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DR. BEATTIE'S OPINION
OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION. “ The Christian Religion according to my creed, is a very simple thing, intelligible to the meanest capacity; and what, if we are at pains to join practice to knowledge, we may make ourselves acquainted with without turning over many books. It is the distinguished excellence of this religion that it is entirely popular and fitted, both in its doctrines and its evidences, to all conditions and capacities of reasonable creatures a character which does not belong to any other religious or philosophical system that ever appeared in the world. I wonder to see so many men eminent both for their piety and for their capacity, labouring to make a mystery of this divine institution. If God vouchsafe to reveal himself to mankind, can we suppose that he chooses to do it in such a manner that none but the learned and contemplative can understand him? The generality of mankind can never, in any possible circumstances, have leisure or capacity for learning or profound contemplation. If, therefore, we make Christianity a mystery, we exclude the greater part of mankind from the knowledge of it; which is directly contrary to the intention of its author as is plain from his explicit and reiterated declarations. In . a word, I am perfectly convinced, that an intimate acquaintance with the SCRIPTURE, particularly the Gospels, is all that is necessary to our accomplishment in true Christian knowledge. I have looked into some systems of theology, but I have never read one of them to an end, because I found I could never reap any instruction from them. To darken what is clear, by wrapping it up in a veil of system and science, was all the purpose that the best of them seems to me answer.
MR. CAMPBELL'S PREFACE TO THE CHRIS
TIAN BAPTIST, VOL. II.
The priesthood of the East and West, or those who claim a divine right of teaching authoritatively the Christian religion, have been, and now are, sedulously at work, some in their weekly harangues, and others in their parochial visitations, showing to their good and loyal subjects the awful danger of reading the Christian Baptist. They express a great concern about the souls of their hearers, and the dangerous tendency of our feeble efforts to persuade the people to read, examine, and judge for themselves. But whence this alarm-this Demetrian cry of the church in danger? Do these divines sincerely believe that it will be injurious to the souls of their worshippers to read this work? If so, then they only prove how useless they have been to their hearers. Why have they not instructed their hearers better, and thus have rendered them superior to imposition? What would we think of a teacher of grammar or arithmetic, who, after spending seven, seventeen, or twenty-seven years in teaching his pupils those sciences, should afterwards express a great fear of their reading any treatise on those same sciences, which had for its object either the approbation or the reprobation of his instructions ? Would he not, ipso facto, betray himself?
But however uncharitable it may appear, we sincerely believe that they are unwilling to have their authority
called in question, and fear the experiment of an effort to maintain it. The learned and unlearned clergy have always exhibited an eager desire to pass themselves off for ambassadors for Christ, or a sort of plenipotentiaries, whose preachings, prayers, and exhortations have a peculiar efficacy in heaven and earth, of which the prayers and exhortations of a Christian cobbler or a Christian maidservant are divested. Now I am just such a simpleton as to believe that the preachings, prayers, and exhortations of sister Phæbe, the maid-servant of his Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, are possessed of as much authority and efficacy as those of her master. By authority, here, I mean just everything that the clergy claim to have peculiarly conferred on them from heaven. Such pretensions to authority, or a divine right to officiate as they do, are, no doubt, as useful to make the people fear them and pay them, as a mitre, a surplice, a cloven cap, or a sable gown is to a Popish priest, for all the wise and noble ends of his calling. But either the clergy possess an authority or a divine right to preach, pray, and exhort in public assemblies, on “the Sabbath day,” which every other member of the religious community does not possess, or they do not. Now, if they do, it can be proven that they do ; and if they do not, it can be proven that they do not. I have already pledged myself to the public to prove that they do not, whenever any of them attempt to prove that they do. And, I will add, that if I cannot prove, and satisfactorily too, to every umpire, that their pretensions, right, and authority to act as they do, is given them, not from heaven, but from men; then I will say that I can prove no point whatever. But how to reconcile their conduct to any correct prinoiples, religious or moral, I find not. If I had a piece of genuine gold, or a coin that I thought genuine, soon as its genuineness was called in question, I, being conscious that the more it was tested the brighter it would shine, would not fear to have it subjected to the severest scrutiny. But were I possessed of a base coin, or of a counterfeit bank bill, which I wished to be reputed genuine, I would endeavour (being a rogue) to pass it off amongst the ignorant and unsuspicious, and fearfully avoid examination. The Protestant clergy have, when it suited their interest laughed at the arrogant pretensions of the Papist clergy to infallibility. We view their pretensions to authority just in the same light.
The great body of the laity are so completely preached out of their common sense, that they cannot guess or conjecture how the Christian religion could exist without priests. And I believe it to be as difficult to persuade many of them that they could do much better without them, as it once was, or as it is now, to persuade the loyal subjects of an eastern monarch, that a nation could exist without a king and nobles at its head. The United States, however, has proved the fallacy of such doctrine; and the primitive Church, as well as many congregations of saints in modern times, have proved to those acquainted with their history, that either a learned or an unlearned clergy are now, and ever have been, the cause of all division, superstition, enthusiasm, and ignorance of the people.
These sentiments are, we know, obnoxious to the wrath and vengeance of this order; and woe awaits him that rises up against the Lord's anointed. Our remarks, puny and insignificant as the clergy view them, are honest, well meant, and above-board. Their efforts to defend themselves, strong, powerful, and valiant as they are, are in secret, by the firéside, or in the wooden box, where they think themselves protected from exposure and defeat. Two honest men, it is true, my friend Thomas G. Jones, and the reverend editor of the Pittsburgh Recorder, have once, but not twice, manfully lifted up their pen like a two-edged sword; but alas ! for the honour of the cloth, it soon sought its scabbard. They cannot, either in honour to their own well meant efforts, nor to the sacredness of their calling, say I am so worthless and vile as to be unworthy of their notice. For why, then, have they noticed me at all? And were they as sacred as the Saviour of the world, and I as vile as the woman of Samaria, they would do well to remember that the former deigned to converse and reason with the latter. Or, if they are ambassadors of Heaven's Almighty King, and I as common as an Epicurean, a Stoic, or an idolatrous Lycaonian, they should remember that Paul, as great and as well an attested ambassador as they, disputed with Epicureans, Stoics, and Lycaonians. Or, if they view me as an erring brother, as Paul did some in his time, they should be as open and as explicit as Paul, who, before them all, rebuked Peter to his face. It is true, indeed, that some of them have made me worse than any of these ; for the president of a western college, who took it into his head that he was the eloquent orator noticed in a former number, to a friend who asked him his opinion of it and me, very laconically replied, “ He is the Devil.” Supposing this were the case, and that Satan had actually appeared in human form, his serene highness, though marked D. D., should remember that the Saviour of the world rebutted the Devil with “ It is written,” and not with saying “ You are the Devil.” · I honestly confess that the popular clergy and their schemes appear to me fraught with mischief to the temporal and the eternal interests of men, and would anxiously wish to see them converted into useful members, or bishops, or deacons of the Christian Church. How has their influence spoiled the best gifts of Heaven to men! Civil liberty has always fallen beneath their sway—the inalienable rights of men have been wrested from their hands and even the very margin of the Bible polluted with their inventions, their rabbinical dreams, and whimsical nonsense. The Bible cannot be disseminated without their appendages; and if children are taught to read in a Sunday school, their pockets must be filled with religious tracts, the object of which is either directly or indirectly to bring them under the domination of some creed or sect. Even the distribution of the Bible to the poor must be followed up with those tracts, as if the Bible dare not be trusted in the hands of a layman, without a priest or his representative at his elbow. It is on this account that I have, for some time, viewed both “Bible Societies” and “Sunday Schools” as a sort of recruiting establishments to fill up the ranks of those sects which take the lead in them. It is true that we rejoice to see the Bible spread, and the poor taught to read by those means, but notwithstanding this, we ought not, as we conceive, to suffer the policy of many engaged therein to pass unnoticed, or to refrain from putting those on their guard who are likely to be caught by “the sleight of men and cunning craftiness.”