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Their sight was true, and what they foretold to the churches, gathered by them in the name and power of Jesus, came to pass; for Christians degenerated apace into outsides, as days and meats, and divers other ceremonies. And, which was worse, they fell into strife and contention about them; separating one from another, then envying, and, as they had power, persecuting one another, to the shame and scandal of their common Christianity, and grievous stumbling and offence of the heathen, among whom the Lord had so long and so marvellously preserved them. And hav ing got at last the worldly power into their hands, by kings and emperors embracing the Christian profession, they changed, what they could, the kingdom of Christ, "which is not of this world," into a worldly kingdom; or at least styled the worldly kingdom, that was in their hands, the kingdom of Christ; and so they became worldly, and not true Christians. Then human inventions and novelties, both in doctrine and worship, crowded fast into the church; a door being opened thereunto, by the grossness and carnality that appeared then among the generality of Christians, who had long since left the guidance of God's meek and heavenly Spirit, and given themselves up to superstition, will-worship, and voluntary humility. And as superstition is blind, so it is heady and furious; for all must stoop to its blind and boundless zeal, or perish by it: in the name of the Spirit, persecuting the very appearance of the Spirit of God in others, and opposing that in others, which they resisted in themselves, viz. the light, grace, and Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ; but always under the notion of innovation, heresy, schisms, or some such plausible name: though Christianity allows of no name, or pretence whatever, for persecuting of any man for matters of mere religion, being, in its very nature, meek, gentle, and forbearing; and consists of faith, hope, and charity, which no persecutor can have, whilst he remains a persecutor; in that a man cannot believe well, or hope well, or have a charitable or tender regard to another, whilst he would violate his mind, or persecute his body, for matters of faith or worship towards his God.
Thus the false church sprang up, and mounted the chair: but though she lost her nature, she would needs keep her good name of the Lamb's bride, the true church, and mother of the faithful; constraining all to receive her mark, either in her forehead, or right hand; that is, publicly or privately: but, in deed and in truth, she was "mystery Babylon, the mother of harlots," mother of those, that, with all their show and outside of religion, were adulterated and gone
from the spirit, nature, and life of Christ, and grown vain, worldly, ambitious, covetous, cruel, &c. which are the fruits of the flesh, and not of the Spirit.
Now it was, that the true church fled into the wilderness; that is, from superstition and violence, to a retired, solitary, and lonely state; hidden, and, as it were, out of sight of men, though not out of the world. Which shows, that her wonted visibility was not essential to the being of a true church, in the judgment of the Holy Ghost; she being as true a church in the wilderness, though not as visible and lustrious, as when she was in her former splendor of profession.
In this state many attempts she made to return; but the waters were yet too high, and her way blocked up; and many of her excellent children, in several nations and centuries, fell, by the cruelty of superstition, because they would not fall from their faithfulness to the truth.
The last age did set some steps towards it, both as to doctrine, worship, and practice. But practice quickly failed; for wickedness flowed in a little time, as well among the professors of the reformation, as those they reformed from; so that by the fruits of conversation they were not to be distinguished and the children of the reformers, if not the reformers themselves, betook themselves, very early, to earthly policy and power, to uphold and carry on their reformation, that had been begun with spiritual weapons; which, I have often thought, has been one of the greatest reasons the reformation made no better progress, as to the life and soul of religion. For whilst the reformers were lowly and spiritually-minded, and trusted in God, and looked to him, and lived in his fear, and consulted not with flesh and blood, nor sought deliverance in their own way, there were daily added to the church, such as one might reasonably say should be saved: for they were not so careful to be safe from persecution, as to be faithful and inoffensive under it being more concerned to spread the truth by their faith and patience in tribulation, than to get the worldly power out of their hands that inflicted those sufferings upon them: and it will be well if the Lord suffer them not to fall, by the very same way they took to stand.
In doctrine, they were in some things short; in other things, to avoid one extreme, they ran into another and for worship, there was, for the generality, more of man in it than of God. They owned the Spirit, inspiration, and revelation, indeed, and grounded their separation and reformation upon the sense and understanding they received from it, in the reading of the scriptures of truth. And this was their plea,
The scripture is the text, the Spirit the interpreter, and that to every one for himself.' But yet there was too much of human invention, tradition, and art, that remained, both in praying and preaching; and of worldly authority, and worldly greatness, in their ministers; especially in this kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and some parts of Germany. God was therefore pleased, in England, to shift us from vessel to vessel; and the next remove humbled the ministry, so that they were more strict in preaching, devout in praying, and zealous for keeping the Lord's day, and catechizing of children and servants, and repeating at home in their families, what they had heard in public. But even as these grew into power, they were not only for whipping some out, but others into the temple: and they appeared rigid in their spirits, rather than severe in their lives, and more for a party, than for piety: which brought forth another people, that were yet more retired and select.
They would not communicate at large, or in common with others; but formed churches among themselves, of such as could give some account of their conversion; at least, of very promising experiences of the work of God's grace upon their hearts; and under mutual agreements and covenants of fellowship, they kept together. These people were somewhat of a softer temper, and seemed to recommend religion by the charms of its love, mercy, and goodness, rather than by the terrors of its judgments and punishments; by which the former party would have awed people into religion.
They also allowed greater liberty to prophesy than those before them; for they admitted any member to speak and pray, as well as their pastor, whom they always chose, and not the civil magistrate. If such found any thing pressing upon them to either duty, even without the distinction of clergy or laity, persons of any trade had their liberty, be it ever so low and mechanical. But, alas! even these people suffered great loss: for tasting of worldly empire, and the favour of princes, and the gain that ensued, they degenerated but too much. For though they had cried down national churches and ministry, and maintenance too, some of them, when is was their own turn to be tried, fell under the weight of worldly honour and advantage, got into profitable parsonages too much, and outlived and contradicted their own principles: and, which was yet worse, turned, some of them, absolute persecutors of other men for God's sake, that but so lately came themselves out of the furnace; which drove many a step farther, and that was into the water; another baptism, as believing they were not scripturally baptized: and hoping to find that presence and power of God, in sub
mitting to this watery ordinance, which they desired and wanted.
These people also made profession of neglecting, if not renouncing and censuring, not only the necessity, but use, of all human learning, as to the ministry; and all other qualifications to it, besides the helps and gifts of the Spirit of God, and those natural and common to men: and, for a time, they seemed, like John of old, a burning and a shining light to other societies.
They were very diligent, plain, and serious; strong in scripture, and bold in profession; bearing much reproach and contradiction. But that which others fell by, proved their snare: for worldly power spoiled them too; who had enough of it to try them what they would do if they had more: and they rested also too much upon their watery dispensation, instead of passing on more fully to that of the fire and Holy Ghost, which was His baptism, who came with "a fan in his hand, that he might thoroughly (and not in part only) purge his floor, and take away the dross and the tin of his people, and make a man finer than gold." Withal, they grew high, rough, and self-righteous; opposing farther attainment; too much forgetting the day of their infancy and littleness, which gave them something of a real beauty: insomuch that many left them, and all visible churches and societies, and wandered up and down, as sheep without a shepherd, and as doves without their mates; seeking their Beloved, but could not find him (as their souls desired to know him) whom their souls loved above their chiefest joy.
These people were called Seekers by some, and the Family of Love, by others; because, as they came to the knowledge of one another, they sometimes met together, not formally to pray or preach at appointed times or places, in their own wills, as in times past they were accustomed to do; but waited together in silence, and as any thing rose in any one of their minds that they thought savoured of a divine spring, they sometimes spoke. But so it was, that some of them, not keeping in humility, and in the fear of God, after the abundance of revelation, were exalted above measure; and for want of staying their minds in an humble dependence upon him that opened their understandings "to see great things in his law," they ran out in their own imaginations, and mixing them with those divine openings, brought forth a monstrous birth, to the scandal of those that feared God, and waited daily, in the " temple not made with hands,' for the consolation of Israel; the Jew inward, and circumcision in spirit.
This people obtained the name of Ranters, from their ex
travagant discourses and practices. For they interpreted Christ's fulfilling of the law for us, to be a discharging of us from any obligation and duty the law required of us; instead of the condemnation of the law for sins past, upon faith and repentance; and that now it was no sin to do that, which before it was a sin to commit; the slavish fear of the law being taken off by Christ; and all things good that man did, if he did but do them with the mind and persuasion that it was so. Insomuch that divers fell into gross and enormous practices; pretending, in excuse thereof, that they could, without evil, commit the same act, which was sin in another to do; thereby distinguishing between the action and the evil of it, by the direction of the mind and intention in the doing of it. Which was to make sin super-abound by the aboundings of grace, and to turn from the grace of God into wantonness; à securer way of sinning than before: as if Christ came not to save us from our sins, but in our sins; not to take away sin, but that we might sin more freely at his cost, and with less danger to ourselves. I say, this ensnared divers, and brought them to an utter and lamentable loss as to their eternal state; and they grew very troublesome to the better sort of people, and furnished the looser with an occasion to profane.
Of the rise of this People; their fundamental principle, doctrine, and practice, in twelve points resulting from it: their progress and sufferings: an expostulation with England thereupon.
It was about that very time, as you may see in G. F.'s annals, that the eternal, wise, and good God was pleased, in his infinite love, to honour and visit this benighted and bewildered nation, with his glorious day-spring from on high; yea, with a most sure and certain sound of the word of light and life, through the testimony of a chosen vessel, to an effectual and blessed purpose, can many thousands say: glory be to the name of the Lord for ever!
For as it reached the conscience, and broke the heart, and brought many to a sense and search; so that which people had been vainly seeking without, with much pains and cost, they, by this ministry, found within, where it was they wanted what they sought for, viz. the right way to peace with God. For they were directed to the light of Jesus Christ within them, as the seed and leaven of the kingdom of God; near all, because in all, and God's talent to all: a faithful and true witness, and just monitor, in every bosom: the gift