A Second LETTER From a Gentleman in the COUNTRY, To his Friends in LONDON, Upon the Subject of the Penal Laws and Tests.

Licensed, April the 11th 1687.

LONDON, Printed, for J.H. and T.S. and to be had of most Booksellers in London and Westminster. 1687.


I Am not much lifted up, or cast down at the news you send me, for that my Letter should be liked by some, and as ill taken by others, is but the fate of all things offer'd to publick censure; tho without vanity, the reasons are unequal. But before I enter upon that, you'l give me leave to observe the humor of the Party in the Proverbs you sent me, that methinks looks so much like a Green Ribband, that it hardly becomes the fall of the leaf, they conceit they are under. You say, the usual answer to the Letter is this; There is a Snake in the Grass; All is well that ends well, That a more moderate sort, allow it both witt and truth, but ill timed, considering the Melancholy circumstances the Church of England is under. To all this, you have here my answer, which I beseech you to communicate with that Cander; that you know has alwayes been the companion of my Life. And for the Proverbs, I must say first, that a wise Sentence, may be sillily apply'd; and next, I am apt to think that these are so; for pray what is the Snake, and [Page 4] where doe's it lie. A Snake without a Sting hurts no body, let it lie where it will; and a Snake with a Sting is dangerous every where. Now to find out who is the Snake, let's consider what's the Sting, The Penal Laws certainly; and you are not ignorant who's Tayle they belong to. But to be sure they Sting all that won't come to Church, and that every where. For a man can't walk in his own Land, mow his own Grass, enjoy his own Shop, Barn, Chamber, Closet, Chest or Cubbard; no not his Pot, Pan or Skillet, but the Snake will get into it, and when it has swept his Fields and House clean with its Tayle, by the Teeth it draws him to its dark Holes and Dungeons for a further Prey. The History of this Snake out-does all the Giants of the old World, and it had been happy it had perish't with it: Wherefore Liberty of Conscience is so far from being the Snake in the Grass, that there is in it neither Snake, Teeth, Sting, or Grass to hide them. On the contrary, it spies out the Snake, cuts the Grass, ketches it, and pulls out the Sting, that it may do no more mischief: 'Tis upon this Prin­ciple that one Party cannot hurt 'tother. And for the other Proverb, 'tis certain, All's well that ends well, but for that reason all will end ill that begins so, without Repentance. And such beginnings I call Penal Laws for Religion, let who will make them, or [Page 5] use them. And I beseech God to touch the Hearts of the Church of England with a sence of this; for his Justice we can't Corrupt. All Parties as well as private Persons will meet with their own from him; 'tis a Decree as old as the World, stamp't in our Natures, and prov'd by the Records of all time, and God knows but too plainly in ours.

But since these Gentlemen are upon their Pro­verbs, with their leave I will oppose a couple to them, and I hope a little better suited. Let every Tub stand upon its own Bottom; and A Bird in the Hand is worth two in the Bush. These are the Texts, I'le now give you the Comment. By the first, I mean, that the Government should stand upon its own Legs, and the Church upon hers. The Legs of the civil Government, is the civil Interest of the Government, which is that of all the People under it, so that the Government is obleiged to secure all, because all are for their own Interest bound to secure it: For the Church in Question, of which all the People are not Members, nor yet the greatest part, is a thing of another Nature, and relates to another World, and Christ has provided her another Bottom, if she really makes his Law the rule of her Actions and Au­thority. Let every one walk as he is perswaded, was divine Doctrine in St Paul's time, and our Glo [...]ying [Page 6] was to be in our selves, and not in another; and we were to stand and fall to our own Masters, and not Judge, much less Persecute others, no, not Tares, for they were to grow with the Wheat, (tho never like to change their Nature) till the Harvest, which our Saviour In­terprets, the end of the World: And the Apostle tells us, Every One must appear before God, and give an Account for the Deeds done in the Body; so that you see the Proverb is true, that every Tub ought to stand upon its own bottom. For the other, 'tis as obvious & reasonable in this case; for why should it be taken ill that the Poor Fanaticks accept the Liberty the Church of England refus'd, and has driven them to such extreamities for. She would have them to stay till she can give what she would not when she had power to do it. Nay, she has it still, & yet will not for a reason that exposes them more then before. But which way can she ensure it to them? First, Can they with Honour or Consci­ence refuse what they have sought, or reject that by Declaration the Church of England will not allow by Law? Secondly, How are they assurd, while the Church of England is by Law secured, that by those very Laws they shall not be ruin'd in the mean time? Is it not natural enough to expect at the hand of the King, that they will not, shall not have Liberty of Conscience? and that at any [Page 7] rate, they shall conform thorowly, that will not at an other time conform at all, When they do it now only to bob the Goverment? But what is Faction if this be not? If conform, why just now? If now, why not before? If not before, why then now? if things are the same, why are not they? and if they are, that is, if their opinion of the Discipline and Ceremonies of the Church be what it was, they can't be honest men and conform: They may set up for men of Art, and Managers, that have given by their own Con­sciences such a proof of their skill; but I should la­ment extreamly any Dissenter in England should have so little wit or truth. And to be free, it would not look Candid in the Church of England, that gives her fear of Poperies having the Power to destroy others, for the reason of her keeping the Penal Laws on foot, if she takes it ill, that the Dissenters are for the same reason for their repeal; for she can't but think that Po­pery actually has that Power over them, by the Op­pertunity of the Laws she will manintain to secure herself. So that light and darkness are not more oppo­site then the safety of the Dissenters, and the reason the Church of England gives for the keeping up the Penal Laws for her own. To remove this Difficulty, and to make the methods of their security meet, has, God knows, been my only drift, that so false Notions of [Page 8] Preservation might not destroy us, when the means of our common safety are so obvious to us.

The general and deep Prejudices men entertain against Popery will hardly suffer them to diliberate for their own benefit. If a Ship be near a Rock, I think the danger should not frighten away the Ma­sters wits, when he has most need of them for a com­mon Safety. I beg the Gentlemen of the Church of England but to think, and I am Sure they will find me less Criminal in my other Letter to you: For is any thing truer then that the Papists court a legal Ease? need they this, if they design Force? or were it worth their Labouring? Again, cannot a Law be made to fix Liberty of Conscience, that they shall as un­easily violate, as these the Church calls her Bulwark? If the Laws in Question were defensive only, God forbid that I should attempt to lessen her security, I declare in the presence of God I would not; but when they are offensive and destroying to other People, and those of the most peaceable Principles, who have neither Interest nor Arts to defend them, she must Pardon me if I oppose my self to their Teeth and Sting. It is also as true that her Dissenters are of no use to her unless these Shackles are taken off; That if she does not fear Liberty more then Popery, she must yeild the point desired for their sake, because her own. [Page 9] That for every Enemy she releases by it, she has an hundred Friends to secure her against Him. That she must remember she is but a part of the whole, and should not flatter her self with Numbers not of her Communion; especially while they sleep with naked Swords hanging by Hairs over their Heads, and so are made uncapable to serve her.

Again, pray, can she think that force becomes a Gospel Church? that it is not using against Popery what she accuses it for, and by it condemns her self? Is it not taking Sanctuary in human Strength instead of divine Truth, that is al-sufficient to its own sup­port? That the Laws that remain, secure the State, and if any be wanting, they may be added without keeping up the Ball of Vengeance by partial Provisi­ons, directed by one Party, of the same People, against an other, under one and the same Govern­ment; for this is puzling, not serving Government: Nor can any be great, easie or successful where the Heads and Hands, that should make it so, are zea­lously disabled from that Duty and Service. It seems a day wherein God is pleased to make use of the Ne­cessities of Men to effect what Vertue and Wisdom should have taught us long ago to have done; Agree I mean upon our civil common Interest.

And now we have a King, who has so gracious a [Page 10] regard to Liberty, (and that chuses to recommend himself by so honest, so tender and so equal a Prin­ciple, and whose own Party, tho they may want it most hereafter, do least need it now, and are the most feeble in number to make the use of it dange­rous to the rest) let us by no means loose the opper­tunity of our own Happiness. Nor can the Church of England refuse me my Petition to her, but upon this single account, the Insincerity of the King; that must be her Snake in the Grass, that Popery's at the Bot­tom; Mark the end of this Liberty; All's well that ends well: But this plainly implies my Arguments to be good, and that if the King holds as he begins, we shall all be happy. Lets see then why he should not do so, tho it looks very ill in the high Sons of the Church to blow upon that Honour they have so often and so highly recommended for our Security. First, The King has given her his Word to maintain her at his coming to the Crown, and has now repeated it to her for the whole time of his Reign, in the most solemn manner that was possible out of Parliament, Secondly, If he be willing, to turn this Promise into a Law at the repeal of those he would abolish when they meet, and that to be sure he is ready to do, there can be no room to doubt his Sincerity. Thirdly, He is compell'd to be sincere, for Popery without him is [Page 11] but a Name in England, and Lives by him, and must otherwise expect to expire with him. So that if it were possible for the People of his Communion to prevail with him to force his Religion upon the Kingdom, tho I think it as impracticable, as to set Westminster-Abby upon Bow-Steeple; he must leave them to make satisfaction for the attempt in the next Reign; Or conclude, he never intends his Lawful Heirs to suc­ceed him: And they must take him for the worst of men to be guilty of an Injustice and Irreligion he has so often and solemnly, and earnestly spoken against. But if that were no security to us, yet the ruin of those that in all probability must follow that attempt, for whose sakes we suppose him to endanger us, would obliege him to the soft & obleiging methods he now takes. So that we have his Honour, Conscience, Nature, and the Security of his own Party for Ours. Come, 'tis Disingenious to call Liberty of Conscience the Snake in the Grass, that like the Balm of Gillead cures the Gaps and Sores that Time and private Interests have made. And since he offers to confirm it by Law, HE ON­LY CHANGES THE SECƲRITY, HE DOES NOT DESTROY IT; and which is more she is a gainer by it: For whereas she is now the National Religion by Compulsion she will then keep her Station by Consent; both extreams yeilding a pre­ferrence [Page 12] to her, and so she is neither hated nor envied by them.

I would have her further reflect, that the keeping the Penal Laws on foot will not answer the end she does it for, since she believes they will be suspended during the time she fears most, and of the next Reign, she has no apprehension, and in the mean time she and the Protestant Dissenters have the Hands. So that the only reason for maintaining them, is the Awe they ought to give the Papists in this Kings time, and yet if what she suggests be true, that the Papists aim at all, pray, how far will those Laws awe them, that for that reason should rather aim at all. I say, what good will that do her, that must be the greatest Argument of the Force she fears they will use against her? and if they have no such design, there is no reason to keep them in awe, but much to soften and engage them, that we may all meet upon our common civil Bot­tom, and as one People with one Heart Fear God, af­ter our own Perswasion; Honour the King, accord­ing to our Allegiance; and Love and Serve one ano­ther as becomes the Members of the great civil Fami­ly of this Kingdom.

But some, you tell me, think it had been bet­ter The Laws where Repealed in a Pro [...]estant King's Reign, then in this; But can any shew it is not fit in [Page 13] this; for that's the Question. Let us suppose ours were a Protestant, and they were repealed according­ly. How could we assure our selves our next Heir would not turn; Ay, the Prince in Possession? And unless the Principles of Exclusion prevail'd, 'tis clear the Delemma would be the same, because the security upon that notion is uncertain. I confess it had been better for us, it had been done before his coming to the Crown, but since he forgives us that deficiency, and offers to supply it, in ways the most assuring, why it should not be good to do it now I cannot imagine: It is to say, it is not fit to be done, when it is most fit to make us best with him. We will have him trust us, but we will not trust him, where his interest Secures us.

Well, but you add, That it is generally agreed, the Penal Laws should he repeal'd, but not the Tests.

I must tell you, I do not agree with you in that Fact; for I hear there are divers Schisms in the Church about it: Some for their repeal, and keeping of the Tests: Some for repealing neither: Some for their repeal to Papists only: Some for Dissenters only; And a few for a general Repeal of both; so that the Church is yet unresolved what to do: But I will attend the great Question.

For the Penal Laws, no matter if they go; but if [Page 14] the Tests be repealed too, the Government is lost to the Roma­nists; for they may pack a Parliament of their own Religion, that in all Probability will make it national; and so Liberty of Conscience will not serve them, nor save us. You see I am fair in the Objection, Ile give you my Answer as freely.

I cannot imagine the Councils that engage them to take a fair way, can lead them to be foul in it; for that's giving a pail of Milk, and kicking it down with their foot. If they had number to chuse, or could be returned without it, they must naturally search the most durable means of their safety: Now, that con­not be making their Religion national, both because they are not the two hundred and fiftieth man, and that the attempt would eternally ruin them with the Kingdom, whose kindness, in a future Raign, their discreeter Conduct in this must secure. Nor could any thing be so odious, faithless and immoral, then for them to attempt it; for if ever they should teach the Nation that Arithmatick, that thirteen is more then three and twenty, they will make True Prophets of those they have taken pains to prove False Witnesses. But besides their Discretion and Interest, the Kings Faith is given us, for his whole Raign, in his Great and Gratious Declaration, that he will not exceed the bounds of Liberty of Conscience. By This, every Party [Page 15] is secured with his in their Religion and Property; and This tyes him against any concurrance with the Peo­ple representatively, contrary to this made to them universally: We may assure our selves, he is not like to break it in either of those respects, since we don't think that will so easily become the Religion of the Kingdom, or that whilest the People are of another, they will chuse a Representative of the Roman Com­munion.

Lastly, the Law that shall repeal these Laws, may be so drawn, as to make it impracticable to return a Parliament that is not chosen; as well as I dare say, it is below the Glory of our King, to use ways so unlike the rest of his Open and Generous Principles.

My former Argument was ad homenem, for, what ever the Church of England men think, 'tis certain, the Answer they gave for a Popish Successor, we must trust God and do our Duty, is still Cogent. For if Pro­vidence was strong enough to secure us then against our fears of such a Successor, can an Act of Parliament, be a better Defence to us now. I fear such are fallen from their Faith, and change their Devotion, for car­nal securities. Let us be all of a piece▪ not hot and then cold; one while for relying on Providence, and another time jealous to death, and beating our Brains for safety, as if there were no such thing as God in the [Page 16] World. The Question is not about the King's impo­sing his Religion upon us; for so I should have almost ador'd the Gentlemen that left their imployments; but whether we will not impose our Religion upon the Friends of his Communion; and this shows no bi­gottry in the King, that he gives all Parties Liberty to muster & exercise themselves according to their own Principles, that he knows to be so very contrary to his: An odd way of advancing Popery, especially by foul play. I wish any thing would satifie us. And yet after so gratious a Declaration, both to Church and Dissenters, and that has so decent a regard to the concurrance of a Parliament too, Who can be displeased? Have we been Hunting, Hawking Gaming, and Marrying with Roman Catholicks these six and twenty Years! and did they engage on the same side for the King's Father, help to support the King abroad, and labour the Restoration of the Royal Family to their Inheritance; and are we now afraid of them for the Religion they had then, or that they should have a few Offices with us, in the Reign of a Prince of their own way, that were the Com­panions of our sufferings and Pleasures? methinks it looks ill natur'd at all times, and indiscreet at this; since 'tis certain we may roundly and securely tell them, You are upon your good behaviour: Be mo­derate at your perril: You are but a morfel of men; [Page 17] and therefore as little feared as loved: 'Tis in your own power to be well with the Kingdom: Know when you have enough; and let us see you aim at no more then securing your civil Property and Interest in that of the Nation, from any violence, on the score of Religion, and that meer matters of Faith and Worship of God shall disable no man of his Birth-right. This Bottom is broad enough for all the interests of this Kingdom to meet upon; and till God from Heaven send us with miracles an higher Principle of Union; let us not neglect this lower, but sure means of our Peace and Happiness.

To Conclude, let us have a care of the Snake eve­ry where; in the Grass, in the Square, in the Coffee-House, in the Church, ay, and in the Meeting-House too; for 'tis ill company at all times, and in all places. Let us remember that not only the four, but the seven last Raigns have prov'd Penal Laws an Enemy to the Peace and Wealth of the Kingdom, and the strictest Tests no Security to the Government of it against the weight of its own miscarriages. Let us forgive one another, and look forward. I am for having the Church of England keep the Chair, but let the rest subsist. To fix Government upon any Mode of Religion, convul­ses it as often as that changes, at least hazards it. [Page 18] That which takes in all Interests is the best foundati­on for any Government, because it is least exposed to State Contingencies. Let us then bend our thoughts towards such an expedient as may secure Property to all, the first reason of civil Government, and that which every Party for its own Interest must close with. Three things strictly speaking make an Eng­lish man Ownership, Consent in Parliament, and Right of Juries. We all know what Laws have been made, and by whom to destroy these several Capacities, that frame an English man; amongst which, pray let not that against Conventicles go for the least! Let us see then what it is that divests us of these Native Priviledges, and like true English men, & Christians, let us remove it; that in the Raign, of a King so ready to disapoint the Enemies of his Glory, by repairing the Breaches of his People, and of the old true civil Government of his Kingdom, we may not be wanting to our selves and our Posterity, in another Great Charter, to bury all our Prejudices, and Establish a lasting Civil union among the Inhabitants of this Ancient and Famous Kingdom.

Yours more then my own.

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