Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXXIII.: The Ignorance of the High-Church Vulgar, and its Causes. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXXIII.: The Ignorance of the High-Church Vulgar, and its Causes. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (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. 2.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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The Ignorance of the High-Church Vulgar, and its Causes.
Wednesday,August 31. 1720.
I HAVE always thought the best constituted Church in the World to be that, which forms and produces the most religious and most rational Members. Churches are Places where Men are, or should be, taught the Love of God, and of Virtue; and when People have been long used to perform divine Discipline, and, as they imagine, receive Instruction in Moral and Evangelical Duties, in these stately Fabrics, they generally conceive a deep Reverence and Devotion for the Buildings themselves, and for every thing that is said in them, as well as a great Opinion of the Wisdom and Sanctity of the Teachers, who preside there, and dictate ex Cathedra: They esteem them as Persons sent by God himself, to deliver a Message from his own Mouth; for which also they have often the Word of the Preacher—No small Reason to the Many for the believing of it!
So that here is an unaccountable Prepossession in favour of every Doctrine, or every Dream, which corrupt Priests shall think fit to deliver. And indeed, the High-Church Clergy have never failed to make their Advantage of this superstitious Awe and Credulity of their Hearers; and to sanctify every Falshood, and every Whimsy and Impiety uttered by them, with a misapplied or perverted Text of Scripture; and so prostituted and profaned the high and holy Name of God, to patronize their Impostures. I shall give some Instances.
When they have had a mind to flatter a cruel or a foolish Prince, in order to make him serve their Purposes, and do their Drudgery: they have instantly intituled him God’s Vicegerent, tho’ he acted at the same aime by the Instigation of his Lust, or of Satan. And, because David and Saul, being appointed by God himself, by Word of Mouth, were called the Lor’ds Anointed, therefore every Tyrant, who was not appointed by God himself, but seized a Crown by Violence or Surprize, became also the Lord’s Anointed. And because Adam was the Father of his own Son, therefore he was the King of his own Son; and therefore all such Kings, who had not Adam for their Father, were nevertheless, in Right of Adam, Kings and Fathers of their Subjects, who yet were not their Children, but for all that owed them the Duty of Children, whilst they were plundering and ruining them; and all the Rapine and Murders which they were prompted to commit, by their Anger or their Avarice, were called the Ordinance of God, and were to be submitted to with Christian Stupidity, on Pain of Damnation; that is, it was made Damnation to resist Actions and Cruelties which deserved Damnation. And as you were to submit to Law, and Justice, on Pain of Damnation, so ought you to submit to the overturning of all Law, and all Justice, on Pain of Damnation also. And, because, when we have any Matter of Complaint, we are bid to acquaint the Church with it; therefore the People, who are the Church, are, in every Case, to be determined by the Parson of the Parish, who is not the Church. And, because we are to confess our Sins one to another; therefore we are to do it to a Priest, which is not doing it to one another. And, because Abraham gave the Tenth of his Plunder to Melchisedek, who was not a Priest of our Church by Law Established; therefore our Established Priests, who have nothing to do with Melchisedek, nor know any thing of him, have a Divine Right to the Tenth-part of every Man’s Estate and Industry. And, as the Tribe of Levi had a Right to Tythes, though they and their Tythes are long since abolished; so ought our Parsons to have the same Tythes by the Gospel, without being in the least a kin to Aaron’s Person, or Heirs to his Estate, or Successors to his Institution. And, though our Saviour’s Kingdom is not of this World; yet the Kingdom of the High Clergy, who, if you will take their Words for it, are his Representatives, is, and ought to be, of this World. And, because the reprobate and gluttonous Monks had, by endless Rogueries, and diabolical Lyes, plunder’d the deluded Laity of their Possessions, and engrossed to themselves most of the Lands of England; therefore our Modern High Priests have a natural and hereditary Right to enjoy the same: And though they have, upon Oath, renounced all Power, and all Pretence to Power, but what the Law vouchsafes to grant them; yet they have a Power independent on the Law, and Principles independent on these very Oaths, though renounced by these very Oaths.
All these, and many more Absurdities, equally vile and impudent, have been blasphemously fathered upon Scripture, and the Author of Scripture; though they all contradict the Scripture, as well as they do common Sense, and common Honesty, But as the Vulgar do always take that to be the highest Point of Religion, about which their Teachers make the most Noise; for the Time being, whether it be Tythe, or Dr. Sacheverel, or the Pretender, or the late Duke of Ormond, or King Charles the First; so vicious and corrupt Clergymen, on their part, have always tacked the Name of God, or, which is much more powerful with the Mob, the Name of the Church, to any Assertion, or any Claim, or any Invention of theirs, be it ever so monstrous, or mischievous; and instantly it becomes, with weak People, an Article of Faith, upon which Salvation itself depends. For, as it is their first Care to force a Testimony from Heaven for every Whim or Forgery of theirs; so their next Concern is to make every Contradiction and Opposition to it damnable.
Hence it comes to pass, that the same Virtues are not of the same Importance at all Times; but Virtues are made Vices, and Vice is made Virtue, just as the present Temper, or the present Views prevail; and, by corrupt Priests, Things are often taught under the Name of Christianity, which are opposite to the Nature of Christianity: Religion is pretended, and Power meant. In consequence of this, Duty is converted into Sin, and Sin into Duty. Thus, the worshipping of God according to one’s Conscience, without which there can be no Worship, is made by the High-Church Priests a damnable Sin; and the not worshipping a Table in the Chancel, though in Opposition to one’s Conscience, is as bad. Sometimes the resisting of unlawful Power, is certain Damnation; and sometimes the not rebelling against the most lawful Power, has the same terrible Penalty annexed to it. To doubt or deny their uncharitable, unintelligible Explications of Mystery, which cannot be explained, is the most heinous Atheism; and to whip a seditious, forsworn Priest, is crying Infidelity, and a Wound to Christ, through the Sides of his Embassador.
At one Time, Predestination is of high Consequence, and made an Article of Faith, and all Free-willers should be banished the Land, or locked up in Dungeons, like wild Beasts; which was the Judgment of the Bishops in King James the First’s Days, concerning the Arminians. At a different Season, when Preferments run high on the other Side, as in King Charles the First’s Reign, and ever since; Arminianifm not only recovers Credit, but grows modish, and consequently Orthodox; while Predestination becomes an old-fashion’d Piece of Faith, and a sure Sign of Fanaticism: And yet it continues one of the XXXIX. Articles, and yet it must not be believed, and yet it must be signed and assented to with a sincere Assent.
In all these Marches and Counter-marches, the Passions of too many of the People keep pace with those of the High Priests; and they are constantly disposed to be Slaves or Rebels, Free-willers, or No-willers, Believers of this, or Believers of that, just as Almighty High-Church commands them.
Such Men do not pretend to teach their People the Meekness of Christianity: — No, their Zeal is to be Anger, and their Religion Cruelty. That Fierceness, which is inconsistent with the Spirit of a Christian, is to be the certain Criterion of one whom they call a true Churchman; and that Mercy, which is inseparable from the Gospel, is inconsistent with the Temper of High-Church. Their Votaries are not taught to be Christians, which would spoil the Project, but High-Churchmen; and instead of an Army of Martyrs, they are to be an Army of Martyr-makers. Nor is any Portion of Knowledge fit for them; for that might endanger the Loss of their Vassalage; and the teaching them to know for themselves, might extinguish their Zeal, and intirely change their Belief and Behaviour. The poor People are, in short, by such Guides taught to be ignorant, and to let others know for them: They must give up common Sense to learn their Duty; and abandon Christianity, without which they cannot have the Grace of God, to embrace rigid Conformity, which is neither a Sign, nor a Cause, of that Grace, but often a Bar and a Contradiction to it. This is so true, that whoever can reconcile Human Authority to Christian Charity, may reconcile Water and Fire, or do any other Impossibility.
Tenderness and Moderation to those who devoutly differ from us, though they are evident Principles and Duties of Christianity, and even the Result of Reason, Justice, and Humanity, yet are never mentioned by the Mouth of Orthodoxy, but as Terms of Contempt or Reproach: Insomuch that a pious Indulgence to Men of a different Communion, the most honest, virtuous, inoffensive Men; and an Indulgence for the invincible, and perhaps rational Persuasions of the Mind, is the common Topic of Satire, and either ridiculed or reviled; whilst Men of the same Side may go what Lengths they will in Violence and Villainy, without Anger or Rebuke: And while one Man shall have his House burned, his Brains beat out, and his Family ruined, for having a scrupulous Conscience, which is much more offensive than none at all; another Man shall break all the Ten Commandments with Reputation.
Hatred, and Bitterness of Spirit, are the first Lessons which the unhappy People are taught by such Men; and the Gospel must be laid aside, and Good-nature be extinguished, before modern Orthodoxy can be swallowed, or modern Zeal infused. Some of them may probably have learned to repeat the Catechism by Rote, and even to have practised profound Respect and Submission to their Spiritual Superiors; but for the great and indispensable Duties of Religion, how can it be expected, that they should mind them, while they daily see their Teachers express a much more warm Concern for their own Dignities and Revenues, than for the Honour and Interest of pure unmixed Religion, which was ever highest when Ecclesiastical Power, and Ecclesiastical Excise, were lowest?
When a Congregation sees the Doctor much warmer against Dissenters, than against Sin, and not half so zealous for the absolute Necessity of a virtuous and sober Life, as for the absolute Necessity of a rigid Conformity; what can they conclude, but either that he derides them, or that a stupid Compliance with him, and a raging Resentment against Nonconformists, are the great Duties of Churchmen? Add to this, that if his Life be vicious, such a Conclusion is still the more natural to vulgar Understandings. When they see Church-Power so violently contented for, and Gospel-Holiness so little regarded, or so easily dispensed with; what can their stupid Understandings infer, but that a blind Submission to the Ecclesiastics is beyond all evangelical Grace, and every moral Virtue? They find by daily Experience, that they may commit Drunkenness or Whoredom with Impunity, or at small Expence; but if they do not give the Doctor what he calls his Due, even to the last Sheaf of Corn, or the last Pound of Wool, they are exposed in the Pulpit, harassed in the Bishops-Court, and probably, at last, surrendered to Satan and Damnation.
Besides, they oftener hear Texts quoted, in some Pulpits, to abuse Separatists, than to recommend Godliness and Virtue; and see the Mode of performing a Duty more vehemently urged, than the Duty itself: Thus Kneeling at the Lord’s Supper is made by many of equal Importance with the Sacrament itself; and the Cross in Baptism must no more be parted with, than the Ordinance of Baptism.
It is therefore no Wonder, that the Affections and Antipathies of the common People have neither proper Causes, nor proper Objects; and that they neither love the Gospel as such, nor hate Sin as such; but form their Faith and Devotion upon the Word and Behaviour of their Priests, who have the keeping of their Religion, their Zeal, and their Passions. And what hopeful Use they make of this terrible Dominion, we all know: For indeed the Christian Religion is not so much as known to the High-Church Vulgar, nor suffer’d to be known; and as little do they feel, or are suffered to feel, the tender Impulses of Good nature and Humanity; but possess an Implacableness of Spirit, as opposite to the Spirit of Christ, as was the Spirit of Mahomet to that of Moses.