Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > The Axe Laid to the Root of the Old Corrupt Tree
There was a glorious day, and bright appearance of Truth in the times of the apostles. They had the true Comforter, who led them into all Truth, and kept them alive in Truth, and Truth alive in them. By this Spirit, they, as living stones, were built up a spiritual house, founded upon Sion, the holy mount; into Jerusalem, the holy city, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of Truth. And here they had their conversation in heaven, with God, the judge of all; with Christ, the Mediator; and with the spirits of just men and the holy angels, which always behold the face of God. They lived in the Spirit, they walked in the Spirit, they prayed in the Spirit, they sung in the Spirit, they worshipped in the Spirit, and in that understanding which the Truth had made free, and had God dwelling in them, and Christ walking in the midst of them; and, by the presence and power of his life in them, were truly dead unto sin, and alive unto God; they being not strivers against sin with man's legal spirit, but by the power of grace, which made them more than conquerors through him that loved them. This was part of the glory of that state, in the day of the sunshine of the gospel.
But, behold! a thick night of darkness overspread the beauty of this! Some false brethren went out from the true church into the world, getting the sheep's clothing, making a great outward appearance, and drew the world after them; yea, and some from the very churches themselves. (How hard was the apostle Paul obliged to plead with the Corinthians about his own apostleship and doctrine, that he might preserve that church from the false apostles!) And when they had gathered a sufficient party in the world, they made head against the true sheep and lambs of Christ, fought with them, and overcame them. And when they had overcome them that had the living testimony of Jesus, and the true power and presence of the Spirit among them, then they set up their own dead form, making a cry all over the nations of the earth: "Revelation is ceased! there is no looking now for such an infallible Spirit, and such immediate teachings as the Christians had in the apostles' days, who had the anointing to teach them all things;" but they pointed men to traditions, to the church, as they called it (which title the whore hath engrossed since the days of <228> the apostles), or to searchings of the scripture, and reading expositions upon it, and bodies of divinity, formed by the understanding-part in man to instruct the understanding-part. Thus the whole course of religion, and of the knowledge of God, came to be out of that Spirit and life wherein it first came forth (and wherein it first stood), and consisted in doctrines of men, and a form of worship and knowledge which the wisdom of man had framed, in an imitation of that which formerly stood in the life.
And now men being gone from the life, from the Spirit, and his immediate teachings, into an outward form of knowledge and worship of God in the wrong nature, antichrist is got up, and the dragon sits in the temple, appearing there as if he were God, giving out laws and ordinances of worship in public, and putting men upon duties and exercises of devotion in private, and he is obeyed and bowed down to in the observation of these; but the true, living God is not known, nor his secret, still voice which calls out of these heard; because of the great noise which the dragon makes in his temple (for so it is now, he having gained it, though it was once God's), about his laws and ordinances of worship, which he would have all compelled to, and none suffered to testify against them that they are his, and not the Lord's.
Yet it pleased the Lord, all the night of this darkness, to raise up some witnesses against the dragon, and all his invented forms of worship; though they were still hunted, persecuted, knocked down, and their testimony cried out against, as error, heresy, schism, and blasphemy; and the ways, worships, and ordinances of the whore, the beast, and dragon, still cried up as the truth. Thus the Papists cried out against the Protestants as heretics and schismatics, who were witnesses against them; and the Protestants cried out against the Non-conformists, Separatists, and Brownists, who were witnesses against them; and every sect cries out most against them who are led further from the apostasy, and raised up by the Lord, as witnesses against them, against their sitting down in their forms, and not pursuing the guidance of that Spirit, which would lead them quite out of the darkness, and not have them sit down by the way.
Now the Lord God, in these latter days, hath not only raised up witnesses against the whore, the dragon, the beast, the false <229> prophets, with all their inventions which they have set up instead of the truth; but hath assayed, and begun to deliver his people out of this Egyptian darkness, and to bring them back to the light of the land of Canaan. And now great enemies have appeared; the sons of the night exceedingly strengthening themselves to keep out the daylight, every one crying up his own form, and all joining hand in hand against the power: yea, and that spirit which first tempted from God is exceeding busy to cause those whom the Spirit of the Lord hath been drawing out of the land of darkness, to make a captain to return to Egypt; or at least to sit down in some form, or some pleasant notion of things by the way, and not to follow the Lord through all his intricate leadings in the vast, howling wilderness, till he bring them into the possession of the true rest. What a work was there to quench that spirit which stirred in the Protestants against Popery, and to fix them in Episcopacy, and in the use of the common prayer-book! When that was detected, and turned from, the Presbytery endeavored to take its place, and to bring in its directory; but the pursuit of the Lord was so hot against that, that it sunk presently, and his mighty hand would not suffer it so much as to arise. Much about the same time Independency and Anabaptism appeared and contended; and there was a more simple and honest thing stirring there, than in the other: and accordingly the blessing of the Lord (which was not to the form, but to the life which was stirring within) did appear more among them. But they fixing there, lost the life and simplicity to which the blessing was, and met with the death and the curse, which is the proper reward of the form: for any form, out of the life, kills the life; and its reward is death to itself. The form kills the life, which stirred underneath, and made it appear with some freshness; and when the life, from which it had its seeming beauty and lustre, dies, then it soon withers and dies also: so that the living principle being once slain, there remains nothing but the dead spirit, feeding on the dead form. There was one more pure appearance, and nearer to the kingdom than all these; which was of seeking and waiting: but death overcame this also, making a form of it, and stealing in some observations, from the letter of the Scriptures, concerning the kingdom, whereby their eyes were withheld from beholding <230> the inward principle and seed of life within, to look for some great appearance of power without (such as was among the apostles), to set things to rights; and so they were held captive by the same spirit, in their seeking and waiting, whereby the others are held in their forms. Thus have persons generally missed the following of that good Spirit, which began to lead them out of Egypt, the dark land; and losing their guide, have fixed some where or other by the way; resting in some form, or in some notion or expectation of things (according as in their wisdom they have imagined from their skill in the letter), short of the life itself. Thus have their carcasses fallen in the wilderness.
Now this I have to say to you all: all you who rest in any form whatsoever, or rest in any notion or apprehension of things short of the life itself, ye had even as good have stayed in Egypt, as to fix by the way, and to take up a rest in the wilderness, short of Canaan. In plain terms, ye had as good have abode in Popery or Episcopacy; ye had been as acceptable to God there as here. Not that I say your forms of Independency, Anabaptism, or Seeking, are as bad as Popery, Episcopacy, or Presbytery: nay; they are all somewhat nearer, and the last of them very much nearer: but your fixing there, and the dead spirit feeding there on the dead thing, is as remote from life as if it had gone quite back again. And this dead spirit is as hateful to God here, as it is among the Papists; yea, and in one sense more, because it makes a pretence beyond them.
And the truth is, ye have gone back again, though not in the direct form, yet into that very spirit wherein Popery's strength and kingdom lie; and so are become one of the beast's names; and your strength and defence lie in the beast's horns, either in the outward powers of the earth, or in that inward knowledge of things and wisdom from the letter, which is out of the life, and so are not yet come out of the city of Babylon. For mark: the spirit that fixeth in a form short of the life, is the same that whored from the life: and the same spirit is the whore still, in what form soever she be. The Spirit that rose up in the life, against the death and corruption whereof Popery wholly consisted, was a good Spirit; and this Spirit would pass through all forms, till it meet with the life. It is the other spirit that says to <231> thee, Thou hast gone far enough; and so tempts thee to stay by the way. And he who hearkens to this spirit, and stays any where by the way, is caught with the old whore in a new dress, and is drinking the cup of fornication afresh. And then, like the Papists, he runs to the powers of the earth, to defend his form against the witnesses of God (and that is his cover under which he persecutes, and there he lies hid), or at least to his own wisdom and reason, to strengthen himself with arguments for fixing here, and against going any further. And then he grows wise in the flesh, and cries against them who are still led by the same Spirit to press on further, as weak, silly, giddy, unsettled, seduced people, that can never know when they are well. Thus the wise Episcopalians reviled the simple-hearted Non-conformists, who pursued further than they. And the Non-conformists, when they lost their simplicity, and began to stick, reviled those that pursued beyond them. And thus at this day, those who are pressing on in the Spirit, are disdained by those who have taken up their station in the flesh; and with their two great horns of earthly power and earthly wisdom, are they pushing at them.
Look about ye, look about ye, all sorts of devout professors; see where ye are! Are you not dead in your forms? Is not the good old Puritan principle (wherein once was true life in its measure) dead and buried there? Consider with yourselves; hath that grown in your forms? Or hath it been slain there? Speak the truth in your own hearts; can ye truly say, from a sensible feeling in the life, that that principle is still alive in you? If it were so, ye could never be drawn to persecute, no, nor suffer persecution, ye that have power to hinder it: but if that seed be choked, then ye may well connive at, if not further the enemy, and plead for him, and join interests with him. While Abel lived in you, Cain could not rise up in his dominion; but now the right seed is slain, the murdering nature appears.
Oh hasten out of this spirit! Hasten out of Babylon! Cast off the spirit of Popery: return to the old Puritan principle: do not cry it up in deceit, to oppose the present appearance of truth, which is grown up further in it; but subject that dead, formal, earthly spirit to it, which is fallen beneath it. And when ye are come to a true touch of life there, ye may be able to own the <232> same truth in its growth to a further measure. But while thou art in the dead understanding, and from the power and life of truth in thine own particular, dost thou think to be able to measure truth aright in others? Nay; thou measurest by a false appearance of things in the fallen understanding, and in the wisdom which thou hast gathered there, since thou thyself fellest from the living principle: and this must needs commend that most which is nearest to it, and not that which is nearest to truth. And this is the great error of this age; men, with a gathered knowledge from scripture words, without the true faith and life, go about to measure that life and knowledge which come from the faith; and because it suits not with the apprehensions which they have taken into their minds, they condemn it. And thus, being in the stumbling wisdom, and way of observation to which truth was never revealed, but was ever an offence, they stumbled at it: and so men generally dash and split themselves against the same rock now, as the Pharisees did of old. Now this understanding must perish, and this wisdom in men be brought to nought, before that can be raised up which can judge aright.
Hearken therefore to my exhortation, as ye love your souls; Come out of Popery in deed and in truth: come out of the SPIRIT of Popery: burn the whore, in her new forms as well as in her old: cast off all these new names of the beast, under which the old spirit has made a prey of the life in your own particulars, and lies lurking to make a prey of the life in others, and to force it into its own deceitful forms of death, and slay it. Leave defending your faith and church by the beast's horns, and come to that faith and church which is received, gathered, and defended by Christ, the One Horn of Salvation. Leave your reasonings and disputings in that wisdom which has slain the life, and come to that wisdom which comes from the life, and springs up in the life; and ye will find more certainty and satisfaction in one touch of true life, than in all the reasonings and disputes of wise men to the world's end. The ground wherein men's religion grows (even the most zealous) is bad; even the same ground wherein the Pharisees' religion stood and grew; and it hath brought forth such a kind of fruit; namely, such a kind of conformity to the letter as theirs was; which stands in the understanding and will of man, <233> rearing up a pleasant building there, but keeps from the life, and from building in it. But the true religion stands in receiving a principle of life; which, by its growth, forms a vessel for itself; and all the former part, wherein sin on the one hand, or self-righteousness on the other hand, stood and grew, passeth away.
These things following strike at the king of Babylon himself; yea, even at the very root of the antichristian spirit in every man; which he that can mildly receive the stroke of, may feel the true Spirit of life (which lies underneath) spring up in him, and give life to his soul: which, when it is delivered, will be able truly to know, and rejoice in the Lord his Saviour. And when the root of that spirit is cut down (which never brought forth sweet, pleasant fruit unto life; but only sour fruit, finely painted and dressed for the eye and palate of death), its body, branches, leaves, and fruit will wither and die daily, and truth come to grow safely.
This is the root of the false religion; of the false hope; of the false peace; of the false joy; of the false rest; of the false comfort; of the false assurance; as the other is of the true. In this faith, which is of man, and in the improvement of it, stands all the knowledge, zeal, devotion, and worship of the world in general, and of the worldly part in every man in particular: but the true knowledge, the true zeal, the true devotion, the true worship, stand in the faith which is given of God, to them that are born of the immortal seed; which lives in God, and in which God liveth for ever.
Now it deeply concerns every man, to consider from which of these his knowledge, religion, and worship proceed, and in which of them they stand. For if they proceed from, and stand in, the faith which is of man, they cannot please God, nor conduce to the salvation of the soul. But though they may taste very pleasantly to man's palate now, and administer much hope and satisfaction to him at present, yet they will fail at the time of need; for, as Christ said concerning the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, so may I concerning this faith; Except your faith, with the works of it, exceeds that faith, and all the works of it (even to the uttermost improvement thereof) which is to be found in man's nature, it will never lead you to the kingdom of God, nor be able to give you any right to the inheritance of life. For he that will inherit, must be the right heir, must have the faith of Abraham, the faith of Isaac; which springs up from the root of life in the seed; and this leads the seed into that spring of life (out of which it shot forth as a branch) which is the inheritance promised to the seed. And here is Christ, Alpha and Omega, in every particular soul where life is begun and perfected, running its course through time, back to that which was before the beginning.
Therefore observe, and consider well, what this faith which is of man's self can do; and how far it may go in the changing of man, and in producing a conformity of him to the letter of the <235> Scriptures. And then consider where it is shut out, what it cannot do, what change it cannot make, what it cannot conform to: that so the true distinction may be let into the mind, and not a foundation laid of so great a mistake in a matter of so great concernment.
1. A man may believe the history of the Scriptures; yea, and all the doctrines of them, so far as he can reach them with his understanding, with this faith which is of man. As by this faith a man can believe a history probably related to him; so by this faith he believes the histories of the Scriptures, which are more than probably related. As by this faith a man can receive doctrines of instruction out of philosophers' books; so by the same faith he may receive doctrines of instruction out of the Scriptures. Reading a relation of the fall of man, of the recovery by Christ, that there is no other way to life, &c., this faith can believe the relation of these things, as well as it can believe the relation of other things.
2. This being believed from the relation of the history of these things, it naturally sets all the powers of man at work (kindling the understanding, will, and affections,) towards the avoiding of misery, and the attaining of happiness. What would not a man do to avoid perpetual extremity of misery on soul and body for ever, and to obtain a crown of everlasting blessedness? This boils the affections to an height, and sets the understanding on work to the utmost, to gather all the rules of scripture, and to practise all the duties and ordinances therein mentioned. What can the Scriptures propose to be believed, that he will not believe? What can it propose to be done, that he will not do? Must he pray? He will pray. Must he hear? He will hear. Must he read? He will read. Must he meditate? He will meditate. Must he deny himself, and all his own righteousness and duties, and hope only for salvation in the merits of Christ? He will seem to do that too; and say, when he has done all he can, he is but an unprofitable servant. Does the scripture say he can do nothing without the Spirit? He will acknowledge that too, and hope he has the Spirit. God hath promised the Spirit to them that ask it; and he has asked long, and asks still, and therefore hopes he has it. Thus man, by a natural faith, grows up and spreads into a <236> great tree, and is very confident and much pleased; not perceiving the defect in his root, and what all his growth here will come to.
3. This being done with much seriousness and industry, there must needs follow a great change in man: his understanding will be more and more enlightened; his will more and more conformed to that to which he thus gives himself up, and to which he thus bends himself with all his strength; his affections more and more weaned; he will find a kind of life and growth in this, according to its kind. Let a man's heart be in any kind of study or knowledge, applying himself strictly to it, he gathers understanding in his mind, and warmth in his affection: so it is also here. Yea, this being more excellent in itself, must needs produce a more excellent understanding, and a more excellent warmth, and have a greater power and influence upon the will.
4. Now, how easy is it for a man to mistake here, and call this the truth! First, he mistakes this for the true faith; and then he mistakes in applying to this all that which belongs to the true faith: and thus entering into the spirit of error at first, he errs in the whole course of his religion, from the beginning to the end. He sees a change made by this in him; and this he accounts the true conversion and regeneration. This leads him to ask, and seek, and pray; and this he accounts the true praying, the true seeking, the true asking. This cleanseth (after its kind) his understanding, will, and affections; and this he takes for the true sanctification. The justification which is to the true believer, he also applies to this faith; and so he has a peace, a satisfaction, a rest here, and a hope of happiness hereafter. Thus he receives what is already revealed; and he waits for what may be further revealed, which he can embrace and conform to, turning still upon this centre, and growing up from this root. And he that does not come hither in religion, falls short of the improvement of man's nature, and of the faith that grows there (which naturally leads all the powers of nature hither, and fixes them here), which is but dead. And now this man is safe; he is a believer; he is a worshipper of God; he is a Christian; he is an observer of the commands of Christ: when the overflowing scourge comes, it shall not touch him: all the judgments, plagues, threatenings, in the Scriptures, belong not to him, but to the unbelievers; to them <237> that know not God; to them that worship not God; to them that observe not the commands of Christ. Thus, by his untempered mortar from his false faith, he has built up a wall against the deluge of wrath; which wall will tumble down upon him when the wrath comes. The growth of this faith, and great spreading of it into all this knowledge, zeal, and devotion, hath not changed the nature of it all this while; but it is the same that it was at the beginning, even a power of nature in the first birth; and all these fruits are but the fruits of the first nature, which is still alive under all this. All this can never kill the principle out of which it grows; but feeds it more, and fattens it for the slaughter.
Thus far this faith can go: but then there is somewhat it is shut out of at the very first: there is somewhat this faith cannot receive, believe, or enter into. What is that? It is the life, the power, the inward part of this. Though it may seem to have unity with all the scriptures in the letter; yet it cannot have unity with one scripture in the life: for its nature is shut out of the nature of the things there witnessed. As for instance: it may have a literal knowledge of Christ, according as the scripture relates; of his birth, preaching, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, &c. Yea, but the thing spoken of it knoweth not. The nature of Christ (which is the Christ) is hidden from that eye. So it may have a literal knowledge of the blood of Christ, and of justification; but the life of the blood which livingly justifieth, that birth cannot feel; but can only talk of it, according to the relation it reads in the scripture. So it may have a literal knowledge of sanctification; but the thing that sanctifieth, it cannot receive into itself. So for redemption, peace, joy, hope, love, &c., it may get into the outward part of all these; but the inward part, the life, the spirit of them, it is shut out of, and cannot touch or come near; nor can it witness that change which is felt and known here. And here is the great contention in the world between these two births; the one contending for its knowledge in the letter, and the other contending for its knowledge in the life: the one setting up its faith from the natural part, calling it spiritual; and the other, which has felt the stroke of God upon this (and thereby come to know the difference), setting up the faith of the true heir: which faith hath a different beginning, and <238> a different growth from the other, and will be welcomed into the land and kingdom of life; when the other will be manifested to be but the birth of the bond-woman, and be thrust forth with its mother to seek their bread abroad: for the seed of the bond-woman is not to inherit with Isaac, the seed of promise.
Quest. What then is that faith which is the gift of God? And which is distinct from this?
Ans. It is that power of believing which springs out of the seed of eternal life; and leavens the heart, not with notions of knowledge, but with the powers of life. The other faith is drawn out of man's nature, by considerations which affect the natural part, and is kept alive by natural exercises of reading, hearing, praying, studying, meditating in that part; but this springs out of a seed of life given, and grows up in the life of that seed, and feeds on nothing but the flesh and blood of Christ; in which is the living virtue, and immortal nourishment of that which is immortal. This faith, at its first entrance, strikes that part dead in which the other faith did grow, and by its growth perfects that death, and raiseth up a life which is of another nature than ever entered into the heart of man to conceive. And by the death of this part in us, we come to know and enjoy life; and by the life we have received, know, and enjoy, we come to see that which other men call life (and which we ourselves were apt to call life formerly) to be but death. And from this true knowledge, we give a true testimony to the world of what we have seen and felt; but no man receiveth our testimony. It grieves us to the heart to see men set up a perishing thing as the way to life; and our bowels are exceedingly kindled, when we behold an honest zeal and simplicity betrayed; and in tender love do we warn men of the pit, into which they are generally running so fast; though men reward us with hatred for our good will, and become our bitter enemies because we tell them the truth, and the most necessary truth for them to know; which they can bear neither in plain words, nor yet in parables. Yet be not rough and angry; but meekly wait to read this following parable aright, and it will open into life. The parable is briefly this:
That which sold the birth-right, seeks the birth-right with tears and great pains; but shall never recover it. But there is <239> one which lies dead, which hath the promise, which stirs not, which seeks not till he is raised by the power of the Father's life, and then he wrestles with the Father, prevails, and gets the blessing from him. Therefore know that part which is up first, and is so busy in the willing and in the running, and makes such a noise about duties, and ordinances, and graces, to keep down the life which it hath slain: and know that seed of life which is the heir, which lies underneath all this, and must remain slain while this lives: but if ever ye hear the voice of the Son of God, this will live, and the other die. And happy for ever will he be who knows this! But misery will be his portion, who cannot witness a thorough change by the almighty power of the living God, but hath only painted the old nature and sepulchre, but never knew the old bottle broken, and a new one formed, which alone is able to receive and retain the new wine of the kingdom; whereas the other, Pharisee-like, can only receive a relation of the letter concerning the kingdom.
Concerning FAITH, its Nature,
Rise, &c., with its Receiving of CHRIST, and
what follows thereupon; namely, a Growing in his living Virtue;
with a Knowledge of the true, living, unerring Rule, and Obedience
to it in the Life.
The true knowledge is only poured into the new vessel. It is the living soul alone that receives the living knowledge of the living God from Christ the life. The old nature, the old understanding, is for death and destruction. The wisdom of the flesh, though painted ever so like the spiritual wisdom, is not to be spared anywhere; but that wisdom, with all its zeal and growth and progress in religion must perish. All men's knowledge of the Scriptures which they have gathered in that part will profit them nothing, but hinder them. Every building which the leprosy of sin hath overspread, is to be pulled down; therefore he that hath only the old house swept and garnished, never received the true knowledge, from whence the true faith springs, but his life lies in the oldness of the letter, in the conformity of the dead part to that, and he knows not the virtue of the knowledge of God in the newness of the Spirit (the veil being over his heart) which is only given to the new understanding.
Hear now, ye wise in the letter, but strangers to the life! there is a twofold appearance of Christ in the heart; there is an appearance of him as a servant to obey the law, to fulfill the will of the Father in that body which the Father prepares there for him: and there is an appearance of him in glory, to reign in the life and power of the Father: and he that knows not the first of these in his heart, shall never know the second there. And he that knows not these inwardly, shall never know any outward, visible coming to his comfort. For if Christ should come outwardly to reign (as many expect), yet to be sure he would not reign in thee, whose heart he hath not first entered into and subdued to himself; which is only to be done by his appearance there, first as a servant, then as a king. But what estate are Christians (so called) now in, who know not him in them who is able to serve the Lord; but are striving and fighting in that nature where sin hath the power, and which can never overcome, being not in union with, but strangers to, that life and power which is the conqueror! Therefore let all consider in the depths of their hearts; for this is infallibly true: they that never received the seed of life in their hearts, never received Christ; and such shall never be free from sin while they live: for having not received the Son, who makes free, how can they be free indeed? Or be free from wrath when they are dead? For that faith concerning Christ will not save them hereafter, which did not bring them to receive Christ here.
To the Jews, who were an outward people, there was an outward rule given, a law of commandments, statutes, judgments, and ordinances, proper to that state wherein they were, and to that thing to which the ministry was: but all this was to be done away, and to end in that which all this represented. So that to Christians, Christ the substance being come, which is the end of all these shadows, the true Jew being raised in the immediate life, now there is a necessity for the immediate life for the rule. To them under the gospel, to them who are come to the substance, to them who are begotten and born in the life, there can be no rule proportionable to their state, but Christ the substance, Christ the life. Here he alone is the light, the way, the truth, the rule; the Spirit is here the rule, the new creature is the rule, the new covenant the rule; all which are in unity together, and he that hath one of them hath them all, and he that hath not them all hath none of them. So that directions taken out of the scripture cannot be the rule to him who is the true Christian; but the measure of grace, the measure of the light, the measure of the Spirit, the measure of the gift received into the living soul from the spring of life, this is the alone rule of life. But Christians in the degeneration have lost this, and so have taken up words for a rule (which were not given to that end); and so with deductions by the earthly part, they feed the earthly part. What is fed by men's scripture knowledge, but the earthly understanding? The earthly will heated; the earthly affections warmed? And of the fruits of this earth they bring sacrifices to God: and they are angry that God hath raised up Abel, their younger brother, who offers up the Lamb of God to God, and serves the living God, in his own living Spirit, and with the faith which comes from him. Abel's religion stands not in that part wherein all other men's religion stands, but in the death of that part; and in the raising up of another part, wherein life springs. Can ye mildly receive these gentle leadings? Do not provoke the tender heart of the Lamb against you, who also hath the voice of a lion, and can roar terribly out of his holy mountain against the enemies of his life and Spirit.
Great are the plagues that are written in this book, even the pouring out of eternal wrath without mixture; torment day and night, in the presence of the Lamb, &c. As the growth and fulness of the mystery of iniquity are spoken of in this book, so the measuring out of the fulness of wrath to it, is spoken of also. And great are the life and blessedness that are here promised, to those that fight with and overcome the mystery of iniquity: and receive not any marks or names of the beast, nor are subject to any of his horns, though he push ever so hard with them. Now to meet with all the plagues here threatened, and to miss of all the blessedness here promised, is it not a sad state? Why, he that addeth to these things here spoken, or diminisheth from the words of the prophecy, the Lord hath said this shall befall him. Therefore, in the fear of that God who hath spoken this, and will make it good, let every one search, who is the adder, who is the diminisher.
Now mark, see if this be not a clear thing. He that giveth any other meaning of any scripture, than what is the true, proper meaning thereof, he both addeth and diminisheth; he taketh away the true sense, he addeth a sense that is not true. The Spirit of the Lord is the true expositor of scriptures; he never addeth nor diminisheth: but man, being without that Spirit, doth but guess, doth but imagine, doth but study and invent a meaning, and so he is ever adding or diminishing. This is the sense, saith one; this is <250> the sense, saith another; this is the sense, saith a third; this, saith a fourth: another that is witty, and large in his comprehension, he says they will all stand; another, perhaps more witty than he, says none of them will stand, and he invents a meaning different from them all. And then, when they are thus expounding them, they will say, take the sense thus, it will yield this observation; or take it thus, and it will afford this observation. Doth not this plainly show, that he who thus saith, hath not the Spirit of the Lord to open the scripture to him, and manifest which is the true sense, but is working in the mystery of darkness? And yet this very person, who is thus working with his own dark spirit in the dark, will in words confess, that there is no true understanding or opening of scripture, but by the Spirit of God. If it be so, how darest thou set thy imagination, thy fancy, thy reason, thy understanding on work, and so be guessing at that which the Spirit doth not open to thee, and so art found adding and diminishing?
Now he that is the adder, he that is the diminisher, he crieth out against the Spirit of the Lord, and chargeth him with adding and diminishing: for man being judge, he will judge his own way to be true, and God's to be false. That which is the adding and diminishing, he calls the true expounding of the place; but if the Spirit of the Lord immediately open any thing to any son or daughter, he cries, This is an adding to the word: the scripture is written; there are no more revelations to be expected now; the curse, saith he, is to them that add. Thus he removes the curse from his own spirit, and way of study and invention, to which it appertains; and casts it upon the Spirit of the Lord. And man cannot possibly avoid this in the way that he is in; for having first judged his own darkness to be light, then, in the next place, he must needs judge the true light to be darkness. He that hath afore-hand set up his own invented meaning of any scripture to be the true meaning, he must needs oppose the true meaning, and call it false, and so apply himself to form all the arguments he can out of other scriptures, to make it appear false. Thus man, having begun wrong in his knowledge of the Scriptures, stands engaged to make use of them against the Lord, and against his own soul; and yet really in himself thinks that he makes a right use of them, and that he serves the Lord, and that he is not opposing his <251> truth, but opposing error and heresy; while he himself is in the error, and in the heresy, and against the truth; being a stranger to that Spirit, in whose immediate life and presence the truth grows.
Did the Lord, in these words, of forbidding to add or diminish upon so great a penalty, lay a restraint and limit upon his own Spirit, that it should no more hereafter speak in his sons and daughters; or did he intend to lay bounds upon the unruly spirit of man? Did God leave man's spirit at liberty to invent and form meanings of his words, and bind up his own Spirit from speaking further words afterwards? When Moses said, thou shalt not add or diminish, was this to be any stop to the prophets, in whom God should speak afterwards? Is not this one of the subtle serpent's inventions, to keep up the esteem of man's invented meanings as the true sense, and to make a fortification against the entrance of that Spirit, which can discover all his false interpretations of the true words of God, and to make him see that he is the adder and the diminisher, and that his name will not be found in the book of life, when the true light is held forth to read by?
But this is general, extending to all scriptures: my drift is more particularly concerning adding to the things, or diminishing from the words of the book of this prophecy.
There are two things chiefly spoken of in this book; Mystery Sion, Mystery Babylon; the true church, the false church; the Lamb's wife, the whore; the hiding of Mystery Sion, the appearing of Mystery Babylon in her place; the flying of the church out of her heaven into the wilderness, leaving all behind her which she could not carry with her; even all the ordinances and institutions of Christ, wherein once she appeared worshipping and serving God; and the starting of the false church into her place; taking up all that she had left, even all the ordinances and institutions of Christ in the letter; thus covering herself with the form of godliness, with the sheep's clothing, that she might pass the better for the true church: and the dragon who managed the war against the woman and her seed, raiseth up first one beast, and then another, and sets this whore on the top of them; who with the cup of fornication makes all the earth drunk, all nations, peoples, kindreds, tongues, languages. And the beast hath his horns everywhere; his marks everywhere; his names everywhere; and <252> also his image in every part of Babylon. And who will not worship him, he fights with; yea, such as are led by God to rent from the whore, he calls schismatics, heretics, blasphemers, and persecutes them as persons not worthy to live. Thus the state of things is quite changed, the power of truth lost, the form set up without it; those that seek after the power hated, persecuted, blasphemed; but those that lie still under any of the beast's forms, go for good Christians, for members of the visible church, so called by them.
Now mark: he that calls anything the church, but what this book calls the church, he adds: he that doth not know the wilderness, and own the church in the wilderness, he diminishes. The church of Rome is not the church in the wilderness; the church of Scotland is not the church in the wilderness; and the church of England is not the church in the wilderness; the several gathered churches are none of them the church in the wilderness: all these have sprung up since the church's flight, and have appeared in her absence, usurping her name, and appropriating it to themselves; but God, who gave it to the church, hath not given it to them; and so they must lose it again, when God brings back the church out of the wilderness. So he that calls those, which formerly were the institutions and ordinances of Christ, which the woman left behind her, and which the harlot hath got and attired herself with, which she now appears in, and wherewith the dragon is now worshipped, he adds to this book, which says the outward court was given to the Gentiles, and the true church had nothing left her but the inward temple, wherein alone the true worshippers worshipped; and they that worship elsewhere, are the false worshippers, worshipping in false temples, in temples of the whorish spirit's building; take it either outwardly or inwardly, for it holds true in both. He that makes the beast's names fewer than they are, or his marks fewer than they are, or his horns fewer than they are, or his image less than it is, he diminishes. And the danger hereof is not small; "For if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke <253> of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name." Rev. 14:9, &c.
Now this I affirm: Whosoever has not the name of Sion, the mark of Sion, which he received of her in the wilderness, where the living God is with her, and where he is taught by God the laws of the wilderness-worship, and in some measure to testify against all the corrupted ordinances and institutions which have the beast's mark, and go now abroad in the world under the beast's name; I say, whoever has not the true mark of Sion, it is impossible for him to avoid the mark of Babylon. And he who avoids not the mark, cannot escape the plagues. But he that hath the mark of Sion, is, by a secret inward instinct of true life, led from the marks of Babylon; and (if he faithfully follow the guidance of it) from out of all the names, and from under all the horns.
It is not enough to be rent from Popery, and sit down under the power and government of the same spirit in another form; or to be rent from Episcopacy, and the same spirit sit down in Presbytery; or to be rent from Presbytery, and the same spirit sit down in a form of Independency, or Anabaptism; or to be rent from these, and the same spirit sit down in a way of seeking and waiting, and reading of words of scripture, and gathering things from thence without the life: but the true religion consists in knowing and following a true guide to the church in the wilderness, and thereto receive the mark, the living mark, which will preserve out of all invention, and further progress of the dead spirit.
Now therefore look about you; know the spirit of whoredom, and see how ye have been begotten in the adultery, and born of the whore, and have served the dragon, and worshipped his dead idols, and not the living God. And be not satisfied with changing of forms and dresses (which are but the several deceitful appearances of the whore), but put off that spirit; lest when ye have hated the whore, and burnt her flesh as she appeared in one form, ye give yourselves up to her again, when she appears in another form: for the plagues are not so much to the form wherein the whore appears, as to the whorish spirit: and <254> whosoever is found under her dominion, in any of her territories, under any of her forms, with that mark of hers upon them which belongs to that particular form, though ever so curiously painted, he shall drink of the unmixed cup of wrath.
Therefore tremble all sorts of people! pluck off your false coverings; see the shame of your nakedness, while it may be for your advantage so to do. The angel is gone forth, the corn is reaping and gathering into the garner, many lambs are brought into the fold of everlasting rest, Sion is redeeming, the true life is rising, the whorish spirit is judging, the door of life is yet open. Do not lie secure in the whore's wisdom! Do not lie slumbering, and reasoning, and disputing from the letter of the Scripture, till the gathering be finished, till the door be shut, till the eternal flames seize upon you, and ye find yourselves in the bosom of hell unawares, and see the children of the kingdom in Abraham's bosom, but yourselves shut out, and left to weep, and wail, and gnash your teeth.
Quest. But how may I avoid adding to the things, and diminishing from the words, of this prophecy, and of other scriptures; that I may not meet with the weight of this curse, or miss of the blessing?
Ans. Dost thou ask this question from thy heart, in the simplicity, out of the fleshly wisdom? Then hearken with that ear, and thou shalt set thy seal to mine answer.
1. Wait for the key of knowledge, which is God's free gift. Do not go with a false key to the Scriptures of Truth; for it will not open them. Man is too hasty to know the meaning of the Scriptures, and to enter into the things of God, and so he climbs up over the door with his own understanding; but he has not patience to wait to know the door, and to receive the key which opens and shuts the door; and by this means he gathers death out of words which came from life. And this I dare positively affirm, that all that have gone this way to work have but a dead knowledge; and it is death in them that feeds upon this knowledge, and the life is not raised. Consider now the weight of this counsel in the true balance: there is no opening of the Scriptures but by the true key, nor is there any coming at the key till the Lord please to give it. What then is to be done, but only to wait <255> (in the silence of that part which would be forward, and running before-hand) till the key be given, and to know how to receive it, as it is offered in the light; and not to wait in the will, or expect to receive it according to observations in the fleshly wisdom from the letter.
2. Let not thy understanding have the managing of this key, when it is given; but know the true opener, the skilful user of the key, the hand which can only turn the key aright; and let him have the managing both of his own key, and of thine understanding. Do not run in thine own understanding, or in thine own will, to search out the meaning of scripture; for then thou feedest with the scripture that which it is the intent of all words of life to destroy: but as thou waitedst for the key at first, so continually wait for the appearances and movings of the user of the key, and he will shut out thy understanding and will continually, which would still be running after the literal part of scriptures; and let thee into the life both of the prophecies and doctrines thereof. Man, when he hath received a true gift from God, he would be managing of it himself, and to be sure he will manage it for himself (for the gratifying and pleasing of himself, and not for God); and then God, being provoked, takes away the substance, and leaves him the shell. Therefore he that hath received a gift must be very watchful against that which would betray, or he may easily lose it: for though the gifts and calling of God are without repentance; yet if that lay hold of the gift which was not called, and to which it was not given, the Lord will thrust that by, and take away his gift from it.
3. Do not graft any of the fruit of the tree of life upon the tree of knowledge; for it will not grow there: an appearance, a likeness of the true fruit may grow there; but the true fruit itself will not. My meaning is, do not make a treasury of knowledge in the understanding part, which is to perish; but know the true treasury of all the things of life, which is in the life itself; and in that understanding which is formed, kept, and lives in the life. Lay no manna by to feed upon in the old store-house (lest the fleshly part should be running thither, when its fleshly appetite is kindled after food); but daily receive the continual bread from the hand of life. The wisdom of the life strikes at thy wisdom <256> and understanding; and if ever thou wilt grow wise any more, thou losest this, and canst not possibly retain it: for that part is then getting up in thee, in which it cannot be held: but only a shadow, an image, a resemblance and likeness of it, which feeds and pleases that part which fain would have life, but cannot know it; and therefore is necessitated to make images and likenesses of things in heaven, or things in earth, that it might have somewhat.
4. Take not up a rest in openings of things, though by the true key. Take heed of overvaluing that kind of knowledge; for that part which overvalues that knowledge will presently be puffed up with it: but there is a more excellent and safer kind of knowledge to be pressed after, which is a knowledge of things by receiving of them. There is a knowledge of things by the Spirit's opening the words which speak of them, or by inward, immediate prophecies from the word of life in the heart. This is an excellent knowledge, and not to be found in the earthly part of man: yet the earthly part (when this knowledge is given) is very apt to be swelled and exalted with it; but then there is also a knowledge which ariseth from the gift of the thing itself. This knowledge is very precious, and much more full and certain than the other, having the nature and immediate power of life in itself, and so is perfectly able to preserve. As for instance, to make it more plain: there may be a knowledge of justification, by the Spirit's opening the words written in scripture concerning justification, and the blood of sprinkling; and this is a good knowledge, where there is a true opening of it from the Spirit: but then there is a knowledge by feeling of the blood of sprinkling in the heart, and by seeing with the new eye the way of its justification; and in this knowledge is the power and the cleansing of the life received, which in the other was but spoken of. Therefore rest not in opening of prophecies, or true meanings of these things (though this kind of knowledge is very excellent, and hath been very rare), but wait to feel the thing itself which the words speak of, and to be united by the living Spirit to that, and then thou hast a knowledge from the nature of the thing itself; and this is more deep and inward than all the knowledge that can be had from words concerning the thing.
5. When thou feelest things, then seek their preservation in <257> the proper spring of their own life. Let the root bear thee, and all thy knowledge, with all that is freely given thee of God. When thou feelest thyself leavened with the life, and become a branch shot out of the life, then learn how to abide in the life, and to keep all that is given thee there; and have nothing which thou mayest call thine own any more; but to be lost in thyself, and found in him. Know the land of the living, wherein all the things of life live, and can live nowhere else.
Now in all this, in this whole course, from the very first step of it, there is certainty, there is stability, there is infallibility. From the very first opening of the true key, I begin to learn somewhat of God; and to learn certainly, and feel an assurance and establishment in it: and growing up here, I grow up in the true learning, and in the true settlement, and so I am not unlearned and unstable, wresting the Scriptures to my own destruction: for I take none of the knowledge of the Scriptures from myself, from my own understanding, from my own study and invention, or from the studies of other expositors, but from a certain hand. And how can he wrest scripture, who is kept single, and has no desire to have any thing to be the meaning of it, but what is the meaning; nor no will to know the meaning, further than the good-will of him whose Spirit penned it thinks good to give forth the meaning to him; and who waits to receive this, not to feed the lustful, knowing part in himself, but to feed the life with it? And when the life hath no use for it, he is content to have it shut up, and to be without it: I say, how is it possible for this man to wrest scriptures? But now a man that hath taken in a body of knowledge already, he goes to the Scripture, and bends it, to make it speak answerable to that; and where it speaks contrary, he invents a way to make it comply, and so wrests scriptures forward and backward, to make them speak agreeable to what he has already received and believed. Thus every sort of persons, Papists and Protestants, bend the Scriptures, to make them speak conformable to their opinions and practices; not having the true learning, which gives to read them in the true original, where the knowledge of what they speak and mean is certain: and so they are also unstable, and subject to be shaken by a wind of reason which is stronger than <258> their own. And this wresting of scripture is to their own destruction; for that part which is so much as desirous to bend a scripture, is to be destroyed; and that part cannot receive the true knowledge; but stumbles in its own wisdom and way of seeking, at the wisdom of God, and at the true way of finding.
But the foregoing counsel, faithfully hearkened unto, will preserve out of this, and also bring to the true means, and to the true use of the means, which all nations, who have drunk of the whore's cup, have erred concerning, and taken the false for the true. The strength of this wine hath made all nations, people, tongues, and languages, to mistake; who, in the heat of their drink, have cried up the means, the means, the ordinances, the ordinances, &c., not perceiving how this heat came from the spirits of the whore's wine, and not from the sober, meek, calm, gentle leadings of the Spirit of Christ; and so, in a fleshly zeal, have set up the whore's means, instead of the Lamb's means, and contend for them with the whore's spirit and weapons. Now it is impossible for any man so much as to know the true means till the whore's wine be purged out of him; for that will make him err in judgment, and take the false for the true. And which way shall he ever come to the kingdom, who has lighted upon the wrong means? Or how shall he ever come to the true means, who never yet saw the witchery of the whorish spirit from the life, and how he himself hath been bewitched and cozened with the false, instead of the true? As for instance:
Prayer; that is generally taken for a means: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. If parents, which are evil, know how to give good gifts to their children; how much more shall the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" This therefore is an undoubted thing, that prayer is a means.
Ans. True; there is a prayer which is a means, and there is a prayer which is not a means. There is a prayer which is an ordinance, and there is a prayer which is an invention. There is a prayer which is the breath of the true child, and there is a prayer which is the breath of the fleshly part, a breath of the whorish spirit. There is a prayer of the first birth, and there is a prayer of the second birth; both which cry and weep to God <259> for the same thing. Now the one of these is the true means, the other not: one of them is Christ's ordinance, the other is antichrist's ordinance. Now the question is, which of these thy prayer is; whether it be thine own breath, or God's breath; whether it come from the renewings of the Spirit of life, or from thine own natural part painted. For accordingly it is either the true means, or the false means. If it be the true means, it shall have the thing; the Spirit, the life, the kingdom it prays for: if it be the false means, it can never obtain it. Papists, they pray; Protestants, they pray; some in forms, some without forms; some meditating before-hand, some not meditating. Are all these the true means; or are any of them the true means? The birth of the true child is the only true prayer; and he prays only in the moving and in the leading of that Spirit that begat him: and this is a prayer according to the will, in the life, and from the power. But all men's prayers, according to times they set to themselves, or according to formings of desires in their own minds, which they offer up to God with the nature and heart that sinneth against him, these are false means, and may satisfy the drunken spirit erred from the life, but are no means to the truth.
Canst thou pray? How camest thou to learn to pray? Wast thou taught from above? or didst thou gain the skill and ability by the exercise and improvement of thine own natural part? Didst thou begin with sighs and groans, staying there till the same Spirit that taught thee to groan, taught thee also to speak? Wast thou ever able to distinguish the sighs and groans of the Spirit's begetting, from the sighs and groans of thy own natural and affectionate part? And hath that part, with all its sighings, groanings, desires, endeavors, &c., been thrust aside, and the seed immortal raised by the Spirit of eternal life, which teacheth to cry and mourn, and at length to speak, to the Father for the preservation and nourishment of his life? If it hath been thus with thee, then thou hast known that prayer which is the true means; but if otherwise, though thou pray ever so long, and with ever so great affections, and strong desires, this is all but the false means, with its false warmth from the false fire; this is but the means which the whorish spirit (which is not in union with the life and power, but keeps the seed in bondage) has set up <260> instead of the true means. And this can never lead to truth, but keeps alive God's enemy under this pleasant covering. Neither is this the worship of the living God: but as it is from another spirit, so it is to another spirit.
Oh learn to be sober! Come out of this drunken fury, and consider things mildly and seriously. Do not make a great outcry of ordinances, ordinances! the means, the means! This is the voice of the clamorous woman, who, with her loud noise, would fain keep you from listening after the still voice of true wisdom, which cannot be heard in the midst of this great noise and hurry in your spirits: but consider which are the true ordinances, which are the true means; which are the likenesses man has framed, and which is the true thing itself. And if ye could once be mild, gentle, and calm, and turn from your own wisdom and fleshly knowledge of things, it might please God to remove your stumbling-blocks, and to open that eye in you which can see the antichristian nature, and discern between the coverings which it hath formed to hide its deceitful spirit under, and the true garment and clothing of life. But the seed of the kingdom is little, and ye are great; how can ye enter into it? The pearl lies hid in the field, and ye are gazing up to heaven; how can ye see it? Christ is descended into the lower parts of the earth, and ye are using means to ascend upwards in the wrong nature; how can ye meet with him? The gospel hath been hid; the sun hath not shined; it hath been night, and ye have got many false candles; which way can ye acknowledge the little glimmering of the day-star, who have such satisfaction in the warmth of your false fires? Ye are far from the true light, who have not yet received so much of it as to discover the darkness of the night. Ye are too high, too wise, too knowing for Christ, or for the sight and acknowledgment of the true means which lead to life. And if ye could once come to see this, there might be some hope; but in that wisdom wherein your life and knowledge stand, ye are shut out; and ye are reasoning and stumbling at the stone; while others (who are broken in spirit, and in meekness and humility led to try) find it a sure foundation, even a foundation of eternal life, for the true seed of life; and are built into the living city, which is made without hands, and without any of the tools of man's wisdom.
Now the next thing to be expected, is Satan's opposition against this power of life, and his stratagems to undermine it. He withstood the growth and settlement of the church all that he could by open force, making use both of the heathenish devout worshippers, who fought for their Jupiter, their Diana, and other gods and goddesses; and of the Jewish devout worshippers, who fought for their temple-worship, with the laws and ordinances of Moses, which were now expired. But neither of these would do; but the church, in the power of life, gained ground upon him, and did rather thrive and increase, than diminish by this opposition. Therefore now he falls to his stratagems; he gets some false brethren out of the church (they went out from us); these he clothes as angels of light, puts the sheep's clothing on their wolfish nature, makes them appear as like the apostles as may be, endues them with an excellent, taking knowledge of life and spirituality in appearance; forms in them an image of the Truth, and <262> inspires this image with the spirit of his own life; and with these he goes forth into the world, and gathers the world about him. Now the world was presently taken with this (the world went after him); for this is that the world would have, an appearance of religion, an image of Truth, but their own spirit in it. The worldly spirit, that flies off from the life, from the power, can readily close with this, because it is its own. Bring forth ever so high notions of religion and spiritual wisdom, the world will hug them, the world will feed on them, the world will clothe itself with them. The world can swallow and digest anything but life; any pleasant picture of things in heaven will down with the world; but the nature, the life, the Truth, the Spirit, Christ in his true and living cross, this will not down with the world.
Now the devil having thus set up his false image in the world, and gathered a party after him, then he sets upon the church, and the battle goeth very hard, life striving to defend, and death to overcome. How hard did the apostles strive in their day to keep their converts to the simplicity of Truth, and to the way thereof (which even then began to be evil spoken of); writing epistles to the churches, warning them of the false apostles, and wishing them to stand their ground! Yea, Christ himself writes several epistles from heaven to some of them, checking their back-slidings, and encouraging them to renew their zeal and strength, putting them in mind of the crown which attended the victory. But at length the devil with his stratagems prevails, gets the possession of the church's territories, and the church is fain to fly for her preservation; and such of her seed as are left behind her, the enemy makes war against, slays, and drinks their blood.
Now here is an end of all the glory of that state: now the devil hath gained the world again: the same spirit that lost it under the heathenish power (for there he was conquered) recovers it under an antichristian appearance, setting up the same wickedness, and the same course and current of death, under forms of antichristian religion, as he had done before under forms of heathenish devotion.
Thus the devil being conqueror, having gained the field, he divides the spoils among his army: he takes whatever was the church's and makes his own, and ranks them in his way of <263> antichristian religion and devotion; so that henceforward those things which were once Christ's and the church's are now all his, and distributed by him among his followers. He gives the name church to the whore which he sets up; he gives the name Christian to his disciples; he prescribes baptism and the supper, which he calls sacraments, and praying and preaching and singing, which he calls public ordinances; and he prescribes private duties and exercises of devotion; and he gets the letter of the Scriptures, and forms multitudes of meanings and expositions, and has lying signs and wonders for such as need them, that he might keep all the several brigades of his army quite under his pay, and might have some pleasing wares of traffic for every sort of his merchants in his Babylon. For this is the city of that king, which he built after his conquest over the life, and which he hath enriched with the spoils from the life. And here all his subjects shall have content; they shall have what they will, if they will but be faithful to him in the main. Call for what likeness, what invention, what appearance of truth they will, they shall have it, so that they will but be content without life. No notion about the Spirit will he deny them, so they will be content with the notion, without the presence of the living Spirit. They shall have light in their understandings, warmth in their affections, joy, peace, hope, comfort out of the Scriptures. They shall apply as many promises to themselves as they will, have what they will, do what they will, so they keep out of the feeling of the living principle; but if once that stir, and there be any hearkening after that, then he begins to show his tyranny, on the one hand, to force them back; and his stratagems, on the other hand, to tempt them aside from it.
The devil having thus gained the form, and enriched himself with the church's spoils, and slain them which had the living testimony, then he falls to corrupting the form: for that filthy spirit, though he can clothe himself with the form to deceive from the life, and abide there to keep down the life; yet he does not much love it; he loves his own form better: and when he is out of fear and assaults from the life, then he returns to his own form again, or patches up a garment more suitable to his own nature, taking in somewhat of the other with it, to make his own pass the <264> better; for if he should have returned to the direct heathenish forms of idolatry and false worship, he could not so have lain hid; therefore he makes a mixture of somewhat which was prescribed to the Jews, with some things found practised among the Christians. Thus he brought in inventions of crosses and images and beads and pictures and reliques and ceremonies beyond number: insomuch as not only the life and power was lost, but the true likeness also; even so lost that it is impossible for all the wisdom of man to recover the knowledge of the likeness again. Men have striven much; but they never could form a true likeness of the primitive church, and the way thereof.
Now though it is the desire of the devil to keep men in the grossness of darkness, yet, rather than lose them, he will let them have some part of the form again: nay, he will tempt them with a gaudy appearance of the form, to keep them from meeting with the power and life, when he perceives true, secret, inward stirrings in them, which will not be quieted without somewhat. Thus, when there was a stirring against Popery, he tempted aside into Episcopacy: when that would hold no longer, then to Presbytery: when that will not serve, into Independency: when that will not keep quiet, but there are still searchings further, into Anabaptism: if that will not do, into a way of Seeking and Waiting: if this will not satisfy, they shall have high notions, yea, most pleasant notions concerning the Spirit, and concerning the life, if they will but be satisfied without the life: yea, they shall have all the liberty in the creatures they can desire (the best-painted liberty), if they will but be satisfied without that liberty which stands not in the creatures out of the life, but over the creatures in the life. And he that turns aside to any of these, he is still under the dominion of that spirit; and there he holds knowledge, and there he performs his worship, and there he has his unity, his liberty, his life, his rest, his peace, his joy, his hope. Now no man can worship God, till he comes out of every part of this Babylon, and his feet touch Sion; though there may be a secret panting, and an unknown safety, and an acceptation of the poor, mourning soul in the passage. Yea, all sorts of people, here ye were accepted in your stirrings after life, in hearkening to the leadings of life from out of the Babylonish <265> spirit; but your turning aside to the Babylonish wisdom in a new dress, and sitting down in a new form of her inventing, hath brought you to a loss of life, and hath made you hateful to the living God, who hath drawn his sword against you, and hath prepared his vials, his thunders, his plagues, his woes: and ye must drink of his cup with sorrow, as ye have drunk of the whore's cup with pleasure. Ye that have found a bed of pleasure in any of your forms, or in any of your notions, and so have found ease in the whore's painting; ye must be cast into the bed of sorrow, and know the fire in God's Sion, and the furnace in his Jerusalem; if ever ye become a habitation for God, or expect to feed on his holy mountain.
The condition of the church all this while (all this time of Satan's reign in forms of knowledge and worship) hath been very lamentable, and is expressed in scripture by parables and resemblances of a sad state. She hath been as a city pulled down, like a ruined city, which needs rebuilding before she can come to be a city again (when the Lord shall build up Sion). She hath been as a wilderness, barren, undressed, unregarded. She hath been like a mournful widow, whose husband hath been rent from her, and her children slain. She hath lost all her ornaments, all her garments, all her ordinances, all her appearances, and ways of life, insomuch as the ways of Sion mourn. But Babylon, the mother of harlots, she has got all the beauty, all the glory, all the church's attire, all the church's ordinances, and all the trade and traffic run thither, and she is cried up for the true church; and if any dare speak a word against her, and for the true church indeed, they are exclaimed against for schismatics and heretics, and war prepared against them, and some or other of the beast's horns pushing at them. Thus it has gone all the time of the apostasy; the whore has flourished with the name of the church, making great merchandize of souls, selling their formal stuff for money; and abundance of children hath the whore brought forth, and nourished with her milk of deceit; but the true woman, the Lamb's wife, with her seed, and the living food from her living breasts, has had no place on the earth.
But this state of things is ended in part, and ending apace. The Lord God of life is arisen out of his holy habitation to <266> assault the dragon, to discover and strip the whore, to recover a possession for his life in the earth, to make room in the world for his church, which he is bringing out of the wilderness. The battle is begun; the territories of antichrist are assaulted; the Lamb hath appeared on his white horse, and hath gathered many of his called, faithful, and chosen about him; the ensign is lifted up; the light (which searcheth the inwards of the enemy's dominions) hath appeared, and his inmost power and wisdom are not feared; but the Lord God is feared, and the dragon's arm withers, and the head of his policy (whereby he ensnared and entangled from the life) is crushing. Glory to the endless power of life, for ever and for ever!
Be wise now therefore, and lose not your share in the immortal crown. Take heed how ye be found fighters against the Lamb, in the wisdom and power of Babylon, which is to fall. Painting will not pass now: that blood of the Lamb is felt, which washes off the whore's paint; even all her painted notions of the blood of Christ, and of sanctification and redemption, &c., the whorish nature being discovered underneath all these. Ye have got the name of church, the name of Christians, the name of ordinances, &c., by the whore's help; but the nature of life ye want: and the living power is come to recover the name from you; and we, his living witnesses, testify to your faces, that ye shall not enjoy it; but the name and the thing shall go together; and he that hath not the thing shall also lose the name. Yea, your eyes shall see that ye have been the sacrilegious ones, who have stolen holy names and titles, which ye never received from the hand of God; but the whorish spirit (which is out of the life, and an enemy to the life) hath handed them to you. And this is told you in dear and tender love, that ye might not perish, but have eternal life abiding in your hearts, and the new name written by the Spirit of life on your foreheads, which all that know the writing of the life, may be able to read and acknowledge.
There are several touches of these things in divers of the epistles of the apostles: but the full relation is given forth in that book of the Revelations, which was penned by the Spirit of God, to be read in the light of the Spirit, and so to be a preservative against the overspreading contagion of Antichristianism. <267> And it is said, at the entrance into it, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein." But men having lost the Spirit, have not been able to read it; and having lost the right ear, they have not been able to hear the words it speaks: and how then could they keep the things written therein? He that doth not understand what he is warned against, how is it likely he should be preserved by the warning? The Spirit of God judged this warning necessary, but the spirit of deceit cries, it is a deep thing not to be meddled with. Now this is a plain demonstration, that men generally are overtaken with the whoredom, and drink of the whore's cup, and submit themselves to the beast, and exalt his horns, and receive his mark, and some or other of his names; because they have not the knowledge of that which discovers these things, and was given by the Spirit of God to forewarn, and so to preserve out of them. He that knoweth not the mystery of iniquity working under a form of godliness, may not he easily be deceived with the mystery of iniquity? He that knoweth not what is become of the true church and ministry, and where to look for them, may not he easily own a false church and ministry? He that knoweth not the Spirit of the scriptures, which the church carried with her, when she left the letter behind her, may not he easily set up the letter for his rule? He that knoweth not the living mark and name of a Christian, with which the Spirit of life seals all the lambs of Christ in the life, may not he easily give this name to himself, and to others who have not this mark, but the beast's mark? He that knoweth not the true faith, the true love, the true hope, the true joy, the true peace, the true rest, the true consolation in Christ the life (the true meekness and patience of the saints, &c.), may not he easily set up shadows or likenesses of these (which he gathers from the letter of the Scriptures and the promises thereof, receiving the knowledge of them into the wrong part, and applying them to the wrong thing) instead of these? Ah, poor hearts! the book of the Revelation is easy to that Spirit that wrote it: and it was not given forth to be laid by as useless; but to be serviceable in the hand of the Spirit, for the ages after the days of the apostles; and in the true light it is easily read: and they that can read it, can see that in it, which they that cannot <268> read it, cannot believe. And this is plainly seen; that there is but the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of deceit: but the Lamb's wife, and the whore (which hath whored from the Spirit, which hath made use of the letter, to run a whoring from that Spirit that wrote it): that there is but the true church, and the false church; but life, and death; but form, and power; but Christ the mystery of godliness, and antichrist the mystery of iniquity; but God, and the dragon; God in the church or temple in the wilderness, and the dragon in the world's churches and temples, appearing there as if he were God, giving forth laws and ordinances like God; and all the world falls down before him, and worships him as if he were God; and hopes by this worship which they perform to him, and by their faith and hope which they receive from him, to be saved at last. I say there are but these two: and he that is joined to the one of these, is not joined to the other. Let him that readeth understand; which he may easily do by the wisdom of the Spirit, but never can by the wisdom of the letter. For though we know how to join these two in the life, yet there is a necessity of separating them at present, till the letter be gained out of the hands of the whorish spirit, which hath built up several forms of knowledge, religion, and worship in Mystery Babylon, by the letter without the life; all which must fall with Babylon.
RELATING TO THE WORKINGS OF THE MYSTERY
OF INIQUITY, AND THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS IN THIS
ALL people upon earth who love your souls, and
have any true, secret pantings after God, look to the nature of
your spirits, and look to the nature of those things ye let into
your minds; lest ye take death for life, error for truth, and so
sow to yourselves corruption, and rear up a fabric in Mystery
Babylon, which will be turned into desolation and utter ruins, by
the power of life from Sion.
Strong is the spirit of deceit that is entered into the world, and glorious and very taking are his images and likeness of truth; which will deceive all but the very elect, who were chosen from the foundation of the world, and whose eyes are open to see the <269> foundation of life, which was before the foundation of the world.
It hath been a heavy, dull time for many ages: there have only been witnesses hitherto raised against antichrist, and he hath found it an easy matter to knock them down, and keep up his ways of profaneness, and of formal, superstitious kinds of devotion, up and down all the nations. But now it is a quick time; the Spirit of the Lord God hath arisen, the searching eye is opened, the pursuit after the very spirit of antichrist is begun; yea, very quick and fresh is the scent of that Spirit which hunteth the whore; and now she goes forward and backward, traverses her ground, changes her paint and colors often, shifts her garment continually, and uses all the art she can to save her life. Now the king of Babylon opens his treasury, brings forth all his likenesses, all his images, all appearances; with some or other of them (if it be possible) to tempt the simple soul, and keep it satisfied therewith, in some of his chambers of darkness and imagery, out of the life and power.
Therefore now be warned and look about you, and be not cozened with any of the wares of Babylon, where the merchandize and traffic is for souls, and where all the wares of deceit are, which are proper to cozen souls: but seek for the nature of that thing, which the inward pantings of your hearts at any time have been after; and wait for the opening of that eye, which can see, through all manner of paint, to that nature; and keep low in the life, simple and honest-hearted, and then gaudy appearances will not take with you; for they are only temptations to the aspiring part, which is lifted up above the pure, low, humble principle: and if that part were brought down, ye would be safe; but while that stands, ye will not be out of the danger of temptations. Now this know:
There is nothing whereof Sion is built, but the likeness of it is in Babylon; and the likeness is very taking, even more taking to that eye which is open in men, than the truth itself. The truth is a plain, simple thing; it is not gaudy in appearance; its excellency lies in its nature: but the appearances of truth which Satan paints are very gaudy, very glorious, seemingly very spiritual, very pure, very precious, very sweet; they many times even ravish that understanding and those affections that are out of the <270> life. Oh, what shall I say! Shall I speak a little of the wares of Babylon? Where is there an ear which can hear me? Yet he that opens my mouth, can open thine ear: therefore let me speak a little plainly.
1. There are many glorious false births in Babylon. There is no inheriting the kingdom, but by being born again. This doctrine the king of Babylon preacheth; he is fain to do so, else the letter of the Scripture would overthrow his kingdom. Now, therefore, to keep from the true new birth, he hath his images of the new birth, his several false births. A great while outward baptism and a formal knowledge were enough to make a man a Christian; but now, since that is discovered, and will not do, he brings forth better births; he hath inward changes of the mind (multitudes of them) fit for every one who is seeking after the life, to be tempted from the life with; and he tempts every one with a proper bait, with that which is taking to him in his present estate. What changes any kind of knowledge, by virtue of the notion (with the devil's quickening power added to it), can produce in any man, the devil can transform man into. Yea, many are these changes; and he that doth not know the nature of the true birth, may easily be deceived with that which is just like the thing he looks for. A man looks for a new birth, for an inward change; he looks for a knowledge to change him: he shall have just the very likeness of that which his heart desires, the lively likeness; the devil is ready at hand to furnish him with it: which way can the man, who never saw the true thing, espy the cheat?
2. There are many glorious desires in Babylon, many pantings, many breathings after that which this birth of Babylon takes to be life. The devil hath these wares, these images in his shop too; as he hath a false birth in imitation of the true, so he hath false breathings for his false birth. If his child could not seemingly breathe towards God, as if he were a natural child of God, he would soon be detected; therefore he inflames him with desires of growth, with desires of enjoyment, of that which he calls life, with seeming desires of serving and glorifying God; and here come in the prayers of the fleshly birth, which are many times carried on with exceeding great earnestness of the <271> fleshly part, to which also the father of this birth gives answers. And now which way can deceit be so much as suspected here? And yet here also the deceiver lodgeth, and herein he worketh, raising strong desires in that part wherein he dwells, that he may allay those pure desires, which otherwise would be arising from the life underneath, and which, notwithstanding all this, sometimes do arise, especially when the soul is in anguish.
3. There is false food in Babylon, false knowledge to feed this wrong nature with; there is knowledge, falsely so called. There are several appearances of all the truths in Sion. There is outward knowledge of the letter, and there is inward, mystical knowledge; and each of these have their warmth, and their freshness, and do nourish up this child, and cause it to grow. Yea, what knowledge and experience, which at first sprang from the true life, this spirit makes a prey of, and daily brings into his Babylon, therewith to feed and fatten that which is born of him, and to cover the old, deceitful nature under, which is not slain thereby, but daily lives, and moves, and puts forth itself; this is certainly felt by that which is made sensible in the life, but hard to be spoken, because the deceived heart is so gross, and the ear so heavy. Now here the painted whore, which hath dealt treacherously with the life, sits as a queen, and says she shall see no sorrow: this knowledge is certain to her, these experiences she hath had the feeling of, and knows they can never be shaken. But, O thou princess of Babylon! the Lord will strip thee, the Lord will unbear thy inwards, and thine own eyes shall see thy nakedness, which shall be for a perpetual reproach among all the inhabitants of Sion: and then thy dark, deceitful spirit shall have no more to say against those who now see through thy covering, to thy nature, in the light; and judge thee, not of themselves, nor in their own wills and understandings, but from the true power, and in the true guidance of the life, whose work it is to pursue, overtake, and judge death, even to death. For all this knowledge, all these experiences in thee, though thou seest it not, nor canst see it with that eye wherewith thou lookest to see, are held captive by that which transgressed, and hath erred from the life, and are made use of to keep thy soul in bands: and as they are thus held, death and the curse must overtake them, ere <272> that life in thee, from which they first sprang, can possibly arise. Grasp not after the knowledge of this in the understanding part, but wait for the sense of it from that life which lies slain underneath these, and by that part which exalts these.
4. There are false keys to open the several chambers of imagery in Babylon. This food man cannot gather of himself, it must be given to him: this knowledge man cannot get into by himself, but as this spirit leads him, and opens to him; for he hath the keys of death, and opens into the treasures of death. Now this hugely confirms a man in the deceit, without the least suspicion of it. Why, saith he, I had not this knowledge from myself, I came not to it by mine own skill or understanding, but it was given me, it was opened to me; and it came in fresh, and warmed in my heart, begetting sweet and pure desires in me, and hath made me eye the glory of God, and not myself. Yea, it might come thus in the likeness, and work the likeness of this in thee; and yet itself not be truth, nor be able to work the truth of this in thee; and this is proper to deceive thy very heart, and make thee a pleasant inhabitant of Babylon, and a joyful worshipper of the king thereof, whom, through this deep deceit, and most subtle false appearance in thy heart, thou mistakest for the King of Sion.
5. This false spirit hath his false crosses, his false combats and fightings. The very Papists have not only their wooden and stone crosses, but they have also their ways of self-denial, their ways of crossing the natural part, of resignation to the Divine Will, as they call it, of fighting against corruption, &c. It is manifest that a man must deny himself, or else he cannot be a Christian (his own will must not, cannot live, if he truly give himself up to Christ): therefore that spirit which lieth lurking to deceive, hath several ways of self-denial to teach, all which must have some hardness in them to the natural part, or else they could not pass; and these may produce great and constant conflicting in the flesh, and yet the fleshly nature be still kept alive under all these conflicts and exercises of self-denial. He hath a circumcising-knife, which cuts off a great deal, but always spares the nature; and as long as the nature is spared, the devil still hath that wherein he can dwell.
<273> 6. He hath his false love to God and man, and his false zeal for God. Love and zeal are two distinguishing things. All men conclude that love determines a man to be a Christian, and so they take up some appearance or other of love; somewhat that satisfies themselves that their love is right, both to God and man. The very Papists, who are full of blood and cruelty, yet pretend to love; they have an image of love which contents them. But there are far higher images, even images of universal love and sweetness, which no eye can perceive, but that which knows the truth. And take one word from me, ye to whom it belongs: all ye that cry up universal love from the sweet sense of its image, ye shall one day know, that one act of particular love from the true nature, exceeds this in its utmost extent.
7. He hath his false life. The devil hath not only a dead, formal religion, but he hath a resemblance, an imitation of the quickenings of the spirit. The devil puts his life into his image, where need requires. He hath not only a dead, literal knowledge, but he hath paintings of the life; he draws a thing to the life; he makes his dead image of truth as like the living substance of truth as possibly he can; insomuch as his images of life, at a distance, without being beheld in the true life, cannot but be taken for living. Now here is the depth of deceit, when the devil's images of life in the heart are taken for the living thing, for the life itself.
8. He hath his false liberty. There is a glorious liberty in the Gospel: there is a perfect freedom in the service of the life; there is a liberty in the power of the life over all the creatures. God made all things for man, and he denies him nothing; he being in subjection to him in the life, and using all in the dominion of the life. Now the devil paints a liberty like this; yea, a liberty that seems greater than this, even a liberty wherein the fleshly part (whose very nature is eternally shut out of the nature of true liberty) hath scope; which liberty is not surrounded, and cannot be surrounded by the power of life, as this is; and in this painted liberty, that spirit which painted it lives; which paint the true liberty takes off, slaying that which calls it liberty, and gathering in the name of liberty from this false appearance, to that which is liberty indeed. And by the way, he that can read <274> this, let him. The perfection of the true liberty lies in the perfection of bonds, in the perfect binding down of that which is out of the life; for the true liberty is the liberty of the life, and of nothing else; and when all that is contrary to the life is perfectly bound down, then the life hath its full scope, without the least control of the fleshly part; and when the life lives, then that which is joined to the life lives also.
Now here is the mystery of iniquity; here is the inward kingdom of darkness; here is the glory of Babylon! Here is he that contends for the kingdom, for the inheritance! Here the son of the bond-woman (thus dressed, thus furnished, thus filled within and without) will have it go for granted that he is the right heir: and yet all this while wants the nature of that which is to inherit, and cannot possibly receive that nature into himself, but only such images aforementioned. And if, in tender love to his soul, from a clear sight of this thing, we warn him, and bid him look about, he cries, Do not judge. He really thinks he is right in the main, and he seems willing to refer it to the day of trial. Ah, poor heart! the eye is opened which can see; that which hath judged the deceit in us, can also judge the deceit in thee. Cannot the spiritual eye see things in its kind? To what end hath God given it? Canst thou see and judge natural things in the natural part? So can they see and judge spiritual things who are in the light, and who live in the life; yea, we shall continue judging thee in the fear, and in the humility, till God open that in thee, which can seal to our judgment.
Object. How difficult do you make the way to life, if not utterly impossible! If all this be true, Who can be saved!
Ans. The way to life is very difficult;
yea, and impossible to that part in man, which is so busy in
willing and running towards life; but it is as easy, on the other
hand, to that which the father begetteth, raiseth up, and leadeth.
"The wayfaring-man, though a fool, shall not err." The
wisest and richest merchants in Babylon cannot set one step in it;
the least child in Sion cannot err there. Therefore know that in
thyself to which it is so hard: and know that which God hath given
to thee, which will make it easy.
Thou hast a living talent given thee by God; let not thine eye
be drawn from that; but join to that, keep there, and thou art
safe; and that will open thine eye to see all deceits, just in the
very season and hour of temptation. For thou must expect to meet
with all these temptations, as thy growth makes thee capable of
receiving them. And as they come, the true eye being kept open,
they will be seen; and being seen they will easily be avoided in
the power of life; for in vain the net is spread in sight of the
bird. Therefore that thou mayst be safe:
1. Know the light, the eternal light of life, the little
glimmerings and shinings of it in thy soul. This comes from the
rock, to lead thee to the rock: and if thou wilt follow it, it will
fix thee upon the rock where thou canst not be shaken.
2. Keep in the light, keep within the hedge, step not out of
thine own, keep out of the circumference of the spirit of deceit;
the power of whose witchery and sorcery extends all over the
regions of darkness.
3. Love simplicity, love the nakedness of life, stand single
in the honesty of the heart, out of the intricate, subtle
reasonings, and wise consultings about things; for by these means
the serpent comes to twine about and deceive thy soul; but in the
simplicity of the movings of life, in the light, lie the power, the
strength, the safety.
4. Lie very low continually, even at the foot of the lowest
breathing and appearances of the light. Take heed of being above
that wherein the life lies; for the wisdom, the power, the
strength, yea, the great glory lie in the humility; and thou must
never be exalted, thou must never come out of the humility, but
find and enjoy the honor and glory of the life in the humility.
5. Mind the reproofs of the light; for that will still be
setting thee to rights. That will still be bringing down that
which would get up above; and there lies the preservation. Oh the
chastenings of the light, the sweet chastenings of the love by the
light! These are healing stripes. This brings down the exalter,
and that in thee which loves to be exalted, and to be seeking the
honor of the spiritual riches, before the humility is perfected.
Thus, in love to souls, have I poured out my soul before the
Lord, and held forth gentle leadings, even to the most stubborn and
Thou hast a living talent given thee by God; let not thine eye <275> be drawn from that; but join to that, keep there, and thou art safe; and that will open thine eye to see all deceits, just in the very season and hour of temptation. For thou must expect to meet with all these temptations, as thy growth makes thee capable of receiving them. And as they come, the true eye being kept open, they will be seen; and being seen they will easily be avoided in the power of life; for in vain the net is spread in sight of the bird. Therefore that thou mayst be safe:
1. Know the light, the eternal light of life, the little glimmerings and shinings of it in thy soul. This comes from the rock, to lead thee to the rock: and if thou wilt follow it, it will fix thee upon the rock where thou canst not be shaken.
2. Keep in the light, keep within the hedge, step not out of thine own, keep out of the circumference of the spirit of deceit; the power of whose witchery and sorcery extends all over the regions of darkness.
3. Love simplicity, love the nakedness of life, stand single in the honesty of the heart, out of the intricate, subtle reasonings, and wise consultings about things; for by these means the serpent comes to twine about and deceive thy soul; but in the simplicity of the movings of life, in the light, lie the power, the strength, the safety.
4. Lie very low continually, even at the foot of the lowest breathing and appearances of the light. Take heed of being above that wherein the life lies; for the wisdom, the power, the strength, yea, the great glory lie in the humility; and thou must never be exalted, thou must never come out of the humility, but find and enjoy the honor and glory of the life in the humility.
5. Mind the reproofs of the light; for that will still be setting thee to rights. That will still be bringing down that which would get up above; and there lies the preservation. Oh the chastenings of the light, the sweet chastenings of the love by the light! These are healing stripes. This brings down the exalter, and that in thee which loves to be exalted, and to be seeking the honor of the spiritual riches, before the humility is perfected.
Thus, in love to souls, have I poured out my soul before the Lord, and held forth gentle leadings, even to the most stubborn and stiff-necked.