[Page] A LETTER TO A Member of Parliament, Shewing, that a RESTRAINT On the PRESS Is inconsistent with the Protestant Re­ligion, and dangerous to the Liber­ties of the Nation.

LONDON; Printed by J. Darby, and sold by Andr. Bell at the Cross-Keys and Bible in Cornhil. MDCXCVIII.

A LETTER TO A Member of Parliament.


ACcording to your Commands, I here present you with those Reasons that oblige me to oppose the Restrain­ing the Press, as inconsistent with the Protestant Re­ligion, and dangerous to the Liberties of the Nation: Both which I undertake to shew. And in order to prove the first, I beg leave to premise,

First, That which makes a Man to differ from a Brute, wholly uncapable of forming any Notion of Religion, is his Reason; which is the only Light God has given him, not only to disco­ver that there is a Religion, but to diftinguish the true from the many false ones. He therefore that employs his Reason to the best of his Ability to find out Religious Truth, in order to practise it, does all that God desires: for God, who will not command Impossibilities, can require no more of him, than that he impartially searches after, and endeavours to discover Religi­ous Truth, by the use of that Reason which was given him for that end. He that does this, may have the satisfaction of doing his Duty as a rational Creature, and may be sure, tho he mis­ses [Page 4] Truth, he shall not miss the Reward that is due to him who obeys his Maker, in following as well as he could, and no more could be his Duty, the only Guide God has given him to judg of Truth and Falshood. On the contrary, he that neglects to do this, is disobedient to his Maker, in misusing his rational Faculties; and tho he should light on Truth, the luckiness of the Accident will no way excuse his Disobedience: for God will judg us as we are accountable (that is, rational) Creatures; and consequently our Reward from him, whether we hit or miss of Truth, will be in an exact proportion to the use we make of our Reason: And if God has oblig'd us to use it as the only means to distinguish Truth from Falshood, that alone must be the way to find the one, and avoid the other. Now the way that a Man's Reason does this, is by examining those Proofs, Arguments, or Mediums, that either himself or others have found out, and by comparing them with his common and self-evident Notions, by means of which he finds out the agreement or disagreement of any Proposition with those Stan­dards and Tests of Truth.

Tho this is the only way to discover Truth, yet if a Man was left wholly to himself, without any to inform his Judgment, he would make but a very small Discovery in Religious, or any other Truths: Therefore it's Mens mutual Duty to inform each other in those Propositions they apprehend to be true, and the Arguments by which they endeavour to prove them; which cannot be done so well as by Printing them, ten thousand Books, after the Letters are once set, being sooner Printed than one Transcribed: By the Advantage of which, Men, tho at never so great distance, may, with a great deal of Ease and little Charge, be exactly acquainted with each others Sentiments. And it's wholly owing to Printing, that Knowledg is become, not only much more diffusive, but that a great deal of more useful Knowledg has been discovered in a short time since that Invention, than in many Ages before. And if it has not had as great effect in most places with respect to Religious as to other Knowledg, [Page 5] it can only be because the Liberty of Printing, as to the former, has been more restrained; for Men have the same way of judging of that as of all other Matters.

This being premised, 'tis clear that the Press ought not to be restrained:

1. Because it tends to make Men blindly submit to the Reli­gion they chance to be educated in: for if 'tis once suppos'd unlawful to publish any Arguments against that Religion, it cannot be denied but that 'tis as unlawful to read and examine those Arguments, that being the sole Reason of forbidding the printing them; which necessarily supposeth they are to take their Religion on trust, without any trial, which is the greatest Fault that can be, next to having no Religion at all: For I cannot see any ground a Man has to hope to go to Heaven, that will not be at the pains to examine what it is that God requires of him in order to his coming thither.

2. Because it deprives Men of the most proper and best means to discover Truth, by hindering them from seeing and examin­ing the different Opinions, and the Arguments alledg'd for them. I can see no Reason why 'tis more necessary for him that judges for others, than 'tis for him who judges for himself, to see the Arguments on all sides; this being the only evidence by which any Man is to judg. The suppressing the Evidence in a Cause where Mens eternal Happiness is concerned, is (I take it) much more criminal than in a Cause of a temporal Interest. So that a Law to oblige the Judges to hear the Proofs but of one side, is not as bad as to trust the Clergy of any one Sect with the Press; who, to be sure, will suffer nothing to be printed but of their own side; and who too, in all probabi­lity, will misrepresent their Adversaries, and their Opinions, more than a Pleader will the Party or Cause against which he is engaged. And are not the People (for instance) amongst the Papists, where the Press is effectually restrained, as ignorant of what can be alledged against the Popish Doctrines, as a Judg that has heard but one side can be of the Defence the other is to make?

[Page 6] 3. Because it hinders Truth from having any great influence on Mens Minds: which is owing chiefly to Examination, because the more rational That makes an Opinion appear, the greater power it will have on the Affections; which are not moved without some sensible connexion between the Cause and Effect; for what does not convince the Understanding, will have but lit­tle or no effect on the Will: Which is one reason why Men are obliged to try all things, because when they see the reasonable­ness of any Opinion, it will oblige them to act according to it more heartily than when they take it on trust: and nothing more endears Truth to us, than that its discovery is the effect of our own Industry and Observation.

4. Because it tends to make us hold the Truth (should we chance to light on it) guiltily: for that (as I have already proved) will not be accepted, if it be not the Effect of an im­partial Examination; which makes Error it self innocent: for if any thing in that case be a fault, it must be the Examination, because That might have been prevented; but the Opinion that's caused by it could not, That being a necessary Consequence of the other. Men when they are left to themselves without any Clergy at all, are more likely not only to judg for themselves, but to make a truer and a more impartial Judgment, than when they are permitted to know the Sentiments of the Clergy but of one Sect, who then may impose on them what ever out of Interest they think fit.

5. One Reason why God hath so formed Mankind, that each alone without the help of others cannot well subsist, is to ob­lige them to mutual love and kindness, and to contribute to one anothers happiness. And they want each others assistance for things of the Mind as well as of the Body. For a Man would be in a miserable state of Darkness and Ignorance, were it not for the Light that others afford him: and therefore they are ob­liged to increase as much as they can each others Knowledg, e­specially in Religion, which they can no otherwise do, than by communicating to one another what they think is the Truth, [Page 7] and the Reason by which they endeavour to prove it. To oblige Men to do this, God has not only implanted in them a strong desire to find out Religious Truth, but as great an incli­nation to teach others what they apprehend to be so; and there is no Man who believes a Doctrine to be true, but would be ve­ry glad to get it owned by others. Whosoever therefore en­deavours to hinder Men from communicating their Thoughts, (as they notoriously do that are for restraining the Press) in­vade the natural Rights of Mankind, and destroy the common Ties of Humanity. If we must, early and late, according to the Wise Man's direction, seek after Wisdom as after a hidden Treasure; I cannot see how it will become the Wisdom of a Na­tion to endeavour by a Law to hinder us from knowing more than the scanty Measure a Party-Licencer will afford us.

Not only the Light of Nature, but the written Word (Le­vit. 19. 17. 1 Thess. 5. 14. Heb. 3. 13.) obliges every one, Lay as well as Clergy, to exhort, warn, rebuke, and use all means possible to bring his mistaken Brother into the right way; which he can no otherwise do, than by first judging himself what is right and wrong; and then by using Arguments to perswade him whom he judges in the wrong, to desist from it. And if, as the Scripture supposeth, no Man can neglect to do this without hating his Brother; every one has a right to print his Sentiments as the best, if not the only way to exhort, rebuke, reprove My­riads of Brethren at the same time.

In short, in all Ages the greater Mens Zeal hath been to­wards God, and the more inflamed their Love to their Neigh­bours, the more they have thought it their Duty (tho with the hazard of their Lives) to communicate to others what they judged to be the Truth. And all Sects, how different so ever in all other things, do agree in thinking themselves bound there­to, as to the greatest Act of Charity; and consequently there is no Sect that hinders others from publishing what they believe to be Truth, but sins against the natural and revealed Law, and breaks that golden Rule (the Foundation of all Morality) of do­ing [Page 8] as they would be done unto. For tho they look upon it as impious and tyrannical for any to hinder them from imparting to others those Doctrines they judg to be true, yet they them­selves would hinder all others, who have as much right to judg for themselves, and are as much obliged to communicate to others what they judg to be a Religious Truth.

What can be more inhumane, as well as ungrateful, than to punish that Person who out of love to Truth, and charity to the Souls of his Brethren, bestows his Time, perhaps to the detriment of his Health and Fortune, in publishing what he judges to be for their eternal Good? If this be a just Reward for such an Undertaking, I cannot see how the Clergy can de­serve such Riches and Honours for doing but the same thing; that is, for instructing others in that they judg to be true.

Nothing can be more unbecoming the Dignity of a rational Nature, than to bar up the way to religious Knowledg and Wisdom, which Men have no way to propagate, but by offer­ing one another Reasons and Arguments: And there can be no Pretence to hinder Men from doing this by restraining the Press, but what will as strongly forbid them doing it any other way. In a word, Men have the same right to com­municate their Thoughts, as to think themselves; and where the one is denied, the other is seldom used, or to little pur­pose: For,

Men as they are more or less hindred from communicating their Thoughts, are more or less stupid and ignorant, and their Religion more or less corrupted: And this is not only true with relation to Mahometans and Pagans, who suffer no Printing at all, except the Chinese (whose Knowledg above other Eastern Nations seems to be owing to that Art, tho among them won­derfully rude and imperfect) but with respect to Christians, a­mongst whom one would think it almost impossible, consider­ing what Light and Knowledg the Gospel brought into the World, that any should be so grosly ignorant and superstitious as the Papists are, or that the Christian Religion should be so [Page 9] much depraved as it is amongst them: and what is this ow­ing to, but the denying the People the Liberty of the Press, and all other ways of freely debating matters of Religion? And had it not been for this Invention, whereby men had such an easy way of communicating their Thoughts, nothing but a second Revelation could have freed them from that mass of Ignorance and Superstition the Christian World lay under; and which was every day increasing, and does still remain in a very high degree in those Countries that groan under Restraint, as Portu­gal, Spain, Italy; which last, sutably to the Freedom once it enjoyed, abounded with Men eminent in all Learning and Knowledg, as well as Vertue and Bravery: and that it is so much degenerated now (the Climate and the make of their Bo­dies being still the same) is owing to nothing but that Priest­craft which forbids all Freedom; contrary to the practice of antient Rome, where to think on what one had a mind to, and to speak ones thoughts as freely as to think them, was looked on as one of the chief Blessings of a Free Government.

It's not only in Popish, but in Protestant Countries too, that according to the Restraint Men lay under, Ignorance, Supersti­tion, and Bigotry does more or less abound. Denmark, Swe­den, and several other Countries, are undeniable Instances of this; and it cannot be otherwise, for there is little difference between having no Reason, and not exercising it. And it's e­vident that the Clergy themselves are not only more knowing, and reason much better, but are much more sober, careful and exemplary, where liberty of Debating is allowed, than where denied. From what has been urged, I think I may safely conclude, that Men, if they regard the employing their rational Faculties as God requires, and (the Consequence of it) the discovery of Truth in Religion, and their being influ­enced by it as they ought to be, are obliged to allow one ano­ther an entire liberty in communicating their Thoughts, which was never forbidden but where Interest supplanted Religi­on.

[Page 10] 6. There's no medium between Mens judging for themselves, and giving up their Judgments to others. If the first be their Duty, the Press ought not to be restrained, because it debars them from seeing those Allegations by which they are to inform their Judgments. All the Arguments that are or can be urged for the regulating the Press, have no other Foundation than that of People's being liable to mistake, and subject to be im­posed on by fallacious Arguments and specious Pretences: which instead of proving what they design, only shows the greater Ne­cessity for the freedom of the Press; for the more apt Men are to mistake and to be deceiv'd, the less reason there is for their relying on any one Party, but the more to examine with all care and diligence the Reasons on all sides, and consequently for the Press being open to all Parties, one as well as the other. So that those that are for allowing Men the liberty of judging for themselves (if any such can be for regulating the Press) are ve­ry unhappy in their Arguments, because they all make against themselves, and out of their own Mouths they are condem­ned.

But if Men are to give up their Reason to the Clergy, of whatsoever Denomination, there's nothing, I confess, more in­consistent with that blind Obedience than the Liberty of the Press, because it gives them an opportunity to see what can be said against that or any other Darling Notion of the Priests; and then it's a great odds but that rational Creatures will be go­verned by their own Reason, and no longer endure the Clergy to be Lords of their Faith.

7. In fine, if it be unlawful to let the Press continue free, lest it furnish Men with the Reasons of one Party as well as the o­ther, it must be as unlawful to examine those Reasons: for if the last be a Duty, the first cannot be unlawful, because it's on­ly a Means to the last in providing those Reasons which Men are bound to try and examine; except an implicit Belief be a Duty, which must necessarily bring Men back again to Po­pery. For if it be now unlawful to examine the Reasons on all [Page 11] sides, for fear of having other Sentiments than those the Clergy approves, it was no less unlawful at the time of the Reforma­tion, which was wholly built upon this freedom of examining the Opinions of the Priests, and rejecting them if they judged them false. This the brave Luther did singly and by himself in defiance of the whole Church, and this any Man now hath the same right to do: So that it's evident the Freedom or Re­straint of the Press depends on this single Question, Whether we ought to be free, or Slaves in our Understandings? or, in other words, Protestants or Papists? If the first, there cannot be the least colour for leaving the Conduct of Religion so wholly to a few Priests, that nothing shall be published about it but what they think fit, than which nothing can favour more of a Popish, slavish, and prostitute Compliance.

What, Sir, could be more surprizing to that Honourable House, whereof you are a most worthy Member, than a Mo­tion to this purpose; That because making of Laws is a thing of great Consequence, and Country Gentlemen are subject to mis­take, that therefore the House ought to be regulated, by ap­pointing a Licenser to judg what should be spoke in it? As ridi­culous as such a Motion would be, I would willingly know why 'tis not as unaccountable to hinder a whole Nation the freedom of debating Matters of Religion, which (since they are not able, like their Representatives, to assemble in one Room) cannot well be done but by letting the Press be open to every one to publish his Reasons; which ought not to be denied, as long as every one in the Nation has as much a right, not only to judg for himself in religious, as any Legislators can have to judg for him in Civil Matters, but is as much obliged to use all possible means to inform his Judgment; and consequently there is as lit­tle reason to deny Liberty of debating in one Case as the other.

8. The Reformation is wholly owing to the Press: For tho there were several able Men who, before Printing was known, most vigorously opposed the growing Errors of the Western Church; yet all they could do was to little or no purpose, [Page 12] because they had no easy and ready way to communicate their thoughts to any great number: but no sooner was the Inven­tion of Printing made useful, but a poor Monk who discovered at least the grosser Cheats of the Priesthood, was made capable of imparting those Notions, which drew almost a Moiety from the Romish Superstition, which lost ground every where, as the Press was either more or less free. Therefore it was not strange that the Popish Clergy, since they could not confound the Art of Printing, should endeavour to turn it to their own Advantage, not only by hindring any new Book from being printed, but by expunging out of old ones whatever did not serve their turn: and herein they acted consistent with their Principles, which allows no Liberty of examining, and conse­quently denies all Freedom of the Press, which of all things does engage Men the most to do it. But what Pretence can the Protestants have for restraining it, who as they owe their Religion to its Liberty, so they cannot hinder it without de­stroying that Religion which has no other Foundation than that of every ones having a Right to examine those Reasons that are for or against any Opinion, in order to make a true and impar­tial Judgment? which can never be justified, if it be unlawful to permit the Press to be open for all Men to propose their Rea­sons to one another in order to their examining them.

And it cannot be denied, but that the Protestant Clergy, who are as ambitious for the most part as the Papists themselves to im­pose on the Consciences of the People, have by Persecution, Re­straint of the Press, and other such methods, given the Papists (who have scarce any thing to plead for themselves but the Practice of their Adversaries) too just an occasion to insult them, who are (they say) no other than a pack of Hypocrites, in doing the very same things they so loudly condemn; and that it's little less than a Demonstration, that the Principles by which they pretend to justify their Separation, are very absurd, since they are forced to act contrary to them in every point. And what was it in truth but these shameful Practices, that put a stop [Page 13] to the Reformation, which at first, like a mighty Torrent, over­whelmed all that oppos'd it, but has ever since gone back both in esteem and interest, and at last, if Men do not change their conduct, will be quite lost? For how can it be otherwise, since that method (Protestantism and Popery being so opposite) that preserves the one, must necessarily destroy the other?

The taking a contrary method not only hinder'd the farther spreading of the Reformation, but was the cause that where it did prevail it was no more perfect: for tho the Reformers de­serve just Commendation for what they did, yet being bred up in so much Ignorance and Superstition, they could not remove those vast loads of Corruptions which had been so long a gather­ing. But if those that succeeded them had taken the same li­berty in examining theirs as they did their Predecessors Opini­ons, it's impossible but that time must have discover'd the Truth, and made them agree at least in all matters of moment. But in­stead of this, they became as guilty of a blind Obedience as the Papists; and it was a sufficient proof of any thing amongst the different Sects, if Luther, Calvin, Church of England, said so: nothing more common than that I submit all to Mother Church, and such like Phrases; which that Men should effectually do, there were Penal Laws enacted to force them, and no Printing or Preaching allow'd to those that durst see farther than the first Reformers (whose Eyes at the best were but half open, tho they saw very well for those times of Darkness, and in respect of the Papists who may justly be reckon'd to be quite blind) the consequence of which was, that the Differences between the several Sects were widened, and they all run daily farther and farther into Uncharitableness, Ignorance, Superstition, and Fa­naticism.

9. Whosoever observes with what Zeal our Divines condemn the Popish Clergy for not suffering their Laity to read Protestant Authors, would hardly think it possible for them to be so dif­ingenuous as to appoint some spiritual Dragons to watch the Press, lest any thing should steal from thence that's not for their [Page 14] turn. Let us hear only (for they all write after the same man­ner) the learned Dr. Clegget, who in his Persuasive to an inge­nuous Trial, p. 28. tells us, ‘They that have a good Cause will not fright Men from considering what their Adversaries say by denouncing Damnation against them, nor forbid them to read their Books, but rather encourage them so to do, that they may see the difference between Truth and Error, Reason and Sophistry, with their own eyes. This is the effect of a well­grounded confidence in Truth, and there's this sign of a good Cause apparently discernable in the Application of the Clergy of this Church (of England) both to their Friends and Ene­mies, they desire the one and the other to consider imparti­ally what is said for us as well as against us. And whatsoever Guides of a Party do otherwise, they give just cause to those that follow them to examine their Doctrines so much the more carefully, by how much they are unwilling to have them exa­mined. It's a bad sign when Men are loth to have their Opi­nions seen in the day, but love Darkness more than Light.’ If the Church of England will own this to be a just Character of them, they ought to be so far from endeavouring to obtain a Law to restrain the Press, that they are obliged, did they apprehend any such design, to oppose it to their utmost, and to encourage their Adversaries to print their Sentiments, and the People to read them, that they may see the difference between Truth and Error, Reason and Sophistry, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, Dis­senting and Conforming, with their own eyes. Taking a contrary method only affords a new Argument for the Liberty of the Press, because they give their Followers a just Cause to examine their Doctrines so much the more carefully, by how much more unwil­ling they are to have them examined. It's a bad sign, &c. In a word, did the Protestant Guides act as such, instead of fright­ing Men from considering what their Adversaries say by de­nouncing Damnation against them, they would tell their Audi­tors the great sin of being biass'd by them in the choice of their Opinions, and that the more important any Controversy is, [Page 15] the more Reason there is for the Liberty of the Press, that they may examine with all the diligence imaginable the Te­nets of their Adversaries as well as of their Guides; and that the more they heard the one Party, the more they should read the other; and that if they should fall into any Error by so doing, they would not be accountable for it. For tho there is not (as the Papists vainly imagine) such a Guide as would in­fallibly lead every Man into every Truth, yet that every ones Reason as a Guide is infallible, because God that designs that all Men (if it be not their own fault) should be for ever happy, has given them no other Guide but their Reason to bring them to that Happiness; and therefore as sure as God himself is infal­lible, the following that Guide must bring them to that happy state God designed the following it should bring them to. And on the contrary, that God, who is the Rewarder of those only that diligently seek him, would condemn them as unprofitable Ser­vants, who instead of using their Talents to find out his Will, did abandon themselves to the uncertain chance of Education and the Religion in fashion, which varies with every Age and eve­ry Country. As thus they ought to preach to the People, so they should as little scruple to tell the Magistrate that by per­mitting an entire Liberty he did nothing but his Duty; but by a Restraint of the Press he did not only shew himself guilty of a blind Obedience, but did endeavour to make a whole Nation so, and was to answer not only for all the Errors and other ill Consequences himself caused by a Restraint, but likewise of abetting all other Magistrates that think themselves in the right in doing the like; and that tho he should chance to be in the right himself, yet he could not know how many he was the cause of being all their Lives in the wrong, who might be so only, because, not having liberty to publish the Reasons they had to embrace such Opinions, they could not meet with any that could give them Satisfaction; and in truth, writing against any Opinion where Men have not the liberty to shew the Reasons why they hold it, is but writing at random, because Mens Rea­sons [Page 16] cannot be confuted till they are known. Such Arguments as these a Protestant Clergy, that's true to their own Principles, ought to use both to the Prince and People, and not prevaricate with God and Man, and talk backward and forward just as it serves their turns. If Baal be God, serve him; if not, serve the Lord.

10. I can see no reason why they that are for tying Men to that Interpretation of Scripture a Licencer shall approve, and therefore put it in his power to hinder all others from being pub­lished, can with any justice condemn the Popish Clergy for not licensing the Bible it self for the Laity to read it. For if the Bi­ble is to be translated into the vulgar Tongue, to what end is it, but that the People by reading it may judg what is their Duty in the most obscure and difficult places? Ought they not then to see the different Translations and Explications? If they are to be denied this, lest they apprehend it in a Sense different from that of the Licencer and his Party, the same Reason will restrain the People from promiscuously reading the Bible, because they may, and frequently do apprehend it in such a Sense as their Guides do not approve; and if that be a Crime, all the means that are necessary to hinder it must be a Duty; and therefore if it cannot be prevented without hindring the Laity from read­ing the Bible, it's a Crime to suffer them to read it.

11. This Restraint gives a great handle to those that believe only Natural Religion to argue against the Christian; for, say they, 'tis no small Presumption that the Clergy themselves are conscious of the Falsness of their Religion, because they dare not suffer it to undergo a fair Trial, but do what they can to stifle all the Reasons that can be urged against it. The Clergy, say they, are so learned, and withal so numerous, that amongst them they could not fail to expose and confound any thing that's writ against them, had they but Truth on their side, which they know is, next to the Almighty, strong, and therefore needs no licensing Tricks, or Stratagems, to make it victorious: These are the mean Shifts that Error is forced to use against [Page 17] its Power. These Men farther add, That if Christ and his Apostles obliged Men to try all things, how can they that pre­tend to be his Successors (did they believe the Scriptures) hin­der a fair trial of any thing relating to Religion? And can there be a fair Trial when all Parties have not the liberty to pub­lish their Reasons, that the People may compare and examine them by their common Notions, those Tests and Standards of all Truths? Has the Protestant Religion a fair Trial in Italy, where nothing can be heard in its defence? Thus 'tis that some Men expose our Religion on the one hand to the Insults of Un­believers, and on the other of Papists; which can never be a­voided but by granting to all Sects an entire Liberty of the Press. All other methods equally serve to promote Error as Truth, and consequently can never be the way that God ordained to distinguish the one from the other.

12. It may be objected, That by such a latitude as this People may be seduced into false Religions, or into Heresies and Schisms. None can profess a Religion but either, because upon examinati­on he judges it to be true, or, that some by Interest makes him do so contrary to his Judgment, or else, because he takes it on trust without examining it. As to the first, If two Persons pro­fess different Religions, one the true, the other a false one, yet if they have been equally sincere in their examination, they are equally in the way to Heaven; because in following their Rea­son, they both have done what God requires: so two Men that equally act against their Judgment, the one professing the Truth, the other not, are alike guilty: so also are they who equally take their Religion on trust; and such perverse holding of a Re­ligion, whether true or false, is Heresy, as the other is Hypo­crisy: and according as Men are more or less partial in exami­ning, they are more or less heretical. So that 'tis not what a Man professeth, but how, that justifies or condemns him before God. And there would be few, either Hereticks or Hypocrites, were there not'Bribes annexed to some, and Awes to other re­ligious Tenets; for then Men would not be afraid to examine [Page 18] Those for fear of finding them false, nor These lest they should be true, nor to own or disown either, according as they judg them true or false. And an entire Liberty of the Press would by degrees establish religious Truth, because that is sup­ported by better, plainer, and more cogent Proofs than any false Opinions are; which are either mischievous or burdensome, or at the least useless, whilst the other by its Excellency and Use­fulness carries Evidence and Conviction with it.

As to Schisms, they are caused by Mens imposing their own Interpretations, instead of the express Words of God, as neces­sary terms of Communion: which makes Protestant Imposers not only Schismaticks but Hereticks, because having laid down as a Fundamental of their Religion, that every one is to inter­pret Scripture for himself, they most obstinately and perversly (not to say knowingly) act against that Fundamental.

13. The most material Objection against the Liberty of the Press is, That without Licensers, Atheism, Profaneness, and Immorality, as well as Sedition and Treason, may be published. The Commonwealth has the same reason to punish Men for those as for these, because they are all alike pernicious to hu­mane Societies. And 'tis all the reason in the world that who­ever asserts any such Notions, whether in Discourse, or from the Pulpit or Press, should be severely punished. But this can be no more a reason to appoint Licensers for the one than for the other; nor would it hinder the printing things contrary to Law, for none will be so mad as to desire an Imprimatur for them: so that such Pamphlets, whether there are or are not Li­censers, will come out only by stealth; and 'tis evident there were more of them printed when the Law for regulating the Press was in being, than since. To make the Laws against such things severer, and to oblige either the Printer or Bookseller to set his Name to all Books whatever, will take away all pretence for appointing Licensers, and will be the most effectual way to prevent publishing such Books.

[Page 19] But before I leave this Head, I cannot but remark that they are no way guilty of Profaneness who out of Conscience (to which profane and atheistical Persons have no pretence) wor­ship God after a mistaken manner, because all the honour Men are capable of giving an Almighty and Alknowing Being, con­sists in the Intention and Design; and therefore to punish those, who out of a holy Intention and pious Design worship God af­ter that manner they judg acceptable to his Will, as profane Persons or Blasphemers, is the greatest Crime next to real Blas­phemy, because 'tis punishing Men for no other reason but for expressing their Zeal for the Honour of God, which they can no otherwise do than by worshipping him as their Reason dictates, which they must either do, or not worship him at all, or else but with a mock Worship. And they that by force are made to break the ties of Conscience, tho never so erroneous, cannot be good Subjects neither to God nor the King: so that Profaneness and Immorality cannot be destroy'd but by all Sects doing as they would be done unto; which must establish an entire and universal Liberty, since they have all the same right to judg for themselves, and are equally oblig'd to act according to that Judg­ment, and to communicate to others what they judg to be true: which perhaps was the reason that the House of Commons so unanimously threw out the Bill for restraining the Press immedi­ately before their addressing the King against Profaneness and Immorality. But to return,

If it be once thought unlawful to have nothing printed but of the side of the Church in fashion, the same reason will at least as strongly hold against any thing being preached but of that side; because if any thing is printed against that Church, there are ten thousand Clergy (whom one would think a sufficient Guard for Truth) to expose its Folly and Weakness, but 'tis not so easy for them to know, and consequently to apply an Antidote to what is preached against them: wherefore they who are not for destroying that just and righteous Law that allows Liberty of Conscience, ought to be very careful of the Freedom of the [Page 20] Press, as the only means to guard and defend the other; and both being built on the same foundation, cannot (as has been al­ready proved) be destroyed but by striking at the foundation of the Protestant Religion. And,

Therefore it cannot be suppos'd that the chief Support of it, the Honourable House of Commons, will ever consent to the one or the other, especially considering how much the Popish Interest increaseth, and what Advantage of late it has got in France, Germany, and Savoy. And if the Popish Princes (as 'tis suppos'd) have enter'd into a Confederacy among them­selves to extirpate the Protestant Cause, ought not all Protestants (and all that are not for a blind Obedience deserve that Name, that being the essential difference between it and Popery) instead of using restraint on one another, unite against the common Enemy?

Besides, let it be consider'd, 'tis not certain we shall be al­ways blest with the Government of a Prince so entirely a Pro­testant as our Great and Glorious Deliverer. And if the Papists should pervert one, and by that means get the publishing their Doctrines without contradiction, they might by degrees con­found the Protestant Religion, so much weakned already by its Professors acting so inconsistently with their own Principles. But were that Scandal removed, by allowing as entire a Liberty as the Protestant Principles require, there could be no danger of the prevailing of the Popish, or any other Superstition. And 'tis remarkable, that nothing has been writ in behalf of Popery since the Expiration of the Act for Regulating the Press, so little is Liberty a Friend to that Superstition.

14. But if, after all, there must be some appointed to deter­mine the Fate of Religious Books, the Clergy, of all Men, ought not to be trusted with this Employ, because they (not content with the Right they have from the Society of exercising the Ecclesiastical Function) do claim Power and Government distinct and independent of it, which they pretend is founded in Scripture; and consequently they have no way, as Clergy, [Page 21] of gaining any Dominion, Power, or Riches, more than what the Society will give them, but by wresting the Holy Writ: And if, besides the Pulpits, where they may preach what gain­ful Doctrines they please, without contradiction, they do so far engross the Press, as to hinder any thing from being printed but what favours their Designs; What may not such a body of Men, (well vers'd in all the Arts of Perswasion) by their fre­quent Opportunities to display them, impose on the too credu­lous People, especially when all the ways to disabuse them are stopt up?

And if the Clergy in the more early and primitive times, per­haps ever since they were forbid to lord it over the Heritage of God, have made it their business to pervert Religion to advance their own Power; what reason is there to imagine that they would not do the same in these later and degenerate Ages? How, I pray, did the Clergy, who at first subsisted by the Charity of the People, arrive to such immense Grandeur and prodigious Riches, but by a constant Confederacy from time to time, carried on at the Expence of Religion? which (as their own Historians shew) was proportionably corrupted, as they encreased in Power and Riches, the one being made a step to the other; and 'tis as evident where they are now most potent, there Religion is most perverted, and the People most enslaved.

The chief way they effected this, was by perswading the People to a blind Obedience, the consequence of which was, that they must take the Clergy's own Word for all the Powers they thought fit to say the Scripture had given them, and to submit to whatever they would determine in their own Cause, and for their own Interest. And there never was a Synod, whe­ther Orthodox or not, but were for imposing on the Laity, not only by Excommunicating, Anathematizing, and Damn­ing, but by making the Magistrate use Violence on all that would not, contrary to their Consciences, comply with their Determinations; by which means they at last arrived to such an excess of Power over the Magistrate as well as the People, that [Page 22] one was no better than their Hangman, and the other than their Slaves. And have not the Protestant Clergy (from whom one ought to expect better things) taken the same method to make People blindly submit to their Determinations? Nay, have they not outdone the Popish Clergy, in wresting the Holy Writ to de­stroy the English Constitution, and enslave the Nation, and in preaching up the Doctrine of Absolute Obedience, than which nothing can be more inconsistent with the goodness of God, and the happiness of Humane Societies, as knowing the only way to secure Tyranny in the Church was to get it establish'd in the State? So that if the Protestant Clergy do not keep the People in as vile a Subjection as the Popish do, 'tis not owing to their good will; and therefore none that have any value for Religion, or any kindness for their Liberties, will trust those that lie under such Temptation to pervert the Scripture, with the sole licensing Books of Religion. As we pray not to be led into Temptation, so we should avoid leading others into it, especially such as in all probability they cannot withstand.

15. The Discovery of Printing seems to have been design'd by Providence to free Men from that Tyranny of the Clergy they then groan'd under. And shall that which was intended by divine Goodness to deliver all from Sacerdotal Slavery, be made the means of bringing it on again? And if our Ancestors could not defend themselves from more than Egyptian Bondage, which the Pulpits brought on them, without the assistance of the Press, it's scarce possible that we should be able to secure our Liberties against both, when by the help of the latter the Clergy have got better Abilities, as well as Opportunities, to impose on the Un­derstandings of the People: and when Men are once enslaved in their Understandings (which of all things ought to be most free) it's scarce possible to preserve any other Liberty.

The trusting not only the Pulpits but the Press in the hands of the Clergy, is causing the Blind to lead the Blind, because the generality of them are more likely to be guilty of a blind Obedi­ence than the Laity, since they are obliged, as they value their [Page 23] Subsistence, right or wrong, to assert those Religious Tenets they find establish'd by Law; the truth of which they cannot any more be presum'd to have impartially examin'd, than a mer­cenary Soldier the Justice of the Cause he is engag'd in; being sent by their Friends to the Universities not to try the establish'd Religion, whether 'tis right or wrong, but to profess it as a Trade they are to earn their bread by: and lest they should exa­mine it, they are, even before they are capable, shackled with early Oaths and Subscriptions. Which is the reason that the Priests are wondrous hot in every Country for the Opinions to which their Preferments are annexed; in one place fierce Cal­vinists, in another violent Lutherans, in a third bigotted Papists; which could not so universally happen, did they in the least examine those Opinions they are engag'd to profess. And there­fore there can be no reason to trust the Press in hands of men so biass'd and prejudic'd, who cannot but be highly affronted to see the Laity do, what they durst not, judg for themselves, and not be blindly guided by them, who (poor men) are not trusted to guide themselves. Yet for all this extraordinary precaution to keep the Clergy right and tight, and the great disproportion of numbers between the Laity and them, 'tis evident that almost all the Errors and wrong Notions in Religion have had their rise and chief Support from them. So that upon the whole, if the Press should be trusted with any, it ought to be with Lay-men, who have no Powers, Prerogatives, or Privileges to gain by per­verting of Scripture, since they pretend to none but what they receive from the Society. Tho I cannot but presume that our Legislators, were there no other reason, yet out of respect to the Clergy, would not enact such a Law as supposeth the greatest and most learned of them not fit to be trusted with the printing but a Half-sheet in Religion without consent of a Lay Licenser, who is to have an arbitrary Power over their Works. And there's no doubt but the Clergy would highly resent such a Law; tho I cannot see but the appointing Licensers, whether of the Laity or Clergy, equally reflects on their Body, because it [Page 24] equally supposeth they are unfit to be trusted. But if they are content with that Disgrace, it must be because either they can­not defend themselves against-their Adversaries, or that they have a mind to give themselves up to Laziness and Idleness, and not trouble themselves with the laborious work of controversial Divinity. But I shall say no more on this Point, having alrea­dy sufficiently shewed how destructive the restraining the Press is to Religion, which it cannot be without, being in general pre­judicial to Civil Societies, for whose good it was instituted, but especially when it is perverted on purpose to enslave them: and there never was a Nation which lost their religious Rights that could long maintain their civil ones, for Priestcraft and Sla­very go hand in hand. Therefore I shall be the shorter on what I have to say on a civil account, especially considering that most of those Reasons that shew how destructive a Restraint of the Press is to Religious, will equally prove it to be so in Civil Affairs.

16. The greatest Enjoyment that rational and sociable Crea­tures are capable of, is to employ their Thoughts on what Sub­jects they please, and to communicate them to one another as freely as they think them; and herein consists the Dignity and Freedom of humane Nature, without which no other Liberty can be secure: for what is it that enables a few Tyrants to keep almost all Mankind in Slavery, but their narrow and wrong Notions about Government? which is owing to the Discourage­ment they lie under of mutually communicating, and conse­quently of employing their Thoughts on political matters; which did they do, 'tis impossible that the bulk of Mankind should have suffered themselves to be enslaved from Generation to Generation. But the Arts of State, in most Countries, being to enslave the People, or to keep them in Slavery, it became a Crime to talk, much more to write about political Matters: and ever since Printing has been invented, there have been, in most places, State-Licensers, to hinder men from freely writing about Government; for which there can be no other reason, [Page 25] but to prevent the Defects of either the Government, or the Management of it, from being discovered and amended.

17. Fame, Reputation, and Honour, as they are the greatest Incentives to all good and vertuous Actions, so they as much terrify Men from committing base and unworthy ones. And it cannot be reasonably presumed, considering the general Corrup­tion of Mankind, but that the rich and powerful would frequent­ly oppress those beneath them, were they not afraid of losing their Reputation, and exposing themselves either to the Con­tempt or Hatred of the People: for this Law of Reputation (if I may so call it) influences Men more than all other Laws what­ever. But if there were a Licenser of the Press, he might be prevailed on not only to hinder the injured from appealing to the People by publishing their Grievances, but to license such Stories only as mercenary Scriblers would write to justify the Oppressors, and to condemn the Opprest: which, as it would be the greatest Encouragement for those Men that are above the ordi­nary Remedies of Law to crush whom they please, so it would be the highest Injustice to deny the injured the last satisfaction of justifying their innocence to the World, which would be sure to pass a just Censure on the Oppressors; and this they would the more dread, because if once they lose their Credit with the Peo­ple, they will be very unfit Instruments for a Court to use. Therefore 'tis no wonder if all that make an ill use of their Pow­er, especially those who have cheated the Government as well as abused the People, do endeavour with all their might to have the Press regulated, left their Crimes being exposed in Print, may not only render them odious to the People, but to the Go­vernment. In a word, All sorts of Men whose Interest it is not to have their Actions exposed to the Publick (which I am afraid are no small number) will be for restraining the Press, and per­haps will add Iniquity to Inquity, by pretending they do it out of Conscience to suppress Immorality and Profaneness.

18. But this is not the worst that may happen, because the Press may be so managed, as to become a most powerful Engine [Page 26] to overturn and subvert the very Constitution: for should a Magistrate arise with Arbitrary Designs in his head, no Papers that plead the Rights and just Privileges of the People would be stamp'd with an Imprimatur: Then the Press would be employ­ed only to extend the Prerogative beyond all bounds, and to ex­tol the Promoters of Arbitrary Power as the chief Patriots of their Country, and to expose and traduce those that were really so; which would be the greatest Discouragement not only to all brave and vertuous Actions, but would be apt to make the People mistake their Friends, when they had not the Liberty to publish a Vindication of their Principles or Actions, for their Enemies. In a word, if the Pulpits and Westminster-Hall (as we have lately seen it) should chime in with an Arbitrary Court, what can warn the People of their Danger, except the Press? But if that too be wholly against them, they may easily be so blinded as not to see the Chains that are preparing for them, till they are fettered beyond all power of Redemption; for there can never be wanting a thousand plausible Stories, and seemingly fair Pretences, to amuse and divert them from perceiving their real Danger. And if we look into the History of Europe, we shall find more Nations wheedled than forced out of their Liber­ties; tho Force afterward was necessary to maintain what was got at first by Fraud.

19. 'Tis so far from being impossible, that a People may be thus imposed on to their utter ruin; that 'tis probable another Generation seeing nothing but the Royal Prerogative highly mag­nified, may be bred up with the Opinion of being born Slaves. And were we not almost brought to that pass in the late Reigns? when nothing came out with Allowance but what was to justify such Opinions; and if some good men (not to mention the Prince of Orange's third Declaration) especially about the time of the Revolution, had not had the Courage privately to print some Treatises to undeceive the People, and to make them see the fatal Consequences of those Doctrines which by the restraint of the Press pass'd for divine and sacred Truths; the Nation had [Page 27] tamely submitted to the yoke. And as it cannot be denyed but that those Papers in a great measure opened our eyes, so it may justly be hoped that none that saw the miserable Condition that the Act for regulating the Press would have brought us into, will be instrumental in reestablishing that Law. No; those Men sure who so much exclaimed against it in the late Reigns, will take all care imaginable to prevent it now. But if these very men who may justly be said to be written into their places, and owe their Preferments to the freedom of examining those slavish Doc­trines of the former Reigns; if these Men, I say, can so far for­get themselves as to be for a Law which till themselves were up­permost they thought tended only to inslave us, there cannot be, I think, a greater Argument for all others to oppose it. We are, God be thanked, blest with the Government of the best of Kings, who as he hazarded every thing to rescue our Liberties when in the extremest Danger, so he places the Glory of his Reign in preserving them entire, and transmitting them so to Posterity. And therefore none that love his Glory can be for restraining the Press, which now as it can serve to no other end than to create Jealousies in the People, who cannot forget what former Reigns design'd by it, so it may hereafter hazard all our Liberties. Under a good King we may justly expect such Laws as will not expose us to, but secure us from the Oppressions of an ill one. The best things when perverted become the very worst; as Religion it self, when it degenerates into Superstition, so Printing, which in it self is no small Advantage to Mankind, when it is abused, may be of most fatal consequence. Secure but the Liberty of the Press, and that will, in all probability, secure all other Liberty; but if that once falls into the hands of ill designing Men, nothing that we hold dear or precious is safe. And experience manifests, that wheresoever That of the Press is denied, there no Other is preserved. Most Countries in Europe maintained their Freedom tolerably well till the Invention of Printing; but when that was suffered to speak nothing but Court-Language, People were by degrees gull'd and cheated of their Liberty. Had not [Page 28] the late King tack'd Popery to Slavery, he might with the greatest ease imaginable have enslav'd us; and methinks the danger we have so miraculously escaped, should fright us from ever enacting any of those Methods into a Law that so much contributed to that danger.

20. That which alone would engage me, were I a Senator, to oppose the Restraint of the Press, is, that a Parliament is to take cognizance of all sorts of things which some Men of Gen­tlemen-like Education may not have much considered; and therefore the perusing what those without doors, who have made such things their business, have writ, may be none of the worst means of informing themselves; but a Restraint of the Press may in a great measure hinder them from receiving this Satisfaction, because Licensers might be prevailed on to suffer but one side to publish their Sentiments even in Matters of the greatest Consequence. I have met with some Members who have frankly owned that the incomparable Argument against the Standing Army gave them great Insight into that grand Point, which, said they, had not the Press been open, would never have appeared, nor any thing on that side, tho a number of Pamphlets on the other, which, with the noise of self-in­terested Persons, would in all probability have carried things quite otherwise. And seeing they could not foresee how fre­quently such things might happen, this alone, said they, was enough to convince them of the necessity of the Liberty of the Press, since they could not be too secure of that inestimable Jewel Liberty, which, if once lost, was scarce ever to be reco­vered, especially if seized by a domestick Power.

21. I doubt not but there are several well-meaning Men for regulating the Press; who, did they consider how subject all things are to change, could not but be apprehensive that this En­gine of their own contriving might be turned upon themselves, and made to ruin those very Designs they thought to promote by it. For the Press (as a witty Gentleman observes) is like a Jackanapes, he who has him in his hands may make him bite [Page 29] whom he pleases, and therefore 'tis their safest way to keep their Jackanapes in their own hands. And it cannot but shew a great deal of hardiness to make such a Law as may produce ve­ry fatal Consequences even to the Makers themselves, who will then deserve no pity, since they are scourg'd with Rods of their own providing: and 'tis the more probable this may hap­pen so hereafter, since even at present such a Law has but an untoward Aspect upon most Parties; for one Party, tho he is pleased with it in religious, yet dislikes it in civil Matters; ano­ther thinks the contrary to be his Interest; a third is satisfied with having such or such Sects restrained from Printing, but would be glad that others had that Liberty; a fourth, who cares not how all the Sectaries are dealt with, is yet afraid, that if the Press be in the hands of moderate Church-men, none will be suffered to write any more Letters to a Convocation-man, or a Manicipium Ecclesiasticum, or such like Books; a fifth is afraid lest this Power should get into the hands of the rigid ones, for then the others will be run down as Trimmers, Latitudinarians, and what not. The same may be said with re­spect to other Religious Opinions, about which Men of the same Church are divided, and the like may be as well observed in ci­vil Matters, but I leave every one to make that Remark for him­self; so that if all Parties cast up their accounts, there are very few of them but will find a Restraint of the Press to be against even their present Interest.

22. I might add a great number of other Reasons, because as many things as are worth knowing, so many Arguments there are for the Liberty of the Press; what can be more useful than History, and the Knowledg of our Ancestors Actions? A faithful account of which can scarce be expected in a Reign that has a design to disguise Truth, and to keep us in ignorance of those noble and generous Notions our Ancestors had of Liberty, and how they asserted theirs upon all occasions. As for what con­cerns the present time, I shall only say, that for my own part I should be glad, especially when at a distance from London, (and [Page 30] I suppose other Country Gentlemen may be of the same mind) to divert my self with some other News-papers besides the Ga­zette, which would hardly be permitted if the Press were regu­lated. As for Books of Philosophy, and of other Arts and Sci­ences, I can see no reason why there should be any Restraint on them, or why the licensing them should be intrusted with the Clergy, as by the late Act, except it be to hinder such Books from being printed as tend most to inform Mens Judgment, and make them reason clearly, things very dangerous to a blind im­plicit Obedience. Besides, an excellent Discovery in Nature may be hindred from being publish'd, on pretence that 'tis in­consistent with Religion: for the time has been when asserting the Antipodes has been no less than Heresie; and the Motion of the Earth a Crime worthy the Inquisition, and with as little Reason (not to mention Dr. Burnet's ingenious Tracts) has the most useful Book that was ever written in Philosophy, the Essay of humane Understanding, been condemned as inconsistent with the Articles of the Christian Religion. As for Physick, tho the licensing Books therein were wholly trusted with some of the College, the most useful Piece in that Science, either because the Licensers were engaged in another Method of Practice, or because it may take from their Advantage, by prescribing a cheaper and easier way of Cure, or out of Envy, or a thousand other Reasons, might be hindred from seeing the Light, to the no small detriment not only of the present, but future Ages. As to Law, I shall only say, If there are any Abuses crept into it, the likeliest way to have them reformed is not by restraining the Press.

23. Were Licensers unbiast, uncorrupt, and infallible, there might be good Reason to trust them with an Arbitrary Power to pass what Sentences they pleas'd on Books; but if we are to judg of the future by the past, they are almost as likely to be one as the other. Men of Sense, (and others ought not to be trusted with it) without being resolved to make the most of it, will not care to be condemned to the drudgery of reading all the [Page 31] Trash that comes to be printed, nothing but necessity will make such Persons submit to it, and that necessity will make them less able to withstand Temptation. So that the appointing Licensers will be as bad as laying a Tax on Learning, since by delaying to look over Books, especially those that require haste to be printed, and by other tricks (for there are Mysteries in all Trades) they may make People pay what they please for their Allowance.

24. But this is not the worst, it will be a great hindrance to the promoting of Knowledg and Truth, by discouraging the ablest Men from writing for such Persons, especially after having once had the liberty of publishing their own Thoughts, will not be content to have their Works lie at the Mercy of an ignorant or at the best of an unleisured Licenser, who upon a cursory view may either condemn the whole to perpetual Darkness, or strike out what he pleaseth, perhaps the most material things. And tho a living Author may subject himself to this, yet none will be content that the Labours of a deceased Friend should be so served; so that the Works of such a Person, tho never so fa­mous in his Life-time, shall be lost to all Posterity. Besides, is it not intolerable, that every time a Man has a mind to make any Alteration or Addition between the licensing of the Copy, and the printing it off, that he must as often hunt after the same Licenser to obtain his leave, for the Printer could not go beyond his licensed Copy, when in the mean time the Press, to his no small damage, must stand still?

In short, tho there might seem to be some reason to condemn a Person that upon a fair Trial had been found guilty of writing immoral things, or against the Government, to the Punishment of never writing again but under the Authority of an Exa­miner; yet what reason can there be that those that never of­fended, nay that the whole Commonwealth of Learning should be subject to so severe Usage, which too is the way to have none but Fools and Blockheads plague the World with their Impertinence, and make an Imprimatur (as it did formerly) [Page 32] signify no more than that such a Book is foolish enough to be printed?

'This objected, that without Licensers any one may reflect on whom he has a mind to, so as that most People shall be sensible whom he means, tho he mention but two Letters of his Name, or useth some other Description, by which means he is out of the reach of the Law.

This may be an Argument for the forbidding all Printing, but none for appointing Licensers; for 'tis much more reasona­ble for all to have the Liberty to vindicate themselves the same way they chance to be aspersed, than to let the Licenser's Party abuse all others, and the Press not open for them to justify them­selves. But if any one reflects upon another after this manner, let him make appear whom it is he means, or else let him be esteemed in Law to intend that Person that takes it to himself.

This I think is all that can be objected as to Civil Matters, except what relates to Sedition and Treason, for an Answer to which I refer the Reader to §. 13.

I have no more to add, but that my greatest Ambition next to serving the Publick, (which here I have endeavoured to do without so much as once thinking how it may affect me in my own private Concerns) is to approve my self to be,

Your most faithful and devoted humble Servant.

Lately Published,

THE Militia Reform'd; or an easy Scheme of furnishing England with a constant Land-Force, capable to prevent or to subdue any Forein Power; and to maintain perpetual Quiet at home, without endangering the Publick Liberty. Sold by Andrew Bell in Cornhill.

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