Front Page Titles (by Subject) 9.: THE Proposed Comprehension Soberly, and Not Unseasonably, Consider'd (1672) - The Political Writings of William Penn
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9.: THE Proposed Comprehension Soberly, and Not Unseasonably, Consider’d (1672) - William Penn, The Political Writings of William Penn 
The Political Writings of William Penn, introduction and annotations by Andrew R. Murphy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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THE Proposed Comprehension Soberly, and Not Unseasonably, Consider’d (1672)
ALTHOUGH the Benefits wherewith Almighty God has universally bless’d the whole Creation, are a sufficient Check to the Narrowness of their Spirits, who would unreasonably confine all Comforts of Life within the streight Compass of their own Party (as if to recede from their Apprehensions, whereof themselves deny any Infallible Assurance, were Reason good enough to deprive other Dissenters of Nature’s Inheritance, and which is more peculiar, England’s Freedoms.) Yet since it fares so meanly with those Excellent Examples, that many vainly think themselves then best to answer the End of their being born into the World, when by a Severity, which least of all resembles the God of Love, they rigorously prosecute the Extirpation of their Brethren: Let it not seem Unreasonable, or Ill-timed, that we offer to your more serious Thoughts, the great Partiality and Injustice, that seem to be the Companions of a Comprehension, since you only can be concerned at this Time, to prevent it, by a more Large and Generous Freedom.1
First, then, Liberty of Conscience (by which we commonly understand the free Exercise of any Dissenting Perswasion) is but what has been generally pleaded for, even by the Warmest Sticklers for a Comprehension, and without which it would be utterly impossible they should be comprehended: The Question then will be this, What Ground can there be, why Some, and not All, should be Tolerated? It must either respect Conscience or Government: If it be upon Matter of mere Religion, What Reason is there that one Party should be Tolerated, and another Restrained; since all those Reasons, that may be urged by that Party, which is Comprehended, are every whit as proper to the Party Excluded? For if the Former say, They are Orthodox, so say the Latter too; If the one urge, It is impossible they should believe without a Conviction; that the Understanding cannot be Forced; that Mildness gains most; that the True Religionnever Persecuted; that Severity is most Unworthy of her; that Sound Reason is the only Weapon which can Disarm the Understanding; that Coercion doth rather Obdurate than Soften; and that they therefore chuse to be sincere Dissenters, rather than Hypocritical Conformists: The other Party says the same. In fine, There can be nothing said for Liberty of Conscience, upon Pure Conscientious Grounds, by any one Party in England, that every one may not be interested in, unless Any will undertake to judge that of Five Sorts of Dissenters, Two are really such on Convictions, and Three upon meer Design. But if such Sentence would be lookt upon as most Arrogant and Unjust, how can it be Reasonable, that those whom some endeavour to exclude, should be thus prejudg’d, and such as are comprehended, be therefore so only from a strong Opinion of their Reality: We may conclude then, that since Liberty of Conscience is what in it self Comprehenders plead, and that it is evident, to affirm this, or that, or the other Party Orthodox, is but a meer Begging of the Question. What may be urged for one, is forceable for any other: Conscience (not moveable but upon Conviction) being what all pretend themselves alike concerned in.
But they say, that such as are like to be comprehended, are Persons, not Essentially Differing; that it were pity to exclude them whose Difference is rather in Minute Matters, than any Thing Substantial, whereas you err in Fundamentals. But how Paradoxal soever such may please to think it, that we should therefore plead the Justice of taking those in, Some unkindly would have left out, we know not; however, we believe it most reasonable to do so; For certainly the Reason for Liberty or Toleration, should hold Proportion with the weighty Cause of Dissent, and the Stress Conscience puts upon it. Where Matters are Trivial, they are more blameable that make them a Ground for Dissent, than those who perhaps (were that all the Difference) would never esteem them worth contending for, much less that they should rend from that Church, they otherwise confess to be a True One: So that whoever are Condemnable, certainly those who have been Authors and Promoters of Separation upon meer Toys and Niceties, are not most of all others to be justified. Had they conscientiously offer’d some Fundamental Discontent, and pleaded the Impossibility of reconciling some Doctrines with their Reason or Conscience, yet promising quiet Living, and all Due Subjection to Government, they might have been thus far more excusable, that People would have had Reason to have said; Certainly small Matters could not have induc’d these Men to this Disgraceful Separation, nor any thing of this Life have tempted them to this so Great and Troublesome Alteration: But to take Pet at a Ceremony, then Rend from the Church, set up a New Name and Model, gather People, raise Animosity, and only make fit for Blows, by a Furious Zeal kindled in their Heads, against a few Ineptiae, meer Trifles; and being utterly vanquish’d from these Proceedings, to become most earnest Solicitors for a Comprehension; though at the same Time of hot Pursuit after this Privilege, to seek nothing more than to prevent others of Injoying the same Favour, under the Pretence of more Fundamental Difference; Certainly this shews, that had such Persons Power, they would as well Disallow of a Comprehension to those who are the Assertors of those Ceremonies they recede from, as that for meer Ceremonies they did at first Zealously Dissent, and ever since remain more Unjustifiably Fierce for such Separation. And truly, If there were no more in it than this, it would be enough for us to say, That some in England never Rent themselves from the Church at all, much less for little Matters: that they never endeavour’d her Exile, but she found them upon her Return, which they opposed not, nor yet since have any Ways sought to install themselves in her Dignities, or enrich themselves by her Preferments. We appeal then to all Sober Men, if what is generally called the Episcopal Party of England, can with Good Conscience, and True Honour disinherit those of their Native Rights, Peace, and Protection, and leave them as Orphans to the wide World, indeed a Naked Prey to the Devourer, who from first to last have never been concerned, either to endeavour their Ruin, or any Ways withstand their Return, whilst it may be some of those, who have been the most Vigorous in both, and that for Circumstantial, and not Essential Differences, may be reputed more deserving of a Comprehension, than we are of a Toleration.
But it will be yet said, You are Inconsistent with Government, They are not, therefore You are Excluded, not out of Partiality, but Necessity. What Government besides their own they are consistent with, we leave on the Side of Story to tell, which can better speak their Mind than we are either able or willing to do: But this give us Leave to say in General, If any apprehend us to be such as merit not the Care of our Superiors, because supposed to be Destructive of the Government, let us be call’d forth by Name, and hear our Charge; and if we are not able to answer the Unbyast Reason of Mankind, in Reference to our Consistency with the Peace, Quiet, Trade, and Tribute of these Kingdoms, then, and not before, deny us all Protection. But that Men should be concluded before heard, and so sentenced for what they really are not, is like beheading them before they are Born. We do aver, and can make it appear, that there is no one Party more Quiet, Subject, Industrious, and in the Bottom of their very Souls, greater Lovers of the Good Old English Government and Prosperity of these Kingdoms among the Comprehended, than, for ought we yet see, may be found among those who are like to be unkindly Excluded; However, if such we were in any one Point, Cure rather than Kill us; and seek the Publick Good some cheaper way than by our Destruction; Is there no Expedient to prevent Ruin? Let Reason qualify Zeal, and Conscience Opinion.
To Conclude, If the Publick may be secured, and Conscience freely exercised by all, for the same Reasons, it may by some (and since Liberty of Conscience, is Liberty of Conscience, and the Reasons for it, equivalent) We see not in the whole World, why any should be depriv’d of That, which others for no better Reasons are like to enjoy.
Let it not then be unworthy of such to remember, that God affords his refreshing Sun to all; The Dung-hill is no more excepted than the most delightful Plain, and his Rain falls alike both upon the Just and Unjust:2 He strips not Mankind of what suits their Creaturely Preservation; Christians themselves have no more peculiar Privilege in the Natural Benefits of Heaven, than Turks or Indians. Would it not then be strange, that Infidels themselves, much less any Sort of Christians, should be deprived of Natural Privileges for meer Opinion, by those who pretend to be the Best Servants of that God, who shews them quite another Example, by the Universality of his Goodness as Creator; And Believers in that Christ, who himself preacht the Perfection of Love, both to Friends and Enemies, and laid down his Life to confirm it when he had done. If Men should love their Enemies, doubtless they ought at least to forbear their Friends: And though some Differences in Judgment about Religion be a sufficient Reason to excommunicate a Man the Air Ecclesiastical, yet nothing certainly of that Sort ought to Dis-privilege Men of their Air Natural and Civil to breath freely in: And let that Good our Superiors have observed to be the Fruit of our Toleration, not be weakned or blasted by an Untimely Comprehension of some, to the Exclusion of the rest; since the Reason holds the same for the less formidable Separatists, that may not be however any whit less Conscientious.
We will omit to mention, how much more Suitable it were to State-Matters, that all Parties should be kept upon an equal Poize, a Thing most true in it self, and most secure to the Publick Magistrate; and will conclude at this Time, That though we no Ways design a Mis-representing of any, much less their Exception, and least of all their Persecution; yet, a Comprehension either respecting the Persons and their Qualifications, or their Separation, and the Grounds and Reasons of it, We seriously believe, can never be consistent with that Conscience, Honor, Wisdom, and Safety, that ought to be the Mark, those who are concerned in it, should take their Aim by. But if a Comprehension should at last be compass’d, it is not doubted by many wise Men, but it will be found as Impracticable as other Acts more seemingly Severe have been, and at last will necessitate to that well-order’d universal Toleration of all, who both profess and practise Peace, Obedience, Industry, and Good Life, which will best please Almighty God, and rejoyce the Hearts of all Good Men.
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