Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE XII.: Of public Teaching and Teachers. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE XII.: Of public Teaching and Teachers. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon’s Discourses II, History (Books 1-2) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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Of public Teaching and Teachers.
Whoever is head of the State ought to be head of the Religon of the State. The force of early impressions, with their use and abuse.
TACITUS says, that no Government was ever sufficiently powerful to repress the turbulent sallies of a people, who were once brought to sanctify and defend the evil doings and devices of men as real parts and acts of Religion. Never was any observation more true; and it shews of what importance it is to Government to take care how the people are nurtured, that the public education be rational and just, and that subjects be not taught to reverence any authority in the State more than the civil authority, or indeed to behold or feel any other whatsoever. Where the public Teachers depend not upon the Magistrate, his subjects will no longer depend upon him, but upon their Teachers, nor obey him when taught disobedience by them. It is dangerous to the Magistrate to have his people believe, that any man, or set of men, has more interest with God than he has, since then, the same man, or set of men, will of course have more interest with his people. Every Magistrate therefore who would rule with proper awe and in proper security, must be at the head of the Church as well as of the State. This was the just policy of the Caliphs in Arabia and Egypt, this the policy of the Sophi’s of Persia, and this is the policy of the Crown of Great Britain. The great Turk assumes not the name, but he exercises the power by making and unmaking the Mufti at his pleasure.
In discoursing of public Teaching, I do not mean to consider the course or method of education in schools and universities, but to examine the effects of ignorance or understanding in the people, and how much it concerns a State what notions are instilled into them concerning Religion and Government.
I believe it will be allowed just, that such impressions as are most wise and virtuous, and worthy to last, should be first made, not only because they are most important, but because the most early impressions are likely to abide longest, especially when the understanding finds afterwards cause to approve and retain what the mind had already imbibed. Upon our spirits, whilst yet young and tender, any ideas whatsoever may be stamped, however foolish, however mad, or even pernicious. Nay, such are very easily infused, though very hard to be removed. This is exemplified in the eminent stubbornness of religious errors. What is more monstrous than some of these, what more repugnant to all common sense and human happiness, what more dishonourable to the attributes of God, what more disgraceful to the reason of men, or more baneful to society? Yet what upon earth is maintained with such fondness, with such zeal and obstinacy? Whence comes all this ferocity for the support of folly, often in defence of misery, but from hence, that these reveries are for the most part very early sucked in, besides that they are confirmed by superstition, which teaches men not to reason, but to fear, not to see, but to believe? I know not that thing which human minds may not be taught to adore, let it be ever so absurd, ever so deformed, or destructive, whether Crocodiles and Serpents, or Impostors and Dæmons. Nay, what they often adore does not even exist, but is only fancied, like the imaginary Deity mentioned and ridiculed by Cicero, called Aius locutus, the Voice that spoke, or like the Idols mentioned by St. Paul, who of them says truly, “that they were nothing in the world;” that is they were only statues and names.
Of this openness of the soul to receive impressions readily, and of its fondness for impressions early received, excellent use might be made, though it has happened to be generally misapplied and abused. The mind may be taught true propositions as well as false, such as tend to its honour and advantage as well as those which tend to its hurt and disgrace. People may be brought up with an high opinion of their own reason as well as with a low, and learn to exercise it as well as to lay it aside, to consider and prize it as a gift and guide given them by God, as well as to rail at it, and to distrust its guidance. As in some countries (alas! too many) they are educated to love delusion, and to adore deluders, they might in others be instructed to despise deluders and to abhor delusion; here to love liberty and right, as there to bear bondage and misrule; to love God without being cheated and impoverished in his holy name, to honour Governors, but to own no allegiance to Oppressors; to know that the wise God cannot command fooleries, nor good Magistrates rule violently.
The ignorance of the People no pledge of security to to their Governors. The ignorant Rabble always most tumultuous.
GOVERNORS are not the less secure because their subjects have sense and discernment; I think they are much more so, and that from the stupidity and blindness of their people they have constant danger to apprehend; as blind men are apter to be misled than men that have eyes. The ignorant and foolish are eternally subject to misguidance, eternally apt to be inflamed by Incendiaries, to be deceived and drawn away by Demagogues. Such as have no understanding of their own, will be ever at the mercy and command of those who can gain their admiration and esteem, and will ever follow the man who can best seduce them. Thus the causeless mutinies in Armies, thus unprovoked tumults and insurrections in Cities and Countries, generally consist of the ignorant and brutal Rabble, excited and conducted by wretches often as low as themselves, only of superior craft and the bad are chiefly guided by the worst. Such was the sedition of the Legions in Pannonia, in the beginning of the reign of Tiberius.
“In the Camp, says Tacitus, there was one Percennius, formerly a busy Leader in the embroilments of the Theatre, and now a common soldier; a fellow of a petulant, declaiming tongue, and by inflaming parties in the Playhouse, well qualified to excite and infatuate a crowd. This Incendiary practised upon the ignorant and unwary. He engaged them in nightly confabulations, and by little and little incited them to violence and disorders, and towards the evening when the soberest and best affected were withdrawn, he assembled the worst and most turbulent. When he had thus ripened them for sedition, and other ready incendiaries were combined with him, he personated a lawful Commander, and harangued them.” His harangue was artful and vehement, and by it he quite fired the credulous multitude. All licentiousness followed and terrible outrages, especially when Vibulenus, another incendiary and common soldier, had inflamed them with fresh fury by an impudent lye, as if his brother had lately perished for promoting the common cause. Insomuch that had it not appeared that the Impostor never had any brother, to atone for that imaginary murder their General was in danger of suffering a real one. Now during all this insurrection and uproar of the common herd (for of such only it consisted) the General was still dutifully obeyed by the Centurions, and by all the soldiers of any merit.
Indeed all sudden disorders are raised, all furious and unjust revolutions are accomplished, chiefly by the gross and undistinguishing crowd, nurtured in no principles, or bad ones, ready to take every impression and alarm, to love or to hate by impulse and direction, and to be guided not by justice, and sense, but by passion and names, and cries.
One tumult is generally the picture of all others; and reason, which is a calm and orderly thing, can scarce have part in any, but instead of it rage and wilfulness bear sway: Like the uproar in Ephesus against St. Paul, stirred up by the Shrine-makers to Diana. A terrible insurrection there was, and a hideous clamour. The whole city was filled with confusion, yet the greater part of the multitude knew not wherefore they were come together. They only agreed in their common phrenzy and in a common cry, that great was Diana of the Ephesians; and this cry was the only argument which they continued to urge for the space of two hours against what the Apostle had declared; namely, “that they were no Gods which were made with hands;” a most self-evident and pious truth, if ever there were any. But this manly and benevolent doctrine served only to provoke, not to convince a rabble nurtured in blind error, and therefore furious to defend it.
The untaught vulgar, how liable to be seduced. The great Power of their Teachers over them.
IT does not at all follow from the ignorance of the people, that they are thence the more likely to be peaceable subjects. The more ignorant they are, the more easily they are deceived; and such who depend, not upon reason, but upon authority and men, are the surest dupes of Ambition and Craft, the certain materials for every public combustion. A few loud, or solemn, or even senseless words artfully pronounced and applied, are sufficient to raise their passions, to present them with false objects of love and hate, to fill them with foolish pity or foolish indignation, and to harden them against all sense and peace. It is likely they may be even so blind and bewitched, as to think all their outrages and cruelties so many acts of justice, nay, of piety and merit, especially in countries where they are wickedly taught to believe, that violence and barbarities are well pleasing to God and warranted by his will, provided that, for their justification, his name be boldly used. Whoever can persuade them, that their lawful Governors are enemies to God, has it in his power to make them enemies to their lawful Governors; and then the next step will be to rebel against their King, in order to shew their obedience to the King of Kings.
Neither is it any certain security to their Ruler, that they may be also taught to consider him and his power as altogether irresistible and sacred, though he should even degenerate into the most pestilent Tyrant; since, besides that such doctrine is utterly against nature, which when thoroughly incensed, will prove often too stubborn to be bound by any doctrine; there can be no constant dependence upon the operation of any principle which is it self founded upon nonsense and falshood. Whatever is absolutely absurd admits of infinite uncertainty and latitude in reasoning from it, and a contradiction once granted generally involves a man in a train of contradictions even to that contradiction and to one another. Moreover the reception of an absurd position implies such blindness in them who embrace it, that the same men who taught them, (for example) that they must never resist upon any pretence whatsoever, may afterwards teach them to resist even upon the very pretence of defending nonresistance.
Such inconsistencies we have seen in our own time. They who teach nonsense, claim likewise a right to declare the explanations of their own nonsense, and these they take care to accommodate to their present temper and views, and to the several variations of their views. Nor from such as they have instructed in folly have they cause to apprehend any discoveries to their disadvantage, or that any inconsistency will be charged upon them. Men who submit to be blind, have no right to see; and he who sees for them, will hardly suffer them to perceive any faults or errors in himself. So that he may persuade them to one thing to day, to another to morrow, yet scorn to own any contradiction in his conduct, or in their practice. He will still be sure of their adherence, so long as they have not light enough to see that they want light; nor, whilst they delight in darkness, can they dislike him who keeps them in it.
The deceitfulness of Doctrines which are against Reason and Nature.
THERE can hardly be found under any Government ignorance more gross than under that of Turkey; nor can the power of the Sovereign there be possibly carried higher, either in the minds of the People, or in the principles of their Religion. Yet where upon earth is sovereign Power more precarious than there, where more perillous? and where is the life of the Sovereign so often sacrificed? All men profess to adore his person, all men own his authority to be without bounds; no man pretends that it ought to be limited: Nay, to dispute the doctrine and prerogative of his absolute Will, would be as penal, as to call in question the Attributes, and even the Being of God; nor did it ever enter into their hearts to circumscribe his Sovereignty by any law. They profess passive obedience even unto death, though he command whole armies to precipitate themselves from a rock, or to build him a bridge with piles of their bodies for his passing of rivers, or to kill each other to afford him sport; nor is he ever accountable for any action or excess whatsoever, though he destroy wantonly, and without all cause, a thousand of his subjects in a day. These are flights worthy the grossness of Turks, worthy the gross flattery of Turkish Divines; nor have any Divines exceeded them in stretching this slavish Doctrine, except some of our own who have held it unlawful to resist even for the salvation of human kind. As they had thus improved upon the Turkish Casuists, so in another instance they wronged them, by asserting that this doctrine was the peculiar characteristic of their own Church, when it was that of the Mahometan Church many hundred years before.
But this doctrine, however savage and gross, and however by it flatterers may please undiscerning Princes, has been found so opposite to nature (as indeed it is to all common sense) that it has proved too barbarous even for the barbarity of Turks; and of all Princes who have died violently, none have died more tragically than theirs, none have found so little respect and obedience. These Gods upon earth; these shadows and images of the Almighty; these brethren to the Sun; these givers of all earthly dignities and crowns, are, with all these their divine titles, often the sport and victims of the vilest rabble.
This it is to carry submission beyond reason and nature. As every thing human is limited, so of course is human patience; and what avails theory against the bent of nature? You may bring people by teaching and ghostly fascination, to say any thing be it ever so absurd, ever so hurtful, perhaps to believe it too. But there is difference between saying and bearing, between assenting and suffering. When the trial comes, passion will prove stronger than opinion.
The most ignorant people, though they cannot reason, can be angry; and anger, whilst it lasts, is their guide. Their other guides may dictate to them, and argue for them, but cannot feel for them, may govern their ideas, but not their rage. All schemes which pre-suppose the continual rest or suppression of the passions, are foolish and fantastical, let the terrors and restrictions which they annex be ever so awful. What can be more so than the dread of hell, of everlasting torture and burning; a penalty denounced by some, particularly by the Turks, against resistance, and by many believed? Yet has this dreadful terror, even when corroborated with numerous guards and mighty armies, secured the thrones of Princes? No: Such as have trusted to it, have fallen in spight of it, perhaps because they trusted to it. They who rule righteously want no such deceitful support; for such it is, at best; and he who relies upon it has generally no other to rely on, and therefore deserves not a better. It is not just that falshood should support misrule, or the holy name of God serve to shield an Oppressor. A good Prince confides in the laws, and in his own upright administration, and has no occasion for recourse to lies and frauds, since he is sure of the favour of God and man: and he who reigns wickedly, ought not to wonder if his wicked hopes perish.
The foregoing Reasoning further illustrated. How much it behoves Rulers that their Subjects be well and rationally taught.
HOW little passive principles, and unlimited power, and mighty armies secure a Prince against public disgusts, the Revolution at Constantinople the other day, is a signal proof and example; and many such examples have happened there. This is the second within the space of seven and twenty years. A Prince whose authority knew no bounds, one by whose breath all men lived, and the greatest men perished, one whose height of power could only be expressed by titles taken from the Almighty, is in a moment tumbled from his proud throne into a prison. Had he not been raised so unnaturally high, his fall would not probably have been so immediate and violent. Where there is only one man to be changed, the change is soon made, let the nature of his power be ever so pompous, let his name be ever so solemn. Titles the most lofty signify nothing, when all reverence for titles is gone; and his despotic power, which he holds from his armies, must leave him whenever his armies do.
An angry faction, or a tumultuous soldiery, or even one desperate fellow, can effect a Revolution, where it is to be effected by removing a single person, since upon a single person in all arbitrary countries, the whole Government rests. But, to remove a Parliament, or to destroy all them who chuse Parliaments, is a far different task. Here therefore is the security of a Prince ruling over a free people. The States of the Country are a wall about him. Whatever burthens the subjects bear, as they are laid on by public consent, cannot provoke them against him: Hence his safety from popular tumults. As he relies not upon armies, at least but in part, even the revolt of an army can but in part distress him; and he has a resource amongst his people, where he has not provoked them by oppression. It will moreover be a constant check and discouragement to any design against him, that, though it should succeed, the Government would not be altered, and severe vengeance would be sure to follow.
Since, therefore, neither gross ignorance in the people, nor the possessing them with the most slavish tenets, can secure their Rulers against insurrections and revolt; it is the interest of their Rulers, as well as duty, to provide that the public education be rational and virtuous, and the public morals be sound, that the people have just notions of right and wrong, that they be not taught slavery instead of subjection, delusion under the name of religion, and folly for devotion. Where they are taught to be honest and sensible, they will be certainly dutiful to their Governors as well as just to one another; but if they be left to folly and corrupt dealings, their reverence to magistrates will be precarious, and may be as well too little as too much, since without a share of sense, especially a sense of honour and obligations, they can have no sure rule of conduct and obedience, and are more likely to follow evil than good, to be turbulent than peaceable.
Every departure from just liberty is an approach to slavery; every advance towards slavery is a step to brutality, which is then compleat when no liberty is left: And the nearer men are to beasts, the sooner they are enraged, the harder to govern. Wild beasts, however managed and muzzled, often destroy their keepers, as the most abject slaves have sometimes destroyed their proud tyrants. Men who know how to exercise their reason and to watch over their passions, will be quiet under good usage out of choice and interest, whereas such whose faculties are vitiated or suppressed, know not when it is proper to sit still, or when it is right to rouse: They may be persuaded, by those whom they trust with the management of their senses, that the best condition is the worst, that the most equal Government is Oppression, that the most legal Title is Usurpation; that a Prince, provided his name be John or James, may do whatever he pleases, be it ever so wicked and tyrannical; but if he be called Thomas or William, let him be ever so just and wise, he is an usurper. For, to the stupid and intoxicated herd they do not, they need not, give the true reason, or a better reason, or any reason at all, for this their partiality and aversion. Neither is it likely that they will own, that in stiling Rulers the Ordinance of God, or Apostates from God, they are generally, almost eternally, guided by their passions, to fawn or clamour, flatter or revile, bless or curse, be obsequious or rebellious, just as they find themselves courted or neglected.
Power in the hands of the public Teachers how dangerous to Rulers; and how ill it suits with Christianity.
A People led by delusion, especially by religious delusion (the most powerful of all others, and thence the most practised) are the subjects, not of the civil magistrate, but of the deluders, who may incite them against him, as well as engage them for him. Insomuch that for his own safety, and for the repose of the State, he must be beholden not to his People, but to the Leaders and Pedagogues of the People. To them he must pay all his court, and leave them to domineer, nay, assist them in domineering, that they may suffer him to reign, though only to reign in name. Constant distress and restraint is the least that he can expect, nay, if he continue not sufficiently tame, they will perhaps arm his own subjects against him; perhaps, not content with putting him under due fear and chastisement, they will even depose him, perhaps butcher him, or oblige him to butcher himself. Even this last sally of their pride and power is not new, as the others have been very common. The Egyptian Priests of old had gained such absolute sway over all men, especially over the King, that, as often as they found themselves prompted by any offence from him, or by any caprice of their own, they were wont, by a short order, to command him to die.
Others, since, have acted with equal scorn towards Princes, and deposed and murdered them with as high a hand. Nay, in most of their struggles with their Sovereign, they have proved too hard for him; a superiority which they at first gained through his own blindness and ill policy, by giving them himself, or suffering others to give them such mighty revenues, that, by the strength of these, and by their influence over the consciences of men, which with equal weakness he had surrendered to their will and blind guidance, they were become so potent and imperious, that he was glad to compound with them for the quiet possession of his Throne, to comply with all their demands, to be still augmenting their privileges and power, and thence to weaken and give up his own; nay, to be their daily and common executioner, and to inflict death and vengeance where-ever they shewed displeasure. Nor did all this complaisance always save him, if he manifested any uneasiness or reserves, or the love of mercy rather than of cruelty, or refused chearfully to kill or distress all his subjects, who in their devotions used not the words and tunes in fashion, though the fashion was daily changing.
The speech of the Bishop of Nismes to the French King the other day is a curious specimen of the spirit of those men. He tells his Majesty, “That his Monarchy is founded upon Catholicism,” that is, upon whatever they, the Bishops, shall think fit to call so; for they are the Judges. So that, whenever he falls from Catholicism, that is, whenever he provokes these Judges of Catholicism to declare that he does, he falls of course from his Monarchy. In the mean time they modestly expect from his Majesty, that he should persecute and undo all who refuse to submit blindly to their authority and dictates, in spite of conscience and conviction. It is the usual reasoning of such men. Whoever opposes or contradicts them, never fails to be an enemy to God and the King.
Christianity, which was certainly propagated without the aid of wealth or power, never has, never can receive any assistance from either. Like all other institutions civil and sacred, it must subsist upon the same principles from whence it began, or cease to subsist. Nor can it enter into the heart of man to conceive, how Religion, which is a conviction of the soul produced by the grace of God there, and without that grace can never be produced, should result from force or gain, things which naturally cause only pride and the fear of man, and other worldly passions quite repugnant to Religion. Nor was any thing ever more evident than that, when secular authority and secular riches are contended for in behalf of Christianity, it is done not by the voice of Christ nor for any purposes of his, but by the voice of interested men, and for apparent ends of their own.
We will readily allow them to be holy men, who call men to Christ, and labour to convert souls from sin; but surely they are not also holy when they are employed about things which have no share of holiness in them. They are not holy in offices and pursuits which are purely civil or natural. No man can be said to be holy in eating, sleeping, or in growing rich: neither is he holy even in preaching or praying, if in these functions his soul be corrupt or insincere. If his sermon be about secular things, it is not a religious sermon, no more than any other speech prompted not by grace but by passion; or, if he pray without faith and the spirit, his prayer is no longer holy. We must distinguish between the occupation and the man, between his holy occupation and his other occupations. Were every thing which a holy man does, to be accounted holy, even his sin would be holy, his acts of frailty would be acts of holiness. In his preaching and teaching the same rule must be observed; else his mistakes must be swallowed as instruction, and he may preach you into sin and folly as well as out of it.
The absurdity of implicit belief in any set of Teachers, with its mischievous and monstrous consequences. The natural progress of Persecution.
WHAT is said above shews the monstrous nonsense of submitting blindly to any set of Teachers, and the matchless assurance of such as claim it. The condition of the countries where this wicked point is gained, their shocking ignorance and misery, are abundant warnings to nations who yet possess the privilege of private judgment and conscience, to be zealous in preserving a privilege so precious, the inestimable gift of God and Nature, that divine ray issuing from the Deity, and the true characteristic of a rational creature.
It is human reason more than human shape, that denominates a man. Indeed such as part with their reason, have in a great measure renounced their species, and are to be ranked with creatures that are not rational, nay, in some sort, below them; for, dumb beasts part not with their instinct. After this fatal surrender of their chief faculty, what other faculty, or which of their senses can they claim a right to exercise? They have indeed small pretence to any reserve, nor is any reserve allowed them such as may interfere with their spiritual bondage. They are even doomed to renounce their eyes, their taste and their smell, to disown the taste of bread in bread, and the flavour of wine in wine, to see the one God, who is indivisible and fills heaven and earth, cut out of a loaf into numberless human bodies intire, yet still, to maintain that he is but one though thousands of mouths are eating him, and each eats him whole.
After swallowing this infinite lie, what other dare they dispute, especially when it comes from men armed with double terrors, those of Hell and those of secular Power? It is then too late to assert our senses, which perhaps are already bewitched and given up; it is too late to alledge, that it implies an absolute contradiction and impossibility, for any man to bind and govern the involuntary motions of my soul, which I my self cannot direct, nor hinder, nor alter. From the assuming of a power over the mind of man, every other power will follow of course; and civil servitude is the sure result of spiritual.
From hence men should be exhorted to examine before they assent. To order men to believe in their hearts what the heart of man cannot conceive, is such a stretch of assurance and impiety, such a mark of malice against truth and sense, such an assault upon natural candor and veracity, such a sure way to harden men in lying and hypocrisy, such an apparent inlet to all delusion and every ungodly dominion, that all men should rise up against it. It may begin with negative penalties, but, if suffered to go on, will end in an Inquisition; for, a small punishment infers the necessity of a greater, where the first answers not the end, and consequently of the highest, when none but the highest will do.
How few consider this, with the danger and natural tendency of punishing for opinions? Many would rejoice at the whipping of a man for having notions different from theirs, yet be sorry to see him burned: whereas the same arguments that justify the use of the lash will justify that of the faggot, and were that man as strong as his persecutors, he has an equal right and pretence for whipping or burning them. So that, if this spirit were universally let loose, before persecution ceased men must cease.
The Will of God not deposited with any set of Men. The use of public Teaching, with the Character necessary to public Teachers. How much they are corrupted by Pomp and great Wealth.
WHEN the Will of God is matter of record, it is monstrous absurdity to depend for the knowledge of it, upon the authority of men; and it is an open affront to the divine Being, to stile it his revealed Will, and yet to call it obscure or hard to be understood. What can be greater mockery than to suppose, that the omnipotent God should impart to some men only, certain great secrets which were of the utmost importance to all men; that all men were to be eternally taxed for having these secrets eternally communicated them; that he should publish these secrets in his revealed Will to remain always concealed though always preached; that they are still to be secrets, still hid, though thousands are publishing and explaining them every day, and have been for many ages? Is it not more worthy the idea of an all-wise, of an all-merciful God, to believe that he lays open to all men whatever is necessary for all men to know?
Neither does this reasoning affect the being of national Churches. It is my opinion, that a panochial Clergy are of infinite use, where they take pains by their example and instructions to mend the hearts of the people, where they teach them to love God, and their Neighbour, and Virtue, and their Country, and to hate no man. As corrupt as men are, though more prone to evil than good, I believe it possible for a wise, and diligent, and upright Clergyman, to shame vice and dishonesty out of his parish, to make virtue amiable to all his hearers, to convince knaves of the folly and deformity of knavery, and to persuade them to be honest even for the sake of interest, as well as for quiet of mind, and for reputation, and the love of their neighbours. By the same means other evil habits might be cured, such as drunkenness, lewdness, lying and idleness. People might be even made fond of all the genuine duties of Religion, which are really but few in number, and all capable of demonstration to the meanest capacity.
But it is absolutely expedient, thet they who profess to teach truth, be themselves men of veracity; that they be virtuous and sober in order to recommend sobriety and virtue, and shew by their behaviour, upon all occasions, that their duty, that the instruction and happiness of the people, is dearer to them than their own interest. If the conduct of a Teacher be contrary to all this, his character is contrary to that of a Pastor. If he set out with a great and solemn falshood, and say that he came from God, whom he never saw, if he alledge the call of the Holy Ghost, when his call was apparently interested and human; these are the marks of every false prophet, and he doth not teach, but deceive: Or if he be debauched, or false, or idle, vain will be his attempts, if he use any, to cure these vices in others. If he have a great or considerable revenue for the cure of souls, and surrender that important cure to a worthless hireling retained at a small price, can he be thought to love souls so well as money? Nor can he pass for an Embassador of Peace, if he revile, or curse, or teach his people to hate and injure such as differ in speculations from him.
Neither can he be thought a messenger of truth, or an instructer of men, if he puzzle them with curious and fanciful notions irreconcilable to probability and human apprehension, yet to be embraced as necessary duties. This were to represent the wise and good God as delighting to mock and perplex his creatures with riddles and contradictions. And, for men to own their belief of any religious proposition, which they cannot possibly conceive, is to mock God in their turn; since to embrace with our understanding what the understanding cannot comprehend, is absolutely impossible. I can easily conceive, that a just God must love righteousness and hate iniquity; and this must be obvious to the conceptions of all men. But, I cannot conceive how the God of truth should delight in sophistry, how he who would have all men come to the knowledge of truth, should desire to have all men confounded with inexplicable niceties, or to have that made true in systems which in reason can never be true.
Neither can a Teacher ever edify others whilst he preaches up himself. If he contend for power, and dominion, and worldly pomp, how is he a spiritual guide? The blessed Jesus and his holy Apostles had nothing of all this, claimed nothing. And it is amazing that others, who evidently want the spiritual endowments of the Apostles, should venture to demand, as successors to the Apostles, what it is plain the Apostles never had, nor sought. Other arms than persuasion and prayer, they have none, and power is incompatible with either. It was natural for Mahomet to plant a false Religion by troops of horse. But Christ and St. Paul took no such ways, nor allowed others to take them.
Nor has it at all appeared, that our Religion ever flourished in proportion as Churchmen grew wealthy. I doubt its spirit will be found to have constantly sunk as their pomp increased. The People, indeed, have ever been most ignorant where the Clergy have been most powerful. The more the latter had, the less they taught, and, when under the name of Religion, they were become masters of all things, they quite abolished Religion to set up frauds and superstition. To what gross ignorance, to what misery and barbarity they had brought Christendom before the Reformation, I leave Historians to declare. In what a horrible state of stupidity, dread and desolation, they still keep the parts of it yet unreformed, all travellers see, and all that read travels may learn.
So much the poor People got by giving these their Teachers all, or too much, and by believing their commission to be from God, when they were acting like the most depraved of men, full of revenge, though professed followers of the meek Jesus, who when he was reviled, reviled not again; nay, confidently glutting their avarice under his name, though he himself had not a place where to lay his head.
All this was natural, and, in all places upon earth, the like causes will produce the like effects, to the end of the world. The people who had been long deluded, grew first blind; when they had parted with their reason, they were easily brought to part with their property, and where all the property was, there all the power followed.
Public Teachers have no Power, no Creation but from the State. Their Folly and ill Policy in claiming any other.
IT becomes the wisdom of all Governors so to fashion and regulate the public Teachers, as to let them know, and all men see, that they are the Creatures of the State, appointed by the civil Power to a religious office. This was the wisdom of England at the Reformation. They were then obliged to swear, that they derived all power of all sorts whatsoever, from the Crown; nor could they after this, without express perjury, claim any antecedent or independent power. They were by this cut off from the profane nonsense and presumption of their predecessors, of representing Jesus Christ, and of succeeding the Apostles; a source from which the Popish Clergy had drawn all their gain and fairy dominion, and with which they had covered and hallowed all their wicked pretences and frauds.
Yet for several reigns after the excellent Queen Elizabeth, though the same law, and oaths and subscriptions continued, many of the Clergy, in defiance of the constitution, of conscience and of shame, adopted all the antichristian and corrupt claims of the Popish Clergy; and, through the monstrous policy of the reigning Princes, this their lawless behaviour was connived at, nay, supported. For, the Court, where all arbitrary schemes were on foot, in order to gain its own pursuits, humoured and assisted the Clergy in theirs; and though both Court and Clergy became thence notoriously unpopular and obnoxious; though both Monarchy and Church suffered a terrible Catastrophe, for aiming at more than belonged to either, the same restless spirit possessed both upon their re-establishment, and both arrogated a power to be lawless and forsworn, by divine right.
This spirit met another severe check afterwards, yet revived again with equal confidence; but the times since bore it worse than ever: Insomuch that all the contempt of which Churchmen so much complain, has been brought upon the Clergy by many of the Clergy themselves. Their claims were so ambitious, extravagant, indeed so false and wicked, and have been so well exposed, that no man of common sense could reverence the persons who made them.
What they are, the Law certainly makes them; what they have, the same Law certainly gives them. Why would they be falsly aspiring to a higher creation, and a title divine? Why be deriving from God what all the world sees to come only from the bounty of societies and of particular men? Why be broaching doctrines destructive of Liberty in a nation of Freemen? Why assert an extraordinary, even a divine power to do certain actions, and pronounce certain words, which any man who has hands and a tongue could speak and perform as well, if the civil Magistrate appointed him? Why would they shock all men of any discernment or piety, by fathering all their most selfish, all their most earthly and sordid opinions upon our blessed Redeemer and his holy Gospel, all their notorious falshoods and contradictions upon the word of truth? Why cover apparent ambition and avarice, manifest vengeance and anger, with these sacred names?
These were not ways to gain reverence; and had they gained any, it had been all false reverence, not worth gaining, indeed worse than none. Truth wants no false decking, nor any help from falshood, but is often lost or injured by such unnatural company. Whoever speaks truth and does good, is sure of a warrant and approbation from heaven, whatever be his habit or his title; and, if he utter falshood and do mischief, he may be assured that God will disown him; and no name, however solemn, no habiliment, however grave or gorgeous, can in the least justify him.
The Apostles had no power, no revenues, nor even the countenance of authority. All their credit, all their reverence and success flowed from their heavenly doctrine and behaviour. I hope the world, which has been so long illuminated with the light of the Gospel, is not worse than it was then. The Gospel has been many ages planted amongst us; nor could the Clergy be said to be still planting it over again where the people already believed and received it. The business therefore of the public Teachers was, by continually urging its precepts upon the consciences of men, to improve them in practical holiness, to purify their lives in this world, and thence fit them for another. For this purpose they have encouragement and support from the State; and as a designation and maintenance from the civil power is all that they can desire, it is likewise all that they want. They have all possible scope to propagate every divine truth, to enforce every social and civil duty: And whilst they are thus worthily employed, no man will envy them, no man can contemn them; nay, all men will, for their own sakes, pay them all due countenance and respect.
In this glorious pursuit they might be of excellent use to others, and gain great esteem to themselves, by making people good and government easie, for good men will be good subjects. But it will be a great obstacle in their way to esteem, if they aim at too much, and would derive it only from their name and function, however they neglect or pervert their duty, and however worthless they be in their persons. Too great a fondness for themselves, will make others less fond of them, and by deriving their pedigree too high, many will be provoked to set it too low, or even at nought; like vain men who boast the greatness of their race, when their descent is known to be ordinary, and their rise late and sudden.
The fatal and ungodly consequences of allowing force in matters of Religion and Conscience; how inconsistent with the nature and end of religious Teaching. The contempt of public Teachers, whence it arises, and the cry of Priestcraft how founded.
FROM all temporal power the public Teachers ought to be carefully debarred. This is what neither agrees with the Teachers of Religion, or with the nature of civil Government, which admits not of partnership. for the same cause that any degree of spiritual power is claimed, the highest degree will be claimed, till at last the civil power is either swallowed up in the ecclesiastical, or becomes only its tool and machine, as in Spain and Italy, where the Clergy claim a jurisdiction independent upon the Magistrate, which also infers a right to excommunicate and depose him. This is at best a two-faced Tyranny, a lame and uncertain Government, constrained to do too little or too much; a monster with two heads, each aiming at the chief direction of the body, each furnished with a set of limbs moving opposite ways.
They who deal with the soul, if they meditate its conviction, must avoid all force, which can only teach it to lie. Indeed the exercise of power in matters of Conscience has produced such tragical effects, always and every where, as to be sufficient warnings to every country and generation to prevent kindling a flame that would consume all things. Whenever this power has been once gained, the public Teachers have then done teaching, and begun to command. Instead of arguing, they then imprison, and silence gainsayers by a halter, or a faggot.
It is wonderful how a man of this spirit, can have the face to attempt the conversion of any man or nation of men. How can he pretend to reason me into his opinion, when if I embrace it, I must never leave it, though I dislike it, nor follow my reason afterwards, though my reason satisfies me that I have been mistaken, and that my present profession is impious and absurd? Would it not be madness to embrace the opinion of a man, who professes to persecute or kill you, if you ever afterwards change your mind, let your conviction be ever so full, your conscience ever so uneasy? I would fain know how such men can set about the work of conversion, unless they play the hypocrites, and hide all their terrors, their daggers and their flames, till they have once made sure of your person. This were a fraud unworthy the Christian name, and yet I cannot see how such men could avoid such a fraud. They are obliged either to forbear conversions, or to deceive their converts. Their principle is antichristian, and must lead them into antichristian practices. Whoever would preach the name of Christ, must renounce all persecution, all severities.
Such of our Clergy as disown all spiritual independent power, all chimerical claims to a divine right, and honestly derive all their distinction and privileges from the Law of the Land, have acted a wise as well as an honest part, and are the only men who can preserve the Church and Churchmen from contempt, by giving up all ghostly craft, all restraints upon Conscience, and by declaring for reason against force. Such men can never be charged with Priestcraft nor be obnoxious to the scorn that follows it. That such craft has long prevailed in the world, done prodigious mischief in it, and proved always baneful to private Conscience and to public Liberty, is too manifest to be denied. Indeed, to raise a cry of Priestcraft where there is none, would be foolish and unjust; and it is as foolish and unjust to complain of the cry where the thing subsists. I doubt the thing only began the cry, and continues it where it is continued.
Every claim of the Clergy’s, which is irreconcilable to the understandings, to the freedom and interest of the Laity, is Priestcraft, such as any power to domineer, to damn or to save, to know hearts by confession, to change the qualities of persons, and places, and matter, by prerogative and words, &c. Surely the impartial God, the Father of mercies and of men, is not influenced by the persons of men; nor can the same words be effectual with him out of one man’s mouth, and ineffectual out of the mouth of another. This would not savour of infinite wisdom, but of infinite caprice; as it would be infinite cruelty to make the happiness and eternal welfare of men depend upon habits and postures, upon names and forms, and to leave the salvation of one man, or of many, at the option of another, or of a few. Yet this doctrine, as false and impious as it is, has been maintained; and a power to oblige all men to submit to it has been contended for.
Power in the hands of any public Teachers, leads naturally to Popery, and is Popery. How apt they are to differ amongst themselves, yet claim conformity from all others. Persuasion and good example their only province; the sanctity of their doings their only sanctity.
SUCH principles as these mentioned in the last Section, constitute the genuine spirit of Popery. This is the spirit, these the principles which make Popery terrible. For, as to the mere whimsies of Popery, its ridiculous tenets and worship, they are of little moment in themselves. If a man pay adoration to a piece of paper with a picture upon it, or to a bit of rotten wood, or to a rusty nail; he is to be pitied for his folly, but by his folly he hurts not me. It is the power of the Clergy, it is their long claws that constitute Popery, render Popery terrible, and are Popery, real Popery, whatever else it be called. A Clergy who may do whatever they please in behalf of themselves against the Laity, will ever be popish Priests; that is, they will do what popish Priests have always done, every thing to depress the Laity, every thing to exalt themselves. Other difference there will be none, save in names and trifles.
Where-ever the power of Popery, that is, an unbounded authority in the Clergy, is established, all the visionary follies, all the idolatry and extravagant superstition of Popery, are likely to follow. The ignorance and pannic fears of the vulgar, and the cunning and selfishness of their guides, will in time introduce all the rest. The amazing positions and absurdities of Popery were not immediately settled with the monstrous power of the Popes, but gradually and naturally followed it.
Calvin was a Protestant, and a Reformer, and occasioned great good by weakening Popery: but in the proceedings against Servetus, Calvin was a Pope, nay, a popish Inquisitor, if it be true, that he was the author of these proceedings. Was Servetus a Heretic to John Calvin? So was John Calvin to the Pope and the Monks, who had as much right to burn him, and were as little vouched by the Gospel in their trade of burning, as was he in burning Servetus.
Were every man who differs from another in religious points, especially in points owned to be not only curious, but even inexplicable, to be executed, but one man in the world would remain alive, since all men differ more or less. No men differ more about Religion than Clergymen, or with more acrimony. They are subject to dispute about things of the least and of the greatest moment, and to mix much passion with all their disputes, be the subject ever so important, or ever so trivial: I wish I could say, that they never manifested any unchristian want of charity towards each other, and towards all their opponents whatsoever. However that be, it is matter of wonder, that they, who are so different and opposite, nay, so endlessly divided in their sentiments, can so boldly exact conformity from all men, can contend that all men should agree with them, who cannot agree with one another.
Under all the darkness and uncertainties of Paganism, did the Philosophers (the Teachers of those days) differ more widely, or quarrel more fiercely than the Teachers under a clearer dispensation have differed and quarrelled? Or did the wrangling of these old heathen Sages ever produce such furious ferments in the world, such merciless wars, such public desolation, as the everlasting contention between Fathers and Fathers, between Doctors and Doctors, has produced? It is strange, that they who professed to be guided by eternal verity, and to guide all men to it, should maintain eternal strife about it. If this be owing to their own various conceits, to their passions, errors and particular interests, with what certainty, or satisfaction, or safety, can we rely upon such disputing and contradictory Leaders? How is it possible to be determined by judges who vary thus infinitely in their judgments? Will they tell us, that they agree in the thing, though they differ in explaining it? This would be too great mockery, when it seems we must assent to the thing as they explain it; else there is an end of all their pretended authority and guidance. If they say, that the thing cannot be explained at all; this is still equally absurd, since the assenting to what admits no explication, is to assent to nothing; and why do they dispute about what they can never clear?
It, in truth, looks as if the providence of God had thus ordered it, on purpose to baffle the vanity of such men as would dictate to others, and attempt to make his word clearer or darker than he himself has thought fit to make it. It looks as if he meant to warn us, by these their perpetual wrangles, to depend upon our own eyes and reason for understanding his will revealed in his word, which to the meanest capacity discovers what is sin, and what is duty. What more is necessary? Has curious doubting and learned discord ever mended the world? I wish the contrary were not too tragically true.
The province of public Teachers is persuasion. Other force than that, and the force of good example, is monstrous; it is contrary to the Gospel to require any, or any respect at all but what results from their usefulness and the piety of their lives. All men will be ready to reverence them according to the measure of their integrity and virtue, and of the good that they do. What would they have more? This is reverence upon a solid foundation, such as will last. But to demand high respect to mere shew and names, to the sanctity of their characters, however little there appear in their persons, or to their mighty prerogatives from Heaven, when their pursuits are altogether worldly, is the direct way to bring themselves under public ridicule and even public indignation.
It is only sanctity of actions that makes a sanctified character; and whoever does those actions has that character, as he who does them not cannot have it, though he may boldly assume it. A Clergyman who is a persecutor, an oppressor, a drunkard, proud, unjust, licentious, must with an ill grace talk of his sacred profession, or pretend to the Holy Ghost. Much more conceivable it is, much more likely and natural, that the Holy Spirit should influence and accompany any Layman who is peaceable and merciful, just and sober. That Spirit can never surely be supposed to dwell in evil and vicious men, be their titles ever so specious and cœlestial. He whose ways are not apostolical, can never be esteemed a successor to the Apostles: whereas he who lives like an Apostle, though he bear no particular habit or name, is an apostolical man.
It is not reconcilable to common sense or any sense, that holiness or the power of holiness can adhere indelibly to a man of an idle, or profligate and impure life, merely by the force of ordination, that is, of being ordained, according to the prescription of the Law and Forms of man’s devising, to perform an office which he performs not, but neglects or dishonours. Can it ever accord with reason, or with the idea of God and his Religion, that those lands, which are once possessed by one sort of Churchmen, though acquired by the most impious frauds, to maintain the luxury of infamous and cheating Monks, must still continue appropriated to the use of another sort of Churchmen, and can never be alienated without the sin of sacrilege? That the holy Church of Jesus Christ, who possessed no wealth himself, nor left any behind him, can crave or bear an endowment acquired by robbery and frauds, or refuse to make restitution to such as have been plundered in his name by vile and rapacious deceivers?
How it is that public Teachers fail of respect, or gain it.
CAN there be more shocking tenets than those, mentioned in the last Section, or more repugnant to all reason and virtue, to all truth and piety? Yet many such tenets are maintained with notable fierceness. It is certain that the Reformation owned none such; nor, consequently, does our Church, which is founded upon the Reformation, own them. In renouncing Pepery, we renounced all its falsities and abominations; nor can he who adopts and defends them, be an English Protestant, nor indeed hardly a Christian, if he thus fly in the face of Christ and his Apostles, and in their name demand possessions which they never enjoyed, demand power which they never sought, but always renounced.
If in their exhortations, they promote narrow interests, separate from the public interest, or hurtful to it: if they endeavour to make their hearers rather blindly obedient to themselves than zealous for the public weal and for the honour of the State, rather intoxicated dupes to names and delusion, than wise and good subjects: if when they are angry at their Governors they encourage disaffection to the Government, but, when humoured, preach up slavery and tameness under oppression however outrageous, can they hope to be reverenced? Can they be thought actuated by Religion, or Reason, by Mercy, or Truth, or by any good spirit? But, if their conduct be contrary to all this, no contempt or public despite can possibly befall them. Where they act worthily, they will be as sure of respect, as by acting differently they will be sure to miss it. True respect comes from good deeds and not from notions and appellations, much less from pride and the itch of dominion, from impatience of difference in opinion, or peevishness of spirit. Whoever manifests a general meekness of behaviour, universal charity and forbearance, consults and promotes private honesty and peace, with public virtue and tranquillity and the welfare of society, and goes about doing good, cannot fail to find the esteem of all men.
Excessive Revenues of the public Teachers, how pernicious to the World. A decent and easy maintenance to be allowed them.
WHAT respect a great portion of the world owes to its Teachers, the miserable condition of most parts of it, the ignorance and slavery to which they have brought it, and under which they suffer, nay, oblige it to lye, do abundantly shew. Can it be denied that as their power rose, civil happiness sunk, that in proportion to their grandeur has been the misery of their followers? Indeed if the most heavy and lasting curses that can befal or afflict human kind, entitle them to respect, they may, in many places, claim the highest, from public delusion, persecution, beggary and bondage, and from general desolation and woe, as from so many monuments of their own raising, or such at least, as they largely helped to raise. It is evident, that where they prosper most, the people are the most wretched, and that to such prosperity such wretchedness is owing; if that can be called prosperity which produces such infinite evil.
Is not this ample warning to nations which are not yet in the same condition, to take care of every approach towards it? And is not this a ready answer to every attempt for accumulating overmuch worldly property upon spiritual men? Beyond a certain measure it makes them useless, very much makes them dangerous, and their pride and power always rise in proportion to their revenues. Is it not so in Spain and Italy, where their infinite wealth, eternally productive of infinite authority, has made them a public plague and scourge. There their terrors and depredations know no bounds: Guarded by flames and an Inquisition against gainsayers and all opposition to their enormous falshoods and insatiable avarice, they cheat and domineer without fear or restraint, and not content to prey upon the substance of the miserable Laity, rob them even of their senses and their time. So complete is the delusion there, so fast the bondage over soul and body.
If this be dreadful, let other nations yet free and rational, yet at liberty to understand the Bible and to follow their Consciences, guard against all measures that would lead them, however imperceptibly, into the same doleful and unchristian state, for Christianity is a state of freedom. The Church of Christ has subsisted, and even flourished, without any revenues at all; but too much revenue has always impaired its purity, sometimes quite defaced it, as in the above instances. It has always so happened, that immense wealth and a holy profession have not well accorded, and much pomp and spirituality neither look well nor sound well together. Neither can there be a more effectual demonstration, that neither a heavenly commission, nor heavenly hearts belong to men, to any set of men whatsoever, than to see them ever and ardently engaged in pursuits of worldly wealth and worldly power.
Let the public Teachers have a maintenance in the name of God, a decent and easy maintenance secured to them by laws and the consent of society; but let them not boldly pretend to derive their maintenance from God, when it is evidently the gift of men. They who contend for this, cut themselves off from all regard, and cannot possibly be grateful to any benefactor, since they consider him not as the giver, but only as the instrument, nay, probably may think him an usurper in pretending to give them what was theirs before by divine right.
Moreover their maintenance ought to be restrained within a certain measure, and not suffered to grow so as to devour in time the property and maintenance of all other men. If some of them have too little, as doubtless they have, others have too much; and in all orders of men there will ever be such inconveniences and unequal distribution; nor is it possible for public wisdom to remedy the same, or for the public purse to enrich or even to support all that are indigent, or situated lower than they wish, and sometimes deserve. It is more just that particulars should bear a hard lot, than that, to mend it, society should suffer, and the ballance of society be lost or endangered. It is against all reason, and very ungenerous, to seek relief from any scheme which would in time bring all men to seek relief from them. I wish it could be so ordered, that where-ever Religion produce Gain, Gain would never prove to be more considered than Religion.
An inquiry why the Christian Dispensation has, with all its advantages and excellencies, so little mended the World. Whether and how far public Teachers are chargeable with this.
WHY the world has not been more mended by the Christian Dispensation, of itself so much adapted to mend the world, is worth the inquiry of all men, especially of such as are employed to inculcate its precepts upon the minds of all. And here many other inquiries subsequent to this will naturally occur; namely, whether they have ever pursued their own worldly interest more assiduously than suited with their holy profession, and never prostituted religion to serve the pursuits of wealth and power: whether they have ever dispensed with sins, and been even partial to favourite and bountiful sinners, or discouraged and even persecuted conscience, and sincerity, and all holiness that bore not their mark: whether they never claimed an absolving and damning power, and by it brought men to fear them more than God, to be more afraid of offending them than of committing sin, for which they could so easily pronounce pardon: whether they have always manifested that humility, gentleness and benevolence so well becoming such as spoke in the name of Christ: whether they never used the Holy Gospel to warrant their own anger and ambition or avarice, and in the stile of the Gospel enflamed the mad rage of party: whether they have been equally diligent to make their followers sincere Christians, as warm zealots, Champions for Christ as Champions for Churchmen: whether they promoted knowledge and all religious and rational inquiries without reserve, and taught truth rather than blind submission, rather than the narrow principles of particular factions: whether they have promoted the great blessings of society, civil and religious Liberty, obedience to equal and fixed Laws rather than to the lawless and unsteady will of man, and have always supported Government, when Governors observed the Laws: and whether men who have a holy profession, if in their conduct they be not holy, can be reverenced for their profession which they dishonour, or lead men into all righteousness, without being righteous themselves?
The continual endeavours of so many thousand Teachers in any country, to recommend the beauty and benefit of Religion and Virtue, and to shew the deformity and mischief of evil and immorality, would surely be of vast weight and consequence. But let the number of Teachers be ever so great, small good will ensue, if many exert no endeavours at all, if many do it superficially, like a task which they seem forced to, and not to chuse or delight in.
If they recommend dry and dark speculations, such as are hard to be understood, or if understood, produce no practical duties, and, without mending the heart, only perplex the head; or if they inveigh against such as entertain ideas different from theirs, and provoke people to bitterness towards each other, instead of exhorting them to mutual love and forbearance: If their hearts appear set upon pomp, and gain, and dominion, rather than filled with humility and self-denial, and zeal for the souls of men: If they promote ignorance and slavery, persecution and discord, and shew anger or favour to men, not according as they are wicked or virtuous, but countenance their own followers however bad, and hate and distress such as only follow the pure dictates of Conscience: If they darken or pervert the Gospel by vain glosses, by false and selfish comments, and would oblige all men to submit to these their inventions, though directly opposite to the Gospel and all the ends of the Gospel; small is the wonder that mankind are not mended by such depraved instruction. It is indeed wonderful that, bad as they are, they are not still worse, since it is manifest that over a great part of the earth, and in some of its finest regions, their Instructors are continually deceiving, debasing, blinding, frightening and oppressing them.
In matters of Religion, neither the Greek Church nor the Roman Church allow their people to retain common sense, nor to forgive it in others. For Religion they are taught gibberish, and contradictions, and dreams, and to hate and damn as Atheists, or Heretics, all who are not so blind, and distracted, and slavish as themselves. Their Teachers even assume to sell them the mercy of God and eternal Salvation, at a price, to absolve them from the blackest guilt for money, and for money to disarm the Almighty of his resentment and vengeance. As long as they can pay, they may sin, and are thus encouraged, nay, warranted in eternal immorality. In the Office of the Datary at Rome, sins are taxed according to their several sizes and qualities, and the greatest as well as the least are cancelled by silver and gold; and for iniquities destructive to society and shocking to nature, such as have wealth may find atonement.
Where such or any commutations for sin are allowed and practised, are sins likely to abate, sinners to mend, or Religion to abound, or even to subsist, in any force or purity? I wish nothing like this vile traffic were found in other countries even where Popery is abolished. I doubt a good gift to the Altar, that is, to them who minister there, often passes as an expiation for a multitude of sins; and has it never happened that a bounty to the Church has been strangely pressed upon the consciences of timorous and dying people, as what powerfully opened the gates of Paradise, and was a prevailing antidote against future torments?
One thing seems to be notoriously true of almost all parties in Religion, that men are not esteemed by them according to their real piety and virtue, but according to their blind adherence and party-zeal; and the most worthless or worst men are often caressed and applauded, whilst the soberest and the best are neglected or decried. Thus we have seen very pious Christians hated and traduced as very bad Churchmen, when very base and very profligate men were extolled as excellent Churchmen.
The Gentlemen of Port Royal were, for their Learning and Writings, for their Religion and Virtue, an ornament to the learned world as well as to the Kingdom of France: They were even zealously attached to the Romish Religion. But all this merit saved them not from contumely and persecution, because they had defended the eternal laws of Morality and the Gospel against the execrable maxims and casuistry of the Jesuits, who in their voluminous writings had confounded all Morality and Conscience. For this the Gentlemen of Port Royal were represented as Atheists, Heretics, and enemies to the Church, nay, as enemies to the Government, and thence exposed to all injustice, ill usage, and the frowns of power. The like treatment had the divine Archbishop of Cambray, the immortal Fenelon. When at the same time, the grossest ignorants, the vilest voluptuaries, the most hot-headed bigots, were reckoned excellent Catholics, applauded, and preferred.
What the King of Sardinia has lately done, in taking the education of youth out of the hands of the Jesuits, merits great attention, and is an example to other Princes and States, at least to those of the same communion. It was indeed of high moment, that the publick education should not be directed by an order of men who were continually pursuing an interest directly against the interest of the State; who taught his subjects not so much to reverence the Magistrate, as to reverence Them, not to love or consider the good of the whole, but the good of that Order; who poisoned them with party-maxims destructive of the maxims of society; and instead of instilling the benevolent principles of peace and mutual forbearance, without which all society must be miserable or perish, inspired virulence and eternal hate, and would rather see the State run into ruin and dissolution, than suffer the least variation from their own conceits, however fond, or ridiculous, or wicked. For, it is notorious, that this is the spirit of the Jesuits. I wish it were not the spirit of several other sects and bigots, especially where their bigotry is animated by a passion for power and riches. It seems the Court at Turin is not much disturbed at the threats of the Reverend Fathers to leave the country, but even frankly offers passports to as many as think fit to go.
No body can forget the extraodinary merit and bitter treatment of the late excellent Dr. Clark, his able performances in defence of Christianity, and the restless attempts to ruin him as a bad Churchman. The declaration of Father Canaye the Jesuit to the Marshal D’Hocquincourt, related by St. Evremont, was open and instructtive. The Marshal had said, that he was formerly a Jansenist, but now for the Jesuits, and could be crucified for his Religion, though he knew not why or wherefore. Oh excellent words, blessed motions, says the Jesuit! be crucified for Religion, yet not know why or wherefore! what an extraordinary grace, my Lord, has Heaven bestowed upon you? Estote sicuti infantes: Be as little children: Blessed are the poor in spirit. The good Father liked the Marshal’s zeal the better for being stark blind: so far was he from blaming his ignorance.
Where-ever it is more dangerous to offend the Clergy than to offend God, it is natural for the interest of Religion to decay. For the ignorant and the many, will always incline, nay, probably, be taught to rely more upon Them than upon Him, and to think that if they can but please Them, they cannot displease Him. Where an ill man who conforms, is better used than a good man who dissents, the necessity of being good will not be considered, but the necessity of being conformable, and men will not be so much afraid of sin as of dissenting. When the doing certain actions, which may be done without any devoutness at all, shall yet pass for devotion, many will be apt to think that when they have performed these, they have done all that is required, at least made amends for past iniquities, which they may still cancel, as often as committed, by the like atonement and repetitions, and by a little devotion on one day in the week, calm their conscience about all their failings during the rest.
Thus false zeal is, as it were, a mulct for want of Religion, and passes for Religion; and many other Churchmen besides those of Rome, seem to accept of equivalents in the room of real piety. Were it otherwise, the guides of one sect would love the sober and good men of another sect better than the vicious of their own. They would hate the strictest conformists who wanted virtue, and esteem separatists who had it. But I doubt the constant practice is otherwise in most Churches and Sects. So that the name of Religion is used, but the thing, the essence, is often turned into faction and party, and lost in the endless passions of men. They all talk of Christ and Paul, and appeal to them. Perhaps it is well for many that they are not yet called upon by either to make good their appeals. Nay, were Christ or Paul to return to the earth under their former characters, I fear their reception, in many countries, would not be better than it was in Judæa.
This Section, as well as the whole Discourse grows too long, though much more might be said. I shall make but one observation more, namely, upon the strange inconsistency which has sometimes appeared in the notions of some great and venerable Doctors about evil and sin; I mean how they could be vehement against peccadillos, against follies and frailties, which were of little consequence, and for which perhaps they had no relish, yet could often, at the same time, go deliberately, nay, zealously, into apparent measures of public oppression, or of public tumults and war; could assist and sanctify the most enormous, the most dreadful, the most complicated and devouring of all sins, those of Tyranny and Rebellion; could declaim terribly against profane swearing, which only hurt him who uttered it, and yet encourage and animate universal Perjury, sometimes in Magistrates, at another time in the people; and be for establishing universal Slavery, or inciting general Revolts, at different times, just as they happened to be pleased or disgusted. For such has been the inconsistency of their behaviour in many countries, and at many times; and, as none have ever proved sorer plagues to righteous Governors, none have been such fell champions for Tyrants. And as to the abuses of Religion, especially such as were gainful, have they ever appeared willing to reform them, or willingly suffered them to be reformed by others? And have not all great and useful Reformations been accomplished by the Laity, and constantly opposed by the public Teachers? Could Religion, the humble and disinterested Religion of the Gospel flourish under such Circumstances, and such Directors?
Of Public Spirit, its use and efficacy. How little promoted by public Teachers. Some Considerations upon the importance and character of Public Spirit.
WHILST the public Teachers were so much attached to party and interest, it was no wonder that in their teaching there were many material omissions. One thing of great importance they seem to have almost intirely neglected, I mean the raising and recommending of Public Spirit, so necessary to the prosperity of every Country, and even to the preservation of all. It was this which animated the Roman State, and set the Romans above all other men. But they who instructed the youth of Rome had no by-ends, no detached interests of their own. They inspired such as they taught, with the love of their Country, and of Virtue, and of Honour. The public good, the glory of the State, was the end of all, and to promote it they had learned chearfully to forego every private advantage, nay, life it self. This was a fine spirit, early and constantly infused, and produced men who were a credit and ornament to human nature, and are patterns still for the whole race. Such was the glorious effect of a noble and rational education.
The Romans began to know the value of Liberty, and to feel a passion for the Public Weal, at an age when others since are conning over words, and know little else but to fear the rod, and, without once thinking of their Country, only learn to reverence a particular set of men and names, and heartily to hate all the rest. They are for a course of many years employed about words, and notions, and subtleties; and when they are thus sufficiently disciplined into narrowness of mind, when their heads are well filled with absurd maxims, and unmeaning distinctions, they may be safely trusted abroad in the world, as secure against all free and rational sentiments, and possessed with false ideas of reverence and of aversion, to the end of their lives. When, like the young Romans, they might be shining in assemblies or armies, they are engaged in Logic, and combating in Metaphysics.
Mr. Locke says, “It is matter of astonishment, that men of quality and parts should suffer themselves to be so far misled by custom, and implicit faith. Reason, if consulted, would advise, that their children’s time should be spent in acquiring what might be useful to them when they come to be men, rather than to have their heads stuffed with a deal of trash, a great part whereof they usually never do (it is certain they never need to) think on again as long as they live; and so much as does stick by them, they are only the worse for. This is so well known, that I appeal to parents themselves, who have been at cost to have their young heirs taught it, whether it be not ridiculous for their sons to have any tincture of that sort of learning, when they come abroad into the world; whether any appearance of it would not lessen and disgrace them in company. And that certainly must be an admirable acquisition, and deserves well to make a part in education, which men are ashamed of where they are most concerned to shew their parts and breeding.”
In latter ages the cause of public Liberty has been little beholden to the public Teachers, who, instead of instilling and cherishing Public Spirit, without which Liberty can hardly subsist, have too often exerted all their endeavours to extinguish both. Where-ever Slavery is settled, they help too assiduously to confirm it, and where it is not, many of them have appeared diligent agents to introduce it. Was it thus they merited the profound reverence which they claimed from mankind, thus that they earned the mighty revenues which they enjoyed, for bringing upon men the highest evil which men can suffer, an evil big with every other evil, the dreadful calamity of public Servitude?
For the following part of this Section upon Public Spirit, I am obliged to a noblea Lord of great knowledge, observation and parts, with all which he himself seems to be much less acquainted, than they are who have the happiness of knowing him; and such is the private manner in which he passes most of his time, that his acquaintance are far from numerous: So natural it is for fine qualifications to be accompanied with great modesty.
“It is a remark of Thucydides, that bad Laws well executed are better than good Laws not duly observed. It is not enough for a Nation to have a good Constitution, unless both the Governors and People concur in adhering to it with strictness. Abuses once suffered to creep in, so naturally gain ground, so quickly spread, that it requires constant vigilance to prevent their entrance and growth. A jealousy for the Public is a commendable jealousy, and if ever the excess of any passion were justifiable, it would surely be so here. That temper of mind to which we give the name of Public Spirit, is so necessary to all societies, that it is next to impossible they should long subsist without it. Indeed, whatever difficulties particular men may find in the exercise of it, all men agree to commend it. Nor can there be better proof of the excellency of any character, than to see the very men who resolve never to deserve it, taking great pains to make the world believe that they have a right to it.
“In times of the greatest corruption, we do not find, that ever a corrupt man of any sense durst openly avow his principles, or declare that he made his own interest the measure of his public conduct. Quite otherwise: Such men are apt to start at their own picture, and will not forgive those who discover their views, and represent them in proper colours. Such tenderness is prudential; since the discovery of ill designs, is a step towards defeating them. Besides, men are generally more ashamed of vices which shew the weakness of their understanding, than of those which unfold the corruption of their hearts. It is a confession of the meanness of a selfish disposition, that men are thus loth to be thought governed by it. Though they would be glad to reap benefit from their low pursuits, they are ashamed to be detected in contriving them.
“It therefore looks as if it were equally renouncing the rules of good sense, and every impulse of good nature, to be destitute of regard for the welfare of the Community, or to imagine that any private advantage can stand in competition with the prosperity of the whole. For one nation to grow rich by the spoils of others, is very unjust, yet not always impolitic. But to weaken and impoverish our own Country, is as foolish as it is wicked; since private property must be very insecure, when once that of the public is in danger; nor can it be ever more so than when it comes to be deserted by those whose interest it is to preserve it.
“I believe that scarce any Constitution has been overturned by mere accidents or misfortunes. Errors at home may have immediately contributed to national ruin, and foreign invasion brought it on. But a long course of mismanagements, of ambition and rapine, and of evil and loose administration, has generally preceded all great Revolutions; when the leading men made it their only study to supplant, decry, and oppress each other; when the people were on both sides perverted to serve the narrow and corrupt purposes of particular and opposite Leaders, and were animated not by zeal for their Country, but for hostile factions debauching and rending their Country. Whenever cabals, and licentiousness, whenever corruption, and contempt of authority, are the measures of acquiring, and afterwards of supporting power, the consequences must be oppression and injustice, which will naturally introduce disorder and confusion. A Government thus sapped in the foundations, like a tree loosened at the roots, will infallibly be overturned by the first unruly blast, and would in time be overset even by its own weight.
“Societies can never subsist but through the same means by which they were first instituted. Impartiality and justice, zeal for the Public, and a steady adherence to its interest, are the only national securities. When these are wanting, large Territories, and great Fleets and Armies, will prove but feeble supports; and, in spite of all such splendid appearances, destruction will follow. The several changes of Government in the Grecian Commonwealths, are proofs of this observation. Abuses of power made corruption necessary; corruption produced baseness, luxury, and the extinction of all virtue, and these seldom ended but in some kind of Usurpation and Tyranny. Nor were they brought to a sense of their follies until they had thus suffered for them; and, before they thought of returning to their old principles of honesty and Public Spirit, they must be first awakened by the severe lash of some arbitrary power.
“It was for this integrity of Manners, for this Public Spirit, and inviolable attachment to their Constitution, that the Lacedemonians were so remarkable, as were also the Romans for many ages, and it was through the decay of Public Spirit and national Integrity, that Athens was so near being destroyed in the course of the Peloponnesian War. Alcibiades, who had boundless ambition, employed his great wealth in debauching the people, that by their assistance he might raise himself upon the ruin of his antagonist. Hence also the peace concluded between the two nations by Nicias, was broken a few years after it was made; a breach which brought on all those losses abroad, all those distractions at home, which had like to have ended in the utter subjection of the Republic.
“Many examples of this kind are found in the Roman Historians; but remarkable above all is the story and conduct of Cæsar, who by debauching the people enslaved the State. Whoever reads Tully’s Epistles, which are a curious secret History of those times, must be struck with the prodigious dissolution of manners in that once honest and powerful people. Indeed so astonishing was the change, that they were become even past reclaiming. All the smart of their long and heavy misfortunes was not sufficient to bring them back to a sense of their duty to their Country. Insomuch that when by the death of their Dictator, Liberty was once more, as it were, presented to them, they wanted the courage, or rather they had not the honesty to accept it.
“If we inquire into the accounts of latter days, we still find the same causes regularly producing the same effects. What was it that occasioned those long and desperate civil wars which afflicted and almost destroyed the great and powerful Kingdom of France? Was it not private ambition, private interest carried on under public pretences? The preservation of the old Religion, and the modest request of a toleration to the new, were the outward appearances, and very plausible they were. But the injustifiable ambition of the Princes, and the selfish attachment of their dependents, were the secret springs that produced and prolonged those pernicious disturbances, pernicious not only in weakening and impoverishing the State for the present, but in debauching the principles of all orders of men, and making each side look upon the irregular views of their own party as the only objects of attention and zeal, and thus sacrifice the interest, nay, almost the very being of the Community, to the low and narrow pursuits of furious factions. And when after the short calm of Henry the fourth’s reign, the public disorders began to revive in the minority of his Successor, and it was found necessary for the support of the Royal Power, to curb and break that of the Grandees, an opportunity was furnished to two succeeding Ministers, for their own security as well as their Master’s, totally to destroy all possibility of opposition. So that putting an end to the old establishment, in its room they set up a new, which, probably, the French Nation will never be able to remove or alter.
“It is impossible to forget, on this occasion, the great Revolution in a neighbouring Kingdom, not much above half a century ago. Whilst the Nobility and Commons were wisely quarrelling about the manner of raising the money requisite for disbanding the army, two or three Parricides snatched the opportunity, and sold the Liberties of their Country for two hundred and fifty thousand crowns, and changed an elective and limited Monarchy into one hereditary and absolute.
“Who can reflect on the folly of such conduct, without surprize, when he considers it as sometimes passing upon the world for mighty artifice and cunning? To barter away substances for shadows, to part with a birthright for a mess of pottage, is an absurdity so glaring, that one might as well believe those who do it to be possessed with real honesty, as with any share of wisdom. Contemptible, and poor, and foolish are any terms, even the highest terms, for betraying one’s Country. They who do it, do but teach and encourage others to play the same game upon themselves, where they find by their example it may be done with impunity. What is general dishonesty, but general insecurity? To practise villainy ourselves, is to authorize it in others against us; and it is as natural to lose by it as to gain by it. They who for some profit of their own would defraud mankind of their liberties or fortunes, are like sharpers who intoxicate company with liquor before they play with them. They may succeed in robbing their dupes of their money, but have cause to fear their rage; since by the unjust loss of their money, men are likewise apt to lose all temper.
“Without peace of mind there can be no such thing as happiness; nor can there be any peace of mind where there is a sense of guilt, which is naturally accompanied with apprehension of danger. Can such as know that they are not to be trusted themselves, ever frankly trust others? They will be apt to think others like themselves, true only to self-interest, and so will try to deceive them, as well as despise them for being deceived. Thus endless dishonesty, whether in private or public life, will be attended with endless anxieties, when such as practise it remember that by all their unrighteous acquisitions, all their guilty success, they can only set themselves up as marks to be shot at, and will have the less chance of escaping by being so much exposed.
“Greatness acquired by great abilities and Public Spirit, is a noble acquisition, and will be enjoyed with satisfaction, though it cannot always escape obloquy and clamour. But power and pomp purchased by the misery and groans of the people, as it is always detestable, so it is always unsafe. Grandeur, in order to be respected by the Public, must be supported with merit towards the Public. They who love the people, they who consult their interest, and pursue it, are worthy to shine amongst them, nay, worthy to rule them. But greatness without dignity, which arises as well from public benevolence as from capacity, is like Laws without penalties: The weak and simple may perhaps submit to them; but they are despised by those whom they are most wanted to restrain. To be exalted upon the ruins of Liberty and Laws, to rise by force and iniquity, and to assert superiority over men by hurting and oppressing them, is strange infatuation, a dangerous province. It is like being mounted on an unruly horse without bit or bridle; a situation which no wise man would chuse to be in. When Solon was advised to make use of his interest with his countrymen to seize the supreme rule, he answered wisely, that Tyranny indeed was a fair spot; but there was no way to come out of it.
“Such as are known not to love their Country, cannot reasonably expect to be safe in it, or that enmity to the Public will not meet with public hate, which is the next step to public revenge: and they who are indifferent to every interest but their own, though they may purchase flatterers who have minds as bad as theirs, can never be exempt from one miserable reflection, that most men, and all the best men abhor them, whilst only a few of the worst applaud them; nor can they find much delight from the hollow praises of a tribe of Fawners, when they remember that injured multitudes are at the same time perhaps cursing them.
“The desire of applause is implanted in human nature, and without doubt intended by the Author of nature as an incitement to virtue and benevolent actions; since by such means only we can be sure of obtaining so pleasing a gratification. We may indeed personate Public Spirit for a while, yet have none, and for a while pass for virtuous without having Virtue: But the fraud will soon be discovered. No disguises can long hide the false Patriot; and his hypocrisy will but add to his condemnation, when it is no longer able to cover his guilt.
“There seems to be one never-failing test whence to distinguish a public spirited Man; even an honest and disinterested heart. This is a sort of constitutional Virtue, and whoever has it is secure against many of the most dangerous temptations. The love of money and of power are violent passions, and few who are strongly possessed with them can safely trust themselves. How naturally does the avaricious man listen to any scheme for filling his coffers? How eagerly does the ambitious man enter into measures for inlargeing his figure and power? How apt are both to flatter themselves that they deserve all that they can possibly possess, that whatever they can grasp is but their due, and that therefore they can never grasp too much? Blinded by these favourite inclinations, they can bear nothing that thwarts them; and, as they thus state the account on one side only, the balance must be eternally one way.
“The true Patriot is content to take the approbation of his own conduct, at least for one part of his reward; neither would he exchange his quiet of mind, or the good wishes of his countrymen, for all the benefit which he could possibly make by justly forfeiting either. He has a general benevolence to the rest of the world, and cannot taste that unnatural happiness of being alone easy amongst the many that are miserable, especially were they to be miserable by his means. Though he may not set up for any romantic pitch of Patriotism, though he do not undertake to devote himself for his Country, like Curtius, and may be diffident of the weakness of human nature when put upon such awful trials; yet of one Virtue he is at all times sure, never to sacrifice the Public to his passions or interest, or risque the tranquillity of the State for any views or emoluments of his own.
The END of the Discourses.
THE HISTORY OF TACITUS.
[a ]Lord Pagett.