Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XLIV.: Of High-Church Atheism. Part 3. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XLIV.: Of High-Church Atheism. Part 3. - 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 High-Church Atheism.Part 3.
Wednesday,November 16. 1720.
THE next Article of Atheism, that I charge upon High-Church Priests and High-Church Men, shall relate to the very Being of Religion, and that is, Toleration of Religion; for unless there be a Toleration of Religion, Religion, which is a Matter of Choice and Conscience, is almost excluded the World.
It is asserted by Mr. HOBBES, that the Civil Magistrate of every Country is the Legislator in Matters of Religion; that his Subjects ought to obey him therein; and that, if they do not, they should be compelled by Force to profess that Religion which he injoins. This Doctrine implies Speculative Atheism, as it destroys God’s Dominion, by subverting his Authority and Laws, and by making a God of the Magistrate; and as it roots out all Religion, by taking away Mens Right to follow their Consciences therein; which constitutes the very Essence of Religion: And it must introduce Practical Atheism, if followed; by disturbing, distressing, imprisoning, and taking away the Lives of the best Men; by setting Men at Variance with one another, and causing civil Wars on a religious Account; and by leaving Men to be governed only by the Laws of the civil Magistrate, and taking away all Motives to good Actions drawn from Conscience towards God.
Now the Speculative Principles of High-Church Priests, and those of Atheists, differ but little from each other: And the Practices following from both their Principles are the same; that is, the High-Church Priests must be no less Practical Atheists, than the Speculative Atheists themselves.
1.For, First, as to the Speculative Principles of High-Church Priests: Though the High-Church Priests contend for a Law of God, a Bible, and a Consciences; yet they as effectually subvert those good Things, as the Atheists, by asserting, at the same time, a Right in the Civil Magistrate to compel Men by Laws, or Force, to embrace the true Religion: For, what is the Difference between a Right in the Magistrate to compel Men to embrace the true Religion, and a Right in the Magistrate to compel Men to embrace his Religion, which be will always think the best and true Religion?
All the Arguments of High-Church Priests for Church-Authority, and the Church-Unity, imply the same Atheism. For, do they not therein contend for Submission to Man in Matters of Religion, and for the Sacrifice of some Mens Consciences to the Judgments of other Men? Which is subverting the Law of God, the Bible, and Conscience, no less, than vesting the Power and Compulsion in the Civil Magistrate.
But their Arguments against all Innovations, in Matters of Religion, are most Atheistical. They contend so generally against Innovations, that they cite with Approbation mæcenas’s Advice to AUGUSTUS, namely, Thaa he should follow constantly the Established Religion of his Country; for all Innovations would foment Sedition in the State, and be a Means to subvert his Government. Now though this Advice so manifestly asserts Atheism and Hobbism, and implies, that neither augustus, in whose Reign our Blessed Saviour christ was born, nor any other Pagan Prince, ought to permit Christianity, which is the most pure and peaceable Religion, to become the Established Religion of their Country; yet Dr. Dawson has lately had the Confidence to lay it before the present Archbishop of Canterbury* ; whose Conduct and Writings, before he was promoted to that See, gave not the Doctor the least Ground to suspect, that this worthy Prelate would approve such Atheism, Irreligion, and Antichristianism; and no Man dares say, that they have done so since.
2.Secondly, The Practices following from the Principles of High-Church Priests, are the same with those following from the Principles of Atheism. For, do not many Christian Civil Magistrates exercise the Right asserted by High-Church Priests to belong to them, and fine, burn, imprison, inflict corporal Punishments, take away Mens natural Rights, merely because Men follow their Consciences in what they are persuaded is the Law of God? And what more can be done in virtue of any Atheistical Principles? Nor do the Notions of a Bible, a Law of God, and a Conscience, (however inconsistent such Notions are with making penal Laws in Matters of Religion) render High-Churchmen less Persecutors, than if they were acted by any Atheistical Principles; as is manifest from what is done in most Countries, where, in proportion to the Power and Influence of High-Church Priests, Degrees of Violence upon Mens Consciences prevail. Nor do the Precepts of Christ, who requires all Men to search the Scriptures, and to believe and live according to the Rules there laid down, and who never sends Men to the Magistrate, or the established Priests, for the understanding of the Bible, abate in the least their persecuting Zeal. Nor lastly, does the most perfect Morality taught by Christ, who every-where inculcates Love of Mankind, Forbearance, (with Forgiveness even of many Immoralities) and universal Charity, and who has said, By this shall all Men know, that ye are my Disciples, if ye love one another; I say, even this heavenly Doctrine of his, does not restrain the High-Church Priest from stirring up in Mens Minds the utmost Hatred, Malice, and Fury of Men against one another; who seem to learn little else from their Priest as matter of Religion, but the Doctrine of Malice against those whom he dislikes; which Doctrine they practise with such Warmth and Zeal, as if it was the principal or only Article of Religion: And therein do more Mischief, than Men acted by Atheistical Principles can be supposed to do; for Atheism is as incapable of making Men uncharitable to one another, on account of Religion, as it is inconsistent with true Religion to be uncharitable.
How these Atheistical Practices have prevailed in England, even since the Reformation, (for I will not mention the Times before, wherein this priestly Atheism was rampant) is apparent from our History, which gives an Account of the burning, hanging, fining, imprisoning, starving in Gaols, banishing, inflicting corporal Punishments, and harassing Thousands of good and religious People, on the score of Religion; upon which I crave leave to make these Observations:
1.First, That as the High-Church Priests have been always most forward in makeing and defending penal Laws; so they have been the most barbarous and malicious in putting them in Execution, where they were intrusted with it, as is manifest from the Proceedings in the Star-chamber; where, under the Influence of Archbishop laud, and such High Priests, exorbitant Fines, Slitting Noses, Cutting off Ears, Branding the Face with hot Irons, severe Whipping, the Pillory, and Imprisonment for Life in Dungeons, or in Places either unwholsome, or remote from Friends, were common Punishments; and sometimes all inflicted upon one Man. Upon pronounceing one of these Sentences against leighton, laud pulled off his Cap, and gave Thanks to God. But the Lay Part of the Court were merely priest-driven and outwitted by laud in such Sentences: For when a Knight moved one of the Lords about the Dreadfulness of the Sentence, intimating, that it opened a Gap to the Prelates to inflict such disgraceful Punishments and Tortures upon Men of Quality; that Lord replied, ’Twas but in terrorem, and that he would not have any one think, that the Sentence should ever be executed. But that Lord (either judging of other Men by himself, or perhaps joining in the Sentence, upon a Promise from laud, that it should not be executed) found himself mistaken in laud, who, having long divested himself of all Lay Pity, caused the Sentence to be rigorously put in Execution.
2.Secondly, The Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the High-Commission Court put the Oath, Ex Officio, upon those brought before them on the score of Religion; an Oath unjust in itself, as it obliges the Parties to answer all Interrogatories, and thereby made all honest Men, if guilty of any thing esteemed a Fault, their own Accusers; and an Oath, neither founded on Act of Parliament, nor on Common Law, in that Case. After what manner this usurped Power of administring that Oath was exercised, you cannot have better expressed, than in the Words of the Lord Treasurer burleigh to Archbishop whitgift: Your Articles are so curiously penned, so full of Branches and Circumstances, that the Inquisitors of Spain use not so many Questions to comprehend and entrap their Preys.
3.Thirdly, I observe, that whenever the Parliament has been disposed to introduce the Practice of our Saviour’s Doctrine of Love and Charity, by repealing any penal and sanguinary Laws, the High-Church Bishops always opposed such Repeal. In Proof whereof, I will give the Reader but one Instance, referring him to his own Observation for more Proofs in the Case. In 1677. when the Nation and Parliament were under great Apprehensions from Popery, and a Popish Successor, and feared, lest the Law for burning Heretics would be soon put in Execution against Protestants, a Repeal of that Law was attempted, and succeeded: But it was opposed by the Bishops, who desired that this Law might continue in terrorem to Fanatics, though God forbid, said they, that it should ever be put in Execution! This Fact, and many others of the same Kind, will soon be made more known by the late Bishop of Sarum’s History of his Times.
4.Fourthly, I observe, that the Persecutions since the Reformation have mostly been for arrant Trifles, and things of the least Importance to the World: We have been chiefly plagued and set together by the Ears, about Caps, Hoods, Surplices, Ceremonies, external Forms, removing Tables from one Part of a Church to another, and Railing them in. But the most extraordinary Subject of Persecution and Animosities, and that seems peculiar to our High-Church, was the Book of Sports. High-Church having taken a Fancy to make it Religion to have no Sermons on Sundays in the Afternoon; but, instead thereof, to make the People dance and play, in Opposition to Puritans and Dissenters, who, it seems, were so irreligious as to think, that they were obliged to spend their Sundays, after Divine Service was over, in Family or private Devotion: That Book was issued out by Authority; and many godly Clergymen were harassed for not reading it, as many Laymen were for not turning that Holy Day into a Play Day.
But, to the Glory of King george, this priestly Atheism of Persecution is now vanishing. His Majesty began his Reign with a noble Declaration for Toleration, wherein he allows his Subjects to have a Right to a Religion and a Conscience. The Persecution, commenced by a High-Church Priest against honest whiston, fell; and the Promoter is defeated of all Hopes of getting his Charges by a Bishoprick. The Bishop of Bangor* has preached up the Authority of God and Christ before his Majesty; and his Majesty (the Head of our Church, the supreme Ordinary, and the sole Fountain of all Ecclesiastical, as well as Civil Authority) has preached it to the Nation. Some penal Laws have been repealed; wherein our truly Christian Prelates had, to their immortal Honour, their Share. Liberty of Examination and Debate (which is the most sacred of all Principles, as it is the sole Foundation of all common Sense, Truth, and true Christianity) grows upon us. A Majority of Dissenting Ministers, assembled in a Synod, have declared for the Bible; which was never before done by any Synod of Priests, who have always endeavoured to establish their own or some other Human Authority. The High Priests dare not plainly excite the Mob to burn, plunder, and molest their Neighbours; but are in great measure reduced to Pulpit and private Railing and Damning. The sole Persecution now on Foot, and countenanced by Authority, is, That High-Church cannot persecute Dissenters; for it is esteemed by some a Church Persecution not to be able to persecute others. And lastly, I dare write the Independent Whig.
O Glorious King George! O the Happiness of a Nation to be governed by such a Monarch! Of whom I cannot but observe, that he seems to me the Favourite of Heaven, which so blesses all his Designs with Success, that he need not fear Success in any truly virtuous or religious Designs. And (that I may use the printed Words of Mr. bold, an excellent Divine of our Church) “It is no small Encouragement to all, who have any Acquaintance with the Christian Religion, to rest assured, that God will, in due Time, notwithstanding all the Machinations and Efforts of ill People, bring Matters in this Land to an happy Issue, because none are against the Government of our most Excellent Sovereign King george, and the Protestant Succession, but who are also against the Lord Jesus Christ being sole King in his own Kingdom, and consequently against his being sole Law-giver to, and Judge of, his own Subjects, in Matters of Conscience, and which relate to their eternal Salvation.”
[* ]The late Dr.William Wake.
[* ]Dr.Benjamin Hoadley,now Lord Bishop of Winchester.