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TO THE AUTHOR OF THE ARGUMENT OF THE LETTER CONCERNING TOLERATION BRIEFLY CONSIDERED AND ANSWERED.
You will pardon me if I take the same liberty with you, that you have done with the author of the Letter concerning Toleration; to consider your arguments, and endeavour to show you the mistakes of them; for since you have so plainly yielded up the question to him, and do own that "the severities he would dissuade Christians from, are utterly unapt and improper to bring men to embrace that truth which must save them:" I am not without some hopes to prevail with you to do that yourself, which you say is the only justifiable aim of men differing about religion, even in the use of the severest methods, viz. carefully and impartially to weigh the whole matter, and thereby to remove that prejudice which makes you yet favour some remains
of persecution: promising myself that so ingenious a person will either be convinced by the truth which appears so very clear and evident to me: or else confess, that, were either you or I in authority, we should very unreasonably and very unjustly use any force upon the other, which differed from him, upon any pretence of want of examination. And if force be not to be used in your case or mine, because unreasonable, or unjust; you will, I hope, think fit that it should be forborn in all others, where it will be equally unjust and unreasonable; as I doubt not but to make it appear it will unavoidably be, wherever you will go about to punish men for want of consideration; for the true way to try such speculations as these is, to see how they will prove when they are reduced into practice.
The first thing you seem startled at, in the author's letter, is the largeness of the toleration he proposes; and you think it strange that he would not have so much as a "Pagan, Mahometan, or Jew, excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth, because of his religion," p. 1. We pray every day for their conversion, and I think it our duty so to do: but it will, I fear, hardly be believed that we pray in earnest, if we exclude them from the other ordinary and probable means of conversion, either by driving them from, or persecuting them when they are amongst us. Force, you allow, is improper to convert men to any religion. Toleration is but the removing that force; so that why those should not be tolerated as well as others, if you wish their conversion, I do not see. But you say, "It seems hard to conceive how the author of that letter should think to do any service to religion in general, or to the Christian religion, by recommending and persuading such a toleration; for how much soever it may tend to the advancement of trade and commerce (which some seem to place above all other considerations), I see no reason, from any experiment that has been made, to expect that true religion would be a gainer by it; that it would be either the better preserved, the more widely propagated, or rendered any
whit the more fruitful in the lives of its professors by it." Before I come to your doubt itself, "Whether true religion would be a gainer by such a toleration;" give me leave to take notice, that if, by other considerations, you mean any thing but religion, your parenthesis is wholly beside the matter; and that if you do not know that the author of the letter places the advancement of trade above religion, your insinuation is very uncharitable. But I go on.
"You see no reason, you say, from any experiment that has been made, to expect that true religion would be a gainer by it." True religion and Christian religion are, I suppose, to you and me, the same thing. But of this you have an experiment in its first appearance in the world, and several hundreds of years after. It was then "better preserved, more widely propagated, in proportion, and rendered more fruitful in the lives of its professors," than ever since; though then Jews and pagans were tolerated, and more than tolerated, by the governments of those places where it grew up. I hope you do not imagine the Christian religion has lost any of its first beauty, force, or reasonableness, by having been almost two thousand years in the world; that you should fear it should be less able now to shift for itself, without the help of force. I doubt not but you look upon it still to be " the power and wisdom of God for our salvation;" and therefore cannot suspect it less capable to prevail now, by its own truth and light, than it did in the first ages of the church, when poor contemptible men, without authority, or the countenance of authority, had alone the care of it. This, as I take it, has been made use of by Christians generally, and by some of our church in particular, as au argument for the truth of the Christian religion; that it grew, and spread, and prevailed, without any aid from force, or the assistance of the powers in being; and if it be a mark of the true religion, that it will prevail by its own light and strength, but that false religions will not, but have need of force and foreign helps to support them, nothing certainly can be more for the ad
vantage of true religion, than to take away compulsion every where; and therefore it is no more "hard to conceive how the author of the letter should think to do service to religion in general, or to the Christian religion," than it is hard to conceive that he should think there is a true religion, and that the Christian religion is it; which its professors have always owned not to need force, and have urged that as a good argument to prove the truth of it. The inventions of men in religion need the force and helps of men to support them. A religion that is of God wants not the assistance of human authority to make it prevail. I guess, when this dropped from you, you had narrowed your thoughts to your own age and country: but if you will enlarge them a little beyond the confines of England, I do not doubt but you will easily imagine that if in Italy, Spain, Portugal, &c. the Inquisition; and in France their dragooning; and in other parts those severities that are used to keep or force men to the national religion, were taken away; and instead thereof the toleration proposed by the author were set up, the true religion would be a gainer by it.
The author of the letter says, "Truth would do well enough, if she were once left to shift for herself. She seldom hath received, and he fears never will receive, much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely known, and more rarely welcome. Errors indeed prevail, by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours. Truth makes way into our understanding, by her own light, and is but the weaker for any borrowed force that violence can add to her." These words of his, how hard soever they may seem to you, may help you to conceive how he should think to do service to true religion, by recommending and persuading such a toleration as he proposed. And now pray tell me yourself, whether you do not think true religion would be a gainer by it, if such a toleration, established there, would permit the doctrine of the church of England to be freely preached, and its worship set up, in any popish, Mahometan, or
pagan country? If you do not, you have a very ill opinion of the religion of the church of England, and must own that it can only be propagated and supported by force. If you think it would gain in those countries, by such a toleration, you are then of the author's mind, and do not find it so hard to conceive how the recommending such a toleration might do service to that which you think true religion. But if you allow such a toleration useful to truth in other countries, you must find something very peculiar in the air, that must make it less useful to truth in England; and it will savour of much partiality, and be too absurd, I fear, for you to own, that toleration will be advantageous to true religion all the world over, except only in this island; though, I much suspect, this, as absurd as it is, lies at the bottom; and you build all you say, upon this lurking supposition, that the national religion now in England, backed by the public authority of the law, is the only true religion, and therefore no other is to be tolerated; which being a supposition equally unavoidable, and equally just in other countries, unless we can imagine that every where but in England men believe what at the same time they think to be a lie, will, in other places, exclude toleration, and thereby hinder truth from the means of propagating itself.
What the fruits of toleration are, which in the next words you complain do "remain still among us," and which, you say, give no encouragement to hope for any advantages from it;" what fruits, I say, these are, or whether they are owing to the want or wideness of toleration among us, we shall then be able to judge, when you tell us what they are. In the mean time I will boldly say, that if the magistrates will severely and impartially set themselves against vice, in whomsoever it is found, and leave men to their own consciences, in their articles of faith, and ways of worship, "true religion will be spread wider, and be more fruitful in the lives of its professors," than ever hitherto it has been, by the imposition of creeds and ceremonies.