THREE LETTERS Tending to demostrate how the Security of this Nation Against al Future Persecution FOR Religion, Lys in the Abolishment of the Present Penal Laws and Tests, and in the Establishment of A NEW LAW For Universal Liberty of Conscience:

With Allowance.

LONDON, Printed, and Sold, by Andrew Sowle, at the Three Keys, in Nags-Head-Court, in Grace-Church-Street, over-against the Conduit, 1688.

[Page] [Page 3] Three LETTERS, &c.

The First Letter.


UPon the receipt of your last Letter, I was, at first, a little troubled to per­ceiv the censorious Judgment you pass upon my Politics, in reference to the grand business of Liberty of Conscience. But after a little consideration I comforted my self. For I not onely remembred your constant favorable regard towards those of different Perswasions from yours, but I observed also, even in that ve­ry Letter, that you agree with me in this Fun­damental [Page 4] Principle, That no Man ought to be Persecuted for Matters of meer Religion. And this agreement in so great a Principle made me hope that, notwithstanding our present Difference, it would be no hard matter for you and me to agree in our particular Conclusions, and conse­quently in our Conduct. To procure that A­greement there is nothing requisite but Honesty and Sense. Let us but examin thorowly whi­ther that Principle leads, and let us be tru to the result of our own Examinations, and the Work wil be don.

But perhaps so strict a subjection as this to the consequences of that Principle, however just and reasonable in it self, may seem unto you a little unseasonable in this Conjuncture▪ Nay, I must acknowledg to you▪ that I my self also am not so much Master of my Passions, as to let Reason have always that absolute Dominion that belongs to it. The fear of being deceived, by a Party of Men who plead for Liberty, makes me somtimes doubtful in determining upon the practice of what I acknowledg to be a Duty. I am convinced that the Interest Of this Nation, as wel as the Laws of Christianity, re­quires [Page 5] an Absolute, Ʋniversal, Equal, and Invio­lable Liberty of Conscience. Nothing that dos not tend to the Ruin of the Government, or to the Prejudice of the People, which is but one and the same thing, should be made the occasion of lay­ing any Restraint upon any Man. But where I see ground to fear that the granting of this Liberty should serv onely to put a Power into their Hands that now demand it, wherby they may be able hereafter to take it away from o­thers, truly in that case I am apt to hesitate upon the Point; or to say better, I confess that I hesi­tate not at al. For I would by no means that a specious hope of Christian Liberty should betray the Nation into a New Unchristian Sla­very.

Thus far I am sure I agree with you. We would have Liberty with Security of its continu­ance: not otherwise. Now I intreat you to ex­amin whether or no, in the rest, you agree with me. I ask then, If so be it can be de­monstrated that the Penal Laws, and Tests too, may be taken away without exposing the Nati­on to any hazard of Persecution by the Roman Catholics; Nay, if a far better Security may be [Page 6] provided against that Persecution than those present Laws and Tests do afford us; wil it not be an Act of Equity and Wisdom, as wel as Christianity, in that case, to abolish them? This Security being supposed, nothing can hin­der us from complying with that Design, but such Considerations as arise from the Covetous­ness and Ambition of ingrossing al Honorable and Profitable Imployments unto our selvs, and those of our own Perswasion. But wil any Considerations of that Nature, when they in­terfere with a Public Interest and an avowed Duty, be justifiable, or even excusable, either before God or Man? I cannot doubt but your determination in that Point wil be the same with mine. Those Considerations are too sor­did to be of any weight with an Honest Mind.

Your Objection, I know, in reading these Questions, wil arise from a Diffidence that any new Security of this nature, either wil or can be granted us. There indeed perhaps you and I may differ in our opinions. But however, to com as near as we can, I wil at present suspend my own Hopes, and concurring with your Doubts, consider onely what is our Duty, and the Duty [Page 7] of al honest Men, even in this supposed doubt­ful Conjuncture.

An Example in the like case, not many years ago, when the Nation was in as great a ferment as it is now, may direct us. Those that suppo­sed there could be no other real Security, against the fears that possest them, than that Odious Bil of Exclusion which they promoted in Parliament, professed nevertheless their constant willingness to listen unto any Expedients that should be offered for that purpose. If they did not then comply with any of those Expedients, it was the heat of Faction that hindred them; and they have since on al occasions acknowledged their Error. Let us therfor profit by their Example. Let us imitate them in that reason­able disposition which they profest, and be careful to avoid those heats which caused their actual miscarriage.

In a word, let us, at least, put the Thing to a Trial. Let it be referred to the Wisdom of a Par­liament to weigh the Expedients that may be in­vented or offered for our Security. Let Mode­rate Men be chosen into that Parliament; and not such as ar ingaged, by along habit of Persecuting, [Page 8] to keep up the present Penal Laws, as Tools already fitted for their hands. Til we be called to that Election-Work, let us each of us endea­vor to dispose our Selvs, dispose One Another, and as occasion offers dispose our Friends, to that Spirit of Wisdom and Moderation which is now so necessary. And til this Business have been weighed in Parliament, let us a little suspend our Judgment upon it, and have always a great care that we obstruct not the Good we desire by heigh­ting any doubtful Jealousys to an irreconcilable Extremity.

These ar the Rules of my Politics, which I hope you wil now look upon a little more favorably then you seemed to do in your last Letter. At present I wil trouble you no further. But if what I have now said prove acceptable, I shal be very ready, upon your desire, to explain further my inmost thoughts upon any the nicest Circumstances of this great Affair.

I am &c:

The Second LETTER.


I Am heartily glad that my last Letter has gi­ven you any measure of Satisfaction. But I perceiv by your new Quaerys, that I have ingaged my self, in the close of that Letter, to a greater Task than I was aware of. It is not enough to have satisfy'd you so far as I have gon, but I must either continu to answer your new Difficultys, or else joyn with you in owning them to be unanswerable. I must either shew you the very Expedients that may be contrived for securing us against any future Persecution by the Roman Catholics, or else acknowledg that no such thing either can or wil be don. That is a little hard. The thing may be felzable, tho I should not be able to demonstrate it. Others may know more than I can. Nay, indeed the truth [Page 10] is that I know so little, and others have already said so much upon this Subject, that, as I cannot pretend to make any new Discoverys in it, so neither am I willing to repeat just the same things that you have read els-where: And between those two Difficulties I am somthing straitned in complying with what you desire. Nevertheless since I am ingaged, I wil rather hazard to re­peat what may have been hinted at already by others, than refuse to explain unto you my own Conceptions.

The Security we demand must be considered either as it lys naturally in the thing it self; I mean in the Repeal of al Old Penal Laws and Tests, and in the Sanction of a New Great Charter for Liberty of Conscience; or else as it may be fortify'd by such Expedients as the Wisdom of a Parliament may think sit to pro­pound, and His Majestys Goodness may vouch­safe to grant.

But this last Consideration belongs not to my Province. It becoms not private Persons to anticipate. Parliamentary Deliberations, much less to prescribe Rules unto His Majestys Con­duct. It suffices me, in that respect, to know [Page 11] that His Majesty has been pleased, by often rei­terated Promises, to assure us that he wil concur with his Parliament, in any thing that may be reasonably offered for the Establishment of such a Law of Christian Liberty as may never be broken. I am not curious to pry further into those matters, until His Majesty shal think fit in his Wisdom to disclose unto the Nation the Treasures of his Goodness. And to speak freely to you, as a Friend, I am yet the less curious about it at this time, nor any ways impa­tient to know more, until a Parliament may be ready to deliberate thereupon; because I know already, that there ar a sort of Men in the Na­tion who watch upon every occasion, with al the Arts that Malice can invent, to blast any thing that shal be offered for the advancement of this Christian Design. Leaving therfore the conside­ration of this Accessional Security that we look for, I wil now apply my self to consider onely what prospect of Security the thing it self dos in its own Nature afford us.

When we discourse about this Security, I sup­pose we both of us understand it onely with relation to the hazard that may arise from [Page 12] taking away the Tests. For as to the Penal Laws, singly considered, I think al Men that have Souls large enough (as I am sure you have) to prefer the general Good of their Coun­try before the narrow Advantages of a Party, wil agree that it is no less the Interest of this Nation to abolish them, than the Duty of al Mankind to forbear Persecution.

There is no hazard in the abolishment of those Penal Laws. Now what the hazard may be in abolishing the Tests, wil be best perceived by considering the effect of their imposition. The effect, in which the Protestant Interest con­sists, is that the Roman Catholics ar thereby ex­cluded from al Places of Public Trust, either Ci­vil or Military. This, I should have said, is the Intent of them. But how far the real Effect fals short of that Intent, and how far it must needs fal short therof in the Reign of a Catholic Prince, is too evident to need any demonstra­tion. Nevertheless, supposing that the Roman Catholics were indeed therby debard from entring into any Public Imployments, What is the ad­vantage that Protestants, or that the Nation in general, pretend to receiv by their Exclu­sion? [Page 13] I know you wil tel me that we have therby our Security against that Principle of Persecution which we think inseparably joyned to their Religion. They wil not be able to impose their Religion upon us, nor persecute us for not receiving it. That is the tru End, and we wil suppose it to be real Effect, of the Tests.

You do not pretend sure that the Exclusion of the Roman Catholics from such Imployments is any Security to our Civil Rights, or to the Fundamental Constitution of our Government. They ar English Men as wel as we. The Ci­vil Rights of English Men ought to be no less dear to them than to us. And if any malicious Surmizer should presume to imagin that His Majesty had a design to raise his own Prerogative upon the ruin of the Peoples Libertys, we have reason to believ, by many past instances, that Men of another Religion, much more numerous and powerful than the Roman Catho­lics, would be found no less ready Instruments, but far more proper ones, for the effecting of that work. The best defence that I know against those imaginary fears, and the most [Page 14] becoming dutiful Subjects, is to comply chear­fully with his Majesty in al things reasonable; that so an unreasonable Refusal may not force him upon new Methods, and make us feel in the end what we ar perhaps too slow to conceiv, that Omnia dat qui justa negat.

But I return to the consideration of our being secured against Persecution by the Exclusion of the Roman Catholics from Public Imployments. In very good time, that the Church of England▪ now looks for such a Security! I am sure others have not been secured against it, by the public administration of Her Members. How­ever, let us consider how it is that the Tests secure us, or how it is that they hinder them from entering into those Imployments. It is not as a Wal or Barricado that confines them to a certain Inclosure, out of which they cannot move; nor is it as a Charm or Spel that, by any Magic Vertu, hinders them from acting. It is onely as a Law, which, by the penalty annexed to it, aws their Minds, and makes them fearful to transgress it. They dar not enter into Pub­lic Offices, lest they should be punished for the Breach of that Law which forbids them to do it. [Page 15] But, pray, Who is it that should punish them for that Offence? They know very wel that in this Reign they ar in no danger. That Law is now dispensed with. The onely Bridle ther­fore that restrains them from transgressing it, is evidently the fear of its being Revived in the Reign for the next Successor; because it is a Law whose Penalty they wil be always liable unto, whensoever the Government shal think fit to exact it.

Now if this be the only Ground of their Ex­clusion from Public Offices, and consequenly of our pretended Security; I say if it be onely the Force of a Law that works that effect; pray let us consider if another Law might not be contrived, to secure us much more effectually against Persecution, that this Exclusion of them either dos or can do.

Let us therfore have a Law enacted, which, in Abolishing al those Penal Ones, and al the Tests too that ar now complained of, shal Esta­blish a Ʋniversal and Equal Liberty of Conscience, as a Magna Charta of Religion, with al the in­gaging Circumstances that the Wit of Man can invent to make it inviolable. Let that Liberty [Page 16] be declared to be the Natural Right of Al Men, and any violation therof be therfore accounted Criminal. Let not onely every Actual Infring­ment of that Law, but every Motion, Proposi­tion, or Contrivance, exprest either in Word or Deed, tending any way to the invalidating of it, be esteemed and declared an Ʋndermining of the Fundamental Constitution of our Government, and accordingly to be punishable with the ut­most Severitys, even as Felony or Treason. Let the Extent of this Law reach al Conditions and al Degrees of Men, Ecclesiastical, Civil and Mi­litary, from the highest Lord to the meanest Beggar. Let not future Parliaments themselvs be exempted from the danger of infringing it; but let any Proposition tending therunto, tho even in either House of Parliament, be not onely reputed a Transgression therof, but expresly declared to be the highest and worst of al Transgressions; and let no Parliamentary, or other Priviledg whatsoever extempt any such Offender from the severest Punishment, no more than they can do it now from that of Treason. And after al this, and what more the Wisest Heads may invent, let The [Page 17] King himself be humbly beseeched to suffer in it a Clause, by which, reserving al other Rights of his Prerogative inviolated, he may solemnly renounce the onely Right of Dispensing with this Law, or of Pardoning any Transgressor of it in any case whatsoever.

Supposing now that such a Law as this should be Enacted, I beseech you to consider if it do not answer the end of securing us against Perse­cution, infinitely better than the present Tests that exclude the Roman Catholics from Public Imployments. It wil secure, in the first place, al the Dissenting Protestants from the present Pe­nal Laws, which the Tests do not: And it wil indeed secure al Partys against al Persecution, in every respect far better than they do. It wil do it in a direct manner: Wheras they work onely by a weak and strained Consequence. It wil do it upon the solid grounds of Religion, Truth and E­quity: Wheras they ar built onely upon precari­ous, partial and unjust Principles. It wil be declared to be in its own Nature Indispensable: Wheras they are every day dispensed with. It wil be E­stablished by a more solemn Sanction: And it wil be inforced by more awful and terifying Penaltys.

[Page 18]These Advantages, as you see, do al appear in the simplest prospect that we can take of the thing it self, in its own Nature; in the meer Abo­lishment, I mean, of the Laws of Persecution, and the Establishment of a Law of Liberty; without the help of any further Expedients. That is the onely thing that I proposed to my self to explain. And I cannot but now hope that even this expla­nation, how imperfect soever it be, wil convince you that it is not so dangerous a Work to abolish the Tests, nor so difficult to establish a lasting Security against Persecution, when those Tests shal be Abo­lished, as som People industriously endeavor to perswade us. But I perceiv that I have been already too tedious upon this Argument. Wher­fore without further Application or Improve­ment thereof, I now refer what I have said to your Examination, and submit to your Judg­ment, resting always &c.

The Third LETTER.


SInce I have had the good fortune to please you the second time, I am resolved to try it a third. I have endeavored, as you have seen, to make it appear that it is not impossible to contrive a more Equitable and Ʋnexceptionable Law than the Tests, which wil secure us also infinitely better than they do, against the danger of being Persecuted by the Roman Catholics. Now you answer me that this Law, tho it should be consented to, would be less Security to us against the Roman Catholics than the Tests: be­cause by it they would be admitted into the Legislative, as wel as Executive, parts of our Go­vernment; wheras by the other they ar wholly excluded from both. And an Exclusion, say you, especially from the Legislative Power, is [Page 20] a far better Security than any Regulation what­soever that can be made about their conduct in it: because, when once admitted into that capacity, there wil be stil reason to apprehend lest they should break thro the Rules prescribed for their Conduct, and change even the Laws themselves at their pleasure.

This is indeed very specious. But I intreat you to consider, in the first place, That the Ex­clusion we talk of by the Tests is onely Imaginary, not Real. We please our selves with a Notion, while we ar frustrated of the Thing. A Dispensa­tion dissipates al that Bulwark into Dust and Aire: While on the contrary the Regulation I have propounded is to be declared and made abso­lutely Indispensable. Which is no inconsidera­ble advantage on the side that I incline to.

But this is not al. Your Objection prompts me to a further Defence of my Proposition. No­thing wil serve your turn but an Absolute Exclu­sion of those that may have a minde to hurt us, from al manner of share, either Legislative or Executive, in our Government. Be it so. I am very wel pleased to join Issu with you upon that Point.

[Page 21]The Hurt we fear, and desire to fence against, is Persecution. Let us therfore, in God's name, exclude al Persecuting Papists, and Protestants too, from those Imployments. But let al those that have a Spirit of Moderation and Charity, joy­ned with other necessary Qualifications, be pro­miscuously admitted into them, whatsoever be their profession of Religion. It is not the Notion of Transubstantiation that hurts us. Why should we therfore make that the ground of an Exclusion? Let us go to the tru Ground of the Matter, and do our Work at once, effectu­ally.

In a Word: Let this Act it self, that we are projecting, be the Fundamental Test for the Ad­mission of al Persons into al manner of Public Imployments, or for their Exclusion from them. Let every Member of both Houses of Parliament, before they ar admitted to sit there, be obliged to subscribe a Declaration, importing That they solemnly profess, and, in the presence of God, sincerely acknowledg the natural Equity of this Great Law; and that they in like manner promis never to infringe it, nor either directly or indirectly to promote any de­sign of undermining or invalidating it in any man­ner [Page 22] whatsoever. Let al those that shal presume to sit in either House, without having first sub­scribed that Declaration, be liable to the seve­rest Penaltys that shal be annexed to the foresaid Law. And let al future Acts (if any such there should be) passed by a Parliament not so quali­fied as by this Law shal be required, be declared Illegal and Nul. Nay further, if it may be thought any strengthning to our Security, let also Al other Public Officers, as wel as the Mem­bers of Parliament, be obliged, upon their entrance into those Offices, to subscribe the same solemn Declaration, upon the hazard of the same Penalties, and of the Illegality and Nullity of al their Proceedings. Let al that Govern, or Teach, or any way Officiate in Ec­clesiastical Affaires, either in Church or Conven­ticle; Al Judges, Justices, Juries, Magistrates, Military Commanders both by Sea and Land, with al the Inferior and Subordinate Officers de­pending upon any of them, from the highest to the lowest, be Al subject to the same Rule.

This is the Test against Persecution that we have been long since advised to, by One of the earliest and strongest Writers upon this Subject; but [Page 23] which the Nation seems not yet to have enough reflected upon. If this be not judged a sufficient security, I wish those that perceiv the defects of it would propound unto us any thing better. I shal be always for chusing the best. But however, in the mean while, I think al Men must agree that, if it be indeed Persecution that we desire to fence against, this is infinitely a better security in that respect than the present Penal Laws and Tests ar. And therfore, provided this may be granted, I cannot but yet hope that there wil appear to be among us Men Wise enough, and Honest enough, and those too, Numerous enough, to sway the Nation to consent to their abolishing.

I have said already that, upon the supposition of this Security there can be nothing but private Ambition or Avarice capable to raise an opposition against this generous Design of Universal Liber­ly. But surely no private Interest wil be capable to bear up long against the general Interest of the Nation. Now it has been often asserted by ma­ny, and demonstrated with great evidence, that those whose Interest it is to desire Liberty ar far more numerous than those that oppose it. But if in that there should at present be any mistake, [Page 24] I am sure, when once this Liberty shal be esta­blished, it wil then be visibly and indisputably the Interest of al Partys to maintain it. Al the several Interests of the Nation wil be then drawn up into one Circle, and the Extremitys wil touch each other. The Church of Eng­land and Protestant Dissenters, how opposite so­ever in other respects, wil therby becom inse­parably cimented into one Common Caus. And, tho we should suspect the Roman Catholics to have contrary inclinations, yet the strength of the others Union wil oblige them, for their own Safety, to concur in promoting the general Good.

Yet for al this, I wil not stick to acknowledg that such a suspicion of an inclination to Perse­cute, in any that may be uppermost, is not altogether unreasonable. The Examples of Persecutions rais'd at one time or other, by al Partys that have had the power to do it, authorize those Fears. But for that very reason, I say, that this is the fittest time that ever we can expect, to settle this Liberty in England: because the Power is now in the Hands of the weakest Party, which is ther­fore least able to strain it. And if once that [Page 25] Settlement be made, the united Interest of al Par­tys in the Advantages it brings along with it, wil in human appearance secure it against the possibi­lity of ever being shaken hereafter.

These Considerations, you see, afford a se­cond Prospect of our Security in the establish­ment of a Law of Liberty; in that it wil be the Interest of al Partys to maintain it: And they afford also an Incitement to set about that Work; becaus of the seasonableness of the opportuni­ty: Which things deserv exceedingly to be at­tended unto. But after so palpable a demon­stration, as I think I have given, of that Security, in the frame of the Law it self, I have no mind now to intertain you with any thing that may appear more speculative, tho in effect it be no less solid.

My meaning in this is, that I have shown onely the Possibility of this Security. But whe­ther or no it wil be just granted in the manner that I conceiv it, is what I cannot answer for. I rather hope it wil be made much better. But how­ever, after this plain appearance of the possibi­lity of the thing, I think I may resume what I said in my first Letter, as an Advice of som [Page 26] weight; That, in this Conjuncture, it is both the Duty and the Interest of the Nation to put this business to a Tryal, in a Grave and Moderate Parliament; and not by any means to make that impossible, by Faction, Jealousy, or Despair, which seems easily obtainable by a prudent Con­duct.

Let this be our constant Aim, to have Liberty setled by a Law. That is the Mark that▪ I shoot at▪ And I would be very loath that other Peo­ples Errors, or Humors, should make me miss it. We ought Al to be singly▪ intent upon our own Duty; and if we keep so, we cannot fail to know it. Which way soever we turn our Re­flections, in these matters of Politics, they wil always bring us back to the same Center. The General Good is the Rule and Touch-Stone, by which al must be tryed and measured. That General Good can never be attended unto, much less procured, without the General Satisfaction of al Partys; Nor that Satisfaction without this Equal and General Liberty which I have been pleading for.

Now therfore that every one may the more easily discern their own Duty, while we ar in [Page 27] this evident possibility of obtaining such an e­qual and secure Liberty; I would have the Church of England, in the first place, Consider with how much Justice the Odium of a Self-interessed and sordid Partiality, wil be cast upon Her by al Men, in case She stil continu to obstruct it. Let Her consider that, and be Ashamed. In the next place, If the Protestant Dissenters should suffer themselvs to be fooled out of this Liberty, by the cunning of their Old Adversarys; I would have them consider how obnoxious they yet ly, even at this very hour, to the Redoubled Lashes of the same Laws under which they have so long groaned. Let Them consider that, and Tremble. And if the Roman Catholics should ever attempt to overstrain the Advantages they may receiv by this Liberty, when it shal be established; I would have them Consider that in gaping for the Shadow, they wil be in danger to lose the Substance. Let Them consider that, and be Wise. I have now don. Lonely again beg of you to pardon the te­diousness of al these Considerations, and to believ me to be most sincerely and affectionately

Yours, &c.

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