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In the year 1706, Dr Matthew Tindal, a civilian of some reputation, published a book entitled, “ Thc Rights of the Christian Church asserted, against the Romish and all other Priests, who claim an independent Power over it: with a Preface concerning the Government of the Church of England, as by Law established.” This singular treatise, under covert of an attack upon the Romish Church, was principally intended to sap the foundations of the national Church of England. The alarm was speedily taken, and many champions appeared in defence of the establish ment. Among these, the most remarkable was the learned Dr Hickes, of Oxford, who published two treatises, “ Of the Christian Priesthood,” and “Of the Dignity of the Episcopal Order," and several other pieces, in answer to Tindal's “ Rights of the Christian Church." Dr William Wotton, chaplain to the earl of Nottingham, attacked the same work, in a sermon preached at a visitation of the bishop of Lincoln, and in another tract. Samu el Hill, Conyers-Place, and finally Mr Oldisworth, entered also into the controversy, which was maintained with equal zeal on both sides, until it was swallowed up in the more furio us and universal disputes occasioned by Sacheverel's sermon. Swift, it would seem, had prepared materials for entering vigorously into the contest with Tindal, nor can there be a doubt of the powerful effect which his interference would have produced, if we judge what the work must have been when completed, by the following unembodied hints.
We cannot better ascertain the tendency of Tindal's work, than by quoting those passages upon which the grand jury of Middlesex presented the author, printer, and publisher of the Rights of the Christian Church,” as dangerous and disaffected persons, and promoters of sedition and profaneness. This charge they grounded upon the following extracts:
“ The church is a private society, and no more power belonging to it than to other private companies and clubs, and, consequently, all the right any one has to be an ecclesiastical officer, and the power he is intrusted with, depends on the consent of the parties concerned, and is no greater than they can bestow." -(The Book, p. 104.) “ The scriptures no where make the re
ceiving the Lord's Supper from the hands of a priest necessary." (Page 105.) “ The remembrance of Christ's sufferings a mere grace-cup delivered to be handed about.”—(Page 108.)
Among Christians, one no more than another can be reckoned a priest from scripture." —And the clerk hath as good a title to the priesthood as the parson.-Every one, as well as the minister, rightly consecrateth the elements to himself.- Any thing further than this, may rather be called Conjuration than Consecration."-(Page 313.) « The absurdities of bishops being, by divine appointment, governors of the Christian church, and others are capable of being of that number, who derive not their right by an uninterrupted succession of bishops in the Catholic church."-(Page 255.) “ The supreme powers had no way to escape the heavier oppressions, and more insupportable usurpations of their own clergy, than by submitting to the pope's milder yoke and gentler authority.”— (Page 151.) “ One grand cause of mistake is, not considering when God acts as governor of the universe, and when as prince of a particular nation. The Jews, when they came out of the land of bondage, were under no settled government, until God was pleased to offer himself to be their king, to which all the people expressly consented.-God's laws bound no nation, except those that agreed to the Horeb contract."-(Page 47.)
Not only an independent power of excommunication, but of ordination in the clergy, is inconsistent with the magistrate's right to protect the commonwealth.-(Page 118.) “ Priests, no more then spiritual make-baits, baraters, boutefeux, and incendiaries, and who make churches serve to worse purposes than bear-gardens.”—(Page 15.) “ It is a grand mistake to suppose the magistrate's power extends to indifferent things.—Men have liberty as they please, and a right-to form what clubs, companies, or meetings, they think fit, either for business or pleasure, which the magistrates cannot hinder, without manifest injustice."-(Page 312.) “God-interposed not amongst the Jews, until they had chosen him for their king.”
In 1710, Tindal's book, with some other of his pamphlets, were ordered, by a vote of the house of communs, to be burned along with Sacheverel's sermon-an example of impartiality in assigning punishment to latitudinarians, as well as to high-flyers, for which the people gave the ministry very little credit.
Before I enter upon a particular examination of this treatise, it will be convenient to do two things:
First, To give some account of the author, together with the motives that might probably engage him in such a work. And,
Secondly, To discover the nature and tendency in general of the work itself.
The first of these, although it has been objected against, seems highly reasonable, especially in books that instil pernicious principles. For, although a book is not intrinsically much better or worse, according to the stature or complexion of the author, yet when it happens to make a noise, we are apt, and curious, as in other noises, to look about from whence it comes. But, however, there is something more in the matter.
If a theological subject be well handled by a layman, it is better received than if it came from a divine; and that for reasons obvious enough, which, although of little weight in themselves, well ever have a great deal with mankind.
But when books are written with ill intentions, to advance dangerous opinions, or destroy foundations, it may be then of real use to know from what quarter they come, and go a good way toward their confutation. For instance, if any man should write a book against the lawfulness of punishing felony with death; and upon inquiry, the author should be found in Newgate, under condemnation, for robbing a house; his arguments would, not very unjustly, lose much of their force, from the circumstances he lay under. So, when Milton writ his book of divorces, it was presently rejected as an occasional treatise ; because every body knew he had a shrew for his wife. Neither can there be any reason imagined, why he might not, after he was blind, have writ another upon the danger and inconvenience of eyes. But it is a piece of logic which will hardly pass on the world, that because one man has a sore nose, therefore all the town should put plasters upon theirs. So, if this treatise about the rights of the church, should prove to be the work of a man steady in his principles, of exact morals, and profound learning, a true lover of his country, and a hater of Christianity, as what he really believes to be a cheat upon mankind, whom he would undeceive purely for their good; it might be apt to check unwary men, even of good dispositions toward religion. But, if it be found the production of a man soured with age and misfortunes, together with the consciousness of past miscarriages; of one, who, in hopes of preferment, was reconciled to the popish religion; of one, wholly prostitute in life and principles, and only an enemy to religion, because it condemns them : * in this case, and this last I find is the universal opinion, he is likely to have few proselytes, heside those, who, from a sense of their vicious lives, require to be perpetually supplied by such amusements as this; which serve to flatter their wishes, and debase their understandings.
* Dr Matthew Tindal became a convert to the Romish religion, during the reign of James II. What share interest had in his con
I know there are some who would fain have it, that this discourse was written by a club of freethinkers, among whom the supposed author only came in for a share. But, sure, we cannot judge so meanly of any party, without affronting the dignity of mankind. If this be so, and if here be the product of all their quotas and contributions, we must needs allow, that freethinking is a most confined and limited talent. It is true, indeed, the whole discourse seems to be a motley, inconsistent composition, made up of various shreds of equal fineness, although of different colours. It is a bundle of incoherent maxims and assertions, that frequently destroy one another. But still there is the same flatness of thought and style; the same weak advances toward wit and raillery; the same petulancy and pertness of spirit; the same train of superficial reading; the same threadbare quotation; the same affectation of forming
version may be easily imagined; but it is uncertain whether it was the disappointment of his expectations, or conviction, that in 1687, induced him to reconcile himself to the Church of England, and become a decided favourer of those doctrines which produced the Revolution. He often sate as a judge in the Court of Dele. gates, but did not practise much as an advocate in Doctor's Commons. His chief means of support was a pension from government of 2001. Tindal died in 1733, three years after publication of his grand deistical work, “ Christianity as old as the Creation." His effects, amounting to 20001. and upwards, wero appropriated, by the noted Eustace Budgell, to the prejudice of the heir at law, under a will atteaded with circumstances of great suspicion.