Page images

der and discipline in the Churches of Christ, to be as an hedge and fence about us for our preservation (so far as means can do) in this unity of the Spirit, as well as to keep us from the inroads of the enemy, who goes about continually seeking whom he may devour.

Our gracious Lord has done all this for us in our day and time, as he did formerly, so that we may truly say with that holy prophet Isaiah, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord, saying, What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it. And I pray God it may not be said of many of us now as he said to Israel then, viz: Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes.

Now, my dear friends, that which bears the greatest weight upon my spirit at this time, is, relating to godly order and discipline in the Churches of Christ : And though I well know that

you who have retained your first love to God, and have kept your habitations in his holy truth, do not want any information of mine to convince you of the necessity and service thereof; yet, as out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, so out of the abundant concern I feel upon my spirit for the prosperity of truth, I be. seech you bear with me while I ease my mind, if it but prove of the least benefit to the younger in your meeting, by stirring up the pure mind by way of remembrance; for notwithstanding I am very sensible that some of you do want but little stirring up to your duty, respecting discipline, yet I believe many others do.

Neither do you want to be convinced that our women's, as well as men's meetings for discipline, were first set up by the movings of the Lord's power, through that worthy and faithful elder GEORGE Fox; and also, that the authority of these meetings is to be kept up and maintained therein, you are living witnesses thereof, because the Lord has often owned your services in them by the overshadowings of his glorious power.

You know also, that in the first institution of these our men's meetings, the members of them were to be faithful men, who were to rule and

go. vern for the Lord, men fearing God, and hating covetousness, agreeable to those in the apostles times, whom the Holy Ghost had made overseers in the Church of Christ; yet this does not ex., clude honest minded young men from being admitted to sit in those meetings as learners, who, growing in truth, may at length come to have their spiritual senses exercised, so as rightly to discern between good and evil, and things that differ, though at first they may not see into things so clearly as the faithful elders did, yet as they grow in truth, and follow them, as the apostle Paul advises, the Lord in due time will reveal such things unto them. I can speak this from my own experience; likewise, in a more general way, as there are, and always will be, different de grees of growth in the members of the Church of Christ, yet as all are growing in truth, and drawing one way, and aiming at the same thing, namely, the honour of the Lord and prosperity of his holy truth, there will be a general condescension and submission to one another, but more especi.

ally to godly elders and overseers; here the strong and self-will of man is kept out, and the unity of the Spirit, in an heavenly harmony, maintained in those meetings, as well as among the whole body, or Church of Christ.

And while things remained in this order, the true watchmen for Christ, those elders, were good examples to the flock themselves ; they diligently watched them, lest the enemy should steal in upon them; and when at any time he made an appearance, they gave the alarm to the Aock to beware of the devourer: Thus, if any thing did appear contrary to truth, of what kind soever, then presently (without delay) those true watchmen did endeavour to put a stop thereto : then it was that things went well in general in the Churches of Christ. I could enlarge abundantly upon the good effects of it, but stop myself, and in a few words say, That then the disorderly were dealt with in due time, according to the nature of their offences, and for their good : and if they could not be reclaimed, they were set in their places, truth cleared, and they made as examples to others, and then those examples in some measure became a terror to such who were inclived and ready to follow their disorderly steps, by which means many, I believe, were deterred therefrom: and thus holy discipline was kept in its right channel, and, above all, the Lord was pleased to own those services with his heavenly fower.

But alas! alas ! The state of things continued in this condition but a few years before the enemy of all righteousness made attempts to

[ocr errors]

break down the fence of discipline, which had been set up by the power of God, and even prevailed on some, who had been as leading elders and ministers to be concerned therein (such who once knew better things) but had departed from their first love to truth, and zeal for it; these men with their libertine company in our bordering nation, did rise up against that man of God, G. Fox, who had been made the instrument, in the hand of the Lord, to set up good order and discipline ; they levelled their rage and malice against him in particular, with those who had kept their first love in general: but their chief end was to lay waste, and destroy this good order and disci. pline, and leave every one to do as they pleased, and would have no bounds set, with this plausible pretence, that all must be left to the light in their consciences, and friends must wait until they are convinced that such and such things were contrary to truth, though even many of the things they went into, the light of Christ led the true followers of it out of, and to testify against, in the beginning. This was pleasing doctrine to libertines; it took with them, and they made use of it, and thereupon went into wrong liberty, as height, pride, fashions of the world, stiff-neckedness, strife, contention, and so unruly, that they would not submit their differences to friends, with many other things contrary to truth, too long to enumerate; and yet all this under a pre. tence of Christian liberty, and that they were not convinced by the light in their consciences to the contrary. In short, the rebellion and confedera. cy against good order in the Church, was very great and strong, and in some places they set up separate meetings; but the Lord brought a blast upon that spirit, and they came to nothing, as a body of people; yet notwithstanding this, the seeds, which they had sown in this time of undue liberty remained, and still remain amongst many, in some places, and in this time it was that some of those seeds were brought into this nation, by examples from them, and in particular, height and finery in apparel and household stuff

, with some other things, of which I am presently to speak.

Though I was but a young man then, yet an eye and ear witness of many of those things, having been at several of the meetings in England, wherein this libertine spirit raised contention, and then I clearly saw the tendency thereof; that* it would, if possible, lay waste the whole heri. tage of God, and I bore my testimony against it, as convenient seasons and opportunities offered.

I have written after this manner to shew how good order and discipline was set up and established in a general way, and what spirit it was that opposed it then, and I greatly fear the same spirit is at work now, in this nation, though in a different appearance, not by their opposing all discipline in a general manner as they did, but by breaking of minutes, and weakening the hands of the faithful, who are zealously concerned in spirit for the promotion of truth, and keeping up the discipline thereof in its right line.

Now, in opening these things, I find I shall be still led on in an historical manner, and therefore


« PreviousContinue »