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A PO L OG
HE Ecclefiaftical Characteristics is evidently a fa
tire upon clergymen of a certain character. It is a fatire too, which every body must see was intended to carry in it no small measure of keenness and severity. This was to be expected from the nature and design of the performance. A fatire that does not bite is good for nothing. Hence it necessarily follows, that it is essential to this manner of writing, to provoke and give offence. The greatest satirists, in all ages, have made just as many enemies to themselves, as they exposed objects of scorn and derision to the public. * It was certainly, on this ac, count, easy to foresee what would be the effect of the publication of such a piece, if it was executed in a tolerable manner; and therefore I hope every impartial person will not only acquit me of blame, but confess I acted very prudently in not setting my name to the work.
The event justified this precaution. The rage and fury of many ministers in Scotland when this pamphlet was first published, is known almost to all its readers.
* History informs us, that Horace, for his admired satires, had many private enemies in Rome ; and it has been said, that our countryman Mr. Pope, durft hardly walk the streets of London, some years before his death, through fear of being attacked or pistoled, even when he met with the highest en. couragement from the public.
The most opprobrious names were bestowed upon
the cealed author, and the most dreadful threatenings ut. tered, in case they should be so fortunate as to discover and convict him. One gentleman in particular, who fell under the imputation of being concerned in it, has ever fince been the object of their detestation and resentment ; although I think it remains yet very uncertain, what hand he had, or whether he had any hand at all, in its compo. fition ; a question which I hope the present production, by a comparison with his other works, will enable the sharp-lighted public to determine.
But though I had by good management provided myself a shelter from the form, it is not to be supposed but I heard it well enough rattling over my head. The truth is, I have listened with all possible attention to the objections raised against this performance ; and found with much concern, that the great endeavor of its enemies has been to represent the general design of it as contrary to the interelt of religion ; and the spirit and manner of it, as inconsistent with the Chriftian temper. The common cry has been, “The author must be a man of a bad heart
No good man could write such a piece." This has given me an irresistible inclination, upon notice that a new edition of it is intended, to fend into the world, at the same time, a serious apology for it, not only for my own vindication, but that if it hath any capacity of doing good, this happy purpose may not be defeated by the implicit credit given to fo heavy an accusation.
In entering upon this talk, I take the liberty to affirm, that what first induced me to write, was a deep concern for the declining interest of religion in the church of Scotland, mixed with some indignation at what appeared to me a strange abuse of church-authority in the years 1751
and 1752. The reasons of its particular structure
* This refers to the rebulting and deposing minifters who did not think themselves at liberty to join in the ordination of a pastor without a people. The first was done in the case of Mr. Adam and the prefbytery of Linlithgow, who declined being present at the fettlement of Torplichen; the fecond, in the cale of Mr. Gillespie, in the settlement of Inverkcithing:
will be given afterwards ; in the mean time, the reader may rest assured, that this defence shall be wholly serious, and shall not contain a single proposition which, in its plain and literal meaning, the author does not believe to be true. Not so much as attempting to borrow any affic. tance from wit and ridicule, he submits his cause to be tried by calm dispaslionate reasoning, and only begs the impartial attention of the reader.
To free the question from ambiguity, it will be neces. sary to consider the performance distinctly, under the three following heads. i. The subject of it in general ; which is confessed to be an attack upon the principles, manners, and political conduct of certain clergymen. 2. Why it is written in an assumed character and ironical style. 3. What occafion was given for it by those to whom it was evidently applied, viz. the ministers of our own church.
I. Let us consider the subject in general, viz. attacking and exposing the characters of clergymen. While I am speaking upon this head, I must take it for granted, that the faults are real ; that the fatire and reproofs are juft, An objection against the performance has been often made to this purpose : “ Supposing the things censured " to be true, what end does it ferve to publish them? “ If tenderness for the reputation of the offenders could “ not prevent such cruel treatment, ought not a regard " for the edification of others, and the success of the gol“pel in their hand, to have clisposed a good man to throw
a veil over their infirmities? Is not religion wounded through their fides, and occasion given to infidels to triumph ?"
In answer to this, I confefs myself to have very differ ent views of things from those who speak in this manner, Nay, I believe, that though there are some who speak as they think, yet it is much more frequently the language of those who wish nothing so much as the undisturbed indulgence of themselves in Roth, luxury, or grosser crimes. I am altogether at a loss to know what is the argument in reason, or the precept in Scripture, which makes it criminal to censure ministers when they deserve it. That their station, like that of all other persons of
influence, or in public employment, should make meni very tender and cautious how they take up an evil report against them, and careful never to do it but on good grounds, I readily allow ; but where the character is really bad, I hold it as a first principle, that as it is in them doubly criminal and doubly pernicious, so it ought to be exposed with double severity. This is so far from being contrary to the interest of religion, even when done by a ciergy man, that nothing can be more honorable to it, than to show that there are some so bold as to reprove, and so faithful as to withstand the corruptions of others.
How far fecret wickedness should be concealed, or scenes of iniquity not laid open, and so fin turned into scandal in ministers, is a matter that would require a very careful and accurate discussion, and admits of many exceptions : but if, in any case, erroneous doctrine, or degeneracy of life, iś plain and visible ; to render them completely odious, must certainly be a duty. When it is not done, it provokes men to conclude the clergy all combined together, like “Demetrius and the craftsmen," and more concerned for their own power and credit, than for the interest and benefit of those committed to their charge.
That irreligion and infidelity has made a rapid progress among us for some time past, is a certain, and a melancholy truth. Well! perhaps I shall be told, That I have contributed to strengthen the cause of infidelity among the quality and gentry, by giving them such a representation of the clergy. I answer, That gentlemen's sorming , a bad opinion of clergymen contributes to promote infidelity, I will by no means deny ; so far from it, I affirm, that without this, all other causes put together, would not be able to produce it in any great degree. The great, as well as the vulgar, are always more influenced in their regard for, or contempt of religion, by what they fee in .. the characters and behavior of men, than by any specu. , lative reafonings whatever. This is what they them. selves make no fcruple, on many occasions, to confess. Bishop Burnet, in his Discourse of the Pastoral Care, acquaints us, that, “ having had much free conversation “ with many that have been fatally corrupted that way,
" they have very often owned, that nothing promoted " this so much in them as the bad opinion which they “ took up of clergymen. They did not fee in them," fays he, “that strictness of life, that contempt of the a world, that zeal, that meekness, humility and charity, " that diligence and earneftness, with relation to the
great truths of the Christiani religioni, wlrich they rec: * koned they would most certainly have, if they them. " lelves firmly believed it; therefore they concluded, thac o those whose business it was more strictly to inquire into “ the truth of their religion, knew that it was not so cers * tain as they themselves, for other ends endeavored to « make the world believe it was.”
But the great, or rather the only question yét remains : Did the publication of the characteristics give the first occasion to such reflections in Scotland ? Was the first information gentlemen had of the characters of the clergy drawn from that performance? This, which must be the very foundation of the objection we are considering, is not true; and indeed it is not possible in the nature of things, that it should be true. If there be any such thing as corruption among the clergy, by neglect of duty, lux. ury in dress or table, laxness in principle, or licentious. ness of practice, it can be no fecret to people of figure and fashion. It is commonly in their society that the most free conversation and unclerical carriage is found among gentleinen of the facred order.
And though some of the laity who regret such indecencies, may have so much good manners as to forbear upbraiding them openly, and others may perhaps not be displeased at the removal of all restraints, either from the discipline or ex. ample of ministers yet it is well known how little to their advantage persons of both forts have talked, long before the Characteristics had a being. So that, instead of any poblic rebuke being the occasion of gentlemen's forming a bad opinion of the clergy, the latt, on the contrary, gave a manifest occafion for the first, if it did not make fomething of that kind indispensibly necessary.
Many wrong opinions arise from confounding things that have some relation to one another, but are notwith. Vol. III.