Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > Three Queries to the King and Parliament
Three things are supposed to be taken for granted in this QUERY.
First, That it was the hand of the Lord that did this. It is he that hath the anguish of soul, and the diseases of body, at his command; and afflicteth both men's bodies and souls at his pleasure. And he also afflicteth nations, with the powers and authorities thereof, when it seemeth good unto him. Now this is the thing which is mainly to be eyed by particular persons, and also by nations, in whatever befalleth them: to wit, the hand of the Lord in things.
Secondly, That there was a ground and cause for which the Lord did it. The Lord is tender-hearted, and loveth his creature, delighting to do it good, and doth not afflict it out of any pleasure he hath therein, but upon a kind of necessity, that he may bring down evil and bring up good in a nation. "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." It is no pleasure to the Lord to torment his creatures; but to destroy the seeds of corruption and unrighteousness, and to bring up the good seed which he hath sown in the hearts of men, this is a pleasure to him. Now as your afflictions were very great, and the alterations in this nation strange; so there was a consideration in the Lord's eye to countervail them, or they had never been.
Thirdly, that it is requisite and necessary for you, certainly and infallibly to understand the ground why the Lord did this; what his meaning was; what he was offended at, and intended to bring down; what he was pleased with, and intended to give scope to spring up and grow under this confusion; which could not under the former settlement.
The reason why this is necessary for you, is this: because unless ye certainly understand this thing, ye may err and mistake in your present course, setting up the same things now, which the heart of the Lord was then against, and endeavoring to suppress the same things, which it is the will of the Lord should grow up, and so may provoke the same hand against you again; which truly I think is not good for you to do, nor indeed can I <314> think so of you, as that ye willingly would do it. Therefore pray to the Lord for the upright balance to weigh a thing of such a nature in, and of so deep concernment to you; for if ye do run a contrary course to the mind of the Lord, and he be provoked against you, and stretch forth his mighty arm and overthrow you, it will then be too late for you to consider of these things.
The day of power and government, which the Lord had given you formerly, was manifestly by his providence come to an end; and whether ever ye should have a day more, was very doubtful. All your councils and strength availed nothing, save only to make the work more difficult, if not at length almost impossible. And now the Lord was busy in trying several sorts of these, what they would do for his name. And truly this I may say concerning them all (though I would not reproach any), that they did not answer the expectation of the Lord. But this I leave to you to consider, Whether, if they had answered the expectation of the Lord, and done what his soul delighted in, and what in part they promised, whether the Lord would have continued them in authority or no. I propose this, that ye may take notice upon what ticklish terms ye then stood, as to your future hopes, and how easily your authority and greatness might have been forever buried, and that which was lately uppermost have continued so, if it had seemed good unto the Lord; that so ye may be sensible of what the Lord hath done in relation to you, and pray that ye may walk worthy of it, making use of it in the fear of his name, who hath all still in hand, and can still do what he pleaseth in this nation. Indeed he can yet bring down whom he will, and he can yet set <315> up whom he will; and what he will do, ye know not; but in the fear of his dreadful name, and in holding your standing out of self-confidence (because of your present strength) is your safety.
Sure I am, the Lord is able to overturn you as easily as he overturned them that were in power before you. What is man to the Lord? What is his flesh to the Lord's Spirit? What great tree could stand before the late vehement wind (where the Lord gave it power); which was terrible and dreadful, tearing up by the very roots? which might be a figure and warning where the Lord gives eyes to read. After ye have done all ye can, even made laws as strong as ye can, and put them in the strictest course of execution ye can, one night from the Lord may end the controversy, and show whether we please the Lord in obeying him, or ye in making laws against us for our fidelity and obedience to him.
And as the Lord is able to overturn you, so if ye mistake your work, misinterpreting the passages of his providence, and erring in heart concerning the ground of his former displeasure; and so (through the error of judgment) set yourselves in opposition against him, replanting the plants which he will not have grow, and plucking up the plants of his planting; do you not in this case provoke the Lord, even to put forth the strength which is in him against you? We are poor worms. Alas, if ye had only us to deal with, we should be nothing in your hands! But if his strength stand behind us, we shall prove a very burdensome stone, and ye will hardly be able to remove us out of the place wherein God hath set us, and where he pleaseth to have us disposed of. And happy were it for you, if instead of persecuting us, ye yourselves were drawn to wait for the same begettings of <316> God (which we have felt) out of the earthly nature, into his life and nature, and did learn of him to govern in that; then might ye be established indeed, and be freed from the danger of those shakings and overturnings which God is hastening upon the earth.
Now because ye may be apt to think, that I write these things for my own sake, and the sakes of my friends and companions in the truth of God, that we might escape the sufferings and severity which we are like to undergo from you; and not so mainly and chiefly for your sakes, lest ye should bring the wrath of God and misery upon your souls and bodies; to prevent this mistake in you, I shall add what followeth. Indeed this is not the intent of my heart; for I have long expected, and so still expect, this cup of outward affliction and persecution from you, and my heart is quieted and satisfied therein, knowing that the Lord will bring glory to his name, and good to us out of it: but I am sure it is not good for you to afflict us for that which the Lord requireth of us, and wherein he accepteth us; and ye will find it the bitterest work ye ever went about, and in the end will wish that the Lord had rather never given you this day of prosperity, than that he should suffer you thus to make use of it. Now that ye may the more clearly see the temper of my spirit, and how my heart stands in this thing, I shall a little open unto you my faith and hope about it, in these ensuing particulars.
First, I assured in my heart and soul, that this despised people (called QUAKERS) is of the Lord's begetting in his own life and nature. Indeed, had I not seen the power of God in them, and received from the Lord an unquestionable testimony concerning them, I had never looked towards them; for they were otherwise very despisable in my eyes. And this I cannot but testify concerning them, that I have found the life of God in my owning them; and that which God hath begotten in my heart refreshed by the power of life in them; and none but the Lord knows the beauty and excellency of glory, which he hath hid under this mean appearance.
Secondly, the Lord hath hitherto preserved them against great oppositions, and is still able to preserve them. Every power hitherto hath made nothing of overrunning them; yet they have hitherto stood, by the care and tender mercy of the Lord; <317> and the several powers which have persecuted them, have fallen one after another.
Thirdly, I have had experience myself of the Lord's goodness and preservation of me, in my suffering with them for the testimony of his truth, who made my bonds pleasant to me, and my noisome prison (enough to have destroyed my weakly and tender-educated nature) a place of pleasure and delight, where I was comforted by my God night and day, and filled with prayers for his people; as also with love to, and prayers for, those who had been the means of outwardly afflicting me and others upon the Lord's account.
Fourthly, I have no doubt in my heart that the Lord will deliver us. The strength of man, the resolution of man, is nothing in my eye, in compare with the Lord. Whom the Lord loveth he can save at his pleasure. Hath he begun to break our bonds and deliver us, and shall we now distrust him? Are we in a worse condition than Israel was, when the sea was before them, the mountains on each side, and the Egyptians behind pursuing them? He indeed that looketh with man's eye, can see no ground of hope, nor hardly a possibility of deliverance; but, to the eye of faith, it is now nearer than when God began at first to deliver.
Fifthly, It is the delight of the Lord, and his glory, to deliver his people, when to the eye of sense it seemeth impossible. Then doth the Lord delight to stretch forth his arm, when none else can help; and then doth it please him to deal with the enemies of his truth and people, when they are lifted up above the fear of him, and are ready to say in their hearts concerning them, They are now in our hands; who can deliver them?
Well: were it not in love to you, and in pity (in relation to what will certainly befall you, if you go on in this course), I could say in the joy of my heart, and in the sense of the good-will of my God to us, who suffereth these things to come to pass, Go on; try it out with the Spirit of the Lord; come forth with your laws, and prisons, and spoiling of our goods, and banishment, and death (if the Lord please), and see if ye can carry it. For we come not forth against you in our own wills, or in any enmity against your persons or government, or in any <318> stubbornness or refractoriness of spirit; but with the Lamb-like nature which the Lord our God hath begotten in us, which is taught and enabled by him both to do his will, and to suffer for his name's sake. And if we cannot thus overcome you (even in patience of spirit, and in love to you), and if the Lord our God please not to appear for us, we are content to be overcome by you. So the will of the Lord be done, saith my soul.
Now the Lord seeks the souls of all lost men, to save them from the pit; but their ears are dull of hearing, their eyes veiled, their hearts grossly fatted and made insensible with the senses and delights of the earthly nature, and the voice of God (with the things that concern their eternal peace, yea, their present welfare also) cannot enter into them: and so they let slip the time of their redemption, and waste away the season of their visitation, hardly ever so much as thinking what will become of them in the end. <320> O Lord my God! awaken thy poor creatures, that they may live, and not die: rather let thy judgments break forth to awaken them, than that they should thus run on towards utter destruction, even to perish from thy life and blessedness, and to be swallowed up in the misery, torment, and wrath due to that nature which they have contracted, and wallowed like swine in. Every nature, principle, and spirit is travelling towards its end. O man! take heed what nature thou art of, in what principle and spirit thou actest, and towards what thou travellest. And remember that God loveth his creature; thy destruction is not of him, if thou perish; but in him is thy help, if thou hearken to his voice, and turn at the reproofs of that which he hath placed near thee, even in thy heart, to reprove sin in thee, and to beget thee into the love and holiness of his life and nature, leavening thee into a new man, as thou becomest subject to the checks and leadings thereof. This is pleasing to the Lord; that which proceeds from this, and is performed in this, is the true worship, and not that which man hath invented, and with which the earthly nature is quieted and satisfied, but the power of life turns from.
It is the great mercy of the Lord to stop any man in the way of his error, and happy is he that is stopped by him.