Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > Isaac Penington to Catherine Pordage (1671)




It is true, the way to life is so difficult and intricate, that none can find it, but such as are lighted by the Lord, and follow the guidance of his Spirit.

Christ, who preached the kingdom, and bid men seek it, yet said, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." In a race many run, but one obtaineth the prize. Canst thou read what Christ said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you"? that seemed a hard saying to some of his own disciples, many of whom left him. And truly, friend, as it is not an easy thing to come into the way, so neither is it an easy thing to abide in the way; for many are the by-paths, many and great the temptations, both on the right hand and on the left. The way was always the same, full as difficult and hard formerly as now; but the states and conditions of some make it harder to them than it is to others; yea, it is easier now than it hath been in many foregoing generations, being prepared and cast up by the Lord.

It is sad indeed that any should be convinced of truth, and not come into subjection to it; yet it is very easy and common. For men cannot withstand conviction, when it comes in power; but they may deny obedience to that which they are convinced of; nay, some in the apostles' day went further, even to taste of the heavenly gift, and powers of the world to come, and to partake of <482> the Holy Ghost, and yet fall away. Was not this very sad? and yet this was no well-grounded objection against the truth and way of God then. Indeed, I make little of the illumination of the understanding, without subjection to him that illuminateth, in those things wherein he illuminateth. But that is a great mistake, to suppose I did condemn any waiting or praying, that is according to a true illumination and leading of God's Spirit; for the true light and Spirit are not separated; but the exceptions I have against the prayers of professors is, that they are so much out of the true illumination, in a light of their own apprehending, forming, and conceiving. Now these are but the limits of the fleshly birth, out of which comes nothing that is pleasing to the Father.

Did I, or any of us, ever affirm, that the forbearance of the means was the way to attain the end? But the setting up or using a false means is not the way to attain the true end. "So run," said the apostle, "that ye may obtain." Did he not forbid all running, but the right running? The praying of the fleshly birth, or in the will, and according to the wisdom of the flesh, is not the means or way to obtain the everlasting kingdom; but the prayers of the true birth are. And if I should say thus again and again to thee, So pray, as that thou mayest obtain what thou prayest for, I should not be thine enemy therein; for it is easy asking amiss, not so easy to ask aright. Prayer is a gift; and he that receiveth it, must first come to the sense of his own inability, and so wait to receive; and perhaps begin but with a groan or sigh from the true Spirit, and thus grow in ability from the same Spirit, denying the ability which is after the flesh: this latter abounds in many, who mistake and err in judgment, not waiting on the Lord, to be enabled by him rightly to judge and distinguish between flesh and spirit, but are many times willingly ignorant in this particular, it will cost so dear to come to a true understanding therein.

Hath not all flesh had some manifestation of God's Spirit allotted it? was not that which might be known of God manifest in the Gentiles? and ought not all flesh, in that, to call upon the Lord, as the true sense is given them therefrom? But because of this, might the heathen pray according to their own imagination? Is there not a rule of prayer? Is not God's light, God's gift, God's Spirit, the rule to all? Is any prayer required or accepted <483> out of this? Indeed, he that hath the sense of being but a dog, as I may say, and not worthy to be counted a child, yet may pray for crumbs, and be heard, and receive them. But what are prayers, out of the light and life of God's Spirit? are they not prayers of the fleshly birth, fleshly will, fleshly wisdom? can they that are in the flesh, or pray in the flesh, please God? Oh, forsake thy own wisdom, reasonings, will, and desires! that thou mayst come to true understanding in this particular.

As to stirring up the gift, 2 Tim. 1:6. Paul knew to whom he wrote: Timothy had a great understanding, and both knew the gift, and how to stir it up; but he that hath not a true understanding, may stir up somewhat else, instead of stirring up the gift, and so kindle a fire of his own, and offer up his own sacrifice, with his own fire, neither of which are acceptable to the Lord.

The troubled soul is not only to go to the Lord, but it must be taught by him, how to go to Him. The Lord is the Teacher; and this is a great lesson, which the soul cannot learn of itself, but as it is taught by him. Men abound in their several ways in religion, in that which God is arising to scatter and confound; so that it is not the great and main work to be found doing, but to be found doing aright, from the true teachings, and from the right Spirit.

In the time of great trouble, there may be life stirring underneath, and a true and tender sense, and pure desires, in which there may be a drawing nigh and breathing of heart to the Lord; but, in the time of trouble and great darkness, may not a man easily desire amiss, and pray amiss, if he have not his Guide? A little praying from God's Spirit, and in that which is true and pure, is better than thousands of vehement desires in one's own will, and after the flesh. For as long as a man prayeth thus, that which should die in him, lives in his very prayers; and how shall it ever be destroyed, if it get food and gain strength there? But life and virtue may be felt, and that which troubleth be near too, and greatly troubling. Did Christ feel neither life nor virtue, in the time of his great trouble?

We neither lay weight on outward things, as considered in themselves, nor take off from the inward. Ah! consider what spirit this charge comes from; and if thou discern it, take heed of joining to it, and bringing forth the fruits of it any more. What <484> if God hath chosen weak and foolish things to the eye of man's wisdom, now, as formerly? Do we, in so testifying, lay any more weight thereupon, than God layeth? And what if God hath thrown by all preachings, prayings, singings (yea inward), which are not in his Spirit, but from the transforming spirit and birth. Do we herein debase, or testify against, any thing that is inwardly of God? The outward which is right in God's sight, must come from the inward, but not from the inward will or wisdom of the flesh, but from the inward light and Spirit of God; but it is a great matter to receive singly and go along with the inward light, and avoid the inward, deceitful appearance of things.

There is one thing hath been with me all along still, throughout thy letter, even a cry to thee for obedience, obedience to the Spirit and power of the Lord; and to consider, whether disobedience hath not drawn this darkness and power of the enemy upon thee. It is not thy proper work, to look out at the way, or think it hard (for it is not so to the true seed), but to be travelling in faithfulness, as thou art drawn and led; and this will save thee much sorrow.

As for Christ being a mediator and Reconciler, it is by his death and life; both of which are partaken of, in the light which comes from him, even in the grace and truth which he dispenseth. For as God wrought all in him by the fulness which he bestowed on him, so he works all in his by a measure of the same Spirit, life, and power. But why dost thou so desire to be able to comprehend and reason about these things? -- that is not thy present work, but to feel after and be joined to that, whereby Christ reneweth and changeth the mind, and wherein he gives the knowledge of his good and acceptable, and perfect will. Take heed of being exalted above measure, or desiring to know the things of the kingdom after the flesh; for it is better to lie low, and as a child to enter the kingdom, and to receive the knowledge of the things of God there, than to be feeding that knowing mind, which is to be kept out and famished.

Ah! watch, that thou mayst not lose thy Leader, and meet with the deceiver, instead of Him that is true; and so go back from light, life, truth, and power, instead of going forward toward them. Indeed, this letter of thine makes me afraid, as <485> Paul speaketh to the Galatians, lest I have bestowed labor on thee in vain; for there seems to me to be in thee, a strengthening of thy mind towards returning back to that, from which the Lord in his mercy hath been redeeming and gathering thee. If thou feel the right seed, and come to be of the right seed, the way of the seed will not be too hard for thee; otherwise it will.

This is to thee, in love and grief, from thy soul's true friend,

I. P.

21st of Sixth Month, 1671