University of Virginia Library

An Epistle to the Reader.

It hath been said of Old, That Time is the Mother of Truth, and Truth is the Daughter of Time. It is the Prerogative of the God of Truth, to know all the truth in all things at once and together: It is also his Glory to conceal a matter, Prov. 25. 2, And to bring the truth to light in that manner and measure, and the times appointed, as it pleaseth him; it is


our duty in all humility, and with fear and trembling, to search after truth, knowing that secret things belong to God, and only things revealed belong to us, and so far as they are revealed; for in many things it may be said, what God is doing we know not now; but we, or others that succeed us, shall know hereafter. Omitting other Examples, I shall Instance only in the matter of Witchcraft, which on the Humane side, is one of the most hidden Works of Darkness, managed by the Rulers of the darkness of this World, to the doing of great spoil amongst the Children of men: And on the Divine side, it is one of the most awful and tremendous Judgments of God which can be inflicted on the Societies of men, especially when the Lord shall please for his own Holy Ends to Enlarge Satans Commission in more than an ordinary way.

It is known to all men, that it pleased God some few years ago, to suffer Satan to raise much trouble amongst us in that respect, the beginning of which was very small, and looked on at first as an ordinary case which had fallen out before at several times in other places, and would be quickly over. Only one or two persons belonging to Salem Village about five miles from the Town being suspected were Examined, etc. But in the progress of the matter, a multitude of other persons both in this and other Neighbour Towns, were Accused, Examined, Imprisoned, and came to their Trials, at Salem, the County Town, where about Twenty of them Suffered as Witches; and many others in danger of the same Tragical End: and still the number of the Accused increased unto many Scores; amongst whom were many Persons of unquestionable Credit, never under any grounds of suspicion of that or any other Scandalous Evil. This brought a general Consternation upon all sorts of People, doubting what would be the issue of such a dreadful Judgment of God upon the Country; but the Lord was pleased suddenly to put a stop to those proceedings, that there was no further trouble, as hath been related by others. But it left in the minds of men a sad remembrance of that sorrowful time; and a Doubt whether some Innocent Persons might not Suffer, and some guilty Persons Escape. There is no doubt but the Judges and Juries proceeded in their Integrity, with a zeal of God against Sin, according to their best light, and according to Law and Evidence; but there is


a Question yet unresolved, Whether some of the Laws, Customs and Principles used by the Judges and Juries in the Trials of Witches in England (which were followed as Patterns here) were not insufficient and unsafe.

As for my Self, being under the Infirmities of a decrepit Old Age, I stirred little abroad, and was much disenabled (both in body and mind) from Knowing and judging of Occurrents and Transactions of that time: But my Reverend Brother Mr. Hale, having for above Thirty Years been Pastor of the Church at Beverly (but Two Miles from Salem, where the Tryals were) was frequently present, and was a diligent Observer of all that passed, and being one of a Singular Prudence and Sagacity, in searching into the narrows of things: He hath (after much deliberation) in this Treatise, related the Substance of the Case as it was, and given Reasons from Scripture against some of the Principles and Practises then used in the Tryals of Witchcraft; and said something also in a Positive way, and shewing the right Application that is to be made of the whole, and all this in such a pious and modest Manner, as cannot be offensive to any, but may be generally acceptable to all the lovers of Truth and Peace.

I am the more willing to accompany him to the Press, because I am perswaded such a Treatise as this is needful and useful, upon divers accounts. As,

1. That the Works of God may be known; and that God may be more acknowledged and adored, in his Justice, and in his Mercy: in his Justice, by letting loose Evil Angels, to make so great a spoyl amongst us as they did, for the Punishment of a declining People: And in his Mercy, by Counter-manding of Satans Commission, and keeping of him in Chains of restraint, that he should proceed no further. Psal. 83, last.

2. That the Truth of things may be more fully known, so far as God shall please to reveal the same in the use of lawful means; for the Judgments of God are a great deep, and he is wont to make known truth by degrees; and Experience teacheth us, there is need of more to be said than hath been yet, for the clearing up of difficulties about the matter of Witchcraft. We ought to be fellow helpers to the truth. 3 Epistle of John, 8. v.

3. That whatever Errors or Mistakes we fell into, in the


dark hour of Temptation that was upon us, may be (upon more light) so discovered, acknowledged and disowned by us, as that it may be a matter of Warning and Caution to those that come after us, that they may not fall into the like. 1 Cor. 10. 11. Fælix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum.[359]

4. And that it may Occasion the most Learned and Pious men to make a further and fuller Enquiry into the matter of Witchcraft, especially into the positive part, How Witches may be so discovered, that innocent persons may be preserved, and none but the guilty may suffer. Prov. 17. 15.

Verily whosoever shall by the Grace of God be enabled to Contribute further light in this matter, will do good Service to God and Men in his Generation.

I would also propound and leave it as an Object of Consideration to our Honoured Magistrates and Reverend Ministers, Whether the æquity of that Law in Leviticus, Chap. 4, for a Sin offering for the Rulers and for the Congregation, in the case of Sins of Ignorance, when they come to be known, be not Obliging, and for direction to us in a Gospel way.

Now the Father of Lights and Mercies grant unto us, that Mercy and Truth may meet together, that righteousness and peace may kiss each other, that the Glory of God may dwell in our Land; and that it may be said of New England, The Lord Bless thee, O Habitation of Justice and Mountain of Holiness,

Finally, That the Blessing of Heaven may go along with this little Treatise to attain the good Ends thereof, is, and shall be the Prayer of him who is daily waiting for his Change, and looking for the Mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ unto Eternal Life.

John Higginson,