Abram Newkirk Littlejohn.

An inquiry into the powers of ecclesiastics, on the principles of scripture and reason online

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I N Q^ U I R Y







Beware of false prophets which come to vou in

sheep's clothing 5 BUT INWARDLY THEY ARE RA-

















OF all the caufes that have combined
to injure the caufe of Chriftianity,
and to prevent its fuccefs ; the au-
thor of the following (heets hath
been long of opinion, that the pride and arro-
gant claims of Ecclefiaftics, and the mifrepre-
fentation of certain parts of fcripture to fup-
port thefe claims, have been none of the leaft

As the moft effedual fervice, therefore, he
was capable of doing to the interefts of religion
and fociety, — this little, work is intended to
explain, and vindicate the common rights of
chriftianity ; — to expofe the falfe pretenfions
of pricjts of every denomination, and to efta-
blifli the real value and importance of the mi-
nifterial charafler.

A3 At


At the fame time, he is not without fome
apprehenfions, notwithftanding the integrity
of his views, and his favourable intentions
to the caufe which he profefies to efpoufe -,
and, even amidft all that freedom of inquiry,
enlargement of mind, and liberality of fenti-
ment, by which the prefent age is diftinguifli-
ed ; that lb much of the old leaven may ftill
remain, as to embitter the fpirits of fome a-
gainft him as a miftaken friend, perhaps an
infidious foe to it. Regardlefs, however, of
every cenfure of this kind, he is not afraid to
make his appeal to the judicious and candid
chriftian. But, fhould he flatter his readers
with the hopes of finding here any thing ori-
ginal, he is afraid he fhould only deceive him-
felf. He affumes not the honour of being
ranked among th? learned or ingenious fons of
fcience. He is a plain man. He hath read
his Bible, and thinks he hath entered into the
fpirit, and underllands the leading defign of
it; and he is well pleafed that by that fpirit,
and this defign, his performance, fuch as it is,
Ihould be examined. Nor will he decline to
be tried on the principles of reafon, nor to be
judged at the bar of common fenfe.



But, though he can promife nothing ori-
ginal — attached to no religious party, warped
by prejudices to no eftabiifhed creed, and un-
der the influence of no authority, but the au-
thority of the fcriptures — he hath, at leaft,
the merit of treading in a track wholly his
own. He hath borrowed froni no one. The
materials are v/holly drawn from his own ideas,
and the bed judgement he could form from
the divine record, and the malignant tendency
of thofe tenets he hath attempted to overturn •,
and will therefore, in all probability, exhibit
fome features fufficient to mark a difference,
in the manner and execution, from any other
who may have written on the fame fubjed.
And it is not impofiible, that what made fome
imprefTion upon his own mind, if he hsth been
happy enough to exprefs himfelf with perlpi-
cuity, may have a fimilar effed upon the
minds of others.

There are two objeflions that may occur
to the defign and plan in general, which he
begs leave to obviate. It may be faid that
an attempt of this kind comes by far too late ;
that the author hath figured to himfelf preten-
fions to which no order of ecclefiaflics now
A 4 lay-


lay claim, and which no layman in his fober
fenfcs would liften to with patience, much lefs
deliberately adopt as a part of his creed. In
anfwer to this he will only fay, that, though
his obfervation and experience have led him
to very different fentiments, he would feel a
pleafure in being fatisfied of the juftnefs of
this objeftion, more than fufficient to overba-
lance any little difappointment in having em-
ployed his time and attention to no purpofe.
The frj} would be a matter of the lad im-
portance, in his judgment, to the happinefs
of fociety, and the interefts of primitive chrif-
tianity ; the Iqfi of no confideration at all.

It may, perhaps, appear to fome as another
objeftion, that the feveral parts of this inquiry
are too detached, and feem to have too little
dependence upon one another. He can offer
nothing in excufe for this. A writer of more
difcernment and acutenefs might have been
able to have converted feparate chapters, and
to have formed the feveral parts, into a train
of arguments iffuing in one general conclu-
fion : but he could not, without weakening,
in his apprehenfion, the evidence upon the
whole. And, perhaps, the manner of treat-


ing the fubjed: he hath purfued, may have a
better effed upon the generality, little accuf-
tomed to conned diftant arguments, and to
eftimate their combined force. He will only
add, he hath done his beft. If his perform-
ance hath any merit, it will be read ; the
publick are candid. If it hath none, let it
be treated with the contempt it deferves.



1 N Q_ U I R V





Of xhs state of the quESTio.v.

AS the Minifters of the Chriftian Religion
have been confidered under the general de-
nomination of Prjcfts ; as, for many centu-
ries, they feem with one voice to have af-
fumed, and, it muft be acknowledged, not a few ftill
do affume powers peculiar to that office — - powers which,
in the judgment of the author, never di.l, nor ever can,
in the ordinary difpenfarions of Providence, belong to
any mortal : to prevent miftakes, and obviate refleftibns
that might be injurious to his real fentiments concerning
the minifterial function, he begs leave to begin with ex-
plaining fhortly what precife idea he aflixes to this extra-
ordinary charafler.



12 OF PRIESTS. Chap. L

A PRIESTHOOD may be defined, in a few words, to
be — an order of men appropriated by divine inftitu-
tion for performing certain offices in religion, which
offices cannot be performed by one not thus authorifed,
without lofmg their efficacy, or that bleffing with which
they are fuppofed to be attended. Or ftill more expli-
citly — A priejihood is an order of men governed by cer-
tain laws, and poffeffed of certain privileges, indepen-
dent of fociety, and fuperior to the civil, moral, or com-
mon religious rights of mankind ; whofe office is facred,
not from what they do, but in confequence of certain
powers with which they are veiled, either mediately in
a fixed eftablifhed order and fucceffion, or immediately
by God himfelf. This he apprehends is the proper idea
of a priejihood : and fuch a priefthood, it is affirmed,
never did exift in any age, or among any people, fo far
as fatisfying evidence can be offered, but under the Jew-
ifh theocracy alone. He therefore who pretends that the
miniflerial afts which he performs, whatever their nature
may be, or by whatever facredname he may be pleafed to
call them — whether accounted more ordinary, or more
folemn — derive their value, not from particular qualifi-
cations natural or acquired, not from decency or order, not
from the ftation of prefident in a religious affembly, but from
a certain myfterious connexion, which is either primari-
ly, or ultimately refolvable into a peculiar divine con-
ftitution and energy, diflindl from the laws by which
fociety is diredled and governed : this man — whether
he be a papifl or a protellant, whether he be a minifter
of the church of Rome, of the church of England, or of
the church of Scotland ; or whether he be a profeffed
dillenter from all ellablilhments — is a deceiver j and


Chap. I. OF PRIESTS. 13

they who believe his pretenfions, and are under the fpi-
rit and influence of them, are, in the ftrideft fenfe, the
dupes of their own credulity and fuperflition. It may
here not be improper, however, to advertife the reader
that the word prie/l is commonly uTjd, in the following
flieets, for every fuch claimant, or protendVr to fuch
extraordinary powers.

This is the arrogant and afluming charadcr, equally
injurious to the moral and civil rights of fociety, which
the author hath attempted to expofe ; without one infi-
nuation, 'tis hoped, unfriendly to the genuine minifters
of religion : he can fay further, that he is well difpofed
to make every concefuon that the duties of publick and
fecial worfhip can poffibly demand, and to acknowledge
every degree of authority and refpeft, that publick
teachers can in juftice derive from thence. In order
to inveftigatc this fubjcdl as far back as poffiblc, we
Jhall inquire, in the firft place, what light revelation,
from its earlieft period, gives in this quellion.


Of the light which the Old Testament
furnishes in this qjjestion.

FROM the creation to the eftabliihment of the
Jewifh commonwealth, the facrcd record will af-
ford us but little information with regard to the o-
rigin or nature of this inftitution : it being confined almofl
entirely to a few general hints concerning the Antedilu-
vian world, the deluge, Noah and his family, Abraham,


14 O F P R I E S T S.

and what fpecially relates to his family : fo that all we
know of the patriarchal Itate, may be fummed up in a
few words — That in procefs of time it came to pafs
that Caiii brought of the fruit of the ground an offering
unto the Lord ; and Abel brought alfo of the firftlings
of his flock; that afterwards Noah, then Abraham, and
laftly Jacob offered facrifices unto the Lord — That ig-
norance overfpread the face of the earth ; the original
imprcfTions of the Deity being almoft extinguilhed, and
every corner filled with violence ; fo that all flefh had
corrupted their ways — That to punifh a world thus
funk in wickednefs, an univerfal deluge was fent, which
fwept away its inhabitants : Noah and his family being
alone diflinguiflied amidft the dreadful cataflrophe —
That the world again multiplied, and as it multiplied,
that afenfe of religion again decayed — That to preferve
jull notions of the true God, and prevent the world from
reverting into a ftate of total ignorance and degeneracy,
Abraham was felefted, a man eminent for his piety j
and both he and his defcendants marked as the diftin-
guifhed and peculiar favourites of Heaven. This is a
general view of the hiflory of the world for two thoufand
years : during which period we have not one public in-
ftitute with regard to any external form of religion.

From what hath been taken notice of, indeed, we are
led to conclude that facrifices and offerings made a part
of the primitive religion ; but in what manner, or by
whom they were performed, we are left entirely in the
dark. The examples before us were, certainly, perfo-
nal afts of devotion. Religion wrought up into no
artificial form would be very fimple : and it feems pro-

Chap. I. OF PRIESTS. 15

bablc that till matikind had encreafed, every individual
would be left to officiate for hitnfelf. But as fecial wor-
/hip, which confills in certain external ads which all
cannot perfoim with propriety, necefiarily fuppofes,
when fociety became more numerous, that one muft have
afted in a puLlick capacity as niinifter or prefident, it
is reafonable to tliink that the heads of the refpeftive
families would be honoured with this character, or
confider themfclves as naturally entitled to it, and con-
tinue to officiate as miniflers within the circle of their
own immediate defcendants ; and that when more widely
diffufed and mixed, fo that it became impoffible to join
in afts of worfhip under one common head, fome idea
iimilar to this would direft different focieties in their
choice : that is, there would appear fome one who,
by age, Connexions, fuperior wifdom or piety, claimed
a preference. Minifters of religion, therefore, we are
naturally led to fuppofe, muft have been coeval with the
firlt publick forms of devotion. But the divine record
affords nothing, from the creation to the Abrahamic
perted, that can convey the moft diltant idea of a prieji.

Let us new inquire whether the fuccceiing period,
from Abraham to the commencement of the Jewifh com-
monwealth, furniflies any new difcovery. And here we
find two fliort anecdotes concerning this office. " And
Melchifedec king of Salem brought forth bread and
wine ; and he was a prieji of the moft high God ; and
he bleffed him, and faid, bleffed be Abraham of the
moft high God, poffeffor of heaven and earth." The
hiftory of Jofeph, who feems to have been a moft poli-
tical prime miniftcr, prefents us with the other. Con-

i6 OF PRIESTS. Chap. I.

cerning whom we are informed, that " when he bought
the lands of Egypt for his mafter, only the lands of the
friejls bought he not, for the priejts had a portion af-
figned them by Pharaoh, and did eat of the portion
which Pharaoh gave them ; wherefore they fold not
their lands." This is all the light that can be derived
from the facred hiftory, and which can avail nothing by
way of precedent. For with regard to Melchifedec, as
the fhort hint given by the hiftorian can lead us to no-
thing certain concerning the nature of his office, or the
extent of his prieftly powers ; from the further accounts
given of him (which is all we know of the matter) by
the penman of the hundred and tenth pfalm, and the
author of the epiftle to the Hebrews, it evidently appears
that he was a prieft of fo extraordinary a nature, that
we cannot fo much as form any idea of it ; except in
general, that he is exhibited as a .ftriking type of the
great high prielT: over the houfe of God, and therefore
can bear no fimilitude to any fettled order of priefthood.
And with regard to the Egyptian priefts, it is fufficient
to obferve, that they were the minifters of the groflell
fuperfiition and idolatry, of whofe powers or fucceffion
♦ve know nothing.

One thing, however, we may learn from this ftory,
that an order of men thus diftinguiflied, and who had
acquired fuch credit with the ftate, as to have lands af-
figned to ihem, and befides a daily portion of meat from
Pharaoh, had not attained to this influence all at once.
It feems rather to have been the work of time ; and
confequently that their origin is to be traced much high-
er J though it is impolTible to affirm any thing with cer-

Chap. I. OF PRIESTS. i]^

tainty cu r. fubjccl, Vv'hcrc the Ciily jccord that coulJ
give lu r.iiy inforrratioa is entirely filent. Fror,i this
filcncc, liowrver, the prolumptian is, that, at whatever
time, or from v/hatevcr caufcs, the office of a prhjl be-
came venerable among the nations ; this inflitLition, a?
pccT:!iarly confined to au ei-.ibiifhed order eflentiall}'
di.Qin-fr. from the psople, •haklin.'j a 'comiT;2Tion, and
pofibffed of pov/crs not rr.-.:rc]y huir,.-.;!, had not yet re-
ceived the iliv:';? fi'..^''.':>«'i.

It may be faid, thai \i il::l no: fail iii Vvi'.!i rho ckiigu
of the hifloflan to rive an account of things atlarg..-; but
only fome general out-rir.r.' ! itrodin^cry to the eltabiilh-
■jncnt of the family of Abraham. That this is the chief
view of the facred writer, i • readily admitted ; but, as
Mcfes wrote more probably from immediate revelation,
■hin from any traditions that might have been preferv?d
in the family of Abraham —it being far from probably
that divine vvifdom fhould r'-fr the authority of an ori-
ginal record upon tr-idition— it being even abfurd to
fuppofe tradition of z\y kind a folid ground of divine
^fiiith through fucceilive ages, as it is hoped will appear
with deciuve evidence r.ftc.wards as Mofrs, there-
fore, wrote from iminec'ilite revelation, it is dijncult to
conceive that God fl\ould have made any difcuvery to
the iiril inhabitants of the earth, an inliitu-
ticn of fuch importance to mankind, as the nature and •
extent of the pricftiy cfiicc and powers ; and at the fime
tin:e, that, in a fubfequept revelation to be cojamitted
to writing, ccnt.^ini>-ig every thing from the creation
downwards, and defignsd to rr-inain as ft flandin!^ cri-
ginai record, not one hint (hould have been given con-
B CCrning

it OF PRIESTS. Chap. I.

cerning fuch an inftitution. The Almighty was now
about to eltabliih a real priefthood ; to delegate an order
of men honoured with fingular powers, where his au-
thority and the fignal interpofitions of his providenc«
were to be vifible to all ; and where the evidence of the
divine fandion depended not on the bold affeverations
of defigning men. If a fimilar inftitutioiv had ever ob-
tained, is it probable that we fhould have had no notice
concerning it ; how long its authority remained, when
and where it had been corrupted, and in what refpefts
the firll inftitution was the fame, or different from the
fubfequent one ? The filence of the hiftorian, therefore,
we may hold a prefumption, not ^ feeble y hat a Jlroftg
one, that the priefthood, as limited by divine appoint-
ment to an exclufive order of men, had not, till tha
commencement of the Jewifti Theocracy, received the
divine fandlion. But, admitting that Mofes Jiad his in-
formation wholly from tradition, can we fuppofe that a
tradition which ha,d preferved, an account of fafts feem-
ingly trivial in their nature, Ihould have failed in tranf-
mitting an account of one profefledly of the higheft im-
portance, of an inftitution of fuch univerfal concern ?
Could Noah have been ignorant of it ? or would he, as
a preacher of righteoufnefs, and in whofe family tlie
fole powers of priefthood, after the deluge, muft have
remained — would he, it is afked, have neglefted to
perpetuate fuch an eftablifhment agreeably to the divine
appointment and model ? or could fuch an appointment
and model, eftabliftied after the flood, have been for-
gotten by Abraham and his defcendants, among whom
it muft have been particularly obferved ? or finally,
could the order and fucceflion of priefthood have been


Chap. I. O F P R I E S T S. 19

known and obferved by them aa a facred inititutlon,
and no notice have been taken of it by the hiflorian ?
Admitting therefore, that Mofes had his information from
tradition, we are, on all the principles of probability, in
other words, led to the fame conclufion — that Levi
and his fons v/ere the firil who could claim the honour
of priefthood.


Of the improbability of preserving an in-
stitution OF priesthood without a written


IT may not be improper to inveftigate this fubjeft a
little further, by enquiring what »vas moft likely to
be the ftate of things, upon the fuppofitlon that the
moft rational forms of religious worfhip, and a regular
order of priefts had been inftituted by immediate divine
appointment, but without any written record to which
a conftant and unerring appeal could have been made.
The queftion then is, could fuch an inftitution hare
been preferved, fo as to enable us to judge with any cer-
tainty, or to give fufficient fatisfaftion to the human
mind concerning the divine origin of it, and its real fj-
militude to its antient form ; what innovations might
have been introduced, or what changes it might have
undergCHie ? The probability certainly is, that it could
not. It is morally impoflible it Ihould. Pofitive infti-
tutions are fubjected to innovations from a thoufand
caufe^, which, if they are not futficient to change their
B 2 nature

-^o OF PRIESTS; Cha?.. J.

nature altogether, make them fomethirrg To diires'ent
from their orlgLpal form, that you cannot without the
Htmoft diiEculty mark Ukenefs. Even thofe truths that
ire'fuppofcd to have been origin ally difcovcrcd b'^ reve-
htlon, thoQc^-H t^giceable to the natural feelings of the
human mindj a:i:l fonnded Cn the foundcft deduflions
of reafon, cannot be tranfmiited through fucceffive ge-
nerations v.itl.out a pcjfefl f^r^r.lard to which v/e can
appeal, but with the. utmcft danger of being greatly
perverted, if r.Jt totally IdCc. From ias accounts of the
Antediluvir.n age, itfeems felf-evid.?nt that tlte rr.cltper-
feft oral inraudlion affords bat wry impc^fedl grounds of
probability ; that is, while perfons Hill living, and of
undoubted veracity, could atteil the fafts, and carry
down throflgh many centuries what they thernfelves had
been eye and ear v/Itnefles of j while tliey could unite
the knowledge and crcperience of feven, eight, or nine
hur.ured years as a direction to thcfe who v, ere, more or
lefs, their colemporaries. When, under fuch circum-
llances of advantage, tradition proved utterly inadequate
for preferving juft notions of God and his v/orihip,
what are we to lock for afte: vvards — when humr.n life
became dimlriiihed to a fpah^ When Gcd confounded the
language of men, and fcattered them abroad upon the
face of the earth — but fable and abfurd ty ? If at this
period, the wickednefs of men had become fo great,
that on this account, the inhabitants of the earth were
driven r,s vagabonds without union, and incapable of
intercourfe, fo that they could not affift one ano-
ther in forming, or tranfmitting one common or re-
ligious theory ; what mull have been the fiite of the
world in the courfe of fucceeding ages, fuppofmg an


.Chap. L O F P R I E S T S. ^

original infUtutlon of prieilhood immediately appoinied
by God, or handed down from Noah — the admi-
niftratioH of certain facred rites and orJinaiices, and tae
performance of certain oflices had been comir.itted to a par-
ticular family, or one oi;der of men exclufu e of all others?
It may be affirmed, on all the principlco of probability,
that if any traditions had remained coHC';rnipg fuch :.a
inllitution, they muft have been fo vague a'ld imperfeft ;
they mufl have been traced amidil fo many abfurdities,
and even impieties ; as to reader it iaipo-'ible, v/l .^-out a
new difcovety, to have cUabliOied u^jun this foi.iidatioa
any confident ritual or external foiifl.oi^ worlhip. Na-
ture alone — what principl-i of rea>Jv9. ieflaain^d uncor-
ruptod in the human mind — could have qi\y3k coxifultcd
with fafety, without deriving the Icaft ad^'untage frcra
this fuppofcd original difcovery and ini'd.ivic:.

It hath been ac'rullted, tliat,, from obf-jr;:.;;^- z.b:.zjc
nwong all nations a ritual, hov/ever diiFering ia others,
;igreeing in tlic o^mmon points-. of prieil ar-u .hcrifice,
ihe mind would b : n.iturr.l!y led to think, that l^xrifices
had conftitut-.d a pajt of *he aiatieiff veJigion, and tha.t
au order of meii>' ca!J:4 pricfts, ha^. hild a certain de-
partment in the '-public v/eJigious fc.'Vit'i. '"©ut, frcv

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Online LibraryAbram Newkirk LittlejohnAn inquiry into the powers of ecclesiastics, on the principles of scripture and reason → online text (page 1 of 18)