Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > The Court of Boston in New England
Before this despised people appeared, I was even quite worn out, and said, My hope is cut off from the Lord; there is no such appearance of him to be looked for as my poor distressed soul wants. Live without the presence of his spirit I could not; where to meet with his spirit I could hear no news; and that precious knowledge which I had through the operation of God upon my heart from the living spring; the same hand which gave <303> me, also break in pieces, and pulled down that inward building which was reared up in my spirit.
What a man of sorrows I became hereupon, how I mourned all the day long, and roared out after my God all the night-season, is not to be uttered. And if it might be the Lord's pleasure, oh that my misery might end with me, and that this might be the issue of all my sufferings, to fit me to be a faithful instrument in the hand of the Lord for the preserving of others therefrom!
Now this was it which undid me; namely, the getting up of the fleshly wisdom and understanding; which, though God had broken in me mightily several times, yet it still had some secret device or other to creep in again into me, and to twine about my spirit, undiscerned by me: but this effect still attended it; by degrees, like a canker, it eat out the sweetness and freshness of my life and spirit, and exalted that part in me which God hides the mysteries of his kingdom from.
At first acquaintance with this rejected people, that which was eternal of God in me opened, and I did immediately in my spirit own them as children of my Father, truly begotten of his life by his own spirit; but the wise, reasoning part presently rose up, contending against their uncouth way of appearance, and in that I did disown them, and continued a stranger to them, and a reasoner against them, for above twelve months; and by weighing and considering things in that part, was still further and further off from discerning their leadings by the life and spirit of God into those things. But at length it pleased the Lord to draw out his sword against that part in me, turning the wisdom and strength thereof backward, and to open that eye in me again, wherewith he had given me to see the things of his kingdom in some measure from a child; and then I saw and felt them grown in that life and spirit, which I, through the treachery of the fleshly-wise part, had been estranged to, and had adulterated from. And now what bitter days of mourning and lamentation (even for some years since) I have had over this, the Lord alone fully knows. Oh! I have known it to be a bitter thing to follow this wisdom in understanding of scriptures, in remembering of scriptures, in remembering of experiences, and in many more inward ways of workings, that many cannot bear to hear. The Lord hath judged <304> me for that, and I have borne the burden and condemnation of that, which many at this day wear as their crown. And now what am I at length? A poor worm! Whom can I warn effectually? Whom can I help? Whom can I stop from running into the pit? But though I am nothing, I must speak; for the Lord draweth and moveth me: and how unserviceable soever my pity be, yet my bowels cannot but roll, both towards those that are in misery, and those that are running into misery.
Read in the fear, and in simplicity, what was so written; and the Lord open that eye in you which can see the way of life, and discover the paths of the mystery of iniquity in its most hidden workings in the heart; that ye sleep not the sleep of eternal death, and so at last be awakened in the bowels of that wrath and fiery indignation, which that spirit which erreth from, and transgresseth, the life and light within, can neither bear nor escape.
Now meeting of late with a paper beginning thus: At a general court held at Boston the 8th of October, 1659. (wherein, by way of preface, there is first an account given of what induced them to make this law of banishment and death, and then grounds and considerations laid down to clear it to be warrantable and just), it was upon my heart to consider and examine these, to see whether they did arise from the seed of God, and from the true knowledge of the Scriptures by his Spirit, and so were weighty to the conscience which singly waits upon God for satisfaction about truth; or whether they did arise from the fleshly part, and from fleshly reasonings upon Scriptures, and so were but chaffy, and not able to satisfy the weighty, considering spirit, as in the sight of God.
And this I was the more induced to do, because I found bowels rolling towards them, and a sense of what might easily be their snare, which hath overtaken and entangled many: for many who have blamed others severely, and really thought how well they themselves would have amended things, if ever they came into place and power, yet have failed, and run into the very same error, when they have come to the trial. So these persons, when they were formerly persecuted in England, no doubt thought and intended, if ever they came to be free from it, to lay a foundation against it: yet when they came to the point, and felt their condition changed, insomuch as it was now in their hand to <306> determine what was the way of worship, church-government, and order, there lay a great temptation before them to set up what they judged to be right, and to force all others to a conformity to it. Yea, now was their great danger, and time to beware, lest the same persecuting spirit did get up in them, which their being persecuted was a proper means to keep down: and if so (if the same spirit which persecuted them got up in them), then they who were once persecuted could not possibly forbear persecuting; for that spirit will persecute wherever it gets up. And having laid its foundation of persecution under a plausible cover, then by degrees it more and more veils the eye, hardens the heart, and takes away the tenderness which was in the persons before, while they themselves were persecuted. Now I cannot but pity those that fall into the snare of the enemy; especially those who are taken in so great a snare, and come to so great a loss of their tenderness towards God, his truths, and people, and run so great a hazard and danger of the loss of their own souls.
Ans. This, of itself, is far from any warrant; for "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." And though they claim a propriety in it, yet it is still more the Lord's than theirs; and he may send any one of his servants into it at his pleasure, upon what message or service it seemeth good unto him. So that the great question to be determined here is this: Whether these persons came from the Lord, in his will, and at his appointment; or whether they came of themselves, and in their own wills. For if they came by commission and appointment from the Lord of heaven and earth, their warrant was without doubt sufficient. But if they came in their own will, and upon their own designs, then they went out of the Lord's counsel and protection, and must bear their own burden. Now consider whether ye were tender in the due weighing of this, before your imprisoning and dealing hardly with them. For if, at their first coming, ye <307> imprisoned them, and engaged yourselves against them, ye thereby made yourselves unfit for an equal consideration of the cause; and God might justly then leave your eyes to be closed, and your hearts hardened against his truths and people, for beginning with them so harshly and unrighteously, and not in his fear.
2. Those lesser punishments of the house of correction, and imprisonment for a time, having been inflicted on some of them; but not sufficing to deter and keep them away. Why do ye omit cutting off of ears? Are ye ashamed to mention that amongst the rest? Indeed the remembrance of it strikes upon the spirits of people here, and perhaps in New England also.
Ans. They that are sent by the Lord, and go in the guidance of his spirit, cannot be deterred from obedience to him in his service and work, either by lesser or greater punishments. Punishments deter the evil-doer; but he that doeth well is not afraid of being punished; but is taught, and made willing, and enabled to suffer for righteousness' sake. Phil. 1:29. And ye will find your greater punishments as ineffectual to obtain your end, as your lesser. For they whose lives (in the power of God) are sacrificed up to the will of God, are no more afraid of death, than they are of whips, prisons, cruel usage in prisons, and cutting off of ears. Surely it had been a sweeter, a more Christian and safer course, to have weighed the thing in God's fear and dread, before ye had begun any of your punishments. But your own late relation confesseth, that ye began with them upon reports from Barbadoes and England, from good hands, ye say; and so they of Damascus might have said, if they had received the letters from the high-priest, or relations from zealous and devout Jews. And I have heard related from many hands (which, having drunk in prejudices from reports, and begun with imprisoning of them, might easily follow) that they were never afforded a fair hearing; but at your courts, questions were put to entrap them, and they not suffered to plead the righteousness and innocency of their cause, but endeavors used to draw them to that (and a watching to catch that from them) which would bring them within the compass of some of your laws. Your consciences know how true these things are, and will one day give in a clear and true testimony, although ye should be able to bribe them at present.
<308> 3. That their coming thither was upon no other grounds or occasion, for aught that could appear, than to scatter their corrupt opinions, and to draw others to their way, and so to make disturbance.
Ans. Christ saith to his disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world:" and they are not to lie still, and keep their light under a bushel; but to lighten and season the world, as the Lord calleth and guideth them. And if the Lord doth see that New England, notwithstanding all its profession and talk of the things of God, hath need of his salt to savor it with, and of his light to enlighten them with, and so sendeth his messengers and servants among them, they have no reason to be offended with the Lord for this, or with his people, or with the truths they bring. They have long had a form up, and it may have eaten out the power, that they may not be so savory now in their ease and authority in New England, as they were under their troubles and persecutions in Old England: and God may, in kindness to them, send among them a foolish people to stir them up and provoke them to jealousy. Now their coming thus is not to "scatter corrupt opinions;" but, by the power of truth, to scatter that which scatters from the Lord. Nor is it to draw to their way, but to the Lord, to Christ, his living way; which they are exhorted to try, and feel, and certainly to know, before they receive. Nor doth it make any "disturbance," but only to that which is at ease in the flesh, and fleshly forms of worship. And Israel of old was often thus disturbed by the prophets of God (though they still could not bear it, but were enemies to the prophets for it), notwithstanding they had received their way of worship certainly from God's hand. How much more may the Lord take liberty, by his servants and messengers, to disturb these who never so received it, but have formed up a way out of the Scriptures, whereof many that are truly conscientious, doubt whether it be the way or no; even as they themselves doubt, and are ready to contend against, the ways that others have formed!
Now those that pick a quarrel with truth, and seek matter against it to persecute it, do not call it truth, but error, corrupt opinions, the way of a sect, the making of disturbance, or such like. And persecutors, for the most part, do not only say this, <309> but bring forth their strong arguments; insomuch as the persecutor is commonly just in his own eyes, and the persecuted is blamed as the evil-doer, and cause of his own sufferings. Were the bishops without their plea? Nay, did not he that was called Dr. Burgess (in the book) seem to carry the cause clear against the Non-conformists? And why the bishops might not establish their way by authority, or the Presbyters their way, as well as those accounted Independents their way (not regarding the Dissenters, or tender-conscienced), I confess I see not; but that they have justified the bishops by their practising the same thing, and so unjustly condemned them in words.
But how can ye say, "for aught that could appear"? when ye were so unfit (through receiving of prejudices and reports, and beginning so roughly with them) to consider what might be made appear, and also so far from giving way to them to make what they could appear, as is before expressed? And doth not this also imply that there may be a just, righteous, and warrantable cause of their coming, in relation to God and his service, though it doth not yet appear to you? And in a meeker and cooler temper, when another eye is opened in you, ye may see and acknowledge that cause, who are the Lord's servants; whether they come in his name or no; whether they are his truths or no, which they bring with them. These are things God opens to the humble, to the meek, to such as fear before him, and wait for his counsel therein; but those that can determine things by intelligence beforehand from other parts, and imprison persons as soon as they come, and so proceed on with a stiff resolution against them, how are these in any capacity to seek or receive counsel from God in a case of so great concernment? So that at last, even when they have drunk their blood, they must be forced to say, "for aught that could appear," this was their only end, work, and intent; but whether it was so or not, they do not certainly know.
Thus far is in answer to the account they give, by way of preface, to what led them to the making of this law of banishment and death. Now the grounds and considerations themselves, which they held forth to clear this to be warrantable and just, follow to be scanned, which are in number six.
1. The doctrine of this sect of people (say they) is destructive <310> to fundamental truths of religion.
Ans. For the making of this argument forcible, two things are necessary; if either of which fails, it falls to the ground.
1. It is necessary to make manifest, that persons, for holding or propagating doctrines contrary to fundamental truths of religion, are, by Christ's institution, punishable with dismembering, banishment, or death. For Christ is the head, king, and law-giver to his church: it is he that is the foundation of religion, and the giver-forth of fundamental truths of religion: and he is the proper judge of what punishment is fit for such as either will not receive his fundamental truths of religion, or afterwards start back from them, and broach doctrines contrary thereto. Now it is required (in his name and authority) of such powers as will take upon them to inflict these kinds of punishment upon such kind of offenders, Christ's institution for this thing. Christ was as faithful in his house as Moses, and if such a course had been necessary for the preservation of his church, surely he would not have withheld it. But Christ overcomes the devil's kingdom by his spirit: by that he wins souls, and gathers into, and builds up, his church; and by that he is able to defend them. By his spirit he preacheth the truth, and soweth the seed of the kingdom; and by his spirit he upholds and maintains it. This is his way of overcoming all the mists of darkness and false doctrines, and not a magistrate's sword. "The weapons of our warfare (saith the apostle) are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds." 2 Cor. 10:4. Are there strong-holds of darkness? Are there false doctrines broached against the truths of Christ? Who are the warriors against these? Are they the civil state, the magistrate, the earthly powers? or are they the ministers and servants of Christ? And what are the weapons that are mighty to overthrow these? Are they stocks, whips, prisons, cutting off of ears, banishment, death? or are they of a spiritual nature? The spiritual weapons are sanctified by God to this end, and are mighty through him, able to effect it thoroughly: whereas the carnal weapons are weak and unsanctified, and can reach only the carnal part; but the strong-hold remains untouched by these. And it is only the carnal part which desires to have the use of such carnal weapons in the church: the spiritual man would conquer by his <311> own weapon, or not at all. Christ came not to destroy men's lives, nor never gave order to have men killed about his truths. If his people be disobedient, and broach doctrines ever so contrary and destructive to his kingdom, he hath a spiritual way of fighting with them now, and hath appointed his servants to have his mighty spiritual weapons in a readiness for the revenging every disobedience. 2 Cor. 10:6. And he hath likewise a time of dealing with them hereafter; but he hath nowhere appointed that his subjects (if they could get the command of the sword in a nation or country) should kill such. Abundance of blood hath been shed upon this pretence, which the Lord will make inquisition for: it should at length be seriously inquired into, what truth there is in this bloody doctrine. For, under this cover, all the persecutions and sheddings of the saints' blood shelter themselves. Oh! consider at length, how cruel and bloody, men have made the gospel of peace by this principle; and what an advantage it gives to the carnal part in those that are persecuted, if once they can get the command of the outward sword, to forget their own sufferings, and suddenly turn persecutors of such as differ from them, though upon as weighty grounds (if not more weighty) than they differed from others upon. But this they that are uppermost will not yield to, that the grounds of such as differ from them are sufficient; even as those that they differed from would not yield that their grounds were sufficient. Thus still they whose arguments go forth under the shelter, or by the command of, the present authority, are looked upon as most weighty; and the others' cause is trampled upon, though ever so just, innocent, upright, and weighty in itself; and the meek of the earth, the humble-hearted, the tender-conscienced towards God, are still made the offenders and sufferers: and their enemies are still made their judges. I do think these of New England would have once thought it hard measure, that Conformists, whom they differed from, should have been the judges, whether their grounds were sufficient or not; and yet they (ever since they have had the power in their hands) have taken upon them to be the judges of the sufficiency of the grounds of such as differ from them, and have as freely condemned all that differed from them, and been as sore a curb upon the tender conscience, as ever the bishops were. So <312> that it is plain, that which they sought was their own liberty (they did not like to be oppressed and enthralled contrary to their judgments), but not the liberty of the tender conscience towards God, but rather the yoking and enthralling of it to their judgments and arguments and interpretations of scripture, which he that differs from, must be an offender with them, even as they were once accounted offenders for differing from the Conformists; and so are all become transgressors of the law of God, in doing that to others, which they would not that others should do to them.
2. It is requisite also to make manifest, that the doctrine of this sort of people is destructive to the fundamental truths of religion. For if it be not so, then they are injured and misrepresented; and both their banishment and death, and all other punishments inflicted upon them on this account, will prove to have been unjust.
There are four instances given, or four particular fundamentals mentioned, to which their doctrines are said to be destructive. First, The Sacred Trinity. Secondly, The person of Christ. Thirdly, The Holy Scriptures, as a perfect rule of faith and life. Fourthly, The doctrine of perfection.
Now for the making the thing clear and manifest to every sober mind, it is requisite first to consider what the QUAKERS hold in these several particulars; and then whether that which they hold in these respects be contrary to the truth of these things, as they are plainly related in the Scriptures: for if that which they hold be according to the naked voice and proper intent of the Scriptures, then they are not to be blamed; but the blame will light on their accusers, who might easily be found guilty of injuring both them and the Scriptures, both in these and many other things, were they not judges.
1. Concerning the Sacred Trinity. They generally, both in their speakings and in their writings, set their seal to the truth of that scripture, 1 John 5:7. that "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit." That these three are distinct, as three several beings or persons: this they read not; but in the same place they read, that "they are one." And thus they believe their being to be one, their life one, their light one, their wisdom one, their power one: and he that <313> knoweth and seeth any one of them, knoweth and seeth them all, according to that saying of Christ's to Philip. "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." John 14:9. Three there are, and yet one; thus they have read in the Scriptures, and this they testify they have had truly opened to them by that very Spirit which gave forth the Scriptures, insomuch that they certainly know it to be true, and own the thing from their very hearts: but as for this title of Sacred Trinity, they find it not in Scripture; and they look upon scripture-words as fittest to express scripture things by. And surely if a man mean the same thing as the scripture means, the same words will suffice to express it: but the Papists and school-men having missed of the thing which the scripture drives at, and apprehended somewhat else in the wise, imagining part, have brought forth many phrases of their own invention to express their apprehensions by, which we confess we have no unity with; but are content with feeling the thing which the scripture speaks of, and with the words whereby the Scriptures express it. Now whereas they call this a fundamental, we do not find it so called in scripture; nor do we find the disciples themselves understanding therein, but knew not the Father. John 14:8-9. And Christ going about to inform them, does not tell them of another distinct being or person: but "hast thou not seen me? And believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?" ver. 10. And so the believers at Ephesus had not so much as heard there was a Holy Ghost. Acts 19:2. So that if ye will make this a fundamental truth, yet it is such a fundamental as true faith did stand without, both in believers before Christ's death, and in believers after. This is the great fundamental, "that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all," 1 John 1:5. and the great work of the ministry is to show men where this light is, and to turn men from the darkness, wherein is the power of Satan, unto this light, wherein is the power of God. Acts 26:18. And he that comes into this light, and into this power, is owned in the light and in the power, wherein is the life of all the saints, and the true fellowship both with the Father and the Son, and one with another. 1 John 1:3,7. And the true trial of spirits is not by an assent to doctrines (which the hypocrite may assent to on the one hand, and the true believer may startle at on the other hand); but by feeling of them <314> in the inward virtue of the light, in the spirit, and in the power. This was the apostle's way of trial. 1 Cor. 4:19-20. "I will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power; for the kingdom of God, is not in word, but in power." A man may speak high words concerning the kingdom, and get all the doctrines about it, and yet be a stranger to it, and quite ignorant of the power: and another may want divers doctrines concerning it (perhaps some of those which men call fundamentals), and yet be a citizen of it, and in the power. But now, under the antichristian apostasy, men wanting the feeling of the life and power, wherein the true judgment is, they own or disown one another upon an assent or dissent to such and such doctrines, and so fall into this great error of disowning many whom Christ owns: and if they find persons not assent to, or dissenting from, any of those things which they call fundamentals, then they think they may lawfully excommunicate and persecute them. So, by this mistake, they cut off that which is green, they persecute that wherein is the living sap, and cherish the dry and withered. That which is most tender towards God, and most growing in the inward sensibleness (which causeth it to startle at that which others can easily swallow) lies most open to suffering by this kind of trial.
2. Concerning the Person of Christ. They believe that Christ is the eternal light, life, wisdom and power of God, which was manifested in that body of flesh which he took of the virgin: that he is the king, priest, and prophet of his people, and saveth them from their sins, by laying down his life for them, and imputing his righteousness to them; yet not without revealing and bringing forth the same righteousness in them, which he wrought for them. And by experience they know, that there is no being saved by a belief of his death for them, and of his resurrection, ascension, intercession, &c., without being brought into a true fellowship with him in his death, and without feeling his immortal seed of life raised and living in them. And so they disown the faith in Christ's death, which is only received and entertained from the relation of the letter of the Scriptures, and stands not in the divine power, and sensible experience of the begotten of God in the heart.
Now they distinguish, according to the Scriptures, between <315> that which is called the Christ, and the bodily garment which he took. The one was flesh, the other spirit. "The flesh profiteth nothing (saith he), the spirit quickeneth; and he that eateth me, shall live by me, even as I live by the Father." John 6:57,63. This is the manna itself, the true treasure; the other, but the visible or earthen vessel which held it. The body of flesh was but the veil. Heb. 10:20. The eternal life was the substance veiled. The one he did partake of, as the rest of the children did; the other was he which did partake thereof. Heb. 2:14. The one was the body which was prepared for the life, for it to appear in, and be made manifest. Heb. 10:5. The other was the life, or light itself, for whom the body was prepared, who took it up, appeared in it to do the will, Ps. 40:7-8. and was made manifest to those eyes which were able to see through the veil wherewith it was covered. John 1:14.
Now is not this sound according to the Scriptures? And is it not a good way to know this by unity with it, by feeling a measure of the same life made manifest in our mortal flesh? 2 Cor. 4:11. This we confess is our way of understanding things; and likewise of understanding the Scriptures, which speak of these things. And we have found it a far surer kind of knowledge; namely, to understand the Scriptures by experience of that whereof the scripture speaks, than to guess at the things the scripture speaks of, by considering and scanning in the earthly part what the Scriptures speak of them. Such a kind of knowledge as this, a wise man may attain to a great measure of; but the other is peculiar to him who is begotten of God, whose knowledge is true and certain, though it seem ever so different from his who hath attained what he hath by the search of his wisdom.
3. Concerning the holy Scriptures being a perfect rule of faith and life. The new covenant is the covenant of the gospel; which is a living covenant, a spiritual covenant, an inward covenant, and the law or rule of it cannot be written outwardly. Read the tenor of the new covenant, Heb. 8:10. "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts." If God himself should take the same laws, and write them outwardly; yet, so written, they are not the new covenant: at most they would be but an outward draught of laws written in the new covenant. And <316> mark; this is one difference given between the new covenant and the old; the laws of the one were written outwardly, in tables of stone; the laws of the other were to be written in the heart. That is the book wherein the laws of the new covenant were promised to be written, and there they are to be read. So that he that will read and obey the laws of the covenant of life, must look for them in that book wherein God hath promised to write them; for though in other books he may read some outward descriptions of the thing, yet here alone can he read the thing itself. "Christ is the way, the truth, and the life." What is a Christian's rule? Is not the way of God his rule? Is not God's truth his rule? And is not the truth in Jesus; where it is taught and to be heard, and to be received even as it is in Jesus? Ephes. 4:21. Is not he the king, the priest, the prophet, the sacrifice, the way to God, the life itself, the living path out of death; yea, all in all to the believer, whose eye is opened to behold him? The Scriptures testify of Christ, but they are not Christ; they also testify of truth, and are a true testimony; but the truth itself is in Jesus, who by his living spirit writes it in the heart which he hath made living. And so a Christian's life is in the spirit: "If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit." Gal. 5:25. The whole life and course of a Christian is in the volume of that book, as the Lord opens the leaves of it in him. "The gift of God, the measure of faith" given him by God, that is his rule; that is his rule of knowledge, of prophesying, of obedience. Heb. 12. Rom. 1:5. 12:6. If he keep there, if he walk according to the proportion of it, he errs not: but out of the faith, in the error, in all he knows, in all he believes, in all he does. The new creature, that which God hath new created in the heart, in which life breathes, and nothing but life breathes, which is taught by God, and true to God from its very infancy; that is his rule whereby he is to walk, the apostle expressly calls it so. Gal. 6:15-16. That which is begotten by God is a son; and the son, as he is begotten by the breath of the spirit, so he is preserved and led by the same breath; and such as are so led, are sons, and none else; for it is not reading of scriptures, and gathering rules out thence, that makes a son, but the receiving of the spirit, and the being led by the spirit. Rom. 8:14-15. And being the whole worship of the gospel is in <317> the spirit, there is a necessity of receiving that in the first place; and then in it the soul learns to know and wait for its breathings and movings, and follows on towards the Lord in them. The spirit cannot be withheld from breathing on that which he hath begotten; and that breath is a guide, a rule, a way, to that which it breatheth upon. Now this is most manifest, even from the Scriptures themselves, they expressly calling Christ the way, the truth, &c., the new creature, the rule, the faith, grace, or gift, given to be the rule, testifying the heart to be that which God hath chosen to write his laws in; but where do they call themselves a perfect rule of faith and obedience? "They are they (saith Christ) which testify of me; and ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." John 5:39-40. Life cannot be received from the Scriptures, but only from Christ the fountain thereof; no more can the Scriptures give the rule, but point to the fountain of the same life, where alone the rule of life, as the life itself, can be received. The Scriptures cannot ingraft into Christ, nor give a living rule to him that is ingrafted; but he that hath heard the testimony of the Scriptures concerning Christ, and hath come to him, must abide in him, and wait on him for the writing of the law of the spirit of life in his heart, and this will be his rule from the law of sin and death, even unto the land of life. Now if men have mistaken in the night of darkness, and put the Scriptures out of their place (even in the place of the Spirit), and so have become ministers, not of the Spirit, but of the letter, whereas the apostles were made "able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit," 2 Cor. 3:6. let them not be offended at the spirit of God for teaching us otherwise, nor at us for learning as the spirit of God hath taught us; the Scriptures also testifying that this is the rule, but nowhere setting up themselves for the rule. And it is the same spirit, which would now fix men in the Scriptures, to keep men from Christ the living rule and only way to life eternal, as formerly kept them by tradition from the Scriptures, though it is hard for them who are entangled in this deceit to see it.
Now for the proof of these things thus barely here charged, the reader is referred to Mr. Norton's (as they style him) Tractate against the Quakers. Concerning the validity whereof, I refer the reader to Francis Howgill's answer thereto, wishing him <318> to read both in the fear and dread of the Almighty, waiting for his counsel to guide him in the true discerning which of them savors of man's wisdom, and which of them writes from acquaintance with the truth itself. In which answer of his, he recites such errors of that Norton, as would make a great sound against the Quakers, if any such could justly be charged upon them. I shall mention only two or three of them, viz. That God is a distinct subsistence from the Son and Spirit; and that the Son is a distinct subsistence from the Father and the Spirit; and because it is said, the "Father shall give you another Comforter," this another, he saith, is intelligible of the Essence. (Are there then three distinct, infinite Essences or Beings?) That the Spirit of God without the letter is no spirit. (He was before the letter, he was never limited to the letter, he will be after the letter, and he is what he is without the letter). That Christ's words John 17:21. give an uncertain sound. (Where have any of the Quakers cast such a blemish upon any portion of scripture?) Surely this man had more need to seek to have his own vessel cleansed, than to accuse others of errors or blasphemy. And if he have no other way to overthrow them, than by maintaining such kind of things as these against them, he will never get victory over them any other way than by the outward sword: but by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of his testimony, and not loving their lives unto the death, they will easily overcome all such kind of champions.
4. The fourth and last instance which they give of the destructiveness of their doctrine to the fundamental truths of religion, is, That opinion of theirs of being perfectly pure and without sin, which (say they) tends to overthrow the whole gospel, and the very vitals of Christianity: for they that have no sin, have no need of Christ, or of his satisfaction, or blood to cleanse them, nor of faith, repentance, &c.
Ans. That the Lord God is able perfectly to redeem from sin in this life; that he can cast out the strong man, cleanse the house, and make it fit for himself to dwell in; that he can finish transgression and sin in the heart, and bring in everlasting righteousness; that he can tread down Satan under the feet of his saints, and make them more than conquerors over him; this they confess they steadily believe. But that every one that is turned to the <319> light of the spirit of Christ in his heart, is presently advanced to this state, they never held forth; but that the way is long, the travel hard, the enemies and difficulties many, and that there is need of much faith, hope, patience, repentance, watchfulness against temptations, &c., before the life in them arrive at such a pitch. Yet for all this, saith Christ to his disciples, "Be ye perfect;" directing them to aim at such a thing; and the apostle saith, "Let us go on unto perfection;" and Christ gave a ministry "for the perfecting of the saints:" and they do not doubt but that he that begins the work, can perfect it even in this life, and so deliver them out of the hands of sin, Satan, and all their spiritual enemies, as that they may serve God without fear of them any more, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of their lives.
Now how is this doctrine, or how is this people, because of their believing and holding forth this doctrine, guilty of all this great and heavy charge that is laid upon them here; as that they have no need of Christ, his satisfaction, his blood, nor of faith, repentance, growing in grace, God's word and ordinances, nor of watchfulness and prayer, &c.? Let us consider the thing a little further.
First, The doctrine of perfection, if it should be granted to deny all this, yet it cannot be supposed to deny the need thereof, until the state of perfection be attained. Nay, they that truly believe that such a state is attainable, cannot deny the use of those things which are proper to lead to that state, but will conscientiously apply themselves thereto, and press all others thereto, who desire to attain that state. And they that have either heard them speak, or read their writings with any equality of mind, may abundantly testify for them against the unrighteousness and injury of this charge. Their life lies in Christ, their peace in his satisfaction for them, and in a sensible feeling of his blood sprinkled in their consciences, to cleanse them from sin; and by that faith, which is God's gift, they feel, and wait further to feel, the righteousness of Christ imputed to them for justification. And as for being perfectly just in themselves, it is a very unrighteous charge upon them; for their justice and righteousness is in Christ for ever, and not in themselves; but in the denial and crucifying of self are they made partakers of it, which is bestowed by the <320> free grace, mercy, and power, of him who hath mercy on them, and not by any willing or running of theirs. And as for repentance, they feel the need of it, and find a godly sorrow wrought in them, and a bitter mourning over him whom they once pierced, and still pierce, so far as they hearken to the tempter, and follow the motions and lusts of the transgressing nature. And they do both watch and pray against sin, and feel what a bitter thing it is to have the watch so slackened, whereby the temptation prevails, which would lead to sin. And as for purifying themselves daily, and putting off the old man, and putting on the new; it is that which their hearts delight to be continually exercised about; and all this with a hope that it may be effected, that the vessel may be made holy to the Lord, a fit spiritual temple for him to dwell in, that he may display his life, glory, power, and pure presence in them. But if the belief that this may be attained, in the way wherein God leadeth them towards it, and a hope to attain it, with an acknowledgement of it so far as it is attained; I say, if this make them guilty of so great a charge, then they are indeed guilty; for they cannot but believe it, wait for it, hope for it, and acknowledge it, so far as they feel it wrought in them. But how can this possibly make them guilty of denying these things, seeing the exercise of these things not only standeth with, but is increased by, such a belief and hope?
Secondly, The state of perfection itself, doth not exclude these things, in such a way as this charge seems to intimate. For in the state of perfection, the blood is not laid aside as useless, but remains to keep pure for ever. It is the blood of the everlasting covenant, Heb. 13:20. both the covenant and the blood last for ever, and are useful even to them that are perfect. And there is need and use of the faith in the blood, to believe the preservation. As the covenant itself lasts, so that which lets into, and keeps in the covenant, lasts also. That which unites and ties the soul to Christ, the life, abides in the soul for ever, even as the union itself abides. And there is a growing in the life, even where the heart is purified from sin, even as Christ did grow and was strong in spirit; for a state of perfection doth not exclude degrees. And so there is also a need of watching against temptations in a perfect state; for Adam was perfect, and <321> yet he needed a watch: and Christ was perfectly pure and without sin, and yet he did both watch and pray. So that if any were brought to the perfect state of a man, even unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, which the ministry was given to bring all the saints unto, Eph. 4:11-13. if any were taught and enabled so to walk in the light, as to be cleansed by the blood from all sin, and to have such fellowship with the Father and the Son, as might make their joy full, 1 John 1:3-4,7. if any were brought to that state of glory, as to be chaste virgins, 2 Cor. 11:2. without spot or wrinkle of the flesh, but holy and without blemish, Eph. 5:27. if any should be made perfect in every good work to do his will, which was a thing the apostle prayed for, Heb. 13:21. if any should have so put off the old man, and have put on the wedding garment, as to be made ready and fit to be married to the Lamb, Rev. 19:7. yet this would not exclude faith in the blood, or prayer, or watchfulness, to keep the garment pure, &c., nor growth in the life. And this we are not ashamed to profess, that we are pressing after, and some have already attained very far, even to be made perfect as pertaining to the conscience; being so ingrafted into Christ the power of God, so planted into the likeness of his death and resurrection, so encompassed with the walls and bulwarks of salvation, as that they feel no condemnation for sin, but a continual justification of the life; being taught, led, and enabled to walk, not after the flesh, but after the spirit. Rom. 8:1.
From what they have said concerning this opinion of perfection (as they call it) they draw an argument against their other doctrines in these words. Such fundamentals of Christianity are overthrown by this one opinion of theirs, and how much more by all their other doctrines?
Ans. To which I shall say this: If their grounds and proofs against any other doctrines of the Quakers, be no more weighty and demonstrative, than those they have here brought forth against the doctrine of perfection, they may spare entertaining prejudices against them and condemning them; and in the first place weigh them in a more equal balance than they have done this. And I dare appeal to any naked and unbiased spirit, who shall fairly consider what is above written, whether the doctrine <322> of perfection be such a hideous error as they have represented it. Nay, whether it be not a precious truth of the gospel of Christ, and a great encouragement to him who shall follow the command of Christ; who saith, "Be ye perfect;" to believe that (in the way of faith and obedience) he may be wrought up to such an estate by the free grace, mercy, love, and power of God. Yea, let me add this word more; he that feeleth the everlasting arm working one sin out of his heart, cannot but believe that the same arm can work out all, and pluck up every plant which the heavenly Father hath not planted; which hope and belief causeth him with joy to follow this arm through the regeneration. But if I did believe there were no perfecting work of redemption in this life, but I must still in part be a slave to Satan, still crying out of the body of sin and death, and never have my heart purified for the Holy One to inhabit in, but remain in part unconverted, unchanged, unregenerated, unsanctified; oh, how heavily should I go on! I am sure it would be as a weight upon my spirit in resisting of sin and Satan. This is not the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel, but sad news from the borders of death, which would keep the creature not only in the bonds of death, but without hope of deliverance in this life; and refer the hope to that day wherein there is no more working out of redemption, but the eternal judgment of the tree as it falls.
Now having, after this manner, proved that the doctrines of the Quakers are destructive to the fundamental truths of religion, they lay down their argument whereupon they conclude that it is lawful for them, nay, their duty, to put them to death, in these words: "Now the commandment of God is plain, that he that presumes to speak lies in the name of the Lord, and turns people out of the way which the Lord hath commanded to walk in, such a one must not live, but be put to death." Zech. 13:3. Deut. 13:6-9. 18:20.
Ans. 1. By what hath been said against them, it is not manifest that they have spoken lies in the name of the Lord. Nay, if they themselves, who thus charge them, could but soberly and mildly, with a Christian spirit, weigh the thing, would it not rather appear that they, in thus falsely charging them, and managing such untrue and unrighteous arguments against them, <323> have spoken lies, both concerning them, and against the Lord and his truth? And as for turning men out of the way, that cannot be justly charged on them, who turn men to Christ, the living way, and deliver the same message the apostles did, that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all;" and who point them to that place where God hath said this light is to be found, which is the heart, where God writes the new covenant, and the laws thereof, Heb. 8. where the word of faith is nigh. Rom. 10. Surely they that direct hither, do not turn men out of the way. But they that point men to guess at the meanings of scriptures, and to gather knowledge, and form rules to themselves out of them, by their own natural wit and understanding, which can never reach the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and which God hides the true knowledge of the Scriptures from, these are those that turn men out of the way. For they that rightly understand the Scriptures, must first receive a measure of the Spirit to understand it with; even as they that wrote any part thereof, did first receive a measure of the Spirit to write it by.
2. It is not manifest by these places quoted, that the governors of New England have received authority from the Lord to put the Quakers to death, if their doctrines were such as they accuse them to be. That of Deut. 13:6-9. is a manifest case concerning one that should tempt to the following of other gods, of the gods of the people round about, nigh or far off; in such a case the offender was to be stoned to death, ver. 10. but is this applicable to cases of doctrine? That of Deut. 18:20. gives a clear note how the prophet may be known that speaks a lie in the name of the Lord, and what kind of lie it is, for which he is to be put to death, ver. 22. but it doth not say that every man in the commonwealth of Israel, that holdeth any doctrine contrary to what some of them might call the fundamental doctrines of the law, should be put to death. That of Zech. 13:3 is a prophecy, not a command, and is not to be understood in man's wisdom, nor to be fulfilled in man's will. It were better to wait for the true openings of prophecies in the Spirit, than to let the carnal part loose, to gather somewhat out of them for the satisfying of the flesh, and making its thirst after the blood of God's lambs appear more plausible. I would but put this question to your <324> consciences in the sight of God; whether in a conscientious submission to the will of God in this scripture ye put them to death; or whether from this scripture ye seek a shelter and cover for the thing, having already done it, or fully purposed to do it.
So that the case is not here the same with any of the cases mentioned in those scriptures: for if some of their doctrines were lies (which ye have been very far from proving), yet it was not for such kind of lies that death was appointed in the commonwealth of Israel. And yet there is a large difference between what was lawful to be done in the kingdom or commonwealth of Israel, and what is now lawful to be done. The kingdom or commonwealth of Israel was a state outwardly representative of what was inwardly to be done in the state of the gospel, by Christ the king thereof. He is the king and law-giver to his people, and he is their judge concerning their receiving or rejecting them; concerning their obeying or disobeying them; concerning their holding the faith, or their letting go the faith; and maintaining things contrary thereto. And he doth judge his people here in this life, so far as he thinks fit, Heb. 10:30-31. reserving also what he thinks fit for another time of judgment. Acts 17:31. And who is he that shall take his office out of his hand, and judge one of his servants in the things of his kingdom? Rom. 14:4. Is not this an intruding into Christ's kingly office? He gave authority to, and command for, the doing of such things outwardly before his coming, as might represent what he would do inwardly after his coming; but where hath he given authority since his coming, to do such things any more? Doth not the typical king, with his typical government, cease, after that king, with his government which is figured out, is come?
O governors of New England! to take away the life of a man is a weighty thing; and the Lord will not hold him guiltless, who either doth it in a violent manner, or who maketh an unjust law to do it by. But "how precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints!" Oh, how will ye be able to bear the weight of their blood, when the Lord maketh inquisition for it! Ye had need have a very clear warrant in this case. Oh, how will ye answer this thing at the judgment-seat of Christ! Alas! such arguments as these will stand you in little stead: but ye have <325> done it, and now must maintain it; and it is exceeding hard for you (being thus deeply engaged in the sight of the nations) to come to a sober and serious consideration of the state of the case, as it stands before the Lord.
2. The second ground or consideration which they hold forth to clear their law of banishment and death against the QUAKERS to be warrantable and just, is this: "Because they are far from giving that honor and reverence to magistrates which the Lord requireth, and good men have given to them; but, on the contrary, show contempt against them in their very outward gesture and behavior; and some of them at least, spare not to belch railing and cursing speeches," &c.
Ans. That we do not give that honor and reverence to magistrates, which the Lord requireth, deserves a weighty proof. For what we do or forbear in this kind, we do as in the sight of the Lord; as persons who are not only liable to suffer from men, but also to give an account to HIM at the last day. Now towards magistrates our carriage is thus, as in the presence of the Lord.
1. We observe their commands in all things that are according to God. We submit ourselves to the government that is supreme, and to the governors under the supreme, for the Lord's sake, who in their several places ought to be for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well, according to 1 Pet. 2:13-14. This is God's ordinance, and here magistracy is in its right place, namely, in punishing the evil-doer for his evil deeds; but not make a man an offender for a word, or for a gesture, which is neither good nor evil in itself, but as it is done. He that pulleth off his hat, or boweth in flattery, or to please man, in him it is evil: he that forbeareth to do it in obedience to God, and in the fear of his name, in him it is good.
2. When any magistrates punish us for well-doing, for our obedience to the Lord's spirit, though we know God never gave power to any magistracy to punish therefor; yet we patiently suffer under them; referring our cause to him that judgeth righteously, and waiting on him for strength to carry us through our sufferings for his name's sake.
3. When we appear before them, we appear as in the Lord's presence, desiring his guidance, that we may give due honor and <326> respect to all that is of him in them; and may be kept from honoring or pleasing that which is not of him, and which he would not have us honor. This is the temper of our spirits, and accordingly is our carriage as in the sight of the Lord, whatever men deem of us.
But the great matter is, because we do not pull off our hats, and bow to them, or that we use plain language to them (as thou and thee to a particular person), which some of them will needs interpret to be contempt; though others of them, who are more sober and considerate, can clearly discern that it is not at all in contempt either to their authority or their persons; but in a mere single-hearted obedience to God. Now to drive this a little towards a fair trial, consider in meekness, and in God's fear.
1. What kind of honor this is which is thus much stood upon? Is it the honor which is from above, or the honor which is from below? What part springs it from in man; from the new birth, or from the earthly nature? And what doth it please in man? Doth it please that which is begotten of God? Doth it please the meekness, the humility, the lowliness, the new nature? Or doth it please and help to keep up the old nature, the lofty spirit, even that part which is prone in every man to be exalted out of the fear of God? For this I may freely say, that whatsoever is of the earth, hath an aptness in it to feed the earthly part; and particularly this of outward bowing to the creature, is apt to hurt him that receiveth it. In man's giving and receiving honor, God hath been forgotten. They have forgotten God, who have been giving honor to one another; and they have forgotten God, who have been receiving honor from one another. And what if the Lord, who hath made us sensible of the evil herein, hath laid a restraint upon us? Can any forbid the Lord from laying such a thing upon us? Or is it lawful for any to go about to hinder us from obeying the Lord therein? Thou who art thus eager in contending for honor, art thou sure it is not the evil part in thee, which doth desire it? If it be the good part in thee, thou wilt desire it in meekness and gentleness; yea, and wilt be able to bear the want of it with joy, where it is denied thee upon such an account, that it may run more purely towards the Lord.
Now if it be earthly honor, it is of a perishing nature: it is <327> not always to last; but is one of the fashions of this world which is to pass away (how long a time soever it hath had); and God may call his people from it at his pleasure; and if he calls from it, they must leave it off, though the earthly nature and power be never so angry thereat. The Lord hath let men have a long day, wherein man hath been lifted up, and appeared great, by receiving that honor which is of the earth, not of the faith: but at length the Lord will bring forth his day, wherein he will be great, and have every knee bow to him, and every tongue confess to him: and then man shall be little, and his honor fall, and the Lord alone be exalted. Isa. 2:17.
2. Doth not the image of God grow up into the likeness of God? Doth God respect men's persons? Did Christ regard any man's person? Did not James say, "If ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law, as transgressors?" James 2:9. Of what law? Of the law of faith, which exalteth the new birth, and layeth flat the creature in its transgressing nature, estate, and honor. For, saith Christ, who received not honor from men, nor gave honor to men, "How can ye believe, which received honor one of another?" John 5:44. That which receiveth earthly honor, is of the earth, and cannot believe; and that which giveth earthly honor, is of the earth, and so not of the faith. The faith is a denying of the earth, a taking up of the cross to the earthly honor, which is as a block in the way of faith. How can ye believe, when ye cherish that part in you which is against the faith? The immortal seed of life, in the day of the gospel, grows up out of the earth, leaving it, with its customs, fashions, honors, and its nature and worship too, behind it.
So that look into the ground of the thing with the eye which seeth over the transgressing state, and over all things which have sprung up from the transgressing part, and which please that part which is out of the faith, out of the life and power, drawn from God into the earth, and it will be manifest that earthly honor hath its root, foundation, and service there; but falleth off like a shackle from man's spirit, as the life riseth in him, and as he is redeemed out of the earth.
Now as for Abraham's and Jacob's bowings, &c., those things had their season under the law (which made nothing <328> perfect), as other things had; but now God calleth every man to bow to the Son, and will not permit so much as a bowing to an angel, who is far more honorable than any magistrate. And the Son calleth to honor the Father, and to seek the honor which cometh from God only; and he that will be his disciple, must take up his cross to the earthly part, and follow him, who neither gave earthly honor, nor received earthly honor, but condemned it. John 5:44. Therefore let men consider the ground of the thing, and the different state between Jews under the law, and Christians under the gospel; and not think the bringing of instances from them of old time can excuse us from following Christ according to the law of faith, who gave us this pattern of not receiving or giving honor to men's persons; and let not the weight of our plea (it having so great impression on our hearts) be despised by any that pretend relation to our Lord and Master, which I shall briefly thus recite.
1. It is the single and sincere desire of our hearts to give all the honor and obedience to magistrates, which is due unto them according to the Scriptures.
2. It is manifest that we are careful of observing all just laws; and patient in suffering through unjust laws, or where the magistrate doth persecute us without or against law.
3. This kind of honor of pulling off the hat, and bowing to the person, we do not find commanded in scripture; but we find Christ's command against it, who saith "follow me;" who both denied to receive it, and did not give it; but condemned it. And we find its rise to be from the earthly part, and to the earthly part it is given; which it pleaseth, being given to it; or is offended at being denied it: and this part we are taught by the Lord to crucify in ourselves, and not to cherish in others.
4. The bowing of persons under the law (which was an earthly state, wherein many things were permitted, which are not permitted under the gospel) doth not bind Christians under the gospel; and doth not limit the spirit of God from taking of any one or more, or all of his people, from giving that which the earthly part calleth honor, to that which is of the earth.
5. We do appeal to the Lord our God (who is our judge and law-giver) that he hath laid this upon our spirits; and hath smitten several of us, when there hath arisen so much as a desire <329> in us to please men in this particular: and in the fear of his name, and in obedience to him, we do forbear it; and not either in contempt of authority, or of the person in authority.
6. We find by much experience, that the forbearing of this is a service to our Lord and Master, and a hurt to his enemy. It offendeth the passionate, it offendeth the rough, it offendeth the proud and lofty; that spirit is soon touched and stirred by it: but that which is low, that which is meek, that which is humble, that which is gentle, that is easily drawn from valuing and minding of it, and findeth an advantage therein. And of a truth the earthly spirit knows and feels that God is taking the honor from it, and giving it to the meek and humble; which makes it muster up its forces and arguments to hold it as long as it can.
Now what moderate man (much more any Christian) could not forego the putting off of a hat, or the bowing of a knee, upon so solemn and weighty an account as this. If this were thine own case, wouldst thou be forced, imprisoned, fined, or have this made an argument against thee to banish thee, or put thee to death? Thou dost not know how the Lord may visit thee by his spirit, and what he may require of thee. He may call thee also to give forth thy testimony (and to fight under the banner of his spirit) against all the fashions, customs, honors, yea, and worships of this world. That which is born of God, is not of this world: and as it groweth up in any earthen vessel, so it draweth the vessel also more and more out of this world. "Ye are not of the world," (but called out of the world), "therefore the world hates you." That which can please the world, that which can bow to it and honor it, that the world loves; but the immortal seed which cannot bow, but testifies against the world's honors, that they are not of the Father, but of the world, this seed the world hates, and the vessels in whom it bubbles up, and through whom it giveth forth its testimony against the world.
Object. But in the New Testament Luke styles Theophilus most excellent; and Paul, speaking to Festus, said, Most noble Festus; which are terms or expressions of honor and reverence.
Ans. Christ did promise his disciples and ministers that he would be with them, and give them what to say. Now if nobility and true excellency did appear in any persons, and he led them <330> by his spirit to acknowledge it, this is no sufficient warrant for men to do the like in their own wills; or to give such titles to persons being in authority, whether they be such persons or no. Luke knew Theophilus to be excellent, and he was led by the spirit of God to style him excellent; for by the spirit of God he wrote the scripture, Luke 1:3. wherein he so styles him. And for Festus, he that shall strictly observe his carriage, will find it to be very noble, in that he would not be won by the importunity and informations of the high priest and chief of the Jews, and of the multitude also, against Paul, but applied himself to an upright consideration of the cause, Acts 25:2. 24. to the end. The same spirit which showed the unworthy carriage and ignobleness of the high priest and zealous professing Jews, might move Paul to set this mark of honor upon Festus. The Lord loveth truth in the heart, and truth in words, and the following of the guidance of his Spirit into truth: but to give a man high titles, merely because he is great and high in the outward, without discerning that he is such, and without the leading of God's spirit so to do, this is of the flesh, according to the will of the flesh, out of the faith, and not according to truth and righteousness: and in the fear of the Lord there is a watch set over our spirits in these things, lest we should esteem and honor men according to the will of the flesh, and not in the Lord. Titles of office, or of relations, as master, father, &c., we find freedom to give; but titles which tend towards flattery, or exalting man out of his place, and the lifting up of his heart above his brethren, we have not freedom in the Lord to use. And Elihu also found a restraint upon him in this respect. Job 32:21-22.
Object. It is noted as a brand and reproach of false teachers, that they despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. 2 Pet. 2:10. and Jude ver. 8. Now it is well known that the practice of the QUAKERS is but too like those false teachers, &c.
Ans. It were worth a narrow search and inquiry what the dominion and dignities (or glories) are, which the false teachers speak evil of, or blaspheme, &c. Search the Scriptures: where do ye find the false teachers speaking evil of earthly authorities? Nay, they still cling close to them, exalt them, get them on their side, and cry them up, and will be sure enough never to fail in <331> pleasing the magistrate with cringing and bowing, or any thing of that nature. But there is the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ in the heart; there is the rule of his spirit over the fleshly part; and there is the truth in the inner man; there are spiritual dignities (or glories); these the false teachers, in all ages, did despise, and were not afraid to speak evil of; though they should have feared to speak evil of the movings and guidings and lowest appearings of the spirit of God (which excel in nature and worth the greatest earthly dignities); yet they have not; but have blasphemed the holy life and appearances of God in his people: nay, they have not spared his more eminent breakings-forth in his very prophets, holy apostles, and Christ himself. Mark what they speak evil of; they speak evil of "the things they know not." ver. 10. What were the things they knew not? The inward movings and virtue of his spirit; the inward power, life, glory, and dominion of truth in the heart, they knew not: it was against Christ in his people their evil deeds and hard speeches were. ver. 15. But as for the high and great ones, the dominions and dignities of the earth, they knew them well enough, and did not speak evil of them; but had their persons in admiration, because of the advantage they had by them. ver. 16. They have always had a double advantage from these, both of gain to themselves, and of overbearing the lambs of Christ by their great, swelling words. The Lord hath still so ordered it in his wisdom, both before the coming of Christ, at his coming, and since, that the false prophets and teachers should still have the advantage of the outward authorities, and his people be a poor, afflicted, despised, persecuted remnant, whose glory is inward, and cannot be discerned by the outward eye, no, not of God's Israel. See the dignities particularly expressed, Rev. 13:6. The name of God, his holy power in his people; the tabernacle, which is sanctified and made honorable for him by his spirit; them that dwell in heaven, who are redeemed out of the earth, and have their conversation above; these are dignities which the earthly authorities, nay, the false teachers themselves, never knew the worth of, and so they are not afraid to blaspheme them. The first beast, on which the false church rode, with the second beast, which are of the very race of these false teachers, making an image to the first beast, because of advantage, all join <332> together in blaspheming these dignities. Rev. 13. and 17.
To open this a little further: John said in his days, that it was then the last time; for there were many antichrists then come. 1 John 2:18. From whence came they? "They went out from us," saith he, "but they were not of us." ver. 19. "They were sensual; they had not the spirit," and so could not abide the presence, life, judgment, and power of the spirit; but "separated themselves." Jude 19. But whither went they, when they went out from the true church? why, they went out into the world. 1 John 4:1. They got the form of godliness, which would stand well enough with the lusts and ease of the flesh, and went and preached up that in the world. And now speaking the things of God in the worldly spirit, the world could hear them. ver. 5. Thus having got a great party into the form of truth, now they blaspheme the power, now they mock at the movings of the Spirit, the leadings of the Spirit, the living name, the true tabernacle, the true inhabitants of heaven, who have their conversation above, in the heavenly nature, in the heavenly principle, in the pure spirit of life (for as they are begotten by the Spirit, so they live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit). This, the false teachers (who have got the form of doctrine, and the form of discipline, holding it in the fleshly wisdom, where they may hold their lusts too) mock and blaspheme. Jude 18. And this hath been the great way of deceit since the apostasy; God gathered a separated people from the world; the false teachers get the form of godliness from them, and set it up in the world, and then turn against the power, and deny it, speaking evil of or blaspheming the spirit, which is the dominion, and his ministrations (in the spirits of his people), which are the dignities or glories of the New Testament, which excel all earthly dignities, and also the ministration of the first covenant. 2 Cor. 3:7-8.
So likewise for railing speeches. The false prophets can speak smooth words; speaking in the fleshly wisdom, they can please the fleshly part in their very reproofs; but he that speaks from God, must speak his words, how harsh soever they seem to the fleshly part. And he that speaks in his name, spirit, majesty, and authority, is exalted high above the consideration of the person to whom he speaks. What is a prince, a magistrate, a ruler, <333> before the Lord, but clay, or dust and ashes? If the Lord bid any of his servants call that, which was once the faithful city, harlot; and say, concerning her princes, that they are rebellious, and companions of thieves, Isa. 1:21,23. what is the poor earthen vessel, that it should go to change or mollify this speech? And so for the false prophets and teachers: if the spirit of the Lord (in the meanest of his servants) call them idle shepherds, hirelings, thieves, robbers, dogs, dumb dogs, greedy dumb dogs, that cannot bark (though they can speak smooth pleasing words enough to fleshly Israel, and the earthly great ones), generation of vipers, hypocrites, whited sepulchres, graves that appear not, &c., who may reprove him for it, or find fault with the instrument he chooses? Now man judging by the fleshly wisdom, may venture to call this railing; and the prophets of the Lord have been accounted rude and mad and troublers of Israel; and so it is at this day: but the Lord, being angry with the transgressor, may send a rough rebuke to him, by what messenger he pleaseth; and what is the poor creature that he should gainsay his Maker, and desire the message might be smoother? But now these false teachers, who can speak smoothly to the fleshly part, flatter the great ones, and the professors which fall in with their form of doctrine and discipline, they deny the power, and blaspheme the movings and goings-forth of the spirit of God in his people; and if any be drawn by the spirit to separate from their formal way, and to seek after the life and presence of the power, him they cried out of as a sectary, a blasphemer, a heretic; and so bring railing accusations against that life and spirit by which he is drawn, and of him for following the drawings of it: and thus they become guilty of speaking evil of what they know not. Jude 10. They that are drawn out of the world's worships, know from what they were drawn; but they that remain still in them, do not know the power which drew out of them, nor into what it drew; but looking on it with a carnal eye, it appears mean to them, and so they readily disdain it, and think they may safely speak evil of it, though in truth they know it not.
And as for cursings; there are children of the curse, as well as of the blessing: and the spirit of the Lord may pronounce his curse against any children of the curse by whom he pleases. <334> Curse ye Meroz: curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof. Judges 5:23. And yet Meroz did not persecute, but only not come to the help of the Lord against the mighty. So the professing Jews, with their rulers and teachers, were cursed by the spirit of the Lord. Ps. 69:22. &c. So Judas was cursed. Ps. 109:6, &c. For Peter applieth it to him. Acts 1:20. Now if the curse be causeless, it shall not come. Prov. 26:2. And well will it be with him whom men causelessly curse. Mat. 5:11. Although they were the highest, devoutest, and most zealous professing Jews, with their priests and rulers in those days; and although they should be the highest, most zealous, and devout formal Christians, with their rulers and teachers in these days, who may have got this form, as well as they got that form, and yet hold the truth in unrighteousness, and deny the power, as false teachers formerly did, who held the form. 2 Tim. 3:5. But the case of Shimei is not at all proper to the thing in hand, because he did not pretend to curse in the Lord's name and authority; but, manifestly out of the fear of God, cursed the Lord's anointed in his low state. Neither were these two QUAKERS put to death for cursing. So that if Humphry Norton were never so blamable, yet that reacheth not to them, but is to be reckoned to him that did it, who is to stand or fall to his own master therein. Yet this I may say, because it is so extraordinary a case (we having not known the like) that if he had not the Lord's clear warrant for what he did, surely the Lord will severely judge him, for speaking so peremptorily and presumptuously in his name, if not required by him.
And so as touching contemptuous carriage. When there is not contempt in the heart, it is not easy to show contemptuous carriage; but the fleshly part missing of the honor which is pleasing to it, and being offended thereby, is ready to apprehend that to be spoken and done in contempt, which is spoken and done in the humility and fear of the Lord.
3. A third ground or consideration to justify their law of banishment and death of the QUAKERS, is drawn from "Solomon's confining of Shimei, and of putting him to death for breach of his confinement;" whereupon they argue, that "if execution of death be lawful upon breach of confinement, may not the same be said for breach of banishment; banishment being <335> not so strait, but giving more liberty than confinement?"
Ans. The question is not whether the magistrate, upon no occasion, may banish upon pain of death; but whether the banishment of the QUAKERS, upon pain of death, was just or no. If it were ever so manifest that a magistrate might banish, and put to death in case of not observing his law of banishment; yet that doth not prove that every law of banishment is just, and that the death of such as do not obey their law is just also. He may make a law in his own self-will, pride, passion, resolvedness, and stiffness of spirit, and so draw the sufferings of persons under that law (either of banishment or death) upon his own head. Now the QUAKERS coming in the name of the Lord, by his commission, and upon his work (whom all the magistrates of the earth are to reverence and bow before), if magistrates will presume to make a law to banish them upon pain of death; yet if the Lord require them either to stay or return, they know whom to fear and obey, which delivers them from the fear of them who can only torture and kill the body: and they had rather die in obedience to the Lord, than feel the weight of his hand upon their souls for their disobedience. It is not in this case as it is in ordinary banishment upon civil accounts, where it is in men's will and power to abstain from the place from which they are banished; but they must fulfil the will of their Lord, not at all regarding what befals them therein.
4. The fourth ground or consideration to justify their law of banishment and death against the QUAKERS, is drawn from "the right and propriety which every man hath in his own house and land, and from the unreasonableness and injuriousness of another's intruding and entering into it, having no authority thereto; yea, and when the owner doth expressly prohibit and forbid the same. And that if any presume to enter thus, without legal authority, he might justly be impleaded as a thief or usurper; and if, in case of violent assault, he should be killed, his blood would be upon his own head." Whereupon it is argued thus: that "if private persons may, in such a case, shed the blood of such intruder, may not the like be granted to them that are the public keepers and guardians of the commonwealth? Have not they as much power to take away the lives of such, as, contrary to prohibition, shall invade or intrude into their public possessions <336> or territories?" And that the QUAKERS do thus invade and intrude without authority, they argue thus: "For who can believe that QUAKERS are constables, to intrude themselves, invade, and enter, whether the colony will or not, yea, contrary to their express prohibition? If, in such violent and bold attempts, they lose their lives, they may thank themselves, as the blamable cause, and authors of their own death."
Ans. It is no invasion, nor intrusion, for any messengers and servants of the Lord to enter into any part of his earth at his command, upon his errand, and about his work. And if any should be so sent to the house of a particular person, to deliver a message from the Lord, and the owner of the house, instead of hearing and considering his message in meekness and fear, whether it were of God or no, should be rough and violent with him, and command him off, before he had delivered his message, and either upon his not immediately going off, or his return with another message (for the Lord, if he please, may send him again) should fall upon him and kill him; upon whose head would this man's blood light?
2. If men will needs have it go for an invasion, it is an invasion of a spiritual nature, and the defence from it cannot be by carnal weapons. Killing of men's persons is not the way to suppress either truth or error. How have the Papists been able to defend their kingdom, or suppress the truth by their bloody weapons? They may prevail in their territories against men's persons for a season, but the truth will have a time of dominion, and will, in the mean time, be getting ground in men's minds and consciences, by the sufferings of the witnesses to it. Nay, my friends, if ye will defend yourselves from this invasion, ye must get better weapons.
3. Is this your rule concerning any that shall come in the name of the Lord; that if they be not constables, or other earthly officers, ye will banish them, and put them to death? Is the Lord of heaven and earth limited to send none but constables among you? Well! ye may judge by your law while your day lasts; but the Lord in his day will clear his servants and messengers, though they have not been constables, and lay it upon the heads of them who have unrighteously shed it.
<337> 5. The fifth ground or consideration, whereby they justify their law of banishment and death against the Quakers, is this: "Corruption of mind and judgment is a great infection and defilement, and it is the Lord's command that such corrupt persons be not received into the house; which plainly enough implies that the householder hath power enough to keep them out, and that it was not in their power to come, if they pleased, whether the householder would or no. And if the father of the family must keep them out of his house, the father of the commonwealth must keep them out of his jurisdiction (they being nursing fathers and nursing mothers by the account of God). So that what a householder may do against persons that are infected with the plague or pestilence (who may kill them, if otherwise he cannot keep them out of his house), a magistrate may do the like for his subjects. And if sheep and lambs cannot be preserved from the danger of wolves, but the wolves will break in amongst them, it is easy to see what the shepherd or keeper of the sheep may lawfully do in such a case."
Ans. It is granted, that the corruption of the mind and judgment is defiling and infectious; and therefore every heart that knows the preciousness of truth, is to wait on the Lord in his fear, in the use of those means which he hath appointed for preservation from it; but that killing the persons is one of the means God hath appointed, this is still the thing in controversy, and is still denied to be either proper in itself, or sanctified by God to this end. The apostle says, "There must be heretics, that they which are approved may be made manifest," 1 Cor. 11:19. but he doth not say, hereafter, when there are Christian magistrates, they must banish or cut off the heretics, as fast as they spring up; but God hath use of these things for the exercising of the spirits of his people, and the truth gains by overcoming them in the faith and power of the spirit. And so, as touching wolves, the apostle Paul called the elders of the church of Ephesus, and told them, that "after his departure, grievous wolves should enter in among them, not sparing the flock." Acts 20:28-29. 31. The Lord hath put into the hands of his shepherd a sword, which will pierce to the heart of the wolf; he standing faithful in the power of God, in the life of righteousness, need not fear any wolf; but by the power <338> of the spirit, and presence of the truth, shall be able to preserve the consciences of his flock pure to God. What kind of shepherd is he, that cannot defend his flock without the magistrate's sword; but take away that, the wolf breaks in, and preys upon his sheep? Surely the true shepherd, who knows the virtue of the sword God hath put into his hand, will never call to the magistrate for his sword of another nature, which cannot touch the wolf, the heretic, the seducer, but only flesh and blood, with which the minsters of Christ never wrestled nor fought. And this is not the way to preserve the hearts and consciences of the flock (it may perhaps strike terror into the fleshly nature); but their consciences are so much the more apt to be wrought upon by the doctrines, patience, and suffering of those who are thus dealt with. The magistrate's sword being thus used, doth not at all preserve that which is tender, but hurts it, disengages it, stirs up a witness in it against those that thus go about to defend that which they call truth, that build up their Jerusalem with blood, and govern their flock with force, affrighting them from that which they call error, and affrighting them into that which they call truth, with an outward sword; whereas the true temple is built in peace, governed in peace, maintained in peace, defended by peace; and error and heretics dispelled by the power of the spirit, manifesting the deceit to the conscience; and not by the sword of the magistrate, dealing with them as with worldly malefactors. Now this I say as before the Lord; the true shepherd, who hath received the sword of the spirit, and hath tried the virtue of it, cannot distrust it, cannot desire the magistrate's help by outward force against errors or heresies. He that looketh upon it as insufficient, and calleth to the magistrate for his sword, plainly discovers that he hath not received, or knoweth not the virtue of the true one, and dishonoreth both his master's work and weapon.
For that place of 2 John ver. 10. It is one thing for man not to receive a man into his house, and another thing for him to kill that person who offers to come against his will. Do ye believe in your hearts, that the apostle's intent was to direct the Christians, to whom he wrote, to keep them out by violence, and to kill them if they could not otherwise keep them out? Though the parallel is not proper; for God hath often sent his servants into <339> countries, cities, and places of resort, against the will of the rulers, priests, and false prophets, but never to break violently into any man's house.
The magistrate keeping in his place, cannot but be a nursing father to the church; for let him draw out his sword against that wickedness which is proper for him to cut down, it will exceedingly help to nurse up the church; but where hath the magistrate commission to meddle with any of the spiritual shepherd's work? Nay, his sword was never appointed to cut down errors, or heresies, or heretics; but the sword of the spirit, in the hand of the spiritual shepherd. God hath set up an hedge between these two powers, which he that breaketh down layeth both waste as to their true use, virtue, and order; and this antichrist hath long done in many appearances. The bringing of these two to rights, setting each in its proper place, will give such a wound to his kingdom, as he will not be able to recover. And mark this by the way; antichrist hath all along made use of the magistrate's sword to slay the lambs, under the name of heretics, sectaries, wolves, blasphemers; but Christ comes with the spirit of his mouth to slay antichrist. 2 Thes. 2:8. That is the sword all the heretics, seducers, and false prophets were slain with in the apostles' days before the apostasy; and that is the sword that antichrist (who hath made use of the other sword against Christ all along the apostasy) shall be slain with after the apostasy. When Christ comes to fight against antichrist (who hath cruelly torn, rent, and butchered his people under the name of wolves) he will take his own sword, which is the word of his mouth. That did the work at first; that must do the work again. But in the midst, between these two seasons, there hath been bad work made with the magistrate's sword; the witnesses, upon every appearance and breaking forth of God's truth in them, having been liable to feel the smart of it.
6. Their sixth and last ground and consideration, whereby they justify their law of banishment and death against the Quakers, is this: "It was the commandment of the Lord Jesus unto his disciples, that when they were persecuted in one city, they should flee unto another; and accordingly it was his own practice, and the practice of the saints, who, when they have been persecuted, have fled away for their own safety."
<340> "This," they say, "reason requires, that when men have liberty unto it they should not refuse so to do; because otherwise they will be guilty of tempting God, and of incurring their own hurt, as having a fair way open for the avoiding thereof, but they needlessly expose themselves thereto." Whereupon they argue thus:
"If therefore, that which is done against the Quaker were indeed persecution, what spirit may they be thought to be acted and led by, who are, in their actings, so contrary to the commandment and example of Christ and his saints in the case of persecution, which these men suppose to be their case? Plain enough it is, that if their case were the same, their actings are not the same, but quite contrary. So that Christ and his saints were led by one spirit, and these people by another: for rather than they would not show their contempt of authority, and make disturbance among his people, they choose to go contrary to the express direction of Jesus Christ, and the approved example of his saints, to the hazard and peril of their own lives."
Ans. Afflictions, tribulations, trials, and persecutions are not to be fled from, but to be borne and passed through to the kingdom, into which the entrance is through many of these, Acts 14:22. and Christ saith, "He that will be his disciple, must take up his cross daily, and follow him." Luke 9:23. Now persecution for Christ is part of the cross, which the disciple must not run away from, but take up, and follow Christ with. Yea, the apostle is very express, 2 Tim. 3:12. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." It is the portion of all, and all must bear it. The world hateth and persecuteth (in some degree or other) all that are not of the world; and all must be content with their daily portion thereof, waiting on God for strength to bear the cross, not flying it; and the apostle commends the Hebrews for "enduring the great fight of afflictions." Heb. 10:32-34. The Jews were zealous for the law and ordinances of Moses, and grievous persecutions of the Christians, especially of such as had been of them before: now the Christians are commended for standing the shock, for bearing the brunt, for not fearing the loss of name, goods, life, or any thing, but eying the heavenly treasure. So Christ, warning of persecution, bids the church to "fear none of those things which she should suffer," <341> but "be faithful unto the death:" and he that thus overcometh, should not be hurt of the second death, Rev. 2:10-11. and the Apostle Peter says, "If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled," 1 Pet. 3:14. and the Apostle Paul bids the Philippians "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God." And the same apostle who commended the Hebrews, as having done well in bearing the great fight of afflictions, encouraged them to go on still, and not to be "weary or faint in their minds, but resist even to blood," eying Christ, who endured the contradiction of sinners to the very last. Heb. 12:3-4. And he practised as he taught, for he was not terrified with bonds or afflictions, nor accounted his life dear unto him; but that which was dear unto him was the serving of his Lord and Master, in preaching and witnessing to his truths, as his spirit led him, Acts 20:23-24. trusting in the Lord to uphold him in enduring of them, or to deliver him out of them, as he pleased, 2 Tim. 3:11. but that which he, and the rest of the apostles and saints of Christ, applied themselves to in case of persecution, was to suffer. 1 Cor. 4:12. And whoever they are that will be Christ's faithful disciples now, must look to meet with the same cross as they did, not only from the profane world, but from the worldly professors also: for there were not only zealous worldly professors in that age, but the same spirit hath remained in every age since, which still gets into the best form it can, when need requires, to oppose the power thereby. And they that are in the spirit and in the power, must expect to be persecuted by such; and they are to bear it, and not to fly from it, unless by a particular call and dispensation from the Lord for a particular service; which is not the rule (as it is here made) but rather an exception from the rule.
So Christ sending his disciples in haste to preach the gospel, bids them not salute in the way, Luke 10:4. nor be stopped by persecution, but hasten to publish the sound of Christ's coming in the cities of Israel, "For the harvest was great, but the laborers few," Mat. 9:37. and yet notwithstanding all the haste they could make, they should not have "gone over the cities of Israel, <342> before the Son of man come." Mat. 10:23. There is a time to suffer persecution, and a time to flee from persecution; and both these are to be known in the Lord, and to be obeyed in the leadings of his spirit: but to lay it down as a general rule for Christians to observe, that when they are persecuted, they should flee; this is expressly contrary to the scriptures before mentioned, which show that Christians are not generally to flee, but to stand in the service and work to which they are called; bearing witness not only by believing and publishing, but also by suffering for the testimony of the truth. They are Christ's soldiers, and their duty is to stand in the battle, and bear all the shot and persecutions of the enemy: if God call them off to any other service, that is a sufficient warrant for them; but flying upon other terms may prove a great dishonor to their Master, and to his cause and truth, and may be the occasion of a great loss to their spirits, who are so tempted to flee. Neither is this bearing the brunt of persecutions, and standing in God's work and service (notwithstanding them all, even unto death) any tempting of God, but an obedient taking up of the cross according to his will and command. And whereas you plead that reason requires it; what kind of reason is it which bids avoid the cross of Christ, and flee for safety? And what kind of spirit is that, which preacheth this doctrine; laying it down as a general rule, for Christians to flee when they are persecuted? Is it not that spirit which would fain be at ease in the flesh, insomuch as itself will rather persecute, than be disturbed in its fleshly liberty, though it is very unwilling to bear the reproach of being accounted a persecutor? Ah! how did the Jews cry out against their fathers for killing the prophets, and verily thought if they had lived in their days, they should by no means have done it: and yet the same spirit was in them, though they saw it not, but thought themselves far from it. That which blinded them was a wrong knowledge of the Scriptures, and a great zeal and devotion about their temple, worship, and ordinances, without a sensible feeling of the guidance of God's spirit. The same spirit that deceived them, layeth the same snare in these days, and men swallow it as greedily, and with as great confidence as they did; the zealous professors of religion, for the generality, still becoming persecutors of the <343> present appearance of truth, not knowing what they do.
Thus in the fear of the Lord God, and in love to your souls with a meek and gentle spirit (not being offended at what ye have done, but looking over it to the Lord, who bringeth glory to his name, and advantage to his truth, by the sufferings and death of his saints) have I answered your grounds and considerations; and in the same fear, love, and meekness, have I some things further to propose to your considerations, which are of great concernment to you, and deserve to be weighed by an equal hand in the equal balance, without prejudice or partiality.
1. Consider meekly and humbly, whether the Scriptures be the rule of the children of the new covenant. For if the Scripture was not intended by God for the rule, and ye take it to be the rule, then ye may easily mistake the way to eternal life, and also err in your understanding and use of the Scriptures; making such a use of them as they were never intended for, and so missing of the true use and intent of them.
Now that the Scripture was not intended, nor given forth by God, to be the rule of the children of the new covenant; besides our faithful testimony from the sight of the thing in the true, eternal light, weigh our arguments from the Scripture; many are mentioned in our writings; consider at present of these three.
1. The Scripture is an outward rule or law; but the Scripture saith, the law of the new covenant shall be an inward law. It is written in the prophets, that all the children of the new covenant, or New Jerusalem, shall be taught of the Lord, Isa. 54:13. who teacheth them inwardly by his spirit, and writeth his law in their hearts, Jer. 31:33-34. and after this manner did the Lord take his people into covenant with himself, and teach them in the apostles' days. 1 John 2:27. The covenant is inward, the teacher inward, the writing inward, the law inward: and there it is to be read, learned, and known, where the spirit teacheth and writeth it.
2. Scripture (or the writings of Moses and the prophets) was not the law of the children of the new covenant (as such), not in the time of the old covenant. The law of Moses was the rule of their outward state, it was the rule of the outward Israel, but not the rule of the inward Israel; no, not then in those days.
In Deut. 29:1. Moses makes a covenant with Israel by <344> express command from God, besides the former covenant which he made with them in Horeb. And he saith, the commandment of this covenant is not to be looked for where the other was written, but in another place, in a place nearer to them; even in their mouth, and in their heart; there they were to read, hear, and receive the commandment of this covenant. "For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off," Deut. 30:11. "it is not in heaven," ver. 12. "neither is it beyond the sea," ver. 13. "but the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it," ver. 14. "and this was the way of life then." ver. 15. "See (saith Moses) I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil." Here thy eternal happiness depends; obey this word, and live; disobey it, and die. And if they had kept to this word; they would also have walked in obedience to the law; but neglecting this, they could never keep the law, but still came under the curse of it, and missed of the blessings. They thought to please God with sacrifices, and oil, and incense, and observing new moons and sabbaths, wherein the Lord still rejected them for want of their obedience to this word; and the prophets still guide them to this word, bidding them "circumcise their hearts," which alone can be done by this water. Yea, after much contest between the Lord and them, when they seemed very desirous to please the Lord with what he should require, whether "burnt-offerings, calves, rams, or oil," in great plenty; the prophet lays by all that, and points them to the obedience of this word, as the way to please God, and as the only thing that he required of them: "He hath showed thee, O man! what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah 6:8. All this is written in thy heart, O man! read there, obey that word, that is the thing that God requires. So David's law was the word written in his heart; he saw through sacrifices and burnt-offerings, to the inward writing, and this made him wiser than all his teachers, who were busied about the outward. The outward law was but a shadow of good things to come, it made nothing perfect; but David knew a perfect law, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." Ps. 19:7.
<345> 3. The Scriptures of the New Testament never call themselves the rule, but they call another thing the rule; they call the writings of God's spirit, in the hearts of his people, the laws of the new covenant, Heb. 8:10. They call Christ "the Way, the Truth, the Life." John 14:6. (The way is the rule, the truth is the rule, the life is the rule). They call the new creature the rule; walking according to which, the peace and mercy is received and enjoyed. Gal. 6:16. They refer to the Comforter, as the guide into all truth, John 16:13. yea, as the compass of all truth, wherein the believer is to have his whole life and course. Gal. 5:25. Live in the spirit, walk in the spirit, follow the spirit; keep within that compass and ye cannot err. A man may err in understanding and interpreting of scriptures; but he that hath received the spirit, knoweth the spirit, followeth the spirit, keepeth to the spirit: so far as he doeth so he cannot possibly err. So saith John, writing concerning seducers, warning against them, 1 John 2:26. "Ye have received an anointing, which teacheth you of all things." Keep to the teachings of that in every thing, and ye are safe. But may we not be deceived? Nay, the anointing keeps from all the deceit in the heart, and from all the deceits of seducers. "It is truth, and no lie," ver. 27. and it leads into all truth, and out of every lie; and this will teach you to abide in him. In whom? In the Word which was from the beginning, which is ingrafted into the heart of every believer, and into which the heart of every believer is ingrafted; and so he truly is in the vine, and the sap of the vine runs up into him, which makes him fruitful to God; he abiding in the Word which he hath heard from the beginning, and the Word which was from the beginning abiding in him, ver. 24. And the Apostle Paul saith expressly, that the righteousness of faith cometh by the hearing of this Word, making the same Word the rule to the children of the new covenant now, as Moses said was the commandment of God to them, quoting this place of Moses for it. Rom. 10:6. &c. So that Paul, indeed, taught nothing but Moses and the prophets; pointing to the very same Word and commandment of eternal life, as Moses had done. "This is the Word of faith which we preach;" that Word which Moses taught, which he said was nigh in the heart and in the mouth (no man need ascend up to heaven, <346> or go down to the deep, or seek anywhere else for it), that is the very thing we point you to; that is the Word of faith, that is the commandment of life. And with what zeal would Paul (were he now alive in the body) declare against such, who should overlook or deny this Word, and set up his writing, with the writings of the rest of the apostles, for a rule instead thereof! Yea, I could show yet further, how the spirit of prophecy, or testimony of Jesus, or living appearance of God in the heart, hath been a rule to the witnesses against antichrist's deceit, all along the night of apostasy, Rev. 11:3. 19:10. though they themselves, being in the night, distinctly knew not what was their rule; but by a secret breath of life, were quickened, guided, preserved, and in it accepted: but these things will open of themselves, as the mist is expelled, and the veil rent which hath overspread all nations, and covered professors generally in this night of antichristian darkness, and universal apostasy from the living power.
2. Consider whether the Scripture be your rule or no? that is, whether in singleness of heart ye wait on the Lord, to open the Scriptures by his spirit, and to keep out your carnal reason from thence (which cannot understand them, but will be wresting them, and making them speak as it would have them); or whether ye take scope to search into them with that part, which ever was shut out from the right knowledge of them. "The natural man understandeth not the things of the spirit of God." The spirit of the Lord alone understandeth the meaning of his own words, and he alone gives the understanding of them, which he gives not to the wise searcher and disputer (nor to the prudent professor. Mat. 11:25), but to the babe which he begets, to which he gives the kingdom, and opens the words which the Scripture speaks concerning the kingdom. "The wisdom of the flesh is enmity against God;" and if that search into the Scriptures, it will gather only a knowledge suitable to its enmity. Thus the Jews were great enemies, and strong enemies, by the knowledge which they had gathered out of the scriptures written to them; and the same spirit hath also wound itself into the scriptures written since: and as then that spirit fought against Christ and his apostles, with those very scriptures which the spirit of Christ had formerly written; so the same spirit fights now against the lambs of Christ, <347> with the scriptures which were written since. Yea, the great strong-hold of antichrist at this day, is scripture interpreted by the fleshly wisdom: for antichrist comes not in a direct denial of Christ or scriptures (he is too cunning to be found there), but bends them aside by the fleshly wisdom to serve the fleshly will, and thus undermines the spirit, and exalts the flesh, by a fleshly understanding and interpretation of those very scriptures which were written by the spirit against the flesh. And through this mistake it is, that some innocently cry up things practised at the first springing up of truth, not seeing of what nature they were, and upon what account they were done, and what of them were cast off by the same spirit, which before had led to the use of them, though scripture expressly testifieth thereof. For, Rev. 11:1-2 there was the measuring of the building which God's own spirit had built, part whereof was reserved for God, part given to the Gentiles, or uncircumcised in heart, who are now the Gentiles, since the breaking down of the former distinction betwixt Jew and Gentile. That which God reserved for himself was "the altar, the temple, the worshippers therein;" all these are inward. The outward court was given to the Gentiles, to those who would be worshippers under the gospel, and yet had not the circumcision of the gospel; to them the court which is without the temple is given; and this they get and cry up, and tread under foot the holy city, trampling upon the inward and undervaluing it. Christ within, the spirit within, the law within, the power within, becomes a reproach; and this they have power to do, even to keep down the inward, and cry up the outward, all the time of the forty-two months; and to persecute and slay the witnesses whom God raised up to testify for the inward, and against the outward (as it is now in the Gentiles' hands, and made use of by them to keep down the inward); and so the building being thus taken down, the church flies out of it into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God for her. Rev. 12:6. Mark: she is not where she was before; that building was measured, taken down, and disposed of by God: but she hath been, and is all the time of the forty-two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days, in another place, prepared by the spirit of God for her, whither she fled, and where she was nourished from the face of the serpent, <348> who was seeking after her, and making war with the remnant of her seed, ver. 14. &c. And they that seek for her now in her former building will miss of her, and may meet with another woman, which (in several appearances and disguises, and practising of ordinances appertaining to the outward court) blasphemes the holy city, the true temple, altar, and worshippers. Happy is he that can read this; for it is the mystery of this book, sealed from all the Gentiles and worshippers in the outward court.
Many sorts cry up the Scriptures for their rule; but which of them is taught by the spirit to keep the carnal part out of the Scriptures? Which of them keeps out their own will and understanding, receiving their knowledge of Scriptures from that Spirit which wrote them? Do not men rather gather a knowledge in the flesh, and then grow strong, and wise, and able to dispute, and confident in their own way, and become fierce despisers of those who cannot own their interpretation of these scriptures? and thus the mind of God, the true meaning of the Scriptures, is not their rule; but an image which they have formed out of it; a meaning which their wit hath strongly imagined and fenced with arguments, and the real mind and intent of the Spirit is hid from them. So by this means many both deceive their own souls, and help to deceive the souls of others, missing of the plainness and simplicity of the Spirit, and gathering senses in the wit and subtlety of the fleshly part, where the serpentine wisdom lodgeth, and twines about the tree of knowledge. Now what do these men do? whom do they serve? and whither do they run themselves, and lead many other poor souls, whom they pretend to be helpful to save?
3. Consider whether ye did not flee from the cross, in your transplanting into New England, and so let up that part in you there, which should have been kept down by the cross here, and gave advantage to that spirit to get ground in you, which you outwardly fled from. The safety is in standing in God's counsel, in bearing the cross, in suffering for the testimony of his truth; but if at any time there be a fleeing of the cross (whether the inward or the outward) without God's direction, the evil spirit is thereby let in, his part strengthened, and the life weakened. That spirit which would save itself from the cross, is the same with that which would persecute that which will not save itself. Mark how <349> sharply Christ speaks to Peter upon this account, when he would have tempted him to avoid the cross: "Get thee behind me Satan; thou art an offence unto me; for thou savorest not the things of God," &c. Mat. 16:23. The seed offers up all to God in his service, will suffer anything for his name's sake, even the loss of liberty, goods, yea, life itself, for the testimony to the least truth. Now that which says to the seed, when sufferings come for the testimony of truth, "avoid it, save thyself; let not this be unto thee," or the like, that is Satan: and if Satan be not cast behind, but that counsel hearkened unto which leadeth from the cross, Satan is followed. And if ye fled your proper cross in your removal from hence unto New England, though you meet with many others there, yet hereby you lost your proper advantage of serving and honoring God in your generation; yea, ye lost that which would have kept your spirits tender, and open to the voice of God's spirit; and then no marvel if afterwards ye grew hard, and fit to persecute, who first had showed yourselves unfit and unworthy to suffer. Ye might meet with many crosses afterwards, which might neither be able to humble you, nor keep you tender, having once lost that cross which was appointed of God to do it: for all crosses do not break, humble, or keep the heart low and meek; but such as are sent and sanctified by God thereunto.
4. Consider, when ye came to New England, whether tenderness grew up in you, and was abundantly exercised towards such as might differ from you: or whether ye were as eager for the way that ye thought to be right, as the conformists you fled from were for the way they thought to be right. When Israel came out of Egypt into their own land, they were to be tender even towards an Egyptian, much more towards their own brethren. Now when ye were out of danger of being persecuted yourselves, did ye lay a foundation of tender usage towards all that should differ from you; or did you lay a foundation of persecuting such as differ, and would suffer none differing from you, but persecute them, just as the bishops persecuted you? Did ye flee the having of yourselves persecuted; or did ye flee the persecuting spirit? For if ye did flee only your own persecutions, and not the persecuting spirit in yourselves, no marvel though it fell a persecuting so soon as the fear of your own <350> persecution was over. In this fleshly part there is a persecuting spirit, which if it be not kept down by the power of God, though it loves not to be persecuted, yet will soon be persecuting.
5. Did you feel yourselves grow in the inward life, upon coming into New England; or did that begin to flag and wither, and your growth chiefly consist in form and outward order, in which ye might easily be mistaken too? For many who have given a true testimony, and have been faithful in helping to pull down, yet have erred when they came to build up. That spirit which is kept low by persecution, and gives forth its testimony against things in fear and trembling, is many times exalted when it is out of persecution; and can weigh, debate, consider, and resolve things in that part which cannot build for God. Ephraim, under the rod, spake trembling; but the rod being off, he could exalt his own wisdom, and offend in Baal. That worship and way of government and order which a man takes up in the fleshly reason, and which fall in with the worldly interest, he serves not the true God in, but Baal. This it is that destroys and eats out the life of religion in many; namely, the mixing of it with their worldly interest: for then the offence of the cross ceases to them, and they begin to be offended at others on whom the cross is still laid by God, thinking that they may comply with them in joining their religion and worldly interest together, and so avoid the cross as well as they. Nay, he that will follow Christ, must take up the daily cross, even that cross which God daily lays upon him, who will still be requiring somewhat which is contrary to his own fleshly part, and contrary to the fleshly part of those with whom he converses. And as this cross is taken up, the worldly part is offended, and the life grows, cutting down worldly interests and ways of religion daily; but as worldly interests are followed and kept up, the fleshly part thrives, and the life decays and suffers, even till at length it come under death, and then death hath the dominion.
6. Consider whether your chief strength of setting up your church-government and order at first, and of bringing persons into it, and of preserving them in it, lies in the spirit and spiritual weapons, or in the flesh and carnal weapons. If in the spirit and spiritual weapons, then ye will be able, in God, to persuade <351> men's consciences to it, and to preserve them by the same virtue and strength which persuaded them; and this ye will still have the main recourse to: but if in carnal, then ye will have recourse to the carnal; and there will be your main confidence of keeping up your church. For if it was built by that power, it must be upheld by that power; so that take that away, it falls. This is antichrist's strength; he sets up a form in the wisdom, and maintains it by the outward sword. Take him off from this, and put him to gaining ground by the demonstration of the spirit to men's consciences as in the sight of God, or to preserving his ground so, here he is at a loss, and his kingdom daily falls, even in the most refined parts of it. Let every church and people that nameth the name of Christ depart from the ways of antichrist, and make the spirit of Christ their strength: for that is indeed the only strength of the true religion, both of the inward and outward part thereof; in that it begins, by that it is preserved, and there also it grows, and is perfected.
7. Consider (for it lies upon me to press it yet further, and lay it more home to you for your good) whether the persecuting spirit did not take its advantage of assaulting you, upon your getting from under the cross here, into New England; and whether it did not soon find a place in you there, and grow up in you, and bring you from step to step to that degree of hardness, that ye could at length even drink the blood of the saints.
That it was then the proper time for the persecuting spirit to seek to get an entrance into you, is very manifest; but whether it did get entrance or no, that belongs to you narrowly to search and examine. When ye were under the hatches, while ye yourselves were persecuted, then there was little room for that spirit in you; then was not a proper time for your entertaining of it: but when ye were at liberty to choose a way and form of worship, then was a proper time for this temptation to prevail with you, of setting up your own way, as the chief or only way; and, under a pretence of zeal for God, to persecute the breakings-forth of his light in others. For it could not be expected that that spirit should directly tempt you (who had suffered so much by persecution) suddenly to become persecutors of others: but to hide its bait under a cover; and, under a pretence of zeal for <352> God, his truths, and way of worship, to blind your eyes, and draw you aside into that which is indeed persecution of it. Sin is very deceitful, and seeks covers; and of all sins, persecution has the most need of covers, it is of so contrary a nature to the tender spirit of the gospel. Now when sin hath got its cover, then by degrees it hardens the heart, both from and against the truth. "Take heed," &c. saith the apostle, "lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Heb. 3:12-13. And persecution most hardens of any sin. How cruel, how bloody doth it make! it even unmans men! Prisons, whips, cutting off of ears, banishment, death, all is little enough, if not too little. And what reviling doth it fill men's pens and tongues with, making them so hot and passionate, that they cannot equally consider the cause; but misunderstand it, misrepresent it, and strive to make it appear another thing, both to themselves and others, than indeed in plain truth it is. Look over your writings, consider your cause again in a more meek and upright spirit, and ye yourselves will easily see how, in your heat, ye have mistaken, and dealt more injuriously with others, than ye yourselves were ever dealt with.
There is a time of righteous judgment, wherein the most inward covers shall be ripped off, and the sinner appear what he is; and then the persecutor shall bear that shame, that burden, that misery, which is the portion of that spirit. It is but a small advantage to it to cover its iniquity for a little moment. If ye could make all the world believe that ye are not persecutors, what would this profit you, if, in the day of the Lord, ye should be found such? But having proceeded thus far, it is hard for you to consider and retreat. That spirit hath too great advantage over you, to make you accept of any cover it can now offer you to hide yourselves under. Oh! that ye could see how ye have wrested scriptures, and what strange kind of arguments ye have formed, to make that which ye have done pass with your own hearts, and to make it appear somewhat plausible to others. Yet all this will not do; the eye of the Lord sees through you; and that light which ye reproach, makes you manifest to be at present in subjection under the bloody, dark power, who will hold you as long as he can, and furnish you with such weapons as he has, against the Lamb and his followers. But ye come forth to battle <353> in a bad day, for the light is arisen to conquer, and is not now to be overcome with the darkness. And though ye meet the woman and her seed with a flood of reproaches and persecutions, yet that will not stop her from coming forth out of the wilderness, to show her beauty and innocency again in the earth. Consider these things, and come out of this hard spirit into tenderness, if it be possible, that the still, meek, gentle spirit of life may be your leader from under all false covers, into the truth itself; where there is a gentle lying down with all that is of God, and not so much as an offence because of any difference (much less heart-burnings and persecutions); but a sweet waiting on the Lord for every one's growth in their several ranks and stations.
Since my waiting on the LORD for the Presence
and Guidance of his Spirit, in the examining the foregoing Grounds
and Considerations, there came forth an appendix to
JOHN NORTON'S Book, wherein are laid
down some further Grounds by way of justifying of their
Proceedings; which, for their Sakes, and likewise on the Behalf of
the Truth and People of GOD, I may also say somewhat
1. THEY insinuate an argument concerning
"the not suffering of evil, which" they say "is
common to all that fear God, with themselves."
Ans. Evil is to be resisted; but in God's way, according to God's will, and not according to the will of the flesh. Spiritual evils are to be resisted (by and in the faith) with spiritual weapons, which God hath appointed and sanctified thereto. Earthly evils, outward evils, transgressions of the just law of the magistrate, are to be resisted by the sword of the magistrate. Here are the bounds which God hath set; which he that transgresseth, sinneth against the Lord and his own soul. But the believer is not to step out of God's way to resist the magistrate's evil, nor the magistrate to step out of God's way to resist spiritual evil; but both are to wait on the Lord for his blessing on the means he hath appointed; and it is better for each of them not to resist evil, but let it grow upon them till the Lord please to appear against it, than to overcome it by an unrighteous weapon. "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and stay on horses, and trust in <354> chariots." Isa. 31:1.
2. A second argument is taken from "the sole cause of (their) transplanting, which" they say "was to enjoy liberty, to walk peaceably in the faith of the gospel, according to the order of the gospel."
Ans. That there was an honest intent in many of them in transplanting into New England, I do not doubt; though whether they had a sufficient warrant from God to transplant, was doubted, and objected against them by many of their conscientious fellow-sufferers here in Old England, who testified to them that they did believe it to be their duty not to fly, but stay and bear their testimony for God and his truth by suffering: and this had been a better way of resisting that which was manifestly evil, than of resisting by the sword that for evil, which, in due time, they themselves may see and acknowledge not to have been so. But if they did truly desire liberty, did not the enemy tempt them to be selfish, to seek it so far as might comprise themselves, excluding such as might differ from them, upon as just grounds as they themselves differed from others? Did not they set bounds to the truth, and bounds to the spirit of God, that thus far it should appear, and no further? Whereas God hath degrees of discovering and leading out of the antichristian darkness: and he that opposeth the next discovery of truth, the next step out of Babylon, is as real an enemy and persecutor, as he that opposed the foregoing. In that they testified against the bishops, they did well; but if they will now set up a stand, either to themselves or others, and not follow the leadings of the Lamb, their life may be withered, and they may perish in the wilderness, while others are following the guide, which they left (when they set up their stand), towards Canaan.
And as for walking peaceably; that they might be free from the fear of outward powers, having liberty to try whatever pretends to be of God; and if it appear error, be out of danger of having their consciences forced; this is a great mercy. But if they would live so peaceably as that no discovery of God further should ever start up among them, nor the Lord himself be suffered to send any of his servants with any further discovery of light unto them, this is not a peace which God allows to any <355> man, nor which his people desire; but only the carnal part, which loves to be at ease, and not to be at the pains of trial in the fear of the Lord, of what comes forth in his name. And who walk thus, walk not in the faith, nor in the order of the gospel, which doth not suddenly reject any thing, but first thoroughly tries both doctrines and spirits, whether they be of God or no. He that rejects that which is of God cannot thrive or prosper in his spirit; and he that tries in the hastiness of the flesh, and not in the patience or meekness of the spirit, is in great danger of rejecting whatever of God appears.
But can they not enjoy their own liberty, and walk in the gospel, and manage the sword of the Spirit against errors and spiritual enemies (according to the order of the gospel), which is mighty through God to cut down the flesh, unless they get the magistrate's sword to cut down every appearance of truth (and every person holding forth any truth) but what they themselves shall own? Cannot the spirit of God lead into further truth than they were led into when they went into New England? And may not the Lord take his own time to discover it to them, and to lead them into it? So that when first it appears, it may be hid from them; and will nothing serve them but the magistrate's sword to cut it down so soon as ever it appears? Did not the bishops of England think theirs to be the gospel order, and cried against the Non-conformists, that they could not live peaceably for them, but they disturbed the order of the church, and drew men's minds from matters of faith and edification? Surely the desire of such a kind of peace (as may stop the breaking forth of light to the people of God for their further leading out of Babylon) is not good. This is rather a fleshly ease, than true peace, which the Lord hath not allotted to his people; but they are to wait for the pouring down of his spirit, and the opening of the deep mysteries of his life in the latter days, and to try what comes forth in his name, whether it be of him or no, that they may not lose the good as it breaks forth, nor be deceived with the evil, as it gets into and appears in the shape and likeness of the good.
Now the drift of the argument lies in this, that this liberty they cannot enjoy without a non-toleration of others. Toleration of any but themselves, and their own way, disturbs their peace, <356> their faith, their order.
Ans. The true liberty, the true faith, the true order of the gospel, was enjoyed formerly, without this power of suppressing others by carnal weapons, and violent laws. Yea, this power of suppressing others, and of compelling to a way of religion and worship, came up with antichrist; and that power which came up with antichrist, is not of Christ. "The dragon gave his power to the beast," Rev. 13:4. and another beast riseth up with "horns like a lamb," ver. 11. and this beast compelleth. ver. 12. Mark: the beast which appeared with horns like a lamb, as if it had Christ's power, and maketh fire to come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men (and who can deny these to be of God, that can do such things!) this very beast compelleth, or causeth to worship, as ver. 12. So this beast, which appears like a lamb, joins with the first beast whom it had set up under another appearance, and both compel to the worshipping of an image of the truth (of such an image of the truth as they think good to advance), and seduce from the truth itself. And he that will not be deceived with their image, with their likeness, with that which they call the truth and way of God, or order of the gospel, and so shall refuse to bow thereto, he shall not be permitted either to buy or sell. ver. 16-17. There is no living as men within their bounds, unless they will bow to their image. But the true Lamb doth not compel, but calls to wait on the Father's drawings, till the Father by his spirit make willing. And though by the Lamb "kings reign, and princes decree justice," Prov. 8:15. yet they never had any commission from him to force men to that way of religion and worship, to which the spirit of the Lord alone can make them willing, nor to fall upon them because they were unwilling. This is from the dragon, wherever it is found.
This then is the great matter of controversy, you account it your liberty not to tolerate; and here stands your peace and religion (which was a liberty the true Christians never had), and you cannot with patience bear any to testify against you; and so ye now fall upon any who come to witness against you, even as ye yourselves once suffered when ye were witnesses. But how can ye manifest that God shall reveal no truth, but what he reveals to you? Or if he does, that ye have liberty not to tolerate it, or the <357> persons that hold it forth? Wherefore consider seriously whether this be a right liberty ye have aimed at: for if your aim hath been at a liberty which is not granted of God, at such a liberty as will not stand with the liberty of his spirit in his people, no marvel though ye have run into indirect means to attain it: and so from step to step have been led to the utmost degree of violence and persecution; and being engaged in it, are now forced to seek for arguments to maintain it. This argument is further enforced, by proposing "the inconsiderableness of the QUAKERS' suffering of a non-toleration," compared with "a manifest and greatest hazard of toleration unto the country; their absence from hence is no detriment to them; their presence here threatens no less than the ruin of us all." &c.
Ans. As for outward detriment, the QUAKERS do not consider that in cases of this nature; but that in them which is born of God, hearing and receiving his command, presently obeys, waiting for his presence and power to carry through, and doth not at all mind the hardships to be met with. But the inward detriment, arising from disobedience to God, is very great; even the loss of his sweet presence, life, and power at present, besides the utter hazard of the soul: for that which draweth back from obedience to the spirit of the Lord, the Lord hath no pleasure in: and they have known the terrors of the Lord to the disobedient; therefore they may not please men in forbearing to go where he sends them; nor (standing in his counsel and power) do they fear them which can kill the body; but they exceedingly dread the death and loss of their souls, and him who hath the power thereof.
And as for their "presence threatening the ruin of all to you," that is but a misapprehension. It may indeed be ruin to that part in you which is wise and strong, without the presence of the life of God; but the elect, which is built upon the rock, cannot be ruined by any appearance of God; nay, nor by any appearance of the powers of darkness against God; for the gates of hell cannot prevail against the true church. And there is great advantage of errors and heresies to the true church; for the life grows and gets ground by a fair trial and overcoming of them, and the approved are thereby made manifest. 1 Cor. 11:19. Now what kind of church is yours, which is in such danger of being ruined by that <358> whereby the true church was advantaged? So that to plead that either you must suffer your religion, your souls, your liberties to be made a prey of, or take this course to defend them, is very inconsequent; and a strong argument against you that yours is not the truth, which needs such a defence as the truth hath not been used to have; but hath grown up, been preserved, and thriven not only without it, but against the strength and force of it.
So likewise those considerations of the "shepherd's defending the flock from the wolves," and of the "keeper of the vineyard maintaining the hedge against the wild beasts," &c., are not proper to the thing in hand: for the spiritual sheep, the soul, the liberty of the church, the true religion, the true vineyard, are not outward, nor to be defended after an outward manner; but the defence is according to the nature of the thing which is to be defended. To trust or look after an outward power for defending these, is to betray the faith, which is the shield. Therefore let them consider whether, in looking out too much at these, they have not lost the true weapon, and the sight of the true thing which is to be defended, which the arm of the Lord alone gathers, and the arm of the Lord alone preserves.
This argument is yet further pressed from the present state of your own people, "too many of them being perilously disposed" as ye say "to receive their doctrine, being already too much disaffected, if not enemies to order," &c.
Ans. Alas! alas! have you had your order, your church-government so long up, and are the multitude among you yet so ready to be shaken? Behold what a weak, unstable settlement ye have attained to all this time by your outward force! but search honestly, and see who they are that are so ready to be shaken. Are they the "discontented, and unconscionable multitude?" (as ye speak) or are they the most simple-hearted, most conscientious, and zealous towards God amongst you? (For it is experienced here in Old England, that the ground they gain is not upon the unconscionable, but the conscientious). If it be these that are somewhat touched with the sense of their doctrine, it may make you fear that there is more of God therein than you are aware of. Therefore do not proceed to argue thus violently against a thing, before ye have tried it: but come to a deep, serious, <359> inward consideration of the thing between God and your own souls: not in the pride, loftiness, and self-willedness; but in the honesty, humility, and meekness of your spirits: and then perhaps ye may see beauty, and the life of your souls, in that which ye now so revile and persecute. And though ye matter not how ye imagine and speak all manner of evil falsely against us; yet do not also wrong the best among yourselves, by terming them "discontented and unconscionable," because their spirits are not hardened by your form; but yet retain some tenderness towards God, his truths, and people.
But why do ye charge following the light within so deeply, as to be "a giving up of men's selves to their own inclinations," and that it "immediately canonizeth them for saints, dischargeth them from subjection, both civil and sacred, and from the Scriptures as the rule of life; and by virtue of this their saintship, entitles to the estates and dignities of all who are not of their minds," &c.
Ans. Surely if ye were guided by the light within, ye would be preserved from such kind of injuriousness both to persons and principles. Are your tongues and pens your own, at liberty to speak and write any thing that will make for your advantage, how manifestly false soever? If it were but a natural light, yet, being of God, it would not deserve this deep blame. Have ye ever tried it, as we have done? If not, why do ye yet speak so against it, before ye have tried it? We can upon much experience testify, that it is against our inclinations; that it discovers them, calls from them, and is a daily cross to them; upon following whereof we feel the bitter dying of the earthly part, and the inclinations thereof pining away. And from true subjection to that which truly is of God, it never discharges; but leads to obedience to what is lawfully commanded by authority, and to patient suffering under what is unlawfully inflicted. And as for the Scriptures, it opens them in the life which gave them forth; it fulfils them in us; it makes them our own; it makes us able to set our seal to the truth of them in the sight of God; and to receive that for the rule which the Scriptures say is the rule, "the living word, Christ the living way, the word in the mouth, and in the heart," Rom. 10. "the law in the mind, the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus," which is the word ingrafted into their hearts, who are <360> created anew in Christ. And this is the honor which we give to the Scriptures, namely, to receive that which they testify of; to live and walk in that spirit which they call to us to live and walk in: to take heed of painting the old nature, and letting the old spirit live upon its imaginations, which it gathers out of the Scriptures, reading them in the oldness of the letter, and not in the newness of the spirit. And we profess nakedly that we believe the truth of God, not merely because the Scripture hath said it (for that which is out of the truth may thus believe); but also because, in coming to the thing, and receiving the truth as it is in Jesus, we have found it to be just as the Scriptures speak of it. But what do ye speak, as if following the light did entitle men to the estates and dignities of all who are not of their mind? Nay, the light teacheth not to covet, not to desire, earthly dignities or estates. Let it be looked at over Old England: which of us so much as mind these things? Nay, the Lord knows that the love of these things is daily rooted out of our hearts more and more, and we are a people whom the world cannot charge with covetousness, or love of the world, wherewith all sorts of professors hitherto have been too justly chargeable. O rulers of New England! why do you thus overturn the cause of the innocent? If we were a bad people, yet to lay things so notoriously false to our charge, and to charge that principle in us with it, which powerfully leads us from it, this is not right nor justifiable in the sight of God. Ah! take heed of reviling, persecuting, and speaking all manner of evil against us falsely, for his name's sake whom we are called to serve, and whom we do serve in following and obeying the light of his spirit in us, which hath led us to the true knowledge of God, and to life and peace with him.
About the close of this argument, for the further strengthening of it, it is said, "duty is not opposite to duty: passiveness for the truth, and activeness against the enemies of truth, are both duties in their season."
Ans. Every kind of activeness against the enemies of the truth is not duty; for some kind is sinful. There is a lawful fighting, and an unlawful fighting. Such a kind of fighting against an enemy as may hurt a friend, and cannot hurt the enemy, is unlawful. Now the magistrate's sword may hurt a friend, may affright <361> the tender conscience from its duty towards Christ; but it cannot reach the falsehood which lodgeth in the heart, nor draw the party from that, but rather hardeneth him in it: so that it is not a duty to have the magistrate's sword drawn out against that for which it is not proper, where it may do hurt, and not good. The householder would not permit his own servants to gather up the tares, lest they should root up the wheat with them. Mat. 13:29. Did Christ deny his disciples that liberty, and doth he grant it to the magistrate? Is the magistrate out of danger of hurting the wheat, while he is smiting at the tares? Nay, is he not in danger of smiting and rooting up the wheat instead of the tares? Surely this is the magistrate's duty, to keep in his place, and not to extend his sword beyond his commission, and beyond what it is proper for. And let me put this to all the magistrates of the earth, who have been drawing out their sword against tares (as they might think), "are ye sure that ye never touched any green thing?" Rev. 9:4 Did ye never pluck up any wheat? Ye must give an account of this to Christ one day. Here in Old England, in the bishops' days, they were liable to be excommunicated and weeded out of the church, and also be struck at by the magistrate: how it hath been in New England, I leave it to your consciences to consider of, do not slubber it over, but make up a just account.
What Moses did Levit. 24. in case of blasphemy, he did by immediate direction from God, ver. 13. and he was a type of Christ, who inwardly and spiritually fulfils all his outward shadows. And Christ doth not say that every blasphemer under the gospel shall be put to death, but all blasphemy or speaking against the Son of man shall be forgiven; but there is a kind of blasphemy which he will not forgive. And the church, by his Spirit, are to try and deal with blasphemers, even to the cutting of them off, by the sword of the Spirit, that they may repent, and "learn not to blaspheme;" 1 Tim. 1:20. but the magistrate is not now appointed to cut them off in their blasphemy, and so to take away that time of repentance from them, which Christ hath allowed them. Christ's ordinances and institutions do not clash one with another; he doth not bid the church cut off a person from the unity, with the sword of the Spirit, that he might feel the loss of life, and be made sensible of what a condition his <362> blasphemies have brought him to, and so come to mourn and repent, I say Christ doth not do this on the one hand, and, on the other hand, bid the magistrate banish him, or cut him off with the sword, and so take away his time of repentance from him. Nay, this device sprung from the false church, to make her excommunication outwardly terrible and dreadful, which hath no inward virtue, or cause of terror and dread at all in it.
So as touching Nehemiah, he was both extraordinarily stirred up by God, and his time was under the law; so that the argument from his example is not valid to them, who have not such a warrant as he had (for he saith himself, that God had put in his heart what he had to do at Jerusalem. Neh. 2:12), and where the state and ministration is changed. The priests did that under the law, which is not now to be done, but typified what Christ, the unchangeable Priest, was to do; so likewise kings, judges, and governors of that people, did that under the law towards them, which is not now to be done outwardly towards any, by any king, ruler, or magistrate; but typified what Christ was inwardly to do in the spirits of his people, and how he would gather, preserve, and defend his church, and wound and subdue his enemies, even by his rod and sceptre, which is the sword of his Spirit, the word of his mouth.
And as for Ephesus and Thyatira's not suffering false apostles and the woman Jezebel; we do not say that any errors, or erroneous persons, are to be suffered by the church, but to be dealt with in Christ's power and authority. But the delivering up of these to the secular power, we know to have been an invention of antichrist's, and a great dishonor to Christ (as if his rod and sceptre were not sufficient to defend his subjects and kingdom, and to beat down his enemies), and also a ground of much affliction, persecution, and blood-shed of the saints; yea, and of suppressing the truth of God for a season. For the persecutor having once gotten his cover, then he can do that openly and boldly, which otherwise he would blush and be ashamed of. To persecute Christ, to put his people to death, and that for professing and publishing his truths; God forbid, saith the antichristian spirit (in every form and way of religion), that we should do this; but in every age calls the witnesses to the truth (of that age) blasphemers, <363> wicked persons, persons that by their tenets overthrow the fundamental truths of the gospel, and their doctrines destructive, &c. And now what zealous people or minister, or what Christian magistrate, can suffer such as these? By this artifice, the sufferings of the saints come to abound in every age, and their blood is made havoc of: and what is thus done, easily passeth as an act of justice against offenders, and not (as indeed it is) persecution of the truths and people of God. The after age can see what it is, and cry out against it: but still it is the subtlety of the persecuting spirit to hide the persecutions of the present age, under an appearance of zeal for God, and of justice against offenders.
3. In the next place it is said, on the QUAKERS' behalf, that they are the lambs of Christ.
Indeed this is a considerable thing; for if they be Christ's lambs, then they are innocent, and cannot be the causers of their own sufferings; but that will rest upon their persecutors, though they use even so much art to make the lambs appear guilty, and themselves guiltless; their spirit, nature, manner of fighting (which is with lamb-like weapons, which hurt not flesh and blood), their whole course and conversation, and manner of suffering, &c., manifest them to be lambs; this is of much more force than a bare saying they are lambs. None of this is mentioned on their behalf, but only that they say they are lambs. But let us see how fairly that is overthrown.
Against this, that place, John 5:31. is alleged; "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true:" whereupon it is said thus, Had not Christ been God, the reason of the Jews had been good against him.
Ans. Doth not the spirit of God dwell in the sons of God? And doth not the spirit of God bear witness in them that they are his children? And is not this witness true? John saith, "We know that we are of God." 1 John 5:19. Was not this witness true in John, because John was not God? Was not the prophets' testimony true (that they were his prophets, and that God had sent them, and that it was his message which they brought), because they were not God? Shall the spirit of God work wonders in the heart? and shall he not testify concerning his own work at his pleasure? Ah, friends! how do ye understand scripture, and raise <364> inferences from it, thus to condemn the generation of the righteous? Search the Scriptures: do not the prophets still testify that the Lord sent them, and that it was his word which they spake? though they themselves were not God, but persons moved by the spirit of God; who stirred in his servants under the law, but dwelleth, resteth, and abideth in his people under the gospel; and what he testifieth is true, though fleshly-wise Israel (who seem to themselves very skilful in the law and letter of the Scriptures) could not receive his testimony either then or now. Ah! friends! ye had need take heed and consider, lest the bastardly birth in you hath taken up a habitation in the letter, without knowing the mind of the spirit, whose presence killeth the carnal part, and shutteth out the wisdom of the flesh from meddling with the Scriptures.
And whereas you seem to refer "all to the trial of the Scripture," both station, doctrine, and practice; surely if ye had done so in truth, ye would have more patiently heard their testimony according to the Scriptures. Every man pretendeth Scripture, but none truly honoreth it, but they who are guided by that Spirit which it testifieth of. And they who are not guided by that Spirit, walk not according to the Scriptures, but according to reasonings of the fleshly part, which windeth itself into the letter of the Scriptures, that by some conformity thereto, it may avoid the dint of the Spirit. And this is the way of antichrist's prevailing, by getting the form, crying up that, winding his own fleshly spirit into that, and sheltering itself under that. Thus the Jews cried up the temple of the Lord, the sabbath, the law of Moses, and writings of the prophets; and under this cover, with great zeal persecuted Christ; he was looked upon as a blasphemer, as one against God's temple, his sabbath, his ordinances, &c. And since the days of Christ, the antichristian spirit speaks great words of Christ; his death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, &c., and of church order, and discipline, that, under this cover, it may fight against the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; who alone can lead into truth, and which is the proper way of God's ministration since Christ's ascension. And this hath been the way of opposing truth ever since, and still is: and here is the antichrist, he that holds these in the wrong part, and by these fights against the true Spirit.
<365> But if there be any truth in this, that ye are willing to be tried by the Scriptures, let it yet come to a fair trial this way, and let them have free liberty to manifest among you, what they have to say from the Scriptures; why your church, your ministry, your order and government, your whole way of teaching and worship is not of God, nor according to the Scriptures, but an invention and imitation, set up in the way of resemblance of what once was truly so. If this cannot be made good against you, ye will have much advantage of shaming them, and of settling your people much firmer than by prisons, whips, cutting off of ears, banishment, and death; which no man's heart (seriously considering it in true soberness) can possibly believe to be the proper engines of settling or preserving the gospel of peace.
But that the Scripture is the rule of trial under the gospel, I read not in Scripture; but that the things of the Spirit are to be known in and by the Spirit. 1 Cor. 2:12. The Apostle John, speaking of antichrists, seducers, and erring spirits, which were to be tried, doth not bid them try them by the words which he wrote, or by the other apostles' words, or by the prophets' words; but by the anointing; which keeping close to, they need fear no seducers. 1 John 2:26-27. The Word which was in the beginning being received, abode in, and kept close to, tries all words and spirits. That which begets to God is the Spirit; the great gift (which is given to him who is begotten) is the Spirit; and this (being given) is to become the fountain of life to the believer. John 7:38. And in this spring of life he is to live, and receive milk and knowledge; and here he is to walk, and here he is to try all other waters, even by this water. And this is more to a believer, and more enableth him to try, than all the words of truth that ever were written; though he that hath this cannot despise or undervalue any thing that the Spirit ever wrought; but yet the Spirit itself is more to him, and more certain, than any words concerning the Spirit. Men may make false glosses, and mud, and make void the Scriptures by their reasonings, and interpretations, and traditional apprehensions; but this water ever runs fresh and clear, and no foul spirit can defile it. Moses gave the law, which directed to, and ended in, Christ: Christ in the flesh finished the work which the Father gave him to do, and <366> directed to the Comforter to be the leader into all truth, yea, the spring of life to the believer; and here the believer is safe: but the antichristian spirit ravening from this, cries up the letter in the stead of this, and doth not see how the letter points to and centres in this. "God hath made us able ministers of the New Testament" (saith the apostle); "not of the letter, but of the spirit." 2 Cor. 3:6. He overlooked the letter: that was not the thing he was chiefly to minister, but the Spirit, the power, to turn men from darkness to light, that they might feel him that is true, and have the life eternal abiding in the heart: but now, in the antichristian darkness, the spirit being lost, which is the gospel-administration, they seemingly advance and cry up the letter, putting it into the place of the Spirit. Yet in truth it is not the Scripture either, in its naked simplicity, which is thus cried up, but man's wise reasonings about it. The fleshly will, the fleshly understanding, the fleshly strength getting a seat there, having formed a building out of it, and reared strong-holds in that part which can be wise, and live without the Spirit; now its life, its interest, lies in the Scripture thus believed, thus understood, thus practised: thus therefore it cries it up, not as it came at first out of the hands of the Spirit, nor as the truth of it is now seen in the simplicity and nakedness of the Spirit, but as the wisdom from below hath formed meanings and apprehensions concerning it. And here every sort of men are wise in their own eyes, and strong and prudent in their own conceivings and reasonings, but know not the bringing to naught of that understanding, which precedeth the opening of the eye of the babe, which hath that sight of the things of God given it, which is out of the reach of all the wise and strong ones. It is true, under the law they were to try by the law and the testimony, Isa. 8:20. but yet not in an uncertain way, according to their own guessings, imaginations, and reasonings, but according to a certain interpretation and knowledge thereof; and in cases of difficulty the judge was to have recourse to the priest. Deut. 17:8, &c. And the priest, in cases of doubt, had an ordinary way of inquiring by Urim, Numb. 27. besides the way of inquiring by prophets, which was very common with them also. 1 Sam. 9:9. 28:6. But now the Jews having forfeited these, and filling their minds with a <367> gathered knowledge from the law and prophets, trying Christ and his truths by this, judged amiss both of him and them. Now the law was a shadow of good things to come; not a shadow of another outward law or rule, but a shadow of the inward rule, of the law of the new covenant written in the heart, of the Spirit put within, Heb. 8. and by this law is the true believer fully as able to try, as they were by the former; but without this, a Christian's trial of things is not so certain as theirs was under the law.
4. The force of the fourth argument is to this effect, "That the dictate of the conscience is not a sufficient plea in case of mere and single ignorance, much less in wilful and affected ignorance."
Ans. The dictate of conscience is not made a plea by us; but the answering and obeying the light of Christ in our consciences, is that which keepeth them void of offense, both towards God and towards men. Now it is one thing for a man to act evil, and plead it is his conscience; and it is another thing for a man to be guided by the infallible Light of the Spirit; or if he be not come so far, yet to be made tender in his heart towards Christ concerning his practices in religion. In this last case we say, that in things, whose good or evil chiefly depends upon the knowledge and persuasion of the mind, which Christ alone can do, here Christ is the sole Lord and judge of the conscience, Rom. 14:4. and not either minister, church, or magistrate. Christ giveth knowledge, Christ increaseth knowledge, and Christ requireth obedience according to the knowledge given or increased. That is many times required to be left, upon a further degree of knowledge given, which was not required to be left before; and so also upon the same terms may things be required to be performed, which were not required to be done before. And this, indeed, is the very sum of the true religion (since the death of Christ, and his finishing of his work here), either to worship in the Spirit, or to wait for the Spirit. He who hath not received the Spirit, he is to wait for the Spirit. He who hath received the Spirit, he is to wait in the Spirit for the movings and outgoings thereof, and to be obedient thereto. And Christians are to take heed, not only of a wrong spirit, but also of quenching the movings of the true Spirit in themselves or others. If the erring <368> mind hath mistaken about worship, and through its mistake set up a wrong way, the Spirit in the tender plants will be moving against it, which the wise, reasoning, fleshly part will be knocking down; and so the birth, which is after the flesh, will be getting advantage of, persecuting, and keeping under the immortal seed. Now suppress evil to the utmost, but take heed of quenching the good in any; take heed how ye stop that in its course of discovering evil (in your worships, or otherwise) which easily passeth for good, until the Spirit begin to make it manifest. Ah! friends! if the carnal wisdom had been crucified in you, and the spirit of God had had more scope in manifesting evil among you, what might ye have grown to ere this day! But if the magistrate upon every doubt, or difference, or startling of the tender conscience, step in with his sword, how is the way of the breaking forth of truth stopped up! And that which is truly of God, and most tender towards him, is most liable to suffer this way. And this is that which makes the QUAKERS such a suffering people, because they have found the benefit of keeping the conscience tender towards God, and so prize it above all things; and this mercy have they received from the Lord, sensibly to distinguish (in this tenderness towards God, and in the fear of his name) between the dictates of conscience, and the voice of his spirit there. Now it is not at all pleaded by us, that under a pretence of conscience, ye should suffer all manner or any manner of evil: but first, Punish not good for evil; do not punish the good in others, to defend the evil in yourselves. Secondly, That which is manifestly evil, punish it by such hands and means as God hath appointed; the spiritual by spiritual, the temporal by temporal; and do not make punishing of evil a pretence of persecuting good in others, and of upholding the evil in yourselves.
But as touching your distinction of mere and single ignorance, or wilful and affected, we can bless the Lord who hath delivered us from them both, by the day-spring which he hath caused to arise in our hearts; and we can with a further measure of the same spirit bear this from you, with a measure whereof some of the Non-conformists bore this from the conformists, who would cast this upon them, that their ignorance was affected, they were refractory, but might have been better informed if they would. <369> And we wish with all our hearts, that there were not too just cause of retorting both parts of this distinction back upon you; for if ye had not been very grossly ignorant, ye could never have thus put darkness for light, and light for darkness, casting such odious reproaches upon the truth, to make it appear what it was not. Had ye not been ignorant of the scripture, ye would have known the movings of the life and spirit of it in others; but through ignorance of the eternal power, and from your dark reasonings and conceivings about the letter, ye are ready to call Christ Beelzebub; not knowing the anointing in the members, no more than the Scribes and Pharisees did in the head. And had not your ignorance also been too much affected, ye would have taken more pains about the trial, and not have run into such mistakes all along, both about them and their doctrines, as ye have done.
That Christ referred himself either to Pilate's or the Jews' trial of him by Scriptures, is a gross mistake at best. The Jews did try him by Scriptures; and according to their understanding thereof, found him a sabbath-breaker, against Moses' law, and that he could not be the Messiah, John 7:27. 52. 12:34. but by their law ought to die. John 19:7. There is no trying of the things of God by considering of Scriptures in the carnal mind, in the wise, reasoning part; but in the Spirit which wrote the Scriptures, in the understanding which God gives, 1 John 5:20. in the wisdom which is bestowed on the babe (who lives in the simplicity and pure innocency that is in Christ), there the truth itself, and also the Scriptures (which testify of it) are clear. Now Christ did not refer himself to them to be tried by the Scriptures (for he knew what was in man, and he knew after what manner they would try him thereby); but he bid them "search the Scriptures," which testified of him, that so they might come to know and receive him, John 5:39-40. and none knew him, but those to whom the Father revealed him.
So the case of Paul's appealing to Caesar doth not prove that Caesar was a proper judge in cases of conscience; but he was, at that time, a proper defence against the malice of the Jews, who most unconscionably persecuted Paul, under a pretence of zeal for God, and defence of their church and ordinances. And were ye not in power, but an equal heathen magistrate over us both, <370> the QUAKERS durst refer their cause to trial, that they have done you injury, no more than Paul did the Jews. Indeed Paul preached that which was the end of the law, and the overturning of the Jewish state: and if their priests and rulers had had him to judge, they would have made him as great an offender as ye now make the QUAKERS. Now if your religion stand upon such a bottom as theirs did, and not upon the Rock, in the faith, and by the Spirit, ye may well fear us; it is not without a cause; for this we certainly know, that all professions of God and of Christ, imitations and practices from the letter, which stand in man's will and wisdom, will not be able to abide the breath of this suffering seed, who love the testimony of Jesus, and service to his name, above their lives.
And as for an "erring conscience," there lies the dispute, whose conscience errs, yours or theirs? Ye say they have erred from the letter, the order, and ordinances of the gospel: they say ye have erred from the Spirit, and therefore must needs have erred from the letter also (and this they are ready to prove according to the Scriptures, if ye dare stand to a fair trial). And also that ye are in a knowledge, faith, worship, wisdom, &c., which stand in the will and carnal part, and keep the carnal part alive. This deserves a meek and serious consideration in the fear of Him who can destroy the soul; and not such a bloody and fiery trial, as your proceedings and writings too much savor of.
5. That a regular defence of the truth by the godly orthodox magistrate, and others respectively, is not persecution.
Ans. To bring the sword of the magistrate into the work of Christ's Spirit and power, this is irregular; and it doth execution irregularly, cutting down the person, and not the sin; whereas, the sword of the Spirit cuts down the sin, that the person may be saved. Christ came not to destroy men's lives, but to save; and if any man receive him not, or speak against him, he calls not for fire from heaven, or for a magistrate's sword, but waits to be gracious, and by the power of his Spirit (having once convinced and gathered) doth he defend his truths and people. Let but the magistrate stand still with his sword, the Spirit of Christ will soon get the victory over error; and a sweeter and a better victory than the magistrate's sword can effect. Truth sprung up <371> without the magistrate's sword: yea, against it. So it grew, and so it conquered. The magistrate's sword here (though ever so favorable to truth) doth more hurt than good, putting the true sword out of his place, and keeping down that tenderness of spirit, wherein the truth alone can spring.
That coercion was instituted for restraining of evil, we grant, (this is the same with the first argument:) but he that appointed two kinds of coercion, set each their limits, which they are not to transgress. See the answer to the first argument.
But whereas ye say, that "tares and ill weeds need no more than being let alone to over-run and spoil the corn;" that is directly contrary to Christ, who said expressly, "Let both grow together until the harvest." Matt. 13:30. Surely he would not have his wheat in danger of being destroyed all the time till harvest; but he judged that plucking up the tares would more endanger the wheat, than letting them alone. ver. 29. Man may easily mistake, and pluck up an ear of wheat, instead of a tare; and better it were to let many tares alone, than pluck up one ear of wheat. Ye have long been busied in New England about plucking up tares. Are ye sure ye never plucked up any wheat? Nay, have ye not weeded out the wheat, and left the tares standing? Undertaking a work so directly contrary to Christ's direction (and so without the guidance of his Spirit), ye might easily thus err. Now what the tares are, is afterwards expounded: they are such persons as grow among the wheat, but are not wheat; but are to be gathered from the wheat with Christ's sickle, and bound up in bundles for the burning, in the day of his harvest.
Your comparisons of a gangrene, and the like, I wish you knew how to apply. The power of God's truth in the spirits of his people is no gangrene; but the form without the power is a gangrene, and, like Pharoah's lean cattle, soon eats up the fat. And he who has lost his own tenderness and freshness, soon turns persecutor of such as remain tender, and seek to preserve their freshness.
In the days of the apostles there was a king in Israel; then the church was well governed, in the meekness and sweet authority and power of Christ's Spirit, which hurts not creatures, but strikes at Christ's enemy in creatures. Since that time, the Papists have <372> had a long day of doing what was right in their eyes; the Episcopalians, a day after them, of doing what was right in their eyes; and so the Presbyterians and Independents, &c. But it were better for them all to lament after the right king, than to set up an usurped authority in his absence. Carnal reason, the wisdom of the flesh, hath got his seat, giving forth his meaning of scripture, and so (under a color of them) ruling over his flock with force and cruelty, and not with the meek, gentle, righteous sceptre of his Spirit, which alone is appointed of Christ to govern them.
So then the magistrate's punishing of the QUAKERS is not regular by any institution of Christ; but only by a law of their own making, as it is further explained, p. 95. of this Appendix; the grounds whereof have been already examined and found insufficient to warrant them therein; which I leave to themselves, and to every man's conscience, to consider of, in the dread of God, the judge of all.
Upon the result of all, it may not be amiss to state the case between the governors of New England and the Quakers, which is briefly thus:
If the governors of New England had just cause to make such a law against the Quakers, and had a true, rightly-derived power so to do from God, who is the spring of all just power; and if the Quakers had liberty from the Lord to choose or refuse obedience to it, then their suffering death is justly to be imputed to themselves.
But if the governors of New England had not a just cause of making this law, nor authority and power from God so to do; and the Quakers had not liberty to choose or refuse coming thither, but had an indispensable command from Christ, their Lord; then their sufferings and blood will rest on the heads of the governors of New England, and will stick closer to them than to be wiped off by such kind of arguments and reasonings.
All depends upon your first step of proceeding. If that was without due ground, not in the fear of the Lord, without Christ's allowance and direction; without having duly weighed the thing in the true, unerring balance, but rather in the hastiness and stiff resolvedness of the flesh; then all your proceedings since have been but aggravations of your sin; and God might justly let you <373> go on thus far, to shame you even in the sight of the very heathen, among whom the sense and abhorrence of this cruel and bloody spirit cannot but make your profession of the gospel of peace become a reproach.
The Quakers came to you in the name of the Lord, to discover from him to you the evil of your ways; to convince you by his light of your departing from that which was persecuted in you in the times of your sufferings in Old England: but ye would not meekly hear and consider of what they had to say to you from the Lord; but presently imprisoned and sent them away; and so proceeded further and further against them, till at length ye came to drink their blood. So that in truth their testimony is the cause of their death; and judge in your own hearts whether this be not a persecution of a deep dye. It were better for you to charge it upon your own hearts, than to have the Lord charge it upon you, when you come to stand before him to be eternally judged.
There remains yet another Paper (printed here in England)
called, "A True Relation of the Proceedings against certain
QUAKERS, at the General Court of Massachusetts,
holden at Boston in New England, October 18th, 1659."
THE arguments therein, whereupon they would
have their proceedings pass for just, and not be accounted
persecution, are these: "The authority of this court, the laws
of the country, the laws of God, and their gradual
Ans. Persecutors are very seldom (if at any time) without these pleas for themselves. Had not the bishops as fair a right to this plea, to cover their persecutions of the Nonconformists with? Could not they, in their day, have alleged the authority of their courts, the laws of their country (perhaps some not made directly to entrap either, as yours were), and had not they as confident a pretence to the law of God as these? And did not they also proceed gradually? He that doubteth, let him read HOOKER'S" Ecclesiastical Polity," and other writings of the Conformists, and see whether their spirit was not more mild and Christian-like and their arguments more weighty by far, than those which these have used against the QUAKERS. Nay, have the very Papists themselves been without these arguments? Did they not proceed gradually <374> in Queen Mary's days against the martyrs? Yea, what pains did they take to convince them of their heresies, and to bring them into the unity of the true church, as they accounted it! But these arguments did not justify the Papists or Conformists in the sight of God (though they might justify their proceedings in the eyes of their own party); nor will they justify them to have gone one step beyond the Conformists. But as the spirit of persecution entering into the bishops and Conformists was the same spirit, as well when it was in them as in the Papists; so the same spirit entering into the Non-conformists, is the same spirit still in them, as it was in the bishops and Conformists. And the plea of the authority of their court, the laws of the country, with such a kind of pretence to the law of God, and their gradual proceedings, is no more, in truth and reality, a shelter for them, than it was for the other; though they, in their day, look upon it as a good and sufficient cover, even as the bishops did in their day, and the Papists in their day. Had they wanted this cover, the nakedness of their zeal and profession would have appeared to every eye: yea, their own consciences could not but have flown in their faces, had they put them to death so soon as ever they had come over, without any foregoing proceedings. But this is the nature of the persecuting spirit; first it seeks a cover to stop the mouth of its own conscience, and to hide its blood-thirsty actions from the eye of the world; and then its feet are swift to shed the blood of the innocent. But the same Lord God of truth and righteousness, who hath unmasked the Papists, and unmasked the bishops, will unmask these also, and their nakedness shall more appear than the others', who would hide themselves and their own cruelty with that covering, which they themselves have judged in others. It is not therefore any of these, but the grounds of their proceedings must manifest them to be just; or else, notwithstanding the pretence to justice, their whole course of proceedings will prove in truth (and according to righteous judgment) but persecution.
2. "Their professed tenets" (how well you have acquitted yourselves herein, let all that fear God judge).
3. "Their turbulent and contemptuous behavior to authority."
4. "Their designs to undermine and ruin the order and peace here established."
Ans. He that is willing to receive shall never want intelligence against the truths and people of God, even from such hands as he will be ready to call good (It is a remnant only that receive truth; the generality of professors in all ages are still ready both to send and receive intelligence against all the living appearances of it, and of God's witnesses to it). Nor can he who hath already entertained prejudices ever want matter against their tenets, behavior, or to charge them with designs. Have not these reproaches always been cast upon every appearance of God? Are not the vessels he chooses to hold forth his truths by still represented as persons of pernicious opinions and practices, their tenets charged to be wicked, and they looked upon as turbulent and contemptuous &c.? Were not the Non-conformists themselves looked upon as persons that would undermine and ruin the order and peace of the church; who for such trivial things would make such great rents and breaches, marring the beauty, and disturbing the unity, order, and peace of the church of England? Surely they cannot yet forget this, besides that common charge against them of contumacy against authority. These are but the old weapons of the old serpent (only a little new furbished by you for your own use), even the weapons which the bishops wrested out of the hands of the Papists, and which ye have wrested out of the hands of the bishops, and they are no better in your hands than they were in theirs. They were good in their hands, so long as they had authority to make them forcible: and they have no more virtue in your hands, than what outward authority and power add to them. England was once overflown with this flood of reproaches; but now at length (this afflicted people waiting in patience on the Lord's will) they have much vanished, the earth helping the woman: and persons generally, who are any whit sober, and come to consider things in fear and meekness, find no such matter against them: no such opinions or practices or tenets, <376> but the truths of God received and held forth in his fear; their carriage and behavior meek and humble, void of turbulency, and contempt towards any, and they freer from designs against authority and orderly government, than any sort else whatsoever. This is well known in England, and it cannot be denied by the authorities and powers thereof, how we have still been like lambs suffering from all, not contriving, or so much as desiring, the hurt of any. The Lord knows the desire of our souls to be after truth and righteousness, and our expectations for the establishing thereof to be fixed on him alone, and not on any persons whatsoever, but as he pleaseth to appear in them, and work by them; and whatsoever happens in the mean time, is received as from his hand, who ruleth on high over all: so that our spirits do not so much as rise against any authority or instruments that persecute us; but we wait on the Lord our God, to advantage his truth, and bring about good to us thereby; and we pity and pray for all who know not what they do; blessing the Lord our God, who accounteth us worthy to suffer for his name's sake, in bearing testimony at his command to any, though its should be but the least of his truths. Therefore take heed of going on in the hardness of your hearts, but know what a people (in the just judgment of God upon you) your lot hath been to persecute; whose blood will stick the closer to you, and lie so much the heavier upon you, by how much the dearer they are to God.
And though ye plead the safety of the people, as being the sovereign law; yet the Lord God knows whether ye have aimed at the safety of the people among you in uprightness of heart, or whether ye bring this in also as a further cover. There is a double safety the people may justly challenge from you. First, The safety of their consciences in a tender searching after truth, and further removing out of Babylon. Secondly, The safety of their estates, persons, and liberties, in this search. They did not fly from England to be persecuted by the prevailing part among themselves, but to enjoy freedom of conscience in inquiring after the Lord, his truth, and way of worship; and not to be tied and bound up in a form, exalted and established according to the opinions and result of the reasonings of the major part. Now whether ye have preserved these liberties for them, and <377> really sought their safety; or whether ye have persecuted, or made a prey of them for their conscience' sake (beyond whatever was done to you here in England, or beyond whatever they had been like to suffer, had they staid here in England), the Lord, in his day, will righteously judge. Ye have judged between cattle and cattle; and in that day ye will see, that as his choice have been your out-casts, so your choice is rejected by him; and that as his spirit is the abomination of your eyes, so your formal way of worship is the loathing of his soul. Oh, that ye had eyes to see it! that your hearts might not be utterly hardened against the Lord, his truths, and people, even to your utter and eternal destruction! Little do ye see, poor deceived hearts, what a narrow step there is between you and the pit.
THE AUTHORITY AND
GOVERNMENT WHICH CHRIST EXCLUDED OUT OF
HIS CHURCH, &C.
The Gentile-state was a shadow, even as the Jews' state was a shadow. The one of death, the other of life; the one of darkness, the other of light. The one was the image of Satan, the prince of wickedness; the other of Christ, the prince of <378> righteousness and peace. They were both veils, under which the two kingdoms were hid.
Now in the Gentile-state there were nations, princes, laws, governments, dominions, authorities, &c., but all in the fall, all in darkness, all in the transgression from the life. The whole state was corrupt, and there must be no imitation from hence, no likeness of any such thing in the kingdom of Christ, no such kind of law, no such kind of government, no such kind of authority, no such kind of anger with persons that transgress, no such kind of dealing with any, no such kind of detriment or hurt to any. There is nothing to hurt in the mountain of God's holiness; but there is a righteous sceptre, a sweet sceptre, a spiritual sceptre, which reacheth the spirit in the power of life, but toucheth not the outward man.
Two things are here excluded by Christ, from whence all the mischief ariseth in the church (all the tyranny and oppression of men's consciences, and of their persons, estates, and liberties, for conscience' sake): first, greatness; secondly, the exercising dominion and authority by those that would be great therein.
Such a kind of greatness as is in the world, is the destruction of the life of Christ; and such a kind of dominion and authority as is among the nations, is the direct overturning of the kingdom of Christ. It sets up another power than Christ's, another greatness than Christ's, another kind of authority than Christ's; and so it eats out the virtue and life of his kingdom, and makes it just like one of the kingdoms of this world.
"It shall not be so among you." This spirit must be kept out from among you; this aspiring spirit, this lofty, ruling spirit, which loves to be great, which loves to have dominion, which would exalt itself, because of the gift it has received, and would bring others into subjection; this spirit must be subdued among Christ's disciples, or it will ruin all. The Lord gives grace and knowledge for another end than for men to take upon them to be great, and rule over others because of it. And he that, because of this, thinks himself fit to rule over men's consciences, and to make them bow to what he knows or takes to be truth, he loseth his own life hereby; and so far as he prevails upon others, he doth but destroy their life too. For it is not so much speaking <379> true things that doth good, as speaking them from the pure, and conveying them to the pure: for the life runs along from the vessel of life in one, into the vessel of life in another; and the words, though ever so true, cannot convey life to another, but as the living vessel opens in the one, and is opened in the other.
Quest. But how shall this spirit be kept out, or kept down, that it may not hurt the disciple in whom it ariseth; or if it do, that the hurt may remain to himself, and may not prejudice the church?
Ans. When this spirit begins to arise up in any, so soon as ever he perceives it, in that which discovers it, he is to fight against it; laying himself so much the lower, by how much he finds this evil spirit raising him up. He is to hearken to that which presents the cross to it, and so to come down, and subject himself in serving and ministering to those who are little in his eyes. Instead of reigning over them, let him lie beneath them: let him watch and know the life even in the meanest, and serve it; for that is his place. That which would rule is to serve; that which would be great is to be little; and the little one is to become a nation. That which is low is to rise; and thou art not fit to rise with it, further than thou canst serve it, both in thyself and others. Therefore if ever thou beest aspiring, if ever thou have a mind to rule, if ever thou think thyself fit to teach, because of what thou hast received, sink down, lie low, take up the cross to that proud spirit, make it bend and serve, let the life in every one rise over it, and trample upon it; and afterwards that in thee may arise which is fit to teach, yea, and to rule in the Lord: and so long as that hath the dominion, thou mayst be serviceable to the Lord, and to his truth and people; but if ever the other get up again, thou must presently come down again, or the wrong spirit will get dominion over thee, which with force and cruelty will rule over the life both in thyself and others. Thus, if a man be faithful to Christ, this evil, aspiring spirit, at its first appearance, may be dealt with, and kept down; but if it be cherished, given way to, and once let up, it will be hard bringing of it down afterwards. Therefore the disciples, or the church of Christ, are to watch over every such spirit, to beat it down, to testify against it, to turn from it, to lay it flat, to put it in its proper place; that is <380> beneath all, to minister to all, and so not to suffer it to rise; see ver. 26. "Let him be your minister." This is his place, this is his work, by the authority of Christ. He that would be great, he that would rule, let him minister. Own him there; if he will lie low there, if he will be faithful there, ye may have unity with him. But in that his aspiring temper, in his ruling, in his teaching by what he hath gained, or what hath been given to him formerly (if out of the present life) he is to be denied and turned from.
If this rule of Christ's had been kept to, antichrist's power could never have got up: nor the poor innocent lambs so often have been worried by the wolves. And, poor hearts! how simply do they come thither, where they once tasted refreshment, to find wholesome advice, not suspecting what is got up there since, but give the dominion to a wrong thing, and so take directions from a wrong spirit, and betray their own simplicity.
Christ urgeth this upon his disciples from his own pattern, "even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but, &c." ver. 28. If any had right to be great, surely Christ; if any had right to exercise authority, surely Christ; if any was to be advanced because of any gift received, or because of any presence of the Spirit with him, surely Christ: yet Christ took not upon him this kind of greatness, nor did exercise this kind of authority; but he was a servant; he made use of the gift of the Spirit, of the power of life wherewith the Father filled him, to minister and serve with. He did never lord it over the consciences of any of his disciples; but did bear with them, and pity them in their infirmities. ("What! can ye not watch with me one hour? The Spirit" said he "is willing, but the flesh is weak.") He did not hold forth to them whatever he knew to be truth, requiring them to believe it; but was content with them in their state, and waited till their capacities were enlarged, being still satisfied with the honesty and integrity of their hearts in their present state of weakness. Nor did he strive to reign over the world, or call for fire from heaven, when they would not receive him, or express indignation when they desired him to depart out of their coasts, or pray for twelve legions of angels when they came to betray him, and most unrighteously sought his life; but the life he had received of his Father he gave up as a ransom for his disciples, <381> yea, and for his enemies. Mark: he did not make use of what was given to him, to raise himself up above others, to make his word to stand for a law, and be received; but he waited till that was opened in his disciples, and in the people, which was able to receive his testimony; and he made use of his power of life, and the fulness of the Spirit, to enable him the more abundantly to serve, and to wait in patience for the fulfilling of the will of the Father. And though Israel was not gathered by him, yet was he meek, and patient, and at rest in the will of him that sent him; and instead of reigning over all, could serve all, and give that life (whose due it was to reign) "a ransom for many." ver. 28.
"His kingdom was not of this world," nor did he seek any greatness or authority according to this world, neither over the Jews, nor over the Gentiles, nor over his own disciples; but he served all, he sought the good of all: the life in him, which was to reign over all, yet here served all, suffered for all, and from all, and that was his way to his crown; who having finished his course, fulfilled his service, perfected his sufferings, is set down at the right hand of the majesty on high, where now he reigns over all, and is made a king by God in righteousness. And this is the pattern which all his disciples are to walk by. The more life they receive, the more they are to minister, the more they are to serve. They must not lift up themselves by their gifts; they must not hereupon lord it over others, or hold forth their knowledge or doctrines, and think to make others bow thereto; but wait in their service, till the Lord make way into men's hearts, and plant his truth there; and upon him also must they wait for the watering and growth of it.
Quest. But is there to be no greatness, no authority among the disciples of Jesus, or in the church of Christ? Is every one to do what he will, to be subject to his own fancies and imaginations, to the inventions of his own corrupt heart? What a confused building will this be! Surely this will not long remain a Sion, but soon become a Babylon, even a heap of disorder and confusion.
Ans. There is to be no such kind of greatness, no such kind of authority; yet there is both a greatness and authority suitable to the state of disciples; suitable to that kind of kingdom whereof <382> they are. There are laws, there are governments, there are governors, there is ruling, and there is subjection: but all in the Spirit; all suitable to that which is to be governed; but no government of, or according to, the flesh. As Christ's kingdom is not of this world, so the government of his church and people is not according to this world; but as that which gathers in his Spirit, and that which is gathered, is spiritual; so that which is governed is the spirits of his people, and they are to be governed by his Spirit, and spiritually, and not after a fleshly manner.
Thus Christ himself, though he ministered to his disciples, yet he also was their Lord and Master, and in the Spirit and life of the Father ruled over them. And thus the apostles and other ministers of Christ had likewise, in the Spirit, the care of the churches, and authority in the Lord, by his Spirit, to govern the spirits of his people: not to govern after a fleshly manner, by their own wills: not to prescribe to them in a lordly way, either what they should believe or practise; but, in the light and in the power of the Spirit, to make their way into every one's conscience in the sight of God, ministering to every one in the Spirit according to their capacity and growth, and waiting patiently for God to convey the food and nourishment, and to build their spirits up in the faith thereby.
"The spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets." Here is the government, here is the law of rule and subjection in the life. Every one feeling a measure of the Spirit in himself, is thereby taught to own and be subject to a greater measure of the same Spirit in another. He that hath no measure of the spirit of God, he is not of God, he is none of Christ's: and he that hath received a measure of the Spirit, in the same Spirit feeleth another's measure, and owneth it in its place and service, and knoweth its moving, and cannot quench it, but giveth way to it with joy and delight. When the Spirit moves in any one to speak, the same Spirit moves in the other to be subject and give way: and so every one keeping to his own measure in the Spirit, here can be no disorder, but true subjection of every spirit; and where this is wanting, it cannot be supplied by any outward rule or order, set up in the church by common consent: for that is fleshly, and lets in the flesh, and destroys the true order, rule, and subjection.
<383> The apostles and ministers of Christ come from Christ with a message of life and salvation, with a testimony concerning the good-will of God, and his love to mankind; pointing out the way from death to life, from bondage to liberty, from wrath and destruction to peace and salvation. What they have seen, what they have felt, what they have tasted, what they have handled, what they have found redeem and deliver them, that they declare abroad to others, as they are moved, as they are sent, as they are guided and assisted.
Now that which they preach to is men's consciences in the sight of God. They open the truth which they know; they give their testimony in the moving, leading, and power of the Spirit, and leave it to the same Spirit to demonstrate it to men's consciences as it pleaseth. They are nothing, they can do nothing, they cannot convert any man to God; but the power that speaketh by them, the same power worketh in other men's consciences at its pleasure. And here is the beginning of the government of Christ in the heart; when his truth carries conviction with it to the conscience, and the conscience is drawn to yield itself up to him, then he lays his yoke upon it, and takes upon him the guiding of it; he cherisheth it, he cleanseth it, he comforteth it, he ordereth it at his pleasure; and he alone preserveth it pure, chaste, gentle, meek, and pliable to the impressions of his Spirit. And as the conscience is kept single and tender to Christ, so his government increases therein; but as it becomes hard, or subject to men's wills, so another spirit gets dominion over it.
Therefore the great work of the minister of Christ is to keep the conscience open to Christ, and to preserve men from receiving any truths of Christ as from them further than the Spirit opens; or to imitate any of their practices further than the Spirit leads, guides, and persuades them. For persons are exceeding prone to receive things as truths from those whom they have a high opinion of, and to imitate their practices, and so hurt their own growth, and endanger their souls. For if I receive a truth before the Lord by his Spirit make it manifest to me, I lose my guide, and follow but the counsel of the flesh, which is exceeding greedy of receiving truths, and running into religious practices, without the Spirit. Therefore the main thing in religion is to <384> keep the conscience pure to the Lord, to know the guide, to follow the guide, to receive from him the light whereby I am to walk; and not to take things for truths because others see them to be truths; but to wait till the Spirit make them manifest to me; nor to run into worships, duties, performances, or practices, because others are led thither; but to wait till the Spirit lead me thither. "He that makes haste to be rich" (even in religion, running into knowledge, and into worships and performances, before he feel a true and clear guidance) "shall not be innocent:" nor the Lord will not hold him guiltless, when he comes to visit for spiritual adultery and idolatry. The apostles were exceeding tender in this point: for though they certainly and infallibly knew what was to be believed; yet they were not lords over men's faith, but waited till he who is lord of the faith, would open the way into men's consciences. They did not take upon them to be able to turn the key, to let in truth and conviction into men's spirits (as men in these days have been too apt to undertake); but directed them to him who had the key, there to wait for the conviction and illumination of their minds, and so to receive in, as they found him give forth to them.
"Let every man," saith the apostle, "be fully persuaded in his own mind;" take heed of receiving things too soon, take heed of running into practices too soon, take heed of doing what ye see others do, but wait for your own particular guidance, and for a full persuasion from God, what is his will concerning you. Though I know this to be a truth, yet do not ye receive it, till God make it manifest to you; receive truth from his hand, stay till he give it you. Indeed the main matter in religion is to keep out the wrong part, the forward part; the bastardly birth from running into duties, catching of openings, and laying hold of promises; and to feel the heir born of the immortal seed, to whom all belongs; and that the other birth never afterwards get up above him, but be subdued and brought into subjection.
Again, saith the apostle, take heed of doing any thing "doubtingly;" be not forward, be not hasty; wait for the leading, wait for the manifestation of the Spirit. Be sure thou receive what thou receivest in faith, and practise what thou practisest in faith; for "whatsoever is not of faith is sin," being an error from <385> the principle of life, which is to guide; and thereby thou losest ground, and dishonorest Christ, and comest under condemnation.
And so the apostle warns believers, to take heed of drawing one another on too fast, or of judging one another in such things as some of them might have light in, others not. He that eateth, not to judge him that did not eat; and he that did not eat, not to judge him that did eat. Yea, in matters of worship, he that observed a day, and kept a sabbath, not to judge him that observed not a day, or kept not a sabbath; for the Jews, which were truly converted, were yet hard to be drawn off from the observation of their sabbath, and could hardly bear with the believing Gentiles, who were never taught to keep their sabbath with them, but were taught to esteem every day, and sanctify it to the Lord. Rom. 14:5. And those who esteemed every day, and dedicated it to the Lord (ceasing from sin, and resting to him: for under the gospel we are not to set up a new type, but to enter by faith into the true rest, which is the substance of what the other signified) could hardly bear with them who observed a day. Even in the apostles' days, Christians were too apt to strive after a wrong unity and uniformity in outward practices and observations, and to judge one another unrighteously in these things. And mark; it is not the different practice from one another that breaks the peace and unity, but the judging of one another because of different practices. He that keeps not a day, may unite in the same Spirit, in the same life, in the same love with him that keeps a day; and he who keeps a day, may unite in heart and soul with the same Spirit and life in him who keeps not a day; but he that judgeth the other because of either of these, errs from the Spirit, from the love, from the life, and so breaks the bond of unity. And he that draws another to any practice, before the life in his own particular lead him; doth as much as in him lies, destroy the soul of that person. ver. 15. This was the apostle's rule, for every one to perform singly to the Lord what he did, and not for one to meddle with the light of conscience of another (undervaluing his brother, or judging him because his light and practices differed from his, chap. 14:10.) but every one to keep close to their own measure of light, even to that proportion of faith and knowledge, which God of his mercy hath bestowed on them. <386> And here is the true unity in the Spirit, in the inward life, and not in an outward uniformity. That was not necessary in the apostles' days, nor is it necessary now; and that eye which so dotes on it, overlooks the one thing which is necessary. Men keeping close to God, the Lord will lead them on fast enough, and give them light fast enough; for he taketh care of such, and knoweth what light, and what practices are most proper for them; but for men to walk on faster than the Lord holds forth his light to them, this overturns them, raising up a wrong thing in them, and the true birth hereby comes to suffer, to shrink and be driven back. And oh! how sweet and pleasant is it to the truly spiritual eye, to see several sorts of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning, and loving one another in their several places, and different performances to their Master, to whom they are to give an account, and not to quarrel with one another about their different practices! Rom. 14:4. For this is the true ground of love and unity, not that such a man walks and does just as I do, but because I feel the same Spirit and life in him, and in that he walks in his rank, in his own order, in his proper way and place of subjection to that. And this is far more pleasing to me, than if he walked just in that rank wherein I walk: nay, so far as I am spiritual I cannot so much as desire that he should do so, until he be particularly led thereto, by the same Spirit which led me. And he that knows what it is to receive any truths from the Spirit, and to be led into practices by the Spirit, and how prone the fleshly part is to make haste, and how dangerous that haste is, will not be forward to press his knowledge or practices upon others, but rather wait patiently till the Lord fit them for the receiving thereof, for fear lest they should receive and practise too soon, even in that part which cannot serve the Lord. And this I can truly say concerning myself, I never found my spirit forward to draw any, either to any thing I believed to be true, or to any practice or way of worship I observed or walked in; but desired that the power and leadings of life might go before them, and was afraid lest men should receive things from my hand, and not from the Lord's. Yea, and this I very well remember, that when I walked in the way of <387> Independency (as it hath been commonly called) I had more unity with, and more love towards, such as were single-hearted in other ways and practices of worship (whose spirits I had some feeling of in the true simplicity, and in the life) than with divers of such who were very knowing and zealous in that way of Independency, in whom a wrong thing in the mean time had got up, which had caused them to swerve from the life, and from the simplicity.
So that the true church government being in the Spirit, and over the conscience as in the sight of God, the great care must be to keep it within its bounds, that nothing else govern but the Spirit, and that the government be extended only unto that which is to be governed.
First, Care must be had that nothing govern in the church of Christ, but the spirit of Christ: that nothing else teach; nothing else exhort; nothing else admonish and reprove; nothing else cut off and cast out. Every minister in the church is to watch over his own spirit, that it intrude not into the work of God, that it take not upon it to be the teacher, the exhorter, the reprover, &c. And every member is to wait in the measure of the Spirit which he hath received, to feel the goings-forth of the Spirit in him who teacheth and governeth; and so to subject not to man, but to the Lord; to receive from the Lord, to obey the Lord. Not to know any minister according to the flesh; but to receive and submit to what comes from the Spirit, in the Spirit. Not to know Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, but the Spirit ministering in them. Paul may err, Apollos may err, Peter may err (and did err, when he compelled the Gentiles to live as the Jews, Gal. 2:14. for which Paul withstood him to the face. ver. 11), and Barnabas also did err. ver. 13. But the Spirit cannot err; and he that keeps to the measure of the Spirit in himself, cannot let in any of their errors, if they should err, but is preserved. For the least measure of the Spirit is true, and gives true judgment; but he that receiveth ever so great a measure of the Spirit, yet if he keep not low therein, but lifteth up himself because thereof above his brethren, may easily err himself, and draw aside others into his error.
Secondly, Care must be had that the conscience be kept tender, that nothing be received, but according to the light in the conscience. The conscience is the seat of faith; and if it be not <388> kept close to the light which God lighteth there, faith is soon made shipwreck of. Christianity is begun in the Spirit, which keepeth out the fleshly part, with all its fleshly wisdom and reasonings about spiritual things; and as the beginning is in the anointing, so must the progress be. As the Spirit begins in the conscience, by convincing that, by persuading that, by setting up his light there, and leading the soul by that light; so that light must still be eyed, and according to its growth and manifestation in the conscience, so must the soul stand still, or go on.
The great error of the ages of the apostasy hath been, to set up an outward order and uniformity, and to make men's consciences bend thereto, either by arguments of wisdom, or by force; but the property of the true church government is, to leave the conscience to its full liberty in the Lord, to preserve it single and entire for the Lord to exercise, and to seek unity in the light and in the Spirit, walking sweetly and harmoniously together in the midst of different practices. Yea, and he that hath faith, and can see beyond another, yet can have it to himself, and not disturb his brother with it, but can descend and walk with him according to his measure; and if his brother have any heavy burthen upon him, he can lend him his shoulder, and bear part of his burthen with him. Oh! how sweet and lovely is it to see brethren dwell together in unity, to see the true image of God raised in persons, and they knowing and loving one another in that image, and bearing with one another through love, and helping one another under their temptations and distresses of spirit, which every one must expect to meet with.
If thou art a Christian indeed and in truth, preserve thy conscience pure and tender towards God; do not defile it with such religious practices, duties, ordinances, &c., as thou dost not feel the Spirit leading thee into; for all such are idols, and exceedingly pollute thee. And be tender also of thy brother's conscience, and be not an instrument to draw him into any thing which the Lord leads him not into; but rejoice if thou find him in simplicity of heart startling at any thing; for if he abide here faithful, his guide will in due season appear to him, and clear up his way before him; but if he be too hasty, he may follow a wrong guide, and that guide will never lead him aright towards <389> the kingdom, but entangle him further and further from it.
Oh! how many have run a whoring from the Lord! How many have first lost the guidance of his Spirit, and then drowned their life in religious performances! How many have drunk of the cup of fornication from the life, at the hands of the fleshly wisdom! How many have filled their spirit with New-Testament idols and images! How many have even hardened their hearts and consciences, by following the doctrines of men, their imaginary meaning of scriptures, and the imaginations and dreams of their own hearts! Is it not time for men at length to turn back towards the Lord, to wait for the visitation and light of his Spirit; from whom they have gone a whoring, and whom in all things they have grieved? And if ever any feel and enjoy the guidance of God's Spirit, their conscience must be kept tender to it, and ready to hear and follow his voice, who speaks in Spirit to that which is born of him, which infallibly knows his voice, and (being kept clear) cannot doubt concerning it. "My sheep hear my voice," saith Christ: they know it, and the voice of the strange spirit they know not so as to follow it, but turn from it, both in themselves and others. But that which is not the sheep, but hath only got the sheep's clothing, cries out, How shall we know the voice of the Spirit? We may be deceived. Nay, that which is born of God, that which is the elect of God, cannot be deceived. Wait therefore for the birth of the Spirit, to which the Spirit is given for a guide, who infallibly guides it out of deceit. All deceivers are out of this birth, out of this Spirit; perhaps in some birth or other framed from the letter, and living in the imitation of some practices and ordinances from the letter (under which cover they lie in wait to deceive), but strangers to the life and power, and to that wisdom which begets and bears to God. Thus the Jews erred, and deceived their proselytes before the coming of Christ: thus the Christians (in name) have generally erred all along the apostasy; and, indeed, for the generality, have not been true Christians, but only a persecuted remnant amongst them; whose life hath been nourished and preserved, not by doctrines and observations which they have been taught by the precepts of men, nor by the knowledge which they themselves have gathered, but by a little bread daily handed to them from the Father of <390> mercies out of the wilderness; that was the thing which nourished their souls up to God, though many of them knew not distinctly what it was that nourished them, nor how they came by it.
Object. But is not uniformity lovely; and doth not the apostle exhort Christians to be of one mind; and were it not a sweet thing if we were all of one heart and one way?
Ans. Yea, uniformity is very lovely; and to be desired and waited for, as the Spirit of the Lord, which is one, leads and draws into one. But for the fleshly part (the wise reasoning part in man) by fleshly ways and means to strive to bring about fleshly uniformity, which ensnares and overbears the tender conscience; this is not lovely, nor spiritual, nor Christian. And the apostle, who exhorts Christians to one mind, yet doth not bid them force one another into one mind, but walk together sweetly so far as they had attained; and wherein they were otherwise minded, God in his due time would reveal more to them. Philip. 3:15-16. He that hath, to him shall be given. And the intent and work of the ministry (with the several ministrations of it) is to bring into the unity, Ephes. 4:13. as persons are able to follow: and not to force all men into one practice or way; that is the way to destroy the faith, and the true unity, and at best can introduce but a fleshly appearance of unity, in such a form of worship and godliness as eats out the power. And for being of one heart and one way, blessed be the Lord, this is in measure known and witnessed. The way is one; Christ, the truth of God; and he that is in the faith, and in the obedience to that light which shines from his spirit into the heart of every believer, hath a taste of the one heart, and of the one way; and knoweth that no variety of practices, which is of God, can make a breach of the true unity. This is the one way, for every one to be subject to that light of Christ's Spirit which he hath received from Christ; and every one keeping here, there is also one part kept in the midst of all the variety, and diversity of practices. And the unity being thus kept, all will come into one outwardly also at length, as the light grows in every one, and as every one grows into the light; but this must be patiently waited for from the hand of God (who hath the right way of effecting it, and who alone can do it); and not harshly and cruelly attempted by the rough hand of man.