Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > Isaac Penington to Colonel Kenrick (1672)
THE gospel dispensation consists in Spirit and power. The kingdom which Christ and his apostles preached -- which the true believers were to receive, and to wait for an entrance to be ministered to them into -- stood not in word, but in power. Now there are four sorts of professors of the Christian religion in this our day, one sort whereof only, are acquainted with the gospel dispensation.
First, There is one sort, which have been nurtured in a profession of Christianity by education, and have improved it by study, but have never known the power, virtue, and inward life thereof; but as men, with the man's part, wisdom, understanding, and seriousness of mind, have considered of the truth and weight of things contained in the Scriptures, and so have received somewhat of the holy doctrine into their natural understanding, and given themselves up to the observation and practice thereof, according as they have apprehended and understood <499> things. These have become more serious and excellent men than others, but fall very far short of the nature and state of Christianity; yea, the strictest among these, many times, become the greatest opposers and persecutors of true Christianity.
Secondly, There are some who have had a taste of the true power, and have had living desires and breathings after it, and a sense of the preciousness and excellency of it; who have also felt the quickening Spirit, and begun therein; and yet have afterwards lost that sense, and centred in a literal knowledge and wisdom about those very things, which they had once some living experience of. These are like salt which hath lost its savor; and it is hard for them ever to be seasoned again; and from among these do rise the greatest persecutors and bitterest persecution against the life, truth, and power.
Thirdly, There are some, who, though they never came to the distinct knowledge of the power, yet have had a great sense of their want of it, and have abode in that sense; and in all the ways and forms of religion they have been or are in, still seek after it; and reckon no form any thing, but as the power in some measure appears in it; and the cry of their souls is daily after it, and their waiting is for it. These, wherever they are, are of the true seed; these are the birth of the heavenly Spirit and wisdom; these are sheep of the true Shepherd's fold, though not yet gathered home to the fold to which they properly belong. These are the broken, the bruised, the sick, the wounded, the captives, the distressed, the poor, the naked, &c., to whom the gospel of peace, the gathering, the salvation, and redemption belongs. And the bleating of these is known; yea, their longing and cry after the redeeming and gathering power of the Shepherd is felt, however they may be, at present, prejudiced against that very dispensation of truth, life, and power, whereby the Shepherd gathers.
Fourthly, There are some whom God hath brought to the distinct sense and knowledge of the power. There are some whose minds God hath turned to the inward light and power. There are some whom the Shepherd hath gathered home to the Father's house, where is bread enough, and to the true fold, where is rest and peace enough -- some who have seen an end of all perfection, in the legal comprehendings and creaturely strivings after life, <500> righteousness, and holiness, and are come to the commandment which is exceeding broad, and wherein is life everlasting. Now these experience somewhat of the gospel dispensation, and know the difference between being under the law and under grace; and can tell what the kingdom is which Christ preached and bade men seek, and what the gospel is which the poor in spirit receive; and what the healing is which drops from under the wing of the Saviour and Redeemer. And they can tell what justification is, and what sanctification, regeneration, and redemption is; and can distinguish between truth as testified in the letter, and as it is in Jesus; between the law of the letter, and the law of the Spirit, which is written in the new heart and mind, by the finger of God's pure and living power. Now the knowledge of these, the faith of these, the peace, the joy, the justification, and sanctification, and redemption of these, differs greatly from all the former; from the two first sorts in nature and kind, from the latter in degree, clearness, and purity. For though all the sheep of the true Shepherd have somewhat of the true knowledge, somewhat of the true faith, somewhat of the true justification, somewhat of the true sanctification, and may at times have some taste of true peace and joy, and have true breathings and supplications in their spirits towards their Father that begat them; yet, they are not clear, they are not pure, they are not unmixed; there is a great deal which is not true, which passeth for true with them; because they are not come to the anointing, to the eye-salve which opens the eye, nor to the Spirit of judgment and burning, which separates inwardly in the heart, understanding, mind, and judgment, between the precious and the vile. So that when they speak of the heavenly things, they do but stutter and stammer; and though truth can sometimes own their sense, yet, many times, not their words; there is such a mixture of the dark, earthly comprehension in them, which they are not delivered and redeemed from. But it is otherwise with those who are turned to the light and power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and have known it, and been exercised, fanned, and purged by it; for in them, the blind eye is opened, the deaf ear unstopped; and to them, the pure understanding and language is given, whereby they know and understand, not only words concerning Him, but Him himself who is true, and are in him that is true, <501> even in Him who is the very God and life eternal.
Yet there are different states among those who are thus effectually called and gathered home, according to their growth in the truth, and faithfulness to it. For if there be not a great care and watchfulness, there may be a neglecting to hear the voice of the Shepherd, and to walk with him; and then, such miss of the pastures of life, and of the pure rest, joy, and peace, which he administers to others; and of the garment or covering of the Spirit, which they who live and walk in the Spirit (in every thing giving up to the Spirit, and denying all the lusts and fruits of the flesh), daily find themselves covered with. Nor doth God so "dwell in them and walk in them," as he doth in those that remain separate from all evil (from which the Spirit of judgment and burning purifies and separates), and touch no unclean thing. Yea, they who grieve Christ's Spirit, and do not heed his call and knocks, he doth not so sup with them, nor they with him; nor do such partake so of the river of life and wine of the kingdom, as those whose ear is open to him, and who are always ready to obey and follow him "whithersoever he goeth."
19th of Fourth Month, 1673