A LETTER OF EXAMINATION TO CHRISTIAN MINISTERS, ELDERS
Who have assumed the place of shepherds, herdsmen, and overseers of the flocks of people of all sorts in Christendom, to see if your accounts are ready, and what order the flocks are in: with a few lines of good news to the several flocks.
Woe be to the shepherds who feed themselves, should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat, and you clothe with the wool; you kill them that are fed; but you feed not the flocks. The diseased have you not strengthened, neither have you healed that which was sick; neither have you bound up that which was broken; neither have you brought back that which was driven away; neither have you sought that which was lost: but with force and cruelty have you ruled them, and they were scattered. Eze 34:2-5.
Therefore I come against the shepherds, said the Lord. I will require my sheep at their hands, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more for I will deliver my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be meat for them. Eze 34:10.
COME all you, who have assumed the title of shepherds, overseers, and herdsmen of the flocks of people of all sorts in Christendom, you have had the oversight, herding and ordering of the multitudes of people for a long time; and the Lord has been as a man in a far country, but now he is coming to call you to account, and will require the flocks at your hands; the time is near that you must give account of your charge, and receive a recompense of reward from him according to your deeds.
This is a warning to you all, to have your accounts ready, and see that the flocks are in good order, and that nothing is wanting; for you will not have any to meddle with the flocks but yourselves, therefore at your hands will the Lord require them.
Have you kept a diligent watch night and day, with carefulness for their souls? Have your locks been wet with the dew, and the hair of your heads with the frosts, to preserve their feet in the way of peace, from the devourer, and out of all filthy unclean ways? Have you been as good examples before the several flocks in all things, walking before them as good patterns?
Have you led them to the pastures of life, and fed them in due season? Or have you not played the careless idle shepherds, sitting in your fat places, and lying upon your soft pillows at ease, feeding with the fat, and sporting yourselves in your day and time, while the several poor flocks go astray in the by-paths, and are scattered in the barren wilderness, as sheep wanting a shepherd, and as a people without their guide, where their poor souls are starved for want of the bread of life? Have you led the several flocks to the fountain of living mercies and well-spring of life, where they might drink freely, without money, and be refreshed, and all become fruitful and none barren, as the flocks in Solomon's song; or are they not dried up head and tail for want of the springs of life, and so unfruitful in any thing that is good? Have not you also in this condition led and driven them, by your example and persuasion, to the dirty puddles and kennels of sin and uncleanness? Have not you (the pretended) herdsmen of all sorts, persuaded the flocks, that this is what they must drink and lick up, while on this side the grave? Are not your flocks, as you call them, by that means fallen into gross diseases, as rottenness of heart, unsoundness of mind, blindness and deafness, from seeing their salvation, and hearing the voice of the Lord Jesus?
Have they not fallen into lameness of feet and hands? So they cannot walk upright in the just man's path, which is a shining light, but stumble at it; nor can they handle the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God; by which they should war against the man of sin, and break down his strong holds.
By their drinking iniquity, sin, and uncleanness, are not all the flocks fallen into gross diseases, that there is no health in them, and become weak and feeble in the faith, in which they should resist the devil, and overcome him; and have lost their taste, smell, and savor in the things of God; so that everything that is seasoned with his spirit and power, has become loathsome to their taste, by reason of the diseases and rottenness, wanting salt in themselves to savor withal, by which they should be a sweet savour of a sweet smelling sacrifice to God, and be able to season the earth? Through lack of it, is not the earth corrupt, and the creation burdened? Does it not groan, and wait to be delivered from under that bondage?
See now what you have in your flocks (as you call them) to offer to the Lord, that may find acceptance with him: will he accept of the unclean, sick, lame, or blind? Must not the church, that is presented to God, is without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing? Nothing that is unclean can enter into his kingdom. Have you, shepherds and herdsmen (so called) of all sorts, looked carefully to the several flocks, to keep them from the spots of the world? Or are they not run all over from head to tail with a scab, as a leprosy? Have you not played the lazy shepherds, who don't look after the flocks; or the like the sophists, who have said that you have the care and cure of souls, and that you are the physicians; and yet your flocks (as you call them) fall into such gross diseases and uncleanness? Are not you the careless shepherds, and physicians of no value? Would not you blame and be angry with the herdsmen of your flocks, and require your flocks at their hands, or throw them into prison until they made satisfaction, if they dealt so badly with you, concerning your flocks and herds? Will the Lord not do so by you? Is it not reasonable, just and equal, that he require the flocks at your hands; for you have been well paid for the looking to them, as you very well know, and the nations can witness?
Have you kept one certain voice, as the good shepherd does, that the sheep might hear his voice and come together, and not stray or straggle, and fall into pits? Or have not your voices been variable and changeable as the wind, and giving an uncertain sound? And your flocks (as you call them) never find a certain voice among you; so are scattered into sects, divisions and parties, pushing one another with head, horn, arm and shoulder, into the pit and mire, instead of helping one another out of the mire, and out of the pit.
Again, have you been careful to count the flocks morning and evening, as shepherds ought to do, and usually do, that none are lacking? Or have you neglected this duty also, save at fleecing times; like the hireling, who cares not for the flocks, but for the fleece? Have you endeavored to keep the flocks, that you (pretend to) be overseers of, well marked, with the Lamb's mark in their foreheads, that they may be known that they are his? For if they are not, but marked with another mark, will he not say,"Depart, I do not know you?" Have you acquainted the flocks with the fold of peace and safety, and to come into it gently, and rest in meekness and quietness? Or have you not been negligent, and they have grown wild, as the wild goats upon the mountains, and as bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke, and as heifers snuffing up the wind.
Have you not left the office of a shepherd, and are not many of you turned hunters, who hunt the Lord's little flock, which he has gathered by his power into his Spirit, and put under the hand of the true shepherd, that feeds them in due season? Do not you hunt them as a partridge, and make it your game and sport to spoil and destroy them, as the flock of your prey, and prepare your tongues like bows, and your words like arrows, to destroy and cut them off, whom you know by the shepherd's mark, from all the flocks in Christendom, so called.
Do you not (hunter-like) sound your horns of envy and persecution, to awaken and stir up all of like mind and spirit with you, to hunt and spoil the Lord's little flock, as though they were not worthy to feed and live upon the earth, with the rest of the flocks; or as if the earth were yours, and not the Lord's; and that he might not have a flock upon earth, as well as you, or as though he had no right, but all were yours? Do you think that the Lord does not see this, and will it not kindle his wrath, and hasten him to call you to an account, and reward you according to your works?
May not he justly hunt you, who have been the chief hunters of his, and prepare his bow and arrows against you, and mark you out, and make you a hissing, and a bye-word to the nations? Is it not just for him to take the flocks from you, who have been careless, and neglected your service and duty; and now will not let his flock be quiet, but rend and tear them? Is it not justice and equity for him to rend the flocks from you, and redeem them from your mouths, who will not allow his to receive the law at his mouth, whom he has ordained a priest forever, and whose lips preserve knowledge?
Will not the just principle in you answer to his justice, when it comes upon you with equity to take the flocks from you, and lay you aside, and gather the flocks, and put them under the hand of his Son Christ Jesus, the good Shepherd; who will bring them to the fresh pastures of life, and feed them in due season, and cause them to hear his voice and know it — and to his fold, and lie down in it in quietness, meekness, and patience, where none shall make them afraid; preserving from the storm, and from the heat, and bring them to the well of clean water, and fountain of living mercies, and cause them to wash and be clean, and to drink and be refreshed, that they may no longer be barren in fruits of holiness, but bring forth to God's glory; and anoint their eyes with eye-salve, and open their blind eyes? Then they will see you are blind guides, and bless the Lord that redeems them from you. He also will give them balsam and precious ointment, even the virtue that goes out of him, the good Physician, that will cure their spots, scabs, and leprosy, (which ran all over them while under your hands,) and will purge their corruptions, and cure the evil diseases of sin and iniquity, by which death has had dominion; and he will give them saving health, and heal their backslidings, and open the mysteries of his kingdom to them, circumcising their hearts and ears, and causing them to understand those secrets which are hidden from the wisdom of this world; and bring them out of the many ways, into the one way, Christ Jesus the way to God; and out of the many sects, divisions and parties, holes, briers, thorns and thickets, which they are fallen into, and have been entangled with, in the cloudy and dark day that has been over them, while under your hands, and set his name and his Father's name upon them, and give them the seal of the new covenant, that they may know and be known that they are his, whom he has purchased with his precious blood, and redeemed, searched, and sought out, even as a good shepherd, who will bring them to the mountain of the house of the God of Jacob, and teach them of his ways, and watch over them, who sleeps not, nor slumbers.
He will work a reformation in the nations, and bring them to the one true church, which is in God, founded and built upon the sure foundation, that God has laid and coupled together, as by the hand of a wise workman, into the fellowship of the one body, of which Christ Jesus is the head, who supplies the whole body with all things needful, to build them up in their most precious faith, which gives them victory over the man of sin, and renews into the true worship of God, in the spirit and in the truth, and to the uniformity in the spiritual worship, and a true conformity thereto, by his law of the Spirit written in the heart.
There Christ is priest according to appointment of the Father, minister and bishop of the soul, who ministers life, peace, and comfort unto them, and renews his holy and heavenly ordinances in the church, baptizing into one spirit, and into the one faith, that works by love, and purifies the heart, giving a white stone, and in it a new name, and feeding with the sincere milk of the word, officiating the priest's office in the church of the first-born, preparing the altar, and spreading the table with fine white linen, which is his righteousness; and prepares the bread for his church, and fills their cup with new wine, that they may all drink of the cup of blessings, which is the communion of his blood; and may all eat of the one bread, which is the communion of his body, and his body is bread indeed, and his blood is drink indeed, and this is what gives life, and without it they cannot have life. This is free without money, with which the Lord's table is furnished, and he is inviting the people and gathering the nations to it, from your chargeable tables; for you have sold them bread, wine, and water at a dear rate; but he will freely feed them with all things necessary, as an household of one faith, and as one family. Christ Jesus, (greater than Solomon), their Lord and Master shall govern them, setting up and renewing family duties among them, to stand on their watch, to resist every appearance of evil, and to pray with the spirit and with understanding, and to sing with the spirit, and with understanding also. He shall rule, whose right it is, and the government is upon his shoulders, whose kingdom is everlasting, and of his government there shall be no end. The Lord will perform this, to reform the nations, and bring them to uniformity, and true conformity in his dear Son.
Jamaica, the 24th of the twelfth month 1672.
AS you have received and believed in the precious truth, so live and walk in it to God's glory, and walk upright in the freedom and liberty of the truth and gospel of peace, in which you will have peace with God; and do not go back into the liberty of the world, for that will bring you into bondage, and the old leaven will steal in by little and little, that leavens into the love of the world, and draws from the love of God, and hinders the incomes of his love in your hearts and souls, and draws the mind into great encumbrances and affections into things below, to mind earthly things more than heavenly things, and becomes a yoke of bondage, and will make you look down to the earth and keep you from looking up to the Lord, who said, “look unto me.” So all stand fast and firm in the freedom and liberty of the blessed truth: let none lose the heavenly image, for fear that the earth and earthly image steal in and come over again; and as the grave swallow up, and like thorns choke all that which is good, and so stain and spoil the beauty and comeliness, which you have in the everlasting truth.
Friends, I say, in the name of the Lord Jesus, shake yourselves from the dust, and from the earth, as being quickened and raised from the grave, and from the earth by the spirit and power of the Lord, and sow not among thorns, but plow up the fallow-ground, and keep a diligent hand at the plow, that as the ax has cut down the branches, so the plow might tear up the roots, that the roots of corruption, earthly-mindedness and covetousness, which is the root of all evil, and the root of bitterness is not left uprooted out through neglect; and so those old roots sprout and spring up again, and run over and choke the good, and make the field, garden and plantation unfruitful to God. Must not his people be as a fruitful field, and as a pleasant garden to bring forth much fruit, to be a sweet smell and a sweet savour? So, all Friends, see that your fields, gardens, and plantations are kept clean, and the roots hacked up as well as the branches; that you may flourish in the new covenant, as the field of the Lord, and as his garden, give a sweet smell and savour of life unto life, and of death unto death; and as his fruitful plantation, bring forth much fruit to his praise and glory, who is the chief planter and chief workman, that he may delight to dwell in his field and plantation, and to walk in his garden, and to water it in due season, and not have cause to reject or cast out any, as a withered and unfruitful branch, through unworthiness.
Let all walk worthy of God's love, visitation and mercies every way, and take heed of turning again unto such things, as truth judged, led out of, and caused us to deny at the first, in trading and otherwise; for truth changes not. Therefore keep the first love, and principles, spotless and blameless in the sight of God and man, and remember that the children of Israel, whom God took by the hand to bring them from the bondage of Egypt, and to give them the land of promise, how many of the first generation fell, and came short by looking back through unbelief, and tempting and grieving the Lord in the day and time of their trial. Also Lot's wife, who looked back, was set for an example. Are not we a kind of first-fruits, and a generation whom God has visited, and taken by the hand to redeem from the earth, and from the world, after a long night of apostasy and falling away? So all take heed and be circumspect; for there is much upon my spirit concerning these things, hard to be uttered, and harder to be borne by some. See that none leave either hoof or horn in Egypt, for then the mind will be towards it.
Therefore all arise, and come forth with the seed royal, that all we have may be in the hand of the Lord, as an offering and sacrifice to him, which is but a reasonable service for we are but stewards of what we have, and must give an account to God. Therefore take heed of being linked and married to your shops, and trades or merchandize, by which you are encumbered, left, and hindered from coming to meeting, serving the Lord and doing his work, as though your work and business must be done first, and the Lord's the last. Would not you blame and be angry with your servants, who would prefer and do their own work and business before yours, and be so encumbered and busy there, that your business is neglected? Be careful therefore that the Lord's business is first done, and his truth and concerns preferred before all, that you may receive an answer from the Lord of well done, good and faithful servants. For if any are linked and married to the world, and to the earth, their shops, merchandize, or trading, and have their delights there, how then are they God's freemen, and Christ's spouse, married to him? Must not they, who are married to Christ, be freed from the world and from the earth through the cross of Christ, the power of God, and walk as freemen, having the earth under them, and not over them?
Therefore be good merchantmen, prize the precious truth, the precious pearl, and the preferment of it above all, that the love of the world and of the earth enters not, and works as the old leaven, by which the streams of God's free love in your hearts may be stopped. All prize the love of God, and walk worthy of it, who as a tender Father gave his Son for us, even the Son of his love, whom he has made heir of all things, that we through him may be heirs of an everlasting inheritance, and not go after other lovers, or have the heart carried away with them, that will not stand in stead, nor can save in the needful time.
Jamaica, the 24th of the twelfth month 1671.
For all Friends that know the heavenly gift of Christ Jesus, from the apostles to the hinder-most of the flock of Christ, that they neglect not the service of their day, according to proportion of abilities and gifts, and more especially those gifted for doctrine and government.
CHRIST JESUS, the promised seed, that bruises the serpent's head, of whom the Law and Prophets gave testimony, according to the promise of the Father, came in due time, in that prepared body, to do the will of God for man's redemption, which when he had finished, and tasted death for us, he ascended up on high, and gave gifts to men, and peculiar gifts to believers; to some apostles, to some prophets, and to some evangelists, pastors and teachers, discerners of spirits, help-meets in government, and several other gifts gave he to his gathered flock that believed in him, for the edifying and building them up in the precious faith, which he is the author of, that they may come to the perfect knowledge of God and Christ, in the measure and stature of the fullness in him; and be established in him, the head and foundation, and grow up in him in all virtue and godliness, in gospel order.
Now, every one thus gifted by Christ Jesus, is to wait on their gift, and attend their service in the ministration thereof, according to proportion of grace and faith given: whether prophesying, ministering, teaching, or exhorting, all to wait on their service; and he who rules to be diligent, and speakers to perform it as the oracles of God; and thus to minister one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; and keep in the bounds and line of their own measure and gift of Christ, not going beyond it into another man's line, and be sound in faith and doctrine; and not to be entangled or cumbered with the affairs of this life, nor choked or surfeited with the riches of this world, or laden as with thick clay, to hinder their following of Christ the Captain, who has called and gifted for his work and service in his vineyard, to labor in the Gospel, and leave all for it, that it might be performed and finished according to the will of God, under the daily cross and self-denial; and not to be at ease in the flesh, world and will, or own time and place in trading, dealing, and getting riches; but diligently attend their service and gift, and keep the body in subjection, for fear that preaching to others, they become castaways; and to take heed to themselves, and to the flock of Christ, of which the Holy Ghost made them overseers; and be examples before them, and feed them in due season.
Thus Christ Jesus, when he had ascended into glory, established his church in government, as well in discipline as faith and doctrine, and committed the care and trust to gifted men for every service, to keep the whole body or church in order, according to the rule and holy rights of the new covenant; and they met together, the apostles, elders and brethren, as well in relation to matters of church government, as the worship of God, and discoursed of matters committed to their charge and trust, as stewards and overseers of Christ's vineyard, husbandry, and heritage.
Those preachers that went from Jerusalem to Antioch, and would mix the law of the first covenant with the doctrine of Christ's kingdom, were reprehended, and the churches advised of their error; many others also under those stations of apostles, prophets and preachers, that kept not the gift of Christ, but went beyond their line and rule into confusion and disorder, which tended to destruction and not to edification, were admonished and reproved. Disorderly, unruly women* were not permitted to teach or preach in the church. Those qualified men, through the gift of Christ, who had the concern of church-affairs, with the assistance and approbation of the Holy Ghost, wrote several epistles and decrees to the churches, and appointed elders, as overseers, in every meeting; faithful men to whom was committed to see those decrees truly and duly performed, that the church of Christ might shine in the comely order and discipline, as lights in the world, to the glory of God.
So the churches were established, and those who ruled well were worthy of double honor, and such, who kept to the heavenly gift, discovered false teachers, false apostles, false brethren and antichrists, that were among believers; as wells without water, clouds without rain, fruitless trees that cumbered the ground, and wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness was reserved forever; and such as loved their bellies and pleasures more than God; yet would be talking and preaching, not knowing of which they affirmed, being gone from the rule and line of the heavenly gift of Christ. So the Lord's care was over the gathered flock, for their preservation in faith and fellowship with himself, and one with another, as members of one body, taking due care one of another for their preservation from all uncleanness, disorder, snares and entanglements that are in the world; and that all should be kept in the holy, comely order and discipline of the gospel of Christ Jesus; husbands to love their wives, and wives to love and reverence their husbands; children to honor their parents, and servants their masters; and widows to be chaste; also young men and maids to be sober minded, and not to marry with unbelievers; and all to labor, for he that will not work, must not eat; and rich men to be rich in good works.
Thus the church of Christ, both male and female were established in their heavenly order and degrees; in which all were to keep their ranks in discipline and ministration, established by Christ in his church under the new covenant; and to prefer his public service before private interest.
Now the church that Christ espoused to himself, was adorned with her jewels, and beautiful through his comeliness; but when the apostasy and falling-away came in, spoken of by Christ and his apostles, as seers of the times, that the generality of Christians went from the heavenly gift, saving a small remnant that kept to the gift of the holy Spirit, who were forced to lie obscure under the arm of God's Providence, sighing and mourning because of confusion, disorder, and the abominations which came into the churches, Christ the man-child departed from them, and the witnesses were slain, yet unburied; then the whole building went to wreck and ruin, rents and breaches, and all in confusion, both in doctrine and government; every one sought their own wealth, preferment, and ease in the world, the flesh and will, and the cross of Christ was lost; ministers went to the letter, having gone from the heavenly gift of Christ's holy Spirit, and got into easy places, every one seeking their own gain and advantage of the presentation of the times, and cared for themselves, not for the flock that Christ had shed his precious blood for; but self-interest prevailed, and the public spirit that stands for and seeks the public good was lost, the churches were filled with confusion and errors, their overseers being blinded with the world and by the God of it, the face of Christ and Christianity was marred, the beauty and comeliness gone, the temple and tabernacle of God ruined, his divine service and worship lost, as it was instituted by Christ.
Thus it lay until the time of reformation and restoration, according to the appointment of the Father; which in mercy is largely manifested in our age, in which Christ Jesus is returned in the brightness and glory of his Father; to bring up the church out of the wilderness; and is bringing back and gathering his scattered flock to the faith once delivered to his saints, which he is author of; and causing his divine light to shine in their hearts, to give them the knowledge of the glory of the Father, and raising the ruin of his temple and tabernacle, that he may dwell and tabernacle in us, and bring us into fellowship with the Father and himself, and one with another, and to worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and be partakers of his holy ordinance of baptism, baptizing by one spirit into one body, of which he is head, and renewing the heavenly gifts of his holy Spirit, both in doctrine and government, and the everlasting Gospel is preached again, and order and discipline settled in the church, according to his former institution, for the preservation and growth of all his gathered flock, in the increases of God.
And the care and trust of the flock of Christ is committed to gifted men, whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers, to take heed to themselves, and the flock of God, that all in the house of Christ, which is his people, be kept in order, with respect to things both divine and human, according to gospel rule and order; and all are to attend on their ministry and service, and fulfil it according to their ability and gift; that the house of God may be settled on her own mountain, which is above all mountains and hills, and many shall flow to it, and see the ancient beauty and comeliness which the Lord is restoring to his church, in decking her with her former ornaments of gospel rights and privileges, and all concerned in this great work of restoration, who have received a gift from Christ to officiate therein, are to attend their office and service for the public good, and not to chose their own time, or place of ease in the flesh and will, in the things of this world which loads them as with clay, and hinders their service for the public, and is no example of self-denial to the flock of Christ, but savours of that spirit of apostasy, which is to be purged out, as the old leaven, that so it may be seen, we are in the footsteps of those that were given up both in strength, understanding, time, and substance, to spend and be spent in the service of the Lord and his people.
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