Front Page Titles (by Subject) To the Right Honourable The Lord Pagett. - The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741)
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To the Right Honourable The Lord Pagett. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741) 
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 Second Edition (London: J. Peele, 1741). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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To the Right Honourable
TO the Fifth Edition of the Independent Whig, I added so many Pieces, some intirely new, others printed before, akin to the Subject and Design, and never collected together, that the Bookseller thought proper to publish the Whole in two Volumes. And to the Sixth Edition, I have added this third Volume, consisting of Papers, which I formerly published occasionally, after Cato’s Letters were dropped; together with some other separate Pieces, which have been well received by the Public; all asserting the Independency of human Judgment, and Liberty of Conscience, and exposing those monstrous Impieties and Reproaches to Christians, Persecution for religious Opinions, and Restraint upon the free Consciences of Men, accountable to none but God.
Our blessed Saviour, and his holy Apostles after him, pretended to no Power but that of Miracles and Persuasion. Too many of their pretended Successors, destitute of the Gift of Miracles, and unsuccessful in persuading, plead for Force, not to bring Men to Christianity, (for the Separatists in many Countries are generally the best Christians) but to Ceremonies, and Postures, and Sounds, and Submission to Ecclesiastical Law, however foreign from, or unresembling the divine Law.
I am sorry to say, that where-ever the Clergy, of any Country, had Power to persecute, they have never suffered such Power to sleep. I am sorry to see, that in this Country, where they have none, and swear that they have none, but derive their very Being, and all their Emoluments, from the Law, there are any of them hardy enough to contend for it, and even to claim as their Right, what they have solemnly abjured.
Surely, if we may judge by eternal Experience, by what has past for so many Ages in the World, and by what passes daily in it, the certain Consequence and Operation of clerical Power, is the Exalting of the Clergy, and the Depressing of Laymen and Christianity.
Does Popery, which is the highest Pattern and Improvement of Church Power, at all resemble Christianity? And have the Papists any thing for the Word of God, but the Word of the Priest; who not daring to trust them with the Bible, nor with the true Sense of it, mis-explains it for them, and gives them his own Whims and Falsifications for the divine Truths of the Gospel?
This is Church Power in its natural Tendency and Effects. What brought Popery itself into the World, with all its pestilent Craft and Barbarity; especially the Inquisition, more cruel than all the Cruelties ever invented by Paganism? What but Church Power? What produced the Burnings, and bloody Martyrdoms, in Queen Mary’s Days? What but Church Power, and the Impatience of the Priests to suffer another, or a better Religion? What has dragged Emperors from their Thrones, and laid them prostrate for Priests to trample upon, but Church Power, rampant and unblushing? What has forced brave and warlike Princes (free and sovereign as they were) to veil their Crowns to a Priest, to undergo dirty Penance, to march on Foot, bare-legged, like Criminals and Vagrants, and to humble, or rather debase, themselves before the Shrine of a Rebel and Incendiary? Was it not the Power of Churchmen, baffling that of Monarchs? What let loose the Fury of Laud, to involve these Nations in a Civil War, by oppressing and persecuting the best Men in them, and all Men who would not bend the Knee to his mad Impositions? Was it not by usurping a Church Power, which had swallowed up all other Power? In short, let us judge of it, by what it has always and every-where done.
Is the Purpose of it to restrain or punish Heresy? Then whatever Opinion displeases the Clergy, will be Heresy. Truth may be, as it often has been, declared heretical; and most Sects of Christians are Heretics to one another: So that, had they all, at least the Leaders of all, Power to cure Heresy, the whole World would be a Smithfield, a Scene of torturing, burning, and butchering.
Or, is Church Power of Use to prevent and punish Sin and Immorality? This too infers great Latitude, and leaves the Clergy to judge of, and define all Sin and Immorality; Words which are of vast Scope, and take in infinite Matter: And such Power will then extend to our whole Life and Behaviour, to our inward Thoughts, to our Eating, Drinking, and Apparel; to our Words, Studies, and Writings; and all our Opinions and Habits; and, indeed, will infer universal Dominion: As may be amply seen and felt in popish Countries, where Church Power does indeed make the Clergy great and uncontroulable, but the People ignorant, dastardly, and immoral, instead of wiser, braver, and better.
To the Laity it is eternally and everywhere productive of endless Evils and Misery, as all History shews, and all Nations have felt. We need only compare our own free and happy Condition, (happy, because free) with the wretched State of other Countries, where priestly Dominion has banished that Freedom, and consequently that Happiness. Names make no Difference; nor is Evil and Servitude a whit better for being called Protestant, nor worse for being called Popish.
Now, as Experience is the best Director, Are Popish Countries, where Power Ecclesiastical flourishes, more exempt from Crimes than other Countries, where the Civil Power only governs? Far otherwise; their Wickedness is as prevailing as their Ignorance and Misery, and they abound in Vice, and shocking Enormities. The highest Crime has its Price, and when that Price is paid, the Crime is expiated.
It was seen and observed in the Reign of King Charles the First, when Church Power was worked up to absolute Sovereignty, and exerted with a Fury void of Justice and Compassion, that the most fashionable Clergymen were the most licentious and immoral; and such as were persecuted for Nonconformity, were the most exemplary Livers, and most frequent Preachers. The Merit of Conformity, even to Superstition and Trifles, proved Protection and Recommendation; at a time when the strictest Piety, and most conscientious Mind, exposed Men to Ruin, to Gaols, and Excommunication, whilst they refused to encourage the Profanation of the Sabbath, and to swear wanton and contradictory Oaths, framed by an incompetent Authority; and besides other Extravagancies, injoining the bottomless Perjury of an &c. as it was properly called by a Member of the House of Commons: An Oath (as was said elsewhere) of Covenant and Confederacy, for the Hierarchical Grandeur of the Clergy. The Christian Spirit, and that of Humanity, were banished; and all Oppression, and boundless Enormities and Cruelties, were introduced, in order to establish Church Power and Discipline. The clerical Madness, Excesses, and implacable Rage, at that Time, would indeed be incredible, were there not such manifold Monuments of them, authentically preserved in History.
It is the same in the Greek Communion, where the Power of the Clergy is in high Adoration, and exerted with notable Rigour, even under Mahometan Princes. But this boundless Church Power and Discipline hinders not the People from being scandalously debauched, faithless, and dishonest. They are only strict in their superstitious Fasts and Penance; and knowing little, or observing little, of the Laws of God, and of universal Equity, are only obedient to those of their Priests, often as ignorant, and as vicious, as these their wretched Followers.
Against this Power therefore, and the many and terrible Consequences of it, the following Papers, like those of the two former Volumes, are levelled; and like the rest, are written upon the Principles of the Gospel, and those of the Law. I hope, to candid and unprejudiced Readers, they will carry their own Use and Conviction along with them; and from the Passionate and Interested, I am not vain enough to expect either a favourable Reception, or Construction.
My sincere Aim in them, is to promote Truth, and common Sense, and Peace amongst Men; and to destroy that which destroys all these, Superstition, Falshood, and spiritual Tyranny. What I write, is in the Simplicity of my Heart, without any earthly View or Motive of Interest, or even any Vanity; since small is the Difficulty of shewing the Absurdity, the Malignity, and Mischief of Persecution, and of what countenances and supports Persecution, the Claim of spiritual Power over the Thoughts and Consciences of Men; a Chimera so obvious and unchristian, that he who attacks it without Success, must be a poor Proficient, either in Religion or Argument. Yet, like judicial Astrology, though it be for ever beaten and disgraced, as often as it is assaulted, it is still lifting up its Head, assuming important Airs, and asserting its Right.
This makes it necessary, from time to time, to renew the Assault, and to keep it under; a Task which requires no more, than just to shew what it is; namely, that it is repugnant to Religion and Nature, since Conscience cannot be forced, nor the Thoughts of the Heart fixed and controuled; to human Society, since there can be no Standard for Opinions, no more than for Faces; to civil Liberty, and private Property, since these are always overthrown by it, and reckoned too mean to contend against an Authority, which is said to descend from Heaven; to all Truth and moral Honesty, since it forces Men, for their own Safety, to hide their Sentiments, to disown their real Belief, and to profess what they believe not; and frightens them, for ever, from inquiring after Truth, and receiving it, whilst in such Inquiry and Reception, they will certainly find Flames, Gaols, and Gibbets, if such Truth be not according to Mode and Prescription, and exactly subservient to Ecclesiastical Profit and Pride.
In these Speculations, I have also had a View to the Quiet and Stability of this Free State, for which I have an intire Zeal. As our Laws are Laws of Liberty, they abhor, and even abolish explicitly, by Penalties and Oaths, all the Claims of the Clergy to any Power whatsoever, and consider such Power as already banished and suppressed with Popery; and those who would revive it, as dangerous Innovators, Apostates, and even excommunicate; as is largely proved in the foregoing Papers. Nor can our Constitution consist with the Exercise of such clerical Dominion. The very Claim and Assertion of a divine Right in the Clergy, has proved baneful to Liberty; as in the Reign of Charles the First, when the Laws of Property, Freedom, and Right, nay, Prerogative as well as Law, were all crushed, and set at nought, in order to set up this Phantom. And by Men of this Spirit, that wretched Reign, full of Wilfulness, Weakness, and Oppression, so lawlesly conducted, so impotently maintained, and ending so tragically, is, to this Day, fulsomely commended, in Defiance of Truth and Shame
In Truth, many of the corrupt Clergy, upon all Occasions, whether they were countenanced by the Crown, or quarrelled with the Crown, have still maintained this strange chimerical Right to spiritual Power; sometimes by promoting universal Slavery, like Laud and his Adherents, and such as followed his Steps in the following Reigns; sometimes by downright Treason and Rebellion, like the Nonjuring Clergy since the Revolution. These Men preached Kings into Divine Right, or out of all Right, just as these Kings encouraged or discouraged this their great leading Principle, of a Divine Right in themselves; and, to their everlasting Reproach, they have been always best pleased, when Tyranny and Misery prevailed, always sour and most discontented, when public Liberty and Happiness revived; witness their flattering, nay, their prostituting the Word of God, to flatter the most oppressive Reigns before the Revolution; and their fierce Hatred and Opposition to the immortal Hero, who redeemed and new founded our Religion and Liberties.
I would humbly propose it to be considered, whether such Men (if any such remain) can ever be good Subjects, whilst they entertain Principles, and assert Claims, subversive of the Constitution; and consider themselves as oppressed, because they cannot domineer and oppress. If they fansy they have a spiritual Power, to which all Men should bend, and all Consciences submit; how can they relish and endure that Government, and those Laws, which utterly disown it, and utterly abrogate all Pretences to it? Have they not, in Fact, been ready to join with every Faction that flattered them with the Hopes of recovering it, even with every Popish and every Jacobite Faction? And has not Mr. Lesley (who was once their Champion and Darling) declared all the Laws ascertaining the Reformation, and abolishing spiritual Tyranny, to be so many Acts of Oppression, Usurpation, and Sacrilege; and treated them, and the Makers and Preservers of them, with Fierceness and Gall?
I doubt, mad as these Claims are, and sure nothing can be more mad, and more impious, as they are against all Religion and Reason; they will still prove Sources of Faction and Discord, unless they be more explicitly discountenanced by Clergymen of the first Rank. It would be a worthy and an useful Task in these, to calm and undeceive a Number of their misled Brethren; to shew them, that they are just like other Men, possessed of no Privilege, Faculty, Pre-eminence, or Power, but what the Laws of the Land give them; that whatever they hold, whether their Revenues or their Characters, they hold, not from the Apostles, (however vain they may be of a Descent and Inheritance, without Proof or Similitude) but from the Appointment and Gift of the State: That the Notions of a spiritual Power can only serve to fill them with Pride, and make them ill Subjects, and ill Neighbours; and hurt, if not spoil, both their Morals and their Teaching, as in all Instances might be made appear; and that, in setting up for being better than other Men, they become, by such Vanity, so much worse; and lose Respect, by claiming too much.
Such good Counsel, and honest Reasoning, from their Superiors, would probably have great Weight with them, and cure them of that fierce Conceit and Disdain arising from their wild Notions of spiritual Dignity and Mastership: Whereas, were any of their Superiors themselves (which God forbid) bewitched with such Notions, or espoused the same for bad Ends of their own, their Authority and Example, and above all, their Testimony in Writing, (if any such Extravagancy could be supposed) would harden them in their Infatuation, beyond a Possibility of Conviction. For the Spirit of Man is easily intoxicated, especially with the Flattery and Visions of Power; such boundless Power too, as controuls Heaven and Earth, and turns Men into Deities.
Methinks they might easily discover, by their own Hearts and Conduct, that they possess no Character of Divinity beyond other Men; else they would be every-where better than other Men; more free from Pride and Fierceness, and other human and worldly Passions: A Preference which, I doubt, will not be allowed them, by such as have well attended to their Spirit and Behaviour. Why should not the Meekness of our Saviour, his Patience, Forbearance, and absolute Disinterestedness, accompany a Commission from our Saviour? Indeed, such a Temper would be the best Proof of such a Commission. Certainly, they who come from him, must be like him; if they be not, ’tis a Proof that they do not. One who observes the Signs and Operations of the Christian Religion, will never be brought to think, that Pride, and high Conceit, and a vehement Thirst of Power, are Marks of the Christian Spirit, nor of him who sends it; or that those who have these Marks are fit to make Christians, or propagate Christianity.
Men whose Minds are thus possessed, and their Heads thus turned, are not, in Reality, Ministers or Members of the Church of England; which being part of the Constitution, and incorporated with it, must have the same Policy, and stand upon the same Principles: And these Men, contending for another Policy, and asserting opposite Principles, belong to another Church, tho’ they prosess themselves of this, and subscribe all its Articles, and take its Revenues. This is not modest, nor sincere: It is still less so to arrogate to themselves only, the Name of the Church, which they thus in Fact and in Sentiment dishonour and abandon; nay, to throw the Charge of Infidelity upon such as vindicate the Church against them, and their false Representations of her. And indeed, it becomes every good Churchman to oppose all Notions of spiritual Power and Persecution, for the Honour and Security of the Church; which is ever dishonoured, and consequently weakened, by all in human Practice, and by all unhallowed Notions. Surely no persecuting Church is a Christian Church; no domineering Priest is a Gospel Minister.
I wish all Men, especially all Clergymen, would observe the Golden Rule, and not seek to exercise over others a Dominion which they would not suffer others to exercise over them. They like not Geneva, they love not the Kirk, tho’ both great Asserters of spiritual Authority, both claiming Divine Right and Descent, and differing from us in no doctrinal Point; nor, if they were there, would they comply with the Discipline and Government of either; but either go to no public Worship, or set up Conventicles, and encourage others to do so, and reckon it Persecution to be hindered or disturbed.
Why should they not allow to others the same Latitude which they themselves take? Is their own Church more pure and apostolic than those? With all my Heart. Let them not then stain it with Actions which are impure and unapostolic, such as Restraints upon Conscience, and Severity for Difference of Opinion. Others too have the same Partiality for their particular Hierarchy. Do we of this Church allow such Partiality in them to be a Reason for punishing and harrassing Us? No; we do not, nor ought. Let us not therefore do to others what we allow not in others.
Happy were it for the World, would all Men drop their Pride, and mutual Bitterness, so baneful to Christianity and Society; and learn Humility, and mutual Forbearance, so becoming reasonable Creatures and Christians. This should be the constant Wish and Endeavour of every Man, and every Christian.
My Lord, What I have said above, though inscribed to your Lordship, is only a Preface, not a Dedication, because I meant not to interest you, as a Patron, in the Matter or Design of it. If what I there say, or what follows, cannot justify itself, it would be great Vanity and Folly to expect that your Lordship should justify it. If you approve it, you have Candour enough to own it; if you do not, I am to blame, not you, for inscribing it to you; especially as I do it without your Knowledge. I here only consider you as my Friend, one whom I greatly esteem, as a Gentleman of extensive Parts, of generous Principles, and of much Reading and Observation; as a Lover of Truth, and Liberty, and Mankind; and as an able Judge of Writing, and Reasoning, and all polite Learning.
To such a Character, it cannot be unacceptable to see the Rights of Reason and of Conscience maintained, against those who boldly claim an unnatural Power over them.
The Subject, my Lord, is of high and universal Concernment, and interesting to every Man living, as he would not in the best Thing upon Earth find the worst, even Bondage in Christian Freedom, Darkness and Delusion instead of Light and Instruction, and Tyranny under the Name and Guise of Teaching.
It is a Dispute whether we are to take the infallible Word of our blessed Saviour, from his own Mouth, or at second hands, from such as are fallible and interested, and to believe the Words of Men, as his, though we think that it contradicts his; whether Almighty God, who cannot err, nor vary, has so revealed his own Will to Men, as that they can understand it, when it was revealed on Purpose to save them, and therefore to be understood by them; or has appointed certain Persons, liable to Mistakes and Passions, and to manifold Uncertainties, Doubts, and Wranglings, further to reveal his Will, already revealed by himself.
It is a Dispute, whether we are to listen only to divine Wisdom, speaking clearly, or to the Fancies of Men turning it into endless Doubts and Riddles, setting up indeed for Guides and Interpreters, yet still disputing about the Road, and the Meaning of the Directions how to find it; whether the human Soul be to be convinced by Persuasion, or by Force; and whether the meek Gospel of Peace can be advanced by Penalties, Rage, and Cruelties, or possibly approve, or even admit of them.
It is a Dispute, whether any Government can be perfect, and capable of supporting itself, where any Authority whatsoever (except what is derived from it, and absolutely depending upon it) is suffered to be claimed, or to exist; and whether the allowing of any separate and independent Rule or Power whatsoever, under any Name or Pretence whatsoever, be not naturally productive of popular Contention, Faction, and Civil Wars.
This, my Lord, is the Sum of the Dispute, which, where it is referred to the Gospel, to Reason, and to History, is easily decided. How fully and explicitly these Papers have decided it, I leave to your Lordship’s Judgment; as I do to your Good-nature, to pardon the Freedom of this Address, which proceeds from a very pardonable Cause, even the perfect Regard and Affection, with which I am,