of Men. It wins the Affections, by the Force of its Persuasions; and the Understanding, by the Reasonableness of its Precepts. It abhors Violence, as opposite to its Nature; and despises Art and Policy, as below its Dignity. Human Ornaments may hide and disfigure, but cannot preserve nor improve its intrinsic Beauty, and divine Lustre: And Pomp and Grimace, as they are no-wise a-kin to it, so neither are they the Effects of it, nor bring any Advantage to it. On the contrary, they tend to fill the Mind with gross Ideas, or sullen Fear; and so create Superstition instead of Piety, and Farce instead of Worship.
God himself has told us, that he will be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth: Which shews, that Love and Sincerity constitute Devotion, and that Religion resides in the Mind. As to bodily Religion, and corporeal Holiness, the Gospel is silent about them; leaving every one at full Liberty to behave his own way in the Practice of Piety.
It is justly esteemed the Glory and Felicity of the Christian Religion, that by it we are released from that grievous Yoke and Bondage of Ceremonies, which neither we nor our Fathers were able to bear. It is a Religion of Reason, void of all Superfluities, and trifling Impertinences.
Men cannot judge of one another’s Thoughts and Inclinations, but by Words and Actions: And, because it would be both troublesome and silly to be on every Occasion haranguing our Friends and Superiors, upon the profound Veneration which we profess for their Persons or Characters; it has become necessary to agree upon some outward Forms, to denote internal Respect. And this I take to be the only good Reason which can be given for such Manner of Address or Ceremony. It is ridiculous, either by Sounds or Gestures, to tell a Man over and over again, what he knows already; and therefore, the most intimate Friends, and old Acquaintance, make but little Use of Shew or Compliment; and those who make most, are ever found the least sincere. But how senseless and absurd must it be to entertain Heaven with such Grimaces! that Heaven, which searches our Hearts, and knows our most hidden Thoughts; and will not be deceived by outward, arbitrary and fallacious Marks of inward Disposition!
It can never be conceived, that the All-merciful and Omniscient God should, by the sending of his Son, abolish, or suffer to be abolished, the whole Jewish Legion of Ceremonies, though appointed by himself in Person; and should graciously condescend to establish a new Dispensation, destitute of all Ceremony, and exterior Grandeur; and yet should leave it to the Ambition of designing Men, or to the Folly of weak ones, to invent and impose a fresh Load of Rituals, in Opposition to the plain Genius of the Gospel. This would be for the All-merciful to be merciful in vain; for the Creator to resign his Power to the Creature; and for God to recall his own Injunctions, which he once gave for a gracious and wise End, since ceased, that Men may enforce theirs, for a weak or a wicked one.
Nothing is, or can be, pure Religion, but either what God commands and tells us he will accept; or what is dictated by eternal Reason, which is the Law of Nature: And whatever is superadded, however dignified by a venerable Name, is no Part of true Religion; which, as has been said, can be supported by nothing but Divine Revelation, or Divine Reason. When both these are wanting, we wander in the Dark, and worship blindfold; being led by the Hand of Conjecture and Invention, which are uncertain and endless.
This is so true, that where-ever there is true Religion, there are few Ceremonies: And, on the other hand, where Ceremonies abound, there Religion is either utterly lost, or miserably decayed; and, in Popish Countries, it is more or less visible, according as Ceremonies and Bigotry (which, like Cause and Effect, go always Hand in Hand) are more or less practised or promoted. Thus, in France, where, through the Commerce of that Kingdom with Protestants, there are still some Remains of common Sense, and consequently of Religion; God Almighty is worshipped as well as dead Men, though not so much: Whereas, in Italy and Spain, the Saints have deprived their Maker of all Devotion; and the Blessed Virgin, St. Dominic, St. Jago, and St. Antony, are, by these hot-headed Bigots, made Governors of Heaven and Earth, and the Givers of eternal Life; and consequently are become, next immediately after the Priests, the only Objects of their Adoration. If you deprive them of their Saints and their Ceremonies, there is not the least Face of Religion left amongst them.
So little has Christianity gained by Ceremonies, that a great Part of Mankind have, by adopting them, banished all true Religion. If they were introduced, as it is alleged, to kindle Piety; I am sorry to say; it has so happened, that this Heat of Devotion has quite drank up the Truth and Vitals of Religion; and the blind Compliance with a senseless Cringe, invented and injoined by a Popish Priest, is made of more Importance and Merit, than the Possession of all Moral and Christian Virtues, without it. Religion, good Sense, and Humanity, are inseparable Friends; but a superstitious Fondness for Ceremonies is a Contradiction, and an Affront to all the Three.
The Teachers of Mankind have, for the greatest Part, been the most unteachable of all Men; and these our Guides to Peace have been always the foremost to break it. They have seen, from time to time, the Violence and ungodly Effects produced by their Contention for human Forms, Habits, and Decisions; and yet, where the religious Laity and the Law did not interpose, to restrain this unchristian Behaviour in Churchmen, they have not only still adhered with Obstinacy to their Inventions and Impositions, but frequently made it their Business to broach new ones, and to throw about fresh Balls of Strife and Cruelty.
Ceremonies were first brought in under a very plausible Pretence; namely, that of aiding and promoting Religion. But we have seen, by above a Thousand Years Experience, that these its pretended Friends always become its real Rivals, and successful Enemies; and, by the Help of those, whose Interest it was to contrive and support them at any rate, never failed to banish it as far away as their Power extended.
It is pretended, that the Invention of stated Ceremonies and Garments is justified by these Words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Let all Things be done decently, and in Order. Which Words are only a Precept to avoid Immodesty and Confusion, in their religious Assemblies. Two, for Example, were not to speak at the same time: One was not to sing Psalms, while another prayed. Neither Love nor Trade was to be the Business of their Meetings; nor Tythes and their own Power the Drist and Business of the Preachers: Christ was not to be confounded with Belial; nor Pride and Dominion with Meekness and Christianity: Exhorting was not to be mixed with Railing, nor Praying with Cursing; nor were the People to be taught to hate one another: In short, God was to be adored with the Heart and Affections, and not with a Fiddle, or a Pipe and Tabor.
I do not find, that the Apostle’s Words were understood in any other Sense than this, by those to whom they were addressed: It does not appear, that immediately upon the Sight of St. Paul’s Epistle, the Corinthians concluded, that Prayers should be said in Surplices; and that the Faithful, as soon as the Word was given, should kneel, stoop and stand, or turn to the Right or Left, like a File of Musqueteers; or that they were to nod towards the East, as if the Almighty kept his Court only there.
Nor were the Corinthians directed by this Text to play Popish Tricks over the Forehead of a Babe baptized, as sure and certain Signs of Regeneration: Nor were they commanded to put up their Petitions in Quavers, and to sing their Prayers as well as say them; nor was that subtle Distinction then and there found out, of bowing at the Name of Jesus, but not at the Name of Christ, or of God.
All these pretty Fashions were unknown to the Apostle and his Correspondents; and their Genteelness and Significancy have been long since discovered by the Romish Clergy in the latter Days; and indeed, it is now become impossible to make one’s Court well without them.
The Words Decorum and Significancy, which are made use of to justify the Celebration of Ceremonies, are Words of such prodigious Latitude, that the World does not agree, nor ever can agree, what it is that does come properly under their Denomination, and what does not. With the Turks, it is decent to be covered at Devotion; with us, to be bare-headed. How is the wearing of a Perriwig, or a Cap, more decent and orthodox than the wearing of a Hat? How is a Prunella Gown, or a Lawn Frock, more significant than a Cloth Coat? Is God Almighty better pleased with a Cambrick Band than with a Muslin Cravat? And is an Organ-Loft more acceptable to him than plain Country Piety, that has neither Motion nor Music in it?
If Men be at Liberty to invent and injoin One unnecessary Ceremony, Why not Two? And if Two, Why not Two thousand? When such a Power is once granted, it cannot be easily, nor indeed reasonably, limited. If the Clergy can oblige me to throw my Head into my Bosom, upon their pronouncing certain Sounds; they may, by the same Right, upon pronouncing different Sounds, oblige me to run it against a Stone Wall: Nay, which is still worse, whoever has an Authority to direct my Manner of Worship, must have also a Power to direct the Matter of it, and may command me Whom to worship as well as How.
Superstition in the People, and Power in the Priests, were the true Ends and Consequences of creating Popish Ceremonies; for as to their Significancy, it was a mere Bubble and Pretence. Such a Plea would justify endless Phrensy and Fooleries; and every Madness would be made a Mystery. For Instance, we might be made to walk bare-footed into the Church, to signify the Sanctity of the Place; and to crawl upon all Four out of it, to signify the Humiliation of our Hearts. A Match of Cudgel-playing every Sunday might be instituted, to signify our spiritual Warfare; and a Game at Blindman’s-buff, to signify the Darkness of our Understandings. In short, any thing might be made to signify every thing; and any Punishment be inflicted upon the profane Gainsayer: And upon this foot may be justified all the Pagan and Popish Fopperies that ever were, or ever could be, invented; and nothing can be said against all the many Garments, and many Colours, and many antic Gestures used by the Romish Priests at this Day.
It must be evident to every intelligent Man, that all this pretty Pageantry and Raree-shew can never make Men more acceptable to God, who will not be gratified or obliged by a Jigg, or a Tune. But, I believe I may safely affirm, that if all this Merry-making, and jovial Devotion, in the Popish Churches, do no manner of Good, they must needs do Harm, because they divert the Mind from deliberate Devotion, and calm Repentance, and can at best only work it up to a wild and enthusiastic Worship.
However, though this pompous Parade in Piety does no Service to Religion, it effectually answers the End proposed by it; and contributes vastly, as every thing else does, to the Advancement and Grandeur of the Romish Clergy, as it turns Mens Thoughts from divine Objects to a superstitious Veneration for Postures, Habits, Grimaces, Cringes, Utensils, &c. all invented by Priests, who are always sure to appoint themselves Masters of the Ceremonies, and to be well paid for their deep Knowledge in this momentous Science. Besides, it lists into their Service great Numbers of People; such as Organists, Fiddlers, Singing-men, with all the piping and chanting Crew, as well as Artificers of various Kinds. It engages Men of Pleasure, and Ladies, in their Interests; it catches the Multitude by the Ears, and the Eyes, and sets them a staring; and it alleviates their own Drudgery of frequent Preaching and Praying: It also serves the Purposes of Interludes in the perpetual Tragedies they are acting; which they render less terrible, by playing, like Nero, upon their Harps, in the midst of Conflagrations of their own making.
What a Blessing is it to this Church and Kingdom, that all this Farce in Devotion is forbidden by the Act of Uniformity, as well as by our Homilies! As shall be further taken notice of, when I treat again upon the same Subject.