Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXXVII.: The Enmity of the High Clergy to the Bible. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXXVII.: The Enmity of the High Clergy to the Bible. - 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 Enmity of the High Clergy to theBible.
Wednesday,September 28. 1720.
WE can never sufficiently admire and adore the infinite Goodness of God to Mankind, in giving him a perfect Rule or Law for his Direction and Conduct; and delivering it in Books and Scriptures, which are plain and easy in all things necessary to be known to every one, who shall make a proper Use of his natural Faculties, and not weakly trust a Pope, or somebody like a Pope, for their Interpretation, who will ever have ambitious or other worldly Purposes to serve, by imposing false and wicked Meanings on those sacred Writings.
How ought we then to value our Bibles, daily to read them, and search ourselves for those Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge! And how jealous should we be of trusting our temporal and eternal Happiness to the Judgment and Conduct of others, who, for the most part, from imbibed Prejudices, or worse Designs, represent the most ridiculous, chimerical, absurd, contradictory and immoral Opinions, to be fundamental Articles of Christianity!
Notwithstanding, such is the Power and crafty Malice of the Popish and Popishly-affected Clergy, that in most Countries they have either taken the Bible (even on the Pretence of Religion itself) out of the People’s Hands, or have made it useless there; and such is the senseless Stupidity of the gaping Herd, that they observe not the Injury done them, and not only suffer this worst Sort of Robbery, Violence, and Injustice, but kiss the Rod, and esteem themselves to be kindly and religiously dealt with.
In all Popish Countries, before the Reformation, the Bible was locked up in the learned Languages; which effectually hindered the People from being acquainted with that Holy Book; the Priest saying, and the poor ignorant Laity believing, That it was heretical, and the very Foundation of all Heresy and Schism, for the People to read the Bible. Indeed, after the Reformation, some Translations were made of it into the Vulgar Languages of particular Popish Countries; but were the People ever the better for it? No such Matter, I can assure you; for no one was suffered to read those Translations without a special Licence, which was dangerous to ask for, and rendered a Man suspected of heretical Pravity; and the Priest never granted it but to those, who either would not or could not make any Use of it; that is, to such as he well knew were preengaged by strong Prejudices, or stronger Interests, to favour the Sacerdotal Power, and who durst not understand the Word of God differently from the Clergy, who called themselves the Church.
But in other Popish Countries, and particularly in Spain, the Bible is not extant in the vulgar Tongue, and consequently must be unknown altogether to the People, who are incapable of reading it even by Licence; which can scarcely be called a Privilege lost, considering how few durst ask, or can get Licences, who they are that can obtain them, and what Danger they would incur in making a right Use of them.
Especial Care is taken to prevent the Importation of any Translation of the Bible in these Countries; and no sooner does any Ship of a Protestant Nation come to Anchor in any Popish Port, where the Inquisition prevails, but she is visited and searched narrowly for Heretical Books, and particularly for Bibles, by the Officers of that Court, which are immediately carried to the Inquisition, and there burned.
The brave old Marshal Schomberg, when he was last at Lisbon, told a Friend of mine, with Tears in his Eyes, That having, when he came ashore there, left a Dutch Bible (which had been his Grandfather’s) upon the Table of his Cabin, it had been carried from the Custom-house to the Inquisition; and that tho’ he had sent to the chief Inquisitor, and had spoken to him himself for it, he had not been able to recover it.
Let us now approach nearer Home, and see how Protestants are used in respect to reading the Bible. And in order to consider this Matter, I shall premise two things: First, That the End and Design of reading the Bible, is to find out the Will of God, or the Meaning which God holds forth to us therein, that we may regulate our Belief, and form our Practice thereby. And, Secondly, I premise, That to such reading the Bible, it is requisite, that we should not be prejudiced by Education, in Behalf of any Fancies; that we should pay no Regard to the Authority of weak and fallible Men; that no Opinions should be imposed on us as Christian Opinions; as for Example, Consubstantiation, Predestination, the peculiar Opinions of Arius or Socinus, and other Doctrines, pretended to be derived from the Word of God; and that no Man should be hurt in his Body, Name, or Goods, for understanding the Bible in that Sense which he thinks to have been intended by God; but that we should act, and be permitted to act, in this Matter, as we do in understanding any other Book: For if such Arts, and Crafts, and Force are used, to make Men understand the Bible in a Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Socinian Sense, as form Mens Minds so strongly to those Senses, that not a Man in the Countries, where any of those Opinions prevail, does or dares differ from the Sentiments of the Public, or hurts himself any way by so doing; that Man is not properly allowed to read the Bible, or to take his Religion from thence, but receives his Religion from his Lutheran, or Presbyterian, or Socinian Priest, and might as well take his Religion from a Popish Priest, without using any Bible at all. For what is the Difference between taking a Popish Priest’s Word for the Sense of the Bible, about the Infallibility and Authority of the Pope and the Church, or the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, (which Bible the Priest keeps solely in his own Hands) and taking a Presbyter’s Word, or being influenced by him, as to the Sense of the Bible, in respect to the Doctrines of the divine Right of Presbyters, and Predestination (which Bible he does, for Form’s sake, put into the Laymens Hand, but keeps the Sense in his own)? If there be any material Difference, it is in this, that the Popish Priest acts a fair, open, and consistent Part, in denying the Use of the Bible; and that the Presbyter does the same thing hypocritically; and that the Presbyterian Layman makes a more shameful and contradictory Submission to his Presbyter, than a Popish Layman does to his Priest.
When the Minds of the Youth, and their Passions, are thus engaged in behalf of certain human Compositions; when they are taught to reverence Men, who are hired and paid to maintain those Compositions; when they are bred up to hate the Persons of Men of other Persuasions, to abhor their Doctrines, and think it Matter of just Disgrace to change the Principles of their Education: And when all this is taught as the Dictates of the Holy Scriptures; must they not, under these Prejudices, read the Scriptures, without understanding them? Is not that Impartiality, which is necessary towards finding out the true Sense of a Book, intirely taken away? And is not a Partiality, which must lead Men to mistake the Sense of a Book, introduced?
But even this is nothing to what those must go through, if they dare to understand the Bible differently from what is vulgarly understood in the Country where they live: They will be deemed Heretics; which is “supposed to include every thing that is bad in it: It makes every thing appear odious and deformed; dissolves all Friendships, and extinguishes all former kind Sentiments, however just and well deserved. And from the time that a Man is deemed an Heretic, it is Charity to act against all Rules of Charity. And the more Men violate the Laws of God in dealing with him, it is, in their Opinion, doing God greater Service* .” And besides being thus put into a Bear-skin, and made a Scare-crow; what is called Heresy, undoes Men in their Trades and Callings, subjects them to Ecclesiastical and Civil Prosecutions, and deprives them of all Preferments in the Church or State: Whereas a Person who understands the Bible, as he is led by the Nose to understand it, which is for the most part falsly, has not only fair Quarter and Reputation, and all manner of Preferments in Church and State attending him; but may be as lewd as he pleases, provided he have a sufficient Portion of Zeal for his Orthodoxy, or rather for the Orthodox Priest.
Is it not therefore a mere Mock-shew, to recommend to Men the Reading of the Scriptures, if, when they read them, they must understand them just as their Master, the Priest, tells them, under the Penalties of all the foregoing Inconveniencies, and the foregoing Rewards, which the Priest, by his Power and Influence, bestows? Bishop Bramhall tells us plainly, (and too many of our modern Divines agree with him) That “the promiscuous Licence which Protestants give to all Sorts to read and interpret the Scripture, is more prejudicial, nay, pernicious, than the overrigorous Restraint of the Romanists.” This is Protestant Priestcraft with a witness! For, as Mr. Chillingworth most judiciously observes “He that would usurp an absolute Lordship and Tyranny over any People, need not put himself to the Trouble and Difficulty of abrogating and disannulling the Laws made to maintain the common Liberty, or of locking them up in an unknown Tongue from the People; for he may compass his own Design as well, if he can get the Power and Authority to interpret them as he pleases; if he can rule his People by his Laws, and his Laws by his Lawyers. Nay, the more expedite, and therefore the more likely way to be successful, is to gain the Opinion and Esteem of the public and authorized Interpreter of them.” For by this Means he presses the Laws into his Service, to advance his Designs; and can, in Accommodation to the Opinion which Men have of the Excellency of the Laws contained in the Scriptures, with a sort of Grace, put a Crown on their Head, and a Reed in their Hands, and bow before them, and cry, Hail, King of the Jews! and pretend a great deal of Esteem, Respect, and Reverence to them, while he is in a more effectual manner misleading the People about their Meaning, than if he destroyed the Scriptures themselves, or lock’d them up in an unknown Tongue from the People.
[* ]See a Pamphlet intituled, The Difficulties and Discouragements which attend the Study of the Scriptures, in the Way of private Judgment. A Pamphlet generally ascribed to Dr. Francis Hare, formerly Dean of Worcester, and late Bishop of Chichester, and Dean of St. Paul’s.