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contrary, thou disturbest their godly care and practice, and growest contentious, and exaltest thy judgment against them, they have power from God to exhort, admonish, and reprove thee; and (if thou perseverest therein) in his name to refuse any farther fellowship with thee, till thou repentest of thy evil
Quest. But, lest I should mistake, when thou speakest of true liberty, that it stands in being made free by the truth from all unrighteousness, dost thou mean, that no other persons ought to have the liberty of exercising their dissenting consciences, but that force may be lawful to reduce such as are reputed erroneously conscientious?
Answ. By no means it were a great wickedness against God, who is Lord of the souls and spirits of men, and ought to preside in all consciences, who, as the apostle saith, is the only potentate, and hath immortality." For though I give the true liberty of soul and conscience to those only that are set free by the power of Christ, from the bondage of sin, and captivity of death, yet do I not intend that any person or persons should be in the least harmed for the external exercise of their dissenting consciences in worship to God, though erroneous: for though their consciences be blind, yet they are not to be forced; such compulsion giveth no sight, neither do corporal punishments produce conviction: this we, above all people, in our day, have withstood, in speaking, writing, and suffering; and, blessed be God, continue so to do with faithfulness. For faith is the gift of God, and forced sacrifices are not pleasing to the Lord.
Quest. But according to thy argument, it may be my fault, that I have not the gift of faith; and upon this presumption, it may be, thou wilt inflict some temporal penalties upon
Answ. No such matter; for such kind of faults are not to be punished with temporal or worldly penalties; for whether the errors be through weakness or wilfulness, not relating to moral practice, all external coercion and corporal punishment is excluded. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual."
Quest. But what then is the extent of the power of the church of Christ, in case of schism or heresy?
Answ. The power that Christ gave to his church was this,That offenders, after the first and second admonition, (not repenting) should be rejected:' not imprisoned, plundered, banished, or put to death; this belongs to the whore and false prophet: O! all these things have come to pass for want of humility, for want of the ancient fear, and keeping in the quiet habitation of the just the truth in you all
shall answer me. And this I affirm, from the understanding I have received of God, not only that the enemy is at work to scatter the minds of friends, by that loose plea, "What hast thou to do with me? leave me to my freedom, and to the grace of God in myself,' and the like: but this proposition and expression, as now understood and alleged, is a deviation from, and a perversion of, the ancient principle of truth; for this is the plain consequence of this plea, if any one (especially if they are but lately convinced) shall say, "I see no evil in paying tithes to hireling priests, in that they are not claimed by divine right, but by the civil laws of the land. I see no evil in marrying by the priest, for he is but a witness. Furthermore, I see no evil in declining a public testimony in suffering times, or hiding in times of persecu tion, for I have Christ's and Paul's examples. I see no evil in worshipping and respecting the persons of men; for what, ever others do, I intend a sincere notice that I take of those I know, and have a good esteem for. Lastly, I see no evil in keeping my shop shut upon the world's holidays and massdays, (as they call them) though they are rather lewdly and superstitiously than religiously kept; for I would not willingly give any offence to my neighbours. And since your testimony is against imposition, and for leaving every one to the measure of the grace which God hath given him, not only no man hath power to reprove or judge me, but I may be as good a friend as any of you, according to my measure.' And now, here is measure set up against measure, which is confusion itself.-Babel indeed! this is that very rock both professors and profane would long since have run us upon, namely,That a way is hereby opened to all the world's libertines, to plead the light within for their excesses :' which indeed grieves the spirit of God, and was severely judged by our friends in the beginning, and is still reproved by them that keep their habitation; though some are become as wandering stars, through their own pride, and the prevalency of the hour of temptation that hath overtaken them; whereas had they kept in the channel of love and life, in the orb and order of the celestial power, they had shined as fixed stars in the firmament of God for ever. And from the deep sense that I have of the working of the enemy of Zion's peace, to rend and divide the heritage of God, who under the pretence of crying down man, forms, and prescriptions, is crying down the heavenly man Christ Jesus, his blessed order and government, which he hath brought forth by his own revelation and power through his faithful witnesses, this I farther testify, First, That the enemy, by these fair pretences, strikes at the godly care and travail that dwells
upon the spirits of many faithful brethren, that all things might be preserved sweet, comely, virtuous, and of good report in the church of God. Secondly, That there never was greater necessity of this godly care than at this day, since we were a people, wherein the cross, by too many, is not so closely kept to as in days past, aud in which there is not only a great convincement, but a young generation descended of friends, who though they retain the form their education hath led them into, yet many of them adorn not the gospel with that sensible, weighty, and heavenly conversation as becomes the children of the undefiled religion, and the seed of that precious faith which works by the love that overcomes the world. And the Lord God of heaven and earth, that hath sent his Son Christ Jesus a light into our hearts and consciences, to whose search and judgment all ought to (and must) bring their deeds, and render up their account, beareth holy record, that for this end hath he moved upon the spirits of his servants, and for this good end only have his servants given forth, recommended, and put in practice, those things that are now in godly use among his people, whether in this or other nations, relating to men's and women's meetings, and their divers and weighty services. And farther; in the fear of the Almighty God, I shall add, that heavenly peace and prosperity dwell with those who are found in an holy and zealous practice of them: wherefore I warn all, that they take heed of a slighting and obstinate mind, and that they have a care how they give way to the outcry of some, falsly, intitled, Liberty of conscience against imposition,' &c. for the end thereof is to lead back again, and give ease to the carnal mind, which, at last, will bring death again upon the soul to God, and the living society of his children. And indeed, it is a great shame that any who have ever known the truth of God in the inward parts, and the sweet society of brethren, especially those who were early in the work of this blessed day and heavenly dispensa tion, should so far depart from the fear and awe of the Lord, as to use such unsavoury, as well as untrue expressions: this is very far from that meek spirit of Jesus, and the first love, which they pretend to have so singularly kept in, which beareth all things, suffereth all things, and endureth all things, and teacheth to keep the word of patience in the hour of tribulation; nay, but this is judging of spiritual things with a carnal and prejudiced mind, stumbling at the matter for the sake of the persons through whom it comes, not eying nor weighing the spirit the thing arises from, but the person by whom it is spoken, which darkens the eye of the understanding, and blinds, by prejudice, the
mind that should discern, taste, and judge: from whence many mischiefs have sprung to the church of Christ in divers ages: nor is it the least evil this spirit of strife is guilty of, even at this day, that it useth the words, Liberty of conscience, and imposition,' against the brethren, in the same manner as our suffering friends have been always accustomed to intend them against the persecuting priests and powers of the earth; as if it were the same thing to admonish and reprove conceited, high-minded, loose or contentious persons in the church, as to compel conformity in matters of faith and worship, by worldly violence, upon the persons and estates of conscientious dissenters: O such iniquity God will not leave unreproved!
This, dear friends, I send amongst you, as a token of my true love, in the revelation of the free spirit of our God and Father; who have ever been a friend to true liberty, as in the state according to law, so in the church according to scripture, and as it standeth in the truth of Jesus, that makes them who love it free indeed. Let us all keep low, and remember the Rock from whence we were hewn, and dwell in a tender and reverent sense of the daily mercies and providences of the Lord, looking well to our own growth and prosperity in his heavenly way and work; then shall the desire of our hearts be more and more after him, and the remembrance of his name; and, with our love to God, will our love increase one towards another, helping and aiding one another and I no ways doubt, but God that has brought us out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage, and delivered us from the mouth of the lion and the paw of the bear, will preserve his people from this uncircumcised spirit that is not in covenant with God, nor under the yoke of his holy royal law of 'true spiritual liberty:' for they that keep and walk in the light of Jesus, are fenced from the power of this crooked serpent, that seeks whom he may betray; nor are any stung by him but the unwatchful, the listeners and hearkeners after his jealous whispers, and detracting insinuations: they are such as make their dwelling in the earth, where his region is, and where he creeps and twists, who is earthly, sensual, and devilish, and so is all the wisdom that comes from him.
My dear friends: keep, I pray you, in the simplicity of the truth, and cross of Jesus, and wait for your daily bread, and to be daily renewed from the Lord; look to your increase about eternal riches, and be sure to lay up treasure in heaven that fadeth not away, that your faith and hope may have eternal foundations, which the cross occurrences of time, and fears of mortality cannot move and beware of
that loose and irreverent spirit, which has not those in high esteem among you, that are faithful in the Lord's work, and that labour in his blessed word and doctrine. I plainly see a coldness and shortness on this hand; and be the pretence as it will, it is not pleasing to the Lord. They that love Christ, his servants are dear to them, and they bear a tender regard to their trials, travels, spendings and sufferings, who seek not yours, but you, that you may all be "presented blameless at the coming of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ;" that so the gospel-ministry and testimony may be held up with holy fervent love, and godly esteem, to the keeping under every raw and exalted mind, and whatever may slight and turn against it; lest God, that has richly visited us with his fatherly visitations, and dayspringing from on high, should remove his blessings from amongst us, and place his "candlestick" among other people. Be wise therefore, O friends! for behold he is at the door that must have an account of your stewardship: be watchful, keep to your first love and works, that so you may endure to the end, and be saved; and having overcome, you may have right to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
The God of peace, who hath brought our dear Lord Jesus from the dead, and us with him, more abundantly enrich you with all wisdom and knowledge, in the revelation of himself, through faith in his Son, by whom in these last days he hath spoken to us, who is the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords, who only hath immortality; to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
Your friend and brother, in the tribulation and salvation of the enduring kingdom of our God,
Worminghurst in Sussex,
the 20th of the 9th month, 1681.