In his defense of 1 John 5:7 and the necessity of teaching the Doctrine of the Trinity for the spiritual well-being of Christianity, Knittel strikes upon a practical issue of pastors who violate their consciences by not preaching what they know to be the word of God for fear of scholarly censorship. The same critical pressures of the “tone of the day in which we live” for Knittel in the late 18th century are the same “tone” in 2022. Knittel writes,
But we are further told, that men of the newest and most refined taste in the Pastoral science lay it down as a general rule of prudence, that “no Preacher should bring forward passages of Scripture in public worship, whose authenticity or interpretation are considered dubious, or even objectionable.” May I ask, By whom considered so? Is it by the Clergyman himself, who performs divine worship ? In this case, I have already stated my opinion. But suppose it is not the officiating Minister, but others, persons of distinction and influence, who give the tone to the age in which we live; whom the hearer, being a literary man knows (aye, and as stars of the first magnitude), through the means of his circulating library;—passages whose value is depreciated by such connoisseurs are to him destitute of effect; he smiles when he hears them from the pulpit; secretly laments his good Pastor’s ignorance of modern literature; takes a pinch of snuff; and, not to appear idle, turns over the leaves of his Hymn-book!
So then, this is the reason why the Preacher must suppress Scriptural proofs against his own conviction; and neglect them in his public discourses, the moment he happens to hear that men of celebrity have questioned, or actually rejected them! An admirable principle, forsooth! I should but insult your understanding, my Reverend Brethren, were I to utter another syllable in confutation of such a principle. Blessed be God! I know (and so do you) many distinguished individuals, but who are also real scholars and honest men (for celebrity too has its rabble)—men I say, who, though differing in opinion with me, and many of my Brother Clergymen, as regards this and some other passages of the Bible, would most sincerely, and as Christians, regret that we should suffer their celebrity to render us blind and faithless to our own convictions. But these are not the influential persons whom the Pastoralist, I allude to, intends. No; his are Gentlemen of a different caliber. Had this teacher of prudence been kind enough to name the parties whom he idolizes, we should more clearly understand what the good man properly means towards us poor Clergymen! His “distinguished individuals ” would soon stop our mouths, on all the truths peculiar to Christianity; because they are unwilling to discover that faith which we confess, in any passage of Scripture; but are skillful enough, either to reject all such passages as spurious, or interpret them as suits their own views. But in short, if ever a Clergy man suffers himself to be influenced by the spirit of the age, I see no further need he has of the Bible, conscience, learning, or common sense! No! Brethren, No! If we seek merely to please men, then are we not the servants of Christ!
Francis Antony Knittel,, New Criticisms on the Celebrated Text, 1 John 5:7, translated by William Alleyn Evanson (London: C. and J. Rivington, St. Paul’s Church-yard, J Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly, 1829, 1785), 111-113