Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > The Way of Life and Death Made Manifest
MY soul hath still in remembrance the grievous shakings and rendings that have been in this nation, which entered deep into the bowels of it, and made every heart ache, and every mind astonished. This nation was settled in religion and outward peace, in such a way as was pleasing to most; but yet there was a spirit within, which had been long groaning under oppression, whose sighs and cries entered into the ears of the Lord: and he rose up in his fury and jealousy, and rent the heavens, and rent the earth; so breaking the very foundation of both, that men generally were amazed, and wondered what would become of all. The former religion was almost buried in confusion, and in danger of being utterly lost. A long-spun, corroding war were we entangled in, which administered no hopes nor likelihood of peace. -- The hand of the Lord reached through all these dominions; magistracy, ministry, the common people, the people of God (both such as were accounted so, and such as <15> were indeed so), the line of confusion was stretched over them all; they did all reel and totter like a drunken man, as if they had been so to fall as to rise up no more.
But behold how suddenly and unexpectedly was there a settlement of all again! the nation settled in peace, magistracy settled, ministry settled, the common people settled, and those which were shaken in their spirits got into their several ways in religion, and settled again. Thus there was a general healing of all again, save only of a few, whose spirits God had so reached, that their wound was incurable; and unless somewhat of God had been brought forth, which the world cannot know (nay, the religious spirit of man, which is below, can no more reach it than the common spirit of the world), they had remained miserable, lost, scattered, and confounded to this day. But the Lord hath in infinite mercy visited them in the season of distress: and there hath a little foolish thing broke forth (at which all the wise and religious in the spirit of this world cannot but stumble), which hath administered relief, and discovered the foundation whereon they also can settle. So that now there is, as it were, a universal settlement, as every creature is gathered into the centre which is proper and suitable to its spirit to bottom on.
Now this I have to say to all; Let every one look to his foundation; for the Lord can arise again; yea, and will arise again, and shake once more; and then the heavens and the earth, which have not a true foundation, cannot but fall. If the earth be not founded upon and settled in righteousness, its present establishment will not stand. If the heavens be not founded upon and settled in truth, they will melt and pass away before the fire of the Lord. There is a spirit that mourneth deeply to the Lord, groaning inwardly, and his ears are open to it, and he will plead the cause of his seed; and the churches and religions wherein the seed of the serpent can live and flourish, shall wither and come to an end. Dust is already become the serpent's food. The spirit of man, in all his exercises of religion, knoweth not the bread of life; but the dead feed upon the dead, and the dead spirit of man loves to have it so. But this cannot continue; for the Lord hath been at work all this while; and when he brings forth the people which he hath been forming, and their religion, the <16> religion of man will appear what it is; and shame and sorrow will be the portion of all who have pleased themselves therein, and trifled away the day of their visitation.
Be wise now, therefore, O ye wise ones! be religious, O ye religious ones! open the eye and ear that have been shut; shut the eye and ear that have been open: stumble no longer, lest ye fall and rise no more. I know ye cannot see; for the wrong eye is open, and the Lord hath designed to hide his wisdom from that eye. If it be possible for you, become poor in spirit; lest ye at last prove to be the rich whom the Lord will send empty away. Sell all apace, that ye may have wherewith to buy the pearl. Ye have not known the appearance of the Lord; but in your wisdom have disdained it, and he hath disdained to make use of you in this great work; but it hath been pleasant to him to lay stumbling-blocks before you, that ye might fall and be broken. The children, the fools, the blind, can see the way, and enter into life; but ye that are men, that are wise, that have both your eyes, that can judge in religion, and determine what is orthodox, and what erroneous, ye cannot.
Oh hear, that your souls may live! Ye know not how short your time is; the day of your visitation passeth away faster than you are aware. The cry hath long gone forth, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, and his spouse hath been preparing for his bed! Ye must off with your old garments, and have the new on. Ye must have the true oil in your lamps, or the door of the kingdom will be shut upon you, and there will be no entrance for you. In plain terms, you must part with all your religion which you have gathered in your own wisdom, which hath grown up in the apostasy, and which only can make a fair show in the dark; but can not endure the searching light of the day of the Lord; and ye must purchase the true religion, the true righteousness, the true innocency and purity of Christ. The old must be done away, truly done away, and the new come in the place. So that flesh and self may be quite destroyed, and nothing but Christ found in you, and you found no where but in Christ, if you enter into his kingdom; for no unclean thing can enter. Therefore put away pride and passion and enmity and fleshly reasonings, and seek out that which is pure, and enter into it, and take up the cross <17> against all that is contrary, that so you may be wrought into it, and found in it. And turn from all imaginings and conceivings about the meanings of scriptures in the uncertain and erring mind, and come to that which is infallible. And know the silencing of the fleshly part, that the spiritual part may grow in the wisdom, that so ye may learn in the spirit, and know the word of God, and be able to speak it.
My bowels are towards you, and in bowels hath this been written, not to anger or shame you, but to provoke you to jealousy against that dark and evil spirit, which leads you to destruction under the guise and appearance of a light and good spirit. Nor is it to glory over you; for my soul lieth down in shame and sorrow before the Lord, and the reproach of mine own apostasy, and seeking relief from the world (turning from the Lord, who had wounded me, to earthly vanities for ease), will not easily be recovered.
The Lord hath been kind to me in breaking of me in my
religion, and in visiting me with sweet and precious light from his
own spirit; but I knew it not. I felt, and could not but
acknowledge, a power upon me, and might have known what it was
by its purifying of my heart, and begetting me into the image of
God; but I confined it to appear in a way of demonstration to my
reason and earthly wisdom, and for want of satisfaction therein,
denied and rebelled against it; and so, after all my former misery,
lost my entrance, and sowed seeds of new misery and sorrow to my
own soul, which since I have reaped. So that I have no cause to
boast over others; but to lie low in abasement of spirit. And what
I write is not in any dominion and authority of mine own; but to
bring others into that dominion and authority which it is good for
me, and for every one else, to be subject to. The Lord strip us of
our own understanding, and of that righteousness which is but ours
(though we have called it his), that so we may be gathered into,
and receive his understanding, and be clothed with his
righteousness, and feel his rest and peace! And happy is he that
loseth all to gain this; but he that keepeth what he hath too long,
shall in the end lose all, and yet not gain this either; therefore
be no longer wise in the eye of flesh, or according to what man
calleth wisdom; but be TRULY wise.
Concerning the Apostasy
from the Christian Spirit and Life
THAT the apostles and Christians in their days had the true spirit, the true light, and true life, I think will not be denied. "We know that we are of God, and that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." 1 John 5:19-20. They were truly born of God, and knew the Son of God come, receiving from him a true understanding, and the true light and knowledge in that understanding; and both the understanding and knowledge were rooted and seated in him that is true, where their situation and abiding were "(we are in him that is true)," where they met with the true Spirit, the true God, the true life, even life eternal. That they had the true Spirit from God, "(because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts." Gal. 4:6) that they had the true light from God, "(God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts," &c. 2 Cor. 4:6) that they had the true life from and in the spirit, "(if we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit." Gal. 5:25) is generally acknowledged concerning them.
Now of an apostasy from this, beginning even in their days, and to be completed not long after, the Scriptures also make mention. The Apostle Paul speaks expressly of the thing, that there must come "a falling away," and a revealing of "the man of sin, the son of perdition." 2 Thess. 2:3. Christ, the man of salvation, had showed and declared the path of life; had discovered the true church, which was "the pillar and ground of truth," against which the gates of hell could not prevail; had sent the true spirit, which could "lead into all truth," and preserve in the truth: but there must spring up a "man of sin, a son of perdition," who, in a <19> mystery, should work against this, and cause a falling from this to another thing. And this the apostle did not only give a touch of here in writing, but he had likewise told them of these things by word of mouth, to which he refers them, verse 5. This were enough to an eye opened; but for further illustration to the thick understanding of man, which is surrounded with fogs and mists of darkness, some more evidences of scriptures may be given.
Christ foretold of false prophets, Mat. 7:15. "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." The Lord sent true prophets under the law, and gave them true visions to declare; Christ sent true apostles and ministers under the gospel, and gave them the truth which they should preach and propagate; but then there were false prophets, false apostles, and ministers to come after, who were never sent by Christ, nor ever received the truth from his spirit. Now these do not come to gather into the life and truth of Christ, but to scatter from it; and so either to begin or uphold an apostasy. And, saith Christ, beware of them; for they come very subtilly; they come in sheep's clothing: they get the garment of the sheep upon their backs, even that very garment which the sheep did wear; but they have not the nature of the sheep, but the nature of the wolf, which is ravenous after the life of the sheep. Mark: where there is the garment without, but not the nature within; where there is the form of godliness, but not the power; where there are scripture words and practices, but not the spirit of life from which they came; there is the false prophet! there is the wolf! there is the apostate! there is the seducer from Christ!
Again, Christ foretells of many false prophets, Mat. 24:11. "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." And verse 24, "For there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect."
And as Christ himself, so his apostles also after him, by the same spirit, foretell of the same thing.
The Apostle Paul speaks of seducing spirits in the latter times, and of doctrines of devils, which should prevail to cause a departure in some from the faith. 1 Tim. 4:1. -- And if, in those days, the power of seducers was so great as to draw from <20> the truth, which was then so manifest and living, how easy it would be to keep from the truth afterwards, when it had been long lost, and out of remembrance, and thereby deceit got into the place and name of it.
The Apostle Peter also foretold of "false teachers," who should "privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them:" and that they should so prevail, that their "pernicious ways" should be followed by many, and "the way of truth evil spoken of." 2 Pet. 2:1-2.
Again, Paul, in his 2nd Epistle to Timothy, speaks of the last days, that the times therein should be "perilous;" chap. 3. Christ had said, "The love of many should wax cold, and iniquity abound.' Mat. 24:12. And Paul shows how the times would prove very perilous, by the abounding of iniquity. "In the last days perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their ownselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." 2 Tim. 3:1-4. Behold what kind of fruit sprung up from the false doctrine of the false teachers in the apostasy from the truth. And yet all this under a form of godliness; "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." verse 5. Christ sent the power of godliness into the world, to subdue the root from whence all this springs; to kill the evil nature inwardly: but in the apostasy the evil nature is not killed, but the power denied which should kill it, and the form kept up to cover the evil nature with: the inwardly ravening nature, which devours and destroys the stirrings and shootings-forth of the just-one in the heart, that gets the sheep's clothing, the form of godliness, to cover itself with. Look anywhere among the apostates from the apostles' spirit and doctrine, and see; Is self-love killed? is covetousness killed? are boasting and pride killed? is the love of pleasures killed? are persecutors and oppressors killed? and are your honor and glory laid in the dust? Nay: they are but covered with the form; their life is still in them; the power wherewith they should be killed was at first denied, and now is lost and not known. Where there is the life, there is the <21> power; and where there is the power, the evil nature is killed. But where the evil nature is not killed, there is only a form of godliness, a covering, a painted sepulchre, but rottenness within.
Now those last days and last times were not far off, but began then: for the apostle exhorts Timothy to turn away from such, verse 5. "From such turn away:" intimating, that even then there were such to be turned away from. -- And he saith, verse 8, that they did then resist the truth, like Jannes and Jambres; who with a likeness of what Moses wrought, but without life, did strive to resist the life and power that was in Moses. And this is the work of all deceivers, to get their own spirit into the likeness, and then to make use of the likeness to oppose and suppress the true life and power. So that they were come even then, when the apostle wrote this epistle to Timothy.
And Jude saith, that "ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ," were "crept in" already. verse 4 of his epistle.
And the Apostle John speaks very expressly, 1 John 2:18-19. "Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us," &c. Christ, instructing his disciples concerning the last times, tells them there shall arise false Christs, with great power of deceit. Mat. 24:24. Now, saith John here, there are come "many antichrists, whereby we know it is the last time." Mark: there were many antichrists to begin and lay the foundation of the apostasy, and make way for the great antichrist, who was to be their successor in the apostasy, and not the successor of the apostles in the truth: and these did not abide in the doctrines of the apostles, who preached "the everlasting gospel," nor in the spirit and principle which they were in; but "went out" from them, from their spirit (from the anointing to which they kept, and by which they were kept) into another spirit, and preached another gospel; a gospel which was not the power of God to kill the earthly, but consisted in such a dead, literal knowledge of things as the earthly might be fed and kept alive by. And as the great antichrist was to come, so these antichrists who were to make way for him were already come, and were already laying <22> the foundation of, and beginning the apostasy. So that the spirit of antichrist (that very spirit wherein antichrist succeeded, and in which he grew up, and perfected the apostasy) was then in the world, as this apostle saith yet more manifestly, 1 John 4:3. "This is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world."
Nor was it idle, but it was at work, working itself into the form of godliness, that it might eat out the power, drive out the true spirit, and make a prey of the life. "The mystery of iniquity," saith the Apostle Paul, "doth already work." 2 Thess. 2:7. This spirit did work in a mystery of iniquity to eat out the mystery of godliness, and to set up this mystery of iniquity in the world, instead of the mystery of godliness. And it did prevail to wind itself in the form, and get possession of the form, and also to trample upon and keep under the life. It gained the "outward court" (for when that spirit had corrupted it, the Lord did not regard it, but gave it up to it), and it trod down the "holy city." Rev. 11:2. And this mystery of iniquity did not begin to work many ages after the apostles; but even then, in their days, already: "the mystery of iniquity doth already work."
And look now into the estate of the churches then, according to what the Scripture records of them, and the symptoms of its working will plainly appear. The church of Ephesus (among whom some of the grievous wolves had entered, Acts 20:29) had left their first love. Rev. 2:4. The churches of Galatia were bewitched from the gospel. Gal. 3:1. The church at Coloss was entangled, and made subject to the rudiments of the world, and ordinances (which perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men. Col. 2:20,22. Mark: when once one comes to be subject to the commandments and doctrines of men, to perishing ordinances, and worldly rudiments, which men teach and command, the true state is lost, and the apostasy is entered into. Here the wrong teacher is teaching, and he teacheth the wrong thing, the wrong doctrines, the wrong commandments; and the wrong ear is hearing, which hears the wrong voice, and knoweth not the true; and so the more it heareth and practiseth, and the hotter its zeal groweth, the deeper it still runs into the apostasy. The church at Corinth also was haunted with false apostles, 2 <23> Cor. 11:12-13. insomuch that the apostle was afraid lest that church should be corrupted by them. verse 3. The church in Pergamus had them that held the doctrine of Balaam. Rev. 2:14. The church in Thyatira suffered the woman Jezebel, which called herself a prophetess, to seduce and bring forth children in the apostasy. Rev. 2:20,23. The church in Sardis had a name to live, but was dead; Rev. 3:1. having defiled her garments. verse 4. The church in Laodicea looked upon herself as rich, and increased with goods, and as having need of nothing; but was wretched, miserable, poor, blind (so then the eye was put out), and naked, wanting the gold, wanting the raiment, wanting the eye-salve. Rev. 3:17-18. And lastly, all the Gentiles were warned by Paul, in his epistle to the church at Rome (whereby that church might look upon herself as more particularly concerned therein), to look to their standing; lest they, falling from the faith, from the truth, from the life, into the apostasy (as the Jews had done), might also feel the severity of God, as the Jews had. chap. 11:20-22.
Thus it is evident that the apostasy had got footing, and begun to spread in the apostles' days: and the Apostle John, in the spirit, beholding the future state of things, sees it over-spread and over-run all: "all nations drunk with the cup of fornication." Rev. 18:3. The way of truth had been evil spoken of long before, 2 Pet. 2:2 and the Rock of Ages, which alone can establish in the truth, had been forsaken, and all became as a sea; and up gets the beast (which could not rise while the power of truth stood), and the woman upon the beast, with the cup of deceit and error from the life, in her hand; and this she gives all the nations to drink, and they drink, and are drunk with it. So that all nations have been intoxicated with the doctrines and practices of the apostasy. They have taken that for truth which the whore told them was truth, and they have observed those things as the commands of God which the whore told them were the commands of God. And by this means they have never come to be married to Christ, to be in union with him, to receive the law of life from his spirit, and to know the liberty from the bondage of corruption; but have been in the bed of fornication with the whore, and have pleased, glutted, and satisfied the whorish principle in themselves with this fornication. And thus corruption did overspread <24> all the earth; for taking in a corrupt thing instead of the truth, it cannot purify the heart, but corrupt it more. A corrupt profession, corrupt doctrines, may paint, and make a man to himself seem changed; but the corruption still lodges within, which a spiritual eye can easily discern, though he that is in the corruption cannot. The Pharisees seemed glorious to themselves; but Christ saw through them. And every sort of people now, in their several strains and forms of apostasy, seem glorious to themselves; but the spirit of Christ sees through them all, to that which lies underneath (in whom it reigns), and there it finds corruption increased and strengthened in its nature by the form, though outwardly painted with it. Doth not fornication defile and corrupt? so doth the fornication of the whorish spirit: "the earth was corrupted with it." Rev. 19:2. So that this hath been the universal state of Christendom since the apostasy; the error, the deceit, the fornication of the whore, have corrupted them, and with-held their eyes from the sight of that life and truth which hath power in it to purify them. People, multitudes, nations, tongues, have been all waters: weak, unstable, without any foundation in religion, but fit to be swayed and tossed up and down with every wind or breath of the whore, of whose cup they had all drunk, and by whose spirit they were all guided; for "the whore sat upon them." Rev. 17:15. The whore, which had whored from God, and so was not the true church, "sat upon people, multitudes, nations, and tongues." She sat upon them; she had them under her; she ruled and guided them by her cup of fornication, and with her spirit of fornication, as a man would guide the beast whereupon he rides. So that all that the nations do from henceforth in religion, is under the whore, according to her guidance, by virtue of the wine that they have drunk out of her cup.
And though God reserved to himself a remnant to worship him, and give some testimony to his truth all this time; yet the "beast" (which was managed by the whore) had power over them: power to make war with them; power to overcome them. Rev. 13:7. The "beast" had power over all "kindreds, tongues, and nations" everywhere; to overcome the "saints," and suppress the truth they at any time were moved to give testimony to; and to set up the worship of the "beast," and make all the earth fall <25> down before that. Rev. 13:7-8. And the second "beast" had, and exercised, all the power of the first "beast," and set up his image, and gave it life, and caused men generally to worship it. Rev. 13:12. "And he caused all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive his mark" some way or other, either in their right hand, or in their forehead. verse 16. And such as would not receive his mark, nor worship him, he had power to persecute and kill; and he did kill them. verse 15. And the whore drank their blood. chap. 17:6. And God required it at her hand. chap. 19:2. Though she made the hand of the beast execute it, and would seem to wash her own hands of it.
So that now, since the days of the apostles, even all this time of the apostasy, since the man-child hath been caught up to God, and was not to be found in the earth (which makes it seem such a strange thing for people to say Christ is in them), and the woman hath been in the wilderness, and not in the habitable part of the world, Rev. 12:5-6. if all this time any one will look for the true religion, for the true church, for the true knowledge and worship of God, he must not look on any nation, or any people, or among the tongues, which are cried up in nations and people for the original, and as the chief interpreters of the original; for they are all drunk with the whore's cup: they are under the power, dominion, authority, and service of the "whore," who rides upon the "beast" to whom "power was given over all kindreds, tongues, and nations." But look among the nations who were persecuted, whose blood was drunk, whom the powers of the nations made war against; there alone the testimony of Jesus is to be found. Rev. 12:17. There alone are the witnesses against the present idolatry and corruption, and to some truths or other of Christ, which God enlightened them with, and whereto he stirred them up to give their testimony, though with the loss of their estates, liberties, or lives.
Now, by what hath been expressed, is it not manifest to every eye that hath room but to let in the letter of the scripture, in simplicity and plainness, that there hath been a great apostasy from the true knowledge of Christ, and a universal corruption and power of death sprung up, instead of the power of his life and grace? "The grace of God, which bringeth salvation," hath disappeared; <26> and "the abomination of desolation" hath taken up its place, and filled it with deadly venom against the truth, and against the life: so that enmity against God, under a pretence of love and zeal to him, hath reigned generally in the hearts of men, from the times of the apostles to this present day. And as the light breaks forth, and their eyes come to be opened, they will see that they have been and are haters of God, and of his life and spirit; but lovers of the world, and of such a religion as suits the worldly spirit.
This must needs be; for if there was an apostasy from the thing, there could not be a retaining of the thing about which the apostasy was. If they apostatized from the spirit, from the light, from the life; then they were gone from it -- they lost it.
Now it may be instanced in every particular how the state of Christianity was lost: but that would be too vast and tedious: it may suffice, therefore, to instance in some considerable ones, which may lead into the discovery of the rest.
What is a Christian's rule, whereby he is to steer and order his course?
A Christian is to be a follower of Christ, and consequently must have the same rule to walk by as Christ had. A Christian proceeds from Christ, hath the same life in him, and needs the same rule. Christ had the fulness of life, and of his fulness we all receive a measure of the same life. "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." Ephes. 5:30. Yea, we came out of the same spring of life from whence he came: "For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." Heb. 2:11. Now what was his rule? Was it not the fulness of life which he received? And what is their rule? Is it not the measure of life which they receive? Was not Christ's rule the law <27> of the spirit; the law which the spirit wrote in his heart? And is not their rule the law of the spirit; the law which the spirit writes in their hearts? How was Christ made a king and a priest? Was it by the law of a carnal commandment? or by the power of an endless life? And how are they made kings and priests to God? Rev. 1:6. Is it by the law of a carnal commandment? or is it by the power of the same endless life? "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God," saith Christ, "when he cometh into the world." Heb. 10:5,7. But by what rule? By what law? "Thy law is within my heart." Psalm 40:8. And the same spirit who wrote it there, is also to write the new covenant, with all the laws of it, in the heart of every Christian, from the least to the greatest. Heb. 8:9 10. Yea, the same spirit that dwelt in Christ's heart, is to dwell in their hearts, according to the promise of the covenant. Ezek. 36:27. This was Paul's rule, after which he walked, "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus." Rom. 8:1-2. This made him "free from the law of sin and death." Where is the law of sin written? Where is the law of death written? Is it not written in the heart? And must not the law of righteousness and life be written there also, if it be able to deal with sin and death? The spirit forms the heart anew, forms Christ in the heart, begets a new creature there, which cannot sin "(He that is born of God sins not)." And this is the rule of righteousness, the new creature, or the spirit of life in the new creature. Gal. 6:15-16. "In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but a new creature. And as many as "walk according to this rule, peace be on them." Mark: there is the rule; the new creature, which is begotten in every one that is born of God. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;" and this new creature is to be his rule. And as any man walks according to this rule, according to the new creature, according to the law of light and life that the spirit continually breathes into the new creature, he hath peace; but as he transgresses that, and walks not after the spirit, but after the flesh, he walks out of the light, out of the life, out of the peace, into the sea, into the death, into the trouble, into the condemnation. Here then is the law of the converted man, the new creature; and the law of the new creature is the spirit of life which begat him, which lives, and breathes, and gives forth <28> his law continually in him. Here is a Christian; here is his rule: he that hath not the new creature formed in him, is no Christian; and he that hath the new creature, hath the rule in himself. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." 1 John 2:20. How came they to know all things? Doth not John say, it was by the "unction"? The anointing was in them, a fountain or well-spring of light and life, issuing forth continually such rivers and streams of life within, as they needed no other teacher in the truth and way of life. verse 27. The "Comforter" did refresh their hearts sufficiently, and led them into all truth. Search the apostles' epistles, and ye shall find them testifying of the Lord's sending his spirit into the hearts of Christians; and exhortations to them not to grieve or quench the spirit, but to follow as they were led. They were to "live in the spirit," and to "walk in the spirit." Gal. 5:25. And the spirit was to walk, and live, and bring forth his own life and power in them. 2 Cor. 6:16. And what can be the proper and full rule of God's sons and daughters, but the light of the spirit of life, which they receive from their Father? Thus God did advance the state of a believer above the state of the Jews under the law: for they had the law, though written with the finger of God, yet but in tables of stone; but these have the law, written by the finger of God in the table of their hearts. Theirs was a law without, at a distance from them, and the priest's lips were to preserve the knowledge of it, and to instruct them in it; but here is a law within, nigh at hand, the immediate light of the spirit of life shining so immediately in the heart, that they need no man to teach them; but have the spirit of prophecy in themselves, and quick, living teachings from him continually, and are made such kings and priests to God, as the state of the law did but represent. The gospel is the substance of all the shadows contained in the law. A Christian is he that comes into this substance, and lives in this substance, and in whom this substance lives; and his rule is the substance itself, in which he lives, and which lives in him. Christ is the substance, who lives in the Christian, and he in Christ: Christ lives in him by his spirit, and he in Christ by the same spirit: there he lives, and hath fellowship with the Father and the Son, in the light wherein they live, and not by any outward rule. 1 John 1:6-7.
<29> But what is the rule now in the apostasy?
Among the Papists, the rule is the Scripture, interpreted by the church (as they call themselves), with a mixture of their own precepts and traditions.
Amongst the Protestants, the rule is the Scriptures, according as they can understand them by their own study, or according as they can receive the understanding of them from such men as they account orthodox. And hence arise continual differences and heats and sects; one following this interpretation, another that.
And this is a grievous apostasy, and the root, spring, and foundation of all the rest; for he that misseth in his beginning, he that begins his religion without the true rule, how can he proceed aright in any thing afterwards?
Object. But are not the Scriptures the word of God? -- And is not the word of God to be a Christian's rule? If every one should be left to his own spirit, what confusion and uncertainty would this produce!
Ans. The Scriptures are not that living Word, which is appointed by God to be the rule of a Christian; but they contain words spoken by the spirit of God, testifying of that Word, and pointing to that Word which is to be the rule. "Search the Scriptures, for in them you think to have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me; and ye will not come to me that ye may have life." John 5:39-40. The Scriptures are to be searched for the testimony which they give of Christ; and when that testimony is received, Christ is to be come to, and life received from him. But the Pharisees formerly, and Christians since (I mean Christians in name) search the Scriptures; but do not come to Christ for the life, but stick in the letter of the Scriptures, and oppose the life with the letter, keeping themselves from the life by their wisdom and knowledge in the letter. Thus they put the Scriptures into the place of Christ, and so honor neither Christ nor the Scriptures. It had been no honor to John to have been taken for the Light; his honor was to point to it: nor is it any honor to the Scriptures to be called the Word of God; but their honor is to discover and testify of the Word. Now hear what the Scriptures call the Word; "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1. <30> "And the Word was made flesh." verse 14. This was the name of Christ, when he came into the world in the flesh, to sow his life in the world. And when he comes again into the world, out of a far country, to fight with the beast and false prophet, and to cleanse the earth of the whore's fornication and idols, wherewith she had corrupted it, he shall have the same name again; "his name is called the Word of God." Rev. 19:13. So Peter calleth that the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 1 Pet. 1:23. And this Word that liveth and abideth for ever, was the Word that they preached. verse 25. And they that believed did not cry up the words that the apostles spake for the Word; but received the thing they spake of, "the ingrafted Word;" which being received with a meek, quiet, and submissive spirit, "is able to save the soul." Jam. 1:21. This is "the Word of faith" that is "nigh, in the heart and in the mouth." Rom. 10:8. This is the Word that stands at the door of the heart, and speaks to be let in "(Behold, I stand at the door and knock):" and when it is let in, it speaks in the heart what is to be heard and done. It is nigh; it is in the heart, and in the mouth; to what end? "That thou mightest hear it, and do it." The living Word, which is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," divides in the mouth, and divides in the heart, the vile from the precious; yea, it reacheth to the very inmost of the heart, and cuts between the roots, Heb. 4:12. and this thou art to hear and do. Thou art to part with all vile words, the vile conversation, the vile course and worship of the world outwardly, and the vile thoughts and course of sin inwardly, as fast as the Word discovers them to thee, and to exercise thyself in that which is folly and madness to the eye of the world, and a grievous cross to thine own worldly nature; yea, when the Word reaches to the very nature, life, and spirit within, from whence all that comes, that strong, wise root of the fleshly life in the heart must not be spared, nor that foolish, weak thing (to man's wise eye) which is brought instead thereof, be rejected: which, when it is received, is but like a little seed, even the least of seeds; and when it grows up, it is a long while but like a child; and yet keeping in that childishness, out of the wisdom, it enters into that kingdom which the greatest wisdom of man (in all his zealous ways <31> and forms of religion) falls short, and is shut out of. This is the word of life; this is the true, living rule, and way to eternal life; and this is the obedience; this is the hearing and doing of the word. "He that hath an ear, let him hear. Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith: prove your ownselves. Know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" 2 Cor. 13:5. Are ye in the faith? Then Christ is in you. Is not Christ in you? Then ye are in the reprobate state, out of the faith. Is Christ in you, and shall he not hold the reins, and rule? Shall the living Word be in the heart, and not the rule of the heart? Shall he speak in the heart, and the man or woman in whom he speaks run to the words of scripture formerly spoken, to know whether these be his words or no? Nay, nay, his sheep know his voice better than so. Did the apostle John, who had seen and tasted and handled and preached the word of life, send Christians to his epistles, or any other part of scripture, to be their rule? Nay, he directed them to the anointing as a sufficient teacher. 1 John 2:27. "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." John 7:38. He that hath the fountain of life in him, issuing out rivers of living water continually, hath he need to go forth to fetch in water? "The kingdom of heaven is within you," saith Christ; and he bids "seek the kingdom." Light the candle, sweep thine own house, seek diligently for the kingdom; there it is, if thou canst find it. Now he that hath found the kingdom within, shall he look without, into words spoken concerning the kingdom, to find the laws of the kingdom? Are not the laws of the kingdom to be found within the kingdom? Shall the kingdom be in the heart, and the laws of the kingdom written without in a book? Is not the gospel the ministration of the Spirit? And shall he who hath received the Spirit run back to the letter to be his guide? Shall the living Spirit, that gave forth the Scriptures, be present, and not have pre-eminence above his own words? What is the proper intent of the letter? Is it not to testify of the Spirit, and to end in the Spirit? The law, the prophets, John, led to Christ in the flesh; and he was to be the increasing light, when they should decrease. Christ's words in the flesh, the apostles' words afterwards, and all words since, are but to lead to Christ <32> in the spirit, to the eternal, living substance; and when words of Christ, of the apostles, or any other words spoken from the same spirit in these days, have brought to the spirit, to the feeling and settling of the soul in the living foundation, and to the building and perfecting of the man of God therein, they have attained their end and glory. But to cry up these, not understanding their voice, but keeping at a distance from the thing that they invite to: the words hereby are put out of their place, out of their proper use and service, and so attain neither their end nor their glory. And though man put that upon them which seems to be a greater glory, namely: to make them his rule and guide; yet, it being not a true glory, it is no glory, but a dishonor both to them and to the Spirit, who gave them to another end.
Now for the other part of the objection, that if men should be left to their own spirits, and should follow the guidance of their own spirits, it would produce confusion and uncertainty: I do acknowledge it; it would do so. -- But here is no leaving of a man to his own spirit spoken of or intended, but the directing and guiding of a man to the Word and Spirit of life; to know and hear the voice of Christ, which gathers and translates man out of his own spirit into his Spirit: and here is no confusion or uncertainty; but order, certainty, and stability.
The light of God's Spirit is a certain and infallible rule, and the eye that sees that, is a certain eye; whereas man's understanding of the scriptures is uncertain and fallible; he, having not the true ear, receiveth such a literal, uncertain knowledge of things into his uncertain understanding, as deceives his soul. And here man, in the midst of his wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures, is lost in his own erring and uncertain mind, and his soul deceived, for want of a true root and foundation of certainty in himself. But he that is come to the true Shepherd, and knows his voice, he cannot be deceived. Yea, he can read the scripture safely, and taste the true sweetness of the words that came from the life; but man who is out of the life feeds on the husks, and can receive no more. He hath gathered a dead, dry, literal, husky knowledge out of the scripture, and that he can relish; but should the life of the words and things there spoken of be opened to him, he could not receive them, he himself being out of that wherein <33> they were written, and wherein alone they can be understood. But poor man having lost the life, what should he do? He can do no other but cry up the letter, and make as good shift with it as he can; though his soul the mean while is starved, and lies in famine and death, for want of the bread of life, and a wrong thing is fed.
The Scribes and Pharisees made a great noise about the law and ordinances of Moses, exclaiming against Christ and his disciples as breakers and profaners of them; yet they themselves did not truly honor the law and ordinances of Moses, but their own doctrines, commandments, and traditions. So those now who make a great noise about the Scriptures, and about the institutions of the apostles, do not honor the Scriptures, or the institutions of the apostles; but their own meanings, their own conceivings, their own inventions and imaginations thereupon. They run to the Scriptures with that understanding which is out of the truth, and which never shall be let into the truth; and so being not able to reach and comprehend the truth as it is, they study, they invent, they imagine a meaning; they form a likeness, a similitude of the truth as near as they can, and this must go for the truth; and this they honor and bow before as the will of God; which being not the will of God, but a likeness of their own inventing and forming, they worship not God, they honor not the Scriptures, but they honor and worship the works of their own brain. And every scripture which man hath thus formed a meaning out of, and hath not read in the true and living light of God's eternal Spirit, he hath made an image by, he hath made an idol of; and the respect and honor he gives this meaning, are not a respect and honor given to God, but to his own image, to his own idol. Oh, how many are your idols, ye Christians of England, as ye think yourselves to be! How many are your idols, ye gathered churches! How full of images and idols are ye, ye spiritual notionists, who have run from one thing to another, with the same mind and spirit wherewith ye began at first! But the founder of images has never been discovered and destroyed in you, and so he is still at work among you all; and great will your sorrow and distress be, when the Lord's quick eye searcheth him out, and revealeth his just wrath against him.
In my heart and soul I honor the Scriptures, and long to read <34> them throughout with the pure eye, and in the pure light of the living Spirit of God: but the Lord preserve me from reading one line of them in my own will, or interpreting any part of them according to my own understanding, but only as I am guided, led, and enlightened by him, in the will and understanding which come from him. And here all scripture, every writing of God's Spirit, which is from the breath of his life, is profitable to build up and perfect the man of God; but the instructions, the reproofs, the observations, the rules, the grounds of hope and comfort, or whatever else which man gathers out of the Scriptures (he himself being out of the life), have not the true profit, nor build up the true thing; but both the gatherings and the gatherer are for destruction. And the Lord will ease the Scripture, of the burden of man's formings and invention from it, and recover its honor again, by the living presence and power of that Spirit that wrote it; and then it shall be no longer abused and wrested by man's earthly and unlearned mind, but, in the hands of the Spirit, come to its true use and service to the seed, and to the world.
The true worship of God in the gospel is in the Spirit. "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him." John 4:23. The true worship is in the spirit, and in the truth, and the true worshippers worship there; and such worshippers the Father seeks, and such worship he accepts; but all other worship is false worship, and all other worshippers are false worshippers; such worshippers as God seeks not, nor can accept their worship. Did God refuse Cain's sacrifice formerly? and can he accept any sacrifice or worship now that is offered in that nature? Why, he that worships out of the Spirit, he worships in that nature; but he that worships aright, must have his nature changed, and must worship in that thing wherein he is changed, in that faith, in that life, in that nature, in that Spirit whereby and whereto he is changed. For without being in this, and keeping in this, it is impossible to please God in any thing. He that is the true worshipper is a believer, and in his worship he must keep to his rule, the law of faith, the law of the Spirit of <35> Life in him, the law which he receives by faith fresh from the Spirit of Life continually. He must hear and observe the voice of the living Word in all his worship, and worship in the presence and power and guidance of that, as that moves, and as that carries on, or God is not worshipped in the Spirit. I shall instance only in prayer. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Eph. 6:18. Mark: all prayer and supplication must be in the Spirit; yea, it must be always in the Spirit, which speaks in the heart to God, and makes the intercession, or it is no prayer. If a man speak ever so much from his own spirit, with ever so much earnestness and affection, yet it is no prayer, no true prayer, but only so far as the Spirit moves to it, and so far as the Spirit leads and guides in it. If a man begin without the Spirit, or go on without the Spirit, this is out of the worship; this is in his own will, and so will-worship; and according to his own understanding, and so fleshly worship; both which are to be crucified, and not to be followed in any thing under the gospel. "We are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit," (here are the true worshippers, "the circumcision;" and here is the true worship, "in the Spirit;" and they have no bounds and limits in the flesh, wherein their strength and confidence are broken) "and have no confidence in the flesh." If a man address himself to any worship of God without his Spirit, hath he not confidence in the flesh? If he begin without the moving of his Spirit, doth he not begin in the flesh? If he go on, without the Spirit's carrying on, doth he not proceed in the strength and confidence of the flesh? But the worship of the Spirit is in its will, and in its time, and is carried on by its light and power, and keeps down the understanding and affectionate part of man, wherein all the world worship, and offer up the unaccepted sacrifices, even the lame and the blind, which God's soul hates.
Now this worship, as it is out of man's will and time, and in that which continueth, so it is continual. There is a continual praying unto God. There is a continual blessing and praising of his name, in eating, or drinking, or whatever else is done. There is a continual bowing to the majesty of the Lord in every thought, in every word, in every action, though it be in worldly things and occasions; yet the Spirit of the Lord is seen there, and <36> the tongue confesseth him there, and the knee boweth to him there. This is the true worship, and this is the rest or sabbath wherein the true worshippers worship. When the creation of God is finished; when the child is formed in the light, and the life breathed into him; then God brings him forth into his holy land, where he keeps his sabbath. They that are in the faith, which is the substance of the things hoped for under the law, are come from all the shadows and types of the law, and from all the heathenish observations of days and times in the spirit of this world, where the spirit of man is hard at work, into the true sabbath, into the true rest, where they have no more to work, but God works all in them in his own time, according to his own pleasure. "We which have believed, do enter into rest." Heb. 4:3. "And he that is entered into his rest, hath ceased from his works, as God from his." verse 10. He that hath the least taste of faith, knows a measure of rest, finding the life working in him, and his soul daily led further and further into life by the working of the life, and the heavy yoke of his own laboring after life taken off from his shoulders. Now here is the truth, here is the life, here is the sabbath, here is the worship of the soul, that is led into the truth, and preserved in the truth.
But what is the worship now in the apostasy?
Among the Papists, a very gross worship; a worship more carnal than ever the worship of the law was: for that, though in its nature it was outward and carnal, yet it was taught and prescribed by the wisdom of God, and was profitable in its place, and to its end; but this was invented by the corrupt wisdom, and set up in the corrupt will of man, and hath no true profit, but keeps from the life, from the power, from the Spirit, in fleshly observations, which feed and please the fleshly nature. Look upon their days consecrated to saints, and their canonical hours of prayer, and their praying in an unknown tongue, with their fastings, feastings, saying of Ave-Marys, Pater-nosters, Creeds, &c., are not all these from the life, out of the Spirit, and after the invention, and in the will of the flesh? Ah! their stink is greater than the flesh-pots of Egypt.
And the worship of the Protestants comes too near them: for their worship is also from a fleshly principle, and in their own <37> times and wills, and according to their own understanding and apprehension of things, and not from the rising up and guidance of the infallible life of the Spirit in them; for that they will quench. They also observe days and times, and perishing ordinances, and are not come out of the flesh, into that Spirit where the worship is to be known, and to be in.
The faith which gives victory over the world; the faith which feeds the life of the just, and slays the unjust; the faith which is pure, the mystery whereof is held in a pure conscience; the faith which gives entrance into the rest of God; the faith which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen; this hath been lost, and is not yet to be found among those who go for Christians.
For those who challenge the name of Christians, and say they believe in Christ, and have faith in him, cannot with their faith overcome the world; but are daily overcome by the world. Where is there a Christian, but he is either in the honors, or in the fashions, or in the customs, or in the worships of the world, if not in them all? He is so far from overcoming these, that he is overcome with them; yea, so overcome, so drunk therewith, that he hath even lost his senses, and thinks he may be a Christian, and in a good state while he is there.
And the life of the just is not fed by their faith, but the unjust nature is fed, and the righteous witness, which is raised up and lives by the true faith, is kept down, and cannot bring forth his life in them, because of their unbelief; for that is the proper name of their faith; for being not true faith, it is not faith, but unbelief.
And the faith of Christians (so called) is not a mystery (they know not the mystery of it, which is held in a pure conscience), but consists in believing an historical relation, and in a fleshly improving of that, and can be held in an impure conscience.
Neither are they entered into rest by their faith; for they know not the sabbath in the Lord, but are still in a shadowy sabbath.
Neither is it the substance of what they hope for; but the substance of what they hope for is strange to them. They are not come to "Mount Sion, to the city of the living God, the <38> heavenly Jerusalem, to the innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, to God the Judge, Christ the Mediator, and the blood of sprinkling," and so to unity and certainty in the life; but are in opinions, ways, and practices suitable to the earthly spirit; which may easily be shaken, and must be shaken down to the ground, if ever they know the building of God, and the true faith.
The innocent love, which thinks no ill, nor wishes no ill, much less can do any ill to any; but suffereth long, and is kind, meek, humble, not seeking its own, but the good of others; this love is lost. The love unfeigned is banished; a feigned love, such a love as enmity and violence proceed from, is got in the place of it. The true love loves the enemy, and cannot return enmity for enmity, but seeks the good of them who hate it: but this love can persecute and hate that which it calls the friend, nay, the brother, because of some difference in opinion or practice. The love that was in Christ, taught him to lay down his life for his sheep; and he that hath the same love, can lay down his life for his brother. But the love that is now amongst Christians tends rather to the taking away of life.
What is the love amongst the Papists? See their inquisitions, their wraths, their fire and faggot, &c.
What is their love in New England? Is it not a love that can imprison or banish their brother, if he differ but a little from them in judgment or practice about their worship? Yea, they can whip, burn in the hand, cut off ears, just like the bishops of Old England. If one had told them, when they fled from the persecution of the bishops here, that they themselves should have done such things, they would have been apt to reply, with Hazael, What! are we dogs? But they fled from the cross, which would have crucified that persecuting spirit, and so carried it alive with them; and being alive, it grew by degrees to as great an head there, as it did in the bishops here.
And what is the love here in Old England? Is it not a love that whips, stocks, imprisons, stones, jeers? Yea, the very teachers (which should be patterns of love to others), they will <39> cast into prison, and distrain the goods of their brother, even almost to his undoing, for maintenance, according to the law of the land made in the apostasy. See the Record of Sufferings for Tithes in England, which may make any tender heart bleed to read it, and is like to lie as a brand of infamy on the magistracy and ministry of England to succeeding generations. Is this the love of the righteous seed? Or is it Cain's love, which is in profession, in word, in show, but not in deed and in truth? And how can these love God? Nay, if the true love of God were in them, this enmity could not stand, nor such fruits of it shoot forth. But they have not seen the Father or the Son. And that life of them which appears in the earth, the evil spirit in man seeks to destroy, that he may keep up his own image and shadow of life, which the nature of the true life in its appearance fights against. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another." -- And by this may all men know, that those that now go for Christians are not Christ's disciples, in that they do not love one another. They are not at unity in the light, and so cannot love one another there; but are only in unity in forms, in opinions, in professions, in practices; so any difference there stirs up the enmity, causing risings in the heart against them at least, if it proceed not further. The true love grows from true union and fellowship in the light; where that is not known, there cannot be true love in the Spirit, but a feigned love in the flesh.
The true ground of hope is Christ in the heart, and the true hope is that hope which ariseth from this ground, from the feeling of Christ there; "Christ in you the hope of glory." Col. 1:27. What is the true Christian's hope? It is Christ in him; he "hath eternal life abiding in him;" and he knows that cannot but lead to glory. But what is the common Christian's hope? He fastens his hope upon the relation and his belief of an history. "He that believeth shall be saved." I believe; therefore I shall be saved. -- And thus, as he hath got up a wrong faith, and a wrong love, so he gets up a wrong hope. And this hope will perish; for it is the hope of the hypocrite, or an hope in the hypocritical nature, which complies with scripture words, but is <40> not in union with God, nor with the life of the scriptures; and so being without the anchor, is tossed in the waves of the sea.
And the true joy is in the Spirit, from what is felt, and enjoyed, and hoped for there. But the common Christian's joy is from things which he gathers into and comprehends in his understanding; or from flashes which he feels in the affectionate part, from a fire and sparks of his own kindling, from whence he fetches his warmth and comfort.
And the true peace stands in the reconciliation with God, by having that broken down which causeth the wrath, and to which the wrath is, wherever it is found. The Lamb of God breaks down the wall of separation in the heart; the blood of Jesus, wherein is the life, cleanseth away the sin there, maketh the heart pure, uniteth the pure heart to the pure God: here is union, here is fellowship, here is peace; but the common Christian's peace is from a misunderstanding of scriptures, while the wall of separation is standing, while wickedness lodges in the heart. They reason themselves, from scripture words, into an apprehension that God is at peace with them, and that they are in union with him; while that of God which is in them, witnesseth against them, and checks them, and wars with them; and they are not one with it, and cannot be, in that nature and understanding wherein their life lies, to which belongs no peace.
The true repentance is from dead works, and from the dead principle whence all the dead works proceed: but these have not been repented of, but cherished in the apostasy. The praying, the striving, the worshipping, the fighting, have been from the dead principle. The building up and whole exercise of religion in the apostasy, have been in that understanding which is to be destroyed; and the will, which should have been crucified, hath been pleased and fed with its religion.
The true conversion is from the power of Satan to God, from the darkness to the light: but in the apostasy, men have not known God or Satan, the light or the darkness; but have mistook, taking the one for the other, worshipping the devil instead of God, Rev. <41> 13:4. and following the dark conceivings of their own and other men's minds concerning scripture, and calling them light.
Regeneration is a changing of man, whereby the birth is born of the Spirit; the stripping of the creature of its own nature, of its own understanding, of its own will, and forming it anew in the womb of the Spirit; so that the old creature is passed away, and comes forth a new thing, which grows up daily in the new life towards the fulness of Christ. But men have been so far from being born of the Spirit, that they have not so much as known the gift of the Spirit in them; but to this day are enemies, and at a distance from that of God in them, which is pure. And if they could but open their eyes, they would see that their birth is fleshly, and consists, at best, but in a such a conformity to the letter, as the old nature may imitate and attain; but the immortal seed is not sprung up in them, nor they dead to the mortal, nor alive to the immortal.
The true wisdom stands in the fear of God, and departing from evil: this those that are taught of God learn, and thereby are made wise unto salvation. But most that are called Christians are not come to the fear of God; and many are got above it, looking upon it as legal, and not appertaining to the gospel; but the gospel state is love, which casteth out fear. Doth the love of God refuse or cast out the fear of God? Nay: it casts out the fear that brings bondage; the fear that came in by transgression; which fear is stirred up, and discovered by the law. And this is a fear of sin, or a fear arising from sin, through the law's manifestation of it, and the wrath against it, which causeth both the fear, and much bondage from the fear: and this the gospel (which discovers the love, the mercy, the grace, the power, and unites to them) frees from, and casts out. But then there is a fear of God; a fear wrought in the heart by his Spirit; a fear which is part of the new covenant ("I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me"); a fear which is part of the "everlasting gospel," Rev. 14:6-7. and "endureth for ever." Ps. 19:9. And this fear is not bondage, but liberty; it is indeed bondage to the unjust, but <42> liberty to the just; for where this fear is, sin is departed from; it sets free; it delivers the feet out of the snare of iniquity: there is true liberty. Can sin prevail in that heart, where the pure, clean fear of God is placed by God to keep it down? The love of God doth not cast out this fear, but keeps in this fear; and this fear keeps the heart clean from the evil which defiles, and preserves the love from the enmity, which springs up where this fear is not. Now this fear, in the apostasy, was lost, or else what needed there an especial ministry to be raised up to preach it again. Rev. 14:6-7. And the estate of Christians everywhere doth manifest this loss; for their hearts are not kept clean, which showeth that the fear (which doth keep clean where it is) is wanting in them. There is pollution, there is filth, there is deceit, there are high-mindedness, self-conceitedness, and love of the world, and worldly vanities, and many other evils to be found in the hearts of those that go for Christians; and the purity of heart (which comes from the fear, and stands in the wisdom) is not known. They are wise to do evil; but want the knowledge to avoid the evil, and do the good. They are wise to get and enjoy the world; but know not the true riches. They are wise to gather together many scripture words against sin, and yet still keep the nature and life of it in the heart, and it is as a sweet morsel under the tongue. They are wise to apply promises to comfort themselves with (when sometimes they receive a just wound in their hearts from the righteous One); but know not that nature, nor that estate and condition, to which all the promises are made; but are yet in that nature, and in that estate and condition, to which the curse appertains.
The true righteousness stands in the faith, in hearing and obeying the word of faith. How comes the righteousness of the law, but by hearing and obeying the voice of the law? And how comes the righteousness of the gospel, but by hearing and obeying the Word of faith, who is preached, and the preacher of righteousness, in the heart? The Apostle Paul makes this comparison. Rom. 10. The righteousness of the law speaketh on this wise, "The man that doeth these things, shall live in them." But how speaketh the Word of faith? "The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart;" he that doeth that, he that heareth that, shall live in that. "The hour is coming, and now is, when <43> the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." Disobedience to the law is unrighteousness, and brings death; and disobedience to the living Word is unrighteousness, and cannot be justified, but condemned; and obedience to it cannot be condemned, but justified: so that when the soul hears, believes, and obeys, then it is justified; then its former sins are forgotten, and this is imputed to it unto righteousness. But when the soul will not hear, will not believe, will not obey, this unbelief is judged in him, and his sins retained, and not remitted. Now is not this a just and equal way of justification, O ye sons of men! Is not your way unequal? Shall a man continue in the unbelief and rebellion against Christ, against the light, against the faith, and yet be justified by Christ, by the light, by the faith? This cannot be; God's way of imputation will stand; but man's invented way of imputation, which sprung up in the apostasy, will not stand. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, the blood cleanseth; but not otherwise. If we walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh, there is no condemnation; and not otherwise. The true baptism is the plunging down of the old thing, with all its filth, and the raising up of a new thing; and it is the new thing, the circumcision, the baptism, which is justified. God justifieth his Son, and man only so far as he is found in his Son.
The true sanctification consists in the growth of the seed, and its spreading, like a leaven, over the heart, and over the whole man. By faith Christ is formed in the heart; the hidden man in the mystery is formed there; and as this seed, this leaven, this man grows, so he makes the man holy in whom he grows. The seed of life, the kingdom of heaven, is an holy thing; and as it grows and spreads, it purgeth out the old leaven, and makes the lump new; but now, in Christians that have grown up in the apostasy, this seed is not known, this leaven is not so much as discerned; but their holiness consists in a conformity to rules of scripture, received into the old heart and understanding. And what a noise hath this made in the world, all this night of the apostasy! as if this were the heir, and should inherit the kingdom. Nay, nay; the heir hath appeared, (by whose presence it is seen, that this is not the heir) and ye shall not be able to kill him; but he shall live to enjoy his inheritance, and the inheritance shall not be yours.
<44> Redemption consists in being bought, by the price of the life, out of sin, out of death, out of the earth, out of the power of the devil. It is a casting off the strong man out of the heart, with all that he brought in, and a delivering from his power. It is a dissolving of the work of sin, which the devil hath wrought in the heart, and a setting the soul, which is immortal, at liberty, free from sin, and free unto righteousness: this is the true redemption. But this redemption in the apostasy is a feigned redemption, wherein salvation from sin, and the devil, and his power, is not felt; but the strong man is still in the heart, and keeps the soul in death, and brings forth fruits of death daily.
The Christians formerly (in the first day of the breaking forth of God's power) had Christ in them, the living Word; they opened their hearts to him, received him in, felt him there, found him made of God to them their wisdom, their righteousness, their sanctification, their redemption. 1 Cor. 1:30. They had the thing that these words signify and speak of, and knew the meaning of the words by feeling of the thing. But Christians now, in the apostasy, have got several apprehensions from the words, without feeling the thing the words speak of; and there lies their religion. -- And now the true heir being come, holding forth the thing they have been all talking of, all sects upon the earth are mad against him, and would fain kill him. They would not have the living substance, which is the heir, live, and nothing be esteemed life but that; but they would have their dead apprehensions from the words live, and their dead forms and practices owned; and the heir of life must come in their way, in the way that they have hoped and waited for him, or they will not own him. Awake! awake! O ye sons of the apostasy, and of the night! rise up out of the fleshly wisdom, out of the dead fleshly interpretations of scriptures, out of the dead invented forms of worship, and bow to the heir; kiss the Son, lest ye feel the force of that dreadful sentence, "Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." For of a truth the great Prophet is risen, and speaks in the heart, and his sheep hear his voice (there are many faithful witnesses thereof); and he that will not hear his voice, must be cut off; there is no avoiding of it: for the two-edged <45> sword is in his hand, and he will cut down the transgressor.
The true church was a company gathered out of the world into God, begotten of, and gathered into his life by the living Word, and so had a true place and habitation in God. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, styles them a church in God. A church under the gospel is made up of true Israelites, gathered out of their own spirits and nature into the measure of the Spirit of God in them, as Christ was into the fulness. They are such as are begotten of God, born of his Spirit, led by him out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to Sion the holy mount; there they meet with the elect, precious corner-stone which is laid in Sion; and they, being living stones, are built upon it into Jerusalem the holy city. 1 Pet. 2:5-6. Heb. 12:22. This is the true church. Everyone that believes in Christ is a living stone; and being a living stone, he is laid upon the living foundation, and so is a part of the building in the temple of the living God. Yea, his body and spirit being cleansed, he himself is a temple wherein God dwells, appears, and is worshipped. And the gathering of any of these together at any time in the life, in the name of Christ, is a larger temple, and such a temple as Christ never fails to be in the midst of. But the great temple, the full church, is the general assembly of the first-born. This is the unerring pillar and ground of truth: this always bore up truth; truth never failed here; but when it was at any time lost in the world, it might from hence be recovered again when God pleased, and as far as he pleased. Indeed the law of the Lord hath always gone forth from this Sion, and the living word from this Jerusalem.
But what hath the church been in the apostasy? A building of stone, say some; and that not only among Papists, but here in England also. Many have called the old mass-house a church, a temple, the house of God, pleading for it to be a holy place; and have showed it by their practices, keeping off their hats while they were in it.
Others say, not the stone building, but the people that meet there, are the church; whereof many are openly profane; yea, so far from being gathered into the Spirit, and so ignorant of his <46> motions, that they are ready to scoff, if they hear a man speak of being moved by the Spirit. What are these? Are these living stones, whereupon the true church alone can be built? Are these children of the day? Nay, these are children of the night; children brought up in the apostasy from the true light, the true life, the true rule of Christianity, the true worship, the true faith, the true love, &c., and so are dead stones in that building; but not true living stones in God's building.
Other sorts separate from these, and gather congregations out of these; but still in the same spirit, in the same nature, being not themselves gathered out of the apostasy from the Spirit, into the Spirit again; and so they build but with the same stones as were in the old building, and not with the new and living stones, and so are but a more refined appearance of a church; but not a true church, not a church in God, and by the gathering of his Spirit; but of their own gathering, after a form, according as they have imagined from their reading and studying of the Scriptures.
The true ministry was a ministry made and appointed by the Spirit, by the gift of the Spirit bestowed on them, and by the Spirit sending of them, and appointing them to their work. Christ bid his apostles and disciples wait at Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit, and when he had given them the Spirit, he gave them to the church for the work of the ministry. Eph. 4:11-12. Acts 20:28. And if none can be a member of the true church but by being begotten out of death into life by the Spirit, surely none can be able to minister to him who is so begotten, but by the same Spirit. So these receiving their ministry of the Lord Jesus, Acts 20:24. and the gift of the Spirit from him, they were made "able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:6. They were able in God to minister from his Spirit to the spirits of his people; and they did not minister a literal knowledge of things to the understanding of man; but they led men to the Spirit of God, and ministered spiritual things to that spiritual understanding which was given them of God. Neither did they make use of their own wisdom <47> and art to tickle the natural ear; but spoke to the conscience, with the demonstration of the Spirit in the sight of God, as it pleased the Spirit to give them utterance.
But how have ministers been made in the apostasy? By orders from men, set up in their own wills, after their own inventions. And how have they been qualified, but by human arts and languages, which have been of high esteem in that which men call the church, since the language and skill of the Spirit of God have been lost. God, who chose in his own church, doth not choose here who shall be his ministers; but any man can appoint his son to be a minister, if he will but educate him in learning, and send him to the university, and so bring him into that way of order wherein men make ministers, and then he is able to minister unto man the things of man, according to human skill; and this, in the dark night of apostasy, must go for a true call to the ministry of God. Indeed, they are as true ministers as the church is to which they minister; but they never were, nor ever can be, thus made ministers of the church of God: but as God alone can form and build his church, so he alone can fit and appoint the ministers thereof. And though others, having seen the grossness of this, make their ministers by a call in their church; yet neither is that out of the apostasy, but only a striving of man to get out of it; which man cannot possibly do till he meet with the Spirit of God to lead out of it. So that that ministry also is but an invention of man made by man, and comes not from the Spirit, nor is able to minister spirit to the spirit.
Object. But hath there been no true religion since the days of the apostles? No true rule, no true worship, no true faith, no true love, no true hope, joy, or peace! no true repentance, conversion, and regeneration! no true wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption! no true church, no true ministry! What is become of all our forefathers? Did they all perish? And hath not this ministry converted many to God? Were not ye yourselves converted by it? Nay, have not many of them been martyrs, and witnessed to the truth of God? And though some of them are bad, yet are not many of them zealous and conscientious preachers of the word at this day? By such reasonings as these, the wisdom of man much strengthens and hardens itself against the truth.
<48> Ans. The rule in nations, the worship in nations, the faith, love, hope, joy, peace, repentance, conversion, regeneration, &c., which have been cried up in nations for the truth, the churches in nations, the ministry in nations, all these have been corrupted, and never recovered their true state to this day. There have been changes from one thing to another; but the restoration hath not been known. The whorish spirit hath been hunted and pursued, and so run out of one form into another, traversing her way, and changing her ground and garments; but hath not been taken and judged to the death: and the true spirit hath not been able to find the bed of her husband; but hath wandered from mountain to hill all the time of this cloudy and dark day, forgetting her resting place.
Yet, though the whole earth was corrupted, and false doctrine and worship set up everywhere among the nations, which continued the fornication and whoredom from the Spirit of life in the public ways and national worships; notwithstanding this, even all this while God reserved a seed to himself, which he caused to spring up in a remnant, and which he moved and carried on to witness against somewhat of these corruptions, in their several ages and generations. And as fast as the beast killed and knocked down these, God raised up more: yea, though the whorish spirit, in some nations, painted herself curiously, leaving some of the gross doctrines and worships of popery, and got into a more refined way; yet God raised up witnesses against her there also, and still doth, into what form soever she gets: for though of late she hath decked herself very pleasingly, as she thinks, and covered herself round with scripture words and professions and practices as like as ever she can form them to the practices of former saints; yet quick and lively is the Spirit of God that searcheth after her, who hath found her out, and raised up witnesses against her there also.
Now this seed, this remnant, though they were not able to recover the possession of the life and power that was lost; yet they had a true taste of it, and their testimony which they gave out from that taste was true: and so far as they kept to this testimony in the faith and in the patience which they had learned and received from God (though but in a low measure), they were <49> accepted of him. So that all were not lost in this night of darkness; but such as feared God, and knew and hearkened to his voice, had the testimony of his presence with them, and tasted of his life and power in measure. God was not a hard master to them; but tender and gentle, and contented to reap what he sowed. But the appearance of God in this dark time was weak and low, and easy to be made a prey of. And this is very observable, that so long as the simplicity ran pure, it was preserved; but so soon as ever the spirit of man was tempted either into any old, or into any new-invented form, the wisdom of the flesh got in with it, grew up more than it, and when it had gathered strength, corrupted the vessel, betrayed the simplicity, and lost the life. There was a precious thing stirring in queen Mary's days, the life whereof was more hurt and suppressed by that dead form of Episcopacy succeeding afterwards, than by the fore-going persecution. The persecution did clear and brighten it; but the fleshly form of Episcopacy brought death over it. Thus many precious beginnings and buddings-forth of the life have been betrayed in these late days; and the forms of Presbytery, Independency, and Anabaptism, have been little less than graves to bury and keep down the life. How many spirits, that had a precious savor in them at their entrance into those forms, did soon become fleshly, earthly, and very unsavory, losing the quickness and freshness that were in them before, and falling into the deadness of the form, withering with it.
And as touching the ministry, though in itself it was evil, being in the degeneration from the true ministry all this time of the apostasy, and the persons therein, for the most part, very corrupt, being brought up to it as a trade, and making use of it as a trade; yet I do believe that there was a simplicity of heart in some persons among them, which did cause them, in some degree of faithfulness, to seek the Lord, his service, and the good of souls. And in the time of ignorance and darkness, it pleased God to wink at and overlook the evil, and to cause good to pass from the good in them to the good in others, through the evil that hung about both. And this was the great tenderness of the Lord, in pity to his poor creatures, who were very destitute of help in the thick night of darkness, and should not now be made use of to justify <50> and keep up the evil. Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unkind! because his mercy and goodness extended to you, notwithstanding the evil which might have hindered, will ye make that an argument to keep up the evil, and to oppose the light which discovers it? Because God caused light to shine through the darkness, and visited man in the dark, will ye therefore set up the darkness as his proper way of ministration? The corrupt way, call, and exercise of the corrupt ministry could not keep out the tender love of God; but he had respect to the simplicity of some who were found in it, and to the simplicity of others who waited on him for instruction there, and did please to give some answer to both. And will ye make this ungenerous use of it, to interpret it as his approbation of that ministry, which sprung up in the apostasy from him, among those that were apostatized, and is a great dishonor to him, and the abhorring of his soul? A ministry of Christ, a ministry set up by his Spirit, is precious; but a ministry made by man, according to his will, and ministering in his wisdom, the soul of the Lord beareth as a burden, and is pressed with it; and as he raiseth up his own life, will ease himself of it. And what do they minister from, but the literal part of the Scriptures, which killeth, and cannot give life. And what do they minister with, but their own understanding part; what meanings they can invent, what deductions their wisdom can draw from the Scriptures; but do not see the true meaning in the infallible and unerring light: and what do they minister to, but the understanding part in you? Whereas there is somewhat else to be ministered to by the true minister. And what do they minister to you, but food for the understanding; food for the serpentine wisdom, which always fed upon knowledge, but never upon the true bread. And hereby another thing is fed in you, and not your souls; but they are kept in leanness and barrenness, under death and the bondage of corruption (which Paul cried out upon as a wretched state, and could find no ease, rest, or freedom from condemnation there), and without the true life and redemption. I do not deny but ye may there meet with some kind of warmth in the affectionate part, which may be heated by a fire and sparks of man's kindling and blowing up; and this may go for life with you now: but in the presence of the truth, where the eye is open, it vanisheth; <51> yea, the Spirit of the Lord hath so blown upon it, that it is even withered in the sight of a more inferior eye in many people.
GOD will not let the desolations of Sion remain for ever; but he will again "build up Sion, and appear in his glory." He will set his "king upon his holy hill of Sion. The new Jerusalem shall again come down from heaven. The man-child," which was taken up, "shall come down again, conquering, and to conquer; and the Lamb shall get the victory" over the whore, and over all her apostatized nations and churches, that have a name and not the life; and he shall "rule them with a rod of iron," and make them a desolation which have made his holy city desolate, and trampled them down which have trampled upon it. "The lofty city he will lay low; he will lay it low, even to the ground: he will bring it even to the dust: the foot shall tread it down, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy." The whore shall be judged, with the beast whereupon she rode. The life, which they trod upon, shall rise up in the mighty power of the Lord, and overturn them. "The everlasting gospel shall be again preached to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation and kindred and tongue and people." Rev. 14:6. Mark: the gospel that was preached to the nations all the time of the apostasy, was not the everlasting gospel; that gospel did not bring life and immortality to light; but they were hid from men's eyes, and men had only a sound of words instead of the thing. And thus poor nations, kindreds, people, tongues, were everywhere bewitched with a form of things; with an outward knowledge, a perishing knowledge in the perishing part; a vain, traditional, invented worship, which stands in the wisdom and will of man; but had no union and fellowship with that which is everlasting. And thus all the nations, in the smoke of the bottomless pit, ran into the pit from whence the smoke came. But the Lord hath a time to pity the poor nations, and to send forth his true everlasting gospel again, to deliver the nations from that witchery and sorcery and spiritual <52> enchantment which got up in the dark. And as this everlasting light springs up, then down goes Babylon; down go all invented doctrines, all invented forms, all invented worships, and that wisdom and evil spirit that raised them up. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen! that great city! because she made all nations drunk of the wine of the cup of her fornication." Rev. 14:8. And now the new wine of the kingdom, which is tasted of in the everlasting gospel, purges out the old wine; and the drunkenness which thereby came upon the nations wastes. And they that have tasted of this life, and know this life, can never be bewitched back again by the whorish spirit, to dead forms and likenesses without life. Nay, when Babylon falls, she can rise no more. Though the life fall often, it can rise again; but when the witchery from the life is discovered and cast into the pit, it can get out no more. Indeed the beast hath had all the strength of the nations, and the whore hath had all the wisdom, all the esteem, all the honor. -- Who can make war with the beast? Who can show miracles and wonders like the false prophets? Who can teach, but the wise, learned, orthodox men, that have the arts, and know the original? Yea, there is another that can make war, and a prophet that can preach better than they; one that can preach life; one that can preach the everlasting gospel, and knows the original of it; one that is wiser and stronger than the whore, and by his wisdom and strength is able to judge her, and cast her out of the nations, though she has got very strong possession. Rev. 18:8. Now learn wisdom; "know the parable of the fig-tree;" come to the life that is arisen, and abide not in the death that is passed and passing away. Ye have heard the voice of the whore, ye have drunk of her cup, ye have been bewitched, ye have set up her inventions; but have wanted the thing which cannot be invented, and which the invented understanding cannot comprehend. But if the force of the wine shall remain upon you, so that ye cannot hearken after, or let in, that which is everlasting, assure yourselves, as the life rises, ye will meet with plagues and wraths from it, instead of the refreshments it brings to others; and know what it is to sit down under the dead talk of, without feeling, the living power of redemption. Therefore be wise, and know the times and seasons. That will not be borne with now, which was <53> borne with formerly; but as the love and power of God to salvation have more appeared, so the severity against those who now resist will appear more also; and death shall have its sting, which they that will love darkness, and hate the light, shall feel.
THEY that are in the doctrines and bodies of divinity which have been formed since, are not in the true doctrine.
They that are in the rules of life which wise church-men or synods or councils have given, or which they themselves have gathered by their industry out of the Scriptures, are not in the true, living, and everlasting rule. They that are in the worship, or under the ministry, or of any church which hath been set up since by the power of man, or from the inventing wisdom (though this wisdom hath founded its inventions upon the Scriptures), are not in the true worship, in the true church, or under the true ministry. They that are in the faith, which has since been gathered into the understanding, and did not spring up from the mystery of life in the heart, are not in the true faith. The same may be said of love, hope, joy, peace, and all the rest mentioned before; yea, and all other things in religion; for all have been corrupted, even the inward part. And while here hath been a great contention about the forms of worship and church-government, the power of godliness, and the government of Christ in the heart, have been lost.
Observe diligently what we have now to say. When the apostles, who had the true ministry, preached the gospel, they stirred and raised up the power of God in the heart; and the power of sin, corruption, and deceit sunk down, and was under foot, and trampled upon by the power. But when antichrist and the false prophets arose, they raised up the corruption again, and fed it with doctrines of deceit; but the power sunk down, and was not felt, but was buried all that time of the prevailing of the corruption and deceit. Now the power was not lost all this while in itself; but only lost to man, so that he knew not where to find it. <54> Yet this power, in this time of loss, did stir and move, and make them in some degree sensible of the loss, causing them to pant and seek after the living truth. And this was good; this was of God. But then there was an evil spirit, which was near to the good, and lay lurking in the serpentine wisdom of the heart, and that drew the mind (which was bent towards the seeking of a right thing) a wrong way, that cried, Lo here! lo there! look into the Scriptures; the church was so and so; go, get into such a thing; the Christians there did so and so; go, do such a thing; there is the way; there thou shalt meet with the life and the power. And thus it drew from that which stirred within, into an imitation of a form without, and there they came to a loss. I dare appeal to all honest hearts, was there not a good thing stirring in you, when ye went into your church forms? Were ye not led in simplicity, hoping to meet with life and power there? Nay, did ye not lose it there, and become deader? Did ye meet with the life and power there? I know, if ye have not forgotten the taste of life, ye will confess to me, that that which now ye have is not life, but far short of that which ye had when ye entered into your form. Ah! poor hearts, the whore bewitched you. The harlot in your bosoms, and the false prophets without, helped to increase the witchery, crying Lo here! and lo there! but ye knew not that the kingdom of heaven was within, from whence that stirring of life was in you, where ye should have kept, and not have gone forth: but now ye are dead, and buried in your graves, lying there without sense, and are now got into the spirit of the world, and into the enmity against that life in others, which was then your life. And do ye know where ye are, and what ye are doing? Can ye bear to hear it?
Of a truth ye are in the snare of the enemy, in the enchantment from the life, in the whore's bed, in the strumpet's bosom, and not in the bosom of our beloved. And your practices are branches of the fornication, parcels of the whoredom, inventions which have been gathered in by that understanding, and set up by that will, which whored from God. They are the effects and products of the whore's cup, which gets new dresses, new habits, new forms, new ways to cozen and deceive the simple with; but still she remains the whore; and those who are seduced by her are led <55> into her whoredom. For when God discovers and hunts her out of one form, then she decks herself with another, perhaps more seemingly spiritual, more scripture-like, and so more likely to take with the simple heart; and then she lies in wait for the young man to entrap him again, saying, Come in hither; this is the true way of God without doubt. Did not the saints meet with life here formerly? Come thou hither also. Here is the bed of thy beloved; take thy fill of life, thy fill of love. And thus the poor, honest, simple heart follows her, going like a fool to the correction of the stocks, not knowing that it is for his life, until he comes to feel the loss of life. And then if she find she cannot keep him there, but fresh stirrings of life spring up in him again, and withdraw him from that which had deceived him, then she paints again, and lies in wait for him again, to catch him in some more refined appearance, or in some elevated notion, or at least in the shadow of that which is true: for the whore hath not only art and power to invent forms and likenesses of that which is true, and make idols and images of them; but it hath power also given it over the outward court; so that that which is found there, it can make idols and images of; that which is corruptible, it can get into and corrupt, and make an enemy to that life which lived in it before it was corrupted; and when it is corrupted, then there is no more truth or life to be found there, but the idol and the idolatry.
The Apostle John, who forewarned of antichrist, and gave a mark whereby it might be known; namely, by his not confessing Christ come in the flesh, 1 John 4:3 (which he that setteth up any thing of the old covenant, or any invention or imitation of any thing therein, doth not) bids also beware of idols: "Little children keep yourselves from idols." 1 John 5:21. Now, what is an idol? The Apostle Paul saith, "An idol is nothing in the world." An idol is no true thing in its place; but a false thing set up instead of the true. A false conception of God in the mind is an idol: a false church or temple is an idol: a false minister, who is not made according to the appointment of God, and by the gift of his Spirit, but came in another way, by the appointment of man, is an idol shepherd; and the worship in this church, and by this ministry, is public idolatry; and all the worship in families, which has been erected after the same manner, without the guidance of the Spirit <56> of God, is private idolatry. Were the heathens' temples, altars, priests, sacrifices, and other inventions of theirs (in imitation of the Jews) idolatrous? And are not the inventions of the heathenish spirit, or antichristian nature in man, are not they also idolatrous?
Object. But is praying idolatry, preaching idolatry, singing idolatry, baptizing of infants idolatry, breaking of bread idolatry?
Ans. The praying which God appointed is not idolatry: praying in the Spirit of God, when he moves, and according to the will of God, which is only known in the Spirit, is not idolatry; but thy praying in thine own spirit, and at thine own times, and according to thine own will (perhaps in way of imitation of the Jewish morning and evening sacrifices), this is idolatry. This is that which thou hast set up, instead of that which God set up; and so it is not the true thing which God set up, but an idol of thy own making; and so thou worshippest not God therein, but that spirit which helped thee to invent and set up the idol. The same might be said concerning preaching, singing, washing with water, breaking of bread, and whatever else is practised in religion upon these terms.
Object. But doth not the scripture mention these things? And did not the saints practise these things? Surely they were not idolaters! Can I be an idolater in practising that which they practised?
Ans. Nay, thou art mistaken; they are not the things which they practised. The stress of their religion lay in the life of it, in the presence of the Spirit of God in it; it was his breath made it the truth. Now, if thou couldst have the same things that they had, yet without the same living breath, they would be but dead things; but idols. But thou hast not the true form of things either; thou hast not the true church, the true ministry, the true ordinances, according to the form; but things set up in their stead, by the invention of man, in the time of the apostasy from the true things; and what can these be but idols?
"The world wondered after the beast; and they worshipped the dragon, which gave power unto the beast, and they worshipped the beast." Rev. 13:3-4. Behold, what was worshipped at the time of the apostasy! that which arose from the beastly invention of man, and not from the true Spirit of life. And the <57> inventing and setting up of these, and worshipping according to these inventions, is worshipping the dragon (for he getteth in, and lodgeth in man's inventions), and not the living God. And therefore God, at the end of this apostasy, raiseth up a new ministry, to recall the nations from worshipping the dragon to the worship of God again, ver. 6-7. of that chapter, "what the Gentiles sacrificed" of old, "they sacrificed to devils, and not to God." 1 Cor. 10:20. And what the late Gentiles sacrifice (I mean Christians in the heathenish nature, Christians to whom the outward court was given, Rev. 11:2. and who have a profession of the saints' words and practices, but without life), they sacrifice not to God either; but to that spirit that helped them to invent and form a likeness or image of the truth. Transgressing the principle of God within, they go from God, and from his worship; and the devil, who went out from the truth, gets in, and they go into his power; and whatever they perform in worship there, is to him; for when they go from the principle of God in them, the devil gets into their hearts, and God goes out; and his true life, power, and worship are not known, but an image or likeness, which the devil sets up instead of the true thing. So then, in that state, let men consider what they worship; for there they cry up ordinances and duties, and kill one another about them, thinking that they worship and honor God thereby; but know not, nor are come to, that wherein God alone can be worshipped and honored.
"I know the blasphemy of them, which say they are Jews, and are not, saith the Spirit." Rev. 2:9. Is this blasphemy? For a man to call himself a Christian, who is not, what is that? To call that a church, which is not, what is that? To call him a minister of Christ, who is not, what is that? To call those the ordinances of Christ, which are not, what is that? To call that faith, which is not, that justification which is not, &c., what is that? Can ye spy out the blasphemer? Ye have made a great outcry against him long; are ye willing now he should be put to death? The Lord hath lighted his candle; he is searching for him, and he will find him out: and as we have desired, so it shall be; the Lord will not spare him. Oh be awakened, be awakened, ye heathenish Christians! Open the eye that can see, and behold <58> where ye are, and what ye are doing, and how fast ye are running into the pit. Ye have forgotten God; ye have lost the true line of judgment; ye have lost the key of knowledge; and the light that is in you is darkness, and leads to darkness, though ye cannot possibly believe it. Oh! come back to the remembrance of God, and to true holiness, without which no man shall see him. For the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God; and ye have forgotten him days without number.
THE apostasy came by leaving the Spirit of God, and running after another spirit; and the recovery must be by leaving that other spirit, and returning to the Spirit of God again. How did Christians formerly begin their religion? They began in the Spirit. Gal. 3:3. And so they were to go on to perfection, and not to intermix any thing of the flesh. And had the anointing been kept to, antichrist and the mystery of iniquity had been kept out; and where that is returned to, the antichristian spirit is purged out by degrees, and the ways thereof discovered and forsaken. Therefore know the whorish spirit in thyself, which is busy to form likenesses in thy mind to seduce thee, and to make thee fall in love with the likenesses which she hath formed in other men's minds; and let her not deceive thee with her paint and gaudy appearances; but know likewise the little seal of life, from which truth springs up in thee, and in which the Spirit of Truth dwells, and is to be found; and take heed, lest the serpentine wisdom teach thee to despise and turn from it. From this spring it was, that truth sprung up in the witnesses all the time of the apostasy; for they had their testimony from the Spirit of prophecy. Rev. 19:10. So far as they kept to that, they gave a true testimony; so far as their own spirits mixed with it, they corrupted it. But to abide in that was very hard; and there was need of much affliction and persecution to keep the flesh down, and to preserve the life pure. But as the life springs up more strongly, and overcomes that spirit inwardly, (I mean the wise, fleshly spirit) there <59> will be less need of outward afflictions or persecutions; yea, or inward either: but there will be a safe entrance into, and abiding in, the joy, the rest, the peace, where the whore within (which seduced from the life, where the power is, into some form where the power is not) is burnt. Learn then, and know in thyself that Spirit of prophecy which spoke in all the martyrs. Hear that, come to that, keep to that; feel the union, the fellowship, the spreading of that in thee. When that bids thee go, go; when that bids thee come, come; when that bids thee do this, do it. But the flesh is grown strong, and strongly resisteth this Spirit, both inwardly and outwardly; and will not suffer him to rise up in the heart, or to rise up in the nation; but at any time when he stirreth, and offers to speak, or lead to God, there is a reason rises up in the fleshly wisdom, that knocks him down, and denies his voice, and hearkens to another voice instead of his. Thus they first give way to the fleshly wisdom, and suppress the truth in themselves, and then they would go forth and suppress it in others; and they think them mad, and their rage riseth against them where the truth is suffered to grow, and man's reason or fleshly wisdom denied. And thus is the "Lord of glory" evilly entreated, and slain at this day by this generation of Christians, as he was by the Jews slain formerly in the prophets, in that his appearance in a fleshly form, and in his apostles: and his blood will be required; for the earth shall not always drink it up and cover it, nor the adulterous woman be always able to wipe her mouth, and say, she hath done no wickedness. Ye have saved alive the unjust, and killed the just. The murdering nature is alive in you, O ye Christians! but the Holy One is slain, and lies buried in your graves: and ye have painted your graves, and speak good words of him; but still keep him down, and let another rise up and live in you. Ye cry up that appearance of Christ in the flesh, and the words he then spoke, and the words of his apostles, and think if ye had lived in those days, ye would not have killed either him or his apostles; and yet ye resist and oppose the same life in yourselves and in others, with such a kind of wisdom in the letter as the Pharisees had. Oh what will ye do! the uncircumcised ear is got up in you, and ye cannot hear; and the uncircumcised heart, and ye cannot understand; but <60> when this is told you, ye despise and wonder, and go on in the perishing state. My bowels! my bowels! I am pained at my bowels! O England! England! thou that killedst the martyrs in Queen Mary's days; thou that persecutedst the Nonconformists afterwards; thou that wouldst not suffer the people of God to meet together, to seek him with an honest heart; but wouldst confine them to thy gross, formal ways of worship! though the Lord hath appeared, and broken the horns of the oppressors; yet the persecuting spirit is not broken in thee; but thou still huntest after the precious life of the seed, and wouldst not let it spring up in the nation. The spirit of enmity is still up in thee, which knows not the Lord of life; but by a natural instinct opposeth him, and would fain keep up some grave or other, it cares not what, so it might but thereby keep down the life: for thou canst now bear with any form, and cherish it; and thy only enmity is against those who are sent by the Lord to gather out of all forms into the life. How often would the Lord have gathered thee! but thou wouldst not: and yet seeks to gather thee; but still thou wilt not: but, as if the former laws, made in Queen Mary's days, were not sufficient, desirest new laws, to ensnare and entangle the innocent. What will become of thee, or what wilt thou say to the Lord, when he ariseth to plead the cause of the innocent? For that Spirit which he raised up to witness against the whorish spirit (which lies hid in thy forms of worship and religion, and appears in all thy laws, councils, and ways of government, so far as they were formed, and so far as they are guided, by the wisdom of the flesh) is innocent: even as that Spirit which witnessed formerly against popery and episcopacy was innocent before the Lord, though accused by them as guilty of error in itself, and of disturbance to the public peace, as this is now by thee.
GUIDING OUT OF THE
APOSTASY, TO THE CHRISTIAN
SPIRIT AND LIFE AGAIN
1. That there is no salvation but by the true knowledge
of Christ. The Jews had received the ordinances of God, and
knew of the Messiah to come, and believed it, and were very zealous
in their worship, in observation of circumcision, the passover, new
moons, and sabbaths, &c., ("Wherewith shall I come before
the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?") and yet God
complains of them by his prophet, "My people perish for lack
of knowledge." And the state is the same under the
antichristian apostasy, wherein the whore hath made all nations,
kindreds, tongues, and languages drunk with the cup of her
fornication. The true knowledge and worship have been lost; though
the eyes of them that have been in the apostasy, and drunk with the
cup, could not see it, no more than the Jews could in their day.
But to come close to the thing.
The knowledge of Christ is not literal, traditional, or fleshly, nor can it be received by the natural understanding; but it is spiritual, and the understanding must be given by God which receives it. "He hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true." 1 John 5:20. A man may read scriptures, hear sermons, &c., and thereby gather a knowledge into the old understanding: but neither this understanding into which the knowledge is gathered, nor the knowledge itself which is gathered, is spiritual, but fleshly, and so cannot save. He that comes once to receive an understanding from Christ, and to have the knowledge of Christ poured forth from Christ into his heart, knows the difference between that and the understanding into which he gathers things. The knowledge of Christ after the letter (and a faith in him answerable to such knowledge) will not save: but a man must know him in that Spirit, life, and power wherein he lived, if he groundedly hope to be saved by him. 2 Cor. 5:16-17.
2. That Christ saves by the new covenant: not by any thing got into the mind by the oldness of the letter; but by a life begotten, which is new. There are two covenants made mention of in scripture, one whereof is called the old, the other the new. The old belonged to the Jews, which is done away, with their ceremonies, state, and polity. The new, which is better than the former, Christ is the Mediator of. Heb. 8:6. By mediating between God and the creature, or by bringing them together in, and according to, this covenant, he saves. Man, by his disunion and distance from God, perisheth: by being brought again to God, he lives again; which thing Christ effecteth by the new covenant. So then he that is not <62> led by Christ into that covenant, is not in the state of salvation.
3. That the new covenant is written in the heart; or there is no other way of coming into the new covenant, whereof Christ is High-priest and Mediator, but by having the laws of God written in the heart. "This is the covenant, &c. I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts, &c. They shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest." Heb. 8:10-11. He is speaking of the covenant whereof Christ is Mediator, ver. 6. which he calls a new covenant, ver. 8. and saith it is not like the old, ver. 9. instancing in two main particulars, wherein it is very unlike. 1. The old was written outwardly in letters, to be read by the outward eye; but this is written inwardly in the heart and mind, and so can only be read by a spiritual eye. 2. Under the old they needed teaching from men; the priest's lips were to preserve knowledge, and they were to seek the law at his mouth; but now they should have the law so near them, so clearly written in them, that they should need none to teach them. From the law is the knowledge of God; the law is in the heart; and from the law in the heart springs up the knowledge of God in the least and in the greatest that are within this covenant, that they need not say, Know the Lord. -- This is the state of the new covenant, which the Christians came to in these days. 1 John 2:27. But it hath been a strange thing in this dark night of apostasy, and is yet a strange thing to many. But let such consider, Can a man be a Christian, and be out of that covenant whereof Christ is the Mediator? Can a man be brought back again to God by Christ, and yet be out of that covenant whereby Christ brings back men to God? Oh! how hath Satan deluded poor souls in this thick night of darkness, to make men believe they have faith in Christ, and shall be saved thereby; while they are quite ignorant of, and strangers to; that covenant whereby Christ the Mediator saves. "They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest." Mark: there is not the least in this covenant but hath the law so written in his heart, that he need not seek out for knowledge.
4. That the Spirit of God alone can write the covenant in the heart; or that Christ writes the covenant by his Spirit, -- Man, by all his wisdom, cannot attain it. Man is driven out from <63> God, and cannot find the way back again to him, without the teachings and leadings of God's own Spirit. It is not the being educated in any way of religion from one's childhood, or the leaving of that, and running into any sect afterwards, that will avail any thing hereto; but the alone hearkening to the true voice of the true Spirit. It is written in the prophets concerning the children of this covenant, that they shall be all taught of God: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord." It is the Lord alone, who by his Spirit teacheth them to come to Christ, and to receive the new covenant into their hearts from Christ: for man is in an incapacity to know or receive Christ, or his covenant, until the Spirit hath fitted and taught him. John 14:17. -- But when he hath prepared and fitted his heart, then with his own finger he writeth the pure law of the nature and life of Christ therein; by the receipt whereof he cometh out of his own dark spirit and nature into the true knowledge of God, and union with him. "I will put my Spirit within you." Ezek. 36:27. This is part of the covenant, and indeed that part whereby all the rest is wrought.
5. Therefore, the first proper step in religion, is to know how to meet with God's Spirit. There is no progress, no true progress, to be made in the true religion, till a man comes into the covenant; and there is no coming into the covenant but by the Spirit: therefore the first thing that is absolutely necessary to be known in religion, is the Spirit, his writing, or at least his motions and stirrings, in the heart. It may further be evidenced thus: all things in religion, acceptable to God, flow from the Spirit: all knowledge is to come from him; for he alone hath revealed and can reveal truth, and is appointed by Christ to lead into all truth. All worship is to be offered up in him: they that worship the Father, must worship him in the Spirit and in the truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him; but rejecteth all other worshippers and worship, how glorious soever their worship may seem to them: particularly praying is always to be in the Spirit. Ephes. 6:18. Jude 20. So singing, &c., yea, the whole life and conversation is to be in the Spirit. Gal. 5:25. The mortifying of all corruption is to be done by the Spirit. "If ye, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Rom. 8:13. Indeed a Christian is nothing, and can do nothing, <64> without the power and presence of the Spirit of God in him. So then, if nothing in religion can be done (with acceptance to God) without the Spirit, then the Spirit is the first thing to be looked after, by him who would be truly and well-groundedly religious.
6. The first way of meeting with the Spirit of God, is as a convincer of sin. Here is the true entrance; this is the key that opens into life eternal; he that can receive it, let him. It is not by soaring aloft into high imaginations and forms of worship; but by coming down to this low thing. This is the first and most proper work of the Spirit of God toward fallen man, whereby he makes way toward the writing of God's law in the heart; namely, to convince of sin. And where should man look first to meet with him, but in his first work upon him? When Christ promised the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, he said this concerning him, "that he should convince the world of sin." John 16:8. They who are created anew in Christ, and become his disciples, receive comfort from the Spirit; but what is he to the world? Or how may they feel any operation of him? Why he is to them a convincer of sin, and they may find him checking them for, and convincing them of, their sins. So that the great work for man, while he lies in the darkness (for when he is translated into light he will be easy) is to distinguish the movings and stirrings of the Spirit of God. And this is the best way for man in this state to know them by: that which discovers that which is evil, THAT is good. That which discovers that which is spiritually evil, THAT must needs be spiritually good; for evil is darkness, and cannot make itself manifest. That which discovers that which is undoubtedly pure, and inclines to it, THAT must needs be of God. Now to know this, and be joined unto it, is a joining of the creature unto God, by somewhat of him that comes from his Spirit, and so is a true beginning of life eternal.
7. That whereby the Spirit of God convinceth of sin, is his light shining in the conscience. Fallen man is darkness; the light shines in the darkness, and shows man the evil, which otherwise would lie covered in him. Man fell from God, lost the image of God, and became wholly darkness; but the Spirit of God is light, and shines in the darkness, and strives with man to reduce him back again to that light from which he fell. "God, who <65> commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God," &c. 2 Cor. 4:6. Where did the apostles and Christians in those days meet with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ? God shined in their hearts. He that made the light to shine out of the dark deep, Gen. 1:2. by his Spirit, he by the same Spirit made the light of the knowledge of life shine in their dark hearts; and there it is also that the work of conviction is wrought by the same Spirit. He that perfects the good work in the heart, the same is he that begins it there; and his beginning is, by reproving and convincing of sin, and so turning the heart from it unto God, and unto the obedience of that righteousness which he makes manifest. And he that meeteth not with the Spirit in the beginning of his work, or slinketh back, and goeth not on with him, but smothereth his reproofs, not forbearing that, or parting with that for which he is reproved, is never like to meet with him in the end. And then it will be too late for him to blame that religion wherein there was only a dead form, but not the living power of God. He that will come to life eternal, must be translated out of his dead understanding, and all his dead ways and worships, which please that understanding, into a living principle, and keep in that principle; and then he shall know life indeed, and the true food of that life, and the true worship and service from that life, and the reward belonging to all.
8. That this light convincing of sin, shineth in every conscience. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good," Micah 6:8. "The life," which was in Christ, was "the light of men." John 1:4. Christ is "the light of the world," John 8:12. God, as he loved the world, so he manifested his love to the world, by sending his light into it, to enlighten every man that cometh into the world, that with the light they may see his Son; and as many as receive him, to them he gives power to become the sons of God. As God would have "all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth;" so he hath given that light to all, which may bring to the knowledge of the truth which saveth. He is "the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world." John 1:9. "The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men," &c. As the enemy got possession of <66> every man's heart, by filling it with darkness; so Christ pursueth, and seeketh to dispossess the enemy, by the light which he sendeth after him into every man. And this is the condemnation of man: not that he wants a light to witness against, and draw him from the enemy; but that he loves the enemy, and chooseth to be one with the enemy; but hates light, and turns from it. John 3:19-20. He hearkens to the reasonings of his mind against the light, and so smothers and chokes it; but does not turn to the light, to have all the reasonings of his mind subdued by it, and subjected to it.
9. The true way to life eternal, is by believing in the light of the Spirit, which shineth in the conscience. Man is in darkness, which keeps him in death; and there is no way to come out of the death, but by coming out of the darkness; and there is no way to come out of the darkness, but by following that light which discovers it, and calls forth from it; and he that doth follow that, cannot remain in the darkness, but must needs come out. There is an evil principle in man, calling for evil; and there is a good principle calling from the evil to the good: now he that followeth the good, cannot follow the evil, but departs from it. "I am the light of the world (saith Christ); he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12. But this is that which undoes man; he loves the darkness, he loves the world, the course of the world, the worships of the world; he loves his own understanding, and his own will, and so hates that light which crosseth these, and which would teach him, by the denial of them, to crucify that nature from whence they spring, and to which they are suitable. And from hence it comes to pass (the love to sin within being strong, and Satan, the strong man, keeping the house) that the motions of God's Spirit are easily overborne, either by reasonings of the understanding, or by perverseness of the will: but if any man durst trust himself to them, he would quickly find of what nature they were, by the strong opposition of the strong man against them. It is indeed a strait and narrow way, into which no flesh can enter and walk; and yet it is the only way: for there is no life in God, no peace with God, while the enemy lives in the heart. But when the light is received and turned to, then the power begins to work, which slays the enemy in the heart; and that being done, there is no more war, but <67> peace. Then the true peace, which passeth understanding, fills and refreshes the heart; whereas the peace which was in the soul before, was but the peace of the enemy, and will abide no longer than the enemy is suffered to keep possession quietly.
10. That believing in the light of the Spirit, which shines in the conscience, unites the soul to God, and opens the springs of life to it. Belief in darkness (which is unbelief towards God) disunited the soul, and closed up the springs of life from it. Belief in the light, which is sent to lead from the darkness, unites again, and opens the springs again. God is light; he dwells in the light, and there enjoys the fulness of life: and he gives a measure of his own light to draw from the darkness: and he who believes and follows this, is led by it unto God, from whom it came: and being come out of the darkness unto him, he begins again to feel the springs of life, the fresh springs of life. which are in him. He that believeth is come to the well of salvation, and draws living water out of it, and drinks of the living water continually, so that he can thirst no more; yea, "out of his belly flow rivers of living water." This is the fruit of the true faith; but this is not the fruit of the faith of the apostasy; but there the soul remains still disunited to God, and united to the darkness, and drinks not of the living streams, but drinks dead water. The fountain of pure life is not open to it: but the fountain of iniquity: and that blood which cleanseth and taketh away the sin is not known. There is only a dream of these things in the dark night of apostasy; by which dream the conscience is a little quieted for the present; but when the witness awakes, and the light of the day shines, the soul, which is lean, will find itself in the hands of the enemy, in the bonds of sin, and feel that it never knew that power that could redeem it; but the subtle serpent deceived it with a name, instead of the thing.
This is the true way, the narrow way (I can, in the presence of the living God, set my seal to the truth of it) which it hath pleased God to discover, and make manifest again, after the long dark night of apostasy. And we come not to it by hearing or receiving any new notions or apprehensions of things; but by feeling that which puts an end to all creaturely notions and apprehensions; and we grow in it by the increase of that thing in us. <68> The seed to which the promise was made, the seed which was before Abraham was, is felt, and his day is seen and rejoiced in; and by the light thereof the darkness is discovered, and the kingdom of darkness is assaulted. And as it daily falls in many particulars, so it shall at length fall in the general; and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign upon the earth, where sin and antichrist have long reigned, and kept him down. And though there be a great rage and outcry among the people and heathenish professors, yet the decree is gone forth, and Sion's king shall reign in the holy hill of Sion, and the hills and mountains shall melt before him, and the earth shall shake round about him.
Therefore gather yourselves together, muster up your strong forces, O ye several sorts of carnal professors! Let all your differences one against another fall, and join together against him who is against you all. Improve the serpent's wisdom, and form arguments out of the Scripture thereby with the utmost skill and understanding of flesh; get the kings, rulers, and magistrates of the earth on your side too; handle all the weapons of the flesh skilfully; dispute, reproach, revile, whip, stock, imprison, starve, nay, put to death. See if you can uphold your kingdom; for there is a mighty one come forth against you, who will take the vineyard, the kingdom, the inheritance from you, and give it to another; and on you shall come that death and darkness, that misery and destruction, which you have put far from you; and slighted as the portion of others. Therefore consider your condition in the fear of the Lord; and if you feel not yourselves able to fight it out, make your peace betimes, and let your greatest crowns (your choicest wisdom and strength in the flesh) be laid down at the feet of Christ, at the lowest appearance of his light in the conscience. Let not the least check of his Spirit be slighted there; but esteemed above the highest notions of light that ye have gathered in, or can gather with your fleshly understandings. -- And indeed it is no less than its due: for this which runs fresh from the Spirit is more living in itself, and more proper to that man's present estate to whom it comes, than whatever he himself by his understanding can gather from the letter.
There hath been a precious seed of God long stirring in this <69> nation; but it hath been oppressed, and kept in bondage by the spirit of Pharaoh and his wise Egyptians, who would subject it to their laws and worships, and not let Israel go out of Egypt at God's call, to worship him in Spirit and truth; but would keep him in forms and ways of man's invention. The Lord hath poured out his plagues upon this spirit, and more and more wrought out the liberty of his people: but as the plagues cease, this spirit hardens itself, and essays the reducing of Israel into bondage again. And as Pharaoh renews the bondage of Israel, so God renews the plagues on Pharaoh and his Egyptians. Pharaoh hath a stubborn will, and a great wisdom and power, and is loth to let Israel go; but the Lord also is wise and strong, and hath a will more righteous than Pharaoh's; and by his wisdom and strength will he effect his will, and Pharaoh's shall not stand.
Who is such a stranger in Israel, that hath not observed, that as God began to raise up the seed in this nation, and call it into liberty, so the spirit of the wise Egyptians rose up against it, exclaiming of error, heresy, blasphemy, new ways, new lights, &c.? And doubtless many tares have sprung up; but the aim of the enemy was not so much to pluck up the tares, as to destroy the one good seed of wheat. Herod did not aim at killing all the infants in Bethlehem; but he would rather kill them all, than have Christ live. What preaching on the one hand! What running to the magistrate on the other hand! And all to destroy this young babe. When any different way of worship did appear, as of Independency, Anabaptism, or of seeking and waiting for the truth, how did they make an head against them, and cry out against them, for fear the young child should be born and appear there! And now they see their own image brought forth there, they are at peace with them. And having discovered that, where no part of the image or mark can be received, but there is another nature in life and truth brought forth, and no form without life will go down; now they knew where to shoot all their darts; now they knew against whom to invent and speak all manner of evil, and against whom to direct all their envy, rage, and out-cries, and to prepossess all sorts of persons everywhere, with all manner of prejudices, that the truth may not spread anywhere, but be opposed everywhere. And all persons' minds <70> there, are so filled beforehand with the venom of the serpent, that truth cannot come anywhere, but it finds the enmity already stirred up, and prepared to withstand it.
This is a new way, a new light, says one; we knew a religion before this came up, and we will keep to that, let who will run after these new sects and ways. A natural light, the old light of nature, saith another, or the corrupted light of Adam, which hath run along through all his posterity. Another outcry is, that it makes the Scriptures void and useless. Others cry out, that it teaches things contrary to the Scriptures; that it sets up free-will; that it leads to a covenant of works; that it breaks down relations, laws, governments; takes away due respect from magistracy and superiors, and turns the world upside down. Thus the worldly spirit is everywhere up in arms, and a zeal kindled everywhere to keep it out of every heart, and out of every place and country.
Now these are not real things; but such kind of slanders and reproaches as always have attended truth. The prophets of God, Christ, and his apostles, though they have been spoken well of afterwards, yet they have ever been hated, spoken ill of, and persecuted by the generation of professors of their age. The Scribes and Pharisees could not with so great advantage have persecuted Christ and his apostles, without a seeming zeal for the law and prophets; and yet it was the same spirit that so vehemently cried up the law, the prophets, the ordinances of Moses, that persecuted the Spirit and life in Christ and his apostles, from whence the law, the prophets, and ordinances came. And thus it is at this day; though that spirit is as blind now as it was then, and cannot see through its own cover; though it be as weak and narrow as theirs was. The guilty chargeth the innocent, that it might hide its own guilt, and keep its covering. The guilty Jews, and the guilty Scribes and Pharisees, charged the prophets, Christ, and his apostles, that they might not be found guilty by them, and have their formal covering rent from them. And thus it is at this day; truth is risen to make manifest men's false coverings, and the guilt and hypocrisy that lie hid underneath. Now to save themselves, they are prepared beforehand to lay that charge against truth, which truth hath against them.
Search thine heart, resist not the light, thou that hast charged <71> the truth with any of these things, and thou wilt find it thine own condition. The truth is no new light, or new way; and they that hold it forth, do not hold forth any new way, or new light; but it is thou that hast left the good old light, the good old way, which was before the apostasy, and hast fallen in with some new light, some new way, invented and set up since the apostasy. It is thou again that settest up the natural light, the fallen wisdom, the wisdom which is out of the life, and in enmity with the life; with this thou feedest that understanding which is to be brought to nought; and when thou hast done this thyself, then thou callest the spiritual light, wherewith God hath pursued it in all ages, a natural light. It is thou that with this wisdom searching into the Scriptures, and gathering the oldness of the letter into the old understanding, makest the Scriptures void and useless to thy soul, and canst not meet with that life and power which they speak of; but art still alive in thy sins, and dead unto God; and then thou criest out against that which comes to discover this to thee, and to bring thee out of the dead knowledge into the life of the Scriptures; thou criest out against this, as if this made the Scriptures useless. And when thou hast set up a whole body of knowledge, religion, and worship, quite contrary to the Scriptures, which the truth comes to make manifest, then Cain's nature riseth up in thee, and thou takest up Cain's weapons, and fain wouldst thou kill thy brother, because his sacrifice in the faith testifies against thine, which is out of the faith, and contrary to the true testimony of the Scriptures. Again; for a free-will and a covenant of works, thou hast set up a religion in the old will and works; not according to the new covenant of life, but according to the old covenant of death. And by this thou preachest that will to be free, which is in bonds; and settest up the works of man's righteousness, and conformity to the letter, for the works of the new covenant. And for governments and laws, that which is according to God, which is a terror to the evil, and a praise to them that do well; that which is liberty to the just, and a curb to the unjust; this thou art against, and criest out daily for the turning of the magistrate's sword against the innocent, because they are a light to discover thy deeds of darkness, which are out of the light, and disturb thy peace and thy settlement in that which is fleshly, and of man, and not of <72> God. So for relations, and honor to magistrates; the transgressing nature hath brought up a wrong thing, a fleshly thing, an honor and a duty which are of the flesh, and please the flesh, and are not according to God. And this is not honor indeed; not an honor that will stand; not an honor that will be justified in the sight of God; but it is a shame to them that give it, and a shame to them that receive it; discovering that they are servants to the flesh, giving to and receiving from the fleshly part that which the fleshly part (which crucifies the life) calls for, and is pleased with.
All that the light doth to these things, is to discover and condemn them: and the end of its discovery is, that they might be removed, and truth and righteousness brought in the stead of them. But man's evil heart, which is the cause of them, cries out against the light, as if the light brought them. Whereas if man could be quiet and still, and suffer the work of the light upon him, he would find that the same light which discovereth them, would also purge them away, and leave neither root nor branch of iniquity, either in men's hearts, or in relations, or families, or towns, or cities, or laws, or governments; and there would be no want of honor. Now though the serpent's wisdom is irreconcilable, and that understanding which stands there cannot be satisfied, but must be confounded and brought to nought, 1 Cor. 1:19. yet because underneath all this there is a simplicity in some, which is betrayed; for the relief of that, somewhat further may be spoken in answer to these things.
Object. 1. To the first objection, that this is a new way, or new light, I answer:
Ans. It is new indeed to them who have lain long in the apostasy, and set up another light; but it is not new in itself, but the same that was in the beginning; yea, and before the beginning also. Christ was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and the light that comes from him is like him; that also is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. It was the same under the law, the same before the law, the same since the law. As the darkness all along hath been the same, so the light all along hath been the same also. It was the same in the Jews, and the same in the Gentiles. It was this God expected obedience to from the Jews; and the prophet (in the name of the Lord) disdains their <73> sacrifices, and brings them to this; Micah 6:8. "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?" Their eye was upon sacrifices and oil; but the prophet points them to that which would bring them to the right sacrifice, and to the true oil. And the Gentiles, so far as they were obedient to this, were accepted, and excused in their own consciences; the faithful witness whereof is of God, and will stand in the day of Christ. Rom. 2:15-16. "That which was from the beginning," saith the apostle John, "declare we unto you." 1 John 1:1. And "this is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." verse 5. And the end of preaching this message, is to draw out of the darkness into the light; to bring men to the feeling of the light of God in them, and so to union with it; which being turned to, draws out of the darkness. God, who is light, is nigh to every man, who is darkness; though man's sense is very thick, and can hardly see or feel him. And a light from him shines in man's darkness; but man's darkness comprehends it not. So that this light is not new in itself, but only new to the old spirit, which hath long lain hid in the region of darkness and death, and hath not known the light of life.
Object. 2. That this is a natural light, or the light of old Adam's nature.
Ans. It is in one sense a natural light; it is of the nature of him from whom it comes; of the nature of God, and of his Christ, whom it appears for: but it is not of the nature of corrupt Adam, whom it always reproved, and against whom it still stands a witness, and condemns all corruption. Man is darkness; and when Christ comes to redeem him, he finds him darkness: and Christ finds no light in him to help him to discover sin to him; but all the discoveries of sin that are made in the heart, are by the light of Christ, and not by any light of man's nature. The Lord is the searcher of the heart, and he searcheth it with his own candle, and not with any left in man's nature. Man fell into darkness, and knew not where he was; but the Lord cometh after him with his candle, and discovereth his state to him. It is the light from which man fell, and against which he sins, that is alone able to make his <74> disobedience manifest to him. "We know" saith the apostle, "that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal." Rom. 7:14. The law is the lowest part of the light; and yet that is spiritual, and of Christ's nature, and not of Adam's nature; "we know it," saith the apostle. Such as know the nature of that which manifests sin, know it to be spiritual. It is the fallen man from the light, the man in the darkness, that calls the light darkness: but that which discovers the darkness, and reproves the darkness, and wars against the darkness, is not darkness, but the light of life. And those who are spiritual, and feel the nature and power of it in their spirits, know it to be so. But man hath set up a light of his own; hath raised up a light by his study and invention, in the strength of the fallen wisdom: and now setting up this for light, he must needs call the true light darkness, as the Pharisees did Christ.
Object. 3. That it makes the Scriptures void and useless.
Ans. It came from the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures; it is of the same nature with the light that shone in them that gave forth scriptures; it speaks the same thing with scriptures, it leads to the same thing, and it opens and witnesses to the words which the scriptures speak; and so it brings the scriptures, which have been long abused, into their true use. Indeed it puts an end to the corrupt use of scriptures, to man's inventing and forming things out of them, and brings them into their true use and service. It takes the scriptures out of man's hand, who hath slain the life by them, and puts them into the hands of the Spirit, who makes the words again pure and quick and living; purging away man's defiled and dead conceivings and interpretations of them.
A man must know the Spirit, come to the Spirit, be joined to, and be in union with the Spirit, before he can have the true understanding of the scriptures. The scriptures of truth are the words of God, or various expressions of his mind; which he that searcheth into, before he hath his Spirit, cannot know: and so man, in this state, can only guess and imagine at things, but cannot see the truth. And from hence it is that so many sects and heaps are sprung up in the world, according to the variety of their imaginations. One sort of men cry, This is the way, this is the truth, this is the church, this is the worship. Another sort cry, This is not it; that is superstition and error; but this is it: and so a third and <75> fourth, &c. So about scriptures, one saith this is the meaning; another saith it is not so, but this is the meaning. The Papists say, the church must judge of the meaning of scriptures; and the Protestants, who take more scope, how do they doubt and differ, and oppose one another, about the interpretation of scriptures! Which plainly shows that they do not plow with the right heifer; for then there would be unity and certainty. They let their own reasonings and imaginations loose, and there is no foundation of certainty. But had they waited for the Spirit to begin with, and gone on no further than he opened to them, all these doubts and dissensions would have been choked in the birth, or womb, or not have come so far as either birth or womb. Yet do I not altogether deny the reading of scriptures, even in this state, if man read with fear and trembling: not setting up his own understanding, or the understanding of any man else; but waiting for the Spirit, which can alone give him an understanding to receive the true knowledge. But this I dare boldly affirm, that men's reading of the scriptures in their own wisdom and self-confidence (or confidence of what interpretation others have given) doth them no good at all, but much harm, tending to the building up of that which God will again destroy. But he that begins with the Spirit of God, giving himself up to that light which comes from him, comes to true union with God, and to the feeling of the life, and so to a true growth and knowledge of the Spirit of God, whereby he comes to know and understand the scriptures, which came from the same Spirit; and hereby also he comes to be able to measure the deceit of his own spirit, which formerly led him aside, and also to see and measure the spirits of deceivers. But he that is in the deceit, in the imagination, out of the true knowledge, he cannot know the deceit of his own spirit, or the spirits of deceivers; but calls the truth deceit, and the deceit truth.
Object. 4. That this light teaches things contrary to the Scriptures.
Ans. That light which comes from the same Spirit which the Scriptures came from, cannot teach things contrary to the Scriptures. But man, who hath taken the tools of his understanding, and formed images and likenesses out of the Scriptures (I mean invented meanings and senses, and judged these agreeable to the <76> Scriptures), he must needs judge that which is contrary to these, as contrary to the Scriptures: whereas the truth is one in itself, and agreeth with whatsoever is true in this age, or in former ages; and differs only from that which is not true. And we know that there is that true unity with that Spirit from which the Scriptures came, and with the Scriptures, and with one another, in that light which the wisdom of man cannot but despise, as hath not been in any age since the apostasy until now.
Object. 5. That this sets up free-will. When persons are exhorted to embrace the light, to let in the light, and told that condemnation comes for not believing or receiving the light, then they cry out, Can man believe? Can man receive the light? Hath man free-will?
Ans. The will of man is bound; but there is liberty, power, and freedom in the light which visits man, and comes to unbind and save him. And man feels this power, tastes of this liberty, feels somewhat disengaging him from the evil, and drawing him from it: but he being in love with the evil, draws back from the drawing, shutting his ears against the wisdom of the light, and opening his ears to the reasonings of the serpent; and then the liberty and power which were in the light, withdraw with the light, and the bonds are strengthened upon him. And this is the condemnation; not that there was a want of power from God, but that he chose the power of the enemy, not loving the light, wherein the power of life lay. God knows the state of man in the fall, and knows the strength of the enemy; and the Saviour that he sends hath sufficient power against him; and the light that the Saviour sends is stronger than the darkness, and can overcome the darkness, and cannot be overcome by the darkness. And if thou join with the darkness, and wilt not yield to the drawings of the Father, but yield up thyself to the drawings and reasonings of the darkness; yet the strength of the light remains in itself. And though for the present thou hast struck it down and slain it; yet it will rise up a strong and living witness against thee, and the darkness to which thou hast joined. When a man goes from the light, he goes into the will voluntarily; then takes and chooses in the flesh. When a man follows the light, the will of the flesh dieth in him, another will riseth up, and chooseth for <77> him. There is the true liberty.
But as for your speaking of free-will, ye do not know what ye speak of: for the will, with the freedom of it, either stands in the image and power of him that made it, or in a contrary image and power. While it is in the image and power of him that made it, it is free unto good, and not to evil; while it is in the image and power of him who corrupted it, it is free unto evil, and not to good. The will is not of itself, but stands in another, and is servant to that in whom it stands, and there its freedom is bound and comprehended. For there is no middle state between both, wherein the will stands of itself, and is free to both equally; but it is a servant, and under the command of one of these powers. If it be under the command of sin, of the power of darkness, it is free from righteousness; and if it be under the command and power of righteousness, it is free from sin; but such a free-will as men commonly speak of, is mere imagination, and hath no foundation in the true state of things.
And this may answer another objection, which lies as a great block in the way of many, who feel a conviction, but are withheld from obedience, under a pretence of wanting power; whereas the power lies in that light which convinceth, and is received in the obedience, and in the cross. As the power of the enemy creeps in, in hearkening to him; so the power of truth is received in hearkening to, and receiving the reproofs of truth. That which checks the evil, that which stands against the mind, smiting it in its course of vanity and pleasure in the fallen state, in that is the power. That comes from the power, goes forth in the power, and the power is in it, and cannot be severed from it. So he that lets that in, lets in the power; and he that shuts that out, shuts out the power. And in this state a man may complain all his days for want of power, and not meet with it: for how can he, when he refuseth it in the way wherein the power seeks him, and waits for it in a way wherein it is not to be found? The appearance of the power at first is small, and contemptible to the eye of the fleshly wisdom; and it is not received in any such great, overpowering way (though that also is known afterward) as man is apt to expect; but all lies in one little seed, where the day of small things is known. The light, the life, the power, the purity, the wisdom, <78> &c., lie hid there; and in receiving that little thing, all is received; and in the growth of that, all grows up. But by being tempted by the enemy to neglect this, and wait for some great power and appearance of God, the soul is held in the bonds of iniquity, and kept from the life, as strongly as by the grossest form.
Object. 6. That this sets up a covenant of works; for a man is bid to do, bid to obey the light; and when he does, when he obeys, he has peace; and when he obeys not, he has not peace.
Ans. This sets not up the works of the law; but it leads through the works of the law to the righteousness of faith. "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Rom. 7. The apostle was alive in his worship and Jewish state, till the law came: but when the law came, it slew that life that he had there, and he became dead, both to that life by which he lived before, and to the law that slew him; and then there arose up a life in him which answered the law, and could fulfil it, and lead to a righteousness beyond it: and then his life and righteousness were not any works of the law, but of faith, and in the faith. Gal. 2:19-20. But yet there is no passing to this, but through the administration of the law in the heart, in the hand of the Mediator. And when the life is risen and received, yet even then there is no peace but in the obedience to the life. The peace lives in that which brings the peace; and if there be a departing from that, there is a departing from the peace. Any fleshly thought, any fleshly motion, as it is out of the life, so it is out of the peace; and the mind joining to it, feels the death and trouble of it. Thus said the apostle, Gal. 6:15-16. "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them." The peace comes to the new creature, and to man walking according to the rule of the new creature: and the condemnation is not to them that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Rom. 8:1. But if there be an hearkening to the flesh, and a fulfilling the unrighteousness thereof in any thing, God is righteous, and he cannot speak peace to the wicked, or to him that joins with the wicked. Therefore, where there is true peace, there must be a coming from the wicked nature, and a living out of the wicked nature, in him who is the life, the righteousness, the peace. I <79> know there have been curious fabrics in men's minds about the covenant of grace; but they have not known the nature of it, and of the works that flow from it, and so are apt to call the works of the new life, springing from the covenant of life, the works of the old covenant. But wisdom is justified of her children, and they know her birth: and in the true light the true nature of things is seen, and the true name and description given, which he that is out of the light cannot receive, but stumbles at: and the wiser he is, in his own devised way and knowledge of things, the more stumbling-blocks he has, and the more he stumbles.
Object. 7. and last. That it breaks down relations, laws, governments; takes away due respect from magistracy and superiors, and turns the world upside-down.
Ans. Iniquity hath reigned, unrighteousness hath wound itself into, and twisted about every thing. And now the truth comes to discover and purge out the iniquity; the strong man, who hitherto hath kept possession of the house, cries out, as if the destruction of the thing were aimed at. Nay, it is only the evil that is aimed at; but the thing itself is not to be destroyed, but to be set free from the evil, and preserved. Relations are good, laws are good, governments are good, of God; but the unrighteousness of flesh, the pleasing of the flesh by the pretence of these, the giving liberty to the unjust, this is not good. And is it not thus in relations, in government, in the execution of laws? If a man will be fleshly, and walk in them according to the flesh, the law takes not hold of him, his relations are not offended at him; but if he comes once to feel the power of God and withdraw from the evil, and stand a witness for God against it, then relations, and powers of the earth, and laws, all strike at him: and the reason is, because they are in union with the evil, and so cannot bear the rending of the evil from the thing. And from hence it is, that wherever the gospel comes in power, it kindles a flame round about, setting father against son, and son against father, husband against wife, and wife against husband, &c. Yea, it goes closer than so; it sets one part in man against another; and the fight is very bitter and sharp, till one of these be subdued, and then there is peace; fleshly peace, if the wise, fleshly part prevail; spiritual peace, if the weak, foolish thing (to <80> the world) in the heart, which is of God, prevail.
And for honor to magistrates and superiors, it is not denied; but fleshly honor, corrupt honor, honor from the fleshly part, and to the fleshly part, this cannot but be denied by them which are of God. That which is born of God is not of this world, nor can it give honor to that which is of this world; but it honors all men in the Lord. Whatever is of God in magistracy, it honors; whatever is in superiority according to God (as a father, a husband, a master,) it honors with true honor. Christ, the only begotten of God, could not receive honor of men, nor could he give honor to men: and he saith to the Jews, How can ye believe which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only? The receiving of honor from man cannot stand with the true faith (when ye know the faith ye will know it): he that respecteth persons, commiteth sin, and is a transgressor against the law of faith, which leads to the life which stands in God, out of the world's honors, worships, customs, and whatever else which is not of faith, but of the world. Mordecai did not bow to Haman; nay, he sat in the king's gate, where Haman was to pass, and yet did not stand up, move, or bow to him. What an affront was this to that high, proud, lofty spirit! and yet it was of the Lord. This was a type (as the Jewish state in general was typical) of what God would do in the world, and is now doing. The Lord hath raised up Mordecai's nature, and he hath discovered Haman's nature, and hath given the command to Mordecai, that he should not bow to Haman. And if ye could search your hearts, ye would find, that it is not that of God in you which is offended for want of that which ye call honor; but the Hamanish spirit, the fleshly pride and loftiness, which the Lord will lay low; and he alone will be exalted in this day of his mighty power; and man shall only be honored as he comes from him, and as he is found in him: but the honor which the fleshly part hath sought and gained in the transgression, shall fall with the transgressor, whom the Lord hath furbished his sword to smite.
And for turning the world upside-down, it is acknowledged: the power of the Lord is come forth to do it. That which is high, that which is wise, that which is strong, that which is rich, that which is full, that which is fat, the Lord will lay low, make <81> foolish, weak, poor, empty, lean; for it lies in wickedness. He will feed the fat and strong cattle with that judgment which shall make them lean and weak. And the humble, the foolish, the weak, the poor, the empty, the lean, he will raise up, and make wise, and strong, and rich, and full, and fat, with the true honor, the true wisdom, the true strength, the true riches, the sure and living mercies of David; who sets his feet on the top of the high places of the earth; of whom Christ came according to the flesh.
Thus I have in plainness of heart, and plainness of speech, set the truth and the error before you, and lent my hand toward the removing of some blocks which lay in your way, in love and pity to your souls. Now if any, in the reading of this, feel a secret touch upon their hearts, startling them, and giving some testimony to the truth, though very small, and through a thick, dark covering, there is that to which I speak; there is the witness within the veil; and there is the testimony rising up, which leads to life, if given heed to. Keep to this, and this will prick and wound, judge and condemn the contrary nature, though ever so strong. And when it doth prick and wound, keep the wound fresh and open, as thou lovest thy life, till thou meet with the true healer. For the false prophet will rise up in thee, and fill thee with reasonings, and perhaps multitudes of promises and comforts from scripture, skinning over the wound, and crying Peace, peace, when there is no peace. And when thou hast thus got over the trouble, then the false prophet, which brought thee this peace, will stir thee up against the witness, exalting the wisdom and reasonings of the flesh, and making merry with thee over the witness, which witnessed against thee and him, and over the trouble that came thereby; and this will bring thee to that hardness of heart which is for destruction. And when thou hast slain the witness in thyself, and exalted thy fleshly reason and understanding over it, then the false prophet which seduced thee will kindle a zeal in thee against the witness in others; and thou wilt prove a persecutor of the life, under the name of deceit, error, heresy, and blasphemy; whereas thou thyself art fallen into the deceit, into the error from the life, and into the blasphemy against it, and art in Cain's nature, and wouldst fain be handling of Cain's weapons to destroy it.
Therefore take heed of the fleshly wisdom; take heed of thine <82> own understanding; take heed of thy reasoning or disputing; for these are the weapons wherewith the witness is slain. That wisdom must be destroyed, and that understanding brought to nought, and thou become a child, and learn as a child, if ever thou know the things of God. "Where is the wise? Where is the Scribe? Where is the disputer of this world?" Did they ever, from the beginning of the world to this day, attain the knowledge of the things of God? Where are the councils? Where are the great convocations? Where are the synods? Where are the assemblies of divines? What is become of them all? What have they done? Have they been ever able to lead out of the apostasy from the truth into the truth again? Nay: that wisdom is cursed; it is of the earth, and fixed in the earth, and is the grand enemy to the wisdom that is from above: and where that wisdom stands, there is no entrance for the other. This made it so hard for this sort of persons, in all ages, to own truth. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge hath perverted thee. This made the whorish spirit so able to use sorceries and enchantments from the life in all ages. And it is easier for publicans, harlots, drunkards, swearers, and all sorts of sinners to own truth, and enter into life, than for these. For it is easier to empty them of their profaneness, than it is to empty these of their settled, conceited religion and devotion: and yet these, with their religion and devotion, cannot enter, no more than the other with their profaneness. Ye have a knowledge, a righteousness, an hope, a faith, &c., founded by your pretence to scriptures. Who can shake down these, say you? And yet these must fall, before ye can build upon, and grow up in, the life that the scriptures came from. For the scriptures were not given for men to gather out of, and lay a foundation of faith there, by their own wills; but to discover and testify of the foundation. And he that comes thither, and is built there, knows the truth; not because the scriptures say so, but because he feels the thing, is founded upon the thing, grows up in the thing, and the thing in him, whereof the scripture speaks. And this knowledge shall abide, and this faith, and this righteousness, and this holiness, and this redemption; whereas the other is but a name, put upon that which is not the thing.
These are precious and faithful words (though through a <83> vessel weakened, and weak beyond measure); and happy is he that hath an ear to hear them; but woe from the Lord to that eye that is closed, to that ear that is shut, to that heart that is hardened, in the inventions and imaginations of man's fleshly mind, against the truth of God. Let the witness of God in thee stir and speak, it shall answer me now: but if thou, through the strength of the flesh, and the vain imaginations which thou huggest in thy heart, stifle the voice of it now, yet I know it shall answer me one day; but then it will be too late for thee to hear it.
The Lord is now gentle and tender, pursuing thee with his love, and following thee up and down with his light. And though thou run from him into sin and transgression, and hearken to the wisdom of the flesh; yet his voice comes after thee to reclaim thee: and if thou wilt hear, and but yield thyself to him, he will not put thee to do any thing; but subdue all thy enemies for thee; yea, he will slay the serpentine wisdom in thee, with all its inventions, and dash all the children of Babylon against the stones, without pity to them, though with great pity to thee. But if thou refuse, and choose the pleasure of the flesh, and the gross flesh-pots of Egypt, and turn thine ear from his voice, giving way to the reasonings of the flesh, and keeping down the witness, the day of wrath and severity, which all the scriptures have spoken of, will come, and thou wilt have thy portion with hypocrites, who, in all ages, have covered themselves with a form of religion, pleasing to the flesh and the world; but have withheld their hearts from the power of life. Therefore prize the love of God to thee in giving thee this warning; and be not uncircumcised in heart and ears, as this generation of professors have always been; but let Christ reign in thy heart, and let him trample all man's invented forms of knowledge and worship under his feet, and give up thyself to be led by him into the true knowledge and worship in the spirit and in the truth.
And now you who find your hearts touched and convinced of the truth, and find any desire kindled in you after the living God, and a hungering and thirsting after his righteousness, take notice of these three things, which I have upon my heart to say to you, by way of advice:
1. Know and take up thy cross, the cross of Christ, the <84> daily cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is that which crosseth the natural; and this is the power of God to deliver from the natural. How should the earthly understanding, the earthly will, the earthly affections, with the elementary nature (which have had their swing in the earth) be crucified and slain, but by the cross of Christ? He, therefore, that will have a religion to please himself in any thing, must not come hither; and he who, after he is come hither, admitteth of any thing pleasing to the earthly, and starteth from the cross, which would deny and turn from it; so far as he doeth so, he goeth backward, and not forward. It is no wonder that there is such an enmity in all sorts against the truth; for it striketh at their life, yea, at the very root of their life. If there were any new way or form of religion held forth, men's understandings and affections might by degrees be wrought up to it, and find pleasure in it; but this is direct death to that nature and spirit that hath lived in any form of religion, and to the whole course of that nature and spirit; yet through this death, the true life springs up, in those who receive the strokes of it. Therefore be willing, and learn to die daily, and bring every thing which is contrary to Christ to the cross. Deny self in every thing, take up the cross in every thing, follow Christ in every thing. This is the way which Christ himself prescribes to become his disciples by: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me." Seek not ease in the flesh, no, not in the least; but take up the cross every day, in every thing, till the earthly be slain; till the wisdom and strength of the flesh be wholly subdued, and then the wisdom and power of God will become natural.
2. Keep to the sense, keep to the feeling; beware of the understanding, beware of the imagining, conceiving mind. These cannot be for God, nor bring forth any thing for God, until they be new cast, and new moulded. The one seed of life lies in the invisible, in the hidden man of the heart, among multitudes of seeds of death; all which have their growth up into, and strength in, the corrupted natural. So that this seed cannot shoot up into any part of the natural, but the other seeds shoot up with it, and endeavor to choke it. Now the other seeds spring up two ways, either in a way of opposition against the true seed, or in a way of <85> similitude. There cannot be a good thought, or desire, or beam of light, enter into the understanding or will, but multitudes of evil thoughts, evil desires, or fleshly reasonings against it, will spring up with it, and strive to overbear it. And if the enemy be at length overcome, by the power of God fighting with him and vanquishing him, then he hath his garment of light; then he brings in thoughts and desires, and motions like God's, which easily pass for good, if the soul keep not close upon the watch. The forward understanding is apt presently to own them, and the forward will to embrace, and the forward affections to let themselves forth into them, until the soul come to feel a loss in life, and miss the power and presence of God, and find the enemy strong again. Yea, the enemy hath yet a more subtle way; namely, to raise motions like the motions of God's spirit, and suddenly, before the light hath given the discerning of them, to raise oppositions and reasonings against them; that so by the opposition, which is manifestly evil, the motion itself, which is also evil (though good in appearance), might be the less suspected, and swallowed. Now the only way of safety is to keep out of the natural, whereof the enemy hath possession, and where his strength lies, and to keep in the sense and feeling of the invisible seed, and only to come forth with him into the natural, in that sense and feeling. And when he comes, he will come with strength, above the strength that the enemy hath in the natural, and by degrees conquer him. But by no means rest or abide in the natural, but retire with the Lord (who will not dwell there until it be cleansed) into the resting-place. These words may be hard to you at present; but hereafter (as you come into the exercise) you will feel them. And this is the reason why the formal and outward part of religion doth so commonly eat out the life, because things there are suitable to, and exercise, that part wherein the strength of the enemy lies; and there can never be perfect freedom and safety until that part be subdued, and all that belongs to that part removed. The Lord is risen to shake, that the kingdom which cannot be shaken may appear; and happy are they who are shaken by his hand in all that is outward, and established in the inward life, power, and rest, which remaineth for ever, and cannot be shaken.
3. Wait patiently the Lord's leisure. Be not hasty after life <86> and salvation in the will of the flesh; but leave the Lord to choose his own season for the showering down of his mercy and blessing. The Lord will not presently entertain that spirit which hath adulterated from him (prostituting itself to strangers, and defiling itself), into his bosom; but there must be a time of sorrow, a time of purifying and cleansing. The soul must know and feel that it hath been an evil thing and bitter, that it hath forsaken the Lord, the living fountain of living mercies, and hath sought life from vanities, and among dead idols. And all the idols must be thrown away, and the heart washed from that nature that ran after them, and become a pure virgin, to bear and bring forth the living seed; and by faithfulness to that seed, and waiting in that seed, in the Lord's season it shall receive the mercy and the blessing and the inheritance which belong to that seed. The husbandman does not presently reap, but waits long, even till the seed be grown up to maturity. Jacob, the type of the seed, said, "O Lord, I have waited for thy salvation." It is the election that obtains: it is to the seed, and for the seed's sake, that the mercy is bestowed; and there must be a waiting till the seed be grown up to age, and able to defend his portion from his elder brother, who otherwise would be ready to seize on it, and waste it upon harlots again. Therefore lie still, and bear the indignation of the Lord against that which hath transgressed, till he judge it, and deliver from it, and lead into the innocency and righteousness, and then he will find a time to arise, and plead the cause of the innocent, and give the crown of immortal life to that which he hath prepared for it. Therefore think not the race long, nor the battle hard, nor be weary of the afflictions and chastisements in the way; but follow the Captain, the Guide, the Leader; whose light, strength, courage, and wisdom, will overcome all, and bring the soul which abides in it into his own throne.
Now as you thus wait, taking up the cross, and keeping in the feeling; so the corrupt natural, the mortal, wherein Satan's throne and power hath been, will wither, decay, and grow weak daily; and the tender plant of God, the immortal seed, will shoot up, and gather strength daily; and you will come to a will in God, and an understanding in God, and that which is of God will manifest itself; and you will come to know, and desire, and take <87> delight in the things of God: then the soul, which is immortal, will come to hear, and receive, and feed on the immortal word, which is the bread of life, and which alone is able to preserve and nourish up to eternal life. Then ye will know what it is to tremble at this word, and to have all the powers of nature melt and fail before it. Then ye will know the faith which gives the victory, and the knowledge which lets into life, and the fear which keeps the heart clean, and the hope which anchors the soul immortal in the immortal God, and the patience which wins the crown. And so ye will come to witness the several conditions of the saints in scripture as ye grow up into them, and will not need men to give you meanings of scriptures from their brain-studies, and acquired arts and understandings; but will know the meaning from the thing itself in your own hearts, and hear the words from the living voice of that spirit that first spake them, who alone is able to interpret his own mind, and open the words which he himself spake. And then ye will know and love life and need no more exhortations to depart from all dead, corrupted, and corrupting forms, which ever were, and ever will be, enemies to, and betrayers of, the life. And so the peace of God, the rest of God, the true sabbath of God, the everlasting light and life of God, will come to be your own, and enjoyed by you, past all gainsaying or dispute in you; while the natural understanding in others is reasoning, contending and disputing about them, but can never know, while they are from the thing within: for that mind is not the heir, nor must it inherit the kingdom of God.
THERE was a spirit, soul, or image of God brought forth, <88> and standing in his life, before the fall.
This soul was brought into death, under the burthen and bondage of corruption, out of its proper center and resting-place, by the fall.
Now as there is in this state a true loss, so there is in this spirit a sensibleness, a groaning under the burden, a feeling the bitterness of the captivity, and panting after redemption and restoration to its former state.
Now though the whorish part, which seduced from the life, make a great noise in the flesh about saints' words, and tempt to pleasures of the outward part, and pleasures in the mind, and draw into forms and religious worship, and frame deep centers of satisfaction in the understanding (perhaps from true openings of the life, quenching it), and so seek to quiet the soul, and still the cry; yet the lost state remaining, the soul being not truly redeemed, but a false rest taken up by the way, in the false part, this will fail, and the sense be again renewed in the day of trial and sore trouble. For the soul, by any imagination or notion or feeling of a centre in the corrupt mind, cannot be healed or restored; but only by having the true life raised up again in it, and itself brought into its proper place and mansion in the fountain of life.
There have been, in the shakings of this nation, great stirrings, the seed springing up, and great opening to the seed; the spirit of prophecy hath been enlarged in us, above what many of our forefathers felt; but the way into the spring of life hath not been known, where the preservation is: so the whorish part, the corrupt part, the understanding which was not purified, and brought into subjection unto the truth, this harlot caught the openings and prophecies of the true spirit, conceived with them, and brought forth children to the flesh; bringing forth a more inward apprehension of things, a more spiritual kind of knowledge, as of God to be all, all to be good, and in God, and all sin and evil done away there, &c. And so such as centre here, form the fleshly mind, as it were, in him, as it was not known before. And now the redemption is forgotten, the pantings after life slain, and the flesh can lie down quiet in the unredeemed estate, and say, it is his will, it is good; and it can rest satisfied there in that will of his which is good. Thus the great abomination from <89> the subtle flesh sprung up, which made many hearts desolate of very precious springings-up and buddings-forth of the true life and power of God.
But after this great loss and betraying of the life in them, it hath pleased God to raise it up in others, and to discover the hammer, the sword, the fire, which can knock down, cut down, and burn up this whorish part; and thither the whore is brought, when she comes to betray again, and the springings-up of life shrink back, and lie safe in the centre, while the whore is burning. And as the whore is burnt, the heir comes up, and the spirit (which is the portion of his inheritance) descends and rests upon him; and by this he is known; and that which is in union with him knows him. Therefore, if you will live, come to that hammer, that sword, that fire which flesh dreads, and let the flesh be delivered up to it: and do not despise the day of small things, waiting for some great appearance; but know it in its lowest knock: for its power of redemption is as truly there, as in its greatest appearance. He that hath an ear let him hear, and his soul shall live.
Let those therefore whom this concerns consider their ways (as the grace that appeared to me hath taught me to do) and try this foundation, upon what they stand; and that they do not kill what is opened, and live in the slain openings, and so in the end become dark, airy, dry, withered, wheeling about, and turning into the earth, it becoming their rest and foundation again, and so losing the joys which formerly the opener did open. This, with me, many of you may witness; for whom my desire is, that they may also witness the return to that which then opened, and live in the opener, and be preserved by him from abusing his precious openings any more.
For though I had a true taste of life and power from God; yet not knowing the foundation, there could be no true building with it; and so the spirit was quenched, the life wasted, the portion spent upon harlots, the true bread lost, and chaff and husks fed upon, without the least satisfaction to the soul; the sense whereof, when the spirit of the Lord awakened me, did almost overwhelm me. Yea, the bands of death were so strengthened upon me, and the spirit of the world had taken such hold of me, that I found my return very difficult: yea, when living words of hope were <90> mentioned to me, to draw me back to that principle of life from which I had gone out, I could receive nothing; but cry out, Impossible! impossible! impossible! I felt myself like a tree twice dead, plucked up by the roots, without the capacity of life, sense, or motion in the eternal being any more. But at length it pleased life to move in a low way in the midst of the powers of darkness in my heart; and by sinking low out of the wisdom, out of the reason, out of all high imaginations, and trusting myself to it; though dreadful strokes and oppositions were felt from the powers of darkness; yet at length there was some appearance of the deliverer, in such a poor, low, weak, despicable way, as could never have been welcomed, had not the soul been first brought to distress, and the loftiness of the imaginary part brought down. And then coming out of that into the feeling, in another part, there was a seed sprung up into a child; and as the child grows, and feeds on the milk of the immortal Word, I live, and am strengthened in him, and daily weakened in that part which lived before. These are true words, from an honest heart, for the relief of those who may have been entangled in the same snare.
A TESTIMONY of great concernment to all those
that call themselves Christians, but have not known the true
church, of which alone the true Christian can be born.
THERE hath been a great war between the woman
and her seed, and the harlot and her seed, from the beginning to
this day; and they have each had their prevailings in the war. The
woman and her seed have been made strong in God, to conquer some of
the territories of death, and to set up their life in the world.
Thus, in the Jewish state, God prepared a heaven and earth for the
woman and her seed, and when that heaven and earth were shaken, he
prepared a more glorious heaven and earth in the Christian state.
Now no sooner were the church and her seed seated in either of
these, but the dragon made war against her, and in the war had
power given him to recover her seat from her. Thus the devil got
possession of the Jewish state, so that there was no room for the
true church there, but all was in idolatry and corruption; and the
Lord was not served by their ceremonies, by their sacrifices, by
their sabbaths, by their new moons, by their
&c., but the devil. And the devil also got possession of the
heaven and the earth in the Christian state; so that in their
ordinances, and in their worships, in their duties, in those which
they call their churches, God hath not been worshipped in the
truth, but the devil, for these many ages. For mark: who was it
that got into the temple of God? Was it not antichrist? Was it
not the spirit of Satan? 2 Thess. 2:4. And who was it that was
worshipped in all the world, that had power given him over all
kindreds and tongues and nations, and whom all that dwell upon the
earth worship? Was it not the dragon? Rev. 13:7-8. Did not all
the world wonder after the beast, and worship the dragon which gave
power unto the beast? ver. 3,4. of that chapter. The woman was
assaulted here, her strong holds taken from her, so that she could
not stay safe in that heaven and earth which God had made for her;
therefore there was another place prepared for her by God, in the
wilderness, and she had wings of an eagle given her to fly thither;
but the dragon got into, and held possession of, the heaven where
she was before. Rev. 12. So that none hath known the church all
this time but he that hath been born of her in the wilderness;
which was a place the world never dreamed of, but looked for her in
the heaven and in the earth, which the devil had got possession of.
And here they cry up the ordinances! the ordinances! duties! the
church! the ministry! &c. (as the Jews did "the temple of
the Lord! the temple of the Lord!") not knowing in whose hands
these were, and whom they worshipped hereby. Now consider this, O
ye Christians! I speak what I assuredly know, that God could not be
truly worshipped in any of these, while they were in the devil's
hands; but the whorish spirit and her seed worship here: and the
worship of the church and her seed was a wilderness worship, or a
worship which she learned of God in the wilderness. Mark now, and
consider my testimony, O ye Christians! I deny all the worship, all
the ordinances, which were taught the Christians of old, now
practised by the whorish spirit; for the devil had gained it and
corrupted it; and having corrupted it, God could not be any more
worshipped in it; but the antichristian spirit sat there, giving
forth those things as his law. He sat in the temple of God, and
there made use of the vessels and ordinances which he had carried
captive into his Babylon;
and I deny it to be possible to have any
true use of these till the time of the recovery. And now the time
of the recovery is come, and the restitution begun; people know it
not, but cry up the old heaven and the old earth, which Satan had
corrupted, setting it up in opposition against the new, which God
hath new formed, and is bringing forth in true beauty and glory.
Now in this war, though the devil, though the harlot and her seed got the woman's seed from her, and banished her seed as it were out of the earth, yet they were not able to touch the woman, nor to overcome the life of God in her seed, but only to kill their bodies; but the life was still conqueror over them, and not subjected to them. They could raise up churches, and ordinances, and ministers, and duties, and cause all that dwell on the earth to worship in some part or other of his Babylon; but they could never make the seed bow to any of their images; nor could they hurt the woman hereby who was in the wilderness, out of the reach of all these; and there she did eat the bread of life with tears, mourning over her desolate estate, and her loss of children. And here alone was the true bread of life, which was not to be known or tasted of in any of the ordinances of the apostasy. Ye will all one day acknowledge this to be a true testimony, held forth to you in true love: it were good for you that ye could see it now.
A brief account of what we are, and what our
work is in the world
WE are a people whom God hath converted to
himself; a people in whom God hath raised up the seed of his own
life, and caused it to reign over the earthly part in ourselves; a
people whom God hath divorced from the spirit of whoredom, and
joined to his own Spirit. We, many of us, sought truly and only
after God from our childhood; our consciences bear us witness in
the sight of God; but the honesty of our hearts was still betrayed,
and we led aside by the whorish spirit, and knew not how to turn to
that of God in us, which inclined us towards God. By this means we
came to great distress and misery beyond all men. Not but that all
men were in as great a want of God, his life, power, and presence
as we; but the sense thereof was not so quickened in others as in
us. Now it pleased the Lord at length
to pity us, and to inform
our minds towards himself; to show us where life lay, and where
death lay; and how to turn from the one and to the other, and he
gave us his helping hand to turn us: and by being turned to him, we
have tasted of the truth, of the true wisdom, of the true power, of
the true life, of the true righteousness, of the true redemption;
and by receiving of this from God, and tasting and handling of it,
we come to know that that which the world hath set up in the stead
of it, is not the thing itself. Now mark, we are not persons that
have shot up out of the old root into another appearance, as one
sect hath done out of another, till many are come up one after
another, the ground still remaining the same out of which they all
grew; but that ground hath been shaken and shaking, destroyed and
destroying, removed and removing in us; and the old root of Jesse
hath been made manifest in us, and we have been transplanted by the
everlasting power of life, and a real change brought forth in us
out of that spirit wherein the world lives and worships, into
another Spirit, into which nothing which is of the world can enter.
And here we have met with the call of God, the conversion to God,
the regeneration in God, the justification, the sanctification, the
wisdom, the redemption, the true life and power of God, which the
world cannot so much as bear the name of. And what we are made of
God in Christ, we know to be truth, and no lie; and when we testify
of this to the world, in the measure of the life of God in us, we
speak truth, and no lie; though the world, which knoweth not the
truth, cannot hear our voice.
Now our work in the world is to hold forth the virtues of him that hath called us; to live like God; not to own any thing in the world which God doth not own; to forget our country, our kindred, our father's house, and to live like persons of another country, of another kindred, of another family; not to do any thing of ourselves, and which is pleasing to the old nature; but all our words, all our conversation, yea, every thought in us, is to become new. Whatever comes from us, is to come from the new principle of life in us, and to answer that in others; but we must not please the old nature at all in ourselves, nor in any else. And walking faithfully thus with God, we have a reward at present, and a crown in the end, which doth and will countervail all the <94> reproaches and hardships we do or can meet with in the world.
We are also to be witnesses for God, and to propagate his life in the world; to be instruments in his hand, to bring others out of death and captivity into true life and liberty. We are to fight against the powers of darkness everywhere, as the Lord calleth us forth. And this we are to do in his wisdom, according to his will, in his power, and in his love, sweetness, and meekness. We are not to take ways according to our own wisdom (but there must be a strict watch set in the life, lest that get up again); nor must we speak such words as man's wisdom would call wise; nor may we go in our own will to seek any; but the Lord must go before: nor may we make use of our own strength, but feel his arm in our weakness: nor may we go forth in that love, sweetness, or meekness, which is pleasing to the fleshly mind; but we must be true to God, handling the sword skilfully and faithfully, judging and cutting down the transgressor in the power and authority of God: and when the meek, the lowly, the humble thing is reached and raised, then the true love, the sweetness, the tenderness, the meekness must go forth to that. The Lord God is rough with the transgressor, and all along the scripture heweth and judgeth him; and if we come forth in the same Spirit, we shall find the same leadings where we meet with the same thing: for the Lord God will never be tender there; nor can that which comes from him, lives in him, is led by him, be tender there, where he is not.
Now the very root of this severity is good, and of God, and hath love and sweetness at the bottom of it; yea, in pity, love, and bowels do we use the sword. It is in pity to the poor captived creature, that that might be cut down which keeps it in bonds and captivity. And though we seem enemies to all sorts of men for the Lord's sake; yet we are not enemies, nor could do the least hurt to them any way; but are true friends to their souls, and bodies also: and our only controversy is with that which captives and makes them miserable; for we fight not at all with flesh and blood, but with the principality and power which led from God, and rule in it against God, to the poor creature's ruin and destruction. Yea, if we had all the power of the earth in our hands, we could not set up our own way (if, after the manner of men, I may so call it) or so much as disturb others in their way thereby; but <95> should wait in patience till God gave us an entrance by his power.
Now let not men run on in heats against us; but let them seriously consider whether we be of God or no: and let them consider not with the reason and understanding which are alienated from God; but with the witness which lies hid in the heart. There is one great palpable argument that we are of God, which is this: all the world is against us; the worldly part everywhere fights with us; the worldly part, in every sort and sect of men, opposeth us; the rage of men everywhere riseth up against us: but those that are so hot against us, if at any time they become but meek and calm, patiently considering our cause, and consulting thereupon with the testimony that they find in their own hearts concerning us, they soon become pacified, and see that we are no man's enemies, against no righteous law, not against relations, not against governments, not against any thing in the world that is good; but only against that which is evil and corrupt. And of a truth, the corruption of things God hath shown unto us, and daily calls us forth after an immediate manner to witness against.
Therefore let men be sober, and take heed what they do, lest they be found fighters against God; for the reproaches, the scoffs, with other persecutions, which seem to be cast at us, light on him. It is not as we are men, but as we are obedient to him, as we stand witnesses for him, that we meet with these things. Now as it is not we ourselves that do these things, but the life and power of God in us; so it is not we that are struck at, but that life and power: if it were not for that, we might be as acceptable as other men. It is because we are not of the world, but God hath called us out of the world, that we are so hated of the world. This is the true cause; though the world will no more now acknowledge it, than it would in former ages. Yet I do not speak this for my own sake, to avoid my share in the cross; for the reproach of Christ is our riches; yea, far greater treasure than is to be found in the palace of Egypt. Yea, the presence of God, the sweet power of life, makes up all our losses; so that we have no cause to complain. It is very sweet, pleasant, and profitable for us to be found sufferers for God; but we know it will not be profitable for you to be found persecutors: and this is told you in true love and good-will, by one who <96> wishes no evil to you, for all that evil that ye have exercised toward the dear and precious people of God for these many years. Oh that God would open your eyes, that ye might see whom ye have opposed, and against whom ye have hardened and strengthened yourselves, that ye might bow to him, and receive life from him, and not perish in your gainsaying and opposition.
An Addition concerning the Doctrine of
BECAUSE the doctrine of justification is of
great concernment, and the enemy of mankind hath exceedingly
endeavored to corrupt it, and in the apostasy hath greatly
prevailed; and the darkness which springs up in the fleshly wisdom
is exceeding thick at this day concerning this thing; therefore, in
true love to souls, it is laid upon me to search into that
scripture which chiefly speaks thereof, and from thence to clear it
up to such, who are not yet come to the life that gave forth the
The apostle Paul doth largely and fully treat of it, in his epistle to the Romans, and lays down several things concerning it, which if well heeded, may dash men's present apprehensions about it, and bring them to wait for the opening of those scriptures to them, in another light than they have yet known.
1. He affirms that justification is not "by the deeds of the law." Rom.3:20. If a man could say with the young man, All these things have I done from my youth; or as Paul, that he was as touching the law blameless; yet could he not be justified thereby.
And the apostle gives a mighty reason; "for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Now justification is not by the making of sin known, but by that which saves and delivers from it. The knowledge of sin may put a man upon seeking out for justification; but it cannot justify him, but rather condemn him; but that which delivers him from the sin, which the law makes known, that justifies him.
2. He affirms that "the righteousness of God" (which is the justification) "is manifested without the law." ver. 21. The law makes sin known, and shows the sinner the need of justification; but the justification itself is not thereby, but is manifested without it. The law commands the nature to act that pertains to similitudes, figures, types, and shadows, to the obedience of them; <97> but the seed takes away the nature that pertains to similitudes and shadows and the works of the law. So to the obedience of those things the law commands, there is justification by the law in the obedience to the works it commands; but the justification, Christ, removes the nature that pertains to those things the law commands; so that justification, the law, ends in Christ.
3. That this righteousness or justification is "witnessed by the law and the prophets." ver. 21. The law, though it is not the justification, nor can the justification be by obedience to it, or by the deeds of it; yet it gives testimony to the justification: for the substance of what the law and all the prophets witness is, that nothing can justify but the righteousness of God.
4. That this righteousness or justification is "by the faith of Christ," ver. 22. by believing or entering into that which justifies. As condemnation was by unbelief, by joining unto, and entering into, the spirit of enmity; so justification is by joining unto, and entering into, the Spirit of love, by true union with Christ in the Spirit; which union is by the faith which comes from Christ.
5. That this justification or righteousness is "upon all that believe." ver. 22. He that receiveth the faith, believeth; and he that believeth hath righteousness; and he that believeth not cannot have the righteousness; but the condemnation and wrath abide on him.
6. That this justification is "freely by the grace." ver. 24. There is no way to come to this righteousness but by the gift of grace; which gift is given freely. Therefore, if ever man will be justified, he must know the grace, and the gift which comes from the grace, and receive it; and receiving it, he cannot miss of justification; and not receiving it (but either being ignorant of it, or resisting of it), he cannot possibly be justified.
7. That this justification is by the "redemption of Christ." ver. 24. Christ is the redeemer; the redemption (wherein is the justification) is in him, and there is no way of meeting with the justification or redemption, but by receiving of him in whom it is; and he who hath him, hath the justification, and is made partaker of the redemption; and he who hath not him, hath it not.
Mark then, the justification or redemption is not by believing of a thing done without man (though that also is to be believed), but by receiving him into the heart. For the virtue of all Christ <98> did without, is within him: and I cannot be made partaker thereof by believing that he did such a thing without, or that he did it for me, but by receiving the virtue of it into me, and feeling the virtue of it in me. This is that which saves me, and makes that which was done without to be mine.
8. That Christ is the "propitiation," ver. 25. or that which pacifies and makes way for sinners to God; so that he that truly receiveth Christ hath the atonement; but he that hath not received him, only dreameth of peace with God; but still remaineth in the enmity, and is liable to the wrath, having the bond of iniquity over him, and is in the night.
9. That this propitiation is by "faith in the blood." ver. 25. There is nothing pacifies God but the blood of his Son; and there is nothing feels the blood but the faith, and that which is in the faith. A man may read scriptures, and gather notions about justification, and think he believes aright, and shall be justified; but he never comes to feel the blood, nor the life which is in the blood, till he receive the faith, and then he knoweth the true propitiation and the true peace, which before he did but talk of.
10. That this faith is "the righteousness;" faith is the gift of God, and this gift justifies; this gift is the justification; this is that which God "imputeth for righteousness." chap. 4. ver. 3,5. The faith is in the blood, and the blood in the Son; and in the true receiving of the Son, both the faith and the blood are known and felt. These are true words, though hard to the fleshly ear. Do not stumble in the wisdom, but calmly wait for the revelation of the spirit, and then thou wilt say, the price of this knowledge is not to be valued; and if once thou come to taste truth here, all thy knowledge in the letter will be but dross with thee. "Ye are come to the blood of sprinkling." Oh, do not rest in an outward way of believing, an outward thing; but seek out the way of coming to the blood of sprinkling.
11. That the justification is of the "ungodly." ver. 5. He whom God maketh righteous, was ungodly before he made him righteous. There was nothing but unrighteousness could be imputed to him in transgression, before he gave him his Son, and made him righteous in his Son; for nothing is righteous with God but Christ, and man only as he is taken into his righteousness; <99> which is done not by a believing from the bare letter, but by a receiving of faith in the life.
12. That the justification of the ungodly is by believing in him that justifieth. ver. 5. The gift of faith goes forth from him, and is received into the heart. Now both by the gift itself, and by the exercise of it, is the justification; by receiving of the gift is the person justified; by the exercise of the gift are all his actions justified. Christ being let into the heart, justifies the heart into which he is received; and Christ being in the heart, justifies every motion and action that comes from his life; and any other motion or action is not justified; for it is out of that which is justified, and is in and from that which is condemned.
"Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." ver.3. God promised him a seed; he believed God. God bid him sacrifice this type; he believed. This was it which was imputed unto him for righteousness. Now if he had not believed; if he had not received the gift, or not exercised the gift, could he have been righteous? So that Abraham was not justified by any work he did, or could do; but by receiving and exercising the faith in the seed: by going out of his country, kindred, and father's house, not of himself, but by faith, and by living to God, and obeying his voice in that land to which he was led; not in his own will or power, but in the faith. And by hearing the call of God, and receiving the faith, and living out of self, out of a man's own understanding, will, and power, in the faith, and living power, and wisdom of God, is the justification now: and they that do thus are children of Abraham, born of the free woman; when as they who take up practices from the letter, without being ingrafted into the life, are but children of the bond-woman; but such children of Abraham as the Jews were (if so much); and cannot inherit that promise which belongs to the spiritual seed, while they live in that state.
13. That where the faith which is imputed unto righteousness is found, there "sin is not imputed, but covered;" which is a blessed state. ver. 6,7,8. Sin cuts off from God, who is life and blessedness. Sin lays open to the wrath of the Creator which is too great for the creature to bear. Wo and misery will be his portion to whom God imputes sin; but happy is he who has his <100> sin covered! This is a happy condition; life and immortality will soon be opened to him. Now this blessedness cometh not by the works of the law, for they cannot remove the sin; but by the righteousness of faith, which is able to cover the sin even from the pure eye of God. O Christians, Christians! do not imagine yourselves covered from sin; but know it, feel it; never rest till ye are so made partakers of the true righteousness, that, by its virtue in you, ye may be past all doubt that it is it. Believing from the letter without you that ye are justified, may easily deceive you; but if once you come truly to feel in yourselves the thing which justifies, and so find the power and life of it in you, above the power of all that which condemns, casting out the condemned thing, and the condemner, with all his works, out of your hearts; this cannot deceive. The virtue of life was lost in the apostasy; and that which was living did not so much enjoy life as mourn after it; and the power and safety of life did then appear most in mourning; but now the apostasy draws towards an end, and the virtue begins to shoot up again; and he that will be a Christian now, must be so, not by retaining his old notions, but by feeling this new virtue, and by growing up in this new-sprung life and power of the Lord, whose appearance is new to us, who have not been acquainted with it, but have been brought up in the darkness of the apostasy, and lived in the waters where the great leviathan ruled, and who was able to make war with him there? But he that seeketh, is joined with, and keepeth to, that power which drieth up the waters, and putteth an hook into the nostrils of the leviathan; shall find the world, with the whole course of it, ending in himself, and the beginning and growth of an endless life; and in whom that life lives, they shall live also; but where death keeps the power of life down, such shall not live, or know the blessing, but abide under the curse of misery and death, and under the powers of darkness. Therefore look about you, and make a wise choice; for his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether the prince of darkness, in his invented forms of godliness, or the prince of light, in the living power; and your reward shall be according to your choice and work, either death in the death, if ye choose and join to that; or life in the life, if ye join to that. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.