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REA DE R.
HE nation is in too high a ferment, for me to expect either fair war, or even fo much as fair quarter, from a reader of the oppofite party. All men are engaged either on this fide or that; and tho' confcience is the common word, which is given by both, yet if a writer fall among enemies, and cannot give the marks of their confcience, he is knocked down before the reafons of his own are heard. A preface, therefore, which is but a befpeaking of favour, is altogether ufelefs, What I defire the reader fhould know concerning me, he will find in the body of the poem, if he have but the patience to peruse it. Only this advertisement let him take before-hand, which relates to the merits of the caufe.
No general characters of parties (call them either fects or churches) can be fo fully and exactly drawn, as to comprehend all the several members of them; at least all fuch as are received under that denomination. For example; there are fome of the church by law eftablished, who envy not liberty of confcience to diffenters; as being well fatisfied that, according to their own principles, they ought not to perfecute them. Yet thefe, by reafon of their fewness, I could not distinguish from the numbers of the reft, with whom they are embodied in one common name. On the other fide, there are many of our fects, and more indeed than I could reasonably have hoped, who have withdrawn themfelves from the communion of the Panther, and embraced this gracious indulgence of his majefty in point of toleration. But neither to the one nor the other of thefe is this fatire any way intended: it is aimed only at the refractory and difobedient on either fide. For thofe, who are come over to the royal party, are confequently fupposed to be out of gun-fhot. Our phyficians have obferved, that, in process of time fome difeafes have abated of their virulence, and have in a manner worn out their malignity, fo as to be no longer mor
tal: and why may not I suppose the same concerning fome of thofe, who have formerly been enemies to kingly government, as well as Catholic religion? I hope they have now another notion of both, as having found, by comfortable experience, that the doctrine of perfecution is far from being an article of our faith.
It is not for any private man to cenfure the proceedings of a foreign prince: but, without fufpicion of flattery, I may praise our own, who has taken contrary measures, and those more fuitable to the spirit of Christianity. Some of the diffenters in their addreffes to his majefty, have said, "That he has reftored God to his empire "over confcience." I confefs, I dare not ftretch the figure to fo great a boldnefs: but I may fafely fay, that confcience is the royalty and prerogative of every private man. He is abfolute in his own breast, and accountable to no earthly power, for that which paffes only betwixt God and him. Those who are driven into the fold are, generally speaking, rather made hypocrites than converts.
This indulgence being granted to all the fects, it ought in reafon to be expected, that they fhould both receive it, and receive it thankfully. For, at this time of B 3 day,
day, to refufe the benefit, and adhere to thofe, whom they have esteemed their perfecutors, what is it elfe, but publicly to own, that they suffered not before for confcience-fake, but only out of pride and obftinacy, to feparate from a church for thofe impofitions, which they now judge may be lawfully obeyed? After they have fo long contended for their claffical ordination (not to speak of rites and ceremonies) will they at length fubmit to an epifcopal? If they can go fo far out of complaifance to their old enemies, methinks a little reafon should perfuade them to take another step, and fee whither that would lead them.
Of the receiving this toleration thankfully I fhall fay no more, than that they ought, and I doubt not they will confider from what hand they received it. It is not from a Cyrus, a heathen prince, and a foreigner, but from a chriftian king, their native fovereign; who expects a return in fpecie from them, that the kindnefs, which he has graciously fhewn them, may be retaliated on those of his own perfuafion.
As for the poem in general, I will only thus far fatisfy the reader, that it was neither imposed on me, nor fo much as the
fubject given me by any man. It was written during the laft winter, and the beginning of this fpring; tho' with long interruptions of ill health and other hindrances. About a fortnight before I had finished it, his majesty's declaration for liberty of conscience came abroad: which, if I had fo foon expected, I might have fpared myself the labour of writing many things which are contained in the third part of it. But I was always in fome hope, that the church of England might have been perfuaded to have taken off the penal laws and the teft, which was one defign of the poem, when I proposed to myself the writing of it.
It is evident that fome part of it was only occafional, and not firft intended: I mean that defence of myself, to which every honest man is bound, when he is injuriously attacked in print: and I refer myself to the judgment of thofe, who have read the Answer to the Defence of the late King's Papers, and that of the Duchefs (in' which laft I was concerned) how charitably I have been represented there. I am now informed both of the author and fupervisors of this pamphlet, and will reply, when I think he can affront me: for I am of Socrates's opinion, that all B 4