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xxiii. 1). Verse ll. “For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord." Do not say that I have done “the sacred profession" any injustice, by the cautions I have given, or by the above quotations against them, when the following sweeping and general description is given of them. “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber: Yea, they are greedy dogs, which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain from his quarter," (Isa. lvi. 10, 11). Such is the description given of them, of old; and both human nature, and priestcraft, are the same now as ever they were. “There were then,” says the Apostle Peter, “ folse prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” (2 Peter ii. 1). So far, then, as regards our faith, or belief, I would say—“cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils;” and attend to the words of the Lord. And to our spiritual teachers I would say, or rather Jehovah says, “And now, O ye priests, the commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, I will even send a curse upon your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already,” (Mal. ii. 1). I am aware, that in treating the clergy in this unceremonious manner, I have got upon delicate ground; and that the votaries of bigotry and prejudice will be in arms against me.' Touch but the sacred profession, as it is called, and the hue and cry is raised immediately. But I must try them, and all mankind, by the same standard of truth and righteousness, and must regard them all, just as they stand the test, or not—and in this mode of judging I am sure that I must be right, as in this, I am warranted by the divine word. Nay, farther, I am warranted, both by the scriptures, and by the history of the church, to assert, as already noticed, that almost all the corruptions of christianity, and the greatest evils that have befallen the christian world, may be traced to the priests, those very persons whose office it was to preserve the laws of God inviolate. If such then is the fact, as is abundantly proved, both by scripture and by history, I ask,+Are we not warranted to exercise caution, and even suspicion, respecting them and their doctrines, and to try them all by the test of divine truth. What has been the
history of priestcraft, since the time of Constantine, the first christian emperor, but that of the monster, foretold in scripture (see Acts xx. 29.—2 Thes. ii.-2 Peter ii. 1.) gradually departing “from the simplicity that is in Christ,” (2 Cor. xi. 3.) and usurping a dominion and authority in the church fitly denominated “spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Were I to take even the most cursory glance at the history of past ages, for the truth of my assertion, it would swell this article much beyond my limits. I shall therefore confine myself, chiefly, to a few facts in the present day, and in our own country, to illustrate the great evil of priestly domination and power; and surely no one can reject, for evidence, what he sees with his eyes, and every day fels the effects of.
But in order to make out my position, and the contrast requisite thereto, it will be necessary, briefly to enquire what a christian teacher ought to be.
When I look into the New Testament, I find that Christ and his apostles uniformly taught poverty and humility to christians, generally.—Hear their exhortations: “Take no care what ye shall eat, nor what ye shall drink, neither for your bodies what ye shall put on.” “Beware of covetousness.” “Give alms.” “Distribute unto the poor, and seek treasures in heaven.” And, again; “Take care that your hearts be not over charged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life.” “Having food and raiment, be therewith content,” &c.—So much, in the general. But, with regard to the particular qualifications and duties of the bishops, teachers, or overseers of the church (for these are all synonymous terms in scripture), hear the apostles. “Feed the flock of God —not by constraint, but willingly—not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: Neither as being lords, over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” Indeed, if we take the words of the Saviour himself, and the writings of the apostles, to judge by, one would think that poverty, humility, and hardships, were indespensible to the office of the ministry. And not only did they teach this doctrine, but they set an example of it themselves. Even the Saviour himself “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister:” and surely “it is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the serwant as his lord.” Such is the example of Christ; and as for his doctrine, he says, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exer
cise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (or servant); and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant,” (Mat. xx. 25–28). Next to the example and doctrine of Christ, let us attend to that of the Apostles, his true followers. They “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name,” (Acts v. 41). And not only so, but they even appear to adduce their hardships and sufferings (which few of our modern teachers would like to participate in), as the very proofs of their apostleship, and of their claim to the office of the ministry. “In all things,” says Paul, “approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes,” &c. (2 Cor. vi. 3). Again;–"Are they ministers of Christ? I am more;” and how does he prove this?—“in labours more abundant—in stripes above measure—in prisons more frequent—in deaths oft—in weariness and painfulness—in watchings often—in hunger and thrist—in fastings often—in cold and nakedness: besides that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches,” &c. (2 Cor. xi. 23– 28). And, in writing to Timothy, he says, “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” Who would now a-days like to give such proofs of their ministry? Farther—Although Paul admitted that they had “power to lead about a sister, a wife,” and “that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel? yet,” says he, “I have used none of these things,” “that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge.” And he could appeal to his hearers thus, “Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my neces
sities, and to them that were with me.” And that, in this respect, he meant to be a pattern to others, he says, next verse, “I have
showed you all things, how, that so labouring, ye ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But, although I have stated these plain and mortifying truths of scripture against our modern clergy, I would not so degrade the sacred profession, as to wish to see them enduring such hardships, and “labouring with their hands” like the apostles, “that they might not be burdensome" to their flocks; neither would I like to see them in poverty, although these are more suitable for their of. fice than ease and affluence, as we are assured, both by Christ and his apostles.
Having briefly glanced at the scripture qualifications, duties, and experience of christian ministers—how are ye pleased with it ye reverend fathers?—let us now take a peep at the clergy of the present day, and in our own country, and see how their characters and circumstances correspond with the precepts and examples of Christ and his followers.
We shall begin with the Church of England, ostentatiously called “The Reformed Church.” As a certain Archbishop said, “Popery was only a religion of knaves and fools,” we would expect to find that the “reformed church," to which the prelate belonged, was a religion of honest, benevolent, and praiseworthy men. True it is, however, that in no country, even the most debased by superstition, has clerical avarice arrived at such a pitch. “England is the only country in the world where a tenth of the produce is claimed by the clergy. In Popish Italy, the ecclesiastical tithe is only a fortieth, and is taken in kind. Our national clergy cost, at least, seven times more than the national clergy of France; and, in France, there are twenty-nine millions of Catholics: whereas, of the twenty-one millions comprising the population of our islands, less than one-third, (or seven millions), are hearers of the Established Religion." Leaving America out of the question (which ought to be a model to other countries in ecclesiastical matters), England is more oppressed by the clergy, than any other nation on the face of the earth, and is making no advances towards reform, while almost all others are. Notwithstanding that the Popish worship is attended with more expense than the Protestant religion; the administration of the latter in England “costs the people twelve times more than the administration of Popery to the same number of hearers in Spain or Portugal; and more than thirty-four times the administration in France.” Nay, more—“The administration of the latter in England to 6,400,000 hearers, costs more than the administration of all other forms of christianity in all parts of the world, to 198,728,000 hearers,” at which number they are computed.
I said that England was more oppressed, by the clergy, than any nation, and making no progress towards reform, while others were —take examples of this. The total revenues of the clergy in France,
in 1789, before the revolution, was £7,400,000. In 1821 it was only fl,047,837. Throughout Germany and Italy, the property of the church has been sold or tared, for the use of the state.—“In Spain, the tithe has been reduced one half, and yet there is sufficient maintenance for the priesthood. In Portugal, the ecclesiastical revenues are ordered to be paid into the public treasury, in proportion of forty to seventy per cent. according to the case. Even in papal Rome, the church property has been sold to pay the national debt.” England, generally esteemed tolerant, is the only nation, too, where a large mass of the population are denied the exercise of their civil rights on account of religion. Even in Spain and Portugal, no one suffers from religious disabilities. In Italy, the people are all Catholics.—In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, all Lutherans, consequently no religious disqualification. But in Prussia, there are various religions, but all sects are on an equal footing. “All offices, civil and military, corporate and magisterial, are indiscriminately filled with men of every form of worship. At Berne and Lausanne, in Switzerland, two opposite sects, Calvinists and Catholics, use the same church alternately, at different hours; and one congregation retiring, frequently meets the other coming to the same house of prayer.” In France, too, religious liberty is complete—“all religions are maintained by the state, without distinction; while in England, religious intolerance and exclusion are allowed to remain.” But let us return again to the revenues of our priesthood, and see whether they are in any measure compatable with the doctrines, precepts, or examples that we find in the New Testament, or such as are consistent with morality and justice. The revenues of the clergy are such a burden and disgrace to our nation, as (not to mention the test of the scriptures, to which they dare not approach), cannot, in my humble opinion, be much longer borne patiently. I have not the means of ascertaining, minutely, the most glaring instances, so as to name all those individuals, both in England and Ireland, whose income greatly exceeds one thousand pounds a-week:-but there are such. I merely state that it is now high time that such things were put an end to; and leave it to others, better informed, to make the exposure—but very few will dare to do it? Passing over, therefore, the most glaring instances, I shall copy a few, from recent authority, which have just come under my eye, as a specimen of patronage and emolument.