Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XLI.: The Folly of the Clergy 's demanding Respect when their Characters are bad: With the Equity of Universal Toleration, and of judging for ourselves. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XLI.: The Folly of the Clergy ’s demanding Respect when their Characters are bad: With the Equity of Universal Toleration, and of judging for ourselves. - 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 Folly of theClergy’s demanding Respect when their Characters are bad: With the Equity of Universal Toleration, and of judging for ourselves.
Wednesday,October 26. 1720.
THere is not a greater Insult upon the Understandings of Mankind, than for Priests to challenge Respect from their Habit, when they have forfeited it by their Behaviour. There is no Sanctity in Garments. A Rose in a Man’s Hat does not inlarge his Piety. Grace is not conveyed by a Piece of Lawn, or Chastity by the wearing of a Girdle. A black Gown has neither more Sense, nor better Manners, than a black Cloak. Nor is a black Cloak more edifying than a Fustian Frock; no more than a Cambrick Bib is an Antidote against Lewdness, or an Atonement for it.
This consecrating of Garments, and deriving Veneration from a Suit of Cloaths, is barefaced Priestcraft. It is teaching the Practice of Idolatry to a Gown and Cassock. If a little senseless Pedant, who is a living Contradiction to Virtue, and good Breeding, can but get into Orders, and cover himself with Crape, the first thing which he does, is to overlook and affront all Mankind, and then demand their Reverence. His Surplice is his Citadel, and he claims the Impunity of an Embassador for being graceless and saucy.
As to the common Defence which is made for their Immoralities; namely, That they are Flesh and Blood as well as other Men; it is a wretched Piece of Sophistry. If they are not better than others, how are they fit to mend others? And if they cannot leave their Captivity to Sin and Satan, how come they to claim so near an Alliance with Heaven? If they have God’s Commission in their Pockets, and yet will engage in another Service, what Name and Treatment do they deserve? We know the Fate of Rebels and Deserters in Lay-Government. Can Men succeed to the Apostles with the Qualities and Behaviour of Apostates? How will they reconcile a holy Calling to infamous Lives? A Clergyman who is as bad as an ill Layman, is consequently worse. In a holy Character, there is no Medium between doing Good, and doing Mischief; since the Influence of Example is stronger than that of Precept. As the Doctrine and Practice of Piety make up the Profession of a Clergyman, he who deserts Truth and Holiness, deserts his Profession, and ought to be no longer owned for a Teacher of Religion, but shunned and hated, as a Foe to Religion and Mankind.
I have great Respect for the Office of a Clergyman; and for his Person, if he deserve it. But if his Doctrine or Practice disgrace his Order; we cannot help contemning the Man. The Clergy are the best or the worst of Men; and as the first cannot be too much honoured, the latter cannot be too much despised. It is of good Example, and there is equal Reason in it. Why should Virtue and Villainy fare alike? Names do not change Qualities, nor Habits Men. Where is the Equity of Rewards and Punishments, and consequently the Force of all Laws, Human and Divine, if vile Men must be reverenced, and the good can be no more?
It is but reasonable, that all Men should be judged by their Actions, and reverenced, or scorned, according to the Goodness or Wickedness of their Lives, without any Regard had to their Titles or Garbs; which signify no more than a Breath of Wind, or the Bark of a Tree.
The Clergy have made such a terrible and inhuman Use of Power, in all Ages and Countries where they could come at it, that the Laity ought to keep their Nails always pared, and their Wings clipped, in this Particular. Reason and Liberty are the two greatest Gifts and Blessings which God has given us, and yet where-ever a priestly Authority prevails, they must either fly or suffer. They are Enemies to the Craft, and must expect no Toleration. Darkness and Chains are the surest Pillars of the sacerdotal Empire, and it cannot stand without them.
Let us remember Archbishop Laud, who having got the Regal Power out of a weak Prince’s Hands, into his own, set his Face against Truth, Property, Conscience, and Liberty, and trampled them all under Foot for several Years together. A Spirit of Cruelty and Dominion governed this Man, and he governed King and People. His Heart was so impiously bent upon destroying Conscience, and the Constitution, and exalting the Priesthood, that when any Man was oppressed in a paltry and tyrannical Bishop’s Court, the Judges in Westminster-hall durst not obey their Oaths, and the Law, by relieving him; but were forced to be forsworn, to avoid the Anger of his Grace: This upstart, Plebeian Priest hoped to see the Time, when ne’er a Jack Gentleman in England would dare to stand before a Parson with his Hat on. A fine Scene truly! to see a Gentleman of Fortune and Breeding, stand stooping, and bare-headed, to a small, ill-nurtured Vicar; who had, perhaps, formerly cleaned his Shoes, and lived upon the Crumbs that came from his Table.
Let us look back into former Ages, and round Europe, at this Day, and see whether abject Slavery in the People is not, and always has been, the certain Consequence of Power in the Priests. It cannot be denied.
I thank God, I know no Power which our Clergy have, but that of suing for Tythes, and the like Privileges, which they receive from the Law alone. Those Ecclesiastics who claim, by Divine Right, any other Power, than that of Exhortation, talk Nonsense, and belye the New Testament. To the Law, and the People who made that Law, they owe their Bread; and to set up for an Independancy, in Opposition to both, and pretend to a Mastership over them, is arrogant, dangerous, and ought to be penal. I am told, that it is capital, here in England, for a Protestant to go over to the Romish Religion; and yet shall a Priest dare publicly, from the Press and the Pulpit, to claim and justify the most essential, and most formidable Principles of Popery; and thereby declare his Reconciliation with that bloody Religion, which is supported by Frauds, Bondage, and human Slaughter? And shall be, for all this, go unquestioned? This, in my Opinion, is to contend with Impunity for Usurtion and Rebellion.
Some would seem to qualify these Pretensions, by saying, That they claim a Power, but not an independent Power. Which seems in this case a sort of Contradiction: For if it is a Power, and yet depends upon another Power; then it is, properly speaking, a Jurisdiction of Subjection, and an Authority under Authority. And while the Law, and the Hierarchy, are thus owned to be Master and Man, we desire no more.
It is certainly as impious as unjust to deny an unlimited Toleration to all Dissenters whatsoever, who own the Laws, and our civil Form of Government. As to their religious Opinions, they are justified in them by Sincerity; and even where that is wanting, God alone is able to judge, and alone has a Right to punish. In Matters of Conscience, he who does his best, does well, though he be mistaken. Here all Men must determine for themselves. He who follows another in this Case, without Inquiry, is Man’s Votary, and not God’s. As we have a Right to inquire into the Truth of any Religion, we have also a Right to leave it, if it appear false: But if it stand the Test of Examination, and appear true, then is our Adherence to it founded upon our own Judgment, and not upon Authority. If there be no Right of Inquiry, where is the Use of Persuasion, which implies Doubt? Or of reading the Scripture, which implies Understanding? We believe not a thing, till we think it true; and cannot believe it, if we think it false: And to punish Men for having Eyes, or having none, is equally devilish and tyrannical.
Men disagree daily about Matters which are subject to the Examination of Sense; and is it likely, that we can be all of a Mind about Things which are invisible and disputable? Doctors themselves are daily cavilling; every one contradicts another, yet all are in the right, and each demands our Faith to his particular Invention. We cannot follow all; and among equal Authorities, pray which is the best? For the same Reason that we cannot believe every one of them, we need believe none of them, upon their own Word.
It is moreover just, that all Protestants should be equally employed in a State to which they are equally well affected. The Magistrate has nothing to do with Speculations that purely concern another Life: Nor is it of any Consequence to him, whether his Subjects have a greater Fondness for a Cloak, or a Surplice: Their Affections to the political Power, and their Capacity to serve it, are only to be consulted and encouraged. Provided a Man love Liberty and his Country, what is it to the Commonwealth whether he sing his Prayers, or say them? Or whether he think a Bishop, or a Presbyter, the nearer Relation to St. Paul?
These two Words (Bishop and Presbyter) signify, in Scripture, one and the same thing, and are equally used to design one and the same Officer. Our great Churchmen, indeed, have been pleased to think the Bible mistaken in this Matter, and to be in the right themselves. They have made Episcopacy and Presbytery as opposite to each other, as Paradise and Purgatory; and have frequently gone to cutting of Throats, to prove their Point.
I must confess, that a Diocese, and a Seat in the House of Lords, are unanswerable Reasons for the Divine Right of Episcopacy. There is no way of confuting them. You may as well argue with a Guiney Merchant against the selling of Slaves.
Besides, a Lordly Creature, who never preaches, (Miracles having long ago ceased) and keeps a great Table and Equipage, and enjoys all the great and good Things of this Life, carries in all these Marks such an Evidence of his being St. Paul’s right Heir, in a lineal Descent, that I wonder any body dare doubt it.
However, as the plainest Things in Faith are made doubtful among Divines, who have an admirable Knack at starting Difficulties, where nobody else would expect them; I am of Opinion, that the Teacher who walks on Foot, has as good a Title to dispute about Religion, and to maintain his own, as the Right Reverend Doctor, who supports his Orthodoxy with a Coach and Six; and should be as much encouraged by the Civil Magistrate, if his Principles and Behaviour square with the Constitution. Is a Man a better Neighbour, or Subject, for nodding to a Table, at the upper End of a Chancel, or for pronouncing his Faith towards the East? Our Churchmen may find good Cause to injoin these necessary Things, which the Scripture had forgot, and enjoy great Benefit and Obedience from the Practice of them; but in temporal Matters, I am not fully convinced, that they make a Man’s Head wiser, or his Heart honester.
A good Protestant is such, not because he was born so, according to the canting Absurdity in Vogue, or bred so, since in Infancy Religion is acquired like a Lesson in Grammar, purely by the Help of Memory; and therefore Children learn it, whether it be good or bad, as they do Language, from their Nurse, or their Parents: But he is a Protestant, because his Judgment and his Eyes inform him, that the Principles of that Faith are warranted by the Bible, and consistent with our civil Liberties; and he thinks every System which is not so, to be Forgery and Imposture, however dignified or distinguished.
I cannot here omit taking Notice of an old fallacious Cry, which has long rung in our Ears, namely, that of No Bishop, no King. This solid Argument was used, with Royal Success, by King James the First, when he sat Deputy for the Clergy, and disputed with the Puritans, at the Conference at Hampton-Court, as became the Dignity of a great Prince. It was, indeed, the best which he could use; however he strengthened and embellished it with several Imperial Oaths, which he swore on that Occasion, to the utter Confusion of his Antagonists, and the great Triumph of the genuine Clergy, and the Archbishop; who bestowed the Holy Ghost upon his Majesty, for his Zeal, and Swearing on the Church’s Side.
This stupid Saying has formerly filled our Prisons with Dissenters, and chased many of them to America; and by this means weakened the Kingdom, and the Protestant Religion, to keep up good Neighbourhood between the Bishops and the Prince. But they were neither the Bishops, nor their Creatures, that restored King Charles the Second, but a Set of true-blue Presbyterians, who were rewarded for it with Gaols, Fines, and Silent Sabbaths.
Loyalty is not confined to the Mitre. Bishops have given more Disturbance, and occasioned more Distresses, to Prince and People, than any other Sort of Men upon Earth. This I can prove. Our own Bishops, for near an hundred Years before the Revolution, were in every Scheme for promoting Tyranny and Bondage. On the other hand, our Dissenters were very eminent Opposers of Arbitrary Power, and always lived peaceably under those Princes who used them like Subjects. If they took up Arms when they were oppressed, Churchmen have done the same, and often without that Cause.
Had it not been for Dissenters, I question whether we should now have had either this Constitution, this King, or this Religion. It is well known, that a great Majority of our Churchmen assert Claims and Principles utterly irreconcileable to either. The most mischievous Tenets of Popery are adopted and maintained, and the Ground upon which our Security and Succession stand, is boldly undermined. It is dreadful and incredible, what a reprobate Spirit reigns amongst the High Clergy.
The Convocation have fallen fiercely upon those who have fallen upon Popery and Jacobitism. And what a Popish, impious, and rebellious Spirit reigns at Oxford, they themselves save me the Trouble of declaring. Disaffection is promoted; open and black Perjury is justified; and it is held lawful to defy Almighty Vengeance for a Morsel of Bread. A Man’s Conscience is tried by an Oath, and he that can swallow any, has none.
But it is not enough to shipwreck their Souls for their Livings, nor to keep this hellish Corruption at Home. As they practise, so they teach; and the spreading of their own Guilt, and the making others as bad as themselves, (if Laymen can be so) is made the Duty of their Functions, and the Business of their Lives. Can Antichrist do worse? And are these Men, who walk in the Paths of Atheism and Perdition, fit to lead others to Holiness and eternal Life?
*One of the greatest Men of the last Age told King william, That the Universities, if they continued upon the present Foot, would destroy him, or the Nation, or some of His Successors. And they have ever since been endeavouring to make good his Words. That Prince was so thoroughly apprised of the dangerous Genius and Principles of these two Bodies of Men, that he intended a Regulation, but, as it is said, was prevented by the pernicious Advice of the late Duke of S———, who had at that Time gained the King’s Confidence, and was at the Head of the Whigs, but was deserting both, and making a Party with the Tories, as afterwards plainly enough appeared.
How far, and how fast, these Seminaries have since then corrupted and inflamed the People, every body knows, and the Nation feels. Had it not been for them, we should have lighter Taxes, and fewer Soldiers.