CAUTION Humbly Offer'd ABOUT Passing the Bill against Blasphemy.

THE Caution requisite in the Consideration of the Bill against Blasphemy, is this, that the Word may be so well Distinguish'd and Explained, that it may not prove, in Practice, a greater Snare and Suffering to Good Men, than a Restraint upon Ill Ones. For if it be left Am­biguous, so that it may Affect Religious, as well as Lewd and Wicked People, it will, like the Trojan Horse, carry an Ar­my in the Belly of it, to serve the Spleen or Pride of every Party, in their turn of Government, to Oppress the Rest.

Charity forbids me to think the Gentlemen, whose Zeal is Imploy'd to Promote the Success of this Bill, have any such unfair Latitudes in their Design; and therefore I shall First say, What Blasphemy is in it self. Secondly, How Blas­phemy is Cognoscible to the Civil Authority, and how far It may fall within Its Province to Consider and Suppress.

Blasphemy. then, in it self, is certainly, a Speaking Evilly of God: But what that Evil Speaking is, and how to Distin­guish and Explain it, to the Magistrates Purpose, will be the Narrow and Pinch of the Question.

[...]

[Page 2] I Grant, a Man that shall Seriously Prosess some Erroneous Opinion concerning God, upon a weak Judgment, or a mista­ken Education, that Contradicts the Express Text of Holy Scripture, may be said to hold a Blasphemous Opinion, just as such may be said to take God's Name in vain, that Pray to Him, and yet hate to be Reformed by Him: And is God Charges Blas­phemy on them that say they are Jews, and are not, but of the Syna­gogue of Satan: Which, whether it was Error or Hypocrisie, It does not appear to be of such a Nature as is Punishable by the Civil Magistrate. I therefore Distinguish and Say, That Blasphemy, as it falls under the Notice of Civil Power, is not an Humble and Serious Mistake of the Text, but a Presumptuous and Despiteful Expression, or Opinion about the Nature and Being of God: An Irreligious and Scornful Treating of the Divine Majesty in his Nature and Attributes; and not an Incongruous Speculation, or Erroneous Notion from an Unsound Judgment, or a Misguided Conscience. For what is true of an Heretick, and is his Characteristick, is also true of a Blasphemer; that is, not a Mistaken, but a Guilty Man: Not a Conscientious, but an Irreligious Person: One that is Condemned in himself, who Dares the Divinity, and Proudly Acts against Knowledge, and so, Conscious to him­self of his own Evil and Error.

Thus the Apostle to Titus; A Man that is an Heretick, after the first and second Admonition, Reject; Knowing that he that is such, is Subverted and Sinneth, being Condemned of himself. And such a Self-condemned Sinner is the Blasphemer proper for the Magistrates Cognizance.

Not Considering well of this one word Heretick, in the Apostles sence, viz. One Self-Condemned, or Condemned of Him­self, has fill'd the World with Blood and Misery through many Generations. Whereas had St. Paul's Definition and Direction been understood and follow'd, Mistaken Men had been Pittied and Informed, and not Persecuted and Killed for Gods sake; while the Impious Contemners and Blasphe­mers [Page 3] of God and Religion had met with their Deserts from the Civil Magistrates.

But I will readily confess, that a Person never so Seri­ous in his Mistake concerning God, may very well be Dis­owned by the Church he is a Member of, because the con­trary Sentiment might be one of the Terms of Communion, and no Wrong done; But Therefore, to say, Take him Goaler, though otherwise a Vertuous, Peaceable and Cha­ritable Man, is a Method, not to be Justified by True Christianity; especially when that which is required to be Believed, is the Comment, and not the Text, which alone should be Sacred and Controuling in point of Doctrine among Christians. And to say True, 'twould be too hard a Task, to defend the Imposition of a Doctrine, not delivered in the Terms of Scripture, which is the Great Creed of Christians, when the Party to Believe does not refuse to give his Faith in the Terms thereof: For after all, Truth loses no Ground by fair Concessions, and I know not how we can well deny that Comments are a sort of Begging of the Question, which have not a Voice from Heaven to Confirm them.

I perceive the Bill is Fram'd in favour of the Christian Religi­on, and of the Trinity, as a main Pillar of it. But after all, I believe our Good Lives will best Recommend and Maintain It. Framing of Creeds hath cost former Ages so very Dear, by the Distraction of Churches, and the Destruction of Peo­ple, that it were great pitty fresh occasions should be given to Revive a Controversie so well laid.

This Quarrel alone, had so besmeared the Face of Christia­nity with Blood, in the first Ages of the Church, that it lost to Christians that Reverence with the Gentiles, their Piety and Charity had before rais'd to themselves, and their Pro­fession: And whatever we may think, nothing else can Re­pair our Breaches, and Restore to us Paths to Dwell in.

[Page 4] There are several sorts of Creeds, I know, as the Atha­nasian, Nicean, Sabellian, and in short the Real and Nomi­nal Trinitarians. But since none can be so orthodox as that deliver'd to us in Gods Book, why should we press the point further? Who can Determine with equal Authority to that of the Holy Ghost? Who can express His mind Apter? Or how can we frame a better General to Center In? At least to maintain Charity by, If our sentiments of the Intention of the Text are not the same? I speak this with great respect to the secular Authority. For it is certain, that the several Churches, or Religious Societies that may hold these several Modes of Trinity, have that Power over their own Mem­bers, by the Common Rules of Fellowship, that as to such Points as are the Terms of Communion, They may Re­spectively deal with any of them that may forsake their usual Belief; so far as refusing them any further Com­munion. But for the Civil Authority, at this time of Day, to Interpose, and Penally Impose any one of them, unless it were the sacred Text (to which all Parties Refer and Sub­mit) looks something hard: And when we consider the Divided State of the Nation, the Learning and Freedom of Spirit that is now among the People, and the Liberty of Conscience they are in the Possession of, I must acknowledge, I cannot see the Prudence of it. But to make Property a Sacrifice for mistakes about Religion, if yet it be a mistake; and to make it So by the vote of Civil Authority, that in­deed may Conclude but not Convince, (for that pretends not to an Infallible Spirit of Decision, as to Truth and Error) has certainly a Difficulty in it not easily overcome: Since to me it seems to shake those Fundamental Laws by which Property is Declared and Desended. For it is hard to ap­prehend how Faith is the Foundation of Property.

Nor is this all; for if this Bill Pass, to pick a hole in the Coat of any one Party this time, the rest may say, that perhaps lye open to be hitt upon other Points, what know [Page 5] we but that it will be our Turn next time; and tho' as to this Doctrine we are within the Pale and Safe, yet upon other Articles we may at another time be equally exposed; and so that which cannot be done at once, may, in the same manner, by little and little, be accomplished at last, to the Prejudice of every Interest that Dissents from that which is uppermost? I mean, a forced Uniformity in Worship, Doctrine and Discipline. Certainly Presidents in so Nice a Case must be very dangerous, and every Party being concern'd in every Party's Security, it is obliged, by its own safety, to endeavour the safety of the Rest, tho', as to the Point on Foot, They Differ'd as much from the Party in Question, as that which holds the Chair.

I confess this Consideration moves much with me; and if their be any ground for it, then certainly there can be no Good One now, for a Bill against Blasphemy, without great Caution and Distinction in the wording of it; lest Virtue suffer more than Vice, and Dissent rather than Impiety.

I have been the Freer in this matter, being neither Deist nor Socinian; and have no other Exception to the Bill, than that which I have Exprest: For I fear it will be an Oc­casion of Animosity, if not of Persecution: And as it has more than once happened, that part which Affects the Con­scientious shall be more Vigorously Executed, than that which Regards the Irreligious Blasphemer. For it has been Ob­served, during the Reign of King Charles the Second, that the Dissenters Suffered more in One Year that the Laws were put in Execution, for their Religious Meetings, than the Impious and Debauched did in his Whole Reign: So much more Inclinable were some Men to Wink at Wickedness than Indure a Conscientious Dissent: Of which the Ecclesiastical Courts were but too great an Instance, as well as the Ordinary Ses­sions of Justice

[Page 6] To Conclude, but with all Submission and Respect to Authority, I say again, to make a Culpable and Punishable Blasphemy, there must be an Irreligious and Despiteful Inten­tion and Design in the words of the Person Accused.

And here I conceive the Civil Magistrate has the full and free use and exercise of his Authority against Blasphemy: For Blasphemy, in this Sence, Corrupts Good Manner, being a plain and Impudent Indignity and Affront upon the most High Good and God; and merits not only Law, but the warmest Zeal to suppress It: For to endure it, as it hath been, God knows, too long and too much already, is the high way to Provoke God to vindicate his own Glory and Soveraignity at the cost of the whole Nation; wherein the Innocent may happen to suffer with the Guilty, tho' to these a Judgment, and to them but an Affliction.

It is to be Lamented, as well as aborr'd, that a People of so much Light and Knowledge, and under such pretences to Reformation, should want Zeal to ther Power, to Root out such Scandalous and Impious Practices from among us. There are good Laws, if they were but Imployed to dis­courage such Irreligious Persons, let their Quality be what it will. Law knows No Respect of Persons, Tho' it too often happens that many Cloathed with Authority Do, that have the Power and are sworn to Suppress them.

And indeed, as the case stands, If we are in earnest to suppress Blasphemy, Prophaness and Debauchery, There seems to be but two ways in the Power of the Civil Magistrates; but they are good ones, and might be in great measure effectual.

First, to suppress all Play-Houses, and Gameing-Houses, and Places of Looseness and Debauchery, those Seminaries or Nurseries of Impiety: That have palpably Relax'd the Anci­ent Discipline of the Nation, and corrupted the Youth of it, to the Ruin of the Honour, Virtue and Fortune, of many An­cient and Worthy Families: And which therefore are the Scandal and Aversion of the Sober Men of every Perswasion.

[Page 7] The next way to Extinguish Vice, is to make a Vicious Man Uncapable of being a Magistrate; who, being conscious of his own Ills, will but faintly Punish other Men's, and whose Power will Awe others from Informing against him. If Publick Employments and Marks of Favour were made the Rewards of Virtue and Ability, where-ever they are found, we should quickly see an Alteration among the Gentry of England, and by their Power and Example, a Reformation among the Common People. And to say true, If Virtue, and not Opinion, were the Test, England would have the Use and Service of the Sobriety and Good Sence of all Her People, for the Suppres­sion of Vice, and Introducing of a General Reformation of Manners: Which God Almighty send.

THE END.

This keyboarded and encoded edition of the work described above is co-owned by the institutions providing financial support to the Text Creation Partnership. This Phase I text is available for reuse, according to the terms of Creative Commons 0 1.0 Universal. The text can be copied, modified, distributed and performed, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.