Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXXVI.: Of the Peace of the Church. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXXVI.: Of the Peace of the Church. - 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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Of the Peace of the Church.
Wednesday,September 21. 1720.
IT is a shameful Insult upon our Understandings, that of sanctifying the most wicked Purposes, and most cruel Actions, with the most honest and innocent Names; and yet nothing is more frequently practised. Thus the worthy Name of Ruler shall be prostituted and pronounced aloud, to palliate, and even to justify, the Barbarities of a Tyrant; and that peaceable Word Obedience shall be forced to signify an unmanly and unnatural Patience of Servitude.Laws, which were intended to protect and encourage good Men, and to restrain and punish ill ones, are often perverted into deadly Instruments in the Hands of Robbers and Usurpers, against the Virtuous and the Harmless; and the Means of Preservation are turned into Engines of Destruction. The Lord’s Anointed, a Phrase which at first signified only a Man approved and chosen by God himself to be the Ruler of his People, has been since wrested to mean an over-grown Plunderer, who chose himself to be a Destroyer of God’s People.
These are some Instances of the Abuse of Words in civil Life. In Religion, the Abuse has been, if possible, still greater; of which I have given already many Proofs, and shall continue to give more in the Course of these Papers. I shall at present confine myself to a Phrase, which is indeed a very good one, but which I have never known applied to a good Purpose in my Time, nor at any Time before; I mean that of the Peace of the Church.
By the Peace of the Church, when it is taken in a rational and warrantable Sense, I take to be meant no more than this, namely, That any Number of People, who have agreed among themselves upon Terms of religious Communion, shall quietly enjoy the sacred Privilege of meeting together to worship God; and whoever disturbs them, let his Title or Pretensions be what they will, is a Breaker of the Peace of the Church. Or if any other Society greater than the former, and of longer Standing, think fit to be provoked at this religious Indulgence, and call it a Breach of the Peace of the Church, they bring home the Charge upon themselves, who, by breaking the Peace of the Church, mean only the not submitting to their own proud Spirit, which finds Peace only in the Exercise of successful Tyranny. Or if the smaller Society should usurp Dominion over the Thoughts of its own Members, and demand of them a Belief contrary to the Light of their Minds, or a Behaviour contrary to the Dictates and Conviction of their Consciences; they justify the Claims of the greater Society over themselves, and leave themselves without Excuse for having left it.
A Man, who leaves the Communion of any particular Church, does no more break the Peace of that Church, than a Man, who leaves the Realm, breaks the Peace of the Realm; or than a Man breaks the Peace of a Family, who, whilst the rest dine upon Flesh, does himself dine separately upon Fish. But he doe, evidently break the Peace of the Church, who would by Violence keep any one in that Church; forasmuch as, by so doing, he violates Conscience, which is the Seat and Centre of Religion, there being no Religion where there is no Conscience, and consequently no real Church. He who prays without Book, does not break the Peace of the Church, provided he forces nobody to pray as he prays: But he who would compel others to pray by his Pattern, against their own Liking, does not only break the Peace of the Church, but destroys, as far as he can, its very Essence; because a Church is constituted by the voluntary Devotion performed by two or three met together in Christ’s Name. If it be not voluntary, it is no Devotion; God will be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth: And if it be voluntary, no Man can controul it.
Hitherto, for the most part, the Peace of the Church has been unnaturally made to signify a blind Submission to the Dictates of Priests in Matters of Devotion; and a blind Acceptance of all their Schemes, Dreams and Forgeries in Matters of Faith. Now here is no Church at all; but, on one hand, the Invention and Imposition of deceitful and tyrannical Men, defacing and misrepresenting Religion, and wresting it to serve their own wicked Purposes; and, on the other hand, a Tribe of Fools and Slaves, sacrificing their Senses, their Freedom, and their Consciences, to Antichrist, and worshipping him, and not God. If one of these groveling Bigots resume his Eyes, and break his Fetters, he forsooth is a Schismatick, he breaks the Peace of the Church.
Why will these Men, so famed for bring close and crafty, be so plainly shewing us, that by the Church they mean only Themselves; and by the Worship of God they mean only the Worship of their own Persons and Authority? But they make this manifest, as by a Thousand Instances, so particularly by this; namely, that the greatest Rebel to God shall find good Quarter, provided he be but a good Subject to them; and the most conscientious Servant of the Living God shall find no Mercy, if he dispute to bend to their Usurpations, and to swallow their Inventions for Divine Oracles. It is no matter whether you live like a Christian or no, provided you do not break the Peace of the Church; but if you do, your being a Saint will not atone for it, nor stand you in the least Stead.
If I do all I can to please God, I shall certainly please him. Now if the Clergy had the same View and Design, my pleasing God would also please them. In consequence of this, if I thought my Abode and Communion with them a Sin, it is their Duty to encourage and exhort me to leave them, and to obey God rather than Men. But far from this, the Plea of pleasing God is often no way of pleasing them; and they seldom fail to damn a Man for those very Actions, by which, through Christ, he shall be saved; namely, deserting Authority for Conscience, and finding out the Truth for himself.
A stupid Servitude to unbounded Dominion, supports the Peace of the Church in some Countries, just as Ignorance, Poverty, and many Dragoons, do the Peace of the State in others.
The breaking of the Peace of the Church, as the same is generally understood by the ignorant People, and always by the ambitious Clergy, is both a rational and a religious Duty, and the best Action which a Man can perform. That Man must be as void of Reason as of Religion, who quarrels with me for having different Faculties from him, and a different Way of conceiving Things. He might with as much Propriety quarrel with me for having a different Complexion, and a different Palate, neither of which is in my own Power.
If I christen my Child without the Sign of the Cross, or a human Form of Words; how do I, by this, break the Peace of the Church, or of good Neighbourhood? But he, who oppresses or calumniates me for thus doing my Duty, by discharging my Conscience, commits an Outrage both upon Humanity and Conscience; and not only breaks the Peace of the Church, and of Society, but by his Want of Charity declares his Want of Christianity.
If I follow the best Light which I can get, I do my Duty; and if I do my Duty, I please God. And who shall dare to tell me, that though I please God, yet I break the Peace of the Church? Would not this be to own, that the Will of God, and the Will of the Church, are opposite Things?
I do not believe, that there are upon Earth Two Men who think exactly alike upon every Subject; and yet our different Tastes in Meat, Drink, Building, and Dress, make not the least Difference in human Society; nor is it likely, that they ever will, unless we establish by Law, and tack Preferments to one particular Mode of Eating, Drinking, Building, and Dressing; then indeed we may soon expect to see the established and orthodox Mason, Cook and Taylor, very zealous and loud for Conformity and Penalties. But at present, Ten Men, in Ten different Suits, can dine together upon Ten different Dishes, and give Ten different Opinions upon One Piece of Painting or Architecture, without breaking Friendship or good Humour. If indeed they be drunk either with Wine or Zeal, they will be apt to fight about the Church or something else: But why Men in their Senses should clamour and quarrel at their Neighbour’s particular Conscience, any more than at his particular Palate, no Reason can be assigned, but the Delusions of Priestcraft operating upon its genuine Issue, Bigotry. Is not Conscience dearer to a Man, than his Palate, or his Fancy in Cloaths? God can receive no Worship that comes not from the Conscience; and he who commands you to follow him against your Conscience, commands you in Effect to provoke God out of Complaisance to Men; and rather than do this, I hope it is lawful to break the Peace of the Church. Where the Church quadrates with a Man’s Conscience, he will of course comply with the Church; but where it does not, he is in Conscience bound to desert it; otherwise, to be a Conformist, he must be a Hypocrite.
Can these Men be Christians, who demand Submission to their Dictates, in Opposition to the Dictates of Conscience, and at the Peril of Salvation; and who, provided you obey them, care not though you mock God? But if they will allow every Man to be fully persuaded in his own Mind, which is the Apostle’s Rule and Precept, then the Cry of breaking the Peace of the Church, is an empty knavish Cry.
Indifferent Things in Religion there are none; and therefore the pretended Power of the Ecclesiastics to impose them, is wicked and ridiculous. If they be indifferent in their own Eyes, why are they imposed? And if they were indifferent in the Eyes of others, nobody would refuse them. But if I dislike them, they are no longer indifferent to me; and if you lay any Stress upon them, they are no longer indifferent to you. But to oppress, imprison, and ruin People for Things allowed to be indifferent, is such a Piece of Impudence, and wanton Cruelty, as cannot be described.
To call any thing indifferent in Religion, is to own, that it has nothing to do with Religion. Now, can any Reason be given, why Religion should be interested in that, in which Religion has no Interest? Sure these Men mock us, and would seem to be in Jest, did not their Proceedings, when they have Power, shew them to be terribly in Earnest.
If I neglect a Ceremony, or a Cringe, which I think a Reproach to Religion and Reason; do I break the Peace of the Church, for thus doing Honour to Religion and Reason? Or is it not rather an Insult upon Both, and a manifest Breach of Charity, to use me ill for acting upon such righteous and laudable Motives? Do I break the Peace of the Church, in worshipping God after a Manner that I am verily persuaded he will accept? Or do I not rather dishonour him, in using that as Worship, which my Mind tells me is no Worship, though it should be established by Law?
InPopish and Mahometan Countries, you see neither true Religion, nor the Practice of it, and yet the Peace of the Church there is wonderfully well secured by great Armies, and capital Penalties. Fire and Sword, Halters and Dungeons, are all employed to protect the Peace of the Church. And in every Nation under the Sun, where the Church enjoys the most profound peates the People enjoy the most profound Misery, Ignorance and Slavery. Civil and Religious Liberty are certain Signs of each other, and live and die together; but I believe I may lay it down for a Maxim, that in any Country where there is ne’er a Separatist from the Church, there is ne’er a Freeman in the State. To which Maxim I may venture to add another, namely, that, in the Ecclesiastical State, thePeace of the Churchis but another Phrase for thePower of the Priests.