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A Warning to the Rulers, in the Year 1659

Wherein a Just Liberty of Conscience is Pleadeda

     It is not the spirit of the world, nor the wisdom of flesh and blood, that God will honor with setting the nations free, but the Spirit of Christ Jesus God hath chosen and appointed to make free, and whom the Son makes free are free indeed. So if you intend to make good your promise to the nations, then must you work with that Spirit which God will own, else God will not work with you, nor own your work, but will overturn it, till he come to be owned whose right it is. So if you look to do the work of God, wait for his Spirit in yourselves first, to work you into obedience to his will and fear; and have respect to that Spirit alone, which respects not persons, but truth in all persons. And if you know the truth to be Lord in you, the truth shall set you free, in yourselves first, free from the spirit of bondage, free from the spirit of this world, which would be lord above the Spirit of Christ, and worshipped above Christ and against his commands. This must you die to, that you may live unto Christ and become his disciples, all taught of him, and he alone worshipped, and your hearts circumcised, so as to hear his voice, who calls to all that will own him, to do to all men as you would be done unto: this is the law and the prophets; and this must you receive from the lawgiver in Spirit, if you will act for him, and cast out all your old popish laws, which have been made out of the truth to uphold corrupt interests; for upon that foundation must you build no house for Christ Jesus that he will own as his. And come to the Scriptures of truth, which you have been long saying should be your rule, and lay them amongst you, instead of old popish statutes and corrupt counsels, and err not from it, nor suffer not any to wrest it by subtlety, but wait for the Spirit of truth to lead you into the truth thereof; and there is no bondage in that law, nor in that Spirit which gave it forth; and so the perfect law of liberty (if into it you look and do it) you will be blessed in your deeds, and he that will not own men's laws, <245> made by the spirit of the world, will own his own, and his own spirit he knows and owns, who rejects the world's spirit, and its self-ends hates, and will blast and confound.

     And if here you would begin faithfully, your way to peace would open to you in the Spirit of truth and judgment, and an easy thing would you find it with God to establish freedom and stop the mouths of all unreasonable men, which no other spirit shall ever have power to do, but that which leads you to do as you would be done to.

     So if you will act laws for Christ, you must begin with the law and the prophets, and with them prove yourselves, which is Christ's rule to walk by. Would you have others to compel your consciences in your worship, or lord over your faith to God? If not, then do it not to others; for that's out of Christ's doctrine and Scripture rule, which saith, "Whatsoever you would that others should do unto you, do ye so unto them; this is the law and the prophets." Examine yourselves, and let truth judge you: are you all of one opinion touching your worship? And would you have your faith bound to another's opinion, wherein you differ, contrary to your conscience? If not (as none that serve God more than man would) then seek not to bind another, here is the law and the prophets, saith Christ Jesus, if you will hear his voice. And if you say, but the greater number of you are of one opinion; is this a safe rule for you to walk by? Did not the greater number crucify Christ and cry "Away with him"? And doth that prove you infallible in judgment or give you cause to think so, seeing Christ saith, "They be few that find the way of life"? And if you go by the greater number, and not by the Spirit of Christ alone, is not that to leave Christ Jesus and his work, and betake yourselves to the arm of flesh? let truth in you all judge. The Scripture saith not follow the greater number, but follow the commands of Christ, who saith, "All things whatsoever you would that others should do unto you, do you even so to them; this is the law and the prophets." Now you are like to be tried, whether you will own Christ's commands or your own interests and opinions; and if you own Christ Jesus, then with his commands shall you stop the mouths of unreasonable men who would have others bound and themselves at liberty. When such come to you to get a yoke for the consciences <246> of others, ask them if they will first take it up themselves and be bound to their way whom they seek to bind, which they denying, show themselves in the unreasonable nature, which would not do as they would be done unto; these deny the law and the prophets. And if they say theirs is the true way, and therefore they would bind all to it, I say that is yet to prove and the more to be suspected by their seeking a carnal law to uphold it contrary to Christ's doctrine, which the way of the gospel needs not, nor ever used. And it is not safe to judge of things that differ by the hearing of one party; but let both have equal liberty before you, and the Scripture and words of Christ judge; and he that is denied of this hath not his freedom as a Christian. And he that would compel others to maintain his teacher or his meeting place, and other outward things which he calls worship, see if he will first be compelled to do the same to them in their way of worship. And this is the law and the prophets, and equal and reasonable freedom; and this will quench the fire of unreasonable spirits, and stop their mouths who seek to bind heavy burdens and lay on others, which themselves will not bear, as the opposers of Christ's kingdom have ever done, which comes to set free from all their bondage.

     And when you have herewith stopped the mouths of these unreasonable men, and showed them their nature and how far they are erred from Christ's doctrine, and how far they are short of the law and the prophets, then you may be at rest for them, and so have an open way to Christian liberty for all; and let him that will have a hireling teacher hire him; and he that can receive a free teacher receive him freely; and he that will have a clerk hire him; and he that will worship in the steeplehouse repair it; and this is reasonable in the sight of all men, and freedom of conscience, and none forced, nor have cause to complain of another.

     And if any say, this will cast down all worship and ordinances, &c., I say, not so; for it casts down nothing that is conscientious, only it leaves every form free from persecution, to stand of itself, and nothing will fall thereby but what is out of the power of Christ Jesus and is upholden by carnal laws and arm of flesh, and not by his Spirit, which is the false worship which hath crushed so many before you by seeking to uphold it and will break all who take it upon them to uphold, under the name of <247> Christ's worship; for his own worship he will have the honor to uphold, and to the powers of the earth he hath not given it, nor hath he at any time committed that charge to men, to send out laborers into his harvest or to provide for his servants; his own house hath bread enough in it, who is Lord of all; all that he lays upon the powers of the earth is not to touch them nor do them harm: and he that saith he is a servant of Christ and comes to the worldly powers for relief, shames his master and his house, and Christ will not own such servants. And he that saith he is sent out by Christ, and wants a place to preach in, and comes to the world for a place, is a liar and is not sent out by Christ, but runs unsent for your gifts and rewards, whose work is not with God; and who saith he is sent out by Christ, and then seeks to men to be approved, or else be silent, shows he is not approved of God, nor his mouth opened by him, which those that have, none can shut, who have the living word. So mind these things, and burden not yourselves with that which is too heavy for you to bear. Will you tell of making the nation free, and will not suffer Christ to have the freedom to send out his own messengers, with his free message, freely; and shall they not be suffered to declare his will unless they come to you for hire or approbation, after the will of man? What freedom is it you talk on, who would bind the word of God and limit the holy one? So take heed what you do against the heir and freeborn, who is arisen to work a new work in the earth, and to undo what the will of man hath been doing without him, and to exalt the Spirit of truth over the head of deceit and false worships.

     Wherefore men be still and fear the Lord God of power, and wait to feel his Spirit in you moving, and what he is about to do, that you may serve the Son in fear; and think not that you can do anything in his work but as he worketh in you of his own will, and not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of men; and it is vain for you to think to build upon the old foundations, which are not of God's laying; for with the life of truth are they seen to be out of course, and not that on which the prophets and apostles were built, and therefore rejects the cornerstone, the light; and so the light hath rejected them and discovered their foundation, and made them naked and bare to all that are spiritual men; and <248> in vain do you labor, as those before you have done, who have thoughts to mend and repair the old; your thoughts are not God's thoughts, who is about to make all new by the Spirit of him by whom the world was made; in vain do you labor to piece the old garment or mend the old bottle; your rent is still the worse, your priesthood and national worships is too far gone out of God's good old way ever to be mended; they must be let alone, and to the beginning must you come, and to the foundation which was laid, which is Christ Jesus, as in the apostles' times, before the apostasy and popery, and if to that you look with a single eye you will see your national worships wholly out of the good old way in every particular; and where naught is right how can that be repaired but by making new, as it was in the beginning.

     And for your laws, if you will say you will be Christians therein, then must you not look back to what laws were made by popish kings and queens and self-interested men, which have in them respect to any other thing but the kingdom and righteousness of Christ Jesus, in all consciences; and all these you must cast by, and to the pure law of God must you look which respects no man's person but is spiritually just and holy, which answers to that of God in every conscience; and that must you set over all, yourselves and others, that everyone may be subject thereto for conscience sake. Then is your power of God, and he that resists receives damnation in his own conscience: but by resisting an unjust law men have not damnation, for this were to conclude under damnation the whole army of martyrs, who in all ages have fought the Lamb's battle against the beast and his mark; and this were to condemn yourselves in your present work.

     And this consider, it is not merely the name of a king nor of a bishop, by which the innocent people of God have suffered, but by that lordly, oppressing, cruel spirit, and corrupt ordinances, laid upon pure consciences; and this is evidently seen of late, that in six or seven years last past hath been more innocent sufferings and open oppressions than in many years before; this is known to be true, though you being now got up above the feeling have not an ear to hear the cry thereof; yet if one had told some of you of it, a very little while ago, when you were either in sufferings yourselves, or fear of it, then it would have been better received <249> by you; so soon doth man's heart deceive him, whose only guide is not the exercise of a tender conscience in the light of Christ Jesus, towards God and man: wherefore, if you will do aught against oppression, then in truth and faithfulness condemn the spirit and power of oppression, and nature of it, and not the name under which it works, lest it be worse in you than in those before you; for hitherto it hath exceeded and got strength in everyone who have overturned others, pretending reformation and freedom, whose work hath been to set safe themselves and their interests (as they thought) but let the yoke lie heavy on the neck of the poor helpless; and your hearts are viewed already in this thing, and are not found upright in the sight of God, as the light of Christ in you shall witness when he visits for unfaithfulness and breach of promise; and God is drawing away the expectations of his people from you, who feels you cooling rather than quickening to that one thing most needful and acceptable in the sight of God, to wit, breaking the power of the oppressor and easing the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who hath so long suffered in his despised members, who for his sake have given up their bodies and estates, and have been laid as the streets for the oppressors to go over, and have been a prey to the proud and covetous teachers and rulers of these times last past: and this should have touched your hearts with compassion towards them, and a true zeal for God; and you should not have delayed their deliverance, nor spared that cursed thing by which the innocent have thus suffered, that so you might have cleared yourselves of the blood that hath been shed, and lives lost in prisons, and the havoc that hath been made of estates, and ruin of whole families; and this will lie on you till you purge the nation thereof, for God is just, and the blood of his saints is precious to him, though little esteemed with men; and to this cruelty you should have put a stop with your whole heart, and not in the least seemed to uphold that spirit by which it is and hath been done, neither in teachers nor people; so would you have manifested to all men in the sight of God your innocency as to what hath been done against the just in this evil time, and so the Spirit of Christ Jesus in his prisoners would have been eased and would have lifted up their souls to God in praises and in prayer for you; whose prayers God hath respect to, who have been faithful to his <250> interest and kingdom this day, which all self-ended men and teachers have betrayed, by turning with times and powers after the commandments of men, and not after the Lord Jesus; and these are seen by the children of light to be flocking and creeping to you now, as they have done at every change, to cover them and strengthen their hands and remove their fears which guilt hath brought upon them, and to justify them in their evil and deceitful dealing against the life of truth and faith; which you doing, you condemn the just and clear the guilty, and this will quench the spirit of justice in you and bring a load and darkness over it, and the Lord will not be with you, nor give you power to do what you have promised in his sight, which was in the hearts of some of you to do when you came in place; for if you keep not out the accursed thing from you, God will not be with you but against you. And this those know, who know the living God.

     Therefore in the dread of the Lord God, take heed to your spirits, and act not after the wisdom and will of man; for you are not to act for man, but for God. And this you cannot do but as you receive the Spirit of truth from above, judgment and mercy to teach and establish on the earth, without respect to any changeable thing.

     And take heed how you respect persons, or feigned words and false pretenses; but keep true judgment, as God is just; and mercy, as he is merciful. And this is after God's own heart, and for God, and answers that of God in all consciences, and gives the kingdom and glory to the just and merciful; then Christ reigns, and the righteous rejoice, and the mouth of iniquity is stopped, and fear will fall on the hypocrite, and good men fearing God will draw towards you, not to beg of you for their self-interests, nor load you with their wickedness, but to add to you of the strength and power of the Lord God, who dwells with such as fear him.

     And this is the kingdom of God with men, which if you will not seek to set up first in yourselves, and then in everyone that comes before you for judgment, then are you not for God but for yourselves; and God will divide you and overturn you, till he find such to choose as are willing that he alone should reign, by the power of truth, in their inward parts.

     And take heed of putting away the weak with fair words <251> when they cry for relief against such as are too strong for them, and bearing with great ones like yourselves; and so the grieved in spirit depart from you without help, and so cry to the Lord against you, who will hear them and mark your doings against the day. This was his way who had once power to have done good to the oppressed before you, and might have set the people free, as he often had promised, as you have done; and now it's your time to perform; slip it not, lest deceit harden you as it must needs do if truth alone take not place: and seek not your honor from men, nor strength from flesh; but hold fast truth, judgment and mercy, that the Lord may strengthen and honor you: but if you forsake these sin lies at the door, which when it's finished brings death and shame, as your eyes have seen. Oh that you had hearts to understand.

     And remember how it was with Oliver Cromwell, after he had taken upon him the work of setting the nations free, but did it not; but instead thereof, sought all ways to establish himself and his house out of all fear of being removed or shaken; and to this end gathered to him the arm of flesh, and the strong, and cast out the weak and poor. And how often hath God sent his servants to warn him and call him to repentance, whom at first he put off with good words but little else; but the Lord, not willing to give him up, sent them still; which after, when the message came near and wounded his conscience with guilt, then he shut them out with guards, and they were pushed away from his doors and gates, and evil entreated and imprisoned, and worse intended, till there was no remedy; and you have seen what God hath done in the end.

     And now take you heed of dealing so towards God and his people: but take heed to your spirits, for the heart of man is deceitful when he is exalted. So mind the spirit of meekness and truth to guide you, and do the work you have engaged to do without delay, with your whole heart. And if any be moved to come to you from the Lord, take heed of shutting it out or slighting it, as hath been done, lest you reject the living counsel of God and he cease from you; and you will soon be tried herein, for a short work is God making in the earth, that he may exalt the Son of truth and righteousness. He leaves men without excuse.

J. N.   

Editor's Note

a. Included in Whitehead's collection of Nayler's works (1716), among "Epistles and Papers never before printed."