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In Answer to the Athenian Mercury of the 7th Instant.
I AM heartily sorry to see men, professing so much ingenuity, fall so much below their pretensions. Your design, at first, carried the face of instruction, and gave us hopes of a general improvement of useful learning; and for that reason your papers were as welcome to us as any other people ; especially those that referred to natural philosophy, mathematics, and history : insomuch, that some of us collected them as they came out, and others bought them as they were completed into volumes ; being much concerned if at any time trivial or light questions were considered, as an unworthy diversion from the end by you in the beginning proposed. But you have not only been led, upon such occasions, to exceed too often the bounds of modesty, but you have taken occasion also to violate those of Christianity, in falling upon people's opinions in religion, instead of giving your own impartially ; and upon their persons likewise, and at last, the society itself; as if your business were to expose them, instead of informing them, and to increase animosities, rather than to take up their time with more peaceable and profitable subjects." What if you were led to speak of any principle held by the people called Quakers ? Could not
that have been done as indifferent persons, which you, by your very design, would bespeak yourselves to all persuasions, and not as party-disputants and angry antagonists? Might not the intention of the people have passed for good and sincere, though any part of their doctrine had, in your opinion, been unsound; but you must use hard words and names for both things and persons? A sober and unconcerned answer, upon any question that might be sent you relating to their belief, would have taken better with every body that deserved your pains, and have brought us sooner to reflect upon our mistakes, if such they were: but, in earnest, it looks as if you were almost aground, and wanted matter, that so specious a design as this first showed itself, should dwindle away into froward controversy and personal invectives about religion; or that you are not sufficient for your work, that can so easily be moved out of your province.
I beseech you leave this preposterous digression, and pursue your own business with more care and exactness; and, before you go, suffer yourselves first to be a little better informed of what you have so irregularly and undeservedly censured.
You take occasion at these words, Truth is always persecuted,' to say, 'That will indifferently serve Turk, Jew, Heathen, or Heretic, as well as the Quakers.' This is harsh and unchristian. Are none worse than we? Are we as great Heretics as any? You judge before you convict us it is too gross partiality, and false in every degree. But whatever the persecuted be, the persecutor, to be sure, is always in the wrong; which is your case against the Quakers but you recriminate, and will prove us persecutors. That were to the purpose indeed. Let us hear it. "You excommunicate such as will not be subject to your injunctions and good reason too, if they are injunctions of civil order. He that joins himself to any society, is obliged to the rules of that society; and every society has, and must have, that power upon the members that constitute it, or confusion follows, and the society dissolves. For instance, injunctions about civil controversies, care of poor orphans, due and orderly proceedings relating to marriages,' &c. are to be complied with, without the reproach of persecution: and yet farther too; look upon what principles of communion any person enters into any society, if he leave them, or any of them, it is no persecution to disown him in that thing wherein he alters, so that it touches not person or estate; for that is persecution in a proper sense; which is not our case. But we imprison such as disturb our meetings: How this will
be proved is hard to tell; and yet if it be persecution, it will light hardest elsewhere, even upon those, perhaps, that you account us heretics for separating from.. But, thanks be to God, we can and do deny the charge. See,' say you,
Francis Bugg's One blow more :' but if this be Athenian, it is not Berean, to condemn an whole people upon another man's authority, that you are not assured was well grounded. Besides, it is a book we have answered; which you take no notice of; and that is unfair, if you knew of it; and if you did not, you ought to have asked, before you had espoused another man's allegations. This is not answerable to that candour you profess; and we must tell you, that Francis Bugg is an apostate Quaker, an angry, unreasonable and clamorous man ; often and again detected, and proved inconsistent with himself; and you will find, in the issue, of no reputation to your charge against us. But did you ever read our orders of discipline, or have you been ever eye or ear-witnesses of our injunctions upon conscience? If you have, you should have mentioned them, and shown us our fault; but your evidence here, is what a discontented man says, who speaks ex parte, and is judge in his own cause, against a body of people he was once among, and zealous for; who, upon a private controversy, because he had not his own will, took pet at those that could not be brought to humour him: and from thence ran out from the very profession of a Quaker; which shows the foundation wrong, that quits a principle, for being displeased in a man or men. What will become of society, if such humours are uncontroulable, or they must give the rule or law to the whole ?
Your next proof of our being persecutors, is from a passage of Geo. Fox, and Geo. Roff, in their letters to 0. Cromwell, by which we perceive your new acquaintance, and with what tools you work; which we are sorry for, both for your sakes and theirs. But those passages are plainly wrested by you; for they advise 0. Cromwell to go on in the work he was called to; and what was that, pray? Is there one word of imposing religion upon the people of those countries, or forcing them to abjure or renounce their own ? No, not a tittle of it. Where then is the persecution? But inasmuch as they were countries that did persecute, by which means the truth of God had not a free entrance or passage, but inquisitions in popish, and consistories in protestant governments, suppressed all that conformed not to their respective establishments; therefore he should bave made it his business to open the way for a true liberty of conscience, that truth might not suffer under violence, nor
persecution for conscience sake oppress its professors. This is the upshot of those passages, their very scope and tendency, as will appear to any impartial reader, that will please to weigh them with what goes before and follows. But if you call this persecution, to be sure it must be so to fight for religion and if it was unlawful for O. Cromwell to fight for liberty of conscience, who was of a fighting principle, what think you of punishing people because of their conscience, that would not fight with you? You are very tender of a sudden, if it may but brush at us; while you do not consider the blow you give yourselves and your own friends, that have but too signally appeared in that spirit and practice. The Lord inform, and forgive them.
You justify calling us silly enthusiasts,' for believing ‘it is not lawful to swear;' and say, 'you are of the same mind, because we, without reason, by the dictates of our own fancy, which we call God's spirit, oppose the saints' practice of old; of which it was prophesied it should be used under the gospel, was so by the apostles and primitive Christians, nay, by God himself; therefore the Quakers are silly enthusiasts. Thus you.
Now we think this will not prove us enthusiasts, nor silly; for we argue from a text, and not our own dreams and fancies. Had we only pretended the authority of a private revelation for this assertion, and that not true, then it had been enthusiasm, and we enthusiasts, in the worst sense: it is silly indeed, to call an opinion grounded upon an express text of scripture, either enthusiasm or silly, when there is not a plainer text for one God, than this of our Saviour's against swearing, Matt. v. 34. "Swear not at all." But if we had overstrained it, where is the silliness of it? Is it. enthusiasm, or silly, to shut out all vain swearing, by shutting out all swearing? The advantage of that exceeds the disadvantage of lying in evidence, when that lying is made as punishable as fors wearing. What silliness or enthusiasm is in this, pray you? Scotland and Holland think no such thing, that have indulged that tenderness.
And if the text be but seriously considered, the inference we make is beyond exception.
First, The tendency of that sermon upon the mount is to show, that the righteousness of the gospel excels that of the law; as in the case of adultery, divorce, revenge, &c. But the law forbad false and vain swearing; therefore this must refer to that which was not forbidden under the law. This is acknowledged by many learned men, and in particular one of our own nation, bishop Sanderson, in his Latin lectures, of the obligation of an oath :' but we, for another
reason, that shall anon be mentioned, think he yet narrows the extent of that evangelical precept, for he refers to vows only, and not swearing in any case; but we, to swearing at all. And our reasons are, first, If it had been vows only, there had been no need of substituting any way of speaking in the room of it. And, secondly, If the text cannot therefore refer to vows in particular, swearing at all must be intended; or nothing is forbidden, that was not forbidden under the law. Thirdly, Christ's prohibiting swearing, and substituting something in the room of it, and that something purely referring to the way and manner of Christians declaring the truth, it is, to us, evident, that he comprehended all cases wherein the truth of a thing is in doubt, and consequently the end of swearing: so, says Christ, "Let your oy, your speech, or your word, be yea, yea; or nay, nay." It is rendered communication in our translations, that it might refer only to common discourse, that word being sometimes so understood; and yet communication comprehends all acts of justice, as well as other parts of life for if it comprehends discourse in dealing, it also comprehends the evidence of that dealing, and the laws of just dealing; and consequently the word communication cannot lessen the real force of our sense of the text; but the words of the text do plainly express a degree, if not a form, of declaring truth, be it yea or nay. And since truthspeaking takes in and relates to controversies among men, as well as other parts of human converse, this text is a measure of truth-speaking on all those occasions also. Fourthly, Now how far Christian men may go in declaring the truth, or where they are to be bounded, the text is plain, viz. a double, but bare, averment, or denial: "Let your word or speech be yea, yea; nay, nay:" that is, 'Let your answers, whenever you are asked the truth of a matter, go no farther than a simple affirmation, or negation, which you may double, if you please.' Fifthly, The reason Christ gives for bounding his followers within yea, yea, and nay, nay, excludes all oaths, yea, all that is more than yea, yea, and nay, nay; to wit, that "they come of evil," because they proceed from distrust, infidelity and impatience: a simple assertion declares truth; more, is a straining of the mind, and but to stoop to unreasonable incredulity, which hath an evil rise. Now what is more than yea, yea; and nay, nay; why imprecations are more, an outward sign denoting an oath is more than yea, yea, and nay, nay; and consequently cometh of evil, because below a Christian's truth and sincerity to gratify. Sixthly; and truly the text is so far from excluding judicial cases, that it serves chiefly