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J. D. (John David) MacBride.

A letter to a country clergyman on his Serious appeal to the Bible online

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LETTER



TO A



COUNTRY CLERGYMAN



SERIOUS APPEAL TO THE BIBLE,'



FROM A



RESIDENT MEMBER OF THE UNIVERSITY.



OXFORD,

PRINTED BY W. BAXTER.
1829.



DEAR SIR,

I HAVE received through your printer a copy
of your " Serious Appeal to the Bible," and
thank you for this proof of your remembrance of
me ; but I lament, with other friends of yours,
a publication, which we conceive to be of the
most injurious tendency. I have even felt it to
be a duty to endeavour to counteract the impres-
sion it is designed to make ; but I trust that my
Reply will not offend you, for I am persuaded
that you have written with the best intention ;
and you invite discussion, " one reason of the
publication of your thoughts being the hope that
it may lead some one to assist you in eliciting the
truth if your conclusions are erroneous."

You announce to the people of England, that
the Legislature is about to plunge them into the
guilt of a great national sin, and that it is certainly
to be expected, that if they consent to the Roman
Catholic Relief Bill, God will withdraw his fa-
vour, and visit them with heavy judgments ; and
you appeal to the Bible in proof of this declara-
tion. A noble opponent of Emancipation is
pleased to warn us against the " legal establishment



of superstition and idolatry ;" and even the more
moderate of your party seem to take it for
granted, that while they are actuated only by a
pure and disinterested attachment to Protest-
antism, those who differ from them in opinion
are sacrificing Christian principle to worldly ex-
pediency. Yet among them 1 know of several,
and I believe there are many more, who are not
influenced by terror or personal interest, and do
not conceal an indifference or hatred of religion
under the specious name of liberality. They
have no object at heart but the good of their
country, and the honour of their religion ; and
they endeavour to evince the orthodoxy of their
faith by shewing that it brings forth the fruits of
the Spirit, and to prove their confidence in the
excellence of their Church by trusting its defence,
under God's providence, not to Acts of Parlia-
ment, but to the conformity of its doctrines with
Scripture. In this crisis of religious excitation
they have daily experience that they have taken
the unpopular side, and have the mortification of
being set down by the great majority of their
neighbours as secret abettors of Popery. This
imputation they might be content to bear from
the ignorant and unthinking, for these we hardly
expect should understand that we can do justice,
or shew mercy, to those whose religion we con-
demn ; but when the charge is repeated by men



of education, when Members of Parliament and
" Country Clergymen" assert that we are betray-
ing the Protestant cause, our silence may be
construed into an acknowledgment of guilt. As
one of this party, therefore, I enter my protest
against so uncharitable and so unjust a conclu-
sion ; and while I give the Anti-Catholic full
credit for zeal and sincerity, I claim from him
equal candour, and expect that he should not
question our attachment to Protestantism, be-
cause we cannot discover in the Bible a single
text that favours intolerance, or authorizes our
supporting religion by legal disabilities. My ob-
ject in addressing you is to shew, that a Chris-
tian may from Christian motives favour the
emancipation of Roman Catholics ; yet I am not
without hope, that on calmly reviewing the sub-
ject, you may yourself discover, that we who are
abused for want of religion, have taken the really
religious side of the question ; for it is clear that
you have some misgiving as to the correctness of
your present views, or you would have no need
" to comfort your doubting mind with the reflec-
tion, that though the mode of inference be faulty,
the truths from which you infer are certainties ;
and you consider it as your bounden duty to
pray to God" (not, I observe, to keep you in your
present course, but) "to teach you what course you
ought to pursue."



6

All believers in the providence and moral
attributes of the Deity must acknowledge, that
his will, whenever it can be ascertained, ought
to determine our conduct ; and I as a Christian
agree with you, that we ought " to take the Bible
for our guide, and to look to that for instruction
in public as well as in private affairs ;" but with
this reservation, that it is not the letter but the
spirit of the inspired volume that is to guide
us. The spirit of the Bible cannot mislead us,
but it is possible to mistake that spirit, if we
do not consider the circumstances under which
the several books that compose it were written,
and the purposes they were designed to answer ;
for though its moral precepts are " worthy of
all acceptation," it contains other instructions fit
to be communicated at the time, but which it was
not intended that Christians should follow. This
position indeed has never been altogether denied,
from the time that Peter was admonished in a
vision to call nothing common or unclean that
God had cleansed. We all agree to contrast the
liberty of the Gospel with the bondage of the
Law, and yet there are few that are not willing
in some particular to go back to the beggarly
elements of the latter. The Christian world
has with one voice abandoned the whole of
the Mosaic ritual, rightly judging, that when the
one great oblation for sin had been offered, the



7

legal sacrifices that prefigured it were to cease;
and no Christian nation has ever proposed to
reestablish the Mosaic polity, which was revealed
for a special purpose which has been long since
fulfilled.

But notwithstanding, the notion long prevailed,
that setting aside such laws as were obviously
obsolete, the code of the Israelites was to be the
political guide of Christians ; and there is scarcely
a book of Statutes in modern Europe which will
not afford ample evidence of the accuracy of
this assertion. Our own usury law is a striking
example. The taking of interest is now universally
allowed to have been forbidden by Moses on
political grounds, and the most scrupulous Chris-
tian of our days has no doubt of the innocence
of the practice ; yet the canon law condemns
it as a sin, and even liberal casuists of a former
age regard it as of a questionable character.
It is also from the Old Testament misunderstood
that those who maintain it to be the duty of
the State to punish heresy derive their arguments
and their example. They argue, that as the law
of Moses condemns idolaters to death, the Chris-
tian ought not to be more indulgent to the
infidel and the blasphemer. We all now allow
that there is here a misconception in not perceiving
the different nature of modern governments and
the Jewish constitution, which was a theocracy,



8

that is, a state in which the Deity was the krng,
and in which consequently the worshipper of
other gods was guilty of high treason, and amena-
ble to punishment in this world as well as the
next. To all of us this is plain, yet wise and
good men of former ages unhappily did not make
this discovery ; and the reasonings of many about
this very Roman Catholic question now, prove,
that they have not followed out this truth into
all its legitimate consequences. " My kingdom,"
said our blessed Lord to Pilate, " is not of this
world ;" and he himself immediately draws the
important conclusion, that if it were his servants
would fight in its defence. "The kingdom of
Christ, to be extended to all mankind, was not
like to the kingdom of GW, which was limited
to the natural descendants of Abraham. The
religion of the Jews was incorporated with the
State, and therefore was of this world as well
in the exercise of it as in the rewards and punish-
ments whereby it was administered ; but the very
reason which made it proper that it should be
united by divine appointment to the State, made
it fit that Christianity should be left free and
independent. The union of the Jewish Church
and State was by mutual conversion into one
another and perfect incorporation ; but for what
end," observes Warburton, " was Christianity left
free, if not that it might adapt itself to the various



kinds of civil polity by a suitable union and
alliance." Some regard it as the duty of a
Christian government to establish the Church, and
others condemn the Church for accepting an esta-
blishment as a surrender of its independence ;
but it is clear, that it can exist and flourish too
without an union, and that the Mosaic law
cannot teach us our civil or political relations
either as citizens or churchmen. In the Holy
Land idolatry was treason and a capital offence ;
the only inferences therefore that we can draw
from the Bible to direct us in our behaviour
to persons of a different religion must be from
the conduct of pious Israelites, who resided in
foreign countries, or lived before the giving of the
Law.

The cases of Joseph and Daniel, of Nehemiah
and Mordecai, shew, that such could hold high
offices and administer affairs in unbelieving king-
doms, without forfeiting the favour of God ; yet
the two former, who seem to have filled the office
of prime minister, must have deliberated in coun-
cil with persons whose religious rites they re-
garded as an abomination. Our Lord did not
concur in opinion with his countrymen, who con-
demned those Jews that collected the taxes of the
idolatrous Romans ; and by his decision respect-
ing the tribute money, he recognized the authority
in temporal matters of a heathen sovereign. St.



10

Peter and St. Paul both enforce the duties of
subjects ; and the latter declares, that the consti-
tuted authorities, though they were then heathen,
were ordained of God. He affirms, that by divine
right they levy taxes and inflict capital punish-
ment ; and it is notorious, that he had himself
neither as Jew or Christian any scruple to avail
himself of the privileges of a Roman citizen,
though it brought him into a closer union than he
need have been in with an unbelieving government.
It appears that the Christian on his admission
into the Church neither renounced his allegiance,
nor any peculiar privileges he might enjoy.
Sergius Paulus, we conjecture, did not give up his
government, nor Cornelius his profession ; for as
soon as we have history to guide us, we find
Christians serving in the imperial army. The
Christian then might without sin hold office
in a heathen state. The Bible can afford us no
positive information what political power a
Christian government may lawfully grant to
heathens, because none such was in existence ;
but we learn from history, that the Christian
Emperors did not deprive their unbelieving
subjects of any of their rights or privileges, and
that Christians and heathens deliberated together
in the Roman Senate.

You, Sir, however, have not been misled by
confounding Judaism with Christianity, nor are



11

your conclusions drawn from the example of any
of the " elders, who by faith obtained a good
report." The portion of Scripture upon which
you build is confessedly obscure, and learned men
have never yet agreed in its interpretation. The
word of God no doubt is " Truth," and the
prophecies upon which you rely, being a part of that
word, are true ; but it is strange that you should
not perceive that your premises are not that infal-
lible word, but the meaning assigned to it by
fallible men. You observe, that the wisest and
best Christians have never hesitated in applying
these prophecies to the Church of Rome ; yet
other divines, who are regarded as no less eminent,
have arrived at a different conclusion. A moral
precept or an historical fact is understood in the
same sense by all, but the interpretation of such
prophecies is a matter of uncertainty, and the
ablest expounder can claim no more for his than
high probability. If we deny the probability,
the foundation is removed, and the whole super-
structure falls of course. As a Protestant, claim-
ing the right of private judgment, I am not bound
to prefer the comments of Mede and Newton to
those of Grotius and Hammond, or with Whitby
I may plead my inability to fathom the depths of
the Apocalypse.

Is it then pious, is it reasonable, to assert,
that we are rejecting God's own testimony,



12

when we are only rejecting uncertain human
interpretations, which none can now prove to be
true, and which time may prove to be false ?
But supposing that I allow your premises, why
am I bound to acquiesce in your conclusions,
since one of your own interpreters has taught me
to draw a different lesson from the Bible ?
Secret things belong unto the Lord our God,
but those that are revealed, unto us and our chil-
dren to do them. To do justice, to shew mercy,
to overcome evil with good, are Christian duties
which are plainly revealed. Let us practise these,
and fear not that we shall interfere with the secret
will of the Almighty. I have as high a value as
you can have for Mr. Davison's admirable work
upon Prophecy, but it is his " Considerations on
the Piety or Religious Principle of Conciliatory
Measures towards Ireland" that we must consult
for his opinion upon our duty with respect to our
Roman Catholic fellow-subjects. The Apoca-
lyptic voice, " Come out of her, my people,"
sounds in his ears not as a command to exclude
the members of the corrupt Church from offices,
and to keep them in all secular things under the
yoke, but as a command to cast off her un-
scriptural doctrines, her arts of craft, cruelties, and
oppressions, and to renounce all religious commu-
nion with her ; and he shews, that " the mark of
the beast" is not going to be set upon this Chris-



13

tian land, which exhibits a pure faith and worship
in its own Apostolical Church, which is not
about to adopt a single doctrine or practice from
that of Rome, or to give up a single one of its
own.

You have persuaded yourself, that the Man of
Sin, the Woman that is drunk with the blood of
the Saints, Babylon the great the Mother of
harlots and abominations of the earth, are per-
sonifications of the Church of Rome, and from
this persuasion you infer, that it is the " will of
God" that you should regard that Church as the
object of his peculiar abhorrence. I will not say
that your persuasion is erroneous, and I will cor-
dially join with you in abhorring the many doc-
trinal corruptions that have been sanctioned by
Papal Rome, and the intolerant, arrogant, and
domineering spirit that in the dark ages charac-
terized her clergy. A long and almost universal
empire gave it full scope for its developement ;
and when the world grew weary of the yoke, and
some nations had succeeded in throwing it off,
they endeavoured to rivet the chain with craft and
cruelty. That spirit must be odious in the sight
of the supreme Head of the Church, who "came
not to be ministered to but to minister," and who
commanded his followers to be meek and lowly,
to call no one Master upon earth, and to love
each other as brethren ;" but that spirit un-



14

happily is not peculiar to Rome ; it is indeed
the natural growth of the corrupt human
heart, and I dread the slightest indication of
its existence in any denomination of Chris-
tians. I could never become a member of a
community which divides the honour due to
God alone with his creatures ; but I recollect, that
though Rome has raised up a superstructure of
" hay and stubble," she has built it upon the
" true foundation" and that though she may be
accused of " worshipping angels," she still " holds
the head ;" and corrupt as she is, I consider her
with our most approved divines to be a true
Church. I am aware that many call her idol-
atrous, and they refer to the declaration to that
effect required from Members of Parliament; but
though I grant that my adoration of the conse-
crated wafer would be idolatrous, I regard it as
no more than reasonable and proper respect in
those who believe that it hath been transubstan-
tiated into the glorified body of the Redeemer.
The hasty reader, when he finds them called idol-
aters, is led to degrade them to the level of the
heathen, and to apply to them the texts that
were written of persons who worshipped idols
instead of the true God ; and many who would
refuse admission into civil offices to idolaters pro-
perly so called, might grant them to those who,
after all that can be laid to their charge, believe



15

in the same Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,
as themselves ; yet such is the force of a name,
that chiefly upon this account they would exclude
them, while they have never been shocked at the
admission of those who think they need neither
redemption nor sanctification, who deny the divi-
nity of our Lord, and " count the blood of the
covenant an unholy thing."

Your second conclusion naturally follows from
the first ; but I cannot bring myself to designate
as the enemy of Christ a communion, which re-
tains, though in part concealed and in part per-
verted by the traditions of men, the essential
doctrines of our common faith ; which her mis-
sionaries introduced into our country as well as
into the greater number of the European states.
Even when most alloyed with superstition,
I have no doubt that their doctrine proved to
many " the power of God unto salvation ;" and
as in process of time the truth has been sifted out
and retained, while human inventions have been
rejected by our own and other Protestant
Churches, why may we not, instead of indulging
in gloomy forebodings, look forward with hope
to the extension of the Reformation in Ireland,
where it seems to have been at length begun,
if we deprive the Papists there of all grounds of
complaint, and contend against their faith with
no other weapons than arguments ? The least



16

approach towards persecution is Anti-christian ;
but I would rather refer to the Woman drunk
with the blood of the saints as a warning than as
a reproach. Few Churches that have had the
power of punishing presumed heretics have not
sinned in this respect, if not so deeply as the
Roman, yet with less excuse, because they ought
to have allowed to others the liberty which they
claimed for themselves. Yet toleration, now uni-
versally approved, was till the time of Cromwell
unpractised, and universally reprobated.
. You recommend the use of every means not
forbidden by God's word to hinder the increase
of Popery, and I would willingly employ all
means permitted by that word to convince its
members of their errors ; but I cannot bring my-
self to believe, that even the negative persecution
of restrictions and disabilities are justifiable means
of maintaining truth or repressing error. " The
breath of the Saviour's mouth which is to con-
sume the Man of Sin" whoever he may be, " the
sharp sword of his mouth with which our trium-
phant Lord is to smite the nations," is no material
weapon, but pure, unmixed Gospel truth, which
" none of its adversaries shall be able to gainsay



or resist."



You will perceive from this statement, that
though my opinion of the Roman Catholic re-
ligion is not quite so unfavourable as your own,



17

I also think it wrong- to encourage it, notwith-
standing I cannot assent to 'your conclusion, that
we are about to commit a national sin, the rea-
son is, that an obvious fallacy pervades your
appeal, and many writings on the same side,
the confounding the admission of our Roman

y o -/

Catholic fellow-subjects into civil offices with a
national recognition of the truth of their religion.
The payment of their clergy by the State might
be regarded in that light, and 1 am astonished
that those who have religious scruples against
the Relief Bill have never petitioned against the
annual parliamentary grant to Maynooth College.
The present Bill may indirectly, contrary to the
design of the Legislature, promote the Roman
Catholic religion, but the grant is a direct and
open encouragement. The Bill only interferes
with the religion to check and restrain it ; it con-
fers upon the monastic orders no legal existence,
it prohibits the entrance of Jesuits into the
United Kingdom, and forbids their prelates to
retain the titles of their sees; and in granting
Roman Catholics civil privileges, it requires them
upon oath to acknowledge the legal right of our
clergy to Church property, and the Protestant
character of the State. They will be admitted
into offices and into Parliament not because but
notwithstanding they are Roman Catholics; and
they have been hitherto excluded not because

B



18

their religion is deemed erroneous, but because it
was supposed that their acknowledgment of a
foreign Bishop as head of the Church was incom-
patible with allegiance to their sovereign. If re-
ligion had been the reason, their exclusion would
have been dated from the settlement of our Church ;
whereas it is well known, that it was one of the
results of a national panic above a century after.
On the theory of which we now hear so much of
a pure Protestant Constitution, the Officers of
State and Members of the Parliament should be
required to assent and consent to the Articles of
the Established Church, or at least, to some Pro-
testant confession of faith ; but the test is not
positive but negative ; it is only directed against
Popery ; and whoever will take it, may profess
any creed however absurd or mischievous, or even
no creed whatever. There is nothing that ex-
cludes an unbeliever.

The question now before Parliament is a poli-
tical one, and religion is no further concerned in
it, than it is in all great questions either of public
or private life. The right of the Roman Catholic
to the free exercise of his religion is not denied,
and in a free country it ought not to deprive him
of any civil or political office, until it can be
shewn that there is any tenet of his faith that
renders him incapable of discharging the duties
of it, or that his principles require him to pervert



19

his power and influence to the injury of others.
The proof of his unfitness is fairly thrown upon
the objecter. This however is resolving the
question into one of expediency; those who
would exclude Roman Catholics upon principle
must be prepared to exclude them for ever, with
an heroic disdain of consequences, though it
should be proved that no injury would arise from
their admission, and that national ruin would be
the effect of their exclusion.

A government is justified in not tolerating
doctrines positively and plainly repugnant to
morality : no one could reasonably complain of
a prohibition of human sacrifices, no one ought
to call a refusal to permit widows in India to burn
themselves with their deceased husbands perse-
cution; but it cannot be a sin to grant political
power, not to a false religion, but to the members
of any religion which a nation is justified in
tolerating. If it be a sin to admit Roman Ca-
tholics to command our armies, to preside in our
courts of justice, and to deliberate in the great
council of the nation, because it seems to coun-
tenance their religion, is it not a greater one to
tolerate the public celebration of their worship,
and to suffer their priests to proclaim from the
pulpit that their Church is the only true one, out
of which there can be no salvation ? If my con-
science forbad my granting the first, I should be



20

under the necessity of withholding the second ;
but surely if this be a legitimate conclusion, the
premises cannot be true.

Some will say, that it is a sin to admit them
into places where they may have the power of
endangering our pure and reformed Church.
Its purity I consider to be its security, the only
one it hath a right to claim, and the only one
that it needs. Its revenues were originally the
property of the State, and belong to it only as
an establishment. I deny not the right of the
State to establish the Church, nor the wisdom
or piety of that proceeding ; but I cannot forget
that the Church is an independent society,
neither of this world nor designed to answer
worldly ends, whose "citizenship is in heaven."
It can exist, for it has existed, and flourished
too without the patronage of the temporal power,
and sometimes without its protection. An alter-
ation in its doctrine or discipline might endanger
it, for it would affect its nature, and might destroy
its character; yet even this has been done,
and may be done again by the proper authorities.
The loss of honour and emoluments, to suppose


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Online LibraryJ. D. (John David) MacBrideA letter to a country clergyman on his Serious appeal to the Bible → online text (page 1 of 2)