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To the reader.
I thought to have wholly omitted the consideration of that part of the discourse of Dr Stillingfleet, in his preface, which concerneth the furtherance and promotion of the designs of the Papists and interest of Popery by Nonconformists, and accordingly I passed it by in the ensuing discourses; for I supposed that all unprejudiced persons would assign it unto the provocation which he seems to have received from those who answered his sermon, or otherwise, and so have passed it by among such other excursions as divines are incident unto in their controversial writings, for that no countenance was given unto it, either from truth or any useful end as unto the present state of the protestant religion amongst us, is evident unto all. But things are fallen out more according unto the humour of the times, or rather the supposed interest of some, than any just, rational projections. For what other success this book hath had I know not, nor am solicitous. Certain it is that many Of the same mind and persuasion with himself have been encouraged and emboldened by it confidently to report that “the Nonconformists are great promoters of the papal interest,” yea, and do the work of the Papists to facilitate its introduction; for it is now made so evident in the preface of that book (I will not say on what topics, which seem not wakeful thoughts in such an important cause, and such a season as this is) that no man need doubt of the truth of it. Some, indeed, think that it were better at this time to consider how to get out Popery from amongst us than to contend about the ways whereby it came in, as unto our present danger of it. But if nothing will prevail against the resolutions of others, influenced by interest and the sweetness of present advantages, to desist from this inquiry, it will be necessary that such an account be given of the true reasons and means of the advance of Popery in this nation as shall give them occasion to consider themselves and their own ways; for we are to look for the causes of such effects in things and means that are suited and fitted to be productive of them, so as that they cannot but follow on their being and operation, and not in old stories, surmises, and far-fetched or feigned inferences. And if we do reckon that the real advancement of religion depends only on the secular advancement of some that do profess it, we may be mistaken in our measures, as others have been before us.
But, at present, the insinuations of that preface do seem to prevail much with those of the same party with its author, who want nothing at any time but the countenance of such a pen and story to vent their ill-will against Nonconformists “Report,” say they, “and we will report it.” But also as he said, “Mendacium mendacio tegendum ne perpluat.” First, evil inventions always tend unto, and stand in need of, new additions, to render them useful unto their end; without which they quickly evaporate. Wherefore, lest the insinuations of this worthy person should not be sufficiently subservient unto the uniting of all Protestants in one common interest against Popery, which was the original design of the Doctor’s sermon, some have added unto it that which is homogeneal, as unto truth, and so easily with the other discourse, that “the Nonconformists, some of them at least, do receive, or have received, money from the Papists, to act their affairs and promote their interest.” And although this be such a putid calumny, such a malicious falsehood, such a frontless lie, as impudence itself would blush at being made an instrument to vent it, and withal extremely ridiculous, yet because it seems useful unto the good end of uniting Protestants and opposing Popery, it hath not only been reported by sundry of the clergy, but embraced and divulged also by some of their weak and credulous followers, who seem to believe that other men’s advantage is their religion. But when the utmost bounds of modesty are passed, nothing but an outrage in lying and calumny, out of hopes that something will stick at last, can give countenance to men in such false accusations. And those by whom they are first whispered probably understand better than the Nonconformists what influence money, or the things which they know how to turn into it, hath into their profession and actings in religion. It seems to me that some such men are afraid lest the present opposition unto Popery should issue in such an establishment of the protestant religion as that hereafter it should not be in the disposal of any, nor in their power to make a bargain of it, either for their advantage or in their necessity. For unless we should suppose such a defect in common prudence as is not chargeable on men of understanding in other affairs, it is hard to judge that these things can proceed from any other ground but a design to increase distrusts and jealousies amongst Protestants, to heighten their differences, to exasperate and provoke them to animosities, to weaken the hands of each party by a disbelief of the sincerity of each other in the same common cause; whence, whether it be designed or no, it will follow that we shall be all made a prey unto our restless adversaries. For what else but a strong inclination thereto can give the least credit or reputation to such vile insinuations, false surmises, and fables (I do not say in the preface, but in the reports that have been occasioned thereby), wherein folly and malice rival one another against that plain, open, uncontrollable evidence, which the Nonconformists always gave, and yet continue to give, of their faithful, cordial adherence unto the protestant religion and interest in the nation? And what now if, in way of retaliation, a charge should be laid and managed against those of the episcopal way, that they should contribute their assistance (whether knowingly or being deluded it is all one) to the introduction of Popery, would not all things be cast into an admirable posture amongst us for an opposition thereunto? But let none mistake nor deceive themselves; neither the past sufferings of the Nonconformists, nor their present hopes of liberty, nor the reproaches cast upon them, shall shake them in their resolutions for a conjunction with all sincere Protestants in the preservation of their religion, and opposition unto all popish designs whatever. And (to speak with modesty enough) as they have hitherto, in all instances of zeal and duty for the preservation of the protestant religion, been as ready and forward as any other sort of men, so whatever may befall them, however they may be traduced or falsely accused, they do and will continue in giving the highest security that conscience, profession, principles, interest, and actions can give, of their stability in the same cause. Only, they desire to be excused if they make not use of this notable engine for opposing of Popery, — namely, the stirring up at this present time of jealousies, fears, and animosities amongst Protestants, — which others judge serviceable unto that end. But that which animates all these insinuations, charges, and reports, is our thankful acceptance of the indulgence granted by his majesty by a public declaration some years ago; whereby it should seem the Papists thought to make some advantage, though they were deceived in their expectation. I must needs say, that whatever be the true case in reference thereto in point of law, in my judgment it scarcely answereth that loyalty and regard unto his majesty’s honour which Some men profess, when all his actions are suited to their interests, to continue such outcries about that which was his own sole act, by the advice of his council. We did, indeed, thankfully accept and make use of this royal favour; and after that, for so many years, we had been exposed to all manner of sufferings and penalties, whereby multitudes were ruined in their estates, and some lost their lives, and that without hopes of any remission of severity from the parliament that then sat, by their mistake of the true interest of the kingdom, wherein alone they did not miss it, we were glad to take a little breathing space from our troubles under his majesty’s royal protection, designed only as an expedient (as was usual in former times) for the peace and prosperity of the kingdom, until the whole matter might be settled in parliament. And if this were a crime, “habetis confitentem reum” as to my part. But because I know myself herein peculiarly reflected on, I do avow that never any one person in authority, dignity, or power in the nation, nor any one that had any relation unto public affairs, nor any from them, Papist or Protestant, did once speak one word to me or advise with me about any indulgence or toleration to be granted unto Papists. I challenge all the world who are otherwise minded to intermit their service for a season unto the great false accuser, and prove the contrary if they can. The persons are sufficiently known of whom they may make their inquiry.
But I can cast this also into the same heap or bundle of other false surmises and reports concerning me, almost without number; which it would be a wonder that some men should pretend to believe and divulge, as they have done, if we were bound to judge that their charity and prudence were proportionable unto their dignities and promotions. These things must be, whilst interest, with hopes and fears, vain love, and hatred thence arising, do steer the minds of men.
But what if we have not designed the prevalence or introduction of Popery, yet, being a company of silly fellows, we have suffered ourselves to be wheedled by the Jesuits to be active for the cutting of our own throats? for we are full well satisfied that we should be the very first who should drink of the cup of their fury, could they ruin the protestant interest in England. And into such an unhappy posture of affairs are we fallen, that whereas it is evident we do nothing for the promotion of Popery, but only pray against it, preach against it, write against it, instruct the people in principles of truth whereon to avoid it, and cordially join with all true Protestants in the opposition of it, wherein we are charged with an excess that is like to spoil all, yet these crafty blades know how to turn it all unto their advantage. As it should seem, therefore, there remains nothing for Nonconformists to do in this matter, but to bind themselves hand and foot and give themselves up unto the power of the Papists; for all they do against them doth but promote their interest. But this, I am persuaded, they will be greatly unwilling unto, unless they are well assured that their episcopal friends will be more ready to expose themselves to hazard for their preservation and deliverance than yet they have reason to expect that they will. But, for my part, I was a long time since taught an expedient by an eminent personage for the freeing myself from any inclination to a compliance with Popery, and that in the instance of himself; for being in Ireland when there was, in former days, a great noise about reconciliation, a person of his own order and degree in the court of England wrote unto him, to inform him of a report that he was inclined to a reconciliation with Popery, or a compliance on good terms with the church of Rome, and withal desired him, that if it were so he would communicate Unto him the reason of his judgment. But that great and wise personage, understanding full well whereunto these things tended, returned no answer but this only, that he knew no reason for any such report; for he was sure that he believed the pope to be antichrist, which put an absolute period unto the intercourse. And I can insist on the same defensative against forty such arguments as are used to prove us compliant with the papal interest; and so I believe can all the Nonconformists. And if this be not enough, I can, for my part, subscribe unto the conclusion which that most eminent champion of the protestant religion in England, namely, Whitaker, gives unto his learned disputation about antichrist: “Igitur,” saith he, “sequamur præeuntem Spiritum Sanctum, et libere dicamus, defendamus, clamemus, et per eum qui vivit in æternum juremus, pontificem Romanum esse antichristum.”
If this will not suffice, we know better how to spend our remaining hours of life in peace than in contending about impertinent stories and surmises, exhaled by wit and invention out of the bog of secular interest; and shall, therefore, only assure those by whom we are charged, in the pulpit, or coffee-houses, or from the press, to countenance the promotion of the papal interest in the nation, that as they deal unjustly with us herein, and weaken the protestant interest what lies in them, so let them and others do and say what they please, nothing shall ever shake us in our resolution, by the help of God, to abide in a firm conjunction with all sincere Protestants for the preservation of our religion, and in opposition to the Papists; yea, that we would do so with our lives at the stake, if there were none left to abide in the same testimony but ourselves. But if they think that there is no way for us to be serviceable against Popery but by debauching our consciences with that conformity which they prescribe unto us, we beg their pardon, we are of another mind.
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