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To the Unprejudiced READER.
TT was the fault of some in ancient times, that they I made void God's law by mens traditions, and certainly I may now assume the same complaint; for whilft I take a serious prospect of the spiritual nature and tendency of the second covenant, which God Almighty, in the fulness of time, by his prophets, prophesied to make and perfect; and also the accomplishment thereof by Jesus Christ, and what was brought to pass amongst the primitive believers; methinks I do not only see an utter abolishment of ceremonial worships, but the inscribing that spiritual law on the heart, and infusion of holy fear to the inward parts, whereby each person became capacitated to know so much of God, as suited with his present state, from an infallible demonstration in himself, and not on the slender grounds of mens lo-here interpretations, or lo there ; for the kingdom of God is within, where himself must be the teacher of his people: but on the other hand, when from the noise of every party's pretensions to and contentions for their own way, as most infallible, I am induced to an impartial examination of them, alas! how have all adulterated from the purity both of scripture record, and primitive example! receiving for unquestionable doctrines, the fallible apprehensions, and uncertain determinations of such councils, whose faction, prejudice, and cruelty, foon parallelled the foregoing heathenish persecutions; and yet that the results of persons so incompetently qualified, should at this day in their authority remain unquestioned by the nations, is matter both of astonishment and pity; but an implicit faith has ever been the consequence of ignorance, idleness, and fear, being strong impediments to a judiçious enquiry how far professed and imposed opiM 2
nions have their consistency with reason, and the true religion. But that which most of all deserves a lamentation is, that Protestants, whose better arguments have confuted the plea of such as made tradition and mens prescriptions unquestionable in circumstantials, Should themselves, by print and practice, so openly declare and contend for its authority in essentials; as must be obvious to any that observe their zealous anathemas against whomsoever refuse a compliance with them in doctrines, manifestly bottomed upon mens nice inventions,
This is the right state of the controversy that is maintained by us (contemptibly called Quakers) against the world, and the undoubted reason of our severe treatment at its hands; the end of God Almighty's raising us, being for no other purpose, than to declare, that which our eyes have seen, our ears heard, and which our hands have handled of the Eternal Word, in opposition to the private opinions, conjectures, and interpretations of men concerning God and religion, that all people might thereby be reduced to faith in and obedience to the universal grace which brings falvation; which as it only can restore sound judgment concerning God, and effect redemption from iniquity, so its being relinquished by men, was the very ground both of their division in judgment, and corruption in manners,
That this hath been, and is our case, I shall produce an instance, which is indeed the occasion of this treatise.
Two persons lately of Thomas Vincent's auditory in Spital-fields, (who goes under the notion of a presbyter) being desirous to prove all things, and to hold fast the best, visited our meeting, to understand if we were as really deserving blame, as represented by our enemies; where it then pleased divine goodness to visit them with the call of his light, from the inventions, carnal observations, will-worship, and vain conversation of those to whom they were formerly related; that they might be made children of the day:
and though its appearance might be small, yet sufficient to discover them to have been inhabitants of the night, and can never be rejected, but it shall bring that condemnation which shall farther testify it to be of God.
But their relinquishing his congregation so incensed this presbyterian preacher, as that his peevish zeal transported hiin beyond not only the moderation of Christianity, but the civility of education, venting his folly and prejudice much to this purpose, that he had as lieve they should go to a bawdy-house, as to frequent the Quakers meetings, because of their erroneous and damnable doctrines. And pointing to the window said, If there should stand a cup of poison, I would rather drink it than fuck in their damnable doctrines. He farther expressed himself in this manner to one of them: If ever you go again, I will give you up, and God will give you up, that you may believe a lie, and be damned. Which storms of foul and railing accusation, proving ineffectual to shipwreck that little grain of faith, his hearers, as forgetting they hold their preaching by connivance, and the many appeals made by their non-conforming brethren, for an indulgence, came with this caution to the pater-familias, (or he that was both husband and father to the concerned parties) that he would exercise his authority, as well to refuse them to all Quaker-visitants, as prohibit them the liberty of their consciences in frequenting our meetings.
All which we could not for the truth-fake let pass in silence, and therefore did require him to let us have a publick meeting, in which we might have liberty to answer on the behalf both of ourselves and principles; which after some demur was granted, the day he appointed, and at the second hour in the afternoon. But that he might not want applause of many voices, and doubtless to prevent our friends, (as I am informed) bespoke his usual auditory to be there at one; and, as a man that would not over-spend himself, or incur a nonplus for want of seconds, he had M 3
. his third and fourth, to wit, Thomas Danson, Thomas Doolittle, and Maddocks, who at their times (and often out of them) did interpose, to whom George Whitehead mostly answered; nor had there any thing been spoken by another but from their own example.
The matter in controversy will be related in the bea ginning of this treatise, as a necessary preludium, or introduction to the following discourse; the manner of it was so gross, that I know not how to represent it better, than by the levity and rudeness of some prize; laughing, hissing, shoving, striking, and stigmatizing us with the opprobrious terms of confident fellow, impudent villain, blafphemer, &c. And, as the usual refuge of shallow persons (when they have little else to say, to prepossess their hearers with prejudice against the principles of such as do oppose them) he questioned much whether I was not some Jesuit; not remembering, or at least unwilling to let the people know, that none have been, nor are more inftant in the vindication of that doctrine' he and his brother did assert, (to wit, God fubfisting in three distinct persons) than the Jesuits, so that if I should not as well reflect a scandal upon their learning by a comparison, as he did upon my principle, I could more truly invert jesuitism upon himself: in short, they neither would keep to scripture-terms themselves, nor suffer it in any others; but looking upon George Whitehead's explanation of their terms, and reduction of their matter (if possible) to a scripture-fense (thereby fitting it to the auditors apprehension to be an indirect way of answering (as that which nakedly did expose their traditional folly to the vulgar) T. V. in an abrupt manner fell to his prayer, in which he falsly, and with many strangely-affected whines, accused us for blafphemers unto God; and that he might prevent the clearing of ourselves, he desired the people, when he had finished, to be gone, giving them an example by his and three brethrens retreat : but we being desirous farther to inform the people of
our our innocency, they did not only (as before) endeavour to pull us down, but put the candles out, though several persons, of good esteem, continued whilst we spoke in vindication of ourselves from the invectives of our adversaries.
The people still remaining undispersed, T. V. came very palely down the stairs (having a candle in his hand) requiring their disinislion, at which time he promised us, at our request, another meeting; but as one that knew not well what he said, or never purposed to perform what he promised, has given us since to understand, he cannot in conscience spare us so much time; yet to satisfy G. W. and myself, in private, he could agree ; which surely cannot be termed another meeting, since then it must relate to the preceding one: but how near the relation is betwixt an accusation before hundreds, and a satisfaction before none, must needs be obvious to every unbiassed person: our right should have been altogether as publick as our wrong: for which cause we were necessitated to visit his meeting, where, on a lecture-day, (after a continued silence during all his worship) we modestly intreated we might be cleared from those unjust reflections before his congregation, leaving a disputation (if he could not then attend it) to some more seasonable opportunity : but as one, who resolved injustice to mens reputation, as well as cowardice, in baulking a des fence of his own principles, he sunk most shamefully away; nor would any there, though. urged to it, afsume his place to vindicate his practice towards us, or his doctrines then delivered.
Reader, what is thy opinion of this savage entertainment? Would Socrates, Cato, or Seneca, whom they called heathens, have treated us with such unseemly carriage ? I suppose not: and well is it for the truly sober and conscientious, they are not liable to those severe lashes, and that peevish usage, which are the inseparable appendix to a Scotch directory, whose cold and cutting gales ever have designed to nip and blast M 4