A LETTER to a Gentleman, CONTAINING A Plea for the Rights of Conscience, in Things of a Religious Nature.

By a Dissenting Protestant.

Who claims for himself a Right of private Judgment, and to attend on such a Ministry, and such Teaching, as appears to himself, to be agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and apprehends that this Right belongs to Christians of every Denomination.

Good Conscience Men allow (they say)
But must be understood,
To say as they themselves do say,
Or else it can't be Good.

BOSTON: N. E. Printed and Sold by S. KNEELAND, opposite the Prison in Queen-Street. 1753.



Honoured Sir,

AS your Relation to the Legislature of this Pro­vince (as an honourable Member of the Great and General Court or Assembly) gives you an Opportunity; so I am perswaded, you are very sensible that you are under proportionable Obligations to study the Welfare of the People of this Province, not only by promoting and forwarding of such Acts and Laws, as are or may be found necessary for the Encouragement of Virtue and true Religion, and suppressing of Vice and Immorality, but also by discountenancing and suppressing such Oppressions as (under Colour of Law) are at any Time exercised, to Infringe the just Rights of Consci­ence, in Matters of Religion. And whereas an Opinion seems to have generally prevailed among the People of this Province, That in every Town and Precinct (except the Town of Boston) All the Inhabitants, are by the Laws of this Pro­vince, obliged to pay to the Settlement and Support, of such a Minister as the major Part agree upon, unless a minor Part (dissenting) do profess themselves to be of the Episcopal, Anabaptist, or Quakers Perswasion; I perswade my self, you will easily observe, that such an Opinion (fathered on our [Page]Province Laws) carries in it very undue Reflections upon our honourable Legislature, and represents our Laws, either un­just and partial, or inconsistent one with another; whereas if the Word All in our Laws, might be allowed to intend, no more than is commonly intended thereby, in sacred Writ, there would be no Colour for such a Pretence. And must it not be very absurd to imagine, That our honourable Legisla­ture intended any other by the Word All, than All who did, or ought to attend that Ministry, exclusive of such as consci­enciously dissent therefrom? Or that when they in very ex­press Terms, enacted, that ‘each respective gathered Church in any Town or Precinct within this Province, that at any Time shall be in want of a Minister, such Church shall have Power, according to the Directions given in the Word of GOD, to chose their own Minister’? That, that ho­nourable Court intended thereby no greater Liberty to cons­ciencious Dissenters, than the Egyptian Monarch proposed to grant to the Children of Israel, when he said, Go ye, serve the Lord, only let your Flocks and your Herds be stayed. Or that they were influenced meerly from politick Motives, and not from a religious Regard to the Rights of Conscience, and the Rules of commutative Justice, in freeing the Estates of the Members of Episcopal and Anabaptist Churches, and the People called Quakers, from supporting a Ministry in which their Consciences do not acquiecs;e?

Surely, such a wise, religious and Protestant Legislature (being also themselves Dissenters) could neither thro' Igno­rance of the Nature of Religion, or the Nature and Office of Conscience, be brought to suppose, that true Religion is to be propagated by external Force or Compulsion; or that Conscience (even tho' it be erroneous) is in such a Way, or by such Means, to be regulated or rectified. Nor could they be so inadvertent as to determine, That all the Inhabitants of a Town or Precinct, where some are of the Calvinistical and others of the Arminian or Latitudinarian Perswasion, might consistent with a good Conscience (that is, without sinfully counteracting the Dictates of their own Consciences) continue together as one Congregation: Or, that it can be possible, that any one Minister should so dispense the Word of God, in such a mixed Assembly, as to Answer (in the Opinion of All) the great End of the Gospel Dispensation.

[Page 4] I am therefore perswaded, that it never was the Intent of the Law, that all without Distinction, should be taxed to­wards the Support of a Ministry in which the Consciences of some cannot acquiesce; yet I earnestly wish, that our Laws were rendered more plain and easy to be understood in their genuine Sense and Meaning.

I covet for my self and mine, the Enjoyment of a learned, as well as pious and orthodox Ministry; and count it a sin­gular Favour of Heaven, which calls for great Admiration, as well as Thankfulness, that in our degenerate Age, there are any, and so many, faithful Gospel Ministers continued in our Land: And I wish they may ever be duly encouraged and supported; but I am not able to discover any Scripture-Foundation for any Act or Acts of the Civil Authority to compel any who conscienciously and on the Account of a different understanding of the Meaning of the Scriptures, do dissent even from the Ministry of such as by the major Part are esteemed to be the most eminent, to hear, or pay for, such Preaching, as they apprehend to be disagreable to the great End of the Gospel Ministry.

Can such Compulsion be reconciled to the Rules of Equity and Justice? Can it be founded on, yea, is it not directly contrary to, the Example of Christ and his Apostles, and to the Practise of the primitive Churches, who neither used themselves, nor prescribed to succeeding Ages, any compul­sive Methods to bring Men to embrace the Gospel? And are not perswasive and convictive Arguments for the enlight­ning of the Mind, the only Scripture Method to promote sincere Religion?

It is indeed wonderful to me, That notwithstanding the plain Evidence we have of the Spread of the Gospel over the whole World, without the Assistance of the Civil Ma­gistrate, that it should now become so general an Opinion. That Churches must needs be brought into Confusion and Disorder, be crumbled to Pieces, their Foundation raz'd &c. unless all the Inhabitants in each Town and Precinct (tho' consisting of a mixed Number of People of very different Perswasions in Points of Doctrine) be compel­led to join in supporting such as Ministry, as is agreeable to the Mind of a major Part.

[Page 5] But since there is a such a Thing as a spiritual, as well as corporeal Sensation, can there be any Reason assigned, why the Choice of Food for our Souls, any more than for our Bodies, should be refer'd to the Judgment (not to say Hu­mours) of other Men? Yet I am perswaded, that if it were but suspected, that any Laws of the Province had put it in the Power of a major Part, to provide a costly Entertain­ment, for the whole Town, once a Week, and to compel every one to pay his Part of the Cost, it would raise a grievous Hubbub, and People would be apt to think it an Infringe­ment upon their natural Rights, as Men, that other Men should chuse their Diet: and that it was unreasonable to com­pel them to pay for the Provision, if they found it so unsavoury that they could not eat it; and much more if they were assur­ed that something of a poisonous Quality, or that had a Ten­dency to breed Diseases in the Body, was mixed with it. Now, in as much as the Care of every Man's own Soul is peculiarly belonging to himself, and is of infinitely greater Importance than the Concerns of the Body; and we are pathetically cau­tioned to take Heed both how, & what we hear. To beware of false Teachers & corrupt Doctrines, and are expresly required to cease from hearing the Instruction that causeth to err from the Words of Knowledge, it cannot be less reasonable and necessary (but vastly more so) that every Man be left entirely free, to act according to the Dictates of his own Un­derstanding, in the Choice of his spiritual Food, and to put himself under such a Ministry as he apprehends to be agrea­ble to the Mind of Christ, and consequently most likely to subserve his own Edification.

And all Attempts to disenable a minor Party in any Town or Precinct for, or with Respect to the Support of such an agreeable Ministry for themselves (by wresting their Estates from them towards the Support of a Ministry, in which their Consciences cannot acquiesce) are far from having a Tendency to promote Gospel Order, or the Growth of Christianity, and discovers more of an Anti-Christian persecuting Spirit and Temper, than a Desire to advance the Interest of Peace Truth and Holiness.

And whereas some object, That if such a Freedom from Taxations for the Support of the standing Ministry, be allow­ed to a minor Party, that this would open a Door for Men, [Page]meerly out of Prejudice, yet under a Pretence of Conscience, to set up separate Assemblies: I would only inquire, Whether that Door be not already open for such Separations as those, by the Acts formerly made to free the Members of Episco­pal and Anabaptist Churches, and the People called Quakers; and whether those Acts do any more than only put them into actual Possession of those Rights of humane Nature, which justly belonged to them before those Acts were passed, and which cannot be justly denied to any of His Majesty's Pro­testant Subjects of this Province.

Another Objection which I have sometimes heard is this, viz. That to oblige all to pay to the standing Ministry, is agreeable to the Wisdom of the Nation; Dissenters, notwith­standing the Act of Toleration, are obliged to pay Tythes, by which the standing Ministry is supported.

I reply to this Objection, That our Predecessors in this Land disclaimed any Pretence to a National or Provincial Constitution of Churches; and in as much as our Churches here are Congregational, and with Respect to their Eccelesi­astical Constitution, and Mode of Worship, are very different from that of the National Church, I can see no Reason why the whole Regimen, Services and Ceremonies of the National Church, may not be urged for our Imitation, with as great Force and Strength of Argument, as those National Acts, which oblige Dissenters there, to bear a Part in the Charge of the Incumbents. And verily, if I thought (as it seems Multitudes do) that our Laws have vested a Majority in each Town and Precinct, with a Power of imposing ministerial Rates or Taxes, at their Pleasure, upon such as dissent from them in their Choice of a Minister, I could see no Grounds to hope that the Persecution would stop here, but think that a Door is set open to proceed from this, to the highest De­gree of Persecution, and should be ready to expect that in a short Time Dissenters will be favoured with at least as much Freedom and Liberty of Conscience, under the Government of LORD DIOCESAN, as under the popular Authority of LORD MAJORITY.

And now (Honoured Sir,) Since our Laws are construed by many to intend such a Power, I refer to your superiour Judgment, whether Reason and Religion, as well as the just Vindication of the Laws of this Province (relating to the [Page 7]Settlement and Support of Ministers) from such Aspersions, does not require, that something be done, in a very explicit Manner, to rescue them from such Misconstructions, and prevent their being abused to Injustice, Oppression and spi­ritual Tyranny? sad Instances whereof, have already been, in several Places in our Land. So rests,

Honoured Sir,
Your humble Servant,


IN ancient Ages, when the English Realm
And popish Zelots, placed at the Helm
To stablish that Religion: Tythes were fix'd
By Cannon Laws, with civil intermix'd.
Which form'd the English Constitution so,
That After A [...] can't the Tythes forgoe:
And hence Dissenters, [...] obliged there,
To pay Incumbent whom they never hear.
Which some condemn, as a Prelatick Game,
Who yet, by MAJOR VOTE would play the same;
And LORD Majority would claim the Purse
For his Incumbents: than which nothing worse.
LORDLY Diocesan, himself, can claim:
So these two LORDS do differ, but in Name,
One pleading English Laws, for his Support;
The other feigning Acts of our own Court;
Alledging Law, in a perverted Sense
To render CHARTER Grant, a meer Pretence;
And as if Law and Charter both intend
To crush one Church, Another to befriend:
They'd make them mean, the same that Pharaoh said,
Go serve the Lord, but let your Flocks be stay'd.
But if one Church be tax'd, to serve another,
No Matter whether, done by this or t'other.

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