Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number LXI.: Force and Fraud, how opposite to the Spirit of Religion. The very different Effects of religious Liberty, and false Zeal. - The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741)
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Number LXI.: Force and Fraud, how opposite to the Spirit of Religion. The very different Effects of religious Liberty, and false Zeal. - 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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Force and Fraud, how opposite to the Spirit of Religion. The very different Effects of religious Liberty, and false Zeal.
TRUE Religion has every Advantage over the false, except Force and Fraud; and these are the only Advantages which a false Religion has over the true. The Holy Ghost, which always accompanies the true Religion, and every Man that has it, is not to be bought, nor bribed, nor entertained by Money; not to be propagated by Artifice, or Falshood, or human Policy, nor to be infused by Power, nor helped by the Sword. He is detached from every secular Interest, and has no Use for Rents nor Authority. He comes freely to those that ask him, and sometimes to those who do not ask; and is guided only by his Benevolence and good Pleasure. He is Omnipotent, and can never be influenced by the Inventions of Men, nor be made obedient to Arts or Force, which can only serve to provoke and banish him, and to exalt worldly Pride in his room. The utmost Length that human Power can go in Religion, without hurting it, is to entertain some Men to persuade others to virtuous Actions, and to pray for the Spirit, and to pray with them. Beyond this, which is very commendable, human Power cannot go, and be innocent.
People have been generally misled in their Idea of Religion, by tacking to it the Idea of a Hierarchy, which they call Church-Government, but which is in Truth only the Government of the State about Things appertaining to the Church. But the true Idea of Religion is confined to the Operations of the Spirit of God upon the Heart of Man, and to the Actions which those Operations produce. Religion therefore is the Effect of the Spirit, which can have no Alliance with Secular Interest, which too often interferes with the Spirit, and quenches it. This shews that the Ecclesiastical Cause, and the Cause of Religion, are not always identical, but ought to be distinguished. The Piety of a Bishop is not always as large as his Diocese, nor the Good which he does equal to the Advantages which he receives: And there has been, and may be, Religion in the World, where there are no Ecclesiastical Officers. It would be impious to say the contrary.
Charity and Sincerity are the Characteristics of the true Religion; and it disowns Bitterness, Dissimulation, and human Arms, which are the Weapons and Defence of a false Religion, which must deceive where it cannot persuade, and force where it cannot deceive; and to use these Weapons in behalf of the true, is to renounce it, and bring it under the Suspicion of Falshood. If a Man tell me, that his Religion is the best and most merciful Religion in the World, and yet treat me with Ill-nature and Severity for not being of his Religion, I shall believe that either his Religion is false and ill-natured, or that he is a Disbeliever, or an ill Judge, of his own Religion. The Christian Religion is so absolutely divested of all Fierceness and Gall, that it commands us to love our Enemies, that is, Men of all Religions, or of none. Hence Origen, by a good-natured Mistake, (if it were one) believed that even the Devils and the Damned would at last be saved. This merciful Opinion, however groundless, has Piety and Sense in it, compared to the detestable Folly and Impiety of pronouncing any Man damned, however irreligious.
Men that have no Religion, or a false one, are intitled to our Pity and Exhortation. This is the Voice of Religion and Good-nature: For from Reason and Experience we know, that Sourness and Asperity only serve to harden and embitter them. While they are in the Wrong, they are unhappy; and it is avowed Cruelty to add, by ill Usage, one Misfortune to another, and to shew our own Want of Humanity, for their Want of Grace. It is like using a Man ill for an unfortunate Face, and hard Features. Opinions are the Features of the Soul; and let them be ever so ridiculous or deformed, all Men like their own best: And whilst they like them, they neither will nor can part with them; and when they cease to like them, they will cease to retain them.
No Man desires to be mistaken; and it is the Pride and Interest of every Man to have the best Lights, and the largest Understanding. It is a Contradiction to say, that in Point of Opinion any Man can sin against Light: His Opinion is the best Light that he has, and he will inevitably change it upon better Light. If the Avenues to his Understanding be so obstructed by Prejudice, Custom, and Bigotry, that no new Illumination can find Passage, a Case which is very common, this also is a Misfortune, but not a Fault: for he certainly would embrace the best, if he thought it best: There is no more Sin in this than in a diseased and depraved Appetite, which cannot relish wholsome Food.
The Mind is more subject to be depraved than the Appetite; and there are few, if any, Minds in the World but what are more or less depraved; and but for that Depravity, we should be in a State of Perfection. But the most depraved of all, are they who quarrel with one another, because their Souls are not marked with the same Stamp and Impressions, which are as various as Men; Opinions, Imaginations, and Errors, being infinite. It depends upon no Man’s Choice how he shall be first taught, nor what Ideas he shall first draw in: This depends upon Parents, Nurses, Tutors, and external Objects and Accidents. Nor is it in his Power afterwards to get rid of these first and fortuitous Impressions: Chiefly, because while they please him, he cannot desire it; and we see they generally please. Men for the most part carry the Fruits and Force of their earliest Education along with them to their Graves. We see Men as fond of the foolishest Opinions, as of the truest. Hence Mahometans continue Mahometans, Pagans continue Pagans; and both hate our Religion, as much as we pity and condemn theirs.
Indeed Men are generally zealous for their Faith, in Proportion to its Absurdity; and the more ridiculous the Opinion, the more fierce the Zeal of its Votaries in its Defence. The Popish Dreams of Transubstantiation, and the Infallibility of a Man, are, I think, some of their highest and holiest Nonsense; but such as they have taken the most ardent Pains to propagate and defend, and burnt most People for denying. And as it is true, that religious Madmen are ever eager to make Proselytes to their Phrensies, it is equally true, that they are much less solicitous about the Interest of Virtue, than about the Belief and Increase of these Phrensies. We have it from our Saviour’s Authority, that the Pharisees compassed Sea and Land to make one Proselyte, and by doing it, made him ten-fold more a Child of the Devil than he was before. The Turks have the same Zeal to bring Men from Christianity to the savage Stupidity of Mahometism. The Popish Nurseries of Drones, Enthusiasts, and Impostors, particularly the Jesuits, the blackest Incendiaries and Immoralists of all, ramble in Clusters about all the Corners of the Earth on the same Errand, and stick at no Means nor Frauds to cheat Men out of common Sense, Charity and Humanity, to make way for Popery, which is a Complication of all the Absurdities, Rogueries, and Errors, that ever appeared amongst Men, or that the Craft, Folly, and Malice of Men are capable of.
In the most Northern Nations, Nations where Men live among Bears and Forests, their Zeal and Charity are as unhospitable as their Climate, as savage as their Way of Life. Men are every-where uncharitable in Proportion to their Ignorance, and ignorant in Proportion to their Bigotry, which lessens or ceases according to the Measure of their Understandings; but thrives by the Absence of Politeness, Civility, and Knowledge. Upon the Skirts of a Mountain, and in small Villages, you find more of it than in Towns, in Towns more than in Cities, in small Cities more than in great. A general Commerce with the World, and a thorough Acquaintance with Men, quite destroy it. Every thing that is good for Mankind, is bad for Bigotry, as Bigotry is an Enemy to every thing that promotes the Welfare of Mankind; and it is utterly impossible for any great Nation to subsist in Greatness, where Bigotry is armed or let loose.
We feel and behold here in England the glorious and diffusive Effects of a general Toleration. It has multiplied our People and Manufactures, and consequently increased prodigiously our Strength and Riches. It has invited Multitudes of Foreigners hither with all their Arts and Money. It has encouraged Industry at home, by leaving to all Men an equal Enjoyment of their Conscience and Property, without being exposed, as formerly, to the Rapine and villainous Arts of Informers, without being harassed for Opinions, and their Way of Worship, without being insulted by foolish and zealous drunken Justices, without being summoned and terrified before merciless Courts, for a harmless pious Meeting in a Barn, and without the Danger of being driven out of their Country, or undone in it for a Conscientious Disobedience to the Inventions and Grimaces of hot-headed Monks.
Had the Arts and Cruelties of Laud gone on, as they drove many of the best English Subjects to people the wild Woods of America, where they found Tygers and Rattle-snakes less destructive Enemies than his Grace; these Arts and Cruelties of his would have ended in dispeopling England, or reduced this great Nation to a Number and Condition, not deserving the Name of a People, even to a Herd of Slaves, starving and trembling under the iron Rod of the new Lords of the Soil, their Levitical Landlords. England must have been in the same Condition, to which such Men, and such Measures, reduce every Country under the Sun where they bear Sway; a State of Lust and Insolence on one Side, and of Fear and Famine on the other. And I defy such Men, with all their Sophistry and Distinctions, to reconcile the putting any Number of People under Discouragements and Distresses for any Sort of religious Worship and Opinions, to the Peace and Happiness of Society. How would they accommodate their darling Uniformity to London or Amsterdam, without dispeopling or impoverishing those great Cities, where no Sort of Men are disturbed for their Religion? Societies must thrive apace, where they are subject to such Directors as would set up a Coat, or a Ceremony, in Balance against the Glory, Liberty, and Prosperity of Mankind!
I wish I could help to drive this Spirit of Uncharitableness out of the World, wherein it has committed such wide and affecting Ravages; a Spirit which is against all common Sense, and human Compassion; a Spirit which is at open War with the very Letter and Genius of the Gospel of Christ, scandalous and baneful to the whole Race of Men, and always highest amongst the worst. Good Men and wise Men are Strangers to it, and abhor it.