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the other parts of his description) we found entirely'destitute of bark, being in a complete decayed situation; the curious natural seat in its centre being occasioned solely from its rottenness.
Mr. Instructor, I now draw to a close; let the importance of knowing the true character of great men be my excuse for the length of this letter, which I hope will produce its intended effects, by creating emulation in your breastto imitate Mr. Barnard's numerous excellencies, and protect you from falling into similar faults, the existence of which can be lamented by none more sincerely than, Roosby Jla!l,Jan.29, 1812. Claudius Hamilton.
THE PLEA OF THE CLEKGf, AS TO USEFULNESS, CONSIDERED.
To the Editor of the Frecthinking Christians' Magazine.
THE idea that the clergy, as a body, are not only useful but absolutely necessary to the existence of Christianity, is so deeply rooted in the minds of the multitude, that they find it a difficult thing to distinguish between opposition to the clergy, and flying in the face of the appointment of heaven.
If a man speak or write against the propriety of such an order of beings, he is instantly marked down as a Deist, or an Atheist; he cannot be a Christian, for he reviles the ministers of Jesus. The hold which this superstition has taken of mankind is truly astonishing; men act as though they conceived themselves doomed to be governed by the priesthood—without them, they can do nothing.
The clergyman is acharacter ofgreat utility. He assists in directing the affairs of the state ; the king, the princes, the nobles, the lords and ladies of (he land, must have their chaplains; without a priest, the most enlightened parish would soon sink into Egyptian darkness; what body corporate is complete without him? In all the eminent departments of life his utility is conspicuous. He stands in the army and in the navy, not only to teacli them virtue, and by his good example give atone to the manners of our soldiers and sailors, but as the medium through which they mast look for the divine blessing on their endeavours to subdue the pride and malice of their impious foes. He consecrates, i. e. sets. apart from a profane to holy use, the banners under which they fight; he in like manner consecrates churches, chapels, altars, &c.; he christens, or makes Christians of, both children and stone bridges; in word, a man is not considered as having made an honourable entrance into, nor exit from, the world without passing through his hands. To die " without benefit of clergy," is next to being cut off from the divine favour; nor is the earth in a fit state to receive our dead bodies till it is blessed by the priest. •
Now, Sir, as one design of your Magazine is " to lay the axe at the root of priestcraft," permit me to offer to your readers a few thoughts on this subject.
And here it may be proper to intimate, that, by thp term clergy, I do not mean those alone who are in the pay of na* tional churches, but all who assume the office of the priesthood by professing themselves special teachers of Christianity, from the pope, the first clergyman in Europe, down to the plain, yet reverend Methodist minister; whether they wear the habiliments of Rome or not, whether they wear black or any other colour; whether they receive pay or officiate gratis; provided they are countenancing, by their example, the unscriptural practice of setting up an individual to teach the church to the exclusion of its* other members.
Many who have certainly done much in the way of restoring Christianity to its original simplicity, do still retain many of those corruptions which, for ages have obscured it« glory from the view of the world. The support of what is called a regular standing ministry is none of the least of those evils, and yet it appears to be the last part of the fabric of antichrist that will be destroyed; and till it be demolished, Christianity will never have an extensive diffusion.
Driven from every other refuge, and ashamed of attempting to prove from Scripture the necessity of such an order of men in the church, the friends of this system shelter themselves under the plea of utility. What minister ascends the pulpit for filthy lucre's sake? who makes choice of the sacred office from a love of ease, and because it is respectable ? No, no, it was the desire of becoming useful; of promoting the welfare of mankind; of extending the kingdom of God, by preaching the gospel, that determined his choice; and, in the course of Providence, a door of usefulnes was opened to him. To this idea then let us confine our remarks, and endeavour to ascertain what degree of support it derives from the New Testament. - First, as it respects what is called Pbeachinq the G-osTol.iii. Q
Pel. By preaching tht gospel, the different sects mean calling the attention ofthe multitude to the opinions which they severally entertain of the doctrine of Jesus and his apostles; pointing out the happiness arising from embracing those opinions, and declaring in a state of enmity to God all who reject them. When the preacher is hired, he is bound down to promulgate, and, to the utmost of his power, maintain the peculiar tenets of the party employing him; if he departs from this agreement, they turn him off, and provide themselves with another who has "the cause" more at heart. Thus all the different sects have their preachers of the gospel, and the preacher is reckoned useful or unsuccessful, according to the number of con verts he makes to his sect. Thus then, as preachers, priests may be very useful in promoting the interests of party, but this by no means proves that they are useful to Christianity, but the contrary. Sectarianism certainly requires their most powerful aid; Christianity is injured whenever they touch it. But let us ask if the gospel needs any preachers. "Certainly," it is replied, " God has appointed a regular standing ministry; he calls to this work, and qualifies for the performance of it, whomsoever he will; he commands them to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature, and promises to be with them till the end of time." This is the foundation on which the preaching scheme rests, and sure never was there one more glaringly false. This is the ignis fatuus that deludes thousands and tens of thousands, and leads them into all the quagmires of religious absurdity that overspread the face of the world. Is it not strange, is it not passing strange, that a man cannot read the commission which the Messiah gave to his chosen disciples, without working his imagination into the belief that Jesus is addressing him also? The preacher seldom fails to inform his audience that he is an ambassador of God, and is entrusted with a message from the Deity to them; and to complete the deception, every word descriptive of the work of an apostle, which he can possibly torture out of the New Testament, he applies to himself.
When the apostles received their commission to proclaim to the world the kingdom of God, they continued to execute it till they were called to seal their testimony with their blood. Previous, however, to their leaving the world, they had given the church a complete account of all things that Jesus did and taught; they put them in possession of every thing necessary to be known respecting salvation; and every proper means was adopted for perpetuating the
knowledge of these things throughout all ages. Hence the absurdity of men professing to be the successors of theapos; ties. Successors they need none; "being dead they yet speak;" and from what they say, any man who has the use of his reason may easily perceive, established by the most luminous evidence, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God.
Now, if the apostles are not at this hour preaching the good tidings in every city, town, village and family in this kingdom, what is the reason? If the voices of Jesus and his apostles are not heard in every village, it is not because they may not; have not the poorest of the people the scriptures? If they are unable to purchase them, they may obtain them gratis; and if they cannot read them, they may have them read in their hearing. If so, then I argue that they have the benefit of the preaching of Christ and his apostles, who, in a manner far superior to the best" pulpit preaching," declare unto men theway of life. They have these, and what need they more? has the modern preacher any thing to proclaim which the scriptures do not make known to us? Can he exhibit to us the Deity in a more exalted view than Jesus did Does he imagine that he can, in greater simplicity, with more eloquence and power, reprove the wickedness of men, and point out the path of rectitude? Are the wild, the incoherent, and unreasonable ravings of modern preachers to be preferred to the calm and rational expostulations of Jesus? If not, where is the great necessity for such a host of preachers as Christianity is burthened with? Those who denominate themselves preachers of the gospel, would have us believe such is their utility, that, without their presence, we cannot have the gospel. Hence nothing is more common than to hear them asking one another if the gospel is preached in such a place; and to find in their journals accounts of their having introduced the gospel into this and the other town or village, although for ages the inhabitants of those places have been in possession of the scriptures. Instead, then, of these preachers being useful, they are manifestly injurious to the interests of Christianity; they lead the people to imagine that, without their assistance, the scriptures are of little use; nay, they even assert that they are a dead letter; they allow, indeed, that men may, by the exercise of reason, attain the literal, or, as they sometimes call it, "the natural meaning" of scripture, but without a spiritual man to open them, they affirm, no one can understand them aright. Such language is nothing short of "o scandalous libel" upon the Almighty. He has given us a revelation of bis'will; but before we can reap'any benefit from it, we must pay a priest to explain it to us, and if we refuse to do this we must perish forever!!
Till this vile delusion is no longer practised in our land, let us cease to affect surprise at the conduct of those who actually forbid the use of the scriptures among; the people at large; they are, in so doing, more consistent than their neighbours; for if a priest is nesessary to give the meaning of scripture, it is but right that the sacred deposit should be confined to his holy care. And, as to those who possess the scriptures, they ought to beware lest, in reading them without the assistance of the priest, they should use their reason, and so actually stumble on the literal, or real meaning; for if they once do, they will find no more use for the spiritual guide.
But, secondly, we are told that the church must be edified. True, the church must be edified, and the edification of the church ought to be the grand end of all Christian association. But into what a strange mistake do those fall, who suppose that the edification of a society of Christians ought to be confined to an individual, and often to one whose wisdom it would be rather to learn from the church than pretend to teach it! On this head the conduct of religious professors in general is such as shews that they completely misunderstand the nature of a Christian church.
The people have an idea that they ought to assemble together, but beyond this they seem not to stretch their thoughts. If they are regular in their attendance, if they punctually pay their portion of the priest's hire, and now and then entertain him at their table, they imagine they are fully entitled to the appellation of Christians. These and the like actions constitute the part they perform in the ehurch. With respect to their edification, they leave that to the minister ; he has been regularly bred to the business; be is a learned man, and can tell them much more than they are able to practise; the Lord has sent him among ♦hem to be their teacher, and qualified him for the work of the ministry, and therefore they look to him for instruction.
Now how comes it to pass that all the gifts possessed by a church should center in an individual, and that in a society composed of (bur or five hundred people, only one should l>e found capable of speaking even iifcoe words " to edification?
In whatever way this difficulty shall be solved, the priest will be found to be the cause of.it. If the church