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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Daniel Defoe (1661?–1731)

The Shortest Way with the Dissenters

LET us examine the reasons the Dissenters pretend to give why we should be favourable to them, why we should continue and tolerate them among us.

First, they are very numerous, they say; they are a great part of the nation, and we cannot suppress them.

To this may be answered:

1. They are not so numerous as the Protestants in France, and yet the French King effectually cleared the nation of them at once, and we do not find he misses them at home.

But I am not of the opinion they are so numerous as is pretended. Their party is more numerous than their persons, and those mistaken people of the Church who are misled and deluded by their wheedling artifices to join with them, make their party the greater; but those will open their eyes when the Government shall set heartily about the work, and come off from them, as some animals, which, they say, always desert a house when it is likely to fall.

2. The more numerous the more dangerous, and therefore the more need to suppress them; and God has suffered us to bear them as goads in our sides, for not utterly extinguishing them long ago.

3. If we are to allow them only because we cannot suppress them, then it ought to be tried whether we can or no; and I am of opinion it is easy to be done, and could prescribe ways and means, if it were proper. But I doubt not the Government will find effectual methods for the rooting the contagion from the face of this land.

Another argument they use, which is this: That it is a time of war, and we have need to unite against the common enemy.

We answer: This common enemy had been no enemy if they had not made him so. He was quiet, in peace, and no way disturbed or encroached upon us, and we know no reason we had to quarrel with him.

But, further, we make no question but we are able to deal with this common enemy without their help. But why must we unite with them because of the enemy? Will they go over to the enemy, if we do not prevent it by a union with them? We are very well contented they should, and make no question we shall be ready to deal with them and the common enemy too, and better without them than with them.

Besides, if we have a common enemy, there is the more need to be secure against our private enemies. If there is one common enemy, we have the less need to have an enemy in our bowels.

It was a great argument some people used against suppressing the old money, that it was a time of war, and it was too great a risk for the nation to run. If we should not master it, we should be undone; and yet the sequel proved the hazard was not so great but it might be mastered, and the success was answerable. The suppressing the Dissenters is not a harder work, nor a work of less necessity to the public! We can never enjoy a settled, uninterrupted union and tranquillity in this nation till the spirit of Whiggism, faction, and schism is melted down like the old money….

The representatives of the nation have now an opportunity. The time is come which all good men have wished for, that the gentlemen of England may serve the Church of England, now they are protected and encouraged by a Church of England Queen.

“What will you do for your sister in the day that she shall be spoken for?”

If ever you will establish the best Christian Church in the world;

If ever you will suppress the spirit of enthusiasm;

If ever you will free the nation from the viperous brood that have so long sucked the blood of their mother;

If ever you will leave your posterity free from faction and rebellion—this is the time.

This is the time to pull up this heretical weed of sedition, that has so long disturbed the peace of our Church and poisoned the good corn.

But, says another hot and cold objector, this is renewing fire and faggot, reviving the Act “Of Burning Heretics”; this will be cruelty in its nature, and barbarous to all the world.

I answer, it is cruelty to kill a snake or a toad in cold blood, but the poison of their nature makes it a charity to our neighbours to destroy those creatures, not for any personal injury received, but for prevention; not for the evil they have done, but the evil they may do.

Serpents, toads, vipers, etc., are noxious to the body, and poison the sensitive life; these poison the soul, corrupt our posterity, ensnare our children, destroy the vitals of our happiness, our future felicity, and contaminate the whole mass.

Shall any law be given to such wild creatures? Some beasts are for sport, and the huntsmen give them advantages of ground; but some are knocked on the head by all possible ways of violence and surprise.

I do not describe fire and faggot, but, as Scipio said of Carthage, “Carthage must be destroyed”; they are to be rooted out of this nation, if ever we will live in peace, serve God, or enjoy our own. As for the manner, I leave it to those hands who have a right to execute God’s justice on the nation’s and the Church’s enemies.

But if we must be frightened from this justice under the specious pretences and odious sense of cruelty, nothing will be effected. It will be more barbarous to our own children and dear posterity, when they shall reproach their fathers, as we do ours, and tell us: “You had an opportunity to root out this cursed race from the world, under the favour and protection of a true English Queen, and out of your foolish pity you spared them, because, forsooth, you would not be cruel; and now our Church is suppressed and persecuted, our religion trampled under foot, our estates plundered, our persons imprisoned and dragged to gaols, gibbets, and scaffolds. Your sparing this Amalekite race is our destruction; your mercy to them proves cruelty to your poor posterity.”

How just will such reflections be, when our posterity shall fall under the merciless clutches of this uncharitable generation; when our Church shall be swallowed up in schism, faction, enthusiasm, and confusion; when our Government shall be devolved upon foreigners, and our monarchy dwindled into a republic.

It would be more rational for us, if we must spare this generation, to summon our own to a general massacre, and as we have brought them into the world free, send them out so, and not betray them to destruction by our supine negligence, and then cry it is mercy.

Moses was a merciful meek man, and yet with what fury did he run through the camp, and cut the throats of three-and-thirty thousand of his dear Israelites, that were fallen into idolatry? What was the reason? It was mercy to the rest to make these examples, to prevent the destruction of the whole army.

How many millions of future souls we save from infection and delusion if the present race of poisoned spirits were purged from the face of the land!

It is vain to trifle in this matter, the light foolish handling of them by mulcts, fines, etc.; it is their glory and their advantage. If the gallows instead of the counter, and the galleys instead of the fines, were the reward of going to a conventicle to preach or hear, there would not be so many sufferers. The spirit of martyrdom is over; they that will go to church to be chosen sheriffs and mayors, would go to forty churches rather than be hanged.

If one severe law were made and punctually executed, that whoever was found at a conventicle should be banished the nation, and the preacher be hanged, we should soon see an end of the tale. They would all come to church, and one age would make us all one again.

To talk of five shillings a month for not coming to the Sacrament, and one shilling per week for not coming to church—this is such a way of converting people as never was known. This is selling them a liberty to transgress for so much money. If it be not a crime, why do not we give them full licence? And if it be, no price ought to compound for the committing it; for that is selling a liberty to people to sin against God and the Government.

If it be a crime of the highest consequence, both against the peace and welfare of the nation, the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the happiness of the soul, let us rank it among capital offences, and let it receive a punishment in proportion to it.

We hang men for trifles, and banish them for things not worth naming, but an offence against God and the Church, against the welfare of the world and the dignity of religion, shall be bought off for five shillings! This is such a shame to a Christian Government that it is with regret I transmit it to posterity.

If men sin against God, affront His ordinances, rebel against His Church, and disobey the precepts of their superiors, let them suffer as such capital crimes deserve. So will religion flourish, and this divided nation be once again united.

It is high time for the friends of the Church of England to think of building up and establishing her in such a manner that she may be no more invaded by foreigners, nor divided by factions, schisms, and error.

If this could be done by gentle and easy methods, I should be glad; but the wound is corroded, the vitals begin to mortify, and nothing but amputation of members can complete the cure; all the ways of tenderness and compassion, all persuasive arguments, have been made use of in vain.

The humour of the Dissenters has so increased among the people, that they hold the Church in defiance, and the house of God is an abomination among them. Nay, they have brought up their posterity in such prepossessed aversions to our holy religion, that the ignorant mob think we are all idolaters and worshippers of Baal, and account it a sin to come within the walls of our churches.

The primitive Christians were not more shy of a heathen temple, or of meat offered to idols, nor the Jews of swine’s flesh, than some of our Dissenters are of the Church, and the divine service solemnised therein.

This obstinacy must be rooted out with the profession of it. While the generation are left at liberty daily to affront God Almighty, and dishonour His holy worship, we are wanting in our duty to God and our mother the Church of England.

How can we answer it to God, to the Church, and to our posterity, to leave them entangled with fanaticism, error, and obstinacy, in the bowels of the nation—to leave them an enemy in their streets, that in time may involve them in the same crimes and endanger the utter extirpation of religion in the nation.

What is the difference betwixt this and being subjected to the power of the Church of Rome, from whence we have reformed? If one be an extreme on one hand, and one on another, it is equally destructive to the truth to have errors settled among us, let them be of what nature they will.

Both are enemies of our Church and of our peace, and why should it not be as criminal to admit an enthusiast as a Jesuit? Why should the papist, with his seven sacraments, be worse than the Quaker with no sacraments at all? Why should religious houses be more intolerable than meeting-houses? Alas, the Church of England! What with popery on one hand, and schismatics on the other, how has she been crucified between two thieves!

Now let us crucify the thieves. Let her foundations be established upon the destruction of her enemies, the doors of mercy being always open to the returning part of the deluded people. Let the obstinate be ruled with the rod of iron.

Let all true sons of so holy and oppressed a mother, exasperated by her afflictions, harden their hearts against those who have oppressed her.

And may God Almighty put it into the hearts of all the friends of truth to lift up a standard against pride and Antichrist, that the posterity of the sons of error may be rooted out from the face of this land forever.