Part 3 (1/2)


_Containing five several exhortations_: _first_, _general_, _reminding this people of their primitive integrity and simplicity_. _Secondly_, _in particular_, _to the ministry_. _Thirdly_, _to the young convinced_.

_Fourthly_, _to the children of Friends_. _Fifthly_, _to those that are yet strangers to this people and way_, _to whom this book_, _and that which it was preface to_, _in its former edition_, _may come_. _All the several exhortations accommodated to their several states and conditions_: _that all may answer the end of G.o.d's glory_, _and their own salvation_.

And now, Friends, you that profess to walk in the way that this blessed man was sent of G.o.d to turn us into, suffer, I beseech you, the word of exhortation, as well fathers as children, and elders as young men. The glory of this day, and foundation of the hope that has not made us ashamed since we were a people, you know, is that blessed principle of light and life of Christ which we profess, and direct all people to, as the great and divine instrument and agent of man's conversion to G.o.d. It was by this that we were first touched, and effectually enlightened, as to our inward state; which put us upon the consideration of our latter end, causing us to set the Lord before our eyes, and to number our days, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom. In that day we judged not after the sight of the eye, or after the hearing of the ear; but according to the light and sense this blessed principle gave us, so we judged and acted, in reference to things and persons, ourselves and others; yea, towards G.o.d our Maker. For being quickened by it in our inward man, we could easily discern the difference of things, and feel what was right and what was wrong, and what was fit, and what not, both in reference to religion and civil concerns. That being the ground of the fellows.h.i.+p of all saints, it was in that our fellows.h.i.+p stood. In this we desired to have a sense of one another, acted towards one another, and all men; in love, faithfulness, and fear.

In feeling of the stirrings and motions of this principle in our hearts, we drew near to the Lord, and waited to be prepared by it, that we might feel drawings and movings before we approached the Lord in prayer, or opened our mouths in ministry. And in our beginning and ending with this, stood our comfort, service, and edification. And as we ran faster, or fell short in our services, we made burdens for ourselves to bear; finding in ourselves a rebuke instead of an acceptance; and, in lieu of ”Well-done,” ”Who has required this at your hands?” In that day we were an exercised people, our very countenances and deportment declared it.

Care for others was then much upon us, as well as for ourselves; especially of the young convinced. Often had we the burden of the word of the Lord to our neighbours, relations, and acquaintance; and sometimes strangers also. We were in travail likewise for one another's preservation; not seeking, but shunning, occasions of any coldness or misunderstanding; treating one another as those that believed and felt G.o.d present; which kept our conversation innocent, serious, and weighty; guarding ourselves against the cares and friends.h.i.+ps of the world. We held the truth in the Spirit of it, and not in our own spirits, or after our own wills and affections.

We were bowed and brought into subjection, insomuch that it was visible to them that knew us. We did not think ourselves at our own disposal, to go where we list, or say or do what we list, or when we list. Our liberty stood in the liberty of the Spirit of truth; and no pleasure, no profit, no fear, no favour, could draw us from this retired, strict, and watchful frame. We were so far from seeking occasions of company, that we avoided them what we could; pursuing our own business with moderation, instead of meddling with other people's unnecessarily.

Our words were few and savoury, our looks composed and weighty, and our whole deportment very observable. True it is, that this retired and strict sort of life, from the liberty of the conversation of the world, exposed us to the censures of many, as humourists, conceited and self-righteous persons, &c.; but it was our preservation from many snares, to which others were continually exposed, by the prevalency of the l.u.s.t of the eye, the l.u.s.t of the flesh, and the pride of life, that wanted no occasions or temptations to excite them abroad in the converse of the world.

I cannot forget the humility and chaste zeal of that day. O! how constant at meetings, how retired in them; how firm to truth's life, as well as truth's principles; and how entire and united in our communion, as, indeed, became those that profess one head, even Christ Jesus the Lord.

This being the testimony and example the man of G.o.d before mentioned was sent to declare and leave amongst us, and we having embraced the same, as the merciful visitation of G.o.d to us, the word of exhortation, at this time, is that we continue to be found in the way of this testimony, with all zeal and integrity, and so much the more, by how much the day draweth near. And first, as to you my beloved and much honoured brethren in Christ, that are in the exercise of the ministry: O! feel life in your ministry. Let life be your commission, your well-spring and treasury on all such occasions; else, you well know, there can be no begetting to G.o.d: since nothing can quicken or make people alive to G.o.d, but the life of G.o.d; and it must be a ministry in and from life, that enlivens any people to G.o.d. We have seen the fruit of all other ministries, by the few that are turned from the evil of their ways. It is not our parts, or memory, the repet.i.tion of former openings, in our own will and time, that will do G.o.d's work. A dry doctrinal ministry, however sound in words, can reach but the ears, and is but a dream at the best. There is another soundness that is soundest of all, viz. Christ the power of G.o.d. This is the key of David, that opens, and none shuts; and shuts and none can open: as the oil to the lamp, and the soul to the body, so is that to the best of words: which made Christ to say, ”My words, they are Spirit, and they are life;” that is, they are from life, and therefore they make you alive, that receive them. If the disciples that had lived with Jesus, were to stay at Jerusalem till they received it; much more must we wait to receive before we minister, if we will turn people from darkness to light, and from satan's power to G.o.d.

I fervently bow my knees to the G.o.d and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may always be like-minded; that you may ever wait reverently for the coming and opening of the word of life, and attend upon it in your ministry and service, that you may serve G.o.d in his Spirit. And be it little, or be it much, it is well; for much is not too much, and the least is enough, if from the motion of G.o.d's Spirit; and without it, verily, never so little is too much, because to no profit.

For it is the Spirit of the Lord immediately, or through the ministry of his servants, that teacheth his people to profit; and to be sure, so far as we take him along with us in our services, so far we are profitable, and no further. For if it be the Lord that must work all things in us for our salvation, much more is it the Lord that must work in us for the conversion of others. If therefore it was once a cross to us to speak, though the Lord required it at our hands, let it never be so to be silent, when he does not.

It is one of the most dreadful sayings in the book of G.o.d, ”That he that adds to the words of the prophecy of this book, G.o.d will add to him the plagues written in this book.” To keep back the counsel of G.o.d, is as terrible; ”For he that takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, G.o.d shall take away his part out of the book of life.” And truly, it has great caution in it, to those that use the name of the Lord, to be well a.s.sured the Lord speaks; that they may not be found of the number of those that add to the words of the testimony of prophecy, which the Lord giveth them to bear; nor yet to mince or diminish the same, both being so very offensive to G.o.d.

Wherefore, Brethren, let us be careful, neither to out-go our guide, nor yet loiter behind him; since he that makes haste may miss his way, and he that stays behind lose his guide. For even those that have received the word of the Lord, had need wait for wisdom, that they may see how to divide the word aright: which plainly implieth, that it is possible for one that hath received the word of the Lord, to miss in the dividing and application of it; which must come from an impatiency of spirit, and a self-working, which makes an unsound and dangerous mixture, and will hardly beget a right-minded living people to G.o.d.

I am earnest in this, above all other considerations, as to brethren in the ministry, (well knowing how much it concerns the present and future state and preservation of the church of Christ Jesus, that has been gathered and built up by a living and powerful ministry,) that the ministry be held, preserved, and continued in the manifestations, motions, and supplies of the same life and power, from time to time.

And wherever it is observed, that any do minister more from gifts and parts, than life and power, though they have an enlightened and doctrinal understanding, let them in time be advised and admonished for their preservation, because insensibly such will come to depend upon a self-sufficiency; to forsake Christ the living Fountain, and hew out unto themselves cisterns, that will hold no living waters: and, by degrees, such will come to draw others from waiting upon the gift of G.o.d in themselves, and to feel it in others, in order to their strength and refreshment, to wait upon them, and to turn from G.o.d to man again, and so make s.h.i.+pwreck of the faith once delivered to the saints, and of a good conscience towards G.o.d: which are only kept by that divine gift of life that begat the one, and awakened and sanctified the other in the beginning.

Nor is it enough, that we have known the divine gift, and in it have reached to the spirits in prison, and been the instruments of the convincing of others of the way of G.o.d, if we keep not as low and poor in ourselves, and as depending upon the Lord, as ever: since no memory, no repet.i.tions of former openings, revelations, or enjoyments, will bring a soul to G.o.d, or afford bread to the hungry, or water to the thirsty, unless life go with what we say, and that must be waited for.

O that we may have no other fountain, treasure, or dependence! That none may presume at any rate to act of themselves for G.o.d, because they have long acted from G.o.d; that we may not supply want of waiting, with our own wisdom, or think that we may take less care and more liberty in speaking than formerly; and that where we do not feel the Lord by his power, to open us and enlarge us, whatever be the expectation of the people, or has been our customary supply and character, we may not exceed or fill up the time with our own.

I hope we shall ever remember, who it was that said, ”Of yourselves you can do nothing;” our sufficiency is in him. And if we are not to speak our own words, or take thought what we should say to men in our defence, when exposed for our testimony; surely, we ought to speak none of our own words, or take thought what we shall say in our testimony and ministry, in the name of the Lord, to the souls of the people: for then, of all times, and of all other occasions, should it be fulfilled in us, ”For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of my Father that speaketh in you.”

And, indeed, the ministry of the Spirit must and does keep its a.n.a.logy and agreement with the birth of the Spirit: that as no man can inherit the kingdom of G.o.d, unless he be born of the Spirit; so no ministry can beget a soul to G.o.d, but that which is from the Spirit. For this, as I said before, the disciples waited before they went forth; and in this our elder brethren and messengers of G.o.d in our day, waited, visited, and reached to us; and having begun in the Spirit, let none ever hope or seek to be made perfect in the flesh: for what is the flesh to the Spirit, or the chaff to the wheat? And if we keep in the Spirit, we shall keep in the unity of it, which is the ground of true fellows.h.i.+p. For by drinking into that one Spirit, we are made one people to G.o.d, and by it we are continued in the unity of the faith, and the bond of peace. No envying, no bitterness, no strife, can have place with us. We shall watch always for good, and not for evil, one over another; and rejoice exceedingly, and not begrudge at one another's increase in the riches of the grace with which G.o.d replenisheth his faithful servants.

And Brethren, as to you is committed the dispensation of the oracles of G.o.d, which give you frequent opportunities, and great place with the people among whom you travel, I beseech you, that you would not think it sufficient to declare the word of life in their a.s.semblies, however edifying and comfortable such opportunities may be to you and them: but, as was the practice of the man of G.o.d before mentioned, in great measure, when among us, inquire the state of the several churches you visit; who among them are afflicted or sick, who are tempted, and if any are unfaithful or obstinate; and endeavour to issue those things in the wisdom and power of G.o.d, which will be a glorious crown upon your ministry. As that prepares your way in the hearts of the people, to receive you as men of G.o.d, so it gives you credit with them to do them good by your advice in other respects; the afflicted will be comforted by you, the tempted strengthened, the sick refreshed, the unfaithful convicted and restored, and such as are obstinate, softened and fitted for reconciliation; which is clinching the nail, and applying and fastening the general testimony, by this particular care of the several branches of it, in reference to them more immediately concerned in it.

For though good and wise men, and elders too, may reside in such places, who are of worth and importance in the general, and in other places; yet it does not always follow, that they may have the room they deserve in the hearts of the people they live among; or some particular occasion may make it unfit for him or them to use that authority. But you that travel as G.o.d's messengers, if they receive you in the greater, shall they refuse you in the less? And if they own the general testimony, can they withstand the particular application of it in their own cases? Thus ye will show yourselves workmen indeed, and carry your business before you, to the praise of his name that hath called you from darkness to light, that you might turn others from satan's power unto G.o.d and his kingdom, which is within. And O that there were more of such faithful labourers in the vineyard of the Lord!--Never more need since the day of G.o.d.

Wherefore I cannot but cry and call aloud to you, that have been long professors of the truth, and know the truth in the convincing power of it, and have had a sober conversation among men; yet content yourselves only to know truth for yourselves, to go to meetings, and exercise an ordinary charity in the church, and an honest behaviour in the world, and limit yourselves within those bounds; feeling little or no concern upon your spirits, for the glory of the Lord in the prosperity of his truth in the earth, more than to be glad that others succeed in such service.

Arise ye in the name and power of the Lord Jesus! Behold how white the fields are unto harvest, in this and other nations, and how few able and faithful labourers there are to work therein! Your country-folks, neighbours, and kindred, want to know the Lord and his truth, and to walk in it. Does nothing lie at your door upon their account! Search and see, and lose no time, I beseech you, for the Lord is at hand.

I do not judge you; there is one that judgeth all men, and his judgment is true. You have mightily increased in your outward substance, may you equally increase in your inward riches, and do good with both, while you have a day to do good. Your enemies would once have taken what you had, from you, for his name's sake in whom you have believed; wherefore he has given you much of the world, in the face of your enemies. But O, let it be your servant, and not your master! your diversion rather than your business! let the Lord be chiefly in your eye, and ponder your ways, and see if G.o.d has nothing more for you to do: and if you find yourselves short in your account with him, then wait for his preparation, and be ready to receive the word of command, and be not weary of well-doing, when you have put your hand to the plough; and, a.s.suredly, you shall reap, if you faint not, the fruit of your heavenly labour in G.o.d's everlasting kingdom.