Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
An Argument for Marrying a Clergyman
By John Thompson (17201772)
[Born near Belfast, Ireland. Minister of St. Marks Parish, Culpeper Co., Va. A Letter to Lady Spotswood. Written, May, 1742.]
MADAM: By diligently perusing your letter, I perceive there is a material argument, which I ought to have answered; upon which your strongest objection against completing my happiness would seem to depend, viz., that you would incur the censures of the world for marrying a person of my station and character. By which I understand that you think it a diminution to your honor and the dignity of your family to marry a person in the station of a clergyman. Now, if I can make it appear that the ministerial office is an employment, in its nature the most honorable and in its effects the most beneficial to mankind, I hope your objections will immediately vanish, that you will keep me no longer in suspense and misery, but consummate my happiness.
I make no doubt, Madam, but that you will readily grant that no man can be employed in any work more honorable than what immediately relates to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and to the salvation of souls, immortal in their nature and redeemed by the Blood of the Son of God. The powers committed to their care cannot be exercised by the greatest prince of earth, and it is the same work in kind, and is the same in the design of it, with that of the blessed angels, who are ministering spirits for those who shall be heirs of salvation.1 It is the same business that the Son of God discharged when he condescended to dwell amongst men, which engages men in the greatest acts of doing good, in turning sinners from the error of their ways, and, by all wise and prudent means, in gaining souls unto God; and the faithful and diligent discharge of this holy function gives a title to the highest degree of glory in the next world; for they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.2
All nations, whether learned or ignorant, whether civil or barbarous, have agreed in this as a dictate of natural reason, to express their reverence for the Deity, and their affection to religion, by bestowing extraordinary privileges of honor upon such as administer in holy things, and by providing liberally for their maintenance. And that the honor due to the holy function flows from the law of nature, appears from hence: that in the earliest times the civil and sacred authority were united in the same person. Thus Melchisedeck was King and Priest of Salem; and among the Egyptians the priesthood was joined with the crown. The Greeks accounted the priesthood of equal dignity with kingship; which is taken notice of by Aristotle in several places of his Politics. And among the Latins we have a testimony from Virgil, that at the same time Anias was both priest and king.3 Nay, Moses himself, who was Prince of Israel, before Aaron was consecrated, officiated as priest in that solemn sacrifice by which the covenant with Israel was confirmed.4
And the primitive Christians always expressed a mighty value and esteem for their clergy, as plainly appears by ecclesiastical history. And even in our days, as bad as the world is, those of the clergy who live up to the dignity of their profession, are generally reverenced and esteemed by all religious and well disposed men.
From all which, it evidently appears that in all ages and nations of the world, whether Jews, heathens, or Christians, great honor and dignity has been always conferred upon the clergy. And, therefore, dear Madam, from hence you may infer how absurd and ridiculous those gentlemens notions are, who would fain persuade you that marrying with the clergy would derogate from the honor and dignity of your family. Whereas, in strict reasoning, the contrary thereof would rather appear, and that it would very much tend to support the honor and dignity of it. Of this, I hope youll be better convinced, when you consider the titles of honor and respect that are given to those who are invested with the ministerial function amply displayed in the Scriptures. Those invested with that character are called the Ministers of Christ, Stewards of the Mysteries of God, to whom they have committed the Word of Reconciliation, the Glory of Christ, Ambassadors for Christ, in Christs stead, Co-workers with him, Angels of the Churches. And when it is moreover declared that whosoever despiseth them, despiseth not man, but God. All which titles show that upon many accounts they stand called, appropriated and devoted to God himself. And, therefore, if a Gentleman of this sacred and honorable character should be married to a Lady, though of the greatest extraction and most excellent personal qualities (which Im sensible youre endowed with), can be no disgrace to her, nor her family, nor draw the censure of the world upon either, for such an action. And, therefore, dear Madam, your argument being refuted, you can no longer consistently refuse to consummate my happiness.