Popery is the most dreadful machine, the utmost stretch of human politicks, that ever was invented amongst men, to aggrandize and enrich the clergy, to oppress and enslave the laity. All its doctrines, all its views, all its artifices, are calculated for the sole advantage of the priests, and the destruction of the people, at the expence of virtue, good government, common sense, and the gospel. It is an open conspiracy of the ecclesiasticks against all the rest of mankind, to rob them of their estates, of their consciences, and their senses; and to make them the dupes and tame vassals of saucy and ambitious pedants. Look into their doctrines and their practices, and see whether you can find the least appearance of honour, morality, common honesty, or religion, in them; or any thing but pride, hypocrisy, fraud, tyranny, and domination. What do they mean by the power of the keys, binding and loosing, of excommunication, of their being mediators and intercessors between God and you; what do they mean by their pardoning sins, and having the sole power of giving the sacraments, which they tell you are necessary to salvation; what, by their doctrines about purgatory; but to persuade you, if you are foolish enough to believe them, that your future happiness and misery depend upon them? and then they well know that you will give the most that you have in this world, to be secure in the next.
What do they intend by telling you that bishops are of divine institution; by the power of ordination; and that they can alone make one another? What, by the indelible character; by uninterrupted succession from the apostles; by their being able to give the Holy Ghost, and having it themselves; but to create reverence to their persons, submission to their authority, and to render themselves independent of the civil government? And then they know that the civil government will be dependent on them. What purpose does it serve, to make you believe that tithes (which they hold by laws of your making) are of divine institution; that it is sacrilege to resume lands or donations, once given to the clergy, and that they can never afterwards be alienated; but constantly to increase their riches, and consequently their power and dependence, till by the natural course of things they come to be possessed of all? What do they mean by their holy water, their extreme unction, their exorcisms, their consecration of churches and church-yards, and their absurd notion of transubstantiation, but to gain adoration to the priestly character, as if he was able by a few canting words to change the nature of things, bless dead earth and walls, and make a god out of a meal? Why so many monasteries and nunneries, so many religious orders of men and women, so many fraternities, colleges, and societies of different kinds, but to engage great numbers of young people and potent families in their interest? Why so many antick garbs, so many rich vestments, so many gaudy shrines, so many decked images, used in their worship, and so much pompous devotion? Why organs and so much musick, so many singing-men, and singing-boys, but to attract the eyes and ears, and to amuse the understandings of the gaping herd, to make them forget their senses, and the plain natural religion of the gospel, and to engage men and ladies of pleasure in the interests of so agreeable a devotion.
How comes it to be a part of religion, not to confess our sins to God, but to the priest? It lets him into all the secrets of families, the power of imposing what severe penances he pleases upon superstitious penitents, and of commuting for those penances; acquaints him with all designs to the disadvantages of his order; gives him opportunities of debauching women himself, and procuring them for others; and holds them devoted to his will by the knowledge of their most important concerns. And lastly, what do they mean by the terrible engine of the Inquisition, and by their hellish doctrine of persecution for opinions; but to keep all men in awe of them, and to terrify those whom they cannot deceive? These are the favourite doctrines of popery! These the doctrines which they are concerned for! If you be rich or powerful, you may be as wicked as you please, and no body shall molest you; nay, the priests shall be ready to assist you, to pimp for you, and to pardon you. The same is true of the speculative opinions held by that church, that do not affect their power and pride: They suffer their several orders to differ about them, and do not trouble themselves what the people believe concerning them; nor are any of the people at all concerned in them. The absurd notions and ridiculous worship of the papists are only foolish things; but the power of popery is a terrible thing. If a man adore rotten bones, and use antick gestures towards them, he makes a fool of himself, but hurts not me; but if he would rob me, torture me, or burn me, for not playing the fool too, it is time to keep him at a distance, or to hold his hand. It is the power of popery, the cruel, the insatiable, the killing spirit of popery, that is to be dreaded. This, Gentlemen, is the power, this the terrible condition, that many of your Protestant instructors would bring you under, and which you are to guard against.
These wicked doctrines, these absurd opinions, were all abolished, all renounced, by the first reformers, but kept alive by the corrupt part of the clergy, and have been growing upon you ever since: They have been connived at by some, openly asserted by others, and I wish I could say, as openly discountenanced by the rest. It would fill a volume, instead of a paper, to enumerate all the clergymen, in the highest repute amongst their own order, who have abetted most, if not all of these monstrous opinions; and I have heard as yet of none of them who have been censured by any publick act of their body. I confess, that many of the corrupt amongst them have renounced the Pope’s authority, as believing that they might find fairer quarter from a King whom they educated and hoped to govern, than from a foreign prelate, and his needy priests, who would plunder them, oppress them, and give away their revenues to his creatures, and to lazy monks and friars. They hoped too, that some favourable opportunities might happen to get away the regale from the crown; and we never had a prince whom they could entirely govern, or who would not be governed at all by them, but they have laid claim to it, and attempted it. But what stood always in their way, and made all their designs impracticable, was the power of Parliament, and the liberties of the people, who preserved the prerogative of the crown to preserve themselves: They therefore levelled all their batteries against publick liberty, and laboured to make the prince absolute; as finding it much easier to flatter, mislead, or bargain with one man (and often a weak one) than to deceive a whole people, and make them conspire against themselves: and if persuasion, bigotry, and fear, would not make him practicable to their designs, they knew that poison and the dagger were at hand.
But now two hundred years’ experience has convinced them, that the people will not suffer the crown to part with the regale, nor would they themselves part with their liberty; and till they do so, there is no possibility of settling a pompous hierarchy, and gaining the domination which they aspire to: They therefore are reduced to accept barefaced popery, and throw themselves under the protection of the Holy Father: And that is the game which they are now playing. What else can they propose by a popish revolution, but to share in the power and tyranny that attend it? They have not sufficient stipends for the daily mischiefs which they do: They want greater revenues, and an ecclesiastical inquisition. Now, at whose expence, think you, must this accumulation of wealth which they thirst for be acquired? How must this Babel of authority which they pant after be raised? Not at the expence of the Pretender, by whose assistance they must gain them: No, Gentlemen; from your coffers these riches must be drained: Over you this tyranny must be exercised: The utter extinction of our liberties must constitute their grandeur: The single seizure of your lands and properties must support their domination: You must be the poor harassed slaves of a monstrous two-headed tyranny: be constantly and inhumanly crushed between the upper and the nether millstone of the regale and pontificate; and, in any dispute betwixt them, be given to Satan on one side, and to the executioner on both.
Many of you are in possession of impropriations and of abbey-lands, and are protected by the constitution in those possessions, which these reverend cheats would rob you of; and only want an arbitrary and a popish government to enable them to commit that robbery, to strip you to the skin, and to reduce the English laity to be once more humble cottagers and vassals to the monks, friars, and other ecclesiastical gluttons, to whom the whole riches of a great nation will be no more than sufficient wages for cheating and oppressing it. I bring you, Gentlemen, no false charge against the Jacobite clergy: Do they not claim your estates publickly from the press and the pulpit; and from the pulpit and the press charge you with sacrilege, and damn you for keeping them? Yes, Gentlemen, these reverend and self-denying teachers damn you for keeping your own legal possessions, and for eating your own bread. Now I would leave you to reason upon this conduct of theirs, to consider how nearly it affects you, whither it tends, and what sort of Protestants these doctors are. If the publick take nothing from them which they occupied since the Reformation, why should they destroy the government, but in hopes of destroying the Reformation, to get possession of popish lands, and popish power; which, while the Reformation and the government subsist, they can never possess?
That this, Gentlemen, is what they aim at, it is impossible to doubt. Lesley, long their favourite and director, who knew their inclinations, knew their views, and the best way to apply them and to gain them, in his Letter to the Clergy (as I think it was) which was to usher in the rebellion at the beginning of his Majesty’s reign, promises them an independence upon the crown, and that they should choose their own bishops. It is dominion, it is power, which they court; it is themselves whom they adore: When have they ever considered you or your interests, when they thought they could make a bargain for themselves? When King James applied to the bishops, upon his fear of an invasion from your great deliverer, and desired them to propose the nation’s grievances, what grievances did they represent but their own trifling complaints? They said nothing of standing armies, how much soever they complain of them now. Who are their favourites? Even papists and nonjurors, known rebels, or men of rebellious principles, the most ambitious and wicked amongst the clergy, the most debauched and stupid among the laity. What sermons have they preached, what books have they wrote, against popery, though their flocks be every day decreasing? What exhortations against popish principles, which are constantly growing upon us? Whom do they treat as their avowed enemies, but friends to the Revolution, the most steady friends to the Establishment which they have sworn to, the Protestant dissenters, and such of their own body as regard their oaths, and the principles of the Reformation? What have you gained by all the favours lately shewn to them? Which of them have been obliged by these concessions? You have given them the first-fruits: You have in effect repealed the statute of mortmain; You have given them a shorter method to recover their tithes: You have increased their number and riches by building more churches: You have sat still, whilst they have been destroying the moduses through England, buying up your advowsons, extorting upon their tenants, and making those estates more precarious, which were always before esteemed as certain interests as any in Great-Britain: Has all this obliged them? Has it taught them moderation? On the contrary, it increases their demands upon you. Be assured, that they will never be satisfied, never think that they have enough, whilst you have a penny left; and when they have got all your lands, they must ride and enslave your persons.
Will you bear, Gentlemen, such constant and impudent insults? Will you still be governed by such abandoned deceivers? Are you men, free-men, rational men; and will you beat this wild and priestly war against human nature, against freedom, and against reason? Will you indeed believe them, when they pretend any regard to you and your interest? And is it upon your score that they practise perjury and rebellion themselves, and promote it in others?
T I am, &c.