Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number L.: An Inquiry into Religious Establishments, with a further Confutation of the impious and absurd Claims of High Priests. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number L.: An Inquiry into Religious Establishments, with a further Confutation of the impious and absurd Claims of High Priests. - 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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An Inquiry into Religious Establishments, with a further Confutation of the impious and absurd Claims of High Priests.
Wednesday,December 28. 1720.
SO various and contradictory are the Opinions and Reasonings of Men, that no voluntary Society or Assembly can act, or long hold together, without establishing certain Rules and Orders, amongst themselves, regarding the common Interest and Conduct of the Society, and appointing Persons whose Duty it shall be, to see those Orders put in Execution; and if any Member does not think it lawful or expedient to submit to the public Regulations, they must have a Right to exclude him, or in other Words, to excommunicate him from their Body, if he do not chuse to separate himself.
If the Design of the Meeting be to worship God, to join in the same Prayers, and for Exhortation and Edification, (which Assembly is called a Church) there must be Time and Place appointed when and where they are to meet, and Persons to prepare and keep in Order all Things necessary for their Meeting: There must be one, or more, appointed to read those Prayers to the Congregation; in which they are to join, and to do all those Offices, which can be performed only by single Persons; and if the Society would avoid the Loquacity and Interruption of ignorant and conceited Members, they must confine Exhortation to one, or to a few Persons of approved Gravity and Wisdom. There must be also some Means of conferring and agreeing together, to support the common Expences of Buildings, Repairs, Utensils, &c. and consequently, there must be Debates, which cannot well be carried on without a President, Chairman, or Prolocutor, to regulate them, collect their Voices, and pronounce their Resolutions; without which Precautions, they will be more likely to fight than pray.
If several of these Churches, residing at too great a Distance from one another to meet together, should esteem it their Duty or Advantage to join in the same Form of Worship, and unite in a common Interest to support it, they must find out some Means of Communication, and contrive some Cement of their Union, otherwise they would soon separate again: This may be done by chusing Deputies to represent them, and to concert common Measures, or by submitting themselves to the Conduct and Determinations of one or more Persons, chosen by common Consent, in all such Matters as do not interfere with their Duty to God; and the Persons so chosen can have no more Power, nor of longer Duration, than their Principals think fit to give them.
If these Churches think it their Duty or Interest to inlarge their Bottom, and make Converts, they cannot take a more effectual Method to do it, than to choose, appoint, or ordain, discreet and honest Men, who are acquainted with their Way of Worship, their Ordinances, and the Reasons of them, and send them forth to teach, persuade, and convince others; to exhort them with Meekness and Love, (the likeliest Way to gain them) and afterwards to preside and watch over them, and thereby prevent their Straying and Apostatizing.
This was the Case in the Beginnings of Christianity, before National Churches were established, as well as the present Case of independent, voluntary Societies. The Apostles Commission was, to go into all the World, and preach Christ to every Creature. This was impossible for them to do in their own Persons; and therefore as they made Converts, they exhorted them to convert others, as Acts viii. v. 1, 4. When the Apostles were left at Jerusalem, the Church was scattered abroad through all Judea and Samaria, and those who were scattered abroad preached the World. Acts xi. v. 19, 20. They that were scattered abroad upon the Persecution that arose about Stephen, travelled as far as Phœnice and Cyprus, and preached the Word to none but the Jews only; and some of them, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus Christ. Chap. iv. v. 4. Peter and John converted Five thousand. And v. 31. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with Boldness.
And they were all enabled to prove their Mission, by having the Power of working Miracles; for Mark xvi. v. 17, 18. these Signs were to follow those who believed in Christ’s Name: They could cast out Devils, they couldand speak with new Tongues; they could take up Serpents; no deadly thing could hurt them; they could lay their Hands on the Sick, and recover them. John, Chap. xiv. v. 12. our Saviour says to his Disciples, Whoever believeth in me, the Works that I do shall he do, and greater than these shall he do: Which Gifts would have been unnecessary, if they had been to have made no Use of them; and by virtue of these general Powers given to all Christians, Philip and Stephen, who were chosen by the Congregation to the menial Office of serving Tables, preached, baptized, and did many Wonders and Miracles, Acts, Chap. vi. v. 8. Chap. viii. v. 7.
But besides the common Right which every Man had to preach Christ, and propagate his Kingdom, the Apostle prevailed with particular Persons to undertake it, and make it their Business, who were to assist and oversee the Brethren, as a Shepherd does his Sheep: Having the Gift of discerning Spirits, they knew who were fittest for the Employment, and who would engage in it without any sinister Views; but it is plain, they gave no Gifts or Advantages to them above other Christians. They could not give the Holy Ghost; which Power was confined to the Apostles alone, and as far as appears, was bestowed without Distinction upon all who believed, and were baptized.
The Power of speaking with Tongues, as is abovesaid, was given to all Believers; which appears to be in Scripture one constant and inseparable Mark of having received the Holy Ghost.
InActs the iid. v. 4. The Holy Ghost fell on the Apostles, and they spake with Tongues. In Acts x. v. 44, 45. While Peter spoke, the Holy Ghost fell on all who heard the Word, and the Jews were astonished when they heard the Gentiles speak with Tongues. Chap. xix. v. 6. Paul lays his Hands on certain Disciples, and the Holy Ghost came on them, and they spake with Tongues, and prophesied. Acts the xith. v. 15, 16, 17. Peter, justifying himself to the Jews, for preaching to the Gentiles, says, And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the Beginning. Then remembered I the Word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with Water, but ye shall be baptized, with the Holy Ghost: Forasmuch therefore as God gave them (namely those who believed) the like Gift as he did to us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I should withstand God? So that here, from the Mouth of Peter himself we have-it, that the Gentiles who believed, had the same Gift as the Apostles. Chap. viii. v. 14, 17. When the Apostles at Jerusalem had heard, that the Samaritans had received the Word, they sent to them Peter and John; who laid Hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost, which they had not received before, though they were baptized by Philip. In chap. ii. v. 38. Peter says to them of Israel, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the Remission of Sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost; and v. 41. They gladly received the Word, and the same Day were added to them about Three thousand Souls, who must have all consequently received the Holy Ghost. Chap. xv. v. 8, 9. Paul, speaking of the Gentiles, says, God, which knoweth the Hearts, bare them Witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us, and put no Difference between them, and us, purifying their Hearts by Faith.
Therefore it appears plain to me, that all who believed, especially by the Apostles Ministration, received the Holy Ghost, and could do Miracles; and consequently, the Persons aforesaid, by whatever Names they are called, were not designed to be an Order of Men distinct from other Christians, with different Powers and Privileges. They undertook a Burden, not a Command. They were better and poorer than other People, not their Lords and Masters; nor is there a Word in Scripture, whereby we can guess, that they were intended to be Successors to the Apostles; much less that the Successorship was to continue to the End of the World; and it is evident in Fact, that there were no such appointed, because the Power of giving the Holy Ghost, and, in Consequence, of doing Miracles, soon ceased in the Church.
With this View let us now examine the Acts and Epistles, and see what there is which contradicts it.
Acts xiv. v. 23. Paul and Barnabas ordained Elders in every City; and chap. xx. v. 17. Paul calls the Elders of the Church of Ephesus together; and v. 28. tells them their Duty, Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the Flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you Overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own Blood. Here luckily the Word Episcopos is translated Overseer, and not Bishop, because it is explained in the Text to import no more, than to feed the Church of God; that is, to assist them, to preach to them, to exhort them, to advise them, and to give them good Examples; but all this implies no Jurisdiction, nor had the Apostles any to give.
1Thessalonians, chap. v. v. 12. And we beseech you, Brethren, to know them which labour amongst you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. Here Paul, with all Humility, intreats the Thessalonians, that they will know, that is, take Notice of, and hearken to, those who labour for their sakes, who watch over them, and admonish them to mend their Lives.
Ephesians, chap. iv. v. 7, 11. Unto every one is given Grace, according to the Measure of the Gift of Christ; and he gave some Apostles; and some Prophets; and some Evangelists; and some Pastors and Teachers; and in the next Verse tells for what, namely, for the perfecting the Saints, (that is, all the Faithful) for the Work of the Ministry, and for the edifying the Body of Christ.
Romans, chap. x. v. 14, 15. How then shall they call upon him, in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a Preacher? And how shall they preach, unless they be sent? This relates plainly to the teaching of the Apostles, who were sent to preach the Gospel to the unconverted World, that otherwise could have known nothing of it; and possibly, in a larger Sense, may be extended to all Christians, who had the Power as well as the Means to preach it, and consequently might be said to be sent to do it: But I should be glad to know, by what Skill in Chymistry it has been discovered, or how it came to be guessed, that the Clergy of the many Nations in Europe, as by Law severally established, were the Persons meant; or if only one Sort of them, which that is; when ’tis plain, that they have no other Means of knowing Christ than the Laity have, and for the most part can tell them no more than they knew before.
Hebrews, chap. xiii. v. 7. Remember them which have the Rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God, whose Faith follow, considering the End of their Conversation: And v. 17. Obey, by others translated, Be persuaded by, them that have the Rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your Souls, as those who must give Account. Here, it seems, the Editors of our English Bible do not think fit to stand to their Translations; for in the Margin, against the Words Rule over you, in both Verses they have inserted the Word Guides, which does not give us altogether so frightful as Image.
The Word translated obey in the last Verse, is explained by the Word remember in the first; and the Reason given in the one is, because you are to consider the End of their Conversation; and in the other is, because they watch for your Souls; so that the Hebrews were exhorted to remember, hearken to, or be persuaded by their Guides, who had spoken to them the Word of God, which was the End of their Conversation, and who watched for their Sauls: And, I think, all good Christians ought to do so still, when they know where to find them, and the Clergy have agreed amongst themselves who they are.
At the latter End of the Second Epistle to Timothy, in our Edition of the Bible, he is said to be the first Bishop of Ephesus, by which we are to understand, if we please, that he was in Possession of the Authority and Dignity of a modern Prelate; but the Text says no such Matter: Indeed Paul’s first Epistle, chap. i. v. 11. says, that the glorious Gospel of Christ was committed to his Trust, that is, he was intrusted to preach it. And, v. 18. he commits the same Charge to Timothy: But in chap. iv. v. 12, 13. he tells him what he is to do; he is to be an Example to the Believers in Word, inConversation, in Charity, in Faith, in Purity; and, till he comes himself, he is to give Attendance to Reading, to Exhortation, to Doctrine; and the rest of the Epistle is spent in telling him what Doctrine he is to preach.
In his 2d Epistle, Paul says unto him, And the Things thou hast heard from me amongst many Witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful Men, who shall be able to teach others also; which he expresses summarily before, in these Words, Lay Hands suddenly on no Man; a Ceremony always used amongst the Jews, to denote a Person appointed for any Purpose, as well as on many other Occasions; so that Paul himself knew, by Inspiration, who was fit for his Charge, and Timothy was to make good Inquiry after faithful Men: But there is no Power here given but to preach the Gospel, and to employ others to do it; which I have shewn every one was at Liberty to do, though all had not an equal Call, or were equally qualified for it; and therefore it was certainly good Advice to endeavour to find out such as were, and prevail upon them to undertake it.
In the Epistle to Titus, who, it seems, was another Bishop, he is directed to set in order the things which are wanting, (the Business amongst us of Churchwardens and Vestry-men) andto ordain Elders in every City, as Paul had appointed him; which alludes to private Directions before given, and proves nothing, but that Paul took the best Precautions, and most prudent Measures, to propagate Christianity, by reducing his Converts in every City, into orderly, though voluntary Societies, by finding out and appointing discreet and honest Men to assist and superintend the rest; and it cannot be doubted but the People, who knew him to be inspired, would be advised by him, accept his Recommendations, and consequently hearken to, trust their Affairs, and be directed by the Wisdom of Persons so powerfully recommended; which Respect and Deference has been always paid by every Sect, that ever appeared in the World, to their first Founders, and for the most part to their After-leaders too.
These are all the Texts that I can at present remember, which are usually brought to support the priestly Claims, except such as plainly relate to our Saviour himself, or his Apostles; but if any others occur hereafter, I shall take Notice of them in proper Time.
But what has all this to do with a formal and solemn Institution, and established Form of Government, a political Oeconomy, or, in Ecclesiastical Language and Style, a Spiritual Hierarchy?
What, must sovereign and independent Power (without which, as I have shewn in my 48th Paper, there can be in this Case no Power at all) depend upon figurative Expressions, and Allusions to Seniority of Age, as Elders; to mean and low Professions, as Guides, Shepherds, Pastors, Teachers, Overseers, notably translated Bishops? Or upon the critical Knowledge of antient Eastern Terms, of doubtful and disputed Significations, which would put it in the Power of the very few Men said to be skilled in the Oriental Tongues, to fettle what Establishments of Religion they please?
The Prophets and Evangelists often speak after the Manner of the Eastern Nations, which was for the most part figurative; where, for ever, to the End of the World, and such-like Language, was frequently used to denote a long Space of Time; and therefore general Expressions in Scripture are not always to be taken strictly, as Covetousness is the Root ofAllEvil: Swear notat All:Children and Servants, obey your Parents and Masters inAllthings: Take no Care for the Morrow: Take no Thought for your Life, what you shall eat,what you shall drink, or what you shall put on: Whatever you ask of my Father in my Name, he will give it you. Submit yourselves to one another: Ye younger, be subject to the elder; yea, be subject to one another. And there were many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written, the whole World could not contain the Books: And more than an Hundred others of the same Kind. When such Passages occur, we must construe them by the Rules of eternal Righteousness, the Reason of the Thing, and the general Bent of Scripture; and then we cannot mistake their Meaning, but in such Cases as are of no Consequence, whether we do or not.
Besides, almost all Words vary their Meaning by Time; and every one, of the least Reading, knows that there is scarce a Word in Nature, (except the proper Names of Persons, Places, and Things) that is answered by any other in a different Language, so as to comprehend exactly the same Number of Ideas; nor is it probable, that any two Persons of the same Nation ever used one such Word precisely to the same Purpose; but if they were asked to give an adequate Definition of what they meant by it, would differ in some Particular: Therefore ’tis absurd to suppose, that Mens Duty and eternal Salvation should depend upon the nice Signification of single Hebrew and Greek Words; Languages so long since out of common Use, and dead.
The Almighty is too merciful to his Creatures to leave them at such Uncertainties, which is in Effect to let them throw Cross and Pile for their Religion. When he makes an Establishment, and gives Laws to Mankind, he always expresses himself in a manner not to be misunderstood; so he did in the Jewish Dispensation, where there was no Dispute about the Meaning of their Law. Though there is nothing in Scripture to countenance these Pretensions, yet the Gospel almost every-where forbids them, as I have partly shewn in my last Paper, and shall unanswerably make out hereafter, when I shall more fully consider the Acts and Epistles; and then I will shew, that the Apostles themselves claimed no Authority over other Christians, or any Power but that of Persuasion. I shall endeavour to shew, what is meant by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and do undertake to prove, that the Clergy have no more Power from Scripture to administer them, than Women and Laymen, and that nothing is meant by Excommunication, but not keeping ill Company. I will shew too, that the Clergy, in the first Ages of Christianity, were always chosen by the People, and lived upon their Alms, and by what Steps of Impiety and Forgery the Popish Priesthood came to be Lords of so great a Part of the terrestrial Globe.