Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number LIV.: In what only true Religion consists. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number LIV.: In what only true Religion consists. - 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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In what only true Religion consists.
Wednesday,January 18. 1721.
I Have undertaken in this Paper to prove, what, methinks, should want no Proof; namely, that the All-powerful God is not a whimsical and humorous Being, that governs his Creatures by Caprice, and loads them with arbitrary and useless Burdens, which can lerve no good Purpose in Nature.
The Almighty is infinitely happy in his own Perfections, and cannot receive Pleasure from such Things or Actions, as only the weakest Men are fond of, and the wisest contemn. He is not capable, like Mortals, of being ruffled by Accidents, or surprised by Disappointments. Wisdom, Goodness, and Felicity, are essential to his Being; and consequently, he could have no View in creating Mankind, but their own Happiness; for we can neither add to his, nor take away from it.
It is absurd therefore to suppose, that there can be any Merit in bare Opinions, and abstruse Speculations; or in the Performance of indifferent and useless Actions; or, indeed, that any thing can be Part of true Religion, but what has a Tendency to make Men virtuous and happy. The Father of Mercies will never perplex our Minds, or burden our Bodies, with any thing that signifies nothing.
moses indeed gave to the Jews a carnal Law, a Law of Bondage; a Yoke which neither they, nor their Posterity, could bear; Statutes which were not good, and Judgments by which they could not live. But these were given them for the Hardness of their Hearts, and as Punishments for their manifold Sins and Iniquities. And besides, they were only to last for a Time, and afterwards give way to a simple, pure, and perfect Law, to a spiritual, innocent, and undefiled Religion; free from their own fond Superstitions, and the stale Idolatries of the Gentiles; not loaded either with Priests, Sacrifices, or Ceremonies; a Religion, which was to consist in Spirit and in Truth, and intended to make Men wiser and better.
It seems plain to me, that there is but one Article of Faith in all this Religion, and that essential to the very Being of it; namely, that Jesus is the Messiah: Without this preliminary Acknowledgment, his Mission could not have been owned, nor his Precepts obeyed; which are nothing else but Exhortations to Love, and Directions for social Happiness; and which he has enforced, by annexing eternal Rewards to the Observance of them. Hitherto Virtue had expected its Reward in this Life; but our Saviour gave new Sanctions to it, by bringing Life and Immortality to Light.
There is no Proposition in all Scripture more evidently revealed, or laid down in more positive and express Terms, than that the Confession of this Truth was the Basis and Support of Christianity, the great Thing requisite to be believed: Every thing else is practical Duty, and Belief is no farther concerned in it, than as it produces Practice. For before we can think ourselves obliged by a Precept, we must be satisfied of its Reasonableness, or of the Legislator’s Authority.
The World has been so long corrupted by Superstition, and deluded and abused by selfish and lying Priests, who taught Wickedness for Virtue, and Nonsense for Philosophy, and placed Devotion in foolish Ceremonies and Sacrifices, and in ridiculous Cringes, antic Vestments, and Grimaces, that nothing less than a Divine Legislator, with the Power of Miracles, could restore Men to their Senses, and to Natural Religion. The fole Article therefore that our Saviour made necessary to be believed, were, That he came from God, and acted by the Authority of God. Then every one would see the Impossibility, that he could deceive or mislead Men; and consequently would take his Word for every thing else, in the Sense which he understood it.
And this Proceeding was agreeable to eternal Reason; namely, to make nothing necessary in Belief, which was not necessary to Practice: for, what Purpose could be served in obliging Men to believe, or rather to say that they believed, mysterious and unintelligible Propositions? Such Articles are only the Watch-words of a Party, and can never be the Objects of real Assent; for no Man can be said to believe what he does not understand, and has not suitable Ideas of, as far as his Belief goes. We must understand the Meaning of every Term in a Proposition, before we can assent to it, or dissent from it: for Words, of which we do not understand the Signification, are the same to us as if they had no Signification at all. How much therefore more honest and prudent would it be to own, at first, our Ignorance concerning certain abstruse Speculations, than to form Propositions about them, pretend to define and explain them, and then confess, that we do not understand our own Definitions and Explanations; and call out Heresy and Atheism, when we are desired to speak intelligibly, and tell what we mean!
But to the Proofs from Scripture: John iii. 18. says, He that believeth in him is not condemned; but he that believeth not, is condemned already. And v. 36. He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting Life; and he that believeth not on the Son, shall not see Life. And chap. vi. 40. Every one who seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may live eternally. And v. 51. I am the living Bread which came down from Heaven; if any Man eat of this, he shall live for ever. And Acts x. 43. To him all the Prophets bear Witness, that through his Name, whoever shall believe in him, shall receive Remission of Sins. And chap. xvi. v. 31. And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy House. And Rom. chap. x. v. 9. If thou shalt confess with thy Mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine Heart, that God hath raised him from the Dead, thou shalt be saved. 1st Epistle of John, chap. iv. v. 2, 3, and 15. and chap. v. ver. 1. to the same Purpose.
These, with many more plain and direct Texts, make only this Article necessary to be believed, and supersede all others. Nor is this required of us, barely because it is true, or to gain adventitious Honour to the Deity, who wants not the Applause of poor mortal Men; for such Belief could signify nothing: But it was required of us to obtain Obedience to his Commands, and direct our Practice, to promote virtuous Actions, and the Principles which produce them. John chap. v. ver. 24. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting Life. And chap. viii. v. 31. Jesus said to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my Disciples indeed. So that Faith in Christ is not enough, unless we obey his Word; or rather, we cannot be truly said to believe in him, whilst we reject his Commandments. First Epistle General of St. John, chap. ii. v. 3, 4, 5. And hereby we do know, that we know him, if we keep his Commandments: He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his Commandments, is a Lyar, and the Truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his Word, in him verily is the Love of God perfected: hereby know we, that we are in him.
Let us therefore see what are those Commands, in the Observance of which Christianity consists. It does not consist in the Observance of Days, nor Months, nor Times, nor Years, Gal. iv. 10. And Rom. xiv. v. 5. One Man esteemeth one Day above another, another Man esteemeth every Day alike: Let every Man be fully persuaded in his own Mind.
It does not consist in positive Institutions, in Forms and Ceremonies, 1 Cor. chap. vii. v. 19. Circumcision is nothing, and Uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the Commandments of Christ. And Gal. vi. v. 15. In Christ Jesus, neither Circumcision availeth any thing, nor Uncircumcision, but a new Creature. Gal. v. ver. 6. to the same Purpose.
It does not consist in Meats nor Drinks, in Fish nor in Flesh. 1 Cor. chap. viii. v. 8, 9. Meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat, are we the better; nor if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest this Liberty of yours become a Stumbling-block to them that are weak. And Rom. xiv. v. 17. The Kingdom of God is not Meat nor Drink; but Righteousness, and Peace, and Joy in the Holy Ghost.
It consists not in long Prayers, nor in many Prayers. Matth. vi. v. 7, 8. When ye pray, use not vain Repetitions, as the Heathens do; for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be ye not therefore like them; for the Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask. Indeed, it seems plain to me from this Text, as well as from the Reason of the Thing, that Prayer itself becomes chiefly a Duty, as it raises our Minds, by a Contemplation of the Divine Wisdom, Power and Goodness, to an Acknowledgment of his repeated Bounties to Mankind; and as it disposes us to an Imitation of those high Perfections, and to be merciful and beneficent to one another. For it is absurd to suppose, that we can direct the All-wise Being in the Dispensations of his Providence; or can flatter or persuade him out of his eternal Decrees. If therefore any Texts in Scripture seem to carry a contrary Implication, I conceive that they ought to be understood with the same Allowance as those are, which speak of God’s Hands and Feet, and of his being subject to human Passions.
It does not consist in Sacrifices performed in pompous Churches, and magnificent Buildings, or in consecrated Trinkets. Acts xvii. v. 24, 25. God, that made the World, and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, dwelleth not in Temples made with Hands, neither is worshipped with Mens Hands, as though he wanted any thing, seeing he giveth to all Life and Breath, and every thing. Acts vii. v. 48, 49, 50. The most High dwelleth not in Temples made with Hands. Heaven is his Throne, and Earth is his Footstool. What House will ye build to me, saith the Lord; or where is the Place of my Rest? Hath not my Hand made all Things?
His Being is universal, not confined to Churches, Chapels, Choirs, nor Altars; but his Presence is every-where alike, and not more immediately in one Place than another. Acts xvii. v. 27, 28, 29. He is not far from every one of us: For in Him we live, and move, and have our Being, as certain also of your own Poets havesaid, For we are his Offspring. Forasmuch therefore as we are the Offspring of God, we ought not to think, that the Godhead is like unto Gold, or Silver, or Stone graven by Art, or Man’s Device.
The Almighty has no favourite Opinions, Sects and Nations. Acts x. v. 34, 35, And Peter opened his Mouth, and said, Of a Truth, I perceive that God is no Respecter of Persons; but in every Nation he that feareth him, and worketh Righteousness, is accepted of him. Rom. ii. v. 11. There is no Respect of Persons with God. Colof. iii. v. 11. There is neither Greek, nor Jew, Circumcision, nor Uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, Bond, nor Free, but Christ is all, and in all. Gal. iii. v. 28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither Bond nor Free, there is neither Male nor Female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
How therefore shall we worship him? how know his Will? St. John tells us, chap. vii. v. 17. If any Man will do God’s Will, he will know of the Doctrine, whether it be of God or not: That is as much as to say, “Make use of the Judgment which God has given you; and see whether the Doctrine taught you, be worthy of an omnipotent Author; see whether it teach Peace and Love to your Neighbour, Compassion to all in Distress, Forbearance of Injuries, Humanity and Indulgence to all who differ from you, Duty to Parents, Submission and Obedience to the Laws of your Country, and Charitableness and Benevolence to all Mankind, and even to the Brute Creation; then you may be sure such Doctrine comes from God: But if it breathe forth Revenge, and implacable Hatred; if it raise Mobs, Civil Wars, and Persecutions, for trifling Opinions; if it have for its End Ambition and worldly Pride, and overturn every thing sacred and civil, which stands in its Way; if it encourage the worst Men, and oppress the best; if it discourage Industry, and depopulate Nations; then there are plain Traces of Satan’s, or the Popish Priest’s Foot in it, and such a Religion can never come from God.”
When you have made this your best Use of the Faculties which God has given you, your Endeavours will certainly be accepted by him; and you will meet all the Reward which attends the judging right, since you have done all in your Power to do so; for God puts upon no Man the Egyptian Task of making Bricks without Straw; nor requires any thing which you cannot perform. Rom. chap. ii. v. 10, 12. Glory, Honour, and Peace, to every Man who worketh Good, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile: for as many as have sinned without Law, shall be punished without Law; and those that have sinned in the Law, shall perish by the Law. And v. 14, 15. For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by Nature the Things of the Law, they are a Law unto themselves: Which shew the Work of the Law written in their Hearts; their Conscience also bearing them Witness; and their Thoughts the mean while accusing, or else exclusing, one another.
So that the Gentiles themselves are to be judged by their Sincerity, and not condemned for involuntary Errors. Rom. xiv. v. 10, 11, 12, 13. Why dost thou judge thy Brother? As I live, saith the Lord, every Knee shall how to me, and every Tongue shall confess to God; so then every one of us shall give an Account to God. Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more. And, v. 22. we are told who will be judged to Happiness; Happy is he who condemneth not himself in that Thing which he alloweth. First Epistle General of St. John, ch. iii. v. 21. Beloved, if our Hearts condemnus not, then have we Confidence towards God.
cornelius, though a Heathen, is commended in Acts the xth, ver. 2. as a devout Man, and one that feared God with all his House, which gave much Alms to the People, and prayed to God always: And Lydia, a Seller of Purple, though neither a Jew nor a Christian, is said to be a Worshipper of God, and one whose Heart God had opened, before she heard the Preaching of Paul, Acts xvi. v. 14.
This comprehensive Charity, this Spirit of public Beneficence, runs every - where through the new Testament; nor can I find any Precept there given, but what is manifestly advantageous to Mankind, conducing to their present Happiness, and deducible from eternal Reason, and the Result of it. Matth. xxii. v. 35, to 39. A Lawyer asked of our Saviour, Which is the great Commandment of the Law? And Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart, and with all thy Soul, and with all thy Mind. This is the first and great Commandment: And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy Neighbour as thyself. Upon these two Commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Another Lawyer asks him, (Luke x. 25. to 28.) What shall I do to obtain eternal Life? And he said unto him, What is written in the Law? How readest thou? And he said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy Soul, and all thy Strength, and all thy Mind, and thy Neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right; do this, and thou shalt live. And chap. xviii. v. 18, and 20, &c. A certain Ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal Life? And Jesus said, Thou knowest the Commandments: Do not commit Adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false Witness; honour thy Father and thy Mother. He indeed adds afterwards another Condition, which was to sell all he had, and give it to the Poor; which the Ruler could not bring himself to comply with: though I dare say he would have promised to have believed Creeds by the Dozen, if those would have done him any Service. But I cannot find, that in all Scripture, our Saviour does impose upon us the Belief of one modern Creed, or of any other but that He was the Messiah.
Chap. xix. v. 8, 9. Zaccheus, a Publican, saith unto the Lord, Half of my Goods I give unto the Poor; and if I have taken any thingfrom any Man by false Accusation, I restore him fourfold: And Jesus said unto him, This Day is Salvation come unto thy House; without asking him one Question about his Faith.
Rom. xiii. v. 8, 9. Owe no Man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the Law: For this, Thou shalt not commit Adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false Witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there is any other Commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this Saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy Neighbour as thyself. The same Doctrine, in another Place, is thus shortly described; By this all Men shall know, that ye are my Disciples, if ye love one another. So that the Love of God, and of our Neighbour, is the whole Duty of a Christian. The first implies the Worship of God, or rather is the true and very Worship of God in Spirit and in Truth; and the latter comprehends all the moral and social Virtues. 1st Epistle of John, chap. iv. v. 7, 8. Beloved, let us love one another, for Love is of God; and every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is Love. Verse 16. Gud is Love; and he that dwelleth in Love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. And chap. v. ver. 3. St. John defines what the Love of God is, namely, For this is the Love of God, that we keep his Commandments.
This appears still more evident, when we examine, for what Virtues and Crimes Men will be rewarded and punished eternally. Matth. chap. xxv. v. 31, &c. When the Son of Man shall come in his Glory, and all the holy Angels with him, then shall he sit upon the Throne of his Glory, and before him shall be gathered all Nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as the Shepherd divideth the Sheep from the Goats; and he shall set the Sheep on the Right-hand, and the Goats on the Left. Then shall the King say to them on the Right-hand, Come, ye Blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you, from the Foundation of the World; for I was an hungred, and ye gave me Meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me Drink; I was a Stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye cloathed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; in Prison, and ye come unto me. Then shall be say also to them on the Left hand, Depart from me, ye Cursed into everlasting Fire, prepared for the Devil and his Angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no Meat; I was shirfty, and ye gave me no Drink; I was a Stranger, and ye took me not in; maked, andye cloathed me not; sick, and in Prison, and ye visited me not.
But the Want of Faith is here objected to no Man: No one is rewarded, or punished, for believing, or not believing, in Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, or the Real Presence; in Predestination, or Free-will; or for having, or not having, right or wrong Conceptions of the Trinity in Unity, the Incarnation, Hypostatic Union, infinite Satisfaction, &c. Nor is the divine Right of Bishops, Presbyters, and Tithes, once mentioned. Not a Word about Obedience to spiritual Sovereigns, and Ecclesiastied Princes, or about our receiving the Sacraments from a regular Priest, descended in a right Line from the Apostles.
Such a Religion as this, which I have described, is agreeable to the Divine Justice; which does not punish any Man for speculative Opinions, and especially for Opinions, which neither do Good nor Hurt to any one, and for Opinions which no one can help.
This is a Religion every way worthy of its eternal Author; and we may know by the Doctrine, that it comes from God. It is a Religion for Men of Sense, for Philosophers, for honest Men; and comprehensible too by the meanest Vulgar, without a Guide; a Religion of Reason, free from the blind Mazes, and studied Intricacies, of Popish Priests, and beneficial to Society at first View. It despises apish Gestures, and external Buffoonery; and effectually prevents, and puts an End to, all inhuman Fierceness, and holy Squabbles, ever occasioned by the selfish Religions of corrupt Priests. It leaves not unhappy Men in perpetual Doubts and Anxieties, nor tosses and tumbles them, for Relief, out of one Superstition into another; but esteems them all alike.
In short, this is a Religion, which every wise and honest Man would wish to be Religion; a Religion of Charity, the Religion of Jesus; and this is the Independent Whig’s Religion.
T. and G.
Paraphrase, upon several
Verses of the xixth Chapter
of the Acts of the Apostles.
Composed in the Style of the late
Nihil rerum mortalium tam instabile ac fluxum
est, quam fama potentiæ non sua vi nixæ.
The Sixth Edition.
WHAT gave Occasion to the following Sermon, was the Threats of a most Reverend Prelate, and some of his Brethren, to suppress the Independent Whig, which then came out Weekly, by an Inquisition very extraordinary, and unknown to our Constitution. To defeat therefore such a Prelatical and Unchristian Design, and, if possible, to shame the Authors of it, with other fierce and interested Bigots, out of all Methods of Violence in Matters of Religion and Opinion, this Sermon was composed and published, with no ill Success.