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IN AN APOLOGY AND HUMBLE PLEA FOR INDULGENCE AND LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE:
BY SUNDRY PROTESTANTS DIFFERING IN SOME THINGS FROM THE PRESENT ESTABLISHMENT ABOUT THE WORSHIP OF GOD. “Ambigua de religione eapita quae plurimum habere videntur obscuritatis, tantis tamdiu animis decertata, apud sapientes hoc fere certum reliquerunt, nusquam minus inveniri veritatem, quam ubi cogitur assensus.” — HUGO GROTIUS. “Exiguam sedem sacris littusque rogamus Innocuum, et cunctis undamque, auramque patentem.” [Altered from AEn., 7:229,230.] LONDON: 1667.
THE date of its publication is almost all that has been ascertained in regard to the circumstances in which this” Peace-offering” appeared. We are inclined to attach to it considerable value; and of all the writings of Owen in defense of Nonconformity, in the trying and critical period of its history when this tract was published (1667), there is none in which the case of the Nonconformists is more simply and conclusively argued, or more likely to produce a greater effect on the modern reader. Very earnest in its tone, and yet very moderate in its language, — calm, and yet most impressive in the appeal which it contains, — it affords a pleasing illustration alike of the meekness of wisdom and the wisdom of meekness.
It seems impossible to read it without a mingled feeling of regret and indignation that there ever should have been a time when men breathing the spirit which our author here breathes should have been denied religious freedom and the rights of conscience on the soil of Britain. The chief fault of the tract is its very moderation, as “a humble plea,” — for an “indulgence,” too, in the exercise of those rights which no government is either able to confer or entitled to withhold, and the protection of which is one of the highest ends of government. Attention might be called to the character of Owen’s learning, as illustrated in this tract. Traversing the wide field of history, he adduces innumerable facts in corroboration of his reasonings; and amid all his familiar mastery of the facts which suit his purpose, he evinces uncommon skill in gathering the authentic lessons which history teaches, and discerning the true philosophy which it breathes. Unlike his great contemporary, Jeremy Taylor, not, certainly, his inferior in learning, he does not simply, in order to clench an argument or point a moral, introduce an incident selected from some dark recess of ancient literature, which few have had the industry to explore. Owen rather treasured up in his memory, and embodied in his treatises, the conclusions to be drawn from the past experience of the race, whether in regard to private conduct, or, as in the admirable instance of the following tract, in regard to the general policy which it were well for statesmen to adopt. Taylor, with the instincts of poetic genius, fastens on some special object in the scene which his eye, in the retrospect of past ages, may survey, and reproduces it in the flower and fullness of its beauty; the eye of Owen takes in a wider area, and, in the spirit and habits of an engineer, seeks to ascertain how the scene itself, as a whole, may be rendered subservient to the interests and happiness of man. In the pages of the bishop, a historic allusion becomes a tree in its affluence of leaf and fruit, softening every contiguous object into a shade of kindred elegance; Owen’s references to history remind us rather of the field waving with useful grain.
Tedious and prolix as our author may be deemed, this “Peace-offering,” in the condensation of historic proof embodied in it, may be described as the verdict of ancient history against all persecution, as at once criminal and foolish.
Richard Perrinchief published in 1667 a “Discourse of Toleration ;” and next year he followed it up by a second part, in reply to Dr Owen’s “Peace-offering.” The title of the work was in these terms: — “Indulgence not Justified; or, a Continuation of the Discourse of Toleration: in answer to Dr Owen’s book, called ‘A Peace-offering, or Plea for Indulgence,’“ etc.
As we have not been able to procure a sight of the book, we can say nothing as to its spirit and character, nor does Mr Orme make any allusion to it. — ED.
A PEACE-OFFERING, ETC.
THE infinitely wise and holy God, who disposeth of all things according to the counsel of his own will, having designed our portion in the world unto the latter days thereof, wherein, besides those difficulties which in all ages attend them who are called unto the search and profession of the truths of the gospel, we are forewarned of sundry evils peculiar unto them, rendering them “perilous;” as it is our duty to apply ourselves to serve his good pleasure in our generation, without repining at that station which in his work he hath allotted unto us, so also [is it our duty] diligently to take care that we add not unto the evils of the days wherein we live, and that what we may be called to suffer in them according to his will may not be lost unto his holy ends and purposes in the world, but some way or other redound unto his glory. What shall befall us in the course of our pilgrimage, how we shall be disposed of as to our outward temporary concernments, as it is not in our power to order and determine, so neither ought [it] to be in our care, so as that we should be anxiously solicitous thereabout: all things of that nature belong unto his sovereign pleasure, who will make them work together for good to them that love him. Resting in his will as to our outward state and condition in this world, with that of the times and seasons wherein our lot is fallen, which he hath put in his own power, we shall endeavor, in reference thereunto, to possess our souls in patience, waiting for that day which “shall manifest every man’s work of what sort it is.” And we know that it is but yet a little while before it will be no grief of heart unto us for to have done or suffered any thing for the name of the Lord Jesus, according to his mind and will: for whereas we are well assured that the old enemy of mankind, who is sometimes awake and sowing of tares whilst men sleep, is never so far asleep whilst any are endeavoring to sow the good seed of the gospel as not to stir up an opposition to their work, and to labor the ruin of their persons; so we believe that every sincere endeavor to promote the holy truths and ways of God, according to that measure of light which he is pleased graciously to impart unto any of the sons of men, is accepted and owned by him who is “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;” which is sufficient to secure their peace and consolation under all the evils that on the account of their work they may conflict withal. Neither is it a small alleviation of any trouble that we may be exposed unto, that no pretense, color, reason, or arguings for our sufferings, no means, ways, or kinds of them, no ends unto them, can possibly be invented, proposed, pursued, but what we are fully forewarned of, that so we might not at any time think ourselves surprised, as though some strange thing had happened unto us.
This, then, is our great concernment in the profession of religion, this that which we ought principally to attend unto, — namely, to commend our consciences unto God, that in all sincerity and godly simplicity we exercise ourselves in the work that he calls us unto, not corrupting his word or staining our profession by a conversation unbecoming the holiness of the gospel; and for what may outwardly befall us, though producing heaviness and Sorrow for a season, the last day will manifest to have been unspeakably more the concernment of other men than our own. It is, therefore, on this account, and that duty which we owe unto all the sons of men, especially those who in any place or degree have rule and disposal of us in this world, and the things thereof committed unto them, that notwithstanding the hazard that attends us in the discharge of every duty of this kind, we adventure to represent our condition and desires unto all that endeavor to follow after truth with peace: for as the minds of men are capable of no greater perfection than what consists in receiving the whole truths of the gospel, nor their souls of greater blessedness than attends obedience thereunto; so every mistake of it, every prejudice against it, every opposition unto it or any part of it, are not only in themselves a corruption and debasement of the mind, but are usually attended with consequents of greater evils in and unto them by whom they are entertained. And this condition oftentimes are men otherwise upright and wise cast into, either by their own ingrafted prejudices, or neglect of that severe disquisition after truth which all the sons of it are obliged unto, or by suffering themselves to be imposed on by the suggestions of others, who perhaps sacrifice their actings in and about the things of God to some secular (and it may be very corrupt) ends of their own.
Hence, truth and innocence, which cannot be oppressed but when clothed with misrepresentations and calumnies, have in all ages been forced to suffer the sad effects of their mistakes, who in the meantime professed highly an avowment of them. So, in particular, the foundation of all the miseries that ever befell the professors of the truth of Christ, since the day that the name of Christian was known in the world, and consequently of all that evil and confusion in the earth which the lusts of men have produced and the righteous judgment of God inflicted, have lain in general either in the ignorance of men of the genuine nature and tendency of the truth itself, or in their credulity in giving credit unto those misrepresentations of it which it hath always been the interest of many in the world to frame and promote. Hence, the professors of Christianity, and every particular way therein, in their respective seasons and generations, have esteemed it their duty, not only unto themselves, to waive their imminent sufferings, if it were the will of God thereby, but unto others also whom they judged to be engaged against God and his truth, in their persecution of them, to declare freely and fully what it was that they did believe and practice, and therein plead the equity and reasonableness of that deliverance which they aimed at, — of themselves from suffering and of others from sinning. And herein had they before their eyes the example of the great apostle of the Gentiles, who with various success did ofttimes make use of the like defensative of himself and his doctrine. Nor is it the least prescription of the law of nature implanted in the heart of man by Him that made it, that innocency should so far undertake its own protection and security as to endeavor a removal of prejudicate imputations out of the minds of them in whose judgment it is concerned; and this law all men universally yield obedience unto who intend not to abuse such imputations unto sinister ends, not suitable unto the innocency they profess, and so, by deserting their own unblamable defense, contract a guilt rendering them incapable of it for the future.
Whereas, therefore, it hath pleased Him in whose hand our life, and breath, and all our ways are, to place us in that condition wherein, by the apprehensions he hath given us of his mind and will in some things relating unto his worship, we are forced to differ from others, we conceive it our duty, for the prevention of farther evils, openly and candidly to declare both what we profess and what in all humility we desire thereupon: and we cannot but hope that when the matters of our difference are known and considered, they will not be judged of so high a demerit as to render a modest, peaceable desire of indulgence in our adherence unto them a new addition of guilt; for their case is miserable indeed, who, being prejudged into a condition of suffering, though not convinced of evil, may not desire relief from those who alone are able to afford it, that also being made an aggravation of their misery by being made an aggravation of their supposed guilt.
And, in particular, this course is made at this season necessary unto us from the exasperation of the minds of many in reference unto what we possess and desire, with the prejudices that are taken up and improved unto our disadvantage and trouble: for although we have, with the joint consent of all our churches, some years since, publicly declared what is the faith which we profess and the way of the worship of God wherein we walk, and did hope that it would not be looked on as an unreasonable expectation that our confession might have received a Christian, charitable, sedate consideration before it were condemned, or those that adhere unto it judged as evildoers for their so doing; yet, considering the said exasperations of the minds of men, though upon occasions wholly foreign to the matter of our faith and profession, we cannot be without some apprehensions that far the greatest part of those who are loudest in their cries for severity against us have scarce been so faithful to Christian candor and ingenuity as seriously to examine whether there be in what we believe and practice a just foundation for that kind of proceeding and acting towards us which they so earnestly desire to engage our rulers unto.
If for no other reason, then, but to endeavor to call off the thoughts of men from persons and personal provocations unto those things which are the pretended foundation of their actings, and with reference whereunto their account must be made at the last day, when other men’s real or apprehended miscarriages will give no countenance to theirs, we cannot but judge it a duty incumbent on us to remind them what the things are which must give construction unto all that in this matter they shall undertake or perform, and whereunto, under all imputations whatever of things, of other natures, our comfort, be it what it will, true or false, in all our sufferings that we may be called unto, is resolved. And we do know that they will one day find themselves under a woeful mistake who suppose that their severity against us will be any farther justified than there is ground for it in the principles which we profess in the things of God; and this cannot but be evident unto them (if they will give themselves but the liberty of unprejudiced consideration), who know that a relinquishment of those principles would instantly cause all those other pleas and pretences to vanish out of their minds which at present they only make use of. And therefore, also, shall we not much concern ourselves in any other charge that is laid against us, but only as to what we profess and practice in the ways and worship of God, as knowing that from thence alone all occasion is taken for them. We shall, therefore, only briefly declare our sense of them, and then proceed to that which is our real concernment; for there is not any new thing herein under the sun.
In all ages, wherever any way in religion hath been judged by the most, rightly or otherwise, to be contrary to the mind of God, as by them apprehended, it hath been immediately charged with the guilt of all the evils that fell out in the days of its profession, though evidently they had other causes and occasions. Such was the condition of Christianity in general of old; as is manifest from the apologetical writings of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Arnobius, Cyprian, Lactantius, Minutius Felix, Augustine, and others. Upon every occasion of trouble, the common cry was, “Christianos ad leones!” Such was the condition of the professors of the protestant religion upon the first reformation throughout the world; under which prejudice and imputation they are yet forced to suffer the wrath of men in many places. Whatever disadvantages, then, on this account we may be exposed unto, we have no reason to complain or think strange of, it being no other than all men in the like condition, in all ages, have had to conflict withal, and will have so whilst sin and darkness continue in the world. To commend our consciences unto God in welldoing is the only means of peace in ourselves, and the whole defensative in reference unto others, which in this cause is left unto us.
Moreover, if any who either really make profession of any way in religion, or are generally esteemed so to do, fall into personal crimes and miscarriages, which no way can secure itself against, men, justly provoked thereby, have scarce the patience to attend unto any plea for the way itself or those who peaceably and innocently walk therein, though the charge against it be altogether groundless and unreasonable. Thus the abominations of the Gnostics of old were charged upon the whole body of Christianity, and the unwarrantable zeal of one man in firing a temple in the kingdom of Persia reflected an imputation of sedition on all the professors of the gospel, to their extirpation out of that empire. But the unrighteousness of this charge is, we hope, evident even to themselves who would fain make use of it unto our disadvantage, for no society in the world can give security for the deportment of all individuals belonging unto it according unto the rules of the whole; and if they may be charged with such miscarriages, it were easy to demonstrate that no community, no profession of men in the world, no order, no way, can be acquitted from guilt or thought meet to have moderation exercised towards it.
Besides, we know not in particular but that all occasions of reflecting upon our societies on this account have, by the goodness of God, been prevented; for which we are humbly thankful unto his holy Majesty. But if to accuse be enough to render any men nocent, none can be long innocent. Thyestaean banquets, promiscuous lusts, and incests, must, on that ground, be thought to be the ends of the primitive assemblies of Christians. If men will take to themselves the liberty of entertaining evil and groundless surmises, it is impossible for us or any living to set bounds to their imaginations; so that we have nothing in this case to do but to leave the authors of such false and calumnious insinuations unto that reward which God and their own consciences will not suffer them to lose, and our vindication unto the providence of God over our present and future deportment. It may be thought of nearer concernment unto us when the late troubles in these nations are objected, and the remembrance of them renewed, unto our prejudice. But whether the frequent and importunate urging of them, since, by his majesty’s clemency and grace, they are put into legal oblivion for ever, do tend unto the composure and settlement of the minds of men, — which is certainly the duty of all good subjects to aim at, — we leave it unto the consideration of those who are wiser than we, and on whom the care of the peace and welfare of the kingdom is in an especial manner incumbent. For our own parts, we shall only say, that whereas they were neither begun nor carried on upon the account of that way in the worship of God which we profess, may the remembrance of them be never so severely revived, we cannot fear any just conclusion from thence unto a suspicion of troubles of the like nature for the future, as well knowing the absolute freedom of our principles from any such tendency, as well as the providential unravelling of all those interwoven interests and occasions which individual persons countenanced themselves withal in their engagements in them. Magistracy we own as the ordinance of God, and his majesty as the person set over us by his providence in the chief and royal administration thereof. In submission unto him, we profess it our duty to regulate our obedience by the laws and customs over which he presides in the government of these nations; so that our practical adherence unto our own avowed principles is all that in this matter can fall under the most suspicious and uncharitable surmise. That there is any means of giving such absolute satisfaction concerning future events, which depend on the minds and wills of men, as to leave all suspicion concerning them impossible, we know not; much less to prevent some men’s pretending suspicions, for ends best known unto themselves. But this we know, that what ways or means soever are warranted or established by the laws of this land, or may be so, — and they are such as mankind must content themselves withal, as incapable of farther or greater assurance, — or whatever else may be rationally and justly expected from us, we have given, and are ready to give security by, against the evils intimated in this charge upon us: which being the utmost that our duty calls upon us for, we hope we shall not always suffer for being the unhappy objects of some men’s groundless jealousies, which for us to remove is altogether impossible, God himself having not appointed any way or means for us to use to that end or purpose.
As, then, neither we nor others can hinder men from making use of this pretense for some ends of their own (though we know, as it is used by them, it contributes nothing to public tranquillity and the composure of the minds of men), so we hope, that God will so far, in his good time, clear up the innocency and sincerity of our intentions, and their suitableness unto our declared principles, that no just occasion of reproach be administered unto them who wait for advantages against us.
And what are we, that public disturbance should be feared from us? “Nec pondera rerum, nec momenta sumus.” By what way or means, were we never so desirous, could we contribute any thing thereunto? What designs are we capable of? What interest have we to pursue? What assistance to expect or look after? What title to pretend? What hopes of success? What reward of any hazard to be undergone? We have no form of government, civil or ecclesiastical, to impose on the nation; lay no pretense unto power to be exercised on the persons of any of his majesty’s subjects; have no expectations from persons or nations, that might induce us to further or promote any sinister aims of other men. The utmost of our aim is but to pass the residue of our pilgrimage in peace, serving God in the way of our devotion. We covet no men’s silver or gold, their places or preferments.
Our whole desire is that of Israel of old to their brother Edom: “Let us pass, we pray, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s highway, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.” May we thus far prevail, under the protection of God’s providence, his majesty’s favor, and our own innocency, we have no principles, we shall have no reason, farther to trouble ourselves or others. If it be denied unto us, and we must yet be scattered over the face of the earth, we shall yet pray for the prosperity of his majesty and the land of our nativity, patiently bearing the indignation of the Lord, against whom we have sinned, and waiting for his salvation.
That which of late is principally urged unto our prejudice, is the prohibition of that way of worship which we desire to walk in, and the establishment of another by law, to whose authority we owe subjection.
When this begins once to be pleaded, the real merit of the cause in debate is usually overseen, and the obedience required by law is only insisted on; as though that were grown a civil difference, by the interposition of a law, which before was purely religious, This Paul himself found to be one of the most difficult cases he had to contend withal; it was objected unto him that he taught customs which it was not lawful for to do among the Romans, Acts 16:21. All that doctrine which he had to declare was antecedently in general forbidden by law, it being determined by the Romans that no worship of God should be admitted amongst them not established by public authority; and had not the light and truth of Christianity broken through that opposition, it must have lain shut up in darkness to this day. For our parts, we have only this to say, that there is no reason to urge this as a peculiar objection against us, it being the only foundation of all others, and only occasion of the difference about which we treat. Had not a law enjoined the practice of some things in the worship of God, which, according unto our present light, we cannot assent unto without ceasing to worship him (for to worship him in our own thoughts, against his mind and will, is to profane his name and worship); had it not forbidden the exercise and discharge of some duties which we account ourselves obliged unto by the authority of God himself, — we had had no need to implore the clemency of our governors to relieve us against that severity which we fear. This, then, we acknowledge; but withal, to state this difference upon its right foundation, do solemnly, in all sincerity, protest before God, his holy angels, and all the world, that it is not out of any unwarrantable obstinacy that we are conscious of unto ourselves, nor from any disaffection unto or dissatisfaction in the government that God hath set over us, but merely from a sense of that account which we have one day to make before Jesus Christ, the judge of all, that we cannot yield that compliance unto the act for uniformity which it requireth of us. The case, then, notwithstanding this prejudice, is still the same. Conscience towards God in the things of his own worship is still and alone concerned, whatever other pretences and reasonings may in this case be made use of (as many are, and ever were in the like cases, and will so be). The whole real cause of that severity which we humbly deprecate, and only reason lying against the indulgence we desire, is our profession and practice in the things that are not of this world, but purely relating to the revelation of the mind and worship of God. Whatever, therefore, men may plead, pretend, or urge, of another nature, we are so far conscious unto our own integrity as to be fully satisfied in our minds that whatever dangers we may be in this matter exposed unto, or whatever we may be called to suffer, it is all merely for believing in God, and worshipping of him according to what he hath been pleased to reveal of his mind unto us. And as in this case it is not in the power of any of the sons of men to deprive us of that consolation which an apprehension of the truth will afford unto them that sincerely and conscientiously embrace it; so whether any men can commend their consciences to God, according to the rules of the blessed gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our molestation and trouble, we leave it unto all unprejudiced men to judge. And that we may yet farther remove all grounds of mistake, and obviate all other pretences against us, we shall candidly declare the general principles both of our faith and worship, and then leave our condition, whatever it may be, to the judgment of Him who “hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness,” of his majesty whom he hath set over us in supreme power, and of all other persons whatever who have any sense of the terror of the Lord, the account we must make of serving him according to what he is pleased to reveal of himself unto us, the nature of things known only by divine revelation, or of the infirm, frail condition of mankind in this world.
For the faith which we profess, and which we desire to walk according unto, we need not insist upon the particular heads of it, having some years since, in our confessions, publicly decared it, with the joint consent of all our churches, neither do we own or avow any doctrine but what is therein asserted and declared. And we hope it will not be looked upon as an unreasonable request if we humbly desire that it may receive a Christian, charitable, sedate consideration before it be condemned. May we be convinced of any thing therein not agreeable unto the Scriptures, not taught and revealed in them, we shall be with the first in its rejection. That this hath been by any as yet attempted we know not; and yet we are judged, censured, and reproached upon the account of it! So far are men degenerated from that frame of spirit which was in the Christians of old, — so far have they relinquished the ways wherein they walked towards those who dissented from them.
Nor do we decline the judgment of the primitive church, being fully satisfied that what we teach and adhere unto is as consonant unto the doctrine thereof as that of any church at this day in the world. The first four general councils, as to what was determined in them in matters of faith, are confirmed by law in this nation; which is all that from antiquity hath any peculiar stamp of authority put upon it amongst us: this also we willingly admit of, and fully assert in our confession. Neither doth the addition of ours disturb the harmony that is in the confessions of the reformed churches, being in all material points the same with them, and no otherwise differing from any of them in things of less importance than as they do one from another, and as all confessions have done, since the first introduction of their use into the churches of God. That which amongst them is of most special regard and consideration unto us, is that of the church of England, declared in the articles of religion; and herein, in particular, what is purely doctrinal we fully embrace and constantly adhere unto. And though we shall not compare ourselves with others in ability to assert, teach, and maintain it, yet we cannot, whilst we are conscious unto ourselves of our integrity in our cordial adherence unto it, but hear with regret the clamorous accusations of some against us for departing from the church of England, who have not given that testimony of their adherence unto its doctrine, which we have done, and, by the help of God, shall continue to do. It is true, indeed, there are some enlargements in our confession of the things delivered in the Thirty-nine Articles, some additions of things not expressly contained in them, which we were necessitated unto for the full declaration of our minds, and to obviate that obloquy which otherwise we might have been exposed unto, as reserving our judgment in matters that had received great public debate since the composure of those articles; but yet we are fully persuaded that there is not any proposition in our whole confession which is repugnant unto any thing contained in the articles, or is not by just consequence deducible from them. Neither were we the authors of the explanations or enlargements mentioned, there being nothing contained in them but what we have learned and been instructed in from the writings of the most famous divines of this nation, bishops and others, ever since the Reformation; which being published by legal authority, have been always esteemed, both at home and abroad, faithfully to represent the doctrine of the church of England. We have no new faith to declare, no new doctrine to teach, no private opinions to divulge, no point or truth do we profess, no not one, which hath not been declared, taught, divulged, and esteemed as the common doctrine of the church of England, ever since the Reformation.
If, then, we evince not the faith we profess to be consonant unto the Scriptures, the doctrine of the primitive church of the first four general councils, the confessions of the reformed churches beyond the seas, and that in particular of the church of England, we shall acknowledge the condition of things in reference unto that liberty which we humbly desire to be otherwise stated than hitherto we have apprehended. But if this be the condition of our profession, — as we hope it is manifest unto all unprejudiced and ingenuous persons to be, who esteem it their duty not to judge a matter of so great importance before they hear it, — we can hardly think that they give up themselves to the conduct of the meek and holy Spirit of Christ who are ready to breathe out extirpation against us, as to our interest in this world, for the profession of those principles in the things of God which they pretend to build their own interests upon for another.
The nonconformity, then, that we may be charged with being very remote from a dissent unto that doctrine which is here publicly avowed and confirmed by law, it cannot but seem strange unto us that any should endeavor to cast us under the same severity with them who utterly renounce it, and would entail upon their posterity, on the forfeiture of all their public rights as Englishmen, and benefit of their private estates, not only an adherence unto the protestant religion, but a precise and determinate judgment and practice in things of very little concernment therein, and of none at all as to public tranquillity.
Would it not seem strange, that a man might at as easy and cheap a rate renounce the protestant profession, and the fundamental doctrines of the church of England, in things indispensably necessary to salvation, as to be mistaken or suspend his assent about things dark and disputable in their own nature, and of very small importance, which way soever they are determined, so that men, in the embracing or refusal of them, rebel not against that commanding light of God set up in their hearts to rule them in his name, in that apprehension which they have of the revelation of his will, which is unto them of great and eternal moment?
They are, then, only things relating unto outward order and worship wherein our dissent from the present establishment of religion doth consist, things about which there hath been variety of judgment and difference in practice from the days of the apostles, and probably will be so until the end of the world; for we find by experience that the late expedient for the ending of differences about them, by vindicating of them into the arbitrary disposal of every church, or those that preside therein, in whose determinations all persons are to acquiesce, is so far from accomplishing the work whereunto it is designed that it contributes largely to their increase and perpetuation. Our only guilt, then, is our not agreeing with others in those things wherein there never yet was an agreement among Christians; nor, perhaps, had they all that frame of spirit in moderation and mutual forbearance which the gospel requireth in them, would it ever be any way needful that there should so be.
Unto our present light in the revelation of his will must our practice be conformed, unless to please men, and secure our transitory, perishing concernments, we intend to “break his bands and cast his cords from us.”
And that it may the better appear what is both our judgment and practice in and about these things, unto what we have declared in the close of our confession (which we suppose they cannot reasonably and with satisfaction to their own consciences wholly overlook, who because thereof are ready to reflect with severe thoughts upon us), we shall now only add the general principles whereinto all that we profess or practice in these things is resolved; and of them we humbly desire that a Christian and candid consideration may be had, as supposing that to pass a sentence of condemnation against us for our dissent unto any thing, without a previous weighing of the reasons of that dissent, is scarce suitable unto that law whereby we are men and engaged into civil societies. As, then, religion is publicly received and established in this nation, there are many outward concernments of it, relating unto persons and things, that are disposed and regulated by and according to the laws thereof; such is that which is called “power ecclesiastical,” or authority to dispose of those affairs of the church, with coercive jurisdiction, which relate to the outward public concernments of it and the legal interests of men in them.
This we acknowledge and own to be vested in the supreme magistrate, the king’s majesty, who is the fountain and spring of all jurisdiction in his own kingdoms whatever. No power can be put forth or exercised towards any of his subjects, which in the manner or nature of its exertion hath the force of a law, sentence, or jurisdiction, or which, as to the effect of it, reacheth their bodies, estates, or liberties, but what is derived from him, and binding formally on that sole reason, and no otherwise.
Hence, we have no principle in the least seducing us to transgress against any of those laws which in former days were looked on as safe preservatives of the protestant religion and interest in this nation. Did we assert a foreign power over his majesty’s subjects, and claim an obedience from them in some such cases as might at our pleasure be extended to the whole that is due unto him; did we, or any of us, by virtue of any office we hold in the church of God, claim and exercise a jurisdiction over the persons of his majesty’s subjects in form and course of law; or did we so much as pretend unto the exercise of any spiritual power that should produce effects on the outward man, — we might well fear lest just offense should be taken against us. But whereas the way wherein we worship God is utterly unconcerned in these things, and we willingly profess the spring of all outward coercive jurisdiction to be in the person of the king’s majesty alone, without the least intermixture of any other power of the same kind, directly or by consequence, we cannot but say with confidence that it will be utterly impossible to convince us that on this account we are offenders.
For the worship of God and order therein (which is purely spiritual and evangelical), we acknowledge, indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ to be the only institutor or author of it, and the holy Scripture the only principle revealing, the only rule to judge of it and to square it by. It is not now our design to plead the truth of this principle, nor yet to clear it from mistakes, or vindicate it from opposition; all which are done elsewhere.
Let it be supposed to be an error or mistake (which is the worst that can be supposed of it), we must needs say that it is an error which hath so much seeming countenance given unto it by innumerable places of Scripture, and by so many testimonies of the ancient and modern doctors of the church, and is every way so free from the production of any consequent of evil importance, that if there be any failure of the minds of men in and about the things of God, which, from a common sense of the frailty of human nature, may rationally expect forbearance and pardon from them who have the happiness to be [free] from all miscarriage of that kind (if any such there be), this may claim a share anal interest among them.
Nor are we able as yet to discern how any acceptable account can be given to the Lord Jesus, at the last day, of severity against this principle, or those that, otherwise inoffensive, walk according to the light of it.
Moreover, whereas principles true in themselves may, in their application unto practice, be pressed to give countenance unto that which directly they lead not unto, we have the advantage yet farther particularly to declare, that, in the pursuit of it in the worship of God, we have no other ordinances or administrations but what are owned by the law and church of England. Now, whatever other occasion may be sought against us (which we pray God not to lay to their charge who delight in such practices), we know full well that we differ in nothing from the whole form of religion established in England, but only in some few things in outward worship, wherein we cannot consent without the renunciation of this principle, of whose falsehood we are not convinced. This being our only crime, if it be a crime, this the only mistake that we are charged with in the things of God, we yet hope that sober men will not judge it of so high a demerit as to be offended with our humble desire of indulgence, and a share in that princely favor towards persons of tender consciences which his majesty hath often declared his inclinations for.
We confess that oftentimes, when such dissents are made a crime, they are quickly esteemed the greatest, yea, almost all that is criminal; but whether such a judgment owes not itself more to passion, prejudice, and private interest, than to right reason, is not hard to determine.
For our parts, as we said before, they are no great things which we desire for ourselves, the utmost of our aim being to pass the remainder of the few days of our pilgrimage in the land of our nativity, serving the Lord according to what he hath been pleased to reveal of his mind and will unto us; and we suppose that those who are forward in suggesting counsels to the contrary know not well how to countervail the king’s damage.
That this our desire is neither unreasonable nor unjust; that it containeth nothing contrary to the will of God, the practice of the church of old, or to the disadvantage of the public tranquillity of these nations; but that all outward violence and severity on the account of our dissent is destitute of any firm foundation in Scripture, reason, or the present juncture of affairs amongst us, — we humbly crave liberty, in the farther pursuit of our own just defense, briefly to declare and evidence.
The great fundamental law amongst men, from which all others spring, and whereby they ought to be regulated, is that law of nature by which they are disposed unto civil society, for the good of the whole and every individual member thereof. And this good being of the greatest importance unto all, doth unspeakably out-balance those inconveniences which may befall any of them through a restriction put upon them by the particular laws and bonds of the society wherein they are engaged. It is impossible but that sundry persons might honestly improve many things unto their advantage, in the increase of their interest in things of this world, were not bounds set unto their endeavors by the laws of the community whereof they are members; but whereas no security may be obtained that they shall not have their particular limits and concernments broken in upon by a hand of violence and injustice, but in a pursuit of that principle of nature which directs them to the only remedy of that evil in civil society, they are all in general willing to forego their particular advantages for that which gives them assurance and peace in all that they are and enjoy besides. All such conveniences, therefore, as consist in the things that are within the power of men, and are inferior to that good and advantage which public society doth afford, the law of nature, directing men unto their chiefest good, commands them, as occasion requires, to forbear and quit; nor can any community be established without obedience unto that command. But of the things that are not within the power of men there is another reason.
If the law of society did require that all men engaging thereunto should be of one stature and form of visage, or should have the same measure of intellectual abilities, or the same conception of all objects of a rational understanding, it were utterly impossible that any community should ever be raised among the sons of men.
As, then, all inconveniences, yea, and mischiefs, relating unto things within the power of men, are to be undergone and borne with, that are less than the evils which nothing but political societies can prevent, for the sake thereof; so the allowance of those differences which are inseparable from the nature of man, as diversified in dividuals, and insuperable unto any of their endeavors, is supposed in the principles of its being and constitution.
Yea, this is one principle of the law of nature, to which we owe the benefits of human conversation and administration of justice, that those differences amongst men which unto them are absolutely unavoidable, and therefore in themselves not intrenching upon nor disannulling the good of the whole (for nature doth not interfere with itself), should be forborne and allowed among them, seeing an endeavor for their extinguishment must irresistibly extinguish the community itself, as taking away the main supposal on which it is founded. And in that harmony which, by an answerableness of one thing unto another, riseth from such differences, doth the chiefest glory and beauty of civil society consist; the several particulars of it also being rendered useful unto the whole thereby. Of this nature are the things concerning which we discourse. They relate, as is confessed, unto things spiritual and supernatural. That the will of God in these things cannot be known but by revelation from himself, all men will acknowledge; and we suppose they will with no less readiness consent that divine revelation cannot be apprehended or assented unto but according to the nature and measure of that light which God is pleased to communicate unto them unto whom such revelation is made. That this light doth so equally affect the minds of all men, or that it is possible it should do so, considering the divers ways and means of its communication, with the different dispositions of them that receive it, that they should all have the same apprehensions of the things proposed unto them, none will judge but such as take up their profession in these things on custom, prejudice, or interest. It will, then, hence evidently follow that men’s apprehensions of things spiritual and supernatural, — such we mean as have no alliance unto the ingrafted light of nature, — are not absolutely under their own power, nor depend on the liberty of their wills, whereunto all law is given; and therefore is the diversity in and about them to be reckoned among those unavoidable differences which are supposed in the law of civil society, and without which supposal every attempt for any such society would be destructive of itself. Among these apprehensions, and the exercise of our consciences towards God upon them, lies all the difference from the present establishment, which we desire an indulgence to be showed towards; not at all questioning but that it is lawful for them who have attained unto an agreement in them, so far as they have attained, to confirm and strengthen that agreement among themselves, and render it desirable unto others, by all such ways and means as, by right and the laws of the society whereof they are, they make use of.
And it is, as we humbly conceive, in vain pretended that it is not the apprehensions of men’s minds, and their consciences unto God upon them, but only their outward actings, that fall under the penalties desired by some to be indispensably imposed on dissenters from the established form, seeing those penalties are not only annexed unto actions which such apprehensions require as duties unto God, but also unto a not acting contrary unto them; which directly and immediately reflect on the mind and conscience itself. Other ways to reach the consciences of their brethren it is utterly impossible to find out. And to teach men that their consciences towards God are not concerned either in not acting according to their light in his worship or in acting against it, is to teach them to be atheists.
We cannot, therefore, but hope that our distance from the present establishment in some few things relating unto supernatural revelation (especially whilst in our agreement with it there is a salve for all things in the least intrenching on the light of nature, and all things whatever that, even of revelation itself, are necessary to the grand end of it, with security against any thing that may any way incommode public tranquillity), being unto us insuperable, and therefore provided for by the fundamental law of all civil societies, will not always receive so severe a construction as to deprive us of the good and benefit thereof; for to annex penalties, which in the progress will deprive men of all those advantages in their outward concernments which public society doth or can afford, unto these differences, without a supposition whereof and a provision for there could be no such society at all, is to destroy that whose good and preservation are intended.
And, therefore, the different conceptions of the minds of men in the things under consideration, with actings consonant unto them, being not only an unavoidable consequent of nature’s constant production of the race of mankind in that various diversity which in all instances we behold, but also rendered farther insuperable from the nature of the things themselves about which they are exercised (being of divine revelation), they were ever in the world esteemed without the line of civil coercion and punishment, until it came to be the interest of some to offer violence to those principles of reason in themselves, which any outward alteration in the state of things is capable of rendering their own best protection and defense.
And on these grounds it is that force never yet attained, or long kept, that in religion which it aimed at.
And the great Roman historian tells us that it is “indecorum principi attrectare quod non obtineat,” — no way honorable unto a sovereign prince to attempt that which will never be accomplished.
But because what may seem obscure in this reason of things and principles of community (which usually affect them only who, without interest or prejudice, give up themselves to the conduct of rational and sedate consideration, — with which sort of persons alone we have not to deal) is exemplified in the gospel, whose furtherance is on all hands pretended, we shall thence also briefly manifest that the way pretended for the promotion of its interest, by severity in external penalties, on the account of such differences as we are concerned in, is both opposite unto the spirit of its Author and contrary to the rules of it, with the practice of those who have walked according to them.
As among the many blessed ends of the conversation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, it was not of the least moment that he might set us a pattern and give us an example of that frame of heart and holiness of life whereby we may become like unto our heavenly Father, and be acceptable before him, so in his carrying on of that design, there was not any thing that he more emphatically called upon his disciples to endeavor a conformity unto him in than in his meekness, lowliness, gentleness, and tenderness towards all. These he took all occasions, for our good, to show forth in himself, and to commend unto others. Whatever provocation he met withal, whatever injurious opposition he was exposed unto, he did not contend, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard with strife or anger. The sins of men, indeed, he reproved with all authority; their groundless traditions in the worship of God he rejected; their errors he refuted by the word: but to the persons of men he was always meek and tender, as coming to save, and not to destroy, — to keep alive, and not to kill. In the things of man he referred all unto the just authority and righteous laws of men; but in the things of God never gave the least intimation of severity, but only in his holy threats of future evil in the world to come, upon men’s final impenitency and unbelief. “Coerce, fine, imprison, banish those that apprehend not aright all and every thing that I would have them instructed in,” are words that never proceeded out of his holy mouth, — things that never entered into his gracious heart. And we are persuaded that it is a thing of marvellous difficulty, for any man seriously to think that he who was and is so full of compassion towards all the sons of men, even the worst of them, should ever give the least consent unto the punishment and gradual destruction of those who in sincerity desire to love and obey him, and do yet unavoidably mistake in their apprehensions of some few things pleaded to be according to his mind, their love and obedience unto him thereby being no whit impeached. When some of his disciples of old, in zeal, as they pretended, unto himself and the truths preached by him, would have called for fire from heaven on those who had contumeliously slighted him upon a supposed diversity in religion, — for which they thought themselves warranted, though falsely, by a precedent out of the Old Testament, — he lets them know that it was an unacquaintedness with their own spirits, causing them to imagine that to be zeal for the truth which was indeed but self-revenge and private interest, which had caused them to speak so unadvisedly.
Now, that the same mind might be in us that was in Jesus Christ, that his example is to be a rule unto us, that we ought all to be baptized into the same Spirit with him, that what, from his frame of heart and actings, as revealed in his word, we can rationally conclude that he would approve or disallow, we ought to square our proceedings and judgments unto, none that own his name can deny.
And if men would not stifle, but suffer themselves to be guided by the power of their convictions, they would quickly perceive how inconsistent with it are their thoughts of rigor and severity towards those which differ from them in some few things relating to the mind of God in and about his worship.
Certainly, this readiness of servants, who are themselves pardoned talents, to fall with violence on their fellows (upon the account of his service, though otherwise, it may be, poor and despicable in the world) for lesser debts, and those only supposed, not proved real, will appear at the last day not to have been so acceptable unto him as some men, on grounds and pretences utterly foreign unto this whole business, are willing now to persuade themselves that it is. Would men in these things, which are principally his, and not their own concernment, but as his, labor to be always clothed with his spirit, and do nothing but what they can rationally satisfy themselves that he himself would do in the like case, there would be an end not only of this debate, but of many other mischiefs also, which the Christian world is at this present day pestered withal; and it must needs seem strange that men can persuade themselves that they do that for Christ which they cannot once think or imagine that he would do himself.
Certainly, setting aside provocations and prejudices, any man who hath read the gospel, and gives any credit unto it, is a competent judge whether external force in these things do more answer the spirit of Christ or that from which he suffered.
With nothing more doth it abound, as to our duty in this world, than with precepts for and exhortation unto mutual forbearance of one another in our mistakes and failings. And although there be force and light enough in its general rules to guide us in all particulars, yet, lest any should imagine that the cause under consideration about different apprehensions and practices in some things relating to the worship of God might be exempted from them, even that also is variously instanced in, and confirmed by examples approved by himself. The great apostle, who gives us that general rule, that we should walk together in one mind, so far as we have attained, and for other things of difference wait for the revelation of the mind of God unto them that differ, Philippians 3:15,16, everywhere applies his own rule unto the great difference that was in those days, and long after, between the Jewish and Gentile believers. The one continued under a supposal of an obligation to the observation of Mosaical rites and ceremonies, from which the other was instructed that they were set at liberty. This difference, as is the manner among the sons of men, wrought various jealousies between them, with disputes and censurings of each other; whereof the apostle gives us a particular account, especially in his epistle to the Romans, chapters 14,15.
Neither did they rest here, but those of the circumcision everywhere kept their assemblies and worship distinct from the congregations of the Gentile believers. Hence, in most places of note, there were two churches, one of the Jews and another of the Gentiles, walking at peace in the faith of the gospel, but differing as to some ceremonial observances. The whole society of the apostles observing their difference, to prevent any evil consequent, in their assembly at Jerusalem assigned to the several parties their particular bounds, how far they should accommodate themselves unto one another by a mutual condescension, that they might walk in love and peace, as to what remained of difference among them. The Jews are taught by them not to impose their rites and ceremonies on the Gentiles; and the Gentiles to abstain from some things for a season, whereunto their liberty did extend, whereby the others were principally provoked.
Their bounds being so fixed, and their general duty stated, both parties were left at liberty as to their practice in the thing wherein they could not yet be reconciled; and in that different practice did they continue for many years, until the occasion of their division was, by the providence of God, in the destruction of the Judaical church, utterly taken away.
These were the rules they proceeded by, this their course and practice, who, unquestionably, under the Lord Jesus, were intrusted with supreme authority over the whole church, of that kind which is not transmitted unto any of the sons of men after the ceasing of their office and work, and were guided infallibly in all their determinations. Coercions, restraints, corporal punishments, were far from their thoughts, yea, the very exercise of any ecclesiastical power against them who dissented from what they knew to be truth, so that in general they were sound in the faith, and walked in their lives as became the gospel.
And whereas they sometimes carry the matter to a supposal of disobedience unto those important things which they taught and commanded in the name of their Lord and Master, and thereupon proceeded to denounce threatenings against the disobedient, they expressly disclaim all thoughts of proceeding against them, or any power or warrant from Christ committed unto them or any others, or that afterwards in his providence should so be, so to do with external carnal force and penalties, avowing their authority over all that was ever to be put forth in things of that nature to be spiritual, and in a spiritual manner only to be exercised, 2 Corinthians 10:4,5.
And because the church might not seem to be disadvantaged by this disclaimer of power externally to coerce such as received not the truth that it embraced, and to be cast into a worse condition than that of the Jews which went before, whose ordinances, being carnal, were established and vindicated by carnal power, St Paul lets them know that this alteration is for the better, and the coercion of miscarriages under the gospel, by threatenings of the future judgment, which would have a special respect unto them, more weighty than the severest penalties that were appointed by Moses’ law, Hebrews 10:28-31.
Not that lesser differences in apprehensions of the mind of God in his word had any punishment assigned unto them under the Old Testament, whose penalties concerned them only who turned away to the worship of any other god but the God of Israel (and such no man pleads for); but that the whole nature of the ordinances and worship of the church being changed from carnal and earthly to heavenly and spiritual, so also are the laws of rewards and punishments annexed unto them. These were the rules, this the practice, in this case, of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. These rules, this practice, hath he recorded in his word for our instruction and direction.
Might all those who profess obedience unto his name be prevailed on to regulate their judgments by them, and square their proceedings unto them, the church of God would have peace, and the work of God be effectually carried on in the world, as in the days of old. And for our parts, we will never open our mouths to deprecate any severity that may be warranted from the gospel or apostolical direction and practice against any mistake of that importance in the things of God as our principles and ways may rationally be supposed to be; for although we are persuaded that what we profess and practice is according unto the mind of Christ, yet because it is our lot and portion to have our governors and rulers otherwise minded, we are contented to be dealt withal so as the blessed gospel will warrant any to deal with them who are so far in the wrong as we are supposed to be.
And if herein we cannot prevail, we shall labor to possess our souls in patience, and to commit our cause to Him that judgeth righteously.
This we know, that the judgment and practice of the first churches, after the days of the apostles, was conform to the rules and examples that by them were given unto them. Differences in external rites of worship which were found amongst them, where the substance of faith was preserved, they looked upon as no breach of union at all. A long catalogue of such differences as were from time immemorial amongst them is given us by Socrates the historian; and he who first disturbed the peace of the churches about them, by dividing their communion (Victor of Rome), is left branded upon record with the censures of the principal persons for learning and holiness throughout the world in those days. Nor is our dissent from the present establishment of any larger extent than such as the general consent of all the first churches extended the bond of their communion unto.
Impositions of things indifferent, with subscriptions to precise determinations on points doubtful and ambiguous, with confinement of men’s practice in all outward ceremonies and circumstances of worship, were things not born in the world for some hundreds of years after the first planting of churches. Origen, in his third book against Celsus, pleads expressly that there ever were differences amongst professors of Christianity from the beginning, and that it was impossible but that there should so be; which yet, he shows, hindered not their faith, love, and obedience. Justin Martyr, in his second Apology, declares his forbearance, and [that of] the churches of those days, towards those who, though believing in Christ, yet thought themselves obliged to the observation of Mosaical rites and ceremonies, provided that they did not impose the practice of them upon others. Ignatius, before them, in his epistle to the Philadelphians, professeth that “to persecute men on the account of God or religion is to make ourselves conformable to the heathen that know not God.” Tertullian, Origen, Arnobius, and Lactantius openly pleaded for a liberty in religion, as founded on the law of nature, and the inconsistence of faith with compulsion, in that extent which we aim not at. The synod of Alexandria, in the case of Athanasius, condemns all external force in religion, and reproached the Arians as the first inventors and promoters of it.
It is, indeed, pleaded by some, that “the Christians of those days had reason to assert this liberty, because there was then no Christian magistrate who might make use of the civil sword in their behalf, or for the punishment of dissenters from them, and that this was the reason of their so doing.”
But the dishonesty of this pretense is notorious. They affirm directly that no force, coercion, or restraint, is to be used in or about the worship of God, nor outward power, in a way of penalties, to be exercised over the consciences of men herein.
To say they thus pleaded and pretended merely to serve their own present condition and occasion, but that upon the alteration of things they would be otherwise minded, is calumniously to reflect upon those holy witnesses of Christ the guilt of the highest hypocrisy imaginable; and men cannot invent a more effectual means to cast contempt on all religion, and to root a due sense of it out of the world than by fomenting such imaginations. Let them, therefore, rest in peace under that reputation of holiness and sincerity which they justly deserve, whatever be the issue of things with us or those which may suffer with us in the like condition.
But neither were they alone. The great Constantine himself, the first Christian magistrate with supreme power, by a public edict declared, that “THE LIBERTY OF WORSHIP WAS NOT TO BE DENIED UNTO ANY;” and until the latter end of his reign, there were no thoughts of exercising severity with reference unto any divisions amongst Christians about the worship of God.
After the rise of the Arian heresy, when the interposition of civil censures upon the account of difference about things spiritual had made an entrance, by the solicitations of some zealous persons for the banishment of Arius and some of his copartners, it is not easy to relate what miseries and confusions were brought upon the churches thereby. Imprisonments, banishments, and ruin of churches, make up much of the ecclesiastical history of those days.
After a while, Arius is recalled from banishment, and Athanasius driven into it. In a short tract of time Arianism itself got the civil sword in many places, wherewith it raged against all the orthodox professors of the deity of the Son of God, as the synod of Alexandria complains.
Much they suffered in the days of Constantius, unto whom the words of Hilary in this case are worthy of consideration. “Let,” saith he, “your clemency take care, and order that the presidents of the provinces look to public civil affairs, which alone are committed to them, but not meddle in things of religion.” And again, “Let your gentleness suffer the people to hear them teaching whom they desire, whom they think well of, whom they choose. God teacheth, rather than by force exacteth, the knowledge of himself, and, ascertaining the authority of his commands by works of power, despiseth all compelled confession of him. If force be used to compel men unto the true faith, the bishops that profess it would interpose and say, ‘God is the God of the whole world; he needs no compelled obedience, nor requires any such confession of him. He is not to be deceived, but to be well pleased.’ Whence is it, then, that persons are taught how to worship God by bonds and perils?” These are the words of Hilary.
But the same persons suffered more during the reign of Valens, who was dissuaded from cruelty against the Christians by Themistius, a pagan philosopher, on the principles of common reason and honesty, plainly telling him that, by the way he used, he might force some to venerate his imperial robes, but never any one to worship God aright.
But the best emperors in the meantime bewailed those fierce animosities, whereby every sect and party labored to oppress their adversaries, according as they had obtained an interest in imperial favor, and kept themselves from putting forth their authority against any dissenters in Christian religion who retained the foundation of the faith in any competent measure. Valentinianus, by public decree, granted liberty of religion unto all Christians, as Sozomen testifies, lib. 6. Ammianus Marcellinus, in his History, observes the same. Gratian made a law that religion should be free to all sorts and sects of Christians, except the Manichees, Eunomians, and Photinians, and that they should have their meetings free; as both Socrates and Sozomen acquaint us.
Neither have they been without their followers in those ages wherein the differences about religion have risen to as great a height as they are capable of in this world.
Nor will posterity be ever able to take off the lasting blot from the honor of Sigismund the emperor, who suffered himself to be imposed upon by the council of Constance to break his word of safety and liberty to John Huss and Jerome of Prague.
And what did Charles V. obtain by filling the world with blood and uproars for the extirpation of Protestantism? Notwithstanding all his victories and successes, which for a while smiled upon him, his whole design ended in loss and disappointment.
Ferdinand, his brother and successor, made wise by his example, kept constant the peace of the empire by a constant peace granted to the consciences of men.
His son Maximilian continually professed that the empire of conscience belonged unto God alone, wherein he would never interpose: and upon the return of Henry III. of France out of Poland, he gave him that advice to this purpose; which it had been happy for that prince if he had understood and followed before he came to die. But then even he also, having the severe instruction given him of his own experience, left that as his last advice to his counsellors, that they should no more with force interpose in the matters of religion.
Rodolphus, who succeeded Maximilian, by the same means, for a long time, preserved the peace of the empire. And after he had, by the persuasions of some, whose interest it was so to persuade him, interdicted the Protestants in Bohemia the use of their religion, upon the tidings of a defeat given to his forces in Hungary by the Turks, he instantly replied, “I look for no other issue, since I invaded the throne of God, imposing on the conscience of men;” and therefore granted them their former liberty.
Doth not all the world behold the contrary issue of the wars in France and those in the United Provinces, begun and carried on on the same account?
The great Henry of France, winding up all the differences thereof by granting liberty to the Huguenots, laid a firm foundation of the future peace and present greatness of that kingdom; whereas the cruelty of the Duke d’Alva and his successors, implacably pursuing the Netherlands to ruin on the same account, hath ended in the utter loss of sundry provinces, as to the rule and authority that he and they endeavored absolutely to enthrone, and rendered the rest of them scarce worth the keeping.
The world is full of instances of the like kind.
On the other hand, when, by the crafty artifices and carnal interests of some, the principle of external coercion for lesser differences in the matters of Christian religion came to be enthroned, and obtained place in the imperial constitutions and laws of other kingdoms, the main use that was made of it was to drive truth and the purity of the gospel out of the world, and to force all men to center in a profession and worship framed to the interest of some few men, who made no small advantage of it.
According as the power and purity of religion decayed, so did this persuasion get ground in the minds of men, until it became almost all the religion that was in the world, that those who submitted not unto the dictates of them who, by various ways, obtained a mixture of power, civil and ecclesiastical, into their hands, should be destroyed and rooted out of the earth.
This apostasy from the spirit, principles, rules, and commands of the gospel, this open contradiction to the practice of the apostles, their successors, first churches, best and wisest emperors, attended with the woeful consequents that have ensued thereon in the ruin of souls, proscriptions of the truth, martyrdom of thousands and ten thousands, commotions of nations, and the destruction of many of them, we hope will not be revived in these days of knowledge and near approach of the Judge of all.
We trust that it will not be thought unequal, if we appeal from the example of the professors of Christianity under its woeful degeneracy unto the first institution and public instance of its profession, especially being encouraged by the judgment, example, and practice, of many wise and mighty monarchs in these latter days.
The case is the same as it was of old; no new pretences are made use of, no arguments pleaded for the introduction of severity but such as have been pretended at all times by those who were in session of power, when they had a mind to ruin any that dissented from them.
That the end of their conventicles was for sin and uncleanness; that the permission of them was against the rules of policy and laws of the empire; that they were seminaries of sedition; that God was displeased with the confusion in religions introduced by them; that errors and misapprehensions of God were nourished in them; that they disturbed the union, peace, and love, that ought to be maintained among mankind; that they proceeded upon principles of pride, singularity, faction, and disobedience unto superiors, — were, from the first entrance of Christianity into the world, charged on the professors of it.
The same arguments and considerations are constantly still made use of and insisted on by all men that intend severity towards them that differ from them.
And they are such as will evidently serve alike any party or persuasion that in any place, at any time, shall be accompanied with power; and so have been oftener managed in the hands of error, superstition, and heresy, than of truth and sobriety.
Wherefore, the bishop of Rome, observing the unreasonableness of destroying mankind upon such loose principles and pretenses as are indifferently suited unto the interest and cause of all who have power to make use of them, because they all suppose the thing question, — namely, that they who enjoyed power did also enjoy the truth, — found out a way to appropriate the whole advantage of them to himself, as having attained the ascription of an infallibility unto him in determining what is the truth in all things where men do or may differ about religion or the worship of God.
This being once admitted and established, there seems great force in the foregoing pleas and reasonings, and no great danger in acting suitably unto them, but that the admission of it is more pernicious unto religion than all the consequents which it pretends to obviate. But where this infallible determination is disclaimed, to proceed unto outward punishment for such conceptions of men’s minds and consciences in the things of God as he is pleased to impart unto them, which may be true and according to his will, upon reasons and pretences invented originally for the service of error, and made use of for the most part unto that purpose, being more fit for that work than for a contribution of any assistance unto truth, is that which we know not how men can commend their consciences unto God in. Besides, what is it that is aimed at by this external coercion and punishment? That all men may be of one mind in the matter of the worship of God, — a thing that never was, nor ever will be, by that means effected in this world; for neither is it absolutely possible in itself, neither is the means suited to the procurement of it, so far as it is possible. But when neither the reason of the thing itself will convince nor the constant experience of so many ages, it is in vain for any to contend withal.
In the meantime, we know that the most of them who agreed together to press for severity against us for dissenting from them do differ among themselves in things of far greater importance in the doctrine of the gospel than those are wherein we differ from them; whence it must needs be evident to all what is the ground of their zeal in reference unto us and others.
But all these considerations are quickly, in the thoughts of some, removed out of the way by pretences that the indulgence and liberty desired will certainly produce all sorts of evils, both in religion itself and in the civil state; which being mentioned before in general, shall now be a little farther considered, for this is principally if not solely pleaded for the refusal and the rejection of them. Neither doth this course of procedure seem to be unwisely fixed upon by those who suppose it to be their interest to manage their opposition unto such an indulgence; wherein yet we hope they will at length discover their mistake.
For whereas the arguments to be in this case insisted on consist merely in conjectures, jealousies, and suppositions of what may come to pass, none knows when or where, it is easy for any to dilate upon them at their pleasure; nor is it possible for any to give satisfaction to all that men may conjecture or pretend to fear. Suppose all things that are evil, horrid, pernicious to truth and mankind, and, when they are sufficiently aggravated, affirm that they will ensue upon this forbearance, — which that all or any of them will so do no man can tell, — and this design is satisfied. But it is sufficiently evident that they are all false or mistaken suppositions that can give countenance unto these pretenses.
For either it must be pretended that truth and order, which those who make use of these reasonings suppose themselves possessed of, have lost the power and efficacy of preserving themselves, and of preventing the evils summoned up to be represented as the consequents of indulgence without external force and coercion, which they have had sometimes and elsewhere; or that they indeed have all actually followed and ensued upon such indulgence in all times and places. The latter of these is so notoriously contradicted by the experience of the whole world, especially of sundry kingdoms and dominions in Europe, as France, Germany, Poland, and others, that it may not hope for admittance with the most obnoxious credulity. For the former, it is most certain that the truth of the gospel did never so prevail in the world as when there was a full liberty, as unto civil punishments, granted unto persons to dissent in it and about it.
And if that which is now so called continue not to have the same effect, it may justly be feared that it is not indeed what it is called, or that it is not managed in a due manner. It is, then, altogether uncertain that upon the indulgence desired such variety of opinions will ensue as is pretended, and unquestionably certain that all such as produce practices contrary to civil society, moral honesty, or the light of nature, ought in all instances of them to be restrained; for the conscience of a man can dictate no such thing unto him, there being an inconsistency in them with that supreme light which rules in conscience, whilst it may be so called. And it is a hard thing to ruin multitudes at present sober and honest, lest by not doing so some one or other may prove brain-sick, frantic, or vicious, who also may be easily restrained when they appear so to be.
And moderate liberty will certainly appear to be religious security in this matter, if the power of it as well as the profession be regarded: for it is the interest of them who plead for indulgence to watch and contend against error and heresy, no less than theirs by whom it is opposed; for, professing all material truths with them, they are not to be supposed to value or esteem them less than they. And it may be it will appear that they have endeavored as much their suppression, in the way warranted by the gospel, as those who profess such fears of their increase.
They are Protestants only of whom we speak; and to suppose that they will not do their utmost for the opposing of the rise, growth, or progress, of whatever is contrary to that religion which they profess, or that their interest therein is of less concernment unto them than that of others from whom they differ, is but a groundless surmise.
But it is yet farther objected, that the indulgence desired hath an inconsistency with public peace and tranquillity, — the other head of the general accusation before mentioned. Many fears and suspicions are mustered up to contribute assistance unto this objection also; for we are in the field of surmises, which is endless and boundless. Unto such as make use of these pretenses we can truly say, that might we by any means be convinced of the truth of this suggestion, we should not only desist from our present supplication, but speedily renounce those very principles which necessitate thereunto; for we assuredly know that no divine truth, nothing really relating unto the worship of God, can cause or occasion any civil disturbances, unless they arise from corrupt affections in them that profess it or in them that oppose it. And as we shall labor to free ourselves from them on the one hand, so it is our desire and prayer that others may do so also on the other; which will give sufficient assurance to tranquillity. But we are, moreover, wholly freed from any concernment in this objection, in that he who is undoubtedly the best and most competent judge of what will contribute to the peace of the kingdom and what is inconsistent therewith, and who is incomparably most concerned in the one or the other, even the king’s majesty himself, hath frequently declared his royal intentions for the granting of the indulgence desired; who would never have been induced thereunto had he not perfectly understood its consistency with the peace and welfare of the kingdom. And as our confidence in those royal declarations hath not hitherto been weakened by the interveniency of so many occasions as have cast us under another condition, so we hope that our peaceable deportment hath in some measure contributed, in the thoughts of prudent men, unto the facilitating of their accomplishment. And as this will be to the lasting renown of his majesty, so it will appear to be the most suitable unto the present state of things in this nation, both with respect unto itself and the nations that are round about us. And we think it our duty to pray that his majesty may acquire those glories in his reign which none of his subjects may have cause to mourn for; and such will be the effect of clemency and righteousness.
We find it, indeed, still pretended that the allowance of meeting for the worship of God, however ordered and bounded, will be a means to procure and further sedition in the commonwealth, and to advantage men in the pursuit of designs to the disturbance of the kingdom; but it were equal that it should be proved that those who desire this indulgence have such inclinations and designs before such pretences be admitted as of any force.
For our parts, we expect no liberty but from his majesty’s favor and authority, with the concurrence of the parliament; which when we have obtained, as at no time, whatever our condition be, have we the least thought or inclination unto any sedition or public disturbance, so having an obligation upon us in the things of our greatest interest in this world, we know not from what sort or party of men more cordial adherence unto and defense of public peace and tranquillity can justly be expected; for where there are more causes and reasons of compliance and acquiescency than there are on the contrary, it is rationally to be supposed that they will prevail. And to surmise the acting of multitudes contrary to their own interests and acknowledged obligation of favor, is to take away all assurance out of human affairs.
Neither is there any color of sound reason in what is pretended of the advantage that any may have to promote seditious designs by the meetings of the dissenters pleaded for in the worship of God; for, doubtless, the public peace will never be hazarded by such designs, whilst they are managed by none but such as think to promote and carry them on in assemblies of promiscuous multitudes of men, women, and children; unknown, too, for the most part, unto themselves and to one another. But these things are spoken because they have been wonted so to be; other considerations to confirm them there are none. Conscience, interest, sense of obligations, — the only safe rules amongst men to judge by of future events, — all plead an expectation of the highest tranquillity in the minds and spirits of men upon the indulgence desired.
And there lies a ready security against the pretended fears of the contrivance of sedition in assemblies of men, women, and children, strangers to one another in a great measure, by commanding all meetings to be disposed in such a way as that they may be exposed to all, and be under the constant inspection of authority.
As for other courses of severity, with respect to the peace and prosperity of the kingdom, it may not be amiss a little to consider who and what are the dissenters from the present establishment. For the persons themselves, they are mostly of that sort and condition of men in the commonwealth upon whose industry and endeavours, in their several ways and callings, the trade and wealth of the nation do much depend. And what advantage it will be to the kingdom to break in upon them, unto their discouragement, fear, or ruin, we suppose no man can divine. Those who think there are enough for the work without them, and that their exclusion will make room for others, do gratify, indeed, thereby some particular persons, intent upon their own private advantages, which they would willingly advance in the ruin of their neighbors, but scarce seem to have taken a right measure of the state of the whole: for whereas it may be sometimes there may, in some places, be too many of them who manage the affairs of trade and commerce, when their concerns are drawn unto a head and a readiness for their last exchange, that there should be so of those that do dispose and prepare things also, to bring them unto that condition, is impossible. It cannot, then, be but that the continuance of so great fears and discouragements upon men, as those which their dissent from the established way of worship doth at present cast upon them, must of necessity weaken the nation in that part of it wherein its principal strength doth lie. Neither are they a few only who will be found to be concerned in this matter; which is not to be despised. Pliny, a wise counsellor, writing to Trajan, a wise and renowned emperor, about Christians, who were then the objects of the public hatred of the world, desires his advice upon the account of their numbers; not that they were to be feared, but unmeet to be punished, unless he intended to lay the empire waste: — “Visa enim est mihi res digna consultatione, maxime propter periclitantium numerum; multi enim omnis aetatis, omnis ordinis, utriusque sexus etiam, vocantur in periculum et vocabuntur. Neque civitates tantum, sed vicos etiam atque agros superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est.” [Plin. Ep., 10:97.] So then they termed Christian religion; for the multitude would still keep the name of truth and religion to themselves. The oppressed, the lesser number, must bear the name or title which they consent or conspire to cast upon them. But the thing itself, as to the persons at present dissenting from the established form, is not unduly expressed. And as it will be an act of royal clemency, and like to the work of God himself, to free at once so great multitudes, of “all ages, sexes, and conditions,” from the fears and dangers of those evils which they are so fully satisfied they do not deserve; so any other way of quitting the governors of this nation from those uneasy thoughts which an apprehension of such an effect of their rule upon multitudes of subjects must needs produce, will be very difficult, if not impossible. Shall the course begun in severity against them be pursued? What generous spirits employed in the execution of it can but be weary at last with undoing and ruining families of those persons, whom they find to live peaceably in subjection to the government of the nation, and usefully amongst their neighbors, merely because they dare not sin against God in transgressing against that persuasion concerning his will and worship which he hath given unto them? for they cannot but at last consider that no man erreth willingly, or believes any thing against his light, or hath other thoughts of God and his worship than what he apprehends to be from himself, or that any duty is accepted of God which springs from compulsion. How much more noble and honorable will they discern the work of relieving men sober and peaceable in distress to be, than to have the complaints, and tears, and ruin of innocent men and their families continually reflecting themselves on their minds! Nor is there any probability of success in this procedure: for as time hath always made for rule, and encouragements, which are solely in the power of rulers, have effected great compliance even in things religious, so force and violent prosecution in such cases have been always fruitless; for it is known how much they are disadvantaged as to success, in that the righteousness and equity of their pretended causes are always dubious to unconcerned persons, which makes them think that the true reason of them is other than what is pretended. When they see men whom they apprehend as innocent and guiltless as themselves, as to all the concernments of mankind in this world, pursued with penalties equal unto those that are notoriously criminal, they are greatly inclined unto commiseration towards them, especially if, at the interposition of the name and worship of God in the cause, they judge, for aught appears to them, they fear God and endeavor to please him, at least as well as those by whom they are molested.
And when they farther understand that those whom they see to suffer such things as they account grievous, and are really ruinous to them and their families, do it for their conscience’ sake, it strongly induceth them to believe that it must needs be something good and honest that men choose so to suffer for it rather than to forego: for all suffering for religion they know to be in the power and will of them that suffer, and not of those that inflict penalties upon them; for their religion is their choice, which they may part withal if they esteem it not worth the hazard wherewith it is attended.
Thus the Roman historian tells us, in the first sufferings of the Christians at Rome: “Quamquam adversus sontes, et novissima exempla meritos” (for so he thought) “miseratio oriebatur, tanquam non utilitate publica, sed in saevitiam unius absumerentur.” [Tac. Ann., 15:44.] Nor is it a probable way of dealing with the consciences of men, especially of multitudes who are able to give mutual testimony and encouragement to one another; yea, in such a state of things, dangers ofttimes delight men, and they find a satisfaction, if not an honor, in their miseries, as having sufficient assurance that it is a glorious and blessed thing to suffer things hard and dreadful in the world when they are conscious to themselves of no guilt or evil. And, therefore, as severity hath hitherto got no ground on the minds of men in this matter, no more is it like to do for the future; and if it be proceeded in, it cannot be avoided but that it must be perpetuated from one generation to another, and a sad experiment be made who will first be wearied, those that inflict penalties, or those that undergo them.
And what, in the meantime, will become of that composure of the spirits of men, that mutual trust, confidence, and assurance between all sorts of persons, which is the abiding foundation of public peace and prosperity?
Also, what advantages have been made by some neighbor nations, what at present they farther hope for, from that great anxiety which the minds of men are cast into, merely and solely on the account of what they feel or fear from their dissent unto the public worship, which to themselves is utterly unavoidable, is known to all.
But we have done. And what are we, that we should complain of any whom God is pleased to stir up and use for our exercise and trial? We desire in patience and silence to bear his indignation, against whom we have sinned; and for what concerns those ways and truths of his, for whose profession we may yet suffer in this world, to approve our consciences unto him, and to leave the event of all unto him, who will one day judge the world in righteousness. We know that we are poor, sinful worms of the earth, in ourselves meet for nothing but to be trodden down under the feet of men; but his ways and the purity of his worship are dear unto him, which he will preserve and vindicate from all opposition. In the meantime, as it is our duty to live peaceably with all men in a conscientious subjection unto that authority which he hath set over us, we shall endeavor so to behave ourselves in the pursuit and observance of it, as that, “whereas we may be evil spoken of, as evil-doers, men may be ashamed, beholding our good conversation in Christ, and give glory to God in the day of visitation.”
Whatever is ours, whatever is in our power, whatever God hath intrusted us with the disposal of, we willingly resign and give up to the will and commands of our superiors; but as to our minds and consciences in the things of his worship and service, he hath reserved the sovereignty of them unto himself. To him must we give an account of them at the great day.
Nor can we forego the care of preserving them entire for him and loyal unto him, without a renunciation of all hopes of acceptance with him, and so render ourselves of all men the most miserable. May we be suffered herein to be faithful unto him and the everlasting concernments of our own souls, we shall always labor to manifest that there is no way or means of peace and reconciliation among those who, professing faith in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, yet differ in their apprehensions about sundry things some way or other belonging thereunto, that is appointed by him, and may expect a blessing from him, but we will readily embrace, and, according as we are called, improve to the utmost!
And if herein, also, our endeavors meet with nothing but contempt and reproach, yet none can hinder us but that we may pour out our souls unto God for the accomplishment of his blessed and glorious promises concerning that truth, peace, and liberty, which he will give unto his church in his appointed time: for we know, that “when he shall rise up to the prey, and devour the whole earth with the fire of his jealousy, he will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent, — that, the earth being filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea, his glory shall be revealed, so that all flesh shall see it together; and then shall all his people receive from him one heart and one way, that they may fear him for ever, for the good of them and their children after them, by virtue of the everlasting covenant.” And for our own parts, whatever our outward condition be, we know “he will perfect that which concerns us,” and “he will not forsake the work of his own hands,” — “because his mercy endureth for ever!”
AN ACCOUNT OF THE GROUNDS AND REASONS ON WHICH PROTESTANT DISSENTERS DESIRE THEIR LIBERTY.
THE CASE OF PRESENT DISTRESSES ON NONCONFORMISTS EXAMINED.
THE STATE OF THE KINGDOM WITH RESPECT TO THE PRESENT BILL AGAINST CONVENTICLES.
A WORD OF ADVICE TO THE CITIZENS OF LONDON.
I. AN ACCOUNT OF THE GROUNDS AND REASONS, ETC.
THE only clue to the time when this brief statement was drawn up is suggested by the phrase which occurs in the title of it, “Protestant Dissenters.” In the king’s speech on the opening of Parliament, February 10, 1667, the following words occurred: “One thing more I hold myself obliged to recommend to you at the present, — that is, that you would seriously think of some course to beget a better union and composure in the minds of my protestant subjects in matters of religion, whereby they may be induced not only to submit quietly to the government, but also cheerfully give their assistance to the support of it.”
Proposals for a toleration were discussed, addresses were presented to his majesty and even the favor of a royal audience on the subject of their demands was extended, to some leading dissenters. Nevertheless, in the Conventicle Act was renewed with greater stringency, and all the while, popish recusants, taken under the shelter of the royal prerogative, were comparatively free from molestation. This difference of treatment which the protestant, and popish dissent respectively sustained, necessitated the distinctive appellation prefixed to these “Grounds and Reasons.”
II. THE CASE OF PRESENT DISTRESSES, ETC.
THE Act against Seditious Conventicles was a revival of the 35th of Elizabeth, and was the source of those heavy and prolonged sufferings which have made the annals of English Nonconformity so full of thrilling interest. It was twice re-enacted in the reign of Charles II., in 1663 and in 1670. It is clear, from the penalty to which Owen refers, £20 for the first offense, and £40 for the second, that the following remonstrance is connected with the last occasion on which this infamous act was renewed; for such was the penalty against any preacher or teacher who should address a conventicle, according to the act as renewed in 1670. To understand this protest of our author against the injustice of the measure, the particular clause in the act to which he takes special exception must be borne in mind. It was the clause dispensing with the necessity of personally convicting any offender by the process of a common and regular trial, and is in these terms: — “Any justice of peace, on the oath of two witnesses, or any other sufficient proof, may record the offense under his hand and seal; which record shall be taken in law for a full and perfect conviction.” Two base men had only to conspire in a false accusation against a Nonconformist, and his house might be plundered, his person imprisoned, and his goods and chattels dispersed in public sale.
Unhappily, informants swarmed in those days, who secured to themselves a dishonest livelihood by tracking the movements of Nonconformists, and preferring accusations against them for every breach of the act.
I. THE STATE OF THE KINGDOM, ETC, THE following statement has reference to the renewal of the Conventicle Act in 1670: see p. 579 of this volume. It was printed for the first time in the folio volume of 1721, and the Life of Owen by Asty, prefixed to that volume, contains the following account of the circumstances in which the paper was composed: — “When the bill was sent up to the Lords, and debates arose upon it, the Doctor was desired to draw up some reasons against it, on the intended severity of it. He did so, and it was laid before the Lords by several eminent citizens and gentlemen of distinction. This paper is called ‘The State of the Kingdom,’ etc.; but it did not prevail. The bill was carried and passed into an act. All the bishops were for it but two, — namely, Dr Wilkins, bishop of Chester, and Dr Rainbow, bishop of Carlisle, — whose names ought to be mentioned with honor for their great moderation. This was executed with severity, to the utter ruin of many persons and families.”
II. A WORD OF ADVICE TO THE CITIZENS OF LONDON.
THIS tract only appeared in print in 1721, in the folio volume of Owen’s sermons and tracts which was then published. Accordingly, it is difficult to ascertain the year when it may have been prepared. Mr Orme ascribes it to the year 1667, or before it; but we are inclined to think it must have been drawn up at a later period, for there is a reference in it to the conflagration that desolated London in 1666, in such terms as bespeak the lapse of some time since that event had happened. Owen refers to the practice of excommunication as “exceeding all other exorbitancies” in the oppression which dissenters were suffering at the time he wrote, and to some “presentment of the late jury,” which bore hard upon them. In 1680, the Lord Mayor of London, Aldermen, and Justices, were commanded by royal order to suppress conventicles. In obedience to this command, on January 13, 1681, an order was issued in these terms: — “ It was by the justices then assembled desired, that the Lord Bishop of London will please to direct those officers which are under his jurisdiction to use their utmost diligence that all such persons may be excommunicated who commit crimes deserving the ecclesiastical censure.” The tract of our author on the subject, whensoever written, is a spirited and indignant reclamation against the oppression of the times. — ED.
THE GROUNDS AND REASONS ON WHICH PROTESTANT DISSENTERS DESIRE THEIR LIBERTY.
ALTHOUGH it be sufficiently known, both at home and abroad, among all the reformed churches, what religion we profess, by the confession of our faith, long since made and published in our own and sundry other languages, yet on this occasion of our desire of deliverance from all penal laws in matters of religion, we esteem ourselves obliged to declare, and do declare, — 1. That we are Protestants, firmly adhering unto the doctrine of the protestant religion, as declared and established by law in the nine-andthirty articles, excepting only such of them as concern rites and ceremonies, etc., and as it is explained in the publicly authorized writings of the most learned divines of this nation in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James. 2. That we are ready to make the renunciation of popish principles established by law; and not only so, but, as God shall assist us, to give our testimony with our lives in opposition unto Popery, and in the defense of the protestant religion against it, with all other good protestant subjects of the kingdom, when we shall be called thereunto. 3. Unto this resolution of a steadfast adherence unto the protestant religion, in opposition unto Popery, we have many peculiar engagements; for, — (1.) Our principles concerning church order, rule, and worship, wherein we differ from the church of England, are not capable of a compliance with or reconciliation unto those of the Papacy, but are contradictory unto them, and utterly inconsistent with them. Where there is an agreement in general principles, and men differ only in their application unto some particulars, those differences are capable of a reconciliation; but where the principles themselves are directly contradictory, as it is between us and the Papists in this matter, they are capable of no reconciliation. (2.) We have no interest that may be practiced on by the arts or insinuations of the Papists; for we are neither capable of any advantages by ecclesiastical domination, power, promotions, with dignities and revenues belonging thereunto, — which are the principal allurements of the Papacy, — nor are engaged in any such combination, political or ecclesiastical, as that the contrivance of a few should draw on the compliance of the whole party. These things being utterly contrary unto and inconsistent with our principles, the Papists have no way of attempting us but by mere force and violence. (3.) Our fixed judgment being the same with that of all the first reformers, — namely, that in the idolatrous apostasy of the papal church, with bloody persecutions, the antichristian state foretold in the Scripture doth consist, — we are forever excluded from all thoughts of compliance with them or reconciliation unto them. (4.) Whereas our principles concerning church order, rule, and worship, are directly suited unto the dissolution and ruin of the papal church-state (whence the Papists take their warrants for all the evil contrivances which some of them are guilty of in this kingdom), and will, so far as they are taken out of the Scripture, at length effect it, we can have no other expectation from the prevalency of their interest in this nation but utter extirpation and destruction. We are therefore fully satisfied that our interest and duty, in self-preservation, consist in a firm adherence unto the protestant religion as established in this nation, and the defense thereof against all the attempts of the Papacy. 4. We own and acknowledge the power of the king or supreme magistrate in this nation, as it is declared in the thirty-seventh article of religion; and are ready to defend and assist in the administration of the government in all causes, according unto the law of the land, with all other good protestant subjects of the kingdom.
We do, therefore, humbly desire, — First, That we may have an exemption from all laws and penalties, civil or ecclesiastical, for our dissent in some things from the church of England, as at present established in the rule of it, and a liberty to worship God peaceably in our own assemblies, upon our renunciation of Popery, by law prescribed, and the subscription of our ministers or public teachers unto the articles of religion, as before expressed.
Secondly, That as unto oaths, offices, and payment of duties, none whereof we do refuse, that we may be left unto the same laws and rules with all other protestant subjects, that there may be the least difference remaining between us and them, and the greatest evidence of our being united in the defense of the protestant religion and interest of the nation.
THE PRESENT DISTRESSES ON NONCONFORMISTS EXAMINED.
IN the execution of an act entitled, “An Act against Seditious Conventicles’’ (whereof large experience hath manifested that no dissenters are guilty), this practice hath been of late taken up, that upon the oath of some informers, convictions are clancularly made, and executions granted on the goods of those informed against, a first, second, third time, and without notice, warning, or summons, or any intimation of procedure against them, or allowance for them to make their own defense. 1. This practice is as contrary to the original pattern of all government as unto the execution of law in criminal cases. When Adam sinned by the transgression of a penal law, God was the only governor of the world, and there was a temporal penalty annexed unto that transgression; but yet, to manifest that personal conviction was to be the natural right of every transgressor, before the execution of punishment, he himself, the only judge, though absolutely omniscient, deals with Adam personally as to the matter of fact, — “ Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” — and gave him the liberty of his own defense, as that which was his right, before he denounced any sentence against him. He is still the supreme governor of the world, and let magistrates take heed how they despise that precedent and pattern of the administration of justice in criminal causes which he hath given and prescribed unto all mankind. 2. It is contrary to the light of nature, and that in such a principle as hath a great influence into the constitution and preservation of government in the world; and that is, that every man is obliged unto, and is to be allowed, the unblamable defense of himself and his own innocency against evil and hurt from others. This the law of God and nature requires of every man, and the whole figure of human justice doth allow. And that he may do this without force or violence, the injury of others, or disturbance of natural order, is one of the principal benefits of government in the world, and one chief end of its institution. If this be taken away, the law of nature is violated, the chief end of government is destroyed, and all things are reduced to force and confusion. This men are deprived of in this practice, — namely, of lawful self-defense before conviction and the execution of penalties. And it is to no purpose to pretend that this is a matter of small moment, so that although there should be a deviation in it from the common rule, yet the law of nature in general may be kept inviolable: for that law being the animating soul of all human government, as the whole in the whole, and the whole in every part, if it be wittingly contravened in any instance, it tends to the dissolution of the whole; and where any such thing is admitted, it will sully the beauty and weaken the rightful power of any government. 3. It hath been always rejected in all nations, even among the heathen who have exercised government according unto the rules of reason and equity.
So the laws and usages of the Romans are declared by Festus, Acts 25:16, “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.”
It is not of any weight to object that this was in the case of death; for the reason of the law is universal, — namely, that every one who is charged of a crime, in order unto punishment, should have liberty to answer for himself, — and it was observed by them in all criminal causes whatever.
No instance can be given of their varying in this process, but it is noted as an oppression. And the same practice is secured by the laws and usages of all civilized nations; for, — 4. This procedure, of allowing men charged with any crime, real or pretended, liberty to answer for themselves before judgment and execution, is so manifestly grounded on natural equity, so inseparable from the common presumptions of right and wrong amongst mankind, as that it could never be wrested from them on any pretense whatsoever. It is a contradiction unto common sense in morality and polity, for a man to be convicted of a crime exposing him to penalty, and not be allowed to make his own defense before such conviction: yea, let men call such a sentence and its execution by what name they please, there is no conviction in the case; and it is ridiculous to call it so where a man is not allowed to defend himself, or plead his own innocence, if he be ready so to do. The common saying of, “Qui statuit aliquid, parte inaudita altera, aequum licet statuerit, haud aequus fuit,” is no less owned as unto its natural equity than that other, “Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris;” and both of them condemn this practice in the consciences of all men not blinded by prejudice or interest. 5. The general ends of penal laws, which alone make them warrantable in government, are inconsistent with such clancular convictions as are in this case pretended. Their first intention is authority to inquire into offenses whether they are real or no, for the preservation of public good and peace; and if it be found that the complaints concerning them are causeless, the second intention, which respects punishment, is superseded: as God declared in the case of Sodom, unto the inhabitants whereof, after inquiry, he granted a personal conviction by the angels he sent among them; unto whom they openly declared their own guilt. To omit the first intention of the law, and to go, “per saltum,” unto the latter, is to make that which was designed for the good of all men to be unto the danger of all and ruin of many; for, — 6. The practice designed takes away all security of their goods and estates from many peaceable subjects, even of all unto whom the case extends: for every evil man is enabled hereby, for his own profit and advantage, to take the goods of other men into his own possession, the owner knowing nothing of the cause of it; which possession shall be avowed legal! Now, this is utterly contrary unto all good government and the principal end of the law; which is, to secure unto every man the possession of his own goods, until he be legally convicted (on the best defense he can make for himself) that they ought by law to be taken from him. But in this case the legal right of one man unto his goods is transferred unto another, and that other enabled by force to take possession of them, before the true owner is once asked why it should not be so! The pretense of allowing him a liberty, in some cases, to make use of an appeal, and to sue for his own goods when they are in the supposed legal possession of another, and he disenabled for such a suit by the loss of them, as many have been, is no help in this case, nor gives the least color of justice to this procedure. 7. To interpret the words in the act to give countenance unto this way of procedure is contrary to the known rules of interpreting laws of this nature; and these are, — (1.) That they are not to be made snares to catch and harm men without just cause, and a necessity thereon, for public good. To make such engines of them, is to divest them of all authority. Nor can that reverence that is due unto government be preserved, unless it be manifest that not only the laws but also the administration of them are for public good, so as that they are not capable, in their genuine sense, to be made snares for the hurt of men, in denying them their own just defense. Nor can there be a more dangerous inroad made on the security of the subjects, as to their property and liberty, in and by the administration of the law, than a wresting of it, in any one instance, unto the hurt or wrong of any; and we do know what consequence the interpretation and undue application of penal statutes, with the wresting them unto unwarrantable severities, have had here in England, (2.) It is a rule of the same importance, that in dubious cases such laws are to be interpreted according to the custom and usage of proceedings in other laws of a like nature, and not be construed unto the interest of severity, especially where it is unto the gain and profit of other men; and what is the method of conviction in all other laws towards persons who do not decline a trial is known.. 8. But besides all that hath been spoken as unto the reason of things in general, this practice is directly contrary to and inconsistent with the plain sense and intention of the law itself whereof execution is pretended; for there is a gradation in the penalty annexed unto a continuance in the offense. The first conviction is for twenty pounds, the second for forty; and this will admit of no pretense, but that the person offending must know of the first conviction, that it may be a warning to him to avoid the additional penalty, which is for continuance in the same supposed offense after the first admonition. But in the present practice no such thing is allowed, but convictions are made for the first, second, and third offense, without any trial of what effect the first would be; which is contrary to the sense of the law, and an open wresting of it unto the ruin of men. And, — 9. Lastly, these convictions are made on the oaths of the informers; who at present are a sort of men so destitute of all reputation, on the account of their indigency, contracted by their profligate conversation, as that men of the like qualifications are prohibited by many laws from bearing testimony in any case, though in all other things the process be legal, open, and plain.
To admit such persons to give oaths in private, without calling or summoning them to answer who are charged by them, and thereon to put them into an actual possession of their goods, unto their own use and advantage, is a practice which England hath had as yet no precedent for, nor found an especial name whereby to call it. Hereon perjuries have been multiplied among this sort of persons (whereof sundry of them have been legally convicted), to the dishonor of God and great increase of the sin of the land. And whatever becomes of Nonconformists, if the same kind of procedure should be applied unto other cases, (and why may it not be so, if in this instance the bounds of the law of nature and the usages of mankind should be broken down?) others would find themselves aggrieved as well as they.
THE STATE OF THE KINGDOM WITH RESPECT TO THE PRESENT BILL AGAINST CONVENTICLES.
THE whole kingdom is at present in peace and quietness, all persons being under the highest satisfaction in his majesty’s government, and absolutely acquiescing therein.
Such is the state of things in Europe at present, and among ourselves, that the entire industry of all the inhabitants of this nation, with all possible encouragements given thereunto, is scarcely able to maintain themselves in their present respective conditions, and the whole in its due splendor, honor, and strength.
The bill against conventicles, if passed, will introduce a disturbance into this order of things in every county, every city, every borough and town corporate, and almost every village in the nation.
Those on whom this disturbance will fall are, for the most part, merchants, clothiers, operators in our own manufactures, and occupants of land, with the like furtherers and promoters of trade.
The end aimed at is their conformity, or their ruin. For the ministers, being for the most part poor and ruined already, the great penalty directed to be laid on them in the first place must immediately fall upon the people, those also that are able being liable to distress for the penalty of others that are poor; which, if executed, will be the certain ruin of many.
It is manifest that few will conform upon the severity, if any at all; nor is it a suitable means for the conviction of any one man in the world.
The people, therefore, will, some of them, continue to meet notwithstanding this act; and some of them at present, it may be, will forbear.
For those who will continue their meetings, as accounting themselves obliged in conscience so to do, they will immediately so dispose of their estates and concerns that they shall be as much out of the reach of the penalties of the law as can well and honestly be contrived, — nor can any man blame them for so doing; and what an obstruction this will prove in the circulation of the trade of the nation is easy to imagine.
Others who will forbear going at present to meetings, yet will prepare themselves so to dispose of their estates and concerns as that they and their families may not be ruined here by penalties, or that they may not [be prevented from] subsist[ing] elsewhere.
In the meantime, all trust will fail between persons of mutual engagements.
Those who are not obnoxious to the penalties of this act will fear that others who are so will be ruined by it, and so take their concerns out of their hands; those who are so obnoxious will call in theirs out of the hands of others, lest they should be there liable to distress: and so all mutual trust in the nation will fail.
The minds of innumerable persons now at peace and rest will be cast into fears, troubles, perplexities, and restless contrivances for their own safety, by hiding, fleeing, or the like ways of escape; and thereby an issue will be put to all their industry, at present not useless to the commonwealth.
The residue of the body of the people, not delighted with these severities, will stand and gaze, looking on with great discouragement as to their own endeavours, being many of them entangled with the concernments of those that suffer, and naturally disliking informers upon penal statutes; which sort of men they will not rejoice to see enriched with their peaceable neighbors’ goods.
That under this great change in the minds and industry of so considerable a part of the nation, there will hardly, by the remaining discomposed party, be a revenue raised for the private occasions of the subjects, and a surplusage for the necessity of the government, as things are stated at this day in the world, is evident to all impartial men.
The first is, that an evil greater than all those enumerated will be prevented by it; and of evils, the least is to be chosen.
The other is, that a good which shall outbalance all those evils will be attained.
The evil to be prevented is sedition, commotions, and tumults, which the meetings now to be prohibited will occasion.
It is acknowledged that there is more evil in these things than in all those before mentioned; but it is positively denied that there is the least cause of suspicion of any such evils from the meetings now prohibited, at least as they may be stated under the inspection of the magistrate: for, — Experience of the resolved peaceableness under, great opportunities to attempt disturbances, during the plague, fire, and war, in those who thus meet, evidences the contrary against all exceptions.
Their declared principles are for all due subjection to his majesty; and they are ready to give that security of their adherence to their principles which all other subjects do, and which mankind in such cases must be contented withal.
It is their interest to be peaceable and quiet, as enjoying, under his majesty’s government, the best condition they are capable of in this world, whilst they have liberty for their consciences in the things of God.
They are particularly sensible of the obligation that is put upon them, in their liberty, unto subjection and gratitude to his majesty, beyond other subjects; which will oblige them to faithfulness and stability in their allegiance.
The fears, therefore, of the consequence of this evil are plainly pretended, without any ground of reason or cause of suspicion.
The good to be aimed at, which must outbalance all the evils mentioned before is conformity.
There is already an agreement in doctrine and the substantials of worship amongst most, and will be so though a well-regulated liberty shall be granted.
A uniformity in all rituals and ceremonies is so far from being a good that should lie in the balance against all the evils which the pressing of it with the severity intended will certainly produce, as that, it may be, it will not compensate the trouble of any one quiet and peaceable subject in the kingdom.
It is justly feared that the bill, as proposed, leaves neither the king himself, nor any of his subjects, that just right, liberty, and privilege, which are inseparably inherent in him and his crown, and which belong unto them by the fundamental laws of the land.
It is presumed what has thus in general been offered may appear more evident by the following particulars: — 1. Such is the state of affairs abroad in the world, and among ourselves, that the encouragement of all sorts of persons unto honest industry, in their respective capacities and employs, is absolutely necessary unto the supportment of the honor and government of the kingdom, and the comfortable subsistence of the subjects of it. Without this, in the securest peace, we shall speedily find one of the worst effects of war, in a distressing general poverty. 2. Unto the encouragement of such honest endeavors, mutual trust among all sorts of men is necessary; which can never be attained nor preserved but where all peaceable persons have the same protection and assurance of the law. Wherever this trust generally fails, it threatens the dissolution of any society of men. 3. All sorts of dissenters are disposed unto a complete acquiescency in the government, desiring no other encouragement unto their usefulness under it but only that force be not offered unto their consciences in things appertaining unto the worship of God; which is the common right of nature and grace, as well as the present visible interest of the kingdom. 4. Unless these things, — namely, industrious endeavors in the way of trade and usefulness, common mutual trust, with acquiescency in the government, — be countenanced and preserved, it is impossible that the welfare and prosperity of the kingdom should be continued, as, by God’s blessing upon them, they will be. 5. The present prosecution of them who dissent from the church of England tends directly unto the subversion of all these things, and hath in a great measure already effected it; nor doth it promote the interest of religion or conformity unto the church itself: for, — (1.) By the execution of the act against seditious conventicles (whereof, in the true sense and construction of the law, not one of those of the dissenters is), many have their goods taken away, multitudes are forced to remove their habitations and to give over their useful callings, to the great obstruction and ruin of common industry in many places. (2.) By the writs and processes on the statutes for not coming to church (not intended, as is humbly conceived, against Protestants), whereby a devastation is designed of the estates of many peaceable and loyal persons, at the wills of many needy prosecutors and informers, all mutual trust is shaken and impaired; for amongst multitudes of industrious subjects, none know how soon themselves, or those in whom they are concerned, may fall under the ruining execution of those statutes, they being a very great number who are already sued and molested thereby.
And some, in demanding their just debts, have been threatened by their debtors with a prosecution on those statutes! and so forced to desist the recovery of their debts, to avoid greater inconveniency than the loss of them. (3.) By the act for banishing ministers five miles from corporations (humbly conceived contrary to the birth-right privilege of every Englishman unconvicted of any crime), many are driven from their habitations, many imprisoned, to the ruin of themselves and their families, and the great dissatisfaction of all uninterested persons. (4.) Whereas sundry justices of the peace, men of known integrity, and of especial interest in the places of their residence, are threatened and sued for not complying with the unreasonable desires of every informer, whereby they are discouraged in the discharge of their duty and weary of their office, it is a matter of great dissatisfaction unto all sober men; for the persons so molested are known to design nothing but the prosperity and welfare of the place wherein they live and act in their office. (5.) Most of those who act visibly in these prosecutions are persons of ill fame and reputation, desperate in their outward fortunes, and profligate in their conversations, whose agency is a scandal unto them by whom they are employed.
And both these things last mentioned evidently tend to the dissatisfaction and disturbance of the minds of sober and honest men; for as by this procedure the industry of multitudes is defeated, and mutual trust impaired among all sorts of men, so are the minds of many diverted from a just acquiescency in the government to hearken after changes and alterations, and made obnoxious unto ill impressions. (6.) Neither is religion in general promoted by these proceedings, as is manifest in the event, nor can it so be; for as they are contrary to the prime dictates of the Christian religion (as is humbly conceived), so many immoralities are occasioned by them. To omit other instances, the vilest persons being encouraged in the cases mentioned to swear for their own advantage, there have been in a short time more public perjuries before magistrates than can be proved or suspected to have been in some ages before. (7.) Nor is conformity, — the end pretended to be aimed at, — at all advanced by them; as is sufficiently manifest in universal experience. And whereas the only way to promote either religion or conformity is by the laborious preaching and exemplary, humble conversation of the clergy, if any should not like this way, but betake themselves to force alone, they would have no reason to expect success. 6. Whereas, therefore, his majesty hath long since declared his royal sense of these things; and both houses of parliament have intimated their desire and intention to give some ease and relief unto the consciences of sober and peaceable dissenters; and many wise and judicious magistrates have openly declined, what lieth in them, all engagement in these prosecutions, so that the visible prosecutors are generally persons of ill fame and reputation, seeking to repair the ruins of their idleness and licentiousness by the spoils of the honest labors of other men; while the generality of sober and industrious people in the nation, who understand how much they are concerned in the peaceable endeavors of others, dislike these proceedings: to prevent an offense by petitioning, it is humbly offered unto the parliament, — to free the minds of so great numbers of peaceable subjects as are concerned in these things from fears and disquietments, and the estates of many from ruin; to encourage industry, mutual trust, and universal acquiescency in the government; to vindicate the honor of the protestant religion; and to prepare the way for a future coalescency in God’s good time, through love and condescension, by the removal of these occasions of animosities, distrusts, and provocations, — that they would, by order, suspend the farther prosecution of the penal laws against dissenters in religion, until, upon mature consideration, they shall have settled things in a better way, unto the glory of God, the honor of his majesty, the security of the protestant religion, and prosperity of the kingdom: which are all earnestly prayed for by those concerned in this address.
A WORD OF ADVICE TO THE CITIZENS OF LONDON.
I Do hope you are all sensible of those obligations that are on you to seek the public good of the city whereof you are members, in your several capacities. I am sure you ought so to be: for all laws, divine and human; all things that are praise-worthy among men; all your own circumstances, in peace, safety, and profit; all your interest in reputation and posterity, with the oaths you have taken to the city, — do require it of you. And you know that this public good of the city, which you are so obliged to seek and promote, cannot consist in the end of any private, separate designs, but in what is comprehensive of the whole commonalty, in its order, state, and circumstances, — a steady design and endeavor for the promotion hereof, in all that is virtuous and praise-worthy in you as citizens, and for which some have been renowned in all ages. Where this is not, men’s lusts, and passions, and self-interest, will on all occasions be the rule of their actions. Neither hath the city, as such, any other animating principle of consistency or stability. Outward order and law without it are but a dead carcase, and the citizens a multitude living in one perpetual storm, which any external impression can easily drive into confusion. So far, therefore, as this design worketh effectually in you, regulating your endeavors and actions, you are good and useful citizens, and no farther. He who is so intent on his private occasions as to neglect the good of the public is useless, a character of no reputation; and he who hath any design inconsistent with it is treacherous.
And this is worth your consideration, that this city, whereof you are members, which now consists of you, hath been for some ages past justly esteemed one of the most eminent and renowned cities in the world; for although other cities may be the seats of greater empires, and some may exceed it in number of inhabitants, yet, take it in all its concerns, of religion, government, and usefulness in the world, by trade and otherwise, and it may be said without immodesty that the sun shines not on any that is to be preferred before it.
It is therefore unquestionable, that you can have no greater interest, no more useful wisdom, than in taking care and using all diligence that the decay or ruin of such a city be not under your hands nor in your generation, — that you leave not such a detested remembrance of yourselves unto future ages. To forfeit all the mercies that divine Providence hath bestowed on this city, to bury its glory and reputation by and under your miscarriages, would leave such a character of yourselves unto posterity as I hope you will never deserve.
And you cannot but be stirred up unto your duty herein by the consideration of the dealings of God with this city in late years, which have been great and marvellous. Never had any city on the earth, in so short a time, so many divine warnings, so many calls from heaven, so many distresses, so many indications of God’s displeasure, as in the plague, fire, war, and the like, and yet continued in its station without a visible compliance with them. Nineveh repented upon one warning, and was not ruined. Jerusalem refused to do so upon many, and perished for ever. Whatever disputes there may be about the causes of these things, not to take notice of them as indications of divine displeasure is a branch of that atheism which will quickly turn instructive warnings into desolating judgments. The heathen dealt not so with their supposed deities on such occasions.
Besides, on the other hand, this city hath had no less eminent pledges of divine care and concernment in it. Without them it had either lain in its ashes, or returned into them again mingled with blood, by the designings of evil men. And these, no less than the former, call for diligent attendance unto your duty, in the seeking the public good of the place; in a neglect whereof God himself will be eminently despised.
But yet, after all these divine warnings and mercies, whatever other apprehensions any may have, under a pursuit of their own designs, the present state of your city, in the judgment of all unprejudiced persons, is deplorable, and in a tendency unto ruin; for it is filled with divisions, animosities, feuds, and distrusts, on various occasions, from one end of it unto the other. And whilst it is so, some persons are allowed and countenanced to increase and inflame them by public weekly libels, full of scandalous, illegal, malicious defamations and provocations, against whole parties of men; a thing never heard of, at least never tolerated, in any government where the subjects of it are at peace, under the protection of the law. And though it may be that which pleaseth men light and vain, or malicious and revengeful, or such as hope for advantage by public confusion, yet it is marvellous that wise men should not observe how disadvantageous it is unto the government itself. Where a city is thus divided in itself, we have infallible assurance that it cannot stand: nor can this so do; for unless its divisions be healed, they will, one way or other, at one time or another, prove its ruin. At present, it is only divine providence immediately by itself supplying the want of an animating union that preserves it from dissolution.
At the same time, and by the same means, those public funds of money which should give trust and trade their due circulation are greatly failed among you. Such things, indeed, should not be mentioned, unto the encouragement of our enemies, could they be concealed; but it is to no purpose to hide that which the sun shines on in the sight of all, nor to be silent in that which is the common talk of all that walk your streets. That renowned name of the Chamber of London, the sacred repository and treasury of the fortunes and bread of widows and orphans, who are under the especial care of God, which the city therein have taken upon them to represent, is so shaken in its reputation as to render the thing itself useless; and it will be well if that which, in its righteous administration, was the stability of the city, do not now, through the cries and tears of the oppressed (being of that sort of persons who have an especial interest in divine justice and compassion), contribute towards the shaking of its foundations. And it is somewhat strange to me that men can sleep in peace, in the enjoyment of their private riches, whilst such a public trust is failing under their conduct.
The growth also of penury amongst many, with the unparalleled failing of multitudes, whereof there are instances renewed almost every day, in coincidence with the divisions mentioned, hath almost put an end unto the small remainder of private trust, the only sovereign ligament of your being and constitution; for from hence many begin to think that they have nothing safe but what is by them or in their own immediate custody, and when they have so disposed of their substance, they quickly begin to fear that it is most unsafe in that disposal; for when the minds of men are shaken from the true and real foundation of their trust and confidence, they know not where to fix again, until they are pursued by their own fears into farther disorders.
Whereas, therefore, cities stand not on the foundation of their walls, houses, and buildings, but on the solid, harmonious principles of the minds of the citizens, and unity in design for the promotion of its public good; where they are weakened, impaired, perplexed, and cast into such horrid confusions as they must be by the ways and means mentioned, the least impression on them will rush them into destruction.
Whilst things are in this state and condition among you, it is sufficiently known that the avowed, implacable enemies of your city (I mean the Papists) are intent on all advantages, improving them unto their own ends, their present design being so open and naked as that it is the common discourse of all sorts of persons; yet is it such as nothing but the prudence of the government and patience of the nation can frustrate and disappoint.
And, not to reflect with any severity on our own countrymen who are of that religion, beyond what is openly manifest, you are much mistaken if you know not that your city is the principal object of the hatred, malice, revenge, and destructive designs of the ruling party of that religion or faction abroad through the whole world. Unto their conduct of affairs you owe the flames of ‘66; nor will they rest but in your utter ruin, or, which is worse, the establishment of their religion amongst you.
I heartily wish that there might be one short answer returned unto this representation of things in your city, — namely, that they are not so as they are represented, but that these things are only fears or fictions to promote some sinister ends. I wish all that hath been spoken might be so at once dissipated and blown away. But the truth is, it is the least part of the ingredients of that direful composition which threatens the ruin of the city, and but a little scruple of any of them, that hath been mentioned, or can have any place in the designed brevity of this address; yea, sundry things of the same nature with them, and some no less pernicious than the worst of them, are, for just reasons, and to avoid all offense, here utterly concealed. There is scarce a man that walks your streets, unless he reel with self-interest, and prejudice, but can give you a more dreadful account of the present state of the city than here is offered unto you.
This, therefore, being the state of things among you, it is but a reasonable inquiry, whether you judge not yourselves obliged, in conscience, honor, and interest, to postpone all your private inclinations, animosities, designs, and desires, arising for the most part from things foreign to the city, unto the public good thereof, and the ways whereby it may be promoted? or whether you had rather sacrifice the city unto utter ruin than forego those inclinations and aims which are suggested unto you by the interests of others, no way belonging unto the peace thereof? And you may be prompted to make this inquiry of yourselves, because in the peace of the city you shall have peace, and not otherwise. There is no assurance unto any of an escape in public calamities; and those who have most are most concerned in the preservation of order. It is a fatal mistake in men of high places and plentiful enjoyments in the world, to suppose that all things must bow to their humor, [and] that there is not more care and diligence, more of condescension, compliance, and self-denial required in them, for the composing of public differences and the preservation of tranquillity, than is of others. Nothing but necessity can countenance wise men to venture much against nothing.
Give me leave, therefore, to offer two things unto you, — the one in general, the other more particular, — with respect unto your present duty; and that in order unto the proposal of other things of the like kind, if this find acceptance.
And I am, in the first place, sure enough that if we are Christians, if we are not ashamed of our religion and the conduct thereof, if we believe either the promises or threatenings of God in his word, it is your present duty, and that which you must give an account of hereafter, to endeavor, in your places and capacities, the promotion of all those things wherewith God is well pleased, and whereon he hath used to turn away impendent, threatened, deserved judgments, from cities and nations. What they are your teachers can instruct you; and if they do not, it will be no excuse unto you in the neglect of them. If the city perish for want of reformation, or a compliance with divine warnings in turning unto God, the ruin of it in part will lie at your doors. And if such considerations are despised, as usually they are, as impertinent preachments, you will find, ere long, your condition remediless.
This is premised only in general, to prepare the way for an enumeration of the things that belong unto it, that may be offered hereafter. At present I shall propose only one thing unto you in particular, and that is, whether the present prosecution of protestant dissenters in the city be not diametrically opposite unto that public good of it, in all its concerns, which you are obliged to promote? You will say, it may be, that this is not your work, but the work of the law. But I am sure such things are done in your streets every day as no law mentioneth or giveth countenance unto.
Let the matter of fact be rightly stated, and it will appear whether any of you have a blamable accession thereunto or no.
There is no complaint intended against the laws about religion which have the stamp of authority upon them, yet is it no offense to say that at present they are suited neither to the good of religion nor of the city; for this is the condition of all penal laws, that they have their sole use from the circumstances which they do respect, and not from any thing in themselves. And as there may be mistakes in their first enacting, rendering them destructive unto the ends which they are designed to promote, so the alteration of circumstances may make their execution pernicious, as I wish it be not in the present case, as wise men have judged it would be.
However, the present proceedings against protestant dissenters, under the pretense of law, are accompanied with so many unparalleled severities as no good man, unbiassed by interest, can possibly give countenance unto.
And hereof we may give some instances.
The prosecution and execution of the laws against dissenters are not left unto the ordinary process of the administration of justice, as those against the Papists are, and all penal laws ought to be; but the vilest and most profligate villains that the nation can afford are entitled, encouraged, and employed, for their own advantage, under the name of informers, to rule and control all civil officers, to force them to serve their known base ends, in searching after, finding out, pursuing, and destroying of such as are supposed to be offenders against those laws. Although their persons are known to be profligate, and their ends to be only their own gain, yet no ordinary magistrate dares deny them his ready obedience and service in the intimations of their pleasure! which makes many men of generous spirit weary of all public characters and employments. A way of procedure this is which the greatest and wisest pagan emperor who ever suffered any persecution of the Christian religion did forbid, and which hath ever been infamous in all nations, as that which tended unto the dishonor of the government and the disturbance of public tranquillity, having had formerly a fatal catastrophe in this nation itself.
Besides, the present procedure in the execution of these laws is accompanied with clancular convictions, judgments, and determinations of penalties, with the infliction of them, for a first, second, third time, and so on, without any the least notice given of the first pretended offense, — without summons, trial, or hearing of the parties concerned! Now, whatever any may pretend, whose places may give countenance unto their judgments, this way of procedure in the execution of penal laws is contrary unto the example given by God himself unto all mankind in such cases; contrary to the light of nature and all principles of equity; contrary to the usage of all civilized nations in all ages; contrary to the true use and end of all penal laws, with the ordinary administration of justice in this kingdom. An invention it is to make justice abscond itself in corners, like robbers on the highway, to watch for the ruin and destruction of unwary men; than which nothing is more adverse unto its nature, use, and end.
That pretense of justice, in the execution of penal laws, whose first and principal end is not the warning of men to avoid the penalty enacted, is oppression, and nothing else. Not to reflect any thing, therefore, on the laws themselves, it is manifest that in this part of their present execution there hath been high oppression; to which too many in the city have made an accession.
Again; the law made against Papists, or that of the 23d of Elizabeth, is applied unto these protestant dissenters: for that that law was made against popish recusants only is so notoriously evident, from the time wherein it was made, with all the circumstances of that season; the known interest, dangers, and counsels of the kingdom at that season; the reason of its making, as expressed in the preamble; the full description in the law itself of the persons intended; the interpretation of it in practice for so long a time; the providing of another law many years after, with respect only unto such dissenters as were not Papists, from whoso penalties the Papists were exempted, because of the provision made for their restraint and punishment, — that it would be marvellous that any person of an ordinary understanding, from some general and ambiguous words in an occasional passage in it, should countenance the application of it unto protestant dissenters, but that we know that the whole souls of some men are forced to bow and yield obedience unto prejudice and interest.
And the execution of these laws, as managed by the informers, hath been accompanied, for the most part, with so much rage and violence, profane swearing, and bloody menaces, as hath occasioned the terror and unspeakable damage of many, if not in the city itself, yet in its suburbs.
But that which exceeds all other exorbitancies in this kind is, that whilst these dissenters are thus pursued, under the pretense of the execution of civil penal statutes, there is set on foot a course of excommunications, in order unto the deprivation of their liberties and livelihoods; wherein a divine institution is so shamefully prostituted unto secular ends as that it is highly scandalous unto the Christian religion.
And this is continued to be offered, notwithstanding the presentment of the late jury amongst you. They pretend their judgment to be, that the best way for the obtaining peace and quietness in the city, in its present circumstances, is the diligent severe execution of the penal statutes against dissenters. They might also have presented as their judgment, with an equal evidence of truth and prudence, that in time of public danger from fires, by reason of their unparalleled frequency, the best way for the quenching of them is the diligent casting of fire-balls into the houses that do remain! They might have given an equal credit to both by their authority, in the judgment of all men of any tolerable understanding.
And of the same sort, with the like mixture of good nature, is their officious inhumanity in desiring the prosecution and ruin of all nonconforming ministers who live in or about London, though under great mistakes as to some of them, whom they thought meet to name in particular. There are penal laws which respect evils that are so in their own nature, antecedently unto the constitution of the penalties contained in them; such are murder, adultery, perjury, profane swearing, drunkenness, cheating, and the like. It is consistent with the Christian religion, and that common candor and ingenuity which is required among mankind, for every man in his station to press for the diligent execution of those laws. But there is another sort of them, which first constitute evils and then penalties. They make things to be faults which otherwise on no account are so, and then punish them. Such is the law prohibiting nonconforming ministers to live in corporations. This is made a particular crime by that law, and is so no otherwise. Before the making of that law, it was as lawful for them so to do as for any of this jury; and it will be so again, when the voice of public good for its legal suspension or abrogation shall be heard above the outcries of some sort of persons. And where public good is not the only rule and measure of the execution of such laws, they are all oppressive; nor are they otherwise interpreted in any righteous nation. For men voluntarily to press for the severe execution of such laws argues a fierceness of disposition, which hath ever its stamp and character upon it; which the gentlemen of the jury, the next time they meet, may do well to inquire whose it is.
END OF VOL. 13