It is not that we love contention, or desire controversy, or are impatient in bearing reproaches, that we now print this short treatise; but such have been the repeated high charges, and severe lashes that our adversaries have bestowed upon us, that we find ourselves concerned to clear and vindicate the truth and innocence of our Christian profession. We therefore desire our well-disposed neighbors to candidly weigh what we have to allege, and to receive an account from ourselves concerning what we are, and what we believe and hold for Christian truths; for certainly we know our own beliefs better than those who perhaps have never examined them for any other purpose than to find fault.
Concerning the Holy Scriptures
We hope that you will not think it strange that we do not express our belief in some particulars in the scholastic terms of other professors of Christianity, but find it more reasonable and safe to content ourselves with the language that the Holy Spirit thought fit to hand to us in the Holy Scriptures—those most excellent and divine writings, which above all others in the world, call upon our reverence and most diligent reading; those oracles of God, and rich Christian treasury of divine saving truths, which were written for our learning, that “we through patience and comfort of them may have hope.”1We believe that the Scriptures are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, to the perfecting and thoroughly furnishing of the man of God to every good work, making him wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus;2containing all Christian doctrines necessary to be believed for salvation, and are a sufficient external standard and touchstone to try the doctrines of men. And we say with the apostle, that whosoever shall publish and propagate any other gospel and faith than what is therein testified to us by those inspired pen-men who were the first promulgators thereof, though he were an angel, let him be accursed.3All and whatsoever is contained therein, we as firmly believe as any of you do; and as it is the duty of every sincere Christian, we are heartily thankful to God for them, who through His good Providence has preserved them to our time, to our great benefit and comfort.
Concerning God — Father, Son and Spirit
We believe in the great omnipotent God that made and created all things and gave us our being, whom in sincerity of heart we fear, reverence and worship, being seriously concerned for our souls’ welfare to eternity. We believe that great mystery that there are three who bear record in Heaven, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that these three are one in being and substance.4And just as do you, so we also do hope for and expect salvation only and alone through the Son of God, our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of Nazareth; believing that God the Father has ordained Him for salvation to the ends of the earth, and that no other Name is given under heaven by which men shall be saved.5We believe also that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the virgin Mary, was born of her at Bethlehem, lived a holy and exemplary life, perfectly free from sin.6We believe in His doctrines, miracles, sufferings, and death upon the cross, outside the gates of Jerusalem; His resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, where He is at the right hand of God the Father, perfect God and perfect man, the only mediator between God and man, and is our advocate with the Father, who ever lives to make intercession for us;7and also shall judge both living and dead.8All of this, and whatsoever else is recorded of Him in the sacred Scriptures, we firmly believe.
This Jesus, in whom dwelt the fullness of the God-head,9we believe offered up Himself according to the will of the Father, an acceptable sacrifice to God, and became a propitiation for the sins of mankind, to the end of the world.10We believe He died for all men, as all died in Adam;11through whose blood God proclaims redemption and salvation to man, and offers to be reconciled, and freely for His Son’s sake to remit,12forgive and pass by all past offenses to as many as shall truly and heartily repent of their sins,13and turn from the same, and shall so believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and love Him for the future, to live a holy circumspect Christian life, and obey His commands, thereby continuing in His love.14
Departing from Iniquity, and the Doctrine of Perfection
This holy life was so much celebrated and strictly kept to in the primitive ages of Christianity, that “whosoever named the name,” or took the name of Christ upon them understood that they “were to depart from iniquity,”15and we believe this ought to be inseparable from any true and faithful Christian, as that which ever accompanies a true living and active faith. And though our opposers have scoffed at us, and branded us with error for holding the possibility of perfection, because in pleading for a holy righteous life as that which is well-pleasing to God, and affirming His power to be stronger in man (as man cleaves to it, and believes to be rescued from under the power of Satan) than that of the devil to retain him in bondage,16we have sometimes made use of the words of Christ and His apostles, as “Be perfect as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect,”17and “He that has this hope in him, purifies himself even as He is pure,” etc.18Yet we have never pretended to a moral perfection beyond what is contained in the above Scripture promises, which are sound and true in themselves, and are clearly what God desires and requires of us; and it is for this reason that we frequently press its necessity, and fervently exhort people to its performance.
Salvation by Grace, but Works a Constant Companion
And notwithstanding we have from here been falsely accused that we expect to be saved by our own works as being meritorious, yet we do not acknowledge a holy life as the efficient and procuring cause of our salvation; which we totally refer to the free grace and mercy of God in Christ without any merit in man;19though we esteem good works as a constant companion thereto, and a necessary condition on our part in compliance with God’s gracious offer,20without which we may not obtain it, being inseparably annexed to that faith which only pleases God, and is but our reasonable duty.21
Historical or Traditional Belief Not Sufficient
And while we believe that although Christ thus offered up Himself once for all, for the sins of all men to the end of the world,22thereby rendering repentance and amendment of life prevailing with God; yet a mere traditional or historical belief in that alone is not sufficient to entitle us to that common salvation that comes by Him, but that it is of necessity that we truly repent and be converted from the evil to the good.23It is therefore no less necessary for us now than it was for believers in the apostles’ days, that we be “turned from darkness to light,” or in other words, from the dark power of Satan, to the power of God who is light,24that thereby we may each know the work of redemption and salvation wrought in and for ourselves. For it is not enough to believe that Christ died, if we experience not the blessed effects of His death, who came to save us from our sins (not in them), and bless us by turning us from our iniquities, and gave Himself for us that He might “redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.”25
Man’s Fallen Condition, and Need of New Life
For we believe such to be the natural state of man in the fall, that by nature we are dead to God,26at a distance from Him, prone to evil and to gratify the desires of our sensual minds, swayed by the corrupt and sinful lusts of the flesh,27and under the power of a strange king, ruled by the prince of the power of the air,28so that as our inward man is thus dead to God, we cannot exercise our spiritual senses towards Him,29nor can this natural man perceive, know, or savor the things of God, which only are spiritually discerned.30Therefore, notwithstanding our Savior died for us, we are yet by nature in a miserable and undone condition, in captivity to our souls’ enemy, unless we experience the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, that live-giving Spirit, to quicken our souls and make us alive to God again,31so that, being restored to the use of our inward senses, we may by the assistance of His Divine Light (with which, for that end, He has blessed all the sons and daughters of men32) come to see ourselves in this sad and lost state under the wrath of God,33and abhor ourselves therefore, and under this living sense (wherein things appear with a very different aspect than before) can cry out to God for deliverance therefrom, with such and inward heartfelt sorrow as works a true repentance for the same.34
Salvation by Christ
It is not our being sprinkled when infants that will make us true Christians, or convert us from being children of wrath to become children of grace, sons of God, members of Christ’s church, and give us an inheritance in Him.35It is not learning our catechism and subscribing to certain articles of faith (however orthodox), or being educated in a historical belief of what Christ did for us more than sixteen hundred years ago. No, this will not administer a sufficient, true, and saving knowledge of Christ, nor give us a real share in His death and sufferings; for people may talk of and please themselves with all of this, and yet continue entirely bound under the dominion of Satan (who still rules wherever disobedience is). But the true and saving knowledge of Christ is to experience ourselves turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God,36that by Him we may be delivered from the power of darkness, be translated into the kingdom of His dear Son,37to experience His saving power really to rescue and redeem us out from under the power of him that has enslaved us38and leads captive at his will those who live in the vanity of their minds. Yes, it is to experience Christ bind this strong man, to spoil his goods, dispossess, and cast him out;39to feel Christ sit in the soul as a refiner who burns up, consumes, destroys, purifies and thoroughly purges out whatsoever is contrary to Him;40to wash us and make us clean that we may have right to an inheritance in Him, that being cleansed and sanctified He may take up His abode with us, exercise His kingly power, and work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.41
The mind being thus disentangled, and having cast off its former yoke, old things are then done away, and all things become new42—a new tender “heart of flesh”43according to the promise, new thoughts, desires, inclinations, affections, words, actions, a new inside producing a new outside, even a thoroughly new creature in Christ,44who is really entitled to those benefits that accrue to men through Him, by that living faith which He begets,45which pleases God,46gives victory,47and is ever fruitful to Him in good works. And we believe that it is that most precious sacrifice which Christ offered up when His blood was shed upon the cross for us, together with this inward work of redemption and regeneration thus wrought in the soul by Jesus Christ, that completes the salvation of all who have been thus awakened, made alive, and set free by the power and Spirit of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life of every soul that truly lives unto God; for these are empowered to walk in that holy way of life, truth, and peace that was prepared of old for the ransomed and redeemed to walk in.48
Man’s Condemnation is of Himself
And we believe that God graciously waits with exceeding great kindness and long-suffering, that men may repent, knocking at the door of every man’s heart,49freely offering, but not imposing, His assistance50in this most important work and change in the hearts of men; so that in the day wherein God will judge the world by Jesus Christ, and every secret thing will be made manifest, God will be justified and clear of the blood of all men. Indeed, then every mouth will be stopped, and every man’s condemnation will be of himself for having rejected the day of his visitation, wherein God calls to man and offers to be reconciled to him for resisting the strivings, and slighting the reproofs of His Spirit, which in matchless mercy He has given man to instruct him, and to show and lead him in the way of life and peace.51
Experiential Regeneration or New Birth
We believe, that though the depravity of man’s nature in the fall is such that the natural or carnal man (who is enmity against God in the state of mere nature) minds only the things of the flesh, and naturally brings forth the works thereof, and cannot please God, nor keep or observe His laws, but is prone to evil;52yet those who embrace the visitation of God, and are really regenerated and born again of incorruptible seed, by the Word of God that lives and abides forever,53that ingrafted Word54that is living and powerful55and able to save and sanctify the soul,56are born into a new life, and invested with another and higher power, and become spiritually minded, and by the Spirit are set at liberty to walk according to the Spirit57and bring forth its fruits. These receive an ability from the Spirit to serve God acceptably, being now led by the Spirit of God and become His children, who are taught of Him, and through the Spirit of adoption received into their hearts58have a right to call God their Father, and Jesus their Lord. For having through the Spirit mortified the old man or first nature, with his corrupt and depraved inclinations and evil deeds, and put him off, and having crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof, they put on the new and heavenly man, which according to God is created in righteousness and true holiness.59And these being renewed in the spirit of their minds, they now walk in newness of life,60and are really in Christ, and therefore are changed and become new creatures, and now think and act under the leadership of a Spirit superior to that which formerly governed them, having their minds raised to a region above that of fallen nature, so that now the stream of their thoughts, desires and actions, flows in another current, and the bent of their affections are after those things that are above, where Christ is;61for an eye is now opened in them that sees more transcendent beauty and desirableness in the invisible and durable treasures of Him, than in all the transient pleasures that this world can afford.
And we believe that whosoever expects to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, ought thus to put on the Lord Jesus Christ,62and to be thus clothed upon and covered with His righteousness, and in measure have His holy life brought forth in and through them, and experience Him to enliven and influence their minds, and to work in and for them. These know that without Him they can do nothing, but through Him that strengthens them they can do whatsoever He commands them, and as they abide living branches in Him (through that sap and virtue which they daily receive from Him), they are made able to bring forth fruits that are well-pleasing to God,63whereby He is glorified.64For though God the Father accepts us in Christ, and for His sake, yet this new-birth is the indispensable qualification, and true distinguishing mark of those that are really in Him. “He that is in Christ is a new creature, old things are past away, behold all things are become new.”65John says, “He that says he abides in Him, ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.”66
All is by Grace, but Grace offers no Liberty to the Flesh
We ascribe nothing to man, as having any power or ability in or of himself to please God, but rather attribute all power to do what is good to Christ alone,67in whom alone the Father is well-pleased. It is through Him that men are enabled so to love and fear God as to forsake evil and to work that righteousness which is acceptable to Him.68And thus man’s dependence ought daily to be upon Him to receive from Him such suitable supplies as, through a constant watchfulness, he may be enabled to continue in His favor and enjoy His smiles. For it is not as too many seem to imagine, or would gladly have it to be, that they may live in sin and disobedience here, indulging their corrupt inclinations; and yet hereafter expect to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them.69For though we are not under the Mosaic law, so as to be obliged to its ordinances, washings, and Levitical priesthood (Christ our high-priest having offered up Himself once for all, and fulfilled it); yet we are not under such a grace as discharges us from living well. Though we are not tied to the law’s rites and ceremonies, yet are we obliged to fulfill its righteousness,70which Christ came not to destroy but to establish.71And though God is gracious and merciful to forgive us our trespasses through the mediation of Christ upon our true and hearty repentance and sincere turning from them;72yet this is not so that we may take liberty to go on in sin and rebellion against Him. To be sure, we are not to sin because God is gracious, in order that His grace may abound;73if so, where is the narrowness of Christ’s way? If we are to take up a daily cross to our own wills in order that we may perform His, tell me, what room is there for the liberty of the flesh?
Those who are truly in Christ (which renders us acceptable to the Father, and completely espoused to Him) must necessarily have resigned their wills as an effect of true love, an essential part of so near a union; and from this obedience necessarily follows. The apostle John, after having stated that God is Light, and that those who desire to experience the blood of cleansing and true fellowship with Him and one another ought to walk in the Light as He is in the Light,74tells the young and weak in the faith (whom he calls children) that he wrote these things that they should not sin.75Yet, if any through weakness or inadvertence should sin, and so fall under the Father’s displeasure, he tells them that Christ the righteous is both a propitiation and also an advocate that intercedes with the Father. He tells them also that their keeping His commands was the surest evidence of their knowing and being in Him;76but with respect to the strong, whom he calls young men, he says that the Word of God did abide in them, and that they had overcome the evil one.77
Profession vs. Possession of Christianity
These things may easily be spoken and comprehended in the understanding, but to experience them fulfilled in ourselves is our highest concern, and only this can make us sharers in them. The essence of Christianity does not consist in having our heads stuffed with knowledge, but to have our hearts filled with divine love, which animates and empowers us to diligence, and inspires us with courage and power to observe and perform the will of God.78For God looks not at what people profess with their lips, or by what name they are called, but regards the heart, and what spirit governs there. People may make a profession of the best things and yet continue alive to themselves. They may alter their opinion or persuasion, and yet not turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.
There has indeed been a very large and glittering outward profession of Christianity in the world, adorned with artful, elaborate, and elevated notions, polished with rhetoric and eloquence; but the power and life that reaches the heart and gives victory and dominion over its lusts and affections which war against the soul, is that which too many are yet strangers to. Indeed few know their fallen souls restored from their first state in Adam, and raised to a state where they may both perceive the things of God, receive power to work His will, experience their minds redeemed, and know that power vanquished which formerly led them captive, having being leavened by the heavenly gift into its own nature. This is the very life and marrow of that religion about whose external parts the world is filled with noise; and so it is the proper and most necessary business of our lives to find this great salvation accomplished in us. The experiential working out of this salvation in the heart, by the saving grace and Spirit of God that is given to man to profit with,79will yield more satisfaction and true contentment to the soul that sincerely seeks the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness thereof, than to hear or read all their days of what God has done in ages past for those that truly loved and feared Him. And it is for lack of this that the profession of Christianity is generally so empty and barren in producing a truly pious life, attended with the fruits of the Spirit, and a due obedience which proceeds from that birth of the Spirit, without which the most refined methods of worship and devotion will not recommend us to God, who is inaccessible by the birth of the flesh. Nor do we believe that it is acceptable to God for people to sing to Him those songs and psalms which were the experiences and spiritual exercises of holy men in times past, without having some living experience of the same things in themselves; or that people can properly and truly speak further of the things of God than what they have known and experienced.80
The Gift of Christ’s Light and Spirit in the Heart
Now, where among all these sound gospel and scriptural truths is to be found that “latent venom” so much feared and talked of by our adversaries? Or is it in that we hold forth the infinite love of God to mankind, not only in freely (of His mere grace and favor) providing a sacrifice through which an atonement is made for the past transgressions of man, and which is applicable to everyone who shall believe, repent and return;81but also in that He affords to all the means of faith, repentance and conversion? For we believe that God does not require impossibilities of men, but expects they should improve the talent or mina distributed to them, not only in sending forth the Son of His love to die for their sins that they should not longer live therein, but also in sending forth His light and Spirit of truth into their hearts, to lead and guide them into all truth. And we read that He causes His grace that brings salvation to appear to all men, to instruct and teach them to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, to forsake the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, to rescue and save them from living in the sinful lusts of the flesh, and help and strengthen them to return in obedience, and live a sober, righteous and godly life, to keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of their lives.82
The holy Scriptures plentifully testify to this gift from God to man under various names, such as Spirit, light, word, grace, seed, leaven, anointing, etc., by all of which we understand that Spirit or heavenly talent with which God has endowed mankind in some degree that he may profit by it.83And in the experience of its increase, by a diligent cooperation therewith, in order to fulfill those holy ends for which we receive it, we doubt not but to be happy in rendering a good account of our stewardship, and entering finally into the joy of our Lord.84Our opposers themselves also claim to have the Spirit and grace of God, or else why is there so much praying for its assistance, and those polished discourses about it with which they sometimes enthrall their auditory. We charitably hope this is more sincere than only to beautify and recommend their sermons to the hearers as a subject they cannot well avoid, seeing that the Scriptures are so full of that language. But if indeed it be real and sincere, then why is it considered a fault and error in us, when it is believed to be so sound and appropriate in them?
And we think it very strange that they should find any absurdity in granting this divine gift to be Christ’s Light shining in the mind; since its proper office is to teach and instruct, to manifest and point out our duty, as well as to dispose and enable us to perform it, and ought to be our leader and governor. If the godly admonitions and exemplary lives of good men were rightly called “lights to the world,”85surely much more properly may this—which is the fountain of light, and does more clearly illuminate and inform the understanding and render it effectual—justly deserve that acceptable name. And if then the grace and Spirit of God is in the hearts of men, surely it is not wholly inactive there, but will be making some attempts towards accomplishing the end for which it is placed there.86It will at times be attacking its enemies, and endeavoring to supplant what is contrary; for being holy and pure in nature, it is never reconcilable to sin and evil, but ever strives against it, and may (as men heed it) be infallibly known by the nature of its endeavors.
And we dare appeal even to all mankind whether they do not find something placed in their minds and consciences which, though perhaps not governing there, yet never mingles with nor consents to their evil deeds, but always remains undefiled and testifies against them, convicting, reproving, and condemning them for it, and also oftentimes (in the cooler temper of their spirits) manifests their states to them?87Is there not something in all that (as it were) reasons with them, discovering the evil of their ways, secretly calling to them to come out of it, begetting desires and inclinations sometimes to seek after God and to make their peace with Him? Now since man in His mere natural state is totally dead and fallen from God to such a degree that he cannot of himself think a good thought;88and since God is the only essential good, it follows that this gift in us must necessarily proceed from Him. This gift of grace or light in us that ever convicts us for vice and evil,89whether in thought word or deed, and disposes us to consider our latter end, and often makes men sigh in the midst of laughter,90—reminding them that they must give an account, drawing them heavenward, and inclining them to virtue and goodness, to do unto all men as we would have them do unto us, to be just, sober, merciful, temperate, etc.—this must necessarily be something that is not of us, but is pure and immaculate and of a divine nature, ever aspiring and raising the mind towards its origin.
Thus it cannot be a natural light, or the mere “light of nature,” as very many claim it to be, who nevertheless often talk of the Spirit of God being in man. For it is an undoubted truth that no power can act beyond its own sphere, or raise the object that it acts upon to a state more noble than itself, nor produce effects of a nature more sublime than its own origin. Besides, it is very clear and evident from Scripture that the mind of man is often enlightened by a light91superior to that of mere reason, and that man by the utmost power and extent of human reason and speculation, (though he may arrive to implicit knowledge that there is a God, yet) can never attain to a true, spiritual and saving knowledge of God without the concurrence of a divine and supernatural power. For though the mind of man as a rational being is that capacity or candle that can be enlightened, yet it is Christ that must enlighten it92so as to give us a true discerning of those things that appertain to Him and His Kingdom; and by adhering and yielding obedience to its discoveries, we shall know an increase of more light. The apostle, speaking of what God by His Spirit had revealed to them, says expressly that the Spirit searches all things, yes, even the deep things of God; and that as no one knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him, so no man knows the things of God but the Spirit of God; and that the natural man neither knows nor receives the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned, and for that purpose they had received the Spirit which is of God.93The light of nature is occupied with natural objects, with those things that are within its own region, acting within its own proper sphere, but it cannot reach to that knowledge of God which is life eternal unless our natural powers or human capacities are illuminated by the rays of divine light; for, as the apostle says, the world by human wisdom knows not God.94And Christ says very plainly and positively, that no one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son reveals Him.95
The idea that these strugglings within us are the suggestions of Satan, or that he would disquiet and disturb people for their sins, for serving him, or set them upon endeavoring to be freed from their subjection to his power, seems absurd to imagine. Indeed, our Savior puts this beyond question when He asks, “Can a kingdom divided against itself stand?”96And elsewhere He plainly says, that while the strong man armed keeps the house, his goods are at peace, until a stronger than he comes to bind him, etc.97It is therefore apparent that it is not the devil, but rather the approaches of a superior Power that breaks the peace of people for sin, and follows and condemns them for disobedience and transgression. And only this supreme Power can, and indeed would, redeem their minds out of that miserable state, bind the strong man, break his power and cast him out, if they would but join their will thereto, and accept deliverance by it.
A Day of Visitation Granted to All Men
Nor does this gift being extended to all men, through all ages from their youth upwards, suggest it to be therefore natural or contemptible; but on the contrary, this shows it to be of greater importance to all men. For the apostle says “a manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal,”98and we know that the blessings and gifts of God are free and valuable because of their intrinsic worth. In nature, God ordained nothing in vain, but those things that are of greatest use to us for sustaining and accommodating our natural life are the more common, such as the sun that gives light to all men through all ages. Man evaluates things according to his own fancies, and esteems and prizes them more for their rarity and curiosity, rather than their usefulness; but God bestows most universally that which is of the most absolute necessity to man. Are we not told that all men are born strangers and enemies to God, in darkness and at a distance from Him in the state of nature,99and that they must therefore be enlightened, converted, born again, and made spiritual before they can be reconciled to Him? Shall not God then, who desires all men to repent and be saved,100cause the light of the Son of Righteousness to shine upon all and give a measure of His grace and Spirit to all, to assist them in the accomplishment of a work in themselves which they cannot possibly do of themselves, and yet one that is of indispensable necessity to their salvation? Therefore we read that God by His Spirit strives with man101so long as his day of visitation lasts.102
Since then even our opposers acknowledge the Spirit, light and grace of God to be in man, unless they can demonstrate it to be of a manifestly different and superior nature, tendency, and operation, and to be distinct or contrary to that gift of which we have been speaking, we see neither absurdity nor error in concluding it to be one and the same grace and free gift of God offered to all which is always the same in its nature, though it differs in its degree; and we believe that this is that heavenly “treasure”103which God has committed to our trust. Blessed will they be who rightly employ it and experience its increase, and give place and room to this seed of the kingdom in their hearts. And though it may appear at first contrary to the expectations of man—seeming little, low and contemptible,104scarcely regarded among the things with which men’s minds are filled—yet if he will but join his will to it, that it may exert its power and force in him, it will grow and increase. Indeed, let this leaven have its perfect work, and it will leaven the whole lump into its own nature.105
Christ’s Dwelling in Man
Please consider whether we have justly merited the insults of our adversaries by believing that the Lord searches the heart of man, and shows him his thoughts, and has not forgotten to be gracious in performing those bountiful promises made in times past to the offspring of the Gentiles, in placing His law in our hearts, and putting His truth in our inward parts, in pouring out of His Spirit upon all the sons and daughters of men, in becoming our Teacher, and giving us the knowledge of Himself through the revelation of His Son Jesus Christ, who has come to open our blind eyes, and to bring us, who were bound in darkness, out of the prison-house.106Indeed, He has promised to be with His people to the end of the world, and told us that God has sent the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to remind us of all that He said and to guide and direct us in the way of Truth.107Is it right that we are mocked for attesting the sufficiency and utility of the teachings of this holy unction sent into our hearts,108and in believing that, though Christ is in His glorified body in Heaven, yet He is also present in the hearts of His people?109For He is King of Saints, and shall He not then rule in them?
The high and holy One that inhabits eternity, has promised to dwell also with the humble and contrite,110to revive and comfort them. And shall He not, whose presence fills heaven and earth, be present in the heart of man as well? Shall He that “rejoices in the habitable parts of the Earth, and delights in the sons of men,”111not reside in His people? Are they not members of Him, and He their head? Can there be a more intimate union and communion than between the head and the body, the vine and the branches?112The same Spirit of life that is in the head, is the life of the body also, and acts in it. He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit;113and does not the life that is in the root pass to the branches also, and preserve them alive? Are not all considered “dead branches” in whom this life is not? Whosoever has the Son of God and feeds on Him has life by Him;114and those who do not have Christ, who is the life of His saints, have not life. How could His people in all ages be said to partake of Him if He were not present in them?115Surely this doctrine does not deserve to be scoffed at, but is most comforting to those who are lovesick, and who thirst ardently after the enjoyment of Him, and not merely after the hearing of Him.
Only One Christ
Consider seriously these things (which are agreeable to Scripture), and with what reason people have derided us for our belief herein, calling it “the Quakers’ Christ,” as though His manifesting Himself in our hearts were another, or distinct Christ from that Jesus Christ of Nazareth who is glorified with God the Father in heaven. This we heartily deny; for though He has ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God far above all principalities and powers; yet He is not so limited or restricted but that (as by Him all things were made and created116) He is also the life who fills all in all in His church and people. Is the divinity and humanity of Christ divided? Is not this inseparable union the true and entire Christ? Can His Godhead be present, and He who is the heavenly Man be absent? What do you think of Him that appeared to John, and gave him His commission to the seven churches?—whom John describes (Revelation 1:12-17), and who says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” The same says, “I am He who searches the minds and hearts, and I will give unto everyone of you according to your works.”117
Is not this the true Christ, the true Mediator, by whom God will judge the world?118And can He make such a close inspection into the innermost part of the minds of men, so as no thought can escape His notice, if He be not present there? What made Paul desire that our Lord Jesus Christ might be with Timothy’s spirit, if he thought such a thing was impossible?119Do not all Christians acknowledge the Spirit of Christ, who is the anointed One, to be in His people. How then can He be absent? Is the fact that it is a mystery, far beyond our ability to conceive, a sufficient argument that it is therefore not so? Ought we not in such cases to exercise faith, and acquiesce to the testimony of the Holy Spirit expressed in the sacred Scriptures, rather than interpose with our fine and curious speculations?—not prying unnecessarily into things that are too high for us, but remembering that the secret things belong to God, and that those who know most here, know only in part the things that are invisible, and see them but as in a mirror.120Shall men who neither understand themselves, nor have any intuitive knowledge of their essences, or even the lowest things with which nature everywhere presents us, which are obvious to our senses; should these, I say, yet aspire to know things far more inscrutable, and undertake to explain that which is beyond the reach of the most gifted wits to penetrate
Christ Able to Set Free from the Power of Sin in this Life
We hope it is no error to affirm the power of Christ to be stronger than that of the devil, that He is able really to bind him, to bruise his head,121and break his power, to dispossess and cast him out, to fulfill to the uttermost the purpose of His coming, to destroy the works of the devil, and to save those from their sins who have true faith in His name and power. Surely it is not inconsistent with Christianity to believe that Christ can, or will, thoroughly purge His threshing floor; that He can indeed deliver out of the prison-house and restore man out of the fall up to God again,122and give him power to forsake the devil and all his works, etc.
We find it consistent with Scripture, and with the gospel-dispensation, to believe that those who are regenerated and born again of the Spirit, have through the Spirit mortified the first carnal and corrupt nature123which cannot please God; and if this is dead, and slain, and buried too, surely then it no longer lives, but the mind is at liberty, and restored to act in newness of life, to walk after the Spirit, and fulfill the righteousness of the law,124the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus having set them free from the law of sin,125and from death which is its wages. It is for lack of people’s experiencing this real birth of the Spirit brought forth in them,and knowing freedom in themselves by it—which no duties or performances in the will of man, nor entertaining the most refined opinions in religion can administer, short of the law of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts—it is for lack of this, I say, that people are so very apprehensive of the difficulty, and quick to call it it an impossibility, for man to live a holy righteous life; which yet is so necessary to our salvation, that we are told that without holiness we can neither enter the kingdom of heaven, nor see God.126Nor is the way broader, or its passage less narrow and difficult than they imagine; for it is absolutely impossible for man to walk therein while he is immersed in his first corrupt and unbridled nature, which cannot keep the law of God. For in this nature, the lusts and passions of man are rampant, their affections are inordinate, their wills unsubjected, and they follow the desires and evil inclinations of their minds without restraint.
But if they come to experience another seed or power to govern their minds, to create in them new clean hearts, to regulate and subject their wills, to subdue and tame their passions, to limit their desires, and direct their affections and inclinations wholly after that which is good, to correct their spirits throughout, and make them heavenly-minded, giving them an aversion to all evil, and a great love to virtue and goodness; being thus perfectly transformed, where is the extreme difficulty now, “for the good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, to bring forth good things?”127Will not this new well-inclined inside, that now detests evil, and loves and delights in righteousness, as naturally follow after and bring forth that which is good, as before it did evil? Here there is no force upon man’s nature, but he is converted, and thoroughly leavened into another nature, and in his measure made a partaker of the Divine nature,128which alone can work the will of God.
The Necessity of Diligence and Watchfulness
We request our piously-inclined neighbors to seriously weigh and consider the absolute necessity there is for every true Christian thus to experience their minds molded and fashioned anew by the power and Spirit of Christ129working mightily in them, in order to please God in a holy and righteous life, escaping the corruption that is in the world through lust. And knowing that though this is far more quickly apprehended as being necessary in the understanding than it is truly attained; we say that all, with great diligence, must faithfully give themselves to the performing of that which is the main and proper business of this life. Therefore, as it has pleased the Divine Power to give us all things pertaining to life and godliness,130so let us with vigilant attention, cooperating with that grace which is given for that purpose (and not resisting it), work out our salvation with fear and trembling;131since a good degree of attainment herein is soon lost unless there be a constant and diligent watchfulness upon the mind amidst all business and concerns, keeping a check upon our words and thoughts, and a faithful pressing forward. For while we live in this world we are liable to temptations, and it is easy to enter therein without a strict care and watchfulness,132our senses presenting many baits to our minds on every hand, which Satan makes use of to deceive. And there are also many provocations that present themselves in our pilgrimage, against all of which God’s grace is sufficient armor133as our minds are seasoned by it, so that where there is any failure or fault, it is through our own insincerity, negligence, or omission.
God’s Universal Love; and Man’s Ability to Reject it.
Nor is it a “dangerous heresy” that we (with very many other professors of Christianity) believe in the universality of the love of God extended all mankind. For we read in Scripture that God is good to all, and that His mercies extend to all the works of His hands;134and we believe that He is sincere in His declaration (and does not design to delude us) when He affirms that “as certainly as He lives, He desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he would return and live.”135We believe that God, whose love and mercy is unlimited, does graciously and generously offer salvation, through Jesus Christ, (upon certain conditions to be performed on our part) to all mankind, to every individual man and woman upon the face of the Earth,136which is the true gospel-message, “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; peace on Earth, and good will towards men;”137This is indeed a good cause to rejoice, that all are within the reach of mercy and free pardon;138that God is indeed no respecter of persons, but among all nations and people, he or she that fears Him, and works righteousness by Him, is accepted of Him.139We believe Christ died for the sins of the whole world,140yes, for every man; surely then, all for whom He died are thereby put into a capacity for salvation;141for saving grace has appeared to all men,142and a manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.143And we believe that none are condemned or reprobated but those who continue willingly deaf to the calls of this grace,144and resist the Spirit,145and hide and neglect their talents till the day of their visitation is over.146With these Christ finally withdraws Himself, and ceases to strive with them longer; so that the means now being taken away, they are left to themselves147and given up to hardness of heart;148no longer finding in themselves that which would prepare, tenderize, and soften it, so that they at last are unable to repent, believe, and be converted.
The Error of Personal Election and Reprobation
If to believe this is a “dangerous and pernicious error,” we confess we are guilty; for we cannot persuade ourselves to embrace that anti-evangelical opinion that God, from all eternity, has personally and unconditionally—without respect to their accepting or rejecting the salvation offered in Christ—elected some to be saved and others to be reprobated by an immutable decree; so that those who are so elected shall certainly be saved, let them do whatever they will, for God’s decree cannot be reversed. Nor can we believe the idea that those who are reprobated were in effect damned thousands of years before they were born, so that their salvation is put beyond all hope, regardless of how earnestly and diligently they seek, or how desirous they are to serve and please God. For this seems rather to be ‘sad tidings to most men,’ instead of ‘glad tidings to all men,’ if it were really true in itself. Moreover it puts an end to the whole business of religion, by rendering all worship and devotion, all preaching, praying, assembling together, and holy living, as it were, useless, by invalidating all whatsoever on man’s part, as being nothing that contributes (as a necessary condition on his part to be performed or neglected) towards either his salvation or eternal destruction.
Indeed, we dare not take up an opinion so diametrically opposed to the very attributes of God, and His repeated declarations to the contrary, and thus presume to accuse His justice, mercy and goodness. We cannot believe such things of God, who is love itself, and goodness itself, and has always manifested a wonderful care and concern for man as His beloved creature; for it seems very disagreeable to His power to condemn those that have not deserved to be punished.149And having plainly stated that He has no pleasure in the death of him that dies,150it seems absurd to suggest that He nevertheless created the greatest part of mankind with a design to damn them, unprovoked thereto, without ever offering them salvation; or that He would make the far greater number of men wholly incapable of accepting the salvation offered to them, by putting it out of their power to perform those conditions and terms upon which He offers it, and then condemn them to eternal misery for not complying with that which it was impossible for them to observe. For He not only calls to all the ends of the earth (which implies all mankind) to look unto Him and be saved,151but He has given to everyone a portion of His Spirit to enable them so to do. He has not only sent forth the Son of His love to taste death for every man,152to be lifted up as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish;153but He also draws them,154and as they are willing to receive it; He touches them with that Divine Magnet which alone can incline and empower them effectually to turn to the source of all true happiness.
But this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil, and hate the light, and will not bring their deeds to it, lest it should reprove them.155For whatsoever is reprovable is made manifest by the light,156but men love their own broad ways, to pursue the sight of their eyes and the desire of their minds,157and therefore hate to be controlled therein and reformed. The apostle, stirring up the Ephesians to purity of life, and to avoid several evils there mentioned, expressly says, “Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience.”158And in another place, he says, “Those who live according to the flesh shall die.”159It is therefore for lack of people’s embracing the means provided by God, and bringing their deeds to the Light of Christ in their hearts, and heeding the reproofs of instruction which are the way of life;160it is for lack of sowing to the Spirit, and by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the flesh,161that people are lost and sentenced to perdition, and not because they were personally and unconditionally reprobated from all eternity. God, who is Lord of all, is gracious unto all, and desires all men to be saved;162but many disobey the call of God, reject His offers, resist the strivings of His Spirit, turn a deaf ear to those knocks of our Savior for reception and lodging in their hearts,163choose and prefer the present world, and will not deny themselves to follow Christ. It is not as some men say, that salvation was never within their reach. If so, were those feigned tears that our Savior shed over Jerusalem when the day of its visitation was over? Saying also, “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chickens, but you would not.” Notice He did not say, “you could not.”164
And if any men can be so bold as to entertain an opinion so derogatory to the justice, mercy, love, and paternal care of God, and so repugnant to the gospel-message, we cannot but wonder at what would induce them to thrust this doctrine upon others, and urge it as though it were a necessary point to be believed in the Christian religion. For we cannot apprehend how this begets any love to God, increases faith in Christ, raises our veneration for Him, excites unto diligence, or encourages piety, which is that which advances true religion. On the contrary, this doctrine tends to the indulging of some in a false security, and procures in others a slight esteem of the death and sacrifice of Christ as being partial. By it some are cast into despair, and others are encouraged to gratify the desires of their minds to the full extent, since nothing can alter such a supposed decree of God one way or the other.
Yet we do not deny the foreknowledge of God, who knows all things, past, present and future, these all being present to Him at once; so that it may truly be said, that those who believe in Christ with that living and active faith that works by love, and excites unto obedience, and who persevere therein unto the end, and so know salvation by Him, are in the One in whom the election is before the world began. And likewise, those who do not believe, but rather reject the offers of His love, and by persisting in disobedience, neglect so great a salvation, can be said to be condemned already. Nor do we deny such a prerogative on God’s part as that some are made stewards over more, and some over fewer talents, according to which their increase ought to be proportional. Where much is given, much is required,165and where less is given, less is required; for God is just and equal in all His ways; He is not a hard Master that He should exact or expect more than the increase of His own.166Had he who received but one talent employed it, and made it two, we doubt not but this had been accepted by the Master; for we believe that none are from eternity absolutely excluded from receiving any talent, and that also a time is granted wherein it is possible for them to increase it. So that, though the grace may work more powerfully in some than in others, yet are all left without excuse.
Once in Grace, Always in Grace?
There is yet another opinion which is dependent upon the above-mentioned doctrine, that we can neither receive (as they state it), for which our opposers think very ill of us; and that is, once a man is in a state of grace he must ever be so; or that there is no ability to fall away from grace. How this doctrine promotes true zeal and piety, and improves Christianity, we cannot understand, nor see any other reason why its supporters should be so fond of it, except because it is agreeable to the doctrine of personal election and reprobation; so that those who embrace the one, are bound to believe the other. But otherwise, it certainly tends rather to slacken than to spur on people to that care and diligence, and constant unwearied watchfulness unto prayer, which our Lord so much exhorted us to, and the apostles so solicitously pressed the saints everywhere to be found in, as being something of absolute necessity.
What is the meaning of those promises of reward in the book of Revelation to those who would “overcome” and “hold out to the end,” except to encourage the church to a constant perseverance? Or what need was there for such words if it were impossible for them to fall away (who I suppose none will deny to have been in a state of grace)? The Church of Ephesus was threatened to have their candlestick removed if they did not repent and do their first works; and that of Laodicea was near to being spewed out of his mouth.167And who can say those foolish virgins in the parable were not once in a state of grace, whose lamps were previously lit, trimmed and burning; for how else could they properly be said to have gone out to meet the Bridegroom?168Or who can say that those were not called by saving grace in whose hearts the heavenly seed sprung up, and for a time prospered, until the briars and thorns, the cares and concerns about the things of this life, choked it.169Clearly, it was not that they had no day of visitation from God wherein they might have worked out their salvation with fear and trembling, had they continued to make the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness their first and chiefest choice, placed their treasure there, and disentangled themselves from those unnecessary cares. No, the seed that was sown and began to spring up in these was the very same seed that in the honest heart brought forth fruit abundantly.
Surely Paul, that great apostle, was not of these men’s opinion, when after he had long labored in the gospel, said, “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”170Who will not grant that the apostle, when writing these words, was then effectually in a state of grace? And the author to the Hebrews writing in the third chapter, to those he calls “holy brethren” and “partakers of the heavenly calling,” in verse 12, exhorts them, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” And again, in chapter 4:1, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” Verse 11: “Let us labor therefore to enter that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” Again, chapter 6 verses 4-6, speaking of those who had been enlightened, had tasted of the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, had tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come, (showing signs that they were effectually called, and in a state of grace) that if they should fall away, it would be impossible to renew them again to repentance; not because they were reprobated from eternity, but because they “crucified to themselves the Son of God afresh,” because they grieved His good Spirit, and rejected the means.
Our Savior says of Himself, “I am the true vine, you are the branches; My Father is the husbandman, every branch in Me that bears not fruit He takes away.” Again, “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered.”171Surely, it must be said that while these remain branches in Christ they are accepted of the Father; and yet it seems clearly possible for them to fall away and be cut off as withered branches. Thus Christ often repeats this condition: “if you abide in Me;” and presently says that the way to continue in His love was to do His will, as He had done with respect to His Father’s, and continued in His love.172But though we cannot embrace our opponent’s opinion, and must stand with the scripture declarations which amply demonstrate how a man may make a considerable progress in grace, and yet for lack of a careful and constant watchfulness to that grace may fall away; yet we also believe that there exists such a state and growth in grace through a vigilant attention thereto, and such a degree of faith attainable, as that there is no more going forth from it.173
The Sacraments (so-called)
But that which seems to be our “capital error,” and the highest of all their charges, and that which must silence all other pleas on our behalf, is our omitting the use of the sacraments (so called) of baptism, and the bread and wine.
John indeed, as the immediate forerunner of Christ to prepare His way, gave an alarm to the Jews who felt themselves secure under the law of Moses, proclaiming to them that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that the time had come wherein God commanded both Jews, as well as others everywhere to repent.174It was not sufficient for them to go on in sinning, and then to offer the respective sacrifices which the law required for the same; for now the wrath of God was near to be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.175It was not sufficient to adorn or clean the outside of the cup and platter, but the inside was to be cleansed, and then the outside would be clean also. The axe was now laid to the root, and every tree that did not bring forth good fruit was to be hewn down.176
The law of Moses took hold on exterior acts and could not make men perfect as pertaining to the conscience;177but now a dispensation was about to be established that came nearer to home, taking cognizance of the very thoughts, wherein sin would be not so much as allowed to be conceived by the will’s joining thereto.178Therefore John was sent to administer the baptism of repentance as a living figure of that which was to follow presently after; for John’s baptism was not capable of producing this effect upon the heart. And he himself testified, that though he baptized them with water, yet One that came after him (who was before him, and more honorable than he) should baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire; that His fan was in His hand, and He should thoroughly purge His floor.179This is the great work that is to be done under Christ’s gospel-dispensation—to take away the sins of the world, and destroy the works of the devil;180to purify people’s hearts, and make them spiritually minded; this is the proper effect of Christ’s lasting baptism. As Peter says, it is “not the washing away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,”181to purge our consciences from dead works, to serve the living God in newness of life.
The baptism of Christ is but one, and those who by it are baptized into Jesus Christ, are baptized into His death, their old man being crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be destroyed and they no longer serve sin, because they that are dead with Christ are freed from sin, and made alive to God,182to live a holy and righteous life. These are the blessed effects of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, and the benefits that redound to those who are truly washed by Christ in that holy laver which entitles us to a part in Him.183Now we believe that it is our chiefest concern to experience this inward spiritual baptism of Christ,that our hearts may be washed, purified, and sanctified by the Spirit of God;184and that we really put on Christ, and are in Him, who is the substance, in whom the types and shadows have ended. John knew and foretold that “he must decrease, but Christ must increase;”185Note, he does not say, “I shall cease immediately, just as soon as Christ’s baptism takes place;” but rather “I must decrease.” But if water-baptism were intended to continue always among Christians, then John would not at all decrease. Nor does the following allegation solve the problem: that water-baptism was abolished as belonging to John, but was then re-instituted as belonging to Christ; for then Christ would have two gospel-baptisms, which is erroneous.
We grant that some of the apostles did use water-baptism for a time, but we believe it was rather in compliance with the circumstances of the time than out of necessity, and in condescension to the weakness of believers in the very infancy of the church, being even the same age wherein John had baptized, who was not only a true messenger of God in his time, but had gained great credit among the people, and his memory and message could not soon be forgotten. Nor was it easy to draw the people away from a practice that had just before been acknowledged to be of divine authority. And we also find that the apostles tolerated the believing Jews to live in certain rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law for a time,186notwithstanding the Messiah had already come in the flesh and abrogated them; so difficult it was to disengage people from those things wherein they have been raised and educated, and to which their minds were strongly glued. Indeed, some of these followers of Christ would have had the believing Gentiles come under the same yoke of circumcision, which Paul their great apostle withstood, seeing beyond all those things and knowing that the kingdom of God was not food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.187Indeed, Paul taught openly that the kingdom was not in word but in power,188not in various washings and carnal ordinances which were shadows and to perish, but the substance was of Christ, and those that are in Him, are in Him complete, saying that if they afterwards returned to the covenant of circumcision, Christ would profit them nothing.189And yet we find that, such was his condescension towards these young believers, that he nevertheless circumcised Timothy, and that when he was at Jerusalem he shaved his head, etc.190behaving himself as a Jew, for the sakes of those who saw not as far as himself.191
And notwithstanding he was such a laborious and zealous preacher of the gospel, yet we find he baptized but very few with water, and even thanked God that he had baptized no more,192(clearly manifesting that water baptism was not then essential to the gospel) and rather said plainly, that he was not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel,193to turn people from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, who had delivered them from the power of darkness, and translated them into the kingdom of his dear Son;194it is this that is of absolute necessity to our salvation. Paul did not then baptize simply because some others did it (which yet is as real a commission as perhaps any can pretend to have now-a-days.) And it is for this reason that we sometimes say of baptism what Paul said of circumcision: “For in Christ Jesus neither baptism nor no-baptism avails anything, but a new creation.” For being made a new creature is the truest sign of possessing the inward spiritual grace, and of being in Christ, and is beyond all outward signs whatsoever.
The apostles having thus indulged this practice for a time, it is no wonder that water baptism was continued in the ages to follow, and shortly thereafter got footing in the degeneracy that sprung up. For as corruption entered the church and increased, the Spirit and life of Christianity was more and more eclipsed, and the minds of its professors grew darker, and then adhered more and more to external performances. And these not only continued those things that had been used by their predecessors, or at least something similar in its stead, but by degrees added more rites and ceremonies, and at length began to trim and adorn that religion that was at first plain, simple, and homely, and consisted more in power and divine love than an outward observations.And this, in the process of time, was so dressed and garnished, that its distinguished splendor became inviting to others. Under a degree of this degeneracy sprung up the practice of infant-baptism, a mere human invention, without any scripture-authority either by precept or practice; though the practitioners of it often reproach us for the neglect of it.
Bread and Wine
But that which makes the loudest outcry of all is our disuse of the sacrament (so called) of bread and wine. This is that “pestilent mortal error” that, in our opposer’s opinion, renders us worse then the papists. But whether such words have been justly bestowed upon us, we desire our sober neighbors to consider—not judging by hear-say, or by an implicit belief in what others say about us.
We are not ignorant of the great noise and stir that has been made about this subject in Christendom, to the scandalizing of Christianity among both Jews and Turks. The papists have turned it into downright idolatry, affirming it is the real body and blood of the Son of God, and as such they adore it. Others say that Christ is in it, though they know not how; one says it is this, another it is that; while they all seem to expect something from it which it does not necessarily administer; and all for lack of distinguishing between the real bread of life that came down from heaven (that flesh and blood of Christ which gives life to all that feed thereon, by which they dwell in Him and He in them,195) and that supper which was eaten by the primitive Christians in commemoration of His death and sacrifice, which are not so connected as that the one necessarily includes the other, as experience abundantly testifies, if people would but be honest with themselves herein. How many are there that receive the outward bread from year to year, who yet complain all their lives of deadness, dryness, and leanness of soul, and of lack of power, not receiving that renewing of life and spiritual strength that is proposed to be in it? For how can they in truth expect to feed on Christ spiritually in their hearts who will not admit that He really dwells in His saints,196but esteem it an error in those that do.
We, however, believe that all people ought to be well-persuaded in their own minds, and seriously considerate of these and other religious practices, not taking up things merely upon tradition because others do them; nor ought they to be vehemently pressed to or against things that are not absolutely essential to salvation, in which their understandings are not yet clear. Nor should any be scoffed at or reproached for those things which to them are a matter of conscience, and therefore sacred, though to others they may appear of less importance; indeed, this is a practice that is a great shame among people professing Christianity. Nor do we judge or condemn those that are found in the practice either of this or water-baptism as it was primitively used, whose sober, Christian, circumspect lives witnesses to their sincere intentions herein, who may be conscientiously tender in it, and fearful to omit it, till they are otherwise fully persuaded. But as for us, to whom the barrenness and emptiness of these outward visible signs are manifest, we cannot continue therein, finding that the outward practice of them yields no true soul-satisfaction, nor administers any inward spiritual grace to us.
Therefore having tasted that the Lord is good and gracious, we wait for the pure milk of that Word by which we have been begotten to God,197that we may receive strength thereby, and grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,198and come to a greater acquaintance with that true inward spiritual communion and fellowship with Him, wherein He sups with His saints, and they with Him;199and receive life by Him who dwells in them, and they in Him—just as the members of a body are joined to the head, and partake of its life, and live by it;200or the branches are joined to the Vine,201which receive life, virtue and nourishment from it, whereby fruit is brought forth to the glory of God, and is well-pleasing to Him. It is not sufficient that we participate of this eating and drinking once a month, or once a quarter, but rather as the Jews had their manna, fresh every morning.202So we ought to receive a daily supply, and a renewing of strength in our inward man by eating that heavenly bread that nourishes up to eternal life, drinking plentifully of that well of living water, which in the saints springs up to life eternal.203For as in God we live, move, and have our very being;204so Christ is the true and proper life for the inward man by which it truly lives to God, nor can it live except by Him. Those who are begotten to God by the Word of life, and are born again of the Spirit, are privileged thus to feed on Christ and enjoy Him, which none can do that are not first quickened and made alive by Him. Indeed, none can receive life, sap and virtue from Him as their head and vine who are not first joined to Him as members and branches; nor is it sufficient to make people living members of Christ, and give them admittance to feed upon Him, simply because they were sprinkled with water when infants, as we have already expressed, though they should eat the church’s bread and wine all the days of their lives.
And since then we enjoy the substance of this food and drink without the sign, why may we not omit the outward, shadowy part, as either being either temporary, or not of absolute necessity? And why may not the same authority absolve us from the use of this, and excuse us from being chargeable with the breach of a command of Christ, as that which releases other Christians from washing one another’s feet?205Or what about the apostles’ injunction to avoid food that had been strangled and blood,206or the custom mentioned by James of anointing the sick with oil?207Why should our adversaries be partial concerning what Christians have laid aside? And have we not good reason to conclude that if these other things had not been long ago laid down, Christians today would have cleaved as close to them as they have done to water baptism? And on the other hand, if bread and wine had been discontinued then (when anointing with oil and concern over strangled food was laid down), would not most Christians feel easier in omitting it today? For tradition, custom, and education, makes greater impressions on men’s minds than we are perhaps sensible of; nor is it an easy task at first to move men away from those things to which they have thus been securely fastened.
Since then God has replenished our hearts with His grace, and has not withheld His heavenly manna from us, but daily acknowledges us by His comfortable presence to our great satisfaction under the omission of these things, supplying our needs and necessities as we have recourse unto Him, who enables and strengthens those of us that retain our primitive sincerity and integrity to lead a sober, pious, Christian life, as adorns the gospel of Christ, which is the certain product of spiritual grace; and forasmuch as even our opposers acknowledge these sacraments to be but outward visible signs, and dare not say that the inward spiritual grace is necessarily tied to them, nor that they are of absolute necessity to salvation; with what reason then, we ask, do they declare us to be “no christians,” and also load us with calumnies and accusations on this account, often using it as an instance to blacken us and condemn our whole Christian profession?
Not Notions in the Head, but a Spirit that Governs the Heart
For though adherence to certain forms and ceremonies may bind together and distinguish particular societies and communions, it is certain that no observations or performances short of being ruled and governed by the Spirit of Christ as head, can entitle us to a membership in Him. Indeed we may make an impressive outward appearance, and carry a system of divinity in our heads, but if Christ rules not in our hearts we are none of His. Now if the professors of Christianity were less taken up with signs and shadows, and nice and unnecessary scrutinies and distinctions, and more devoted to observe the weighty, important, and indispensable precepts of Christ, demonstrating the power that Christ has over their minds by showing themselves His true disciples, and rightful heirs of His kingdom, being in measure invested with His divine virtues and graces, we should surely have less envy, variance, back-biting, and detraction, (which weakens the common interest of piety, and gives our common enemy an advantage over us), and we would have more Christian love, peace, concord and good relations among us. Yes, if all that meant well did but pursue virtue, love it, and encourage it wherever it appears, and hate vice and evil in all, and disapprove of it everywhere, and make this the measure of their Christian charity (rather than various opinions on lesser matters), it would bring us nearer together, and more advanced in true piety, than all the contending about different apprehensions in things far less essential.
God, who regards not names, but natures, knows among all nations and people who are His; and the rule He left us to know them was by their fruits, their actions being the exertion of their wills. All mankind are either under the power and guidance of the Spirit of God, or else of the devil; all are either carnal or spiritually minded, and whatever is the spring and bent of their desires and affections, so are their actions—each birth having its proper products, which are contrary to each other. So then, regardless what notions or opinions possess men’s heads, they nevertheless live according to the spirit and nature that governs their hearts. We cannot gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles; no fountain sends forth bitter water and sweet at the same time. It is an evangelical truth, that those who live in envy and strife, and bring forth the fruits of the flesh,208are of their father the devil; and those who, by the Spirit, put to death those corrupt lusts and affections, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,209adorning the doctrine of God our Savior by a sober, godly, righteous life, these are of God—for herein the children of God are manifest from the children of the devil.210
Thus have we candidly, though briefly, expressed our real opinion and belief concerning those points in which we apprehend our adversaries have endeavored mostly to condemn us, which we hope may prove satisfactory to those who have not already resolved to think evil of us. Truly, we have no other interest to promote, but the advancement of true piety and Christianity; having love and good-will towards all people, and more especially to those whose minds are awakened and hearts warmed, having true fervent desires and living breathings towards God, thirsting after a nearer and more satisfactory knowledge of, and acquaintance with Him, than a bare outward profession or hear-say knowledge of Him. Therefore, what we have found to be advantageous, of assistance and satisfactory to us in our unwearied pursuit after peace with Him, that we recommend to others. We call people home to the gift of God in themselves, which alone can do them good, that everyone may know the good Shepherd and Bishop of souls for themselves, and hear and know His voice in them from that of a stranger, and so learn of Him and follow Him, who is pure and ever leads to purity and holiness, so that His offering up of Himself for them may be of benefit to them, and they experience the great salvation of God.
The Purpose of His Coming
Impress this upon your minds and take it along with you: that notwithstanding our Savior has indeed paid a ransom for us, and made an atonement through the precious blood of His cross; yet if we do not experience the purpose of His coming, and that death effected and answered in ourselves, it shall avail us nothing. Unless we know Him to be both a Savior and Supporter near; unless we know a seed of Divine Light and life to illuminate our minds, to revive and warm our languishing hearts, to beget and increase true love to God, and that living faith that gives victory, governs our thoughts, renews and regulates our wills, limits our desires, bridles our tongues, excites holy inclinations, and keeps up a due ardency in our Christianity, strengthening our minds in that which is good and well-pleasing to God: I say, unless we know these things in and for ourselves, all our outward show of religion is but vain, and our profession of Christ shall profit us nothing, but we shall lie down in sorrow at last. For none are Christ’s, but those that have His Spirit, and are influenced by it. Nor are any children of God, but those that are led by the Spirit of God;211which begets in the mind a detestation of all sin and evil, and a love to purity, goodness and virtue.
Judgment to Come
Therefore, laying aside all strife and animosities, all envying and evil-speaking, let us abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good,212and address ourselves with a due and humble application to the accomplishment of that most important affair of our lives, the “working out of our salvation with fear and trembling.” And let everyone follow the Lord faithfully, according to what is made known to them, knowing that we shall be judged according to our knowledge, and that it will be happy for those whose wills and performances correspond with their understandings in that day when all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of their deeds done in the body, and so receive a sentence of either, “Come you blessed,” or, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity.”
It then will be of no importance to what congregation or confession of faith you belonged, or of what persuasion among the many were you; for among all of these there will still be but two sorts: the sheep and the goats; that is, those who heard the Shepherd’s voice and followed Him, who were guided and governed by the good Spirit of God in their hearts; and those who, wrapping their talent in a napkin, stifled convictions, and neglecting the day of their visitation, continued under the dark power of the evil one. A man may go a great way, and make a fair show of religion and piety, and yet be turned away to the left hand in the end. It is not a matter of having our heads filled with curious or sublime notions, with fine and elevated speculations. Indeed, let us trim and garnish our lamps ever so finely, yet this will not administer an entrance without the heavenly oil, that is, without that holy divine unction which fills our hearts, enlightens our minds, and inflames our affections to a due watchfulness and obedience to its teachings, which are the most assured marks of our being really in Christ, in whom alone is our acceptance.
It is our hearty desire that you with us, and we with you, may so circumspectly live up to that light and knowledge given to us by Christ, that our consciences may not condemn us; and so that, having finished our days here with comfort, we may lay down our heads in peace, with a well-grounded hope of a joyful resurrection, having boldness in the day of judgment.