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Review of the Preface.

Among the many disadvantages which those who plead in any sense for liberty of conscience are exposed unto, it is not the least that in their arguings and pleas they are enforced to admit a supposition that those whom they plead for are indeed really mistaken in their apprehensions about the matters concerning which they yet desire to be indulged in their practice: for unless they will give place to such a supposition, or if they will rigidly contend that what they plead in the behalf of is absolutely the truth, and that obedience thereunto is the direct will and command of God, there remains no proper field for the debate about indulgence to be managed in; for things acknowledged to be such are not capable of an indulgence, properly so called, because the utmost liberty that is necessary unto them is their right and due in strict justice and law. Men, therefore, in such discourses, speak not to the nature of the things themselves, but to the apprehensions of them with whom they have to do. But yet against this disadvantage every party which plead for themselves are relieved by that secret reserve that they have in the persuasion of the truth and goodness of what they profess, and desire to be indulged in the practice of; and this, also, as occasion doth offer itself, and in defence of themselves from the charge of their adversaries, they openly contend and avow. Neither was it judged formerly that there was any way to deprive them of this reserve and relief but by a direct and particular debate of the matters specially in difference, carried on unto their conviction by evidence of truth, managed from the common principles of it. But after trial made, this way to convince men of their errors and mistakes, who stand in need of indulgence with respect unto the outward administration of the powers that they are under, is found, as it should seem, tedious, unreasonable, and ineffectual. A new way, therefore, to this purpose is fixed on, and it is earnestly pleaded that there needs no other argument or medium to prove men to be mistaken in their apprehensions, and to miscarry in their practice of religious duties, than that at any time or in any place they stand in need of indulgence. To dissent, at all adventures, is a crime, and he whom others persecute, tacitly at least, confesseth himself guilty; for it is said that the law of the magistrate being the sole rule of obedience in religious worship, their non-compliance with any law by him established, evidencing itself in their desire of exemption, is a sufficient conviction, yea, a self-acknowledgment, not only of their errors and mistakes in what they apprehend of their duty in these things, and of their miscarriages in what they practice, but also that themselves are persons turbulent and seditious, in withdrawing obedience from the laws which are justly imposed 346on them. With what restrictions and limitations, or whether with any or no, these assertions are maintained, we shall afterward inquire.

The management of this plea (if I greatly mistake him not) is one of the principal designs of the author of that discourse, a brief survey whereof is here proposed. The principle which he proceeds herein upon himself, it seems, knew to be novel and uncouth, and therefore thought it incumbent on him that both the manner of its handling, and the other principles that he judged meet to associate with it or annex unto it, should be of the same kind and complexion. This design hath at length produced us this discourse; which, of what use it may prove to the church of God, what tendency it may have to retrieve or promote love and peace among Christians, I know not. This I know, that it hath filled many persons of all sorts, with manifold surprisals, and some with amazement. I have, therefore, on sundry considerations, prevailed with myself, much against my inclinations, for the sake of truth and peace, to spend a few hours in the examination of the principal parts and seeming pillars of the whole fabric. And this I was in my own mind the more easily induced unto, because there is no concernment either of the church or state in the things here under debate, unless it be that they should be vindicated from having any concern in the things and opinions here pleaded and argued. For as to the present church, if the principles and reasonings here maintained and managed are agreeable unto her sentiments, and allowed by her, yet there can be no offence given in their examination, because she hath nowhere yet declared them so to be. And the truth is, if they are once owned and espoused by her, to the ends for which they are asserted, as the Christians of old triumphed in the thoughts of him who first engaged in ways of violence against them among the nations in the world, so the Nonconformists will have no small relief to their minds in their sufferings, when they understand these to be the avowed principles and grounds on which they are to be persecuted and destroyed. And for the power of ecclesiastical jurisdiction belonging to the kings of this nation, as it hath been claimed and exercised by them in all ages since the establishment of Christian religion among us, as it is declared in the laws, statutes, and customs of the kingdom, and prescribed unto an acknowledgment in the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, it hath not the least concern in the matter here in question; yea, it is allowed, acknowledged, and pleaded for, by those whom this author designs to oppose. Whatever, then, shall be spoken of this subject, it is but a bare ventilation of private opinions, and those such as which, if one doctor’s judgment may advance into the reputation of probability, so that some may venture to act upon them, yet are they not so far thereby secured as to have sanctuary given them even from private men’s examinations. Herein, then, I suppose, a liberty may be exercised without just offence to any; and our disquisition after the truth of the principles and theorems that will come under consideration may be harmlessly accompanied with a moderate plea in the behalf of their innocency who are invidiously traduced, contemptuously reproached, unduly charged and calumniated, beyond, I am sure, any ordinary examples or precedents, among men of any sort, rank, degree, difference, or profession in the world. Yea, this seems to be called for by the light and law of nature, and to be useful, yea, needful to public tranquillity, beyond what in this present hasty review shall be attempted.

For the author of this discourse, he is to me utterly unknown; neither do I intend either to make any inquiry after him, or hastily to fix a credit unto any reports concerning either who he is or of what consideration in the world. I am not concerned to know what, it seems, he was concerned to conceal. Nor do I use to consider reasons, arguments, or writings under a relation to any persons; which contributes nothing to their worth or signification. Besides, I know how deceitful 347reports are in such matters, and no way doubt but that they will betray persons of an over-easy credulity into those mistakes about the writer of this survey which he is resolved to avoid with reference to the author of the discourse itself. Only, the character that in the entrance of it he gives of himself, and such other intimations of his principles as he is pleased to communicate, I suppose he will be willing we should take notice of, and that we may do so without offence.

Thus, in the entrance of his preface, he tells us that he is “a person of such a tame and softly humour, and so cold a complexion, that he thinks himself scarce capable of hot and passionate impressions,” though I suppose he avow himself, p. 4, to be chafed into some heat and briskness with that evenness and steadiness of expression which we shall be farther accustomed unto. But in what here he avers of himself, he seems to have the advantage of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, upon less provocations than he hath undertaken the consideration of (for the Pharisees with whom he had to deal were gentlemen, he tells us, unto those with whom himself hath to do), as he saith, “fell into a hot fit of zeal, yea, into a height of impatience, which made him act with a seeming fury and transport of passion,” p. 7. And if that be indeed his temper which he commends in himself, he seems to me to be obliged for it unto his constitution and complexion, as he speaks, and not to his age, seeing his juvenile expressions and confidence will not allow us to think that he suffers under any defervescency of spirit by his years. The philosopher tells us that old men, in matters dubious and weighty, are not over-forward to be positive, but ready to cry, ἴσως καὶ τάχα, perhaps, and it may be so; and this δι’ ἐμπειρίαν, because they have experience of the uncertainty of things in this world; as, indeed, those who know what entanglements all human affairs are attended withal, what appearing causes and probable reasons are to be considered and examined about them, and how all rational determinations are guided and influenced by unforeseen emergencies and occasions, will not be over-forward to pronounce absolutely and peremptorily about the disposal of important affairs. But, as the same author informs us, Οἱ νέοι εἰδέναι πάντα οἴονται καὶ διϊσχυρίζονται, “Young men suppose that they know all things, and are vehement in their asseverations:” from which frame proceeded all those dogmatical assertions of what is politic and impolitic in princes, of what will establish or ruin governments, with the contempt of the conceptions of others about things conducing to public peace and tranquillity, which so frequently occur in our author. This makes him smile at as serious consultations for the furtherance of the welfare and prosperity of this nation as, it may be, in any age or juncture of time have been upon the wheel, preface, p. 48. These considerations made it seem to me that, in an ordinary course, he hath time enough before him to improve the notions he hath here blessed the world with a discovery of, if, upon second thoughts, he be equally enamoured of them unto what now he seems to be.

I could, indeed, have desired that he had given us a more clear account of that religion which in his judgment he doth most approve. His commendation of the church of England sufficiently manifesteth his interest to lie therein, and that, in pursuit of his own principles, he doth outwardly observe the institutions and prescriptions of it; but the scheme he hath given us of religion, or religious duties, — wherein there is mention neither of sin nor a Redeemer, without which no man can entertain any one true notion of Christian religion, — would rather bespeak him a philosopher than a Christian. It is not unlikely but that he will pretend he was treating of religion as religion in general, without an application of it to this or that in particular; but to speak of religion as it is among men in this world, or ever was since the fall of Adam, without a supposition of sin, and the way of a relief from the event of it mentioned, is to talk of chimeras, — things that neither are, ever were, or will be. On the other hand, the profit and advantage of his design falls clearly on the papal interest; for whereas it is framed and contrived for the 348advantage, security, and unquestionableness of absolute compliers with the present possessors of power, it is evident that, in the state of Europe, the advantage lies incomparably on that hand. But these things are not our concernment. The designs which he manageth in his discourse, the subject-matter of it, the manner how he treats those with whom he hath to do, and deports himself therein, are by himself exposed to the judgment of all, and are here to be taken into some examination. Now, because we have in his preface a perfect representation of the things last mentioned throughout the whole, I shall, in the first place, take a general view and prospect of it.

And here I must have regard to the judgment of others. I confess, for my own part, I do not find myself at all concerned in those invectives, tart and upbraiding expressions, those sharp and twinging satires against his adversaries, which he avoweth or rather boasteth himself to have used. If this unparalleled heap of revilings, scoffings, despiteful reproaches, sarcasms, scornful, contemptuous expressions, false criminations, with frequent intimations of sanguinary affections towards them, do please his fancy and express his morality to his own satisfaction, I shall never complain that he hath used his liberty, and do presume that he judgeth it not meet that it should be restrained. It is far from my purpose to return him any answer in the like manner to these things; to do it

“― opus est mangone perito

Qui Smithfieldensi polleat eloquio.

Yet some instances of prodigious excesses in this kind will, in our process, be reflected on; and it may be the repetition of them may make an appearance, unto some less considerate readers, of a little harshness in some passages of this return. But as nothing of that nature in the least is intended, — nothing that might provoke the author in his own spirit, were he capable of any “hot impressions,” nothing to disadvantage him in his reputation or esteem, — so what is spoken, being duly weighed, will be found to have nothing sharp or unpleasant in it, but what is unavoidably infused into it from the discourse itself, in its approach unto it to make a representation of it.

It is of more concernment to consider with what frame and temper of spirit he manageth his whole cause and debate; and this is such as that a man who knows nothing of him but what he learns from this discourse would suppose that he hath been some great commander

In campis Gurgustidoniis,

Ubi Bombamachides Cluninstarydisarchides

Erat imperator summus; Neptuni nepos,

[Plaut. Mil. I. i. 13,]

associate unto him who with his breath blew away and scattered all the legions of his enemies, as the wind doth leaves in autumn.

Such confidence in himself and his own strength; such contempt of all his adversaries, as persons “silly, ignorant, illiterate;” such boastings of his achievements, with such a face and appearance of scorning all that shall rise up against him; such expressions “animi gladiatorii,” doth he march withal as no man, sure, will be willing to stand in his way, unless he think himself to have lived, at least quietly, long enough. Only, some things there are which I cannot but admire in his undertaking and management of it; as, first, that such a man of arms and art as he is should harness himself with so much preparation, and enter the lists with so much pomp and glow, to combat such pitiful, poor, baffled ignoramuses as he hath chosen to contend withal, especially considering that he knew he had them bound hand and foot, and cast under his stroke at his pleasure. Methinks it had more become him to have sought out some giant in reason and learning, that might have given him at least “par animo periculum,” as Alexander said in his conflict with Porus, a danger big enough to exercise his courage, though through mistake 349it should, in the issue, have proved but a windmill. Again; I know not whence it is, nor by what rules of errantry it may be warranted, that, being to conflict with such pitiful triflers, he should, before he come near to touch them, thunder out such terrible words, and load them with so many reproaches and contemptuous revilings; as if he designed to scare them out of the lists, that there might be no trial of his strength nor exercise of his skill.

But leaving him to his own choice and liberty in these matters, I am yet persuaded that if he knew how little his adversaries esteem themselves concerned in or worsted by his revilings, how small advantage he hath brought unto the cause managed by him, with what severity of censures, that I say not indignation, his proceedings herein are reflected on by persons sober and learned, who have any respect to modesty or sobriety, or any reverence for the things of God as debated among men, he would abate somewhat of that self-delight and satisfaction which he seems to take in his achievement.

Neither is it in the matter of dissent alone from the established forms of worship that this author and some others endeavour, by their revilings and scoffings, to expose Nonconformists to scorn and violence, but a semblance at least is made of the like reflections on their whole profession of the gospel and their worship of God; yea, these are the special subjects of those swelling words of contempt, those sarcastical, invidious representations of what they oppose, which they seem to place their confidence of success in. But what do they think to effect by this course of procedure? Do they suppose that by crying out, “canting phrases, silly nonsense, metaphors,” they shall shame the Nonconformists out of the profession of the gospel, or make them forego the course of their ministry, or alienate one soul from the truth taught and professed amongst them? They know how their predecessors in the faith thereof have been formerly entertained in the world. St Paul himself, falling among the gentlemen philosophers of those days, was termed by them σπερμολόγος, a “babbler,” or one that canted, his doctrine despised as silly and foolish, and his phrases pretended to be unintelligible. These things move not the Nonconformists, unless it be to a compassion for them whom they see to press their wits and parts to so wretched an employment. If they have any thing to charge on them with respect to gospel truths, — as, that they own, teach, preach, or publish, any doctrines or opinions that are not agreeable thereunto and to the doctrine of the ancient and late (reformed) churches, let them come forth, if they are men of learning, reading, and ingenuity, and, in ways used and approved from the beginning of Christianity for such ends and purposes, endeavour their confutation and conviction; — let them, I say, with the skill and confidence of men, and according to all the rules of method and art, state the matters in difference between themselves and their adversaries, confirm their own judgments with such reasons and arguments as they think pleadable in their behalf, and oppose the opinions they condemn with testimonies and reasons suited to their eversion. The course at present steered and engaged in, to carp at phrases, expressions, manners of the declaration of men’s conceptions, collected from, or falsely fathered upon, particular persons, thence intimated to be common to the whole party of Nonconformists (the greatest guilt of some whereof, it may be, is only their too near approach to the expressions used in the Scripture to the same purpose, and the evidence of their being educed from thence), is unmanly, unbecoming persons of any philosophic generosity, much more Christians and ministers; nay, some of the things or sayings reflected on and carped at by a late author are such as those who have used or asserted them dare modestly challenge him, in their defence, to make good his charge in a personal conference, — provided it may be scholastical or logical, not dramatic or romantic. And surely were it not for their confidence in that tame and patient humour which this author so tramples upon, p. 15, they could not but fear that some or other, by these 350disingenuous proceedings, might be provoked to a recrimination, and to give in a charge against the cursed oaths, debaucheries, profaneness, various immoralities, and sottish ignorance, that are openly and notoriously known to have taken up their residence among some of those persons, whom the railleries of this and some other authors are designed to countenance and secure.

Because we may not concern ourselves again in things of this nature, let us take an instance or two of the manner of the dealing of our author with the Nonconformists, and those as to their preaching and praying, which of all things they are principally maligned about. For their preaching, he thus sets it out, p. 75: “Whoever among them can invent any new language presently sets up for a man of new discoveries; and he that lights upon the prettiest nonsense is thought by the ignorant rabble to unfold new gospel mysteries; and thus is the nation shattered into infinite factions with senseless and fantastic phrases: and the most fatal miscarriage of them all lies in abusing Scripture expressions, not only without but in contradiction to their sense; so that had we but an act of parliament to abridge preachers the use of fulsome and luscious metaphors, it might perhaps be an effectual cure of all our present distempers. Let not the reader smile at the oddness of the proposal; for were men obliged to speak sense as well as truth, all the swelling mysteries of fanaticism would then sink into flat and empty nonsense, and they would be ashamed of such jejune and ridiculous stuff as their admired and most profound notions would appear to be.” Certainly there are few who read these expressions that can retain themselves from smiling at the pitiful, fantastic souls that are here characterized, or from loathing their way of preaching here represented. But yet if any should, by a surprisal, indulge themselves herein, and one should seriously inquire what it is that stirred those humours in them, it may be they could scarce return a rational account of their commotions; for when they have done their utmost to countenance themselves in their scorn and derision, they have nothing but the bare assertions of this author for the proof of what is here charged on those whom they deride. And how if these things are most of them, if not all of them, absolutely false? how if he be not able to prove any of them by any considerable avowed instance? how if all the things intended, whether they be so or no as here represented, depend merely on the judgment and fancy of this author, and it should prove in the issue that they are no such rules, measures, or standards of men’s rational expressions of their conceptions, but that they may be justly appealed from? And how if sundry things so odiously here expressed be proved to have been sober truths, declared in words of wisdom and sobriety? what if the things condemned as “fulsome metaphors” prove to be scriptural expressions of gospel mysteries? what if the principal doctrines of the gospel, about the grace of God, the mediation of Christ, of faith, justification, gospel obedience, communion with God, and union with Christ, are esteemed and stigmatized by some as “swelling mysteries of fanaticism,” and the whole work of our redemption by the blood of Christ, as expressed in the Scripture, be deemed metaphorical? In brief, what if all this discourse concerning the preachings of Nonconformists be, as unto the sense of the words he used, false, and the crimes in them injuriously charged upon them? what if the metaphors they are charged with are no other but their expression of gospel mysteries, “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual? As these things may and will be made evident when particulars shall be instanced in, so when, I say, these things are discovered and laid open, there will be a composure, possibly, of those affections and disdainful thoughts which those swelling words may have moved in weak and inexperienced minds. It may be, also, it will appear that, upon a due consideration, there will be little subject-matter remaining to be enacted in that law or act of parliament 351which he moves for; unless it be from that uncouth motion, that men may be “obliged to speak sense as well as truth,” seeing hitherto it hath been supposed that every proposition that is either true or false hath a proper and determined sense; and if sense it have not, it can be neither. I shall only crave leave to say, that as to the doctrines which they preach, and the manner of their preaching, or the way of expressing those doctrines or truths which they believe and teach, the Nonconformists appeal from the rash, false, and invidious charge of this author, to the judgment of all learned, judicious, and pious men in the world; and are ready to defend them against himself, and whosoever he shall take to be his patrons or his associates, before any equal, competent, and impartial tribunal under heaven. It is far from me to undertake the absolute defence of any party of men, or of any man because he is of any party whatever, much less shall I do so of all the individual persons of any party, and least of all as to all their expressions, private opinions, and peculiar ways of declaring them, which too much abound among persons of all sorts. I know there is no party but have weak men belonging to it, nor any men amongst them but have their weaknesses, failings, and mistakes; and if there are none such in the church of England, — I mean those that universally comply with all the observances at present used therein, — I am sure enough that there are so amongst all other parties that dissent from it. But such as these are not principally intended in these aspersions, nor would their adversaries much rejoice to have them known to be and esteemed of all what they are. But it is others whom they aim to expose unto contempt; and in the behalf of them, not the mistakes, misapprehensions, or undue expressions of any private persons, these things are pleaded.

But let us see if their prayers meet with any better entertainment. An account of his thoughts about them he gives us, p. 19: “It is the most solemn strain of their devotion, to vilify themselves with large confessions of the heinousest and most aggravated sins. They will freely acknowledge their offences against all the commands, and that with the foulest and most enhancing circumstances; they can rake together and confess their injustice, uncleanness, and extortion, and all the publican and harlot sins in the world: in brief, in all their confessions they stick not to charge themselves with such large catalogues of sin, and to amass together such a heap of impieties, as would make up the completest character of lewdness and villany; and if their consciences do really arraign them of all those crimes whereof they so familiarly indict themselves, there are no such guilty and unpardonable wretches as they. So, then, their confessions are either true or false. If false, then they fool and trifle with the Almighty; if true, then I could easily tell them the fittest place to say their prayers in.”

I confess this passage, at its first perusal, surprised me with some amazement. It was unexpected to me that he who designed all along to charge his adversaries with Pharisaism, and to render them like unto them, should instance in their confession of sin in their prayers, when it is even a characteristical note of the Pharisees that in their prayers they made no confession of sin at all; but it was far more strange to me that any man durst undertake the reproaching of poor sinners with the deepest acknowledgment of their sins before the holy God that they are capable to conceive or utter. Is this, thought I, the spirit of the men with whom the Nonconformists do contend, and upon whose instance alone they suffer? Are these their apprehensions concerning God, sin, themselves, and others? Is this the spirit wherewith the children of the church are acted? Are these things suited to the principles, doctrines, practices, of the church of England? Such reproaches and reflections, indeed, might have been justly expected from those poor deluded souls who dream themselves perfect and free from sin; but to meet with such a treaty from them who say or sing, “O God, the father of heaven, 352have mercy upon us, miserable sinners,” at least three times a-week, was some surprisal. However, I am sure the Nonconformists need return no other answer, to them who reproach them for vilifying themselves in their confessions to God, but that of David to Michal, “It is before the Lord; and we will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in our own sight.” Our author makes no small stir with the pretended censures of some whom he opposes, — namely, that they should “esteem themselves and their party to be the elect of God, all others to be reprobates, — themselves and theirs to be godly, and all others ungodly;” wherein I am satisfied that he unduly chargeth those whom he intends to reflect upon. However, I am none of them. I do not judge any party to be all the elect of God, or all the elect of God to be confined unto any party. I judge no man living to be a reprobate, though I doubt not but that there are living men in that condition. I confine not holiness or godliness to any party, — not to the church of England, nor to any of those who dissent from it; but am persuaded that in all societies of Christians that are under heaven that hold the Head, there are some really fearing God, working righteousness, and accepted with him. But yet neither my own judgment nor the reflections of this author can restrain me from professing that I fear that he who can thus trample upon men, scoff at and deride them for the deepest confessions of their sins before God which they are capable of making, is scarce either well acquainted with the holiness of God, the evil of sin, or the deceitfulness of his own heart, or did not in his so doing take them into sufficient consideration. The church of England itself requires its children to “acknowledge their manifold sins and wickednesses, which from time to time they have grievously committed by thought, word, and deed, against the divine Majesty;” and what in general others can confess more, I know not. If men that are, through the light of God’s Spirit and grace, brought to an acquaintance with the deceitful workings of sin in their own hearts and the hearts of others, considering aright the terror of the Lord, and the manifold aggravations wherewith all their sins are attended, do more particularly express these things before and to the Lord, when indeed nor they nor any other can declare the thousandth part of the vileness and unworthiness of sin and sinners on the account thereof, shall they be now despised for it, and judged to be men meet to be hanged? If this author had but seriously perused the confessions of Austin, and considered how he traces his sin from his nature in the womb, through the cradle, into the whole course of his life, with his marvellous and truly ingenuous acknowledgments and aggravations of it, perhaps the reverence of so great a name might have caused him to suspend this rash, and I fear impious discourse.

For the particular instances wherewith he would countenance his sentiments and censures in this matter, there is no difficulty in their removal. Our Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us to call the most secret workings of sin in the heart, though resisted, though controlled and never suffered to bring forth, by the names of those sins which they lie in a tendency unto; and men in their confessions respect more the pravity of their natures and the inward working and actings of sin than the outward perpetrations of it, wherein perhaps they may have little concernment in the world: as Job, who pleaded his uprightness, integrity, and righteousness against the charge of all his friends, yet when he came to deal with God, he could take that prospect of his nature and heart as to vilify himself before him, yea, to “abhor himself in dust and ashes.”

Again; ministers, who are the mouths of the congregation to God, may and ought to acknowledge, not only the sins whereof themselves are personally guilty, but those also which they judge may be upon any of the congregation. This assuming of the persons of them to whom they speak, or in whose name they speak, is usual even to the sacred writers themselves. So speaks the apostle Peter, 3531 Epist. iv. 3, “For the time past of our lives may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries.” He puts himself amongst them, although the time past of his life, in particular, was remote enough from being spent in the manner there described; and so it may be with ministers when they confess the sins of the whole congregation. And the dilemma of this author about the truth or falsehood of these confessions will fall as heavy on St Paul as on any Nonconformist in the world; for besides the acknowledgment that he makes of the former sins of his life, when he was “injurious, a blasphemer, and persecutor” (which sins I pray God deliver others from), and the secret working of indwelling sin, which he cries out in his present condition to be freed from, he also, when an apostle, professeth himself the “chiefest of sinners.” Now, this was either true or it was not: if it was not true, God was mocked; if it were, our author could have directed him to the fittest place to have made his acknowledgments in. What thinks he of the confessions of Ezra, of Daniel, and others, in the name of the whole people of God; of David concerning himself, whose self-abasements before the Lord, acknowledgments of the guilt of sin in all its aggravations and effects, far exceed any thing that Nonconformists are able to express?

As to his instances of the confession of “injustice, uncleanness, and extortion,” it may be, as to the first and last, he would be put to it to make it good by express particulars; and I wish it be not found that some have need to confess them who cry at present they are not of these publicans. Uncleanness seems to bear the worst sound, and to lead the mind to the worst apprehensions of all the rest; but it is God with whom men have to do in their confessions, and before him, “What is man, that he should be clean? and he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man, who drinketh iniquity like water,” Job xv. 14–16. And the whole church of God in their confession cry out, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isa. lxiv. 6. There is a pollution of flesh and spirit which we are still to be cleansing ourselves from whilst we are in this world.

But to what purpose is it to contend about these things? I look upon this discourse of our author as a signal instance of the power of prejudice and passions over the minds of men: for, setting aside the consideration of a present influence from them, I cannot believe that any one that professeth the religion taught by Jesus Christ and contained in the Scripture can be so ignorant of the terror of the Lord; so unaccustomed to thoughts of his infinite purity, severity, and holiness; such a stranger to the accuracy, spirituality, and universality of the law; so unacquainted with the sin of nature, and the hidden deceitful workings of it in the hearts, minds, and affections of men; so senseless of the great guilt of the least sin, and the manifold inexpressible aggravations wherewith it is attended; so unexercised to that self-abasement and abhorrency which becomes poor sinners in their approaches to the holy God, when they consider what they are in themselves; so disrespective of the price of redemption that was paid for our sins, and the mysterious way of cleansing our souls from them by the blood of the Son of God, — as to revile, despise, and scoff at men for the deepest humblings of their souls before God, in the most searching and expressive acknowledgments of their sins, that they do or can make at any time.

The like account may be given of all the charges that this author manageth against the men of his indignation; but I shall return at present to the preface under consideration.

354In the entrance of his discourse, being, as it seems, conscious to himself of a strange and wild intemperance of speech in reviling his adversaries, which he had either used or intended so to do, he pleads sundry things in his excuse or for his justification. Hereof the first is his zeal for the reformation of the church of England, and the settlement thereof with its forms and institutions. These, he saith, are “countenanced by the best and purest times of Christianity, and established by the fundamental laws of this land” (which yet, as to the things in contest between him and Nonconformists, I greatly doubt of, as not believing any fundamental law of this land to be of so late a date). To see this “opposed by a wild and fanatic rabble, rifled by folly and ignorance, on slender and frivolous pretences, so often and so shamefully baffled, yet again revived by the pride and ignorance of a few peevish, ignorant, and malapert preachers, brain-sick people” (all which gentle and peaceable expressions are crowded together in the compass of a few lines), is that which hath “chafed him into this heat and briskness.” If this be not to deal with gainsayers in a “spirit of meekness;” if herein there be not an observation of the rules of speaking evil of no man, despising no man, of not saying “Raca” to our brother, or calling of him “fool;” if here be not a discovery how remote he is from self-conceit, elation of mind, and the like immoralities, — we must make inquiry after such things elsewhere: for, in this whole ensuing treatise, we shall scarce meet with any thing more tending to our satisfaction. For the plea itself made use of, those whom he so tramples on do highly honour the reformation of the church of England, and bless God for it continually, as that which hath had a signal tendency unto his glory, and usefulness to the souls of men. That as to the outward rites of worship and discipline contested about, it was in all things conformed unto the great rule of them, our author doth not pretend; nor can he procure it in those things, whatever he says, any “countenance from the best and purest times of Christianity.” That it was every way perfect in its first edition, I suppose will not be affirmed; nor, considering the posture of affairs at the time of its framing, both in other nations and in our own, was it like it should so be. We may rather admire that so much was then done according to the will of God, than that there was no more. Whatever is wanting in it, the fault is not to be cast on the first reformers, who went as far as well in those days could be expected from them. Whether others who have succeeded in their place and room have since discharged their duty in perfecting what was so happily begun is “sub judice,” and there will abide after this author and I have done writing. That as to the things mentioned, it never had an absolute quiet possession or admittance in this nation, — that a constant and no inconsiderable suffrage hath, from first to last, been given in against it, — cannot be denied; and for any “savage worrying” or “rifling of it” at present, no man is so barbarous as to give the least countenance to any such thing. That which is intended in these exclamations [explanations?] is only a desire that those who cannot comply with it as now established, in the matters of discipline and worship before mentioned, may not merely for that cause be worried and destroyed, as many have already been.

Again, the chief glory of the English Reformation consisted in the purity of its doctrine, then first restored to the nation. This, as it is expressed in the articles of religion, and in the publicly-authorized writings of the bishops and chief divines of the church of England, is, as was said, the glory of the English Reformation. And it is somewhat strange to me, that whilst one writes against original sin, another preaches up justification by works, and scoffs at the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to them that believe; yea, whilst some can openly dispute against the doctrine of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the Holy Ghost; whilst instances may be collected of some men’s impeaching all the articles almost throughout, — there should be no reflection in the least on these things. Only those 355who dissent from some outward methods of worship must be made the object of all this wrath and indignation.

Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes?

[Juv., ii. 24.]

Some men’s guilt in this nature might rather mind them of pulling the beam out of their own eyes than to act with such fury to pull out the eyes of others for the motes which they think they espy in them. But hence is occasion given to pour out such a storm of fury, conveyed by words of as great reproach and scorn as the invention of any man, I think, could suggest, as is not lightly to be met withal. Might our author be prevailed with to mind the old rule, “Mitte male loqui, dic rem ipsam,” these things might certainly be debated with less scandal, less mutual offences and provocations.

Another account of the reasons of his intemperance in these reproaches, supplying him with an opportunity to increase them in number and weight, he gives us, pp. 6, 7 of his preface; which, because it may well be esteemed a summary representation of his way and manner of arguing in his whole discourse, I shall transcribe:—

“I know,” says he, “but one single instance in which zeal, or a high indignation, is just and warrantable, and that is when it vents itself against the arrogance of haughty, peevish, and sullen religionists, that, under higher pretences of godliness, supplant all principles of civility and good-nature; that strip religion of its outside, to make it a covering for spite and malice; that adorn their peevishness with a mark of piety, and shroud their ill-nature under the demure pretences of godly zeal, and stroke and applaud themselves as the only darlings and favourites of Heaven; and, with a scornful pride, disdain all the residue of mankind as a rout of worthless and unregenerate reprobates. Thus, the only hot fit of zeal we find our Saviour in was kindled by an indignation against the pride and insolence of the Jews, when he whipped the buyers and sellers out of the outward court of the temple; for though they bore a blind and superstitious reverence towards that part of it that was peculiar to their own worship, yet as for the outward court, the place where the Gentiles and proselytes worshipped, that was so unclean and unhallowed that they thought it could not be profaned by being turned into an exchange of usury. Now, this insolent contempt of the Gentiles, and impudent conceit of their own holiness, provoked the mild spirit of our blessed Saviour to such an height of impatience and indignation as made him, with a seeming fury and transport of passion, whip the tradesmen thence, and overthrow their tables.”

What truth, candour, or conscience, hath been attended unto in the insolent reproaches here heaped up against his adversaries is left to the judgment of God and all impartial men; yea, let judgment be made and sentence be passed according to the ways, course of life, conversation, usefulness amongst men, readiness to serve the common concerns of mankind, in exercising loving-kindness in the earth, of those who are thus injuriously traduced, compared with any in the approbation and commendation of [those by] whom they are covered with these reproaches, and there lives not that person who may not be admitted to pronounce concerning the equity and righteousness, or iniquity, of these intemperances. However, it is nothing with them with whom he hath to do to be judged in man’s day; they stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and have not so learned him as to relieve themselves by false or fierce recriminations. The measure of the covering provided for all these excesses of unbridled passion is that alone which is now to be taken. The case expressed, it seems, is the only single instance in which zeal is “just and warrantable.” How our author came to be assured thereof, I know not; sure I am that it doth neither comprise in it, nor hath any aspect on, the ground, occasion, 356or nature of the zeal of Phinehas, or of Nehemiah, or of David, or of Joshua, and, least of all, of our Saviour, as we shall see. He must needs be thought to be over-intent upon his present occasion, when he forgot not one or two, but indeed all instances of just and warrantable zeal that are given us in the only sacred repository of them.

For what concerns the example of our blessed Saviour, particularly insisted on, I wish he had offended one way only in the report he makes of it; for let any sober man judge, in the first place, whether those expressions he useth, of the “hot fit of zeal” that he was in, of the “height of impatience” that he was provoked unto, the “seeming fury and transport of passion” that he acted withal, do become that reverence and adoration of the Son of God which ought to possess the hearts and guide the tongues and writings of men that profess his name. But whatever other men’s apprehensions may be, as it is not improbable but that some will exercise severity in their reflections on these expressions, for my part, I shall entertain no other thoughts but that our author, being engaged in the composition of an invective declamation, and aiming at a grandeur of words, yea, to fill it up with tragical expressions, could not restrain his pen from some extravagant excess when the Lord Christ himself came in his way to be spoken of.

However, it will be said the instance is pertinently alleged, and the occasion of the exercise of the zeal of our blessed Saviour is duly represented. It may be some will think so; but the truth is, there are scarce more lines than mistakes in the whole discourse to this purpose. What court it was of the temple wherein the action remembered was performed is not here particularly determined; only it is said to be the “outward court, wherein the Gentiles and proselytes worshipped, in opposition to that which was peculiar to the worship of the Jews.” Now, of old, from the first erection of the temple, there were two courts belonging unto it, and no more: the inward court, wherein were the brazen altar, with all those utensils of worship which the priests made use of in their sacred offices; and the outward court, whither the people assembled, as for other devotions, so to behold the priests exercising their function, and to be in a readiness to bring in their own especial sacrifices, upon which account they were admitted to the altar itself. Into this outward court, which was a dedicated part of the temple, all Gentiles who were proselytes of righteousness, — that is, who, being circumcised, had taken upon them the observation of the law of Moses, and thereby joined themselves to the people of God, — were admitted, as all the Jewish writers agree. And these were all the courts that were at first sanctified, and were in use when the words were spoken by the prophet which are applied to the action of our Saviour, — namely, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Afterward, in the days of the Herodians, another court was added, by the immuring of the remainder of the hill, whereinto a promiscuous entrance was granted unto all people. It was, therefore, the ancient outward court whereinto the Jews thought that Paul had brought Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they knew to be uncircumcised. I confess some expositors think that it was this latter area from whence the Lord Christ cast out the buyers and sellers, but their conjecture seems to be altogether groundless; for neither was that court ever absolutely called “the temple,” nor was it esteemed sacred, but common or profane, nor was it in being when the prophet used the words mentioned concerning the temple. It was, therefore, the other ancient outward court, common to the Jews and proselytes of the Gentiles, that is intended; for as there the salt and wood were stored that were daily used in their sacrifices, so the covetous priests, knowing that many who came up to offer were wont to buy the beasts they sacrificed at Jerusalem, to prevent the charge and labour of bringing them from far, to further, 357as they pretended, their accommodation, appropriated a market to themselves in this court, and added a trade in money, relating it may be thereunto, and other things, for their advantage. Hence the Lord Christ twice drove them, once at the beginning, and once at the end of his ministry in the flesh; not with “a seeming transport of fury,” but with that evidence of the presence of God with him, and majesty of God upon him, that it is usually reckoned amongst one of the miracles that he wrought, considering the state of all things at that time amongst the Jews. And the reason why he did this, and the occasion of the exercise of his zeal, is so express in the Scripture, as I cannot but admire at the invention of our author, who could find out another reason and occasion of it; for it is said directly that he did it because of their wicked profanation of the house of God, contrary to his express institution and command. Of a regard to the Jews’ “contempt of the Gentiles” there is not one word, not the least intimation; nor was there in this matter the least occasion of any such thing.

These things are not pleaded in the least to give countenance to any in their proud, supercilious censures and contempt of others; wherein if any person living have outdone our author, or shall endeavour so to do, he will not fail, I think, to carry away the prize in this unworthy contest. Nor is it to apologize for them whom he charges with extravagancies and excesses in this kind. I have no more to say in their behalf but that, as far as I know, they are falsely accused and calumniated, though I will not be accountable for the expressions of every weak and impertinent person. Where men, indeed, sin openly in all manner of transgressions against the law and gospel; where a spirit of enmity to holiness and obedience unto God discovers and acts itself constantly on all occasions; in a word, where men wear sin’s livery, — some are not afraid to think them sin’s servants. But as to that elation of mind in self-conceit wherewith they are charged, their contempt of other men upon the account of party, which he imputes unto them, I must expect other proofs than the bare assertion of this author before I join with him in the management of his accusations. And no other answer shall I return to the ensuing leaves, fraught with bitter reproaches, invectives, sarcasms, far enough distant from truth and all sobriety; nor shall I, though in their just and necessary vindication, make mention of any of those things which might represent them persons of another complexion. If this author will give those whom he probably most aims to load with these aspersions leave to confess themselves poor and miserable sinners in the sight of God, willing to bear his indignation against whom they have sinned, and to undergo quietly the severest rebukes and revilings of men, in that they know not but that they have a providential permissive commission from God so to deal with them; and add thereunto that they yet hope to be saved by Jesus Christ, and in that hope endeavour to give up themselves in obedience to all his commands, — it contains that description of them which they shall always, and in all conditions, endeavour to answer. But I have only given these remarks upon the preceding discourse to discover upon what feeble grounds our author builds for his own justification in his present engagement.

Page 13 of his preface, he declares his original design in writing this discourse, — which was to “represent to the world the lamentable folly and silliness of those men’s religion with whom he had to do;” which he farther expresses and pursues with such a lurry11   A word occurring more than once in Owen’s writings, though not noticed in such dictionaries as those of Webster and Richardson. It seems to mean “a disturbance, or tumult.” See Halliwell’s “Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words,” where he quotes Cotton using the word in this sense. — Ed. of virulent reproaches as I think is not to be paralleled in any leaves but some others of the same hand; and in the close thereof he supposeth he hath evinced that, in comparison of them, “the most insolent of the Pharisees 358were gentlemen, and the most savage of the Americans philosophers.” I must confess myself an utter stranger unto that generous disposition and philosophic nobleness of mind which vent themselves in such revengeful, scornful wrath, expressed in such rude and barbarous railings, against any sort of men whatever, as that here manifested in, and those here used by this author. If this be a just delineation and character of the spirit of a gentleman, a due portraiture of the mind and affections of a philosopher, I know not who will be ambitious to be esteemed either the one or the other. But what measures men now make of gentility I know not. Truly noble generosity of spirit was heretofore esteemed to consist in nothing more than remoteness from such pedantic severities against, and contemptuous reproaches of, persons under all manner of disadvantages, yea, impossibilities to manage their own just vindication; as are here exercised and expressed in this discourse; and the principal pretended attainment of the old philosophy was a sedateness of mind, and a freedom from turbulent passions and affections under the greatest provocations: which if they are here manifested by our author, they will give the greater countenance unto the character which he gives of others, the judgment and determination whereof is left unto all impartial readers.

But in this main design he professeth himself prevented by “the late learned and ingenious discourse, The Friendly Debate;”22   The work to which Owen refers is entitled, “A Friendly Debate between a Conformist and a Nonconformist, in two parts,” London, 1669. It is understood to have been written by Dr Simon Patrick, who was afterwards successively Bishop of Chichester and of Ely. He died in 1691, and his memory is still respected for his Paraphrase and Critical Commentaries on the books of the Old Testament, and other works of a theological and devotional character. The “Debate” was resented by the Nonconformists as harsh and unjust in its strictures; and even on the other side, the eminent Judge Hale wrote to Baxter in strong disapproval of it. — Ed. which, to manifest, it may be, that his rhetorical faculty is not confined to invectives, he spendeth some pages in the splendid encomiums of. There is no doubt, I suppose, but that the author of that discourse will, on the next occasion, requite his panegyric, and return him his commendations for his own achievements with advantage. They are like enough to agree, like those of the poet:—

Discedo Alcæus puncto illius, ille meo quis?

Quis nisi Callimachus?

[Hor. Ep., ii. 2, 99.]

For the present, his account of the excellencies and successes of that discourse minds me of the dialogue between Pyrgopolynices and Artotrogus:—

Pyrg. Ecquid meministi? Art. Memini; centum in Ciliciâ,

Et quinquaginta centum Sycolatron dæ,

Triginta Sardi, sexaginta Macedones,

Sunt homines tu quos occidisti uno die.

Pyrg. Quanta isthæc hominum summa est?

Art. Septem millia.

Pyrg. Tantum esse oportet; rectè rationem tenes.

Art. At nullos habeo scriptos, sic memini tamen.

[Plaut. MiI. Glor., i. 1, 42.]

Although the particular instances he gives of the man’s successes are prodigiously ridiculous, yet the casting up of the sum-total to the completing of his victory sinks them all out of consideration. And such is the account we have here of the Friendly Debate. This and that it hath effected; which though unduly asserted as to the particular instances, yet altogether comes short of that absolute victory and triumph which are ascribed unto it. But I suppose that, upon due consideration, men’s glorying in those discourses will be but as the crackling of thorns in the fire, — noise and smoke, without any real and solid use or satisfaction. The great design of the author, as is apparent unto all, was to render the sentiments 359and the expressions of his adversaries ridiculous, and thereby to expose their persons to contempt and scorn.

Egregiam verò laudem et spolia ampla!

[Æn., iv. 93.]

And to this end his way of writing by dialogues is exceedingly suited and accommodated; for although ingenious and learned men, such as Plato and Cicero, have handled matters of the greatest importance in that way of writing, candidly proposing the opinions and arguments of adverse parties in the persons of the dialogists, and sometimes used that method to make their design of instruction more easy and perspicuous, yet it cannot be denied that advantages may be taken from this way of writing to represent both persons, opinions, and practices, invidiously and contemptuously, above any other way; and therefore it hath been principally used by men who have had that design. And I know nothing in the skillful contrivance of dialogues, which is boasted of here with respect unto the Friendly Debate, as also by the author of it in his preface to one of his worthy volumes, that should free the way of writing itself from being supposed to be peculiarly accommodated to the ends mentioned. Nor will these authors charge them with want of skill and art in composing of their dialogues, who have designed nothing in them but to render things uncouth and persons ridiculous, with whom themselves were, in worth and honesty: no way to be compared.

An instance hereof we have in the case of Socrates. Sundry in the city being weary of him, for his uprightness, integrity, and continual pressing of them to courses of the like nature; some, also, being in an especial manner incensed at him and provoked by him; amongst them they contrived his ruin. That they might effect this design, they procured Aristophanes to write a dialogue, his comedy, which he entitled Νεφέλαι, “The Clouds;” wherein Socrates is introduced and personated, talking at as contemptible and ridiculous a rate as any one can represent the Nonconformists to do, and yet withal to commend himself as the only man considerable amongst them. Without some such preparation of the people’s minds, his enemies thought it impossible to obtain his persecution and destruction. And they failed not in their projection. Aristophanes, being poor, witty, and, as is supposed, hired to this work, lays out the utmost of his endeavours so to frame and order his dialogues, with such elegancy of words and composure of his verses, with such a semblance of relating the words and expressing the manner of Socrates, as might leave an impression on the minds of the people. And the success of it was no way inferior to that of the Friendly Debate; for though at first the people were somewhat surprised with seeing such a person so traduced, yet they were after a while so pleased and tickled with the ridiculous representation of him and his philosophy, wherein there was much of appearance and nothing of truths, that they could make no end of applauding the author of the Dialogues. And though this was the known design of that poet, yet that his dialogues were absurd and inartificial I suppose will not be affirmed, seeing few were ever more skilfully contrived. Having got this advantage of exposing him to public contempts his provoked malicious adversaries began openly to manage their accusation against him. The principal crime laid to his charge was nonconformity, or that he did not comply with the religion which the supreme magistrate had enacted; or, as they then phrased it, “he esteemed not them to be gods whom the city so esteemed.” By these means, and through these advantages, they ceased not until they had destroyed the best and wisest person that ever that city bred in its heathen condition, and whereof they quickly repented themselves. The reader may see the whole story exactly related in Ælian., lib. ii.; Var. Histor., cap. 13. Much of it also may be collected from the Apologies of Xenophon and Plato in behalf of Socrates, as also Plutarch’s 360Discourse concerning his Genius. To this purpose have dialogues very artificially written been used, and are absolutely the most accommodate of all sorts of writing unto such a design. Hence Lucian, who aimed particularly to render the things which he disliked ridiculous and contemptible, used no other kind of writing; and I think his Dialogues will be allowed to be artificial, though sundry of them have no other design but to cast contempt on persons and opinions better than himself and his own. And this way of dealing with adversaries in points of faith, opinion, and judgment, hath hitherto been esteemed fitter for the stage than a serious disquisition after truth, or confutation of error. Did those who admire their own achievements in this way of process but consider how easy a thing it is for any one, deposing that respect to truth, modesty, sobriety, and Christianity, which ought to accompany us in all that we do, to expose the persons and opinions of men, by false, partial, undue representations, to scorn and contempt, they would perhaps cease to glory in their fancied success. It is a facile thing to take the wisest man living, and after he is lime-twigged with ink and paper, and gagged with a quill, so that he can neither move nor speak, to clap a fool’s coat on his back, and turn him out to be laughed at in the streets. The Stoics were not the most contemptible sort of philosophers of old, nor will be thought so by those who profess their religion to consist in morality only, and yet the Roman orator, in his pleading for Muræna, finding it his present interest to cast some disreputation upon Cato, his adversary in that cause, who was addicted to that sect, so represented their dogmas that he put the whole assembly into a fit of laughter; whereunto Cato only replied, that he made others laugh, but was himself ridiculous. And, it may be, some will find it to fall out not much otherwise with themselves by that time the whole account of their undertaking is well cast up.

Besides, do these men not know that if others would employ themselves in a work of the like kind, by way of retortion and recrimination, that they would find real matter, amongst some whom they would have esteemed sacred, for an ordinary ingenuity to exercise itself upon unto their disadvantage? But what would be the issue of such proceedings? who would be gainers by it? Every thing that is professed among them that own religion, all ways and means of their profession, being by their mutual reflections of this kind rendered ridiculous, what remains but that men fly to the sanctuary of atheism to preserve themselves from being scoffed at and despised as fools? On this account alone I would advise the author of our late Debates to surcease proceeding in the same kind, lest a provocation unto a retaliation should befall any of those who are so foully aspersed.

But, as I said, what will be the end of these things, namely, of mutual virulent reflections upon one another? Shall this “sword devour for ever? and will it not be bitterness in the latter end?” for, as he said of old of persons contending with revilings, —

Ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι

Πολλὰ μὰλ’· οὐδ’ ἄν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.

Στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ’ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ’ ἔνι μῦθοι,

Παντοῖοι· ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.

Ὁπποῖόν κ’ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ’ ἐπακούσαις.

[Il., xx. 246–250]

Great store there are of such words and expressions on every hand, and every provoked person, if he will not bind his passion to a rule of sobriety and temperance, may at his pleasure take out and use what he supposeth for his turn. And let not men please themselves with imagining that it is not as easy, though perhaps not so safe, for others to use towards themselves haughty and contemptuous expressions, as it is for them to use them towards others. But shall this wrath 361never be allayed? Is this the way to restore peace, quietness, and satisfaction to the minds of men? Is it meet to use her language in this nation concerning the present differences about religion:—

Nullus amor populis, nec fœdera sunto.

Littora littoribus contraria, fluctibus undas

Imprecor, arma armis: pugnent ipsique nepotes!

[Æn., iv. 624–628.]

Is agreement in all other things, all love and forbearance, unless there be a centring in the same opinions absolutely, become criminal, yea detestable? Will this way of proceeding compose and satisfy the minds of men? If there be no other way for a coalescence in love and unity, in the bond of peace, but either that the Nonconformists do depose and change in a moment, as it were, their thoughts, apprehensions, and judgments, about the things in difference amongst us, which they cannot, which is not in their power to do; or that in the presence, and with a peculiar respect unto the eye and regard of God, they will act contrary unto them, which they ought not, which they dare not, no not upon the present instruction, — the state of these things is somewhat deplorable.

That alone which, in the discourses mentioned, seemeth to me of any consideration, if it have any thing of truth to give it countenance, is, that the Nonconformists, under pretence of preaching mysteries and grace, do neglect the pressing of moral duties, which are of near and indispensable concernment unto men in all their relations and actions, and without which religion is but a pretence and covering for vice and sin. A crime this is, unquestionably, of the highest nature, if true, and such as might justly render the whole profession of those who are guilty of it suspected. And this is again renewed by our author, who, to charge home upon the Nonconformists, reports the saying of Flacius Illyricus, a Lutheran, who died a hundred years ago, namely, that “bona opera sunt perniciosa ad salutem;” though I do not remember that any such thing was maintained by Illyricus, though it was so by Amsdorfius against Georgius Major. But is it not strange how any man can assume to himself and swallow so much confidence as is needful to the management of this charge? The books and treatises published by men of the persuasion traduced, their daily preaching, witnessed unto by multitudes, of all sorts of people, the open avowing of their duty in this matter, their principles concerning sin, duty, holiness, virtue, righteousness, and honesty, do all of them proclaim the blackness of this calumny, and sink it, with those who have taken, or are able to take, any sober cognizance of these things, utterly beneath all consideration. Moral duties they do esteem, commend, count as necessary in religion as any men that live under heaven. It is true, they say that on a supposition of that performance whereof they are capable without the assistance of the grace and Spirit of God, though they may be good in their own nature and useful to mankind, yet they are not available unto the salvation of the souls of men; and herein they can prove that they have the concurrent suffrage of all known churches in the world, both those of old and these at present. They say, moreover, that for men to rest upon their performances of these moral duties for their justification before God, is but to set up their own righteousness through an ignorance of the righteousness of God, for we are freely justified by his grace; neither yet are they sensible of any opposition to this assertion.

For their own discharge of the work of the ministry, they endeavour to take their rule, pattern, and instruction, from the precepts, directions, and examples of them who were first commissionated unto that work, even the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, recorded in the Scripture, that they might be used and improved unto that end. By them are they taught to endeavour the declaring unto men all the counsel of God concerning his grace, their obedience, and salvation; and 362having the word of reconciliation committed unto them, they do pray their bearers “in Christ’s stead to be reconciled unto God.” To this end do they declare the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” and comparatively determine to know nothing in this world but “Christ and him crucified,” — whereby their preaching becometh principally the word or doctrine of the cross, which by experience they find to be a “stumbling-block” unto some, and “foolishness” unto others; by all means endeavouring to make known “what is the riches of the glory of the mystery of God in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself;” praying withal for their hearers, that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him,” that “the eyes of their understanding being enlightened,” they may learn to know “what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” And in these things are they “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation.”

By this dispensation of the gospel do they endeavour to ingenerate in the hearts and souls of men “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” To prepare them also hereunto they cease not, by the preaching of the law, to make known to men “the terror of the Lord,” to convince them of the nature of sin, of their own lost and ruined condition by reason of it, through its guilt, as both original in their natures and actual in their lives; that they may be stirred up to “flee from the wrath to come,” and to” lay hold on eternal life.” And thus, as God is pleased to succeed them, do they endeavour to lay the great foundation, Jesus Christ, in the hearts of their hearers, and to bring them to an interest in him by believing. In the farther pursuit of the work committed unto them, they endeavour more and more to declare unto, and instruct their hearers in, all the mysteries and saving truths of the gospel; to the end that, by the knowledge of them, they may be wrought unto obedience, and brought to conformity to Christ, — which is the end of their declaration. And in the pursuit of their duty there is nothing more that they insist upon, as far as ever I could observe, than an endeavour to convince men that that faith or profession that doth not manifest itself, which is not justified by works, which doth not purify the heart within, that is not fruitful in universal obedience to all the commands of God, is vain and unprofitable; letting them know that though we are saved by grace, yet we are the “workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which he hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” — a neglect whereof doth uncontrollably evict men of hypocrisy and falseness in their profession: that, therefore, these things, in those that are adult, are indispensably necessary to salvation. Hence do they esteem it their duty continually to press upon their hearers the constant observance and doing of “whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;” letting them know that those who are called to a participation of the grace of the gospel have more, higher, stronger obligations upon them to righteousness, integrity, honesty, usefulness amongst men, in all moral duties, throughout all relations, conditions, and capacities, than any others whatever.

For any man to pretend, to write, [to] plead that this they do not, but indeed do discountenance morality and the duties of it, is to take a liberty of saying what he pleases for his own purpose, when thousands are ready from the highest experience to contradict him. And if this false supposition should prove the soul that animates any discourses, let men never so passionately admire them and expatiate in the commendation of them, I know some that will not be their rivals in their ecstasies. For the other things which those books are mostly filled withal, setting aside frivolous, trifling exceptions about modes of carriage and common phrases of speech, altogether unworthy the review or perusal of a serious person, they consist 363of such exceptions against expressions, sayings, occasional reflections on texts of Scripture, invectives, and impertinent calling over of things past and bygone, as the merit of the cause under contest is no way concerned in. And if any one would engage in so unhandsome an employment as to collect such fond speeches, futilous expressions, ridiculous expositions of Scripture, smutty passages, weak and impertinent discourses, yea, profane scurrilities, which some others, whom for their honour’s sake and other reasons I shall not name, have in their sermons and discourses about sacred things been guilty of, he might provide matter enough for a score of such dialogues as the Friendly Debates are composed of.

But to return: that the advantages mentioned are somewhat peculiar unto dialogues, we have a sufficient evidence in this, that our author having another special design, he chose another way of writing suited thereunto. He professeth that he hath neither hope nor expectation to convince his adversaries of their crimes or mistakes, nor doth endeavour any such thing. Nor did he merely project to render them contemptible and ridiculous (which to have effected, the writing of dialogues in his management would have been most accommodate); but his purpose was to expose them to persecution, or to the severity of penal laws from the magistrates, and if possible, it may be, to popular rage and fury. The voice of his whole discourse is the same with that of the Jews concerning St Paul, “Away with such fellows from the earth, for it is not fit that they should live.” Such an account of his thoughts he gives us, p. 253. Saith he, “The only cause of all our troubles and disturbances” (which what they are he knows not nor can declare), “is the inflexible perverseness of about a hundred proud, ignorant, and seditious preachers; against whom if the severity of the laws were particularly levelled, how easy would it be,” etc.

Macte novâ virtute puer: sic itur ad astra.

[Æn., ix. 641.]

But I hope it will appear, before the close of this discourse, that our author is far from deserving the reputation of infallible in his polities, whatever he may be thought to do in his divinity. It is sufficiently known how he is mistaken in his calculation of the numbers of those whom he designs to brand with the blackest marks of infamy, and whom he exposeth in his desires to the severities of law for their ruin. I am sure it is probable that there are more than a hundred of those whom he intends, who may say unto him as Gregory of Nazianzum introduceth his father speaking to himself,

Nondum tot sunt anni tui, quot jam in sacris nobis sunt peracti victimis,”

who have been longer in the ministry than he in the world. But suppose there were but a hundred of them, he knows, or may know, when there was such a disparity in the numbers of them that contested about religion, that it was said of them, “All the world against Athanasius, and Athanasius against the world,” who yet was in the right against them all, as they must acknowledge who frequently say or sing his “Quicunque vult.”

But how came he so well acquainted with them all and every one as to pronounce of them that they are “proud, ignorant, and seditious?” Allow him the liberty, — which I see he will take whether we allow it him or no, — to call whom he pleaseth “seditious,” upon the account of real or supposed principles not compliant with his thoughts and apprehensions, yet that men are “proud and ignorant,” how he can prove but by particular instances from his own acquaintance with them, I know not. And if he should be allowed to be a competent judge of knowledge and ignorance in the whole compass of wisdom and science, — which, it may be, some will except against, — yet unless he had personally conversed with them all, or were 364able to give sufficient instances of their ignorance from actings, writings, or expressions of their own, he would scarce be able to give a tolerable account of the honesty of this his peremptory censure. And surely this must needs be looked on as a lovely, gentle, and philosophic humour, to judge all men proud and ignorant who are not of our minds in all things, and on that ground alone.

But yet, let them be as ignorant as can be fancied, this will not determine the difference between them and their adversaries. One unlearned Paphnutius33   See Cave’s Lives of the Fathers; Life of Athanasius sec. Iii. 2. — Ed. in the Council of Nice stopped all the learned fathers, when they were precipitately casting the church into a snare; and others, as unlearned as he, may honestly attempt the same at any time. And for our author’s projection for the obtaining of quiet by severe dealings with these men in an especial manner, one of the same nature failed in the instance mentioned; for when Athanasius stood almost by himself in the eastern empire for a profession in religion which the supreme magistrate and the generality of the clergy condemned, it was thought the levelling of severity in particular against him would bring all to a composure. To this purpose, after they had again and again charged him to be proud and seditious, they vigorously engaged in his prosecution, according to the projection here proposed, and sought him near all the world over, but to no purpose at all, as the event discovered; for the truth which he professed having left its root in the hearts of multitudes of the people, on the first opportunity they returned again to the open avowing of it.

But to return from this digression: this being the design of our author, not so much to expose his adversaries to common contempt and laughter as to ruin and destruction, he diverted from the beaten path of dialogues, and betook himself unto that of rhetorical invective declamations; which is peculiarly suited to carry on and promote such a design. I shall, therefore, here leave him for the present, following the triumphal chariot of his friend, singing, “Io triumphe!” and casting reflections upon the captives that he drags after him at his chariot wheels; which will doubtless supply his imagination with a pleasing entertainment, until he shall awake out of his dream, and find all the pageantry that his fancy hath erected round about him to vanish and disappear.

His next attempt is upon atheists, wherein I have no concern, nor his principal adversaries, the Nonconformists. For my part, I have had this advantage by my own obscurity and small consideration in the world, as never to converse with any persons that did or durst question the being or providence of God, either really or in pretence. By common reports and published discourses, I find that there are not a few in these days who, either out of pride and ostentation or in a real compliance with their own darkness and ignorance, do boldly venture to dispute the things which we adore; and, if I am not greatly misinformed, a charge of this prodigious licentiousness and impiety may, from pregnant instances, be brought near the doors of some who on other occasions declaim against it. For practical atheism, the matter seems to be unquestionable; many live as though they believed neither God nor devil in the world but themselves. With neither sort am I concerned to treat at present, nor shall I examine the invectives of our author against them, though I greatly doubt whether ever such a kind of defence of the being of God was written by any man before him. If a man would make a judgment upon the genius and the way of his discourse, he might possibly be tempted to fear that it is persons rather than things that are the object of his indignation; and it may be the fate of some to suffer under the infamy of atheism, as it is thought Diagoras did of old, not for denying the Deity, nor for any absurd conceptions of mind concerning it, but for deriding and contemning them who, without any interest in or sense of religion, did foolishly, in idolatrous instances, make a pretence of it in the 365world. But whatever wickedness or miscarriages of this nature our author hath observed, his zeal against them were greatly to be commended, but that it is not in that only instance wherein he allows of the exercise of that virtue. Let it, then, be his anger or indignation, or what he pleases, that he may not miss of his due praises and commendation. Only I must say, that I question whether to charge persons inclined to atheism with profaning Jonson and Fletcher, as well as the holy Scriptures, be a way of proceeding probably suited to their conviction or reduction.

It seems, also, that those who are here chastised do vent their atheism in scoffing, drollery, and jesting, and such like contemptible efforts of wit, that may take for a while amongst little and unlearned people, and immediately evaporate. I am more afraid of those who, under pretences of sober reason, do vent and maintain opinions and principles that have a direct tendency to give an open admission unto atheism in the minds of men, than of such fooleries. When others’ fury and raving cruelties succeeded not, he alone prevailed “qui solus accessit sobrius ad perdendam rempublicam.” One principle contended for as rational and true, which, if admitted, will insensibly seduce the mind unto and justify a practice ending in atheism, is more to be feared than ten thousand jests and scoffs against religion, which, me-thinks, amongst men of any tolerable sobriety, should easily be buried under contempt and scorn. And our author may do well to consider whether he hath not, unwittingly I presume, in some instances, so expressed and demeaned himself as to give no small advantage to those corrupt inclinations unto atheism which abound in the hearts of men. Are not men taught here to keep the liberty of their minds and judgments to themselves, whilst they practice that which they approve not nor can do so? which is directly to act against the light and conviction of conscience. And yet an associate of his in his present design, in a modest and free conference, tells us that “there is not a wider step to atheism than to do any thing against conscience;” and informs his friend that “dissent out of grounds that appear to any founded on the will of God is conscience.” But against such a conscience, the light, judgment, and conviction of it, are men here taught to practise; and thereby, in the judgment of that author, are instructed unto atheism! And, indeed, if once men find themselves at liberty to practice contrary to what is prescribed unto them in the name and authority of God, as all things are which conscience requires, it is not long that they will retain any regard of him or reverence unto him. It hath hitherto been the judgment of all who have inquired into these things, that the great concern of the glory of God in the world, the interest of kings and rulers, of all governments whatever, the good and welfare of private persons, lies in nothing more than in preserving conscience from being debauched in the conducting principles of it, and in keeping up its due respect to the immediate sovereignty of God over it in all things. Neither ever was there a more horrid attempt upon the truth of the gospel, all common morality, and the good of mankind, than that which some of late years or ages have been engaged in, by suggesting, in their casuistical writings, such principles for the guidance of the consciences of men as in sundry particular instances might set them free, as to practice, from the direct and immediately influencing authority of God in his word. And yet I doubt not but it may be made evident that all their principles in conjunction are scarce of so pernicious a tendency as this one general theorem, that men may lawfully act in the worship of God, or otherwise, against the light, dictates, or convictions of their own consciences. Exempt conscience from an absolute, immediate, entire, universal dependence on the authority, will, and judgment of God, according to what conceptions it hath of them, and you disturb the whole harmony of divine providence in the government of the world, and break the first link of that great chain whereon all religion and government in the world 366do depend. Teach men to be like Naaman the Syrian, to believe only in the God of Israel, and to worship him according to his appointment, by his own choice and from a sense of duty, yet also to bow in the house of Rimmon, contrary to his light and conviction, out of compliance with his master; or, with the men of Samaria, to fear the Lord but to worship their idols, — and they will not fail, at one time or other, rather to seek after rest in restless atheism than to live in a perpetual conflict with themselves, or to cherish an everlasting sedition in their own bosoms.

I shall not much reflect upon those expressions which our author is pleased to vent his indignation by, such as “religious rage and fury, religions villany, religious lunacies, serious and conscientious villanies, wildness of godly madness, men led by the Spirit of God to disturb the public peace, the world filled with a buzz and noise of the Divine Spirit, sanctified fury, sanctified barbarism, pious villanies, godly disobedience, sullen and cross-grained godliness,” with innumerable others of the like kind; which, although perhaps he may countenance himself in the use of, from the tacit respect that he hath to the persons whom he intends to vilify and reproach, yet in themselves, and to others who have not the same apprehensions of their occasion, they tend to nothing but to beget a scorn and derision of all religion and the profession of it, — a humour which will not find where to rest or fix itself, until it come to be swallowed up in the abyss of atheism.

We are at length arrived at the last act of this tragical preface; and as in our progress we have rather heard a great noise and bluster than really encountered either true difficulty or danger, so now I confess that weariness of conversing with so many various sounds of the same signification, the sum of all being “knaves, villains, fools,” will carry me through the remainder, of it with some more than ordinary precipitation, as grudging an addition in this kind of employment to those few minutes wherein the preceding remarks were written or dictated.

There are two or three heads which the remainder of this prefatory discourse may be reduced unto: First, a magnificent proclamation of his own achievements, — what he hath proved, what he hath done, especially in representing the “inconsistence of liberty of conscience with the first and fundamental laws of government.’’ And I am content that he please himself with his own apprehensions, like him who admired at the marvellous feats performed in an empty theatre; for it may be that, upon examination, it will be found that there is scarce in his whole discourse any one argument offered that hath the least seeming cogency towards such an end. Whether you take “liberty of conscience” for liberty of judgment, which himself confesseth uncontrollable, or liberty of practice upon indulgence, which he seems to oppose, an impartial reader will, I doubt, be so far from finding the conclusion mentioned to be evinced, as he will scarcely be able to satisfy himself that there are any premises that have a tendency thereunto. But I suppose he must extremely want an employment who will design himself a business in endeavouring to dispossess him of his self-pleasing imagination. Yea, he seems not to have pleaded his own cause absurdly at Athens, who, giving the city the news of a victory when they had received a fatal defeat, affirmed that public thanks were due to him for affording them two days of mirth and jollity before the tidings came of their ill success, which was more than they were ever likely to see again in their lives! And there being as much satisfaction in a fancied as a real success, though useless and failing, we shall leave our author in the highest contentment that thoughts of this nature can afford him. However, it may not be amiss to mind him of that good old counsel, “Let not him that girdeth on his armour boast himself as he that putteth it off.”

Another part of his oration is, to decry the folly of that brutish apprehension, that men can possibly live peaceably and quietly if they enjoy the liberty of their 367consciences; where he fears not to affirm that it is more eligible to tolerate the highest debaucheries than liberty for men to worship God according to what they apprehend he requires! whence some severe persons would be too apt, it may be, to make a conjecture of his own inclinations, for it is evident that he is not absolutely insensible of self-interest in what he doth or writes. But the contrary to what he asserts being a truth at this day written with the beams of the sun in many nations of Europe, let envy, malice, fear, and revenge suggest what they please otherwise, and the nature of the thing itself denied being built upon the best, greatest, and surest foundations and warranty that mankind hath to build on or trust unto for their peace and security, I know not why its denial was here ventured at, unless it were to embrace an opportunity once more to give vent to the remainders of his indignation by revilings and reproaches, which I had hoped had been now exhausted.

But these things are but collateral to his principal design in this close of his declamation, and this is, the removal of an objection, that “liberty of conscience would conduce much to the improvement of trade in the nation.” It is known that many persons of great wisdom and experience, and who, as it is probable, have had more time to consider the state and proper interest of this nation, and have spent more pains in the weighing of all things conducing thereunto, than our author hath done, are of this mind and judgment. But he at once strikes them and their reasons dumb by drawing out his Gorgon’s head, that he hath proved it inconsistent with government, and so it must needs be a foolish and silly thing to talk of its usefulness to trade. “Verum, ad populum phaleras.” If great blustering words, dogmatical assertions, uncouth, unproved principles, accompanied with a pretence of contempt and scorn of all exceptions and oppositions to what is said, with the persons of them that make them, may be esteemed proofs, our author can prove what he pleaseth, and he is to be thought to have proved whatever he affirms himself so to have done. If sober reason, experience, arguments derived from commonly-acknowledged principles of truth, if a confirmation of deductions from such principles by confessed and commonly approved instances, are necessary to make up convincing proofs in matters of this nature and importance, we are yet to seek for them, notwithstanding any thing that hath been offered by this author, or, as far as I can conjecture, is likely so to be. In the meantime, I acknowledge many parts of his discourse to be singularly remarkable. His insinuation “that the affairs of the kingdom are not in a fixed and established condition, that we are distracted amongst ourselves with a strange variety of jealousies and animosities,” and such like expressions, as, if divulged in a book printed without licence, would, and that justly, be looked on as seditious, are the foundations that he proceedeth upon. Now, as I am confident that there is very little ground, or none at all, for these insinuations, so the public disposing of the minds of men to fears, suspicions, and apprehensions of unseen dangers by such means, becomes them only who care not what disadvantage they cast others, nay, their rulers under, so they may compass and secure their own private ends and concerns.

But yet, not content to have expressed his own real or pretended apprehensions, he proceeds to manifest his scorn of those, or his smiling at them, who “with mighty projects labour for the improvement of trade;” which the council appointed, as I take it, by his majesty, thence denominated, is more concerned in than the Nonconformists, and may do well upon this information, finding themselves liable to scorn, to desist from such a useless and contemptible employment. They may now know that to erect and encourage trading combinations is only to build so many nests of faction and sedition; for he says, “There is not any sort of people so inclinable to seditious practices as the trading part of a nation,” and that “their pride and arrogance naturally increase with the improvement of their stock.” Besides, 368“the fanatic party,” as he says, “live in these greater societies, and it is a very odd and preposterous folly to design the enriching of that sort of people; for wealth doth but only pamper and encourage their presumption, and he is a very silly man, and understands nothing of the follies, passions, and inclinations of human nature, who sees not that there is no creature so ungovernable as a wealthy fanatic.”

It cannot be denied but that this modern policy runs contrary to the principles and experience of former ages. To preserve industrious men in a peaceable way of improving their own interests, whereby they might partake, in their own and family concerns, of the good and advantages of government, hath been by the weak and silly men of former generations esteemed the most rational way of inducing their minds unto peaceable thoughts and resolutions; for as the wealth of men increaseth, so do their desires and endeavours after all things and ways whereby it may be secured, that so they may not have spent their labour and the vigour of their spirits, with reference unto their own good and that of their posterity, in vain. Yea, most men are found to be of Issachar’s temper, who, when he saw that “rest was good, and the land pleasant,” wherein his own advantages lay, “bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.” “Fortes” and “miseri” have heretofore been only feared, and not such as found satisfaction to their desires in the increases and successes of their endeavours. And as Cæsar said he feared not those fat and corpulent persons, Antony and Dolabella, but those pale and lean discontented ones, Brutus and Cassius, so men have been thought to be far less dangerous or to be suspected in government who are well clothed with their own wealth and concerns, than such as have nothing but themselves to lose, and, by reason of their straits and distresses, do scarce judge them worth the keeping.

And hath this gentleman really considered what the meaning of that word “trade” is, and what is the concernment of this nation in it? or is he so fond of his own notions and apprehensions as to judge it meet that the vital spirits and blood of the kingdom should be offered in sacrifice unto them? Solomon tells us that the “profit of the earth is for all, and the king himself is served by the field;” and we may truly in England say the same of trade. All men know what respect unto it there is in the revenues of the crown, and how much they are concerned in its growth and promotion. The rents of all, from the highest to the lowest that have an interest in the soil, are regulated by it, and rise and fall with it; nor is there any possibility to keep them up to their present proportion and standard, much less to advance them, without the continuance of trade in its present condition at least, nay, without a steady endeavour for its increase, furtherance, and promotion. Noblemen and gentlemen must be contented to eat their own beef and mutton at home if trade decay; to keep up their ancient and present splendour, they will find no way or means. Corporations are known to be the most considerable and significant bodies of the common people, and herein lies their being and bread. To diminish or discountenance their trade is to starve them, and discourage all honest industry in the world. It was a sad desolation that not long since befell the great city by fire; yet, through the good providence of God, under the peaceable government of his majesty, it is rising out of its ashes with a new signal beauty and lustre. But that consumption and devastation of it which the pursuit of this counsel will inevitably produce would prove fatal and irreparable. And as the interests of all the several parts of the commonwealth do depend on the trade of the people amongst ourselves, so the honour, power, and security of the whole, in reference unto foreign nations, are resolved also into the same principles: for as our soil is but small in comparison of some of our neighbours’, and the numbers of our people no way to be compared with theirs, so if we should forego the advantages 369of trade, for which we have opportunities, and unto which the people of this nation have inclinations above any country or nation in the world, we should quickly find how unequal the competition between them and us would be; for even our naval force, which is the honour of the king, the security of his kingdoms, the terror of his enemies, oweth its rise and continuance unto that preparation of persons employed therein which is made by the trade of the nation. And if the counsel of this author should be followed, to suspend all thoughts of the supportment, encouragement, and furtherance of trade, until all men, by the severities of penalties, should be induced to a uniformity in religion, I doubt not but our envious neighbours would as readily discern the concernment of their malice and ill-will therein as Hannibal did his in the action of the Roman general, who, at the battle of Cannæ, according to their usual discipline (but fatally at that time misapplied), caused, in the great distress of the army, his horsemen to alight and fight on foot, not considering the advantage of his great and politic enemy as things then stood; who immediately said, “I had rather he had delivered them all bound unto me,” though he knew there was enough done to secure his victory.


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