The Missing Cross to Purity

The Christian Progress

of George Whitehead

A Separated Section Describing Successful Opposition to a Bill in Parliament,
which Would Have Further Oppressed Quakers.
A Meeting with Peter the Great, Czar of Russia,
and a Response to Priest's Call for New Oppressive Laws.

There was a bill entitled, An Act for the better payment of church rates, small tithes, and other church duties, and the better passing church wardens' accounts; which bill the Bishop of London endeavored to promote in the House of Lords, in November, 1689, grounding the same partly upon the statute of 32 Henry VIII., chap. 7.

Having beforehand obtained a copy of the bill, or principal points within it, and  because previous notice of the day appointed for a committee of the lords to consider the bill, I prepared some few exceptions, to show how injurious it would be, if passed into an act; and how repugnant it was to common law and justice, as well as and the rights and properties of the subject.

In the first place it is appropriate to cite some principal points and of said bill, which follow:

Preamble, - This bill is purposed because the fabrics of several parochial churches and chapels, and the value of poor vicarages, within this realm, are daily growing into great decay. This is occurring because many persons refuse to pay their church rates, small tithes, and other ecclesiastical duties and charges. And whereas by a statute made in the thirty-second year of king Henry the eighth, chap. 7, entitled, An Act how tithes ought to be paid, and how they are to be recovered when not paid, it is enacted: That if any person or persons, after definitive sentence given against them, in the ecclesiastic court, obstinately and willfully refuses to payout their tithes, or such sums of money judged, they are condemned for the same. That then two justices of the peace for the same shire where the person condemned inhabits, shall have authority upon information, certificate, or complaint to them made by writing by the ecclesiastical judge, that gave the same sentence, to cause the same party so refusing, to be attached and committed to the next jail, and there to remain without bail or mainprize, until he or they find sufficient sureties to be bound by recognizance, or otherwise, before the same justices, to the use of our sovereign lord the king, to perform the said definitive sentence and judgment, as by the said act, relation being thereunto had, more at large appears.

Be it now enacted by the king's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lord's spiritual and temporal, and the Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that if hereafter any suit, or complaint shall be brought, in any court ecclesiastical, concerning church-rates, small tithes, or offerings, oblations, obventions, or other church-duties to the clerk, or sexton of the parish, or touching the passing, or refusing to pass churchwardens' accounts, and paying over the remainder to the churchwardens that shall succeed; the ecclesiastical judge, in all and every such suit, and for, and concerning all and every of the causes aforesaid, shall have power to call both the parties before him. And in case any party so called, and being duly summoned, shall continuously absent himself for the space of one calendar month, after the return or such summons; that in such cases, it shall and may be lawful for the ecclesiastic judge, to declare the party so called or summoned, to be taken pro confesso ; and if both parties shall appear, then the said judge shall, and may hear and examine the matter summarily, according to the course and process of the said ecclesiastical law, and to examine witnesses upon oath viva voce. And having heard and examined the whole matter, or in case of either or the parties continuously absenting as aforesaid, and being declared pro confesso, the said ecclesiastic judge shall by interlocutory decree, order, judge and determine the same, as well principal as costs, and admonish the party condemned, to pay and satisfy the same accordingly. Which if any person or persons being so admonished, shall neglect or refuse to do, or perform, the judge’s order or judgment, then the ecclesiastical judge shall certify two of the justices of the peace of the same county, and the said justices shall issue payout their warrant to distrain [a seizure] the goods of such person or persons, against whom such judgment is past; and in ease no distress can be found, then the same remedy shall be had and used in every of the said causes, as by the before recited Act is given and provided in the cases of tithes.

And be it further enacted, by, ..That if any party or witness being duly cited, shall not appear in court, but continuously absent themselves, it shall, and may be lawful upon like certificate to two justices of peace, to issue out warrant for the attachment or such party or witnesses, and for his commitment to prison, there to remain until sufficient surety be given to the king, to make his appearance in court to which he was cited.

Provided also, that if the party sued for any of the causes in this Act specified, shall during the suit, or after sentence, go into any other county, than that wherein the cause is commenced or depending, that the ordinary before whom such cause shall be brought, shall (at the instance of the party who has obtained judgment) under his seal or office, make information and request touching the premises to any two justices of the peace of the county where such person shall be and reside, who are hereby empowered to attach such person, and to commit to prison without bail or mainprize, till the said person shall give in security to stand by, and make good the orders and decrees of the ordinary in such cause, or to cause the goods of such party to be distrained, as is above enacted.

Provided nevertheless, that if the ordinary for the time being, shall be in the commission of the peace in that county, where the complaint lies for any of the causes in this Act specified, he shall be, and is by this present statute empowered to act after the same manner, and to the same effects and purposes in law, as the justices of the peace upon information, or request to them made by the ordinary might have done, or may do by virtue of this statute.

An account of the substance of what was pleaded before the committee of lords, against the said bill, the 14th day of the ninth month 1689. With some remarks thereupon added, by George Whitehead.

Present in the committee, - the Bishop of London, chairman, the Bishop of Winchester, the Earl of Mulgrove, Earl of Suffolk, Earl of Craven, Earl of Kingstone. After discourse, came in the Earl of Stamford, and the Duke of Bolton.

The friends who appeared before the committee, - G. Whitehead, J. Vaughton, T. Ecclestone, J. Fiddeman, W. Bingley, T.B - Jo. Edge, J. Hall.

We being on our request admitted to appear before the committee, and permitted to signify what reason we had to except against the bill before said, and the Bishop putting the question; I answered, the same reason that is given in the Act of Parliament, in the 17th of king Charles the first, for the taking away the court commonly called the Star-chamber and the power of the ecclesiastic commissioners and their high commission court, being removed, because of their oppressive and arbitrary proceedings, upon the repeal of a branch of a statute Primo Elizabeth, concerning commissioners for causes ecclesiastic, 17 Car. 1 cap. 10 and 11. It is conceived, with submission, that the same reasons may be alleged against the present bill, giving such absolute power to the ecclesiastic courts, their judges and ordinaries, to give definitive sentence and judgment as therein described.

Bishop. You except against the bill itself: What particulars do you object against?

George Whitehead. Observing several particular clauses therein, it appears contrary to the great charter of England, i.e., Magna Charta, as the arbitrary and oppressive proceedings of the Star-chamber and High-Commission court were judged to be, and therefore they and their power or jurisdiction which they exercised, were justly taken away from them.

By the present bill, the ecclesiastical judge or ordinary, is made the sole judge and determiner by his definitive sentence, concerning the penalties upon the persons and estates, and no appeal to any other or higher court, seems to be granted or allowed by it.

The ecclesiastical judge and court, commonly favor the plaintiff i.e. the Vicar, Priest, or Curate, as a party for him, and therefore appear not to be impartial judges in the case.

And suppose the defendant is sued for a tithe-pig, goose or hen, or a little orchard fruit, i.e. a few apples, pears, plums or cherries, or the value thereof, and the party for conscience sake cannot pay the same, then must he or she be committed to prison for it?

Surely there is no proportion between the punishment and the pretended offence, whereas punishments ought not to exceed the nature of the offence. They should be adapted to the quality and quantity of the offence, as it is a maxim in common law and justice, and in Magna Charta, for a greater offence, a greater fine; and for a lesser offence, a lesser fine. But if a person for conscience sake cannot pay a tithe-pig, or goose, etc.,. the ecclesiastic court, judge or ordinary, by their certificate, will cause two justices to commit the person to jail, there to remain perhaps without bail or mainprize, until the court receives satisfaction, or until payment; which if he can never do, there he must remain under confinement until death, and his days may be soon shortened thereby, as many have been, by close confinement, causing sickness. How unchristian, as well as inhuman and unjust is it, thus to prefer a tithe-pig, etc. before a man's liberty, health or life!

One of the committee queried, which would you have then? Do you choose rather to have your goods seized or distrained, than imprisonment of your persons?

George Whitehead answered, of two evils, we had better suffer by the less, yet choose neither. If we must suffer for non-payment of tithes, we would rather suffer the less penalty than the greater; rather loss of goods than our liberties; as it is a more easy suffering, to have the small tithes or a tenth taken away, than to be confined in prison all our life time.

As to paying parish-clerks, or sextons, or to the fabrics of parochial churches, (so the bishop termed them), we do not think it equal we should suffer for not paying to them, whom we do not employ; and we do not require any of the church of England to pay toward the repair of our meeting-houses; they would not be so dealt by.

The Bishop reflected: what, then, you compare your meeting-houses to ours, which are established by law. I replied, we are thankful to the government, ours are now legally allowed by the late Act of exemption, or toleration.

If any party or witnesses cited to appear in the ecclesiastic court, and absenting, must incur imprisonment, upon certificate from the same court, judge or ordinary thereof, may not this tend to force some persons to be informers against their honest neighbors?

And do not the ecclesiastic courts, their ordinaries and judges, render themselves voluntary informers, as well as severe judges, if by their certificates to justices of peace, they should cause the justices to be the executioners of their definitive sentences, decrees or judgments, to imprisonment of men's persons, or taking away their goods?

Does not this bill exceed the Stat. of 32 H. 8. cap. 7, in severity, and allow a greater and more absolute power to the ecclesiastic courts over men's persons and properties, than they ever had since the times of popery, excepting that of' the Star-chamber, and ecclesiastic commissioners, or high-commission court, before mentioned? Both were taken away and made void in the seventeenth year of king Charles I. cap. 10 and 11. An appeal being also admitted upon condition by the Stat. 32 H. 8. c. 7. quoted, yet none by this bill, but sureties required to satisfy the definitive sentence and judgment of the court.

One of the temporal lords of the committee, put this question to us: But what reason have you in point of conscience, for your refusing to pay tithes?

I answered, that is a serious and weighty question, and deserves such an answer:

The reason of our conscience in this case, is grounded upon, and has respect unto our Lord Jesus Christ's command in his commission to his ministers, freely ye have received, freely give, Mat 10. And to his changing the priesthood of Levi, and disannulling the commandment and their law for tithes, as is fully signified in the seventh chapter to the Hebrews.

Therefore Christ's ministry is a free ministry, under the gospel dispensation, and not to be upheld by tithes, or forced maintenance; and it is very manifest, that Christ changed the priesthood from the tribe of Levi to himself, as our great High-Priest, who came not of the tribe of Levi, but of the tribe of  Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood; Heb 7:14.

And our refusing to pay tithes for conscience sake, in these respects, in this gospel day, and for these reasons, under the gospel dispensation, is no new or strange thing; for many eminent martyrs and reformers were of the same judgment with us in this matter, or testimony against tithes, in this dispensation.

And as I was then beginning to mention some of those martyrs as William Thorp, Walter Bruce, John Wickliff, etc., the Bishop being chairman, was pleased to interrupt me from proceeding further in my instances, and thus reflecting turned upon me: "Here you bring scraps of scripture, but we have scripture as well as you: If we have sowed unto you spiritual things, should not we reap of your temporal, or carnal things. And the Lord has ordained, that they who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel, etc.

Answer. Reaping temporal things, or living of the gospel, is not limited to tithes. Here I was interrupted and prevented from further discourse against tithes.

The Bishop asked us: Have you any exceptions or reasons to offer in writing? I answered, yes, we have, which we then delivered to the clerk, John Relph, Esq. to read; which he did very distinctly, and no reply was given; but the Bishop directed him to lay them by for further consideration, or to that effect. But we heard of no further consideration, or debate about the bill, in the House of Lords, but that it was wholly laid aside.

The temporal lords, who were present in said committee, were very civil to us, and after that discourse, several of them appeared more kind to us than ever before.

I was very glad and esteemed it a great mercy from the Lord to us, that the said bill was stopped and laid aside; for if it had been passed into an act, or law, I was persuaded that the priests of the persecuting sort, would have taken such strength and encouragement thereby, that they would have persecuted and imprisoned a great part of our friends throughout England.

Blessed be the Lord, they were disappointed, that that weapon was not formed ready to be put into their hands, or power to make use of.

Exception, against the Bill, entitled An Act for the better payment of Church-rates, Small Tithes, and other Church-duties; and for better passing Church Wardens accounts humbly offered.

It is observed:

That in the said bill, no appeal to any other, or higher court is granted, or provision mode for redress, or restitution to the persons wrongfully prosecuted; nor for the punishment of such as may maliciously or wrongfully prosecute others: but the ecclesiastic judge is made the sole judge and determiner, by his definitive sentence, concerning the penalties upon the persons and personal estates.

No trial by juries is allowed, although the penalty seems to be two-fold, or of two kinds, imprisonment of person and distress of goods.

No discharge of the prisoner is provided, when distress is made. Does not this amount to two punishments, for one supposed offence, that is, loss of liberty, and loss of goods, - ending in starvation of the poor wife and children at home.

No legal excuse is admitted or provided for be party cited, summoned, or prosecuted, suppose he has gone on a long journey, or otherwise unavoidably prevented by his emergent occasions from appearing, but he must be taken pro confesso, which is to condemn him without hearing.

The penalty is the same for not paying the clerks or sexton, or church-rates, as it is for not paying small tithes. Query, how can this be equal, or bear proportion? May not this increase our trouble and sufferings, by thus giving power to so many and such prosecutors, as clerks and sextons, etc. and on such small accounts as theirs?

Any party, or witness cited to appear in the ecclesiastic court, are liable to imprisonment upon certificate from that court, which is, or may be very hard, especially as to our friends, who cannot, for conscience sake, swear in any case.

Whether this bill does not exceed the Stat, 32. H. 8. c. 7., in severity, and give greater and more absolute power to the ecclesiastic courts over men's persons and properties, than ever they had, excepting the power of the Star-chamber, and the ecclesiastical commissioners, or high commission-court, which was taken away, repealed, and made void, 17 Car. 1. chap 10, 11.

An appeal seems allowed, Stat. 32. H. 8. chap. 7., but there is none in this bill. Imprisonment until sureties to perform the definitive sentence and judgment of the court ecclesiastic, but no distress of goods in the interim, by the said Stat. 32. H. 8. c. 7, which yet is very hard and severe of itself:

It is also with submission conceived, that other reasons against this bill may be duly alleged, and such as formerly did legally and justly induce the Parliament to repeal the Statute made the 11th year of king Henry VII. ch. 3, which was repealed in the first year of king Henry the VIII. Ch. 6. Vide Chief Justice Coke's Institutes, part 4, fol. 40, 41, and second part, fol. 51. where Rd. Empson, and Edmund Dudley's arbitrary proceedings thereupon, are discovered and condemned; as well as the said court of the Star- chamber, and the power of the high commission court, were taken away by king and Parliament, as before quoted.

It is conceived, that the same reasons for removing those courts, and the repeal of the branch of the said Stat. 1 Eliz, (which gave them their power and jurisdiction) stand good against the present bill, as being contrary to the great charter, and common course of justice, by giving such absolute power to the ecclesiastic courts and their judges, to determine and give definitive sentence and judgment upon subject's personal estates, or goods and chattels, and for confinements of persons; which tends greatly to oppress, burden, and ruin them.

Lastly, the liberty of conscience already confirmed by law, may greatly be infringed and lessened, if the ecclesiastic judges, or courts, have such absolute power and jurisdiction given them over men's persons and properties, according to the import of the present bill; which it is really believed, must needs greatly dissatisfy many thousands of the king's conscientious protestant subjects, and increase the number of prisoners, of whom there are many on the account of conscience already.

There was a suffering case and complaint of some of the people called Quakers, concerning an undue execution of the late Poll-acts, by distraining the goods of certain persons, as preachers, or ministers, for twenty shillings quarterly, who had no contributions or wages for preaching; with some reasons against such execution, humbly presented in print to the members of Parliament, requesting the prevention of the like suffering for the future.

There being a clause in a late Poll-act, which runs thus: Every clergyman not being a lord spiritual, having or receiving, in or by, any benefice or contribution or otherwise, sixty pounds by the year, or upwards; and every preacher or teacher, in any congregation whatsoever, not having taken orders according to the discipline of the Church of England, other than French Protestants, shall be charged, and pay twenty shillings quarterly.

These last words relating to every preacher or teacher, being general and without limitation, or mention made of any profits or contribution received by such preachers, proportionate to raise such tax upon, advantage has been taken there, on a literal construction by some commissioners and assessors, to extend the same to the great injury of several persons, as preachers among the subject people, who have no profits, gain, or contribution at all, on that account. Which severity we conceive to be both contrary to the just intention of the Parliament, and to the equity, tenor, and coherence of the said act in its other parts. or which said suffering in this cage, by execution of the said Poll-act, about thirty instances of sufferers were subjoined for proof.

When the said Poll-act was near expiring, the Parliament ordered a new one to be drawn up, or the old one renewed in the year 1695, and many of our friends were still liable to suffer, as before they did, upon the old Poll-act, (the same clause being recited in the bill for the new one) some of us, particularly Thomas Lower and myself, renewed the remembrance of our said suffering case and complaint, to divers eminent lending members of Parliament, and acquainted them how undeservedly many of our friends had suffered as preachers, by a mal-administration of the said Poll-act, when they have no profits, gain, or contribution at all on that account. We convinced some of them how incoherent it was to the tenor and equity of the said act, that persons that had no gain or profit for preaching, should have a tax of four pound per annum laid upon each of them, equal to a clergyman, having, or receiving sixty pound per annum, or upwards. Whereupon I proposed a brief emendation to the aforesaid clause, in order to defend our friends from the undue imposition of the tax as preachers, and for prevention of the like suffering for the future.

The amendment I offered to be inserted in the bill and clause following was this:

And every teacher or preacher in any congregation whatsoever, (receiving ten pounds per annum, or upwards) not having taken orders, according to the discipline of the Church of England, (other than French Protestants) shall pay twenty shillings quarterly, at the several days before mentioned; and none of the said last mentioned persons so charged, to be further charged, or pay as a gentleman, or reputed gentleman.

The words I proposed to be inserted in the said clause, ( receiving ten pounds per annum, or upward), I desired them to insert in the bill before it was enacted, and some leading members were quickly convinced of the reasonableness of this request; as were William Lownds, Esq., who drew up the bill, Sir Christopher Musgrave, and several others, to whom I applied particularly.

I proposing ten pounds per annum, in relation to dissenting preachers, though that might seem to pinch harder upon us than other preachers, who as teachers or preachers, receive sixty pounds or upward per annum, and might better pay twenty shillings quarterly, than we who receive no contributions, wages, or profits, for preaching or teaching; yet considering how clear our ministers are in this case, from making the gospel chargeable, and how free they are from making a gain of their hearers for preaching to them; it being our principle and practice to preach the gospel freely, as Christ our Lord commanded; and not for any worldly profits, or filthy lucre, I was the more ready to offer what I did then in this case, in order to give the design of charging any of us as preachers, a short turn, that we might not have twenty shillings quarterly imposed upon us, for teaching, or preaching the gospel freely, as we do.

My said proposal for an amendment was approved of as reasonable, and took such effect, so that our ministers were not taxed in that last Poll-act, 9th and 10th W. 3. 1695. Nor did they suffer by it, as many of them had before on the other Poll-act.

I was still thankful to the Lord our God, when I was in any measure instrumental in obtaining some case to our friends and brethren, or in preventing further oppressions and sufferings, which they might be liable to, by undue or mal-administration, if not timely prevented.

To the Czar of  Muscovy, when in England. A salutation of Christian love, from certain persons commonly called Quakers.

May it please you, 0 great Czar! We heartily wish you tranquility, health and happiness in this life and that which is to come, having true love and good will to you, and all people in your dominions.

We are a people loving and fearing the Most High God, who rules in the kingdoms of men: and because we have trembled at his word and power, as his prophets and servants of old did, being humbled under his mighty hand, we are commonly called Quakers, though under the sincere profession of Christ Jesus, in the life and purity thereof, worshipping the true God in the Spirit, and having no confidence in the flesh. In the love of our God, we give you this good and necessary counsel:

Do you love and fear the Lord God, who is your Maker and Preserver, who gives life, breath, and being to all mankind. O, fear to offend him; he has extended great lore to you and all men, in sending his dear Son, Jesus Christ, a light into the world, and in giving all men light and grace to guide them in his way of truth, righteousness and peace, unto everlasting salvation and felicity. And it is by Him, who is the wisdom and power of God, that kings reign and princes decree justice: and they. as well as all other men, are accountable to the just and holy, and all- seeing God, for all their ways and actions, and by him must be rewarded accordingly: and know, that he who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God; and then he shall be as the morning without clouds, when the sun rises.

Oh! Czar! The great God requires of you, to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before Him, who is a God of knowledge, and by whom actions are weighed, and who is the righteous judge of all.

We pray you, observe the good resolution of that great king Artaxerxes, when he was made lord over many nations, he would not exalt himself by reason of his power, but proposed with equity and gentleness, always to govern his subjects, and wholly to set them into a peaceable life, and thereby to bring his kingdom into tranquility.

And know, that it is by mercy and truth that the thrones of kings are established, and that thereby you may obtain mercy and favor with the Most High God, and gain the real love and affections of your subjects. O be tender and merciful to them all, as they are all your fellow creatures, created by one God: break off your sins by righteousness and showing mercy to the poor.

And let the example of our renowned king William, influence you to the like moderation and clemency throughout all your dominions, which he has showed, in granting free liberty of conscience, in the peaceable exercise of religion and worship towards Almighty God, as they may be persuaded by him who is the Sovereign Lord over the consciences of men.

From your real well-wishers, and friends to your immortal soul, who desire your everlasting happiness. Signed,

George Whitehead,          Thomas Lower,

John Vaughton,                 William Penn,

Francis Camfield.

London, the 23rd of the Twelfth month, 1697-8.

When it was agreed among friends that some of us should visit the Czar, the contents of the foregoing paper were presented to my view, as very fit to visit him with such a just Christian testimony; and I had true ease and satisfaction in spirit, in drawing up the same; yet it was some time before we could find an opportunity to go to him, in order to visit him, as I find, it was in the second month, called April, 1698, 5th day, that we took boat in the morning for Deptford, where the Czar then had his palace. When we came, we sent up to him in his chamber, to know his pleasure, if he would admit us into his presence to speak with him, and we waited for his answer; which, when it came, was or this import: That it was not convenient to speak with him at that time, he was not well, or under some indisposition of body, or the like. We understood the meaning thereof, as what such great persons are incident to, who do not keep within the bounds of temperance and moderation, in their manner and course or living.

Seeing we could not then be admitted to speak with the Czar himself, we declared the intention of our coming to a great person or prince, who attended him, and left our paper with him to deliver to the emperor, which he seriously promised us he would do; who appeared a very fair, discreet man. So not doubting but the emperor would have our paper safely delivered him, and a fair account of us, we returned in peace.

There were some priests in the county of Norfolk, who appeared very invidious against us and our liberty of religious exercise, being instigated by our old apostate and adversary, Francis Bugg, having what assistance he could afford them, they wished to have a public meeting with some of our friends at West Deerham, in their parish church, so called, where some of our friends of London and of the country, met them at the time appointed ; and though the priests had gotten many of our friends' books together, and endeavored to render them obnoxious, yet they gained no advantage against them, but were disappointed of their evil designs; which were for some pretence to incense the people and the government to raise new persecution against us, as hereafter is made more obvious. I intended to go that journey into Norfolk, to meet them, but was prevented by a sudden indisposition and weakness of body, which remained for some days, until the Lord was pleased to recover me.

However, the said Norfolk priests, in pursuit of their invidious designs and attempts, published two calumnious books, entitled, 1. A Brief Discovery, &c. 2. Some few of the Quakers' many horrid Blasphemies, &c.; which they delivered to the Parliament: the priests chiefly concerned against us in the said books, that they might appeal to men of note and learning, gave their names and distinctions in the title page of their said Brief Discovery, in this order viz:

Edward Beckham, D. D. and Rector of Guytenthorp; Henry Meriton, Rector of Oxborow; Lancaster Topcliff, L.B., sometime Senior Fellow of Gonvil and Caius college, Cambridge; all of Norfolk.

The said L. Topcliff, also styled himself Rector of Hockwold in Norfolk.

These priests thought to do great matters against the people called Quakers, by most falsely and maliciously rendering their principles blasphemous and seditious, &c., wherein they were sufficiently detected and refuted, in two books which I wrote, in full answer to them and t heir most bitter and unjust charges against us and our principles.

One of my answers to them is entitled, Truth and Innocence Vindicated, and the People called Quakers defended in Principle and Practice, against invidious attempts and calumnies, &c., printed 1701, and delivered to members of Parliament, in order to counteract off the priests' calumnies.

The other answer I put forth is entitled, Truth prevalent, and the Quakers' discharged from the Norfolk Rectors' furious charge, in a sober answer to their book falsely styled, The Principles of the Quakers further shown to be Blasphemous and Seditious, printed in 1701. Which though it was large, several of them were delivered to members of Parliament, and I delivered some of them myself.

Yet the implacable enmity of the priests, and their assisting agent, Francis Bugg, and others of their abettors, was such, that their persecuting us with gross aspersions and calumnies in print, would not appease their wrath; but they got an invidious petition framed against us, which they intended to present to the House of Commons; in order to which, the two knights of the shire were instructed to move the said petition in the House. Two priests, John Meriton and the Lancaster Topcliff attended and solicited for some time, to have their petition moved and promoted in the House, but were disappointed therein, and their persecuting purposes justly frustrated.

For I having obtained a copy of their petition, showed it to several leading members of Parliament, and how greatly the design thereof tended to raise a new persecution, and to make void the toleration and liberty of conscience, granted and legally settled by the government. They were made sensible of it, and resolved to oppose the petition, and to throw it out with contempt, if it came to be moved in the House, asking me in whose hands it was; I told them, in the hands of the two Norfolk knights, with whom I several times discussed about it, to show them the nature and tendency of the petition, and how greatly we were misrepresented in it. They understanding that many eminent members in the House were set against it, were in a strait, and intimated thus much to me, that the clergy and some of the gentry of their own county of Norfolk, were earnest with them to present the said petition; but perceiving it would be rejected and thrown out, it brought them under that strait, that they must either displease those of their own county, who chose them, or the House of Commons. I told them it was an unthankful office that was put upon them; they confessed it was. However I said, we did not solicit them to present their presenting, or moving the said petition in the House; but if they were disposed to present it, we desired the justice of them to give us some previous notice of the time when they intended to move it, that we might attend in readiness to answer for ourselves, to those charges that were against us in the petition. This was fairly granted by them; however, upon their deliberate consideration the petition was prudently dropped, and not moved in Parliament.

A copy of the petition follows.

To the House of Commons: Norfolk petition of justices and grand jurors.

We cannot without resentment, take notice of the great growth and daily increase of the Quakers, and the mischiefs and dangers from this threatening this nation.

It is observable with what restless zeal their deluding teachers and, as we suspect, many Roman emissaries under their disguise, ramble into all parts of these kingdoms, and boldly spread their venomous doctrines everywhere; attempting to infect and shake the minds of weak Protestants, and assuming rules of discipline, powers in matters of religion, and forms of government, repugnant to the established laws of this kingdom, contrary to the very acts of toleration, and not allowed by any other dissenters; vouching all their actions by divine inspiration for their warrant; and the indulgence of the government for their indemnity.

How apparently their blasphemous books and pernicious principles tend to subvert the fundamentals of Christianity, and undermine the civil government, are sufficiently demonstrable; the publishing whereof, by pretended permission of the government, is of most dangerous consequence. The prayer is, to take these things into consideration, that, with whatever tenderness to the persons and estates of these people, their said principles and practices may be strictly examined and censured, or suppressed, as they shall appear to deserve, and as in your great wisdom shall seem expedient; and that the true Christian religion may be preserved from popish superstition, and unpolluted with enthusiastic innovations.

Site Editor's Comments: Recognize that in several cities, the Quakers had emptied the churches of their members. The Quakers had seriously damaged the traditional Protestant churches, and the priests felt the pinch on their wallets, as well as their egos. They were genuinely threatened with having to find a job to earn their livings, a frightening prospect to those men of leisure; who were previously revered with adoration in their community, but now looked at by a significant proportion of the population as frauds and charlatans, which they were.

I shall not need to make any large comment on this petition, to evince the nature and  tendency thereof; it being self-evident to proceed from a spirit of persecution and invidious prejudice, and is full of old, bitter, refuted calumnies, always made a cloak and excuse for persecution, against the most sincere professors of Christianity and religious reformers. I need say the less to it now, since it was so distastefully resented by the most sensible and judicious representatives of the House of Commons, that it was not allowed to come to life or birth in that house. And the same calumnies and unjust insinuations and charges contained in the said petition, being maliciously cast upon the Quakers, in many books and pamphlets of Francis Bugg, and the three Norfolk priests before mentioned, were fully answered, detected and refuted, by me and some other friends; and particularly the said petition out of Norfolk, and another petition of the same kind from Bury in Suffolk, in a reply on behalf of the people called Quakers, to two petitions against them, the one out of Norfolk, the other from Bury in Suffolk, printed 1699, being some brief observations made on those petitions, and humbly tendered to the consideration of the House of Commons, to whom those petitions were directed. And that it may further appear what a malicious spirit was then at work to raise a new persecution against us, after our liberty was legally granted; I think it fit to add a copy of the said petition from Bury, which is as follows:

To the honorable the Commons of England, in Parliament assembled;
the humble petition of the aldermen, assistant justice, and chief burgess and burgesses of the common council,
in behalf of themselves and the other inhabitants of the borough of Bury St. Edmonds, in Suffolk.

Humbly showing,

What we considering all ancient heresies, which have vexed both church and state, were never so formidable in their rise and progress, as are the Quakers; we, have too just a cause of dreading the subversion of our government by them, if not carefully prevented and suppressed being in their, clandestine constitutions, opposite to the condition of our established policy, and in their principles of faith, anti-Christian; of government, anti-monarchial; in points of doctrine, anti-scriptural; and in practices, illegal; having their weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings, which we cannot but reasonably believe, tend not only to the subversion of our laws, but of our religion also, to us of greater concern than our lives.

We therefore, obliged in duty to God and our country, do humbly pray your timely consideration of our jealousies, and remove our fears, if not by totally suppressing, yet at least by preventing their after growth and increase among us, so that our posterity may untroubled live, by this early care of our laws and liberties, and we enjoy the wished for happiness of a peaceful life.

I need not make any larger remark on this petition, than on that from Norfolk, it being a plain indication of the like envious and persecuting spirit. The old popish clamor of heresies and heretics, etc., against the conscientious reformers and Protestant martyrs, being always such brands of infamy as were designed to introduce persecutions, to suppress and destroy the most conscientious and sincere Christians. Such clamorous defamations were bruited abroad by the persecuting, popish hierarchy, against the reformed Protestants and Protestant martyrs of old to excuse their cruelties against them.

Although these aldermen of Bury, were wheedled or seduced to patronize such a foul and invidious petition against the people called Quakers, I do not believe that they could prove anyone of their several charges from their own knowledge, if they were asked one by one, upon the particular matters of fact, as they stand charged against the people called Quakers; neither can we think they are so frightened with the Quakers, or so afraid of them as they would seem to be. One would think they should have had better knowledge of the innocence of their neighbors by the time of their petition, than to render them so odious, so formidable, yes, seditious and obnoxious as their said petition very unjustly represented them.

However, one good turn was observable, that the Suffolk representatives showed more moderation and prudence, than either to solicit for, or promote the said Bury petition in Parliament. They showed more discretion therein by dropping it, than the aldermen or common council of Bury did, in patronizing or countenancing such a bitter, invidious attempt.

I remember several of the Suffolk members of Parliament were against the Norfolk petition, and expressed their dislike of such persecuting dispositions, which were so repugnant and contradictory to the toleration and religious liberty of conscience, granted and settled by the king and government.

Before we could get our answers to the three Norfolk priests' books, prepared and printed for the Parliament, it was thought proper for the following short paper should be delivered in print, in order to moderate the spirits of those, whom they endeavored to prepossess with prejudice against us and our Christian principles.

The endorsed title on the outside of our said paper was, "The Quakers' modest observation upon the three Norfolk clergymen's and Francis Bugg's books." The title on the inside. . "The three Norfolk clergymen's brief discovery, &c.; presented by them to the king and Parliament against the people called Quakers, modestly observed to our superiors."

It does not surprise us to be evilly entreated, and especially by those that have an interest in doing it.

But if conscience prevailed more than contention, and charity overruled prejudice, we might hope for fairer quarter from our adversaries.

But such is our unhappiness, that nothing less will satisfy them, than breaking in upon the indulgence that we enjoy, if they could persuade the government to second their attempts to a new persecution.

In order to which, we perceive they have been hard at work to pervert our books, violate our sense, abuse our practice, and ridicule our persons; knowing very well with whom they have to do, and that the patience of our profession, is their security in abusing of it. However, if it has weight enough with our superiors to expect a fresh defense of our principles and practices; we shall, with God's assistance, be ready for their satisfaction, once more to justify both, against the insults of our restless adversaries; who otherwise, we take leave to say, would not deserve our notice since we have already repeatedly answered their objections in print, and think our duty, as well as wisdom, to use the liberty the government has favored us with, in as peaceable and inoffensive manner as may be.


The priests in our days have made a great noise for tithes and offerings, and the envy and persecution of many of them, against us, is chiefly for refusing to pay the same, which is purely for conscience sake to our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

As to the priests' claim of tithes, oblations and obventions, we find no warrant in holy Scripture, that Christ's gospel ministers ever made such claim or demand, but the contrary.

I have had many discourses with bishops and others of the clergy, and I never met with any of those who could maintain their plea for their pretended divine right to them, under the new covenant dispensation; nor yet for ministers to force maintenance, wages or hire from their bearers; both being contrary to the new covenant dispensation and ministry, and repugnant to Christ's express commission and precept, and to his ministers' practice. Tithes as well as offerings or oblations were abolished and ended by Jesus Christ.

Their flying to human and popish laws for their claim to tithes, is but a weak shift and mean subterfuge, and a giving away the cause of their pretended spirituality and priesthood, on which their claim of divine right is grounded, and consequently thereby they deny their ministry in themselves; Christ having put an end to both the priesthood, old covenant and law, which did enjoin the payment of tithes to the Levitical priesthood. Therefore the priests' said claim now is to set up human authority and laws above Christ Jesus' divine authority, and law of the new covenant; which appears not only repugnant to his crown and dignity, who is Lord of lords, and King of kings, but also inconsistent with the true Christian profession, in which Jesus Christ is our great High Priest and Apostle; to whom be glory and dominion forever.

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