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AN EXAMINATION OF THE DOCTRINES AND PRACTICES OF
THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
To the Editor of the Freethinking Christians' Magazine. IN treating of the church of England, my design is to shew
that she is not entitled to the name of a Christian church, to which she so arrogantly pretends; and that it is the duty of Christians, not only to refuse the assistance she not asks of training úp children in the belief of her doctrines, but by every lawful means to prevent her succeeding in accomplishing so pernicious an object : and as it is a first principle with the schools intended to be established by them, that the children shall be taught the catechism, I shall make it the business of this letter to examine the real merits of this sacred composition, and to shew that it is calculated to promote ignorance and superstition; that it is contrary to reason and scripture; and that the learning of this popish catechism necessarily leads to an implicit belief of doctrines not understood, and by its false declarations lulls men into a fatal security of future happiness, without any regard to the conditions on which alone it is proinised in the sacred writings. i Catechisms were unknown to the first Christians; but when priests got into the church-when the multitude were to be made Christians-when Christianity, to suit' the rabble, was made to consist in sound and not sense-to be a mere repeate: ing of words, and not a rational conviction producing a principle of action-then a list of articles was drawn up, and this was called a catechism; an obscure word, for the purpose, no doubt, of giving an air of mystery to the thing itself. This practice the church of England has adopted from the church of Rome, with some little alteration, to suit her present notions.
Absurdity and falsehood salute us at the very threshold; for after having answered the useless questions of “ what is your name? and who gave you that name?" the child is inade to assert what is absolutely false, and which even if true he is incompetent to understand; for he says, that in his baptism (and by baptism he here refers to the priest having sprinkled him with a little water, and made the form of a cross on his forehead,
when he was perhaps four weeks old), “ I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." Let any child believe this to be a fact, and it most completely destroys every wish for knowledge or virtue, for if he by this act is really made a member of Christ ; if he is really a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heavenlet him be ever so foolish, or ever so wicked, to heaven he must go; for none can rob him of his inheritance. But it may be said this is only upon condition that he leads a virtuous life; this I deny, and their own articles shall bear me out. See the 9th article, where it declares, “and although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptised, yet the apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin”-mind, only the nature of sin. Thus we see that once being baptised, and continuing to believe the dogmas of the church, though the slaves of concupiscence and lust, they are still Christians-cannot be condemned, but still enjoy a full assurance of a happy and eternal life: and, as though this was not sufficient encouragement for men to lead a vicious life, and place all their dependance for salvation upon the priest, it is asserted (article 11) that we are accounted righteous before God, only for the merits of Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deserving. Surely, if what they assert be true (article 9) that“
man is very
gone ginal righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil," there need no such opinions as I have quoted, to be taught our youth to encourage and strengthen such an inclination ; and of course, that that system of education which requires the teaching of the catechism is unworthy the support of every friend to truth and virtue. Why then this clamor of the clergy against Lancaster's system, on account of its neglecting to teach this catechism? Why truly this, that if men had not these false hopes, they would begin to consider that religion consisted in the obtaining of knowledge, and in the practice of virtue; and then there would be no farther occasion for the priest.
After some other questions and answers altogether incon. sistent with the former, the catechumen is called upon to "rehearse the articles of his belief.” In answer to which, he repeats, like a parrot, what is commonly called the apostles creed, though evidently not only not written by them, but containing doctrines contrary to what they taught; as, for in: stance, that he (Jesus) was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, descended into hell; and the resurrection of the body--points of doctrine no where to be found in the genuine sacred writings.
As a creed, to Christians who consider all creeds as repug.
nant to Christianity, it must always be objectionable; but the inferences that are drawn from it in the subsequent questions and answers make it highly injurious: at the same time they are no more taught in this creed than in the scriptures themselves. Question. "What dost thou chiefly learn in these articles of thy belief?" Answer. “ First, I learn to believe in God the Father, &c.; 2ndly. in God the Son, &c.; 3rdly. in God the Holy Ghost," &c. Where, I would ask, in the creed are they taught to believe in three Gods ? It is true they are taught that Jesus is the son of God, and that there is such a person or thing as the Holy Ghost; but in no part of it are either the name or attributes of God ascribed to them: and yet without examination the child is instructed to tell a direct falsehood, by declaring that he chiefly learns those articles from this creed, which are in no way directly or indirectly taught in it, and which are in contradiction to the first and most important doctrine of natural and revealed religion, viz. that there is but one God.
The next question introduces the ten commandments, giveni to the Jews, as if they contained all the commandments of God. Now it is evident, that however excellent most of these commandments are, and indeed all of them as applicable to the Jewish nation, they do not comprise all the commands of God, nor do they belong to Christians at all as the commands of God. But it will be seen that this sacred cathechism, which the clergy think of so much importance for children to learn, if they learn to read at all; for be assured, gentle reader, that they would much rather men should never learn to read than even learn the catechism, for they made no stir about the catechism while children were untaught--they might curse and swear about the streets without learning the catechism, but when Lancaster's system hegan to spread, they saw that if every body could read, every body would desert their church ; and having experienced the blessed effects of the catechism in keeping men in ignorance, they determined that it should be employed as a means to prevent the effects that learning to read would necessarily produce to their system. But such a farrago of contradiction is this catechism, that although they have just made the child declare that he believes in three Gods, the first command he repeats as the positive command of God directly contradicts it, by saying, “ Thou shalt have none other God, but me;" so that if the creed which he repeated before was the apostles creed, and really contained what the child is made to declare it does, the apostles must have taught that there were three Gods in opposition to what God hath commanded that be should have but one God.
lo the second, it is said, “ thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image; thou shalt not bow down to them,” &c.; yet this church, in its canons, enjoins that in going up the church, THREE BOWs shall be made to the altar, which every body knows is generally more adorned with sculpture and painting than any other part of the church.
The third is against taking the name of God in vain ; generally understood as relating to swearing falsely. Yet the man who inculcates this command, will find it difficult to exculpate himself from the charge of violating it on his very entrance into office, as every priest when he is ordained swears that, “he is moved by the spirit of God to take upon hiin the cure of souls !!!” In the first place the character of many of these men prove the falsehood; and in the next the scriptures sanction no such expectation, as that of the spirit of God operating upon men's minds at all in the present day, much less to take upon themselves an office utterly unauthorised by, and repug- . nant altogether to, Christianity.
The fourth, relating to the sabbath, is not only inapplicable to Christians, but is not even observed by them; and indeed the Christian religion considers every day alike, knowing nothing of a sabbath. But the church of England enjoins the observance of the first day of the week, while the child is taught by this command that he ought to observe the seventh-the first by the order of the church, the seventh by the command of God-be cannot serve God and Mammon.
Again he is taught that it is the command of God that neither “ himself, nor his son, or his daughter, his man servant, his maid servant, his cattle, nor the strangers that are within his gates, shall work on that day;" yet he sees the parson and the bishop violating this command of God with impunity, by Javing their men servants and their cattle waiting at the church door to carry them to partake of that entertainment which has been prepared by their maid servants at home, in opposition to what they have declared at church to be the commands of God.
The 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th, are moral or political laws, recognised by society in general, though not adhered to by the clergy more than other men. The tentb, is a strange law for a commercial nation, and for the clergy in particular, who .covet the tenth of their neighbours property. They all, however, acknowledge it to he the law of God. Such things are --but little as these commands have to do with Christians, and contrary as is the practice of those who believe them to be the commands of God, the evil does not rest here; for in the questions that follow, the child is not only made to say
that they teach him many things which they never notice, but several that are calculated to support priestcraft, and sink the mind to ahject meanness and slavery. Even the commandments given to the Jews were not sufficiently explicit for the framers of the catechism ; for in answer to the question, “what is thy duty to thy neighbour?” it is said, after reciting some things which are just and true, "to honour and obey the king, and all that are put in authority under him.” Oh, ye priests, where do ye find the mention of a king in these commandments? It was the highest consideration in the Jewish government that they had no king but Jehovah ; and it is represented in the scriptures as an evil and wicked thing they had done, when they asked for a king; for by that act they rejected the government of God: and the prophet, referring to this fact, declared,“ that God gave them a king in his wrath.” Hów then is it that children are taught to say they learn obedience to kings, &c. in these commandinents, when at the time they were given, the Jews had no king, and it would have been treason against the majesty of heaven to have asked for one, much more to have obeyed him. Again,“ to submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters, to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters”-Who are these masters ? who are these bela ters? priests! Where is any thing to be found in these commands relating to priests? Yet in the church of England children are to be taught these glaring falsehoods, as if contained in the ten commandments, though not once hinted at in them; but this once got by rote, and never after examined, obedience to kings good or bad, and to priests be they what they may, becomes associated with every idea of his duty to his neighbour. Well may the clergy wish the catechism to be taught, whenever men learn to read, that by poisoning the fountain of knowledge at its very source, they may still preserve their baneful influence over the minds of men!
After all these things have been inculcated, the child is told « that he is not able to do these things of himself, nor to walk in the commandments of God, nor to serve him without his special grace," for which he is earnestly exhorted " diligently
He is then called upon to repeat a prayer wbich never once asks for the special grace of God; but notwithstanding all this he is obliged to assert that in this said prayer he has desired all these things, and many more than the author of it ever intended or thought of. Surely, surely, the learning of this catechism must be attended with the most baneful and pernicious effects upon the human mind; for if men can habituate themselves to say they believe what they have neither examined or understand ; ifthey can declare, that a command, a creed, or a prayer, inculcates what it never mentions; if they can be lieve that God has commanded what they never obey, and yet feel assured of happiness hereafter-they must inevitably sink into such a total indifference to what is true, just, and right, as to make light and darkness, truth and falsehood, absolutely ins