So Odious and Abominable is the Name of a Witch, to the Civilized, much more the Religious part of Mankind, that it is apt to grow up into a Scandal for any, so much as to enter some sober cautions against the over hasty suspecting, or too precipitant Judging of Persons on this account. But certainly, the more execrable the Crime is, the more critical care is to be used in the exposing of the Names, Liberties, and Lives of Men (especially of a Godly Conversation) to the imputation of it. The awful hand of God now upon us, in letting loose of evil Angels among us to perpetrate such horrid Mischiefs, and suffering of Hell's Instruments to do such fearful things as have been scarce heard of; hath put serious persons into deep Musings, and upon curious Enquiries what is to be done for the detecting and defeating of this tremendous design of the grand Adversary: And, tho' all that fear God are agreed,That no evil is to be done, that good may come of it; yet hath the Devil obtained not a little of his design, in the divisions of Reuben, about the application of this Rule.
That there are Devils and Witches, the Scripture asserts,[Pg 222] and experience confirms, That they are common enemies of Mankind, and set upon mischief, is not to be doubted: That the Devil can (by Divine Permission) and often doth vex men in Body and Estate, without the Instrumentality of Witches, is undeniable: That he often hath, and delights to have the concurrence of Witches, and their consent in harming men, is consonant to his native Malice to Man, and too lamentably exemplified: That Witches, when detected and convinced, ought to be exterminated and cut off, we have God's warrant for, Exod. 22.18. Only the same God who hath said, thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live; hath also said, at the Mouth of two Witnesses, or three Witnesses shall he that is worthy of Death, be put to Death: But at the Mouth of one Witness, he shall not be put to Death, Deut. 17.6. Much debate is made about what is sufficient Conviction, and some have (in their Zeal) supposed that a less clear evidence ought to pass in this than in other Cases, supposing that else it will be hard (if possible) to bring such to condign Punishment, by reason of the close conveyances that there are between the Devil and Witches; but this is a very dangerous and unjustifiable tenet. Men serve God in doing their Duty, he never intended that all persons guilty of Capital Crimes should be discovered and punished by men in this Life, though they be never so curious in searching after Iniquity. It is therefore exceeding necessary that in such a day as this, men be informed what is Evidence and what is not. It concerns men in point of Charity; for tho' the most shining Professor may be secretly a most abominable Sinner, yet till he be detected, our Charity is bound to Judge[Pg 223] according to what appears: and notwithstanding that a clear evidence must determine a case; yet presumptions must be weighed against presumptions, and Charity is not to be forgone as long as it has the most preponderating on its side. And it is of no less necessity in point of Justice; there are not only Testimonies required by God, which are to be credited according to the Rules given in his Word referring to witnesses: But there is also an Evidence supposed to be in the Testimony, which is throughly to be weighed, and if it do not infallibly prove the Crime against the person accused, it ought not to determine him guilty of it; for so a righteous Man may be Condemned unjustly. In the case of Witchcrafts we know that the Devil is the immediate Agent in the Mischief done, the consent or compact of the Witch is the thing to be Demonstrated.
Among many Arguments to evince this, that which is most under present debate, is that which refers to something vulgarly calledSpectre Evidence, and a certain sort of Ordeal or trial by the sight and touch. The principal Plea to justifie the convictive Evidence in these, is fetcht from the Consideration of the Wisdom and Righteousness of God in Governing the World, which they suppose would fail, if such things were permitted to befal an innocent person; but it is certain, that too resolute conclusions drawn from hence, are bold usurpations upon spotless Sovereignty: and tho' some things if suffered to be common, would subvert this Government, and disband, yea ruine Humane Society; yet God doth sometimes suffer such things to evene, that we may thereby know how much we are beholden to him, for that restraint which he lays upon[Pg 224] the Infernal Spirits, who would else reduce a World into a Chaos. That the Resolutions of such Cases as these is proper for the Servants of Christ in the Ministry cannot be denied; the seasonableness of doing it now, will be justified by the Consideration of the necessity there is at this time of a right Information of men's Judgments about these things, and the danger of their being misinformed.
The Reverend, Learned, and Judicious Author of the ensuing Cases, is too well known to need our Commendation: All that we are concerned in, is to assert our hearty Consent to, and Concurrence with the substance of what is contained in the following Discourse:And, with our hearty Request to God, that he would discover the depths of this Hellish Design; direct in the whole management of this Affair; prevent the taking any wrong steps in this dark way; and that he would in particular Bless these faithful Endeavours of his Servant to that end, we Commend it and you to his Divine Benediction.
From the pages of History: Cotton Mather From the book;