Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number LXXIV.: Of the Character and Capacity of the Fathers of the Church. - The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741)
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Number LXXIV.: Of the Character and Capacity of the Fathers of the Church. - 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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Of the Character and Capacity of the Fathers of the Church.
THE Reading of the Fathers, and an Acquaintance with the Fathers, has made a great Noise in the World, as a momentous Study, intitling the Proficients in it to a high Character, and the Reputation of Learning. Few People had Leisure to read them, and fewer would take the Pains; and now I think most Men agree, that the Pains are not worth taking; and he who employs his Time that Way, whatever Industry he may have, is neither envied for his Taste, nor admired for his Acquirements, unless by those whose Applause Men of Genius are not fond of. There is not much Glory to be got in an Employment, where, to excel in it, nothing is required but great Drudgery, eminent Patience, and no Taste, or a wrong one. A Clown may exult and swagger, because he is an accomplished Ploughman; but I would rather he should have the Renown than I; though a good Ploughman is a good Character in a Country; and, in some Instances, a drudging Pedant, who is the Ploughman in the Learned World, is likewise an useful Character. It might be, however, wished, that they would preserve the Distance and Humility of Ploughmen, and not value themselves so much upon mere Sweat and Digging.
As to the Fathers, there is so little to be learned from them, that they who know much of them, are only esteemed by such as know little of any thing. Nor was there ever any thing more insolent and dishonest, than to refer us, for the Knowledge of the Scriptures, to the Fathers, who were so very ignorant of them, that they almost constantly understood them in every Sense but the true Sense. They have such an Appetite for Vision, Mystery, and Obscurity, that in the plainest Texts they find Difficulty, Darkness, Allusion, and Enigma’s; and explain obvious Passages, just as they do doubtful ones, by far-fetched and mysterious Guesses and Meanings, which contradict common Sense, and which none that had it would have thought of. A plain and natural Meaning, which every body could see, would not serve their Turn; but they must extort a Meaning, and so have the Glory of the Discovery; and their Thoughts, like their Language, were forced and Bombast. And to these Men, who made the Word of God of none Effect, by darkening his plainest Precepts with false Glosses and Figures, we are sent for Instruction in that Word.
Whoever has seen Solomon’s Temple Allegorized by John Bunnyan, may find there a Specimen of the Sagacity and Abilities of the Fathers in explaining of Scripture. According to John, there was not a Nail in that Temple but had its typical Purpose; and every Bason and Pair of Tongs prefigured some great Mystery to come; and, in short, every Stone and every Tool in the Temple prophesied. And in all this the poor pious Tinker did but tread in the Steps of the Fathers, without knowing it. As he had much more Honesty, and a more quiet and beneficent Spirit, than any of them; so he had as much Invention, and was full as equal to the Business of Allegory, as the best of them, and his Fancy was not more heated than theirs; and whoever reads his Pilgrim’s Progress, need only suppose himself reading one of the brightest Fathers in English; and he will make them no ill Compliment; for his Imagination, which was a very good one, was really more regular and correct than theirs. I have often thought the Rosicrusians a Sort of modern Fathers; only they are more sublime in their Reveries: They deal alike in the same Puffry, false Rhetoric, and their Imaginations are alike inflamed and extravagant.
It is irrational and impious to suppose, that Almighty God, the good, the merciful God, would give to his Creatures Instructions, Commands, and Advices, which were puzzling, obscure, or uncertain, when their eternal Salvation was depending upon their conceiving and applying them aright. And yet these Fathers suppose all this, in fetching from his Word Inferences and Meanings, which, upon reading it, seem as different from it as any one Language is from another. It is but Justice to the Omnipotent Being, to believe that he speaks candidly and intelligibly to his Creatures, and to all his Creatures, whenever he speaks to them at all: But this Justice the Fathers deny him, when they make him thus say one thing, and mean another.
And no more is it to be supposed, that the Father of Mercies would cruelly impose upon us an impossible Thing for a Duty; I mean that of agreeing with the Fathers, who never agreed with one another, nor indeed with themselves. No People upon the Earth ever differed more (no, not their Successors); nor proceeded to greater Fury and Bitterness in their Differences. They were constantly quarrelling about the smallest, as well as the greatest Points; and for the smallest, as well as for the greatest, they damned one another. It is to be hoped, that we are not to learn our Religion from those who wanted Charity; nor our Charity and Meekness from Men that were perpetually quarrelling, and cursing each other.
They indeed contradicted the first Principles of the Gospel, by turning Meekness, Humility, and Self-denial, into Pride, Riches, and Domination; and claimed all things, by virtue of a Gospel that gave them nothing. Are these Patterns for such as would renounce the World, the Flesh, and the Devil; and live sober, righteous, and godly in the World? Does their sainting of Villains and Assassins, as sometimes they did, intitle them to the Character and Reverence of Saints? Does their eternal Contention and Contradiction qualify them for the Centre of Unity? Is their turbulent Spirit, and their wild Want of common Sense, their ravenous Avarice, and flaming Ambition, their Fury and Fighting, their frequent Change of Opinion, their Apostasy and Murders; I say, are all these, or any of them, proper Marks of the Guides of God’s People? And that these Marks belong to many of the Fathers, and all of them to some, is too manifest: Indeed, their own Writings, and all Ecclesiastical History, do little else but prove it.
We have often heard the Dissenters charged with Fanaticism, and their best Writers have been called Fanatics by Men who reverenced much greater Fanatics, whilst they reverenced the Fathers, who far out-went in Fanaticism even the wildest Sectaries, that appeared in England during the late long Civil War; nor were the Ranters, Sweet-Singers, Muggletonians, Fifth-monarchy-men, or any of them all, more stark mad with Enthusiasm than the Fathers were; who, besides the Turbulency of their Behaviour, by which they brought many and heavy Evils and Persecutions upon the Primitive Christians, asserted Principles utterly irreconcileable to human Society, as well as to Religion and Reason. Jacob Behmen was not a greater Visionary, nor vended more devout Dreams.
I thank God, we can understand the Scriptures without the voluminous and contradictory Ravings and Declamations of the Fathers, who have equally perverted the Religion of Jesus, and the Religion of Nature; both which are clear enough to those that will see them, and do mutually confirm each other. There is as much Difference, and indeed Opposition, between the New Testament and the Writings of the Fathers, as there is betwixt the Pentateuch and the Talmud; which, by its Fables, Forgeries, and wild Inventions, has mangled, darkened, and perverted the short and plain History of Moses; nor are the Dreams, Fables, and Absurdities of the Fathers more sacred, or less glaring and extravagant, than those of the Rabbies. Never were such ridiculous Commentators upon Texts; and where a Child, that could but read, would not have missed their Meaning, the Fathers have missed it. They were so far from understanding, applying, explaining, or improving the amiable and evident Moral of the Gospel, that whoever would look for it in a Place where he is sure not to find it, need only read the Fathers; and I should think very meanly of our Country Curates, if most of them could not compose Systems of Divinity, more rational and scriptural than any of the Fathers ever composed.
Thus much I thought proper to say here concerning the Fathers. Whoever would see more elsewhere, may read the learned Dr. Whitby’s late Latin Treatise, intituled, Disquisitiones modestæ, and Mr. Marvel’s short History of Councils, and Daillé of the Use of the Fathers.