TO SEE THE OUTWARD JEW REFLECTED
(Original Title is: THE JEW OUTWARD BEING A GLASS FOR THE PROFESSORS OF THIS AGE )
IF THEY READ WITH MEEKNESS, AND IN THE TRUE LIGHT,
CONTAINING some EXCEPTIONS and ARGUMENTS of the JEWS
BY ISAAC PENINGTON
THE Lord God of infinite goodness, has ever dearly loved mankind, yet could never so appear to them since the transgression, as to be owned by them, until the veil was taken from before their hearts. Israel in Egypt hearkened not to Moses, because of their anguish and bondage. When they were led out, they were ever and always murmuring, and picking quarrels against him. Samuel they rejected, (as the Lord lays to their charge); though they might excuse themselves, and say they had just exceptions against his sons. Elijah, that mighty man of God, the great restorer of Israel, and pleader against Baal by fire, his life was sought for. And though there is not a particular record of their usage of the prophets about those days, yet in general he complains that they were all slain but himself. 1 Kings 19:10. Micah was smitten on the cheek, and jeered by the false prophet who smote him, and said, "Which way went the spirit of the Lord from me to speak unto you?" And he was commanded to be put in prison, and fed with bread of affliction and water of affliction. Jeremiah was put into the dungeon, even to the danger of his life: and by those few that were left, that seemed singly to inquire by him concerning the will of the Lord, (Jer 42:2-3), disdainfully rejected. chap. 43:2. Why should I spend time in particular instances? What prophet can I exclude? For though all their bad dealings with them are not related in scripture; yet Christ testifies that they did deal badly with them all; some of them they stoned, some of them they scourged in their synagogues, some of them they killed and crucified, and others they persecuted from city to city. "Yes," said Stephen, "which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the just One." You make it such a strange thing, that if Christ had been a prophet, you should not own him; why which of the prophets was owned? You have still some exception or other against us, that we are not the prophets of God; and against our message, that it is not the mind of God. You take arguments from one prophet's words to oppose another prophet with; and from one prophet's manner of coming, to oppose another prophet's manner of coming. If John comes neither eating nor drinking, you reject him for his austereness; if Christ comes both eating and drinking, you reject him for his liberty and freedom in the life. Now what is the reason of this? Christ himself gives the reason. Mat 11:19. "Wisdom is justified of her children." You are not the children of wisdom, you are not begotten of the life, of the Spirit of the prophets, and so cannot justify that Spirit. You have gotten the letter of the prophets, you are born of that; but you are not born of the life, you are not born of the wisdom. And so whoever comes forth in the same birth from the letter with you, him you can own; but if any prophet comes forth with that same Spirit, him you cannot own. He that is born after the flesh, cannot but persecute him that is born after the Spirit. Jerusalem was all along the persecutor of the prophets, from the beginning to the end.
And is this nothing to you, O you believers of this age! Search and see who have been the persecutors among you, but they who have had the name of the church and her prophets. Who have slain the witnesses? The church of Rome has slain the witnesses against her, and the Protestants have slain the witnesses against them. About the beginning of these troubles, if a man were ever so truly zealous, yet could not conform to the common prayer book and ceremonies, how was he persecuted! A Non-conformist, a Separatist, a Brownist, an Anabaptist, (though owning the same Christ in his very heart and soul), yet because his practice was a testimony against the false church-worship of the common Protestant, must be hunted up and down to courts, imprisoned, fined, banished. And to this day, the Lord can bring forth no birth of his Spirit, but the zealous believer hates, reviles, and seeks to destroy it. If the Lord lays any law upon the conscience, if it is not suitable to their apprehensions from the letter, how do they reproach, disdain, revile, and endeavor to render such odious to the magistrates, and to the people!
But why should we wonder at these things? There is no new thing under the sun. The state of the world is just as it always was. The power of Truth in every age has been still opposed by those who pleaded for the form. It were a wonder if it should be otherwise. I should much more wonder, if the teachers and believers of this age should own Truth, than that they fight against it, and persecute it. Well, friends and brethren, be strong in the Lord, and faithful to his Truth, in the power of his might; bear the reproach, the afflictions of this age, the persecutions of this your day. Verily your eyes shall see that there is a reward for the righteous, and your hearts shall be satisfied with it, when the children of the kingdom, (those who think they already have salvation, in this age, as well as of Christ's, and all former ages), shall be shut out in utter darkness, where shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
THE JEW OUTWARD
SOME EXCEPTIONS AND ARGUMENTS OF THE JEWS AGAINST CHRIST'S APPEARANCE. The Jews were once the only outward, visible people of God, who were chosen by God for a peculiar people, who had the promise of, and expected, the Messiah; whose faith and hope of salvation was in him; yes, and at that very time they were looking for him, yet, when he came, he was "a stumbling stone, and a rock of offence" to them, and they could by no means receive him. They were full of reasonings, and doubts, and contentions about it; but could never, with all their wisdom from the letter, [scriptures], determine that was he. Though he lived as never man lived; though he spoke as never a man had spoken; though he did what a man had never done; yet still some exception or other they had from the letter of the scriptures, to which his manner of appearance, his conversation, and his doctrine, did not suit in their judgment; and so, after many disputes and debates, they at length delivered him up to death, as a blasphemer, a deceiver, a seducer of the people.
Many exceptions and arguments they had against him; against his descent, his doctrine, his practices, his miracles, his followers, etc., which I shall refer to heads, to make them more obvious.
1. They took exception to his descent and relatives. "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us." Mat 13:55-56. What! this that glorious Messiah! the great king of glory, of whom all the prophets prophesied and spoke great things! Surely it cannot be. "And they were offended in him." Mat 13:57. It was this that made them so they could not receive that heavenly doctrine of his, which otherwise might have been life to them, when he taught them that he was "the bread of life that came down from heaven:" but they murmured because of it, and said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he said, I came down from heaven." John 6:41-42. So again, John 7:27: "We know this man where he is; but when Christ comes, no man knows where he is." This was a close argument, and was raised up to eat out a deep impression of his being the Christ, as may appear from the foregoing verse. He speaks indeed boldly, and deep things, etc., as if he were the Christ; but how can it be he, seeing it is known from where he comes?
2. At his country, or place of his education and residence, which was Nazareth of Galilee. "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" John 1:46. "Shall Christ come out of Galilee?" John 7:41. "Search and look; for out of Galilee arises no prophet." John 7:42.
3. At the time and season of his coming. He came, (as far as they understood), before Elias. With this argument they pressed the disciples, as is signified in that query of theirs to Christ, "Why then say the Scribes, that Elias must first come?" Mat 17:10. This could not but be a sore argument in the mouth of the Scribes, who might reason with the disciples on this wise basis: what poor, ignorant, sottish, deluded people are you, to own this man for your master, and take him for the Messiah! Elias must first come, and restore all things. If this man preached ever so heavenly a doctrine, and did however many miracles; yet, if he pretends to be the Messiah, he can only be a deceiver for the true Messiah does not come before Elias; and everyone knows that Elias is not yet come, nor is his work of restoring all things so much as begun.
4. His doctrine administered abundance of offence to them, and they were continually stumbling at it. That heavenly doctrine, mentioned a little before, that he was "the bread of life," they murmured at, John 6:41. When he only said, "God was his Father," they presently flew out upon him, and said, "he made himself equal with God." John 5:18. When he said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," they misunderstood him, and brought it forth as an argument against him at the time of his suffering, Mat 26:61, and cast it as a jeer in his teeth. Mat 27:40. When he only said to the man sick of the palsy, "Son, your sins are forgiven you;" the Scribes and Pharisees presently exclaimed against him, "Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Luke 5:21 and 7:49. When he preached very powerfully against covetousness, the Pharisees derided him. Luke 16:14. Yes, when he did but preach a parable or two about "the widow of Sarepta, and Naaman the Syrian," (it coming a little close to their state), "all they in the synagogue were so filled with wrath, that they rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill, to cast him down headlong." Luke 4:28-29. At his saying that "Abraham rejoiced to see his day, and he saw it, and was glad;" the Jews replied, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" John 8:57. How absurd and impossible was this to them, that a man of not fifty years should say, that Abraham, (who lived so many ages before), saw his day! And instead of giving them an argument to demonstrate it to them, he only returns them a more confident affirmation, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am;" John 8:58, which so enraged them, that "they took up stones to cast at him." John 8:59. Now mark: the life speaks what it sees and knows, and so it gives forth its testimony. The wise believer, not being in the life, cannot know or receive the testimony; but calls for arguments and demonstrations to his wise eye. The life refuses to answer him; but instead, only affirms the thing more strongly and confidently. This, being so far from what he looks for, and requires to satisfy him, kindles disdain and rage in him; and he looks upon the life, for this way of proceeding, as worthy to be stoned. What! When they should lay before Christ a fair argument, by which they might plainly convince him by evident reason, that he could not see Abraham's day, and he, instead of answering it, should only bring forth a more confident affirmation, would not men's wisdom in this age even hiss at such a thing? Yet this was the way of the life then, in that day; and the life may, at his pleasure, take the same way again now, to offend the wise and knowing.
When he spoke of his being "the good Shepherd," and of his "laying down his life for his sheep," (and of the hireling's flying, in time of danger, to save himself), John 10:11-12, many of the Jews said, "He has a devil, and is mad. Why do you listen to him?" John 10:20. Many of them that were then the people of God, (the separated people; for the Jews were a people separated from the world, and studied the law, and observed the ordinances of Moses), looked upon Christ as a man not fit to be heard; but as a mad-man, as one that had a devil, as one that might have great power of deceit from the devil, to bewitch men from truth. "Why do you listen to him?" What good can you expect from him? "He has a devil, and is mad." Oh, how desperately will bold flesh venture to judge of the life and power of God, when it has got a little knowledge from the Scriptures, and a way of worship, duties, and ordinances!
When he said, "I and my Father are one," John 10:30, "they took up stones again to stone him," verse 31, and made no question but they did well in doing of it, as appears by their answer to his demand, for which of his good works they stoned him. They replied very confidently, "For a good work we do not stone you; but for blasphemy; and because you being a man, make yourself God." verse 32-33. And when he said, "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death," John 8:51. Then the Jews said to him, "Now we know you have a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead. Who do you make yourself out to be?" verse 53. Were not Abraham and the prophets holy men? Had not they the sayings of God? And did they not keep the sayings of God? Yet they are dead. Such a kind of speech as this must be from the devil. Now you make manifest from what spirit you speak. "Now we know you have a devil." And indeed how could the believers of that age digest such things, being so contrary to what appeared to them to be certain truth in the Scriptures.
And there were many other things as hard to them; though the exceptions which might or did arise in their minds, are not particularly mentioned; as when he said, "I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them." John 10:7-8. How offensive must this doctrine needs have been to them, going carnally to understand and reason about it? What! Were all the prophets and holy men before you thieves and robbers? Did the truth never come until you brought it? What became of our forefathers in former ages? Were they none of them God's sheep? Did none of them find the door? For you say you are "the door," and you have been but of late. And where you say the sheep did not hear them; that is utterly false; for they did hear Moses, and they did hear the prophets: and we have their writings, and will keep to them for all you, let who will be your sheep. When he said, that "he came not to send peace, but division," Mat 10:34-35, how readily might they reply, that his own mouth discovered him not to be the Messiah, the savior, the Peace-Maker; but the worker of divisions, the cause of breaches in families, setting three against two, and two against three! Luke 12:51-52. When he said, "Whosoever commits sin, is the slave of sin," John 8:34, might not they well take exception against this, as condemning the whole generation of the righteous, and making null the way of sacrifices, which God had appointed for sins committed at anytime by his people, which could not but pre-suppose their commission of sin? Did not Abraham, Isaac, David, Moses, and the rest of the prophets, all commit sin, and were they the servants of sin? He taught also that the children of the kingdom should be cast into utter darkness [those Jews who thought they would automatically receive salvation because they were Abraham's children]. Mat 8:11-12. Oh, how harsh would this sound in the ears of the zealous, professing Jew, who was waiting and hoping for the kingdom! So in his doctrine there seemed many contradictions to the fleshly understanding; for one while he said, "I judge no man;" for I came not to condemn the world. Yet was not he continually judging and condemning the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Priests, the Lawyers, and that whole generation of believers? So again, he came to seek and save what was lost; to preach the gospel of peace; and yet another while he said, he came not to send peace, but a sword, and to kindle a fire, and to set men at variance, etc. Again, one while he said, "I and my Father are one;" another time, "My Father is greater than I." One while he told men to do as the Scribes and Pharisees taught; another while he told men to beware of the leaven or doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Mat 16:12.
But to what purpose should I heap up any more instances? Oh you that read this, wait to know in yourself the ear that cannot hear Christ's doctrine; while you condemn the Jews, do not run into the same error of unbelief and arguing; but wait to know the voice of Christ in this day, and to receive the ear that can hear it; for though you should be willing to hear, yet you can not until your ear is opened. Nicodemus, who could acknowledge Christ "a teacher come from God," yet could not receive the doctrine of the new birth from him. John 3:4. And there were many things the disciples themselves were not able to bear for when, at a certain time, he spoke of "giving his flesh to eat," not only the Jews, John 6:52, but they also, stumbled verse 61. And who is there among believers that can now bear it, or receive Christ's own interpretation of it? who said, that "the flesh", (which they understood), "profits nothing;" but the flesh which he meant was "spirit and life." verse 63.
5. At his practices and conversation. "How is it that he eats with publicans and sinners." Mark 2:16. "Behold a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber; a friend of publicans and sinners." Luke 7:34. "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that touches him; for she is a sinner." Luke 7:39. At the publicans and sinners drawing near to hear him, the Pharisees and Scribes were offended, and murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them." Luke 15:1-2. And when he went to Zaccheus's house, they all murmured, saying, "that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." Luke 19:7.
Again; because he healed on the sabbath, and justified his disciples in plucking of ears of corn on the sabbath, "they were filled with madness, and communed what they might do to him," Luke 6:3, 6:11, "and took counsel how they might destroy him." Mark 3:5-6. Another time, the ruler of the synagogue spoke with indignation about it. Luke 13:14. Yes, "the Jews did persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had healed a man, and told him take up his bed and walk, on the sabbath-day." John 5:8-16. And some of them made it a strong argument against him, "This man is not of God, because he does not keep the sabbath-day." John 9:16. What! Come from God, and be a breaker of ordinances! Can these two stand together? Read and consider. What more strict ordinance of God under the law than the sabbath? What one ordinance more conducing to the honor and worship of God? Did not their whole religion and worship much depend upon it? How could this not possibly be a great offence to them in that spirit, and literal wisdom from the scriptures, by which they stood? Yet Christ, in his fleshly appearance, was Lord of the sabbath; and in his spiritual appearance he does not lose his dominion.
Again; they took exception against him, that he did not teach his disciples to fast and pray, as John did, Luke 5:33, but could allow them to transgress the traditions of the elders. Mat 15:2. He was not strict after the Jewish way of devotion, nor strict after John's way either; but he was against the traditions of the godly elders of the Jewish church; against sanctifying of the Lord's sabbath, (justifying his disciples in plucking ears of corn on the sabbath; when in fact their forefathers the Jews were not so much as to gather manna on that day); against fasting and prayer for he justified his disciples in that they did not fast and pray as John did, saying, "How could they mourn while the bridegroom was with them? Mat 9:15. And consider which way the Jews, (in the state they stood), could understand such an answer as this, to rest satisfied with it.
6. They excepted "against his miracles," partly because he did them on the sabbath-day, John 9:16, whereupon, they concluded he could not be of God; for if he had been of God, he would have observed the day which God commanded; and if he wrought them not by the power of God, by whose power then must he work them? So they concluded, "He casts out devils by the prince of devils." Mat 9:34. "He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of devils casts he out devils." Mark 3:22. And having thus concluded in themselves, there was no ear open in them to hear anything that might be said to the contrary. And again, partly because he did not answer their wills, in giving them such a sign as they required for this was still their tone, "Master we would see a sign from you." Mat 12:38. "What sign show you to us, seeing that you do these things?" John 2:18. And they more particularly express what sign; they would have a "sign from heaven." Luke 11:16. "What sign do you show, that we may see and believe you?" John 6:30. We are ready to be convinced, we are ready to believe, if you would give us sufficient ground of believing in you. As for all your healing people, and casting out devils, Beelzebub, the prince of devils, may furnish you with power with which to deceive and bewitch us from the law and ordinances of Moses, which we are sure are of God; but show us a sign from heaven, or else do not blame us for not leaving Moses to run after you.
7. They excepted at the testimony which the Spirit of God in him gave concerning him. When he spoke the inward testimony, which the Spirit of God gave from within, saying, "I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life," John 8:12, they presently cried out, "You bear record of yourself; your record is not true." verse 13. Mark his answer: "It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true; I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me." verse 17-18. How would such an answer pass now in these days, though the same life should speak it? Would not the wise believers of this age even hoot at it? Yet the thing is known at this day, even the life which the Father begets, and the Father's testifying of it, and with it. And you that read this, might know it, could you wait in the loss of your own life, wisdom, and knowledge, for it.
8. They excepted against his disciples and followers, which were women, publicans, and sinners; the common people, yes, the lowest, the poorest, and most ignorant, (in their account), who were fittest to be deluded and led away. "Are you also deceived? Have any of the Rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him? But this people who know not the law are accursed." John 7:47-49. The common people, the ignorant people, the unsettled people, such as know not the law, such as understand not the Scriptures, they run after him, and cry him up; but which of the settled ones, which of the 'truly zealous' ones, which of the wise men in the knowledge of the law and prophets, which of the orthodox Scribes and Pharisees, who keep close to Moses, which of these believe in him? Whom of them can he deceive? As for the common people, who, for want of knowledge from the Scriptures, are ready to run after every new fangled idea, they are not worth the minding, they are accursed; and therefore no wonder that God gives them up to follow this deceiver, and to cry up his new light, and forsake the good old light of Moses and the prophets.
9. They excepted against him, that he did not rebuke his disciples, and the multitude, (spreading their garments, cutting down branches from the trees, and strewing them in the way), with the children that cried Hosanna to him, as he rode on the ass's colt to Jerusalem; but he rather justified them. Luke 19:39-40 and Mat 21:15-16. What a ridiculous and vain-glorious piece of pageantry would this seem to the fleshly-wise eye!
10. That he did not show sufficient authority for what he did. "By what authority do you do these things; and who gave you this authority?" etc. Mark 11:28. You take upon you great authority over the people of God, over their teachers, yes, over God's temple, sabbath, and ordinances; but where is your authority so to do? Show us that, etc.
11. They excepted when he spoke of his sufferings and death. "We have heard in our law that Christ abides forever; and how say you the Son of man must be lifted up! Who is the Son of man?" John 12:34. Surely he that is to be lifted up cannot be the Christ that is to abide forever, and not to die! So that here, in one breath, you have overthrown all that you have been setting up by your preaching and miracles. Now which way could they understand this thing? No, the very disciples themselves could not swallow it, but were startled at it; and so Christ hid it a long time from them. And yet if there is anything held forth now in these days, by the same Spirit, (as concerning light and perfection, or other truths which are seen in the Spirit), because men cannot comprehend them with their carnal understanding, and make them agree with their carnal knowledge of the Scriptures, what liberty do they take to themselves to speak both against the truth itself, and also against them who have seen these things in the Spirit, and speak them from the Spirit! Now whoever becomes a disciple, must wait in the obedience to know the doctrine, and not think to enter with that wisdom and carnal reasoning from the Scriptures, which the Scribes and Pharisees, and believers of that age were shut out with.
There were many other things to which they could not help but take exception; as at his answers to their questions, to which sometimes he was silent, and gave no answer at all; at other times, he answered not directly, but in parables. And how offensive is this to man's wisdom, who requires a positive and direct answer! And sometimes his answers might seem quite unconnected from the thing asked, as John 12:34-35.
His not showing partiality to any man, (for it was a known thing of him that he had no regard for particular men's persons, Mat 22:16), could not be very pleasing to them, who loved greetings, and sought honor one of another. He did not show respect to Herod the king; but spoke contemptuously of him, as men would account it: "Go," said he, "and tell that fox." He did not show respect to the reverend and grave doctors of the law; no, nor to the high priest himself. No, he did not show respect to his own disciples; but said to Peter, (when he mildly and affectionately desired his death might be avoided), "Get behind me, Satan." How harsh and rough a reply might this seem! If Peter had erred, through his affection and tenderness to his Master, a meek spirit would gently have informed him; but to call him devil, and say, "Get behind me;" what kind of spirit does this savor of? Would that a professing Jew say, who knows not the true meekness, but seeks after a fleshly meekness, which is a servant to the fleshly wisdom and prudence, but not true-born? No, he did not speak respectfully to his own mother, (as man's spirit, by its rule of respect, would judge and condemn him); but said, "Woman, what have I to do with you?" John 2:4. And in a manner denied all his relations. Mat 12:48.
Lastly, (to instance no more), at his harsh censures of all the believers of that age, (who observed the law of Moses, and Israel's statutes), with all their laborious and godly teachers; justifying none but himself, and what he taught, and a few of his followers. He told them, that they had not the "love of God in them." John 5:42. Do you not think this seemed to them a very harsh charge? And why not the love of God? Because they did not follow him and his new doctrine? Yes, would they be ready to say, they did love God, and kept his commandments, sabbaths, and ordinances, which he transgressed.
He laid this also to their charge, that they did not believe Moses. John 5:46. What an unjust charge might this seem, when they were so zealous for Moses; and their very dislike of him, and controversy against him, were for the sake of the law and ordinances of Moses!
Another charge he laid to them was, that they were not the children of Abraham, or of God; but of the devil. John 8:39-44. What a rash, censorious man might they account him, thus to speak of them, who were the human seed of Abraham, who were such strict observers of God's laws and ordinances, (which is the property of his children), and such enemies to the devil, that they would not be drawn from the truths and way of worship taught by Moses and the prophets; no, not by all the miracles he could work!
He called them "a faithless and perverse generation." Mat 17:17.
He told them that they did not know God; though they said with confidence that he was their God. John 8:54-55. How could they bear this? They had been studying the law and the prophets, and had a great stock of knowledge from there, and were strict and exact in worship, (some of them, as well as Paul, might be, according to the law, blameless). And now to be told that they did not know God! No, he that abounds in knowledge, devotion, and worship, yet not being in the life and pure power of the Spirit, has not one dram of the true knowledge.
He told them that they should "die in their sins." John 8:21, (Oh, hard words and severe judgment!), and yet he had told them a little before, that he judged no man. verse 15. Yes, they thought themselves exceedingly wronged by him; and thought that no man that had anything of God in him could speak such things, but only one who was an enemy to the people of God, and led by the spirit of Satan. To this effect they express themselves, verse 48 of that chapter, "Say we not well that you are a Samaritan, and have a devil?"
Yes, when he charged them with going about to kill him, they seemed in themselves so clear in their own consciences, that they answered, "You have a devil. Who goes about to kill you?" John 7:20. How easily might they close up the controversy, and, by this very thing, conclude him to be a false prophet! He says, we went about to kill him; when, (God knows), there was not such a thing in our hearts. Can this man be a true prophet? Yet Christ knew the professing Jew to be the murderer, and, in and for his religion's sake, still seeking to slay him. And there is no such murderer of Christ, (the life), upon the earth, as the zealous believer and worshipper out of the life. He that is in the life cannot persecute any man; he that is out of the life cannot but persecute him who is in the life. Hereby the true and false Christian may be discerned by the weakest simple and single eye.
And then for their teachers and expounders of the law, how exceedingly bitter did he seem against them! And how heavy things was he continually laying to their charge! He called them blind guides, hypocrites, painted sepulchers, graves which appear not, and pronounced woe upon woe against them. Read that one place, Mat 23:33. "Ye serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?" What! Speak thus of our zealous teachers, who study the law, are strict in practicing of the ordinances, and take such pains to instruct us in the mind of God from Moses and the prophets! Was such a man as this fit to live? No, and he does not show a gospel spirit. Mark how sharp and bitter his words come from him, (for indeed a sharper speech, with greater vehemence and indignation of spirit, can hardly be spoken); and they might seem to aggravate this sharp condemnation of his from his own confession. He himself had confessed that they sat in Moses' chair. Now he might have shown some honor to Moses' chair, and to their office, which was of God, and doubtless good, and not have gone about to make them thus odious in the eyes of the people. No, he himself had told men to do as they said, in verse 3 of that chapter. Now was it likely that men would ever mind what they said, or observe their doctrine, when he had thus represented them "as oppressors of the conscience," verse 4, "as devourers of widows' houses, and making long prayers in hypocrisy," verse 14. as "making their proselytes more the children of hell than themselves," verse 15, as "neglecters of the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith," verse 23, as "appearing righteous to men, but full of hypocrisy and iniquity," verse 28, as "of the same generation that killed the prophets," verse 31-32, as "deceivers;" as "such as led into the ditch; and bid men beware of their leaven;" were not these good kind of encouragements for people to hear them? Yes, he charged them with "shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men, and not going in themselves, nor allowing men to enter that were going in." verse 13. How could they observe what they taught without hearing them? And would Christ wish any to hear such men as these? Yet for all this, without doubt, they were not without their justifications against Christ in these respects; and also had their charges, on the other hand, ready against him. Now, how did they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men? Did they not teach the law, and direct men to the ordinances of God, and open the prophets' words to them? Was this shutting up the kingdom of heaven? Would not they allow men to enter? Why, their work was to win people to their profession; they would compass sea and land to make a proselyte. How stiffly might the Jews have pleaded against Christ, that he slandered their godly ministers, who were very painful and zealous in opening the Scriptures, and teaching the way of God! No, he himself could not deny but they taught well; for he himself said, "Whatsoever they tell you to observe, that observe and do."* Mat 23:3. But mark now, that you may understand the thing. It is thus: any teaching or expounding of the Scriptures out of the life shuts up the kingdom; for the life is the kingdom, and words from the life yield the savor of the kingdom; but words out of it, though ever so good and true, reach not to the life in another; but only build up a knowledge in the contrary worldly wisdom, and teach to hold the truth in the unrighteousness, where Satan's kingdom stands, and where he has the dominion over all that is brought there. And so this kind of teaching and knowledge shuts up the door and way of life, and must be lost, before the kingdom can be found.
They shut up the true kingdom; but they opened another kingdom; they opened the kingdom another way, (which was in truth shutting of it); and they had disciples and children of the kingdom, whom they tickled with the hope of life, and fed with promises and comforts; but these the Lord would shut out. "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into utter darkness." Mat 8:11-12. This is true at this day in the present dispensation, as it was then in that dispensation; though men make it a great accusation against us, charging us that we say none are the people of God but ourselves, and as if all were damned but we. These are men's harsh and unsavory expressions; we do not to speak after this manner, but soberly open the state of the thing as it stands in the truth, (and as it has been revealed to us by him who is true, and cannot lie); which is thus:
That through which men are saved, is the dispensation of Truth in their age. The measure of light which God gives forth in every age, that is the means and proper way of salvation in that age: and whatever men get, or profess of the knowledge of Truth declared in former ages, yet making use of that to withstand the present dispensation of Truth in their age, they cannot by this be saved; but may by this be hardened against what should save them. And this we are assured of from the Lord, that as the Jews could not be saved by the law of Moses, (making use of it in opposition to the shining of the light of God in the prophets in their several ages), nor afterwards could be saved by magnifying and observing both the words of Moses and the prophets, and their belief from these of a Messiah to come, (making use of those things to oppose that appearance of Christ in the flesh, which was the dispensation of their day then); no more can any believers be saved now by the belief of a Christ who came, or anything which they can learn or practice from the Scriptures, making use of this to oppose the dispensation of this day; which dispensation is the immediate, experiential and powerful breaking forth of the light of the Spirit in the hearts of God's people, (who have earnestly sought, and in much sorrow and perplexity of spirit longed and waited for him), after this long dark night of the antichristian apostasy.
There remain yet some other exceptions against him, about the time of his suffering death, with his hard usage, which should not wholly be passed over, as:
1. His disrespectful or irreverent answering of the high-priest, as it seemed to them, when he asked him of his doctrine, John 18:19. his answer was, that "he spoke openly in the world, not in secret; Why do you ask me? Ask them that heard me." Whereupon one of the officers struck him, saying, "Answer the high-priest so?" verses 20-22. The plainness and simplicity of the life, (which bows to God, and cannot regard man in the transgression), seem rude and unmannerly to the lofty spirit of the world.
2. His silence at the testimonies brought against him, and to the high-priest when he questioned him. Mark 14:60-61. Indeed either the speaking or silence in the life, is offensive to the carnal believer, who knows not the law of life in this particular; but can either speak or be silent, according to his own will. This is the difference between the true and the false Christian; the false Christian's knowledge and religion stand in his own will, in his own understanding; he speaks in his own time; both which are crucified in him that is born of the Spirit.
3. When he did speak the truth himself, the high-priest rent his clothes, and charged him with blasphemy. Mat 26:65. And those that were by fell in with the high-priest, and said, he was "guilty of death." verse 66. Then they "spit on his face, and buffeted him, and smote him, and mocked him, and blind-folded him, and struck him on the face, bidding him prophesy who smote him." Mat 26:67-68 and Luke 22:63-64.
When they brought him to Pilate, they would have Pilate take it for granted that he was an evil-doer, and worthy of death: for when Pilate asked for their accusation against him, they answer, "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto you." John 18:29-30. Pilate refusing so to proceed in judgment, verse 31, they begin to bring in their charges: "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying, that he himself is Christ, a king." Luke 23:2. Pilate examines him herein; but professes he can find no fault in him at all. John 18:38. Then the chief priests accused him of many other things, Mark 15:3, and were more fierce, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place," (This indeed was his great offence, he taught with the authority of the Spirit, and not as the Scribes). Then Pilate sent him to Herod, (where the chief priests and scribes stood vehemently accusing him), who questioned him much; but he answered him nothing. And "Herod, with his men of war, set him at naught, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him back to Pilate." Luke 23:9-11. Pilate professed that he could not find him guilty of this second charge, neither of perverting the people, verse 14, therefore, chastising him, he would release him, verse 16, but the people, by the persuasion of the chief priest and elders, cried all at once, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas," verse 18, but let him be crucified; "Crucify him, crucify him!" verse 21, etc. Now when Pilate had scourged him, and the soldiers had stripped him, and put him on a scarlet robe, and had put a crown of platted thorns on his head, and a reed in his right hand, and had bowed the knee to him in mockery, and spit on him, and smote him with a reed, he brings him forth to them again, hoping this might appease their malice, and they might be content to spare his being crucified. They tell him they have a law, and by their law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. John 19:4,7. , (See how they turn and wind every way to make the innocent an offender, and to make some law, of one kind or other, take hold of him!) But when all their accusations would not prevail with Pilate, but still, (from the sense of his innocence), he had a mind to release him, they used another subtle artifice, telling him, "If he let this man go, he was not Caesar's friend." John 19:12. This settles the issue with Pilate. Now he disputes no further; but delivers him to their will. Luke 23:25.
Now you who read this, take heed of judging the Jews for all this wickedness, while the same nature is alive in you which did all this in them; for assuredly you, (in whom that nature which did it in them is not subdued), would have done the same thing, had you lived in those days. You that disdain and persecute the appearance of Christ in this age, would have disdained and have persecuted his appearance in that age. Do not deceive your soul.
The Jews did as little think that ever they should have put a prophet, or any good man to death, (much less the Messiah), as you can. Yes, they could blame their fathers for killing the prophets, and say, if they had lived in those days, they would not have done it; and yet you can read what they did? The persecuting Spirit has always been blind, and could in no age read its evil and bitter nature, and its enmity against the life and power. Do not be blind in your day, as they were in theirs; and an enemy, under pretence of being a friend.
4. Another exception or argument against him, about the time of his suffering death, was, that he did not put forth his power to save himself from the cross; "He saved others, let him save himself," if he is Christ, the chosen of God. Luke 23:35. Is it likely that this is the Son of God, and that he did so many miracles by the power of God, and cannot now save himself from the cross? His suffering death on the cross caused some of the disciples to stumble and doubt, as may appear, Luke 24:20-21, and was enough to have overturned the faith of any which stood not in the Spirit, and in the power. The soldiers also could mock, and manage this argument against him, saying, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself," Luke 23:37. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, "You that destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save yourself. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Mat 27:39-40. Likewise the chief priests, with the Scribes and elders mocked among themselves, saying, "He saved others, he cannot save himself. Let Christ, the king of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see, and believe." Mark 15:31-32. One of the thieves also railed on him, saying, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us." Luke 23:39. And when he cried out to his God, "Eli, Eli, etc." they derided him: "This man calls for Elias; let us see whether Elias will come and save him." Mat 27:47,49. And after he was dead, the chief priests and Pharisees spoke of him as of a known deceiver, verse 63, and seem, in a pious zeal for the church, to take care that there be no further occasion, after his death, for the reviving and spreading of his deceit and errors, verse 64. Thus the Holy One, the Pure One, the Just and True One, (in whose heart and mouth was no guile found), was numbered among transgressors, accounted a deceiver and put to death as a blasphemer, by the zealous priests and believers of that age, who were so confident of the righteousness of their cause, (on the behalf of the law of Moses, and their sabbaths, temple, etc.), against him, that when Pilate washed his hands, as clear of his blood, all the people answered, and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children." Mat 27:25.
Now let men consider what the great exceptions are, which they have against the living appearance of Christ in his Spirit, now towards the close of the apostasy, and against us [the early Quakers] his witnesses, whom the Lord has called forth to testify in his name. Men have made many exceptions against our persons, our doctrine, our practices, for want of miracles, etc. Is this generation more wise or more just in their exceptions than the former was? Consider the main ones a little.
Their great exceptions against our doctrine are:
1. That we preach up a light within, and that he who receives that light, receives a perfect gift; and growing up in it, grows up to perfection, which in this life, (through faith and obedience to this light or perfect gift), may be attained, and the body of sin put off, and the new man, Christ, put on.
Answer: Indeed we cannot but preach up the Light within, and declare unto men how great things it has done for us; even what we could never by any means meet with from any light without. And this is perfect, and tends to make perfect, carrying on its work daily. Now he that feels its virtue, cannot doubt of its power. He that sees the body of sin daily falling off, cannot doubt that he will be stripped of it all. Indeed, if a man strives against sin in his own will, and by his own gathered knowledge, he cannot get much ground, and so it is hard for him to believe perfection. But he that feels unity with what is perfect, cannot but acknowledge that it is able to perfect him, and in faith and patience is encouraged to hope and wait for it.
2. That we deny that Christ who died at Jerusalem, and his imputed righteousness, and set up an inherent righteousness.
Answer: We know no other Christ than what died at Jerusalem, only we confess our chief knowledge of him is in the Spirit. And as Christ said in the days of his flesh, that the way to know his Father, was to know him; and he that knew him knew the Father also; so we now witness, that the way to know Christ is to know the Spirit; and that he that knows the Spirit, knows Christ also; with whom Christ is one, and from whom he cannot be separated. And as for imputed righteousness, it is too precious a thing to us, to be denied by us. That which we deny, is men's putting it out of its place, applying it to those who are not in the true faith, and walk not in the true light: for in the true light, where the fellowship is with the Father and the Son, there alone the blood cleanses. 1 John 1:7. And there alone the righteousness is imputed to him, who is cleansed by the blood in the light, and not to him who knows it not. And as for inherent righteousness, we meddle not with that word, but this we say: that our life exceedingly lies in feeling the righteousness of Christ wrought and revealed in us; and we wish men could come out of the reasoning about it, into the feeling of the same thing with us; for then we are sure they would not so sharply, nor so long contend.
3. That we deny the ordinances, and means of salvation.
Answer: We deny nothing that the apostles and Christians formerly practiced; nor do we deny anything that any now practice in the light, and in the faith; but the setting up of such things in the will, that we deny; or the imitating these without the command of the Spirit, that we deny also. And this we testify, that antichrist crept in here, and that they are his great cover to keep men from the life; and therefore warn men to mind the life, and to take heed they be not kept from the substance by the shadows, where antichrist lies lurking, to bewitch from the substance. And we are sure, that these in antichrist's hands, are not the means of salvation; but keep from the sight of the holy city, where the life and salvation are. And we read that the outward court was given to the Gentiles; who "trod under foot the holy city." Rev 11:2. And we have found by experience, that, while we ourselves were crying up the outward court, we did trample under foot the city, though we then knew it not.
Their exceptions against our persons are, that we are ignorant, illiterate, and also unsettled persons, who have still been seeking up and down.
Answer: What persons are fittest for God to make use of, towards the recovery of his people out of the apostasy? Does not God choose what is weak and low and contemptible, that his glory might the more appear? Is not this a more likely way for him to steal upon the world, than if he appeared in the wise and learned ones? And among whom is his appearance to be expected? Among those who are settled upon their lees in the apostasy; or among those who have mourned, panted, and sought to come out of it, and could not be settled without his appearing to them, and fixing their feet upon the rock? But have we been unsettled, since God has fastened us on the living foundation? No, here is no more going out; but he that abides faithful remains a pillar in the house of God.
Men except likewise against our practices, as that we show not respect to persons, and that we are not strict, (after their manner), in duties, etc.
Answer: We have heard that voice, "Fear God, and give glory to him," Rev 14:7, (not only as it is written there, but in Spirit), and where the Lord is exalted, the glory of the creature falls; read Isa 2, how all falls in that day, that God alone might be exalted. And we cannot, in this mighty day of the Lord, any longer give to man that honor which he has gathered in the fall, and which pleases the fallen nature, and not what is born of God. And for duties, we have bewailed, in the sight of the Lord, our former running into duties without his Spirit; and we must confess, we can only pray in the Spirit; sing in the Spirit; wait in the Spirit; speak in the Spirit, (as that gives utterance), and not of ourselves, or when we will; but as we see life, strength, and power from on high, leading and assisting us. Our religion consists neither in willing nor running, but in waiting on the Spirit and power of the Lord, to work all in us and for us. All these things we look upon to be our duty, and practice them.
It is likewise excepted against us, that we do not work miracles.
Answer: We point to what wrought all the outward miracles formerly, and which now works great inward miracles in Spirit; and we are sure the same power, which we have received the Gospel in, is of the same healing virtue. But that power works according to the purpose of its own will, and not according to the will of man, (yes, though Paul had the gift of healing, yet he "left Trophimus at Miletum sick." 2 Tim 4:20); neither was the will or wisdom of man satisfied in all those miracles which Christ and the apostles wrought. It is enough for us to feel and live in the moving of the power; in which we rejoice, and are more satisfied, (that by it our names are written in the Book of Life), than we could be by any such outward and visible appearance and manifestation of it. But when we do work outward miracles, yet if you had not an inward eye to see them with, you would not be able to distinguish them, or by what power they were wrought.
To what purpose should I mention any more particulars? Is it not enough? Oh! fear before the Lord! and do not lose the present dispensation of life through mistake, (or because you cannot have things suited to your corrupt wills); but know the Gospel, which is an inward dispensation, and does not consist in outward shadows, but in inward virtue, life, and power: "For the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Come to wait for that, to feel that, to unite there; and then we shall not differ about what is outward. But it is antichrist's way, by the magistrate' power, to force an agreement about the outward, which destroys that tenderness of conscience which preserves the inward.
And now let me put one question to you: Where is the deceit of the ages after Christ to be expected? Did the Jews deny Moses and the prophets' writings, or ordinances? No, were they not very zealous for these? And were not these their cover, under which they persecuted Christ, and vented all their malice against him? So can it be expected now, that the deceivers of this age should deny the apostles' writings, or the practices mentioned in them. Or is it not rather to be expected, that under their crying up of these, they should hide their enmity against the life? Search and see, has not every age of believers taken up the words and practices of them who were persecuted in the foregoing age; and under the profession of those words and practices, have hidden their spirit of persecution? There is a remnant only among believers to be saved; the generality of them have always been persecutors, creeping into the form, getting that for a cover upon their backs, and then fighting against the life and power. Oh! wait on the Lord in his fear, that you may be found worthy to know the persecuted truth on the one hand, and the persecuting spirit on the other hand, in this day of large profession, and also of bitter persecution!
Now what might be the cause, or how could it come to pass, that the zealous worshippers of that age should thus err in their zeal, and be thus heady and rash against him, whom they looked for to be their savior? How came they thus to err in vision, and stumble in judgment, in so weighty a matter? Show unto us the cause, that we may see whether the same cause is not in us: for undoubtedly if it is, it will produce the same effect, and so we may ignorantly draw upon our heads the same heavy wrath in our day, that they did in their day.
Answer: The causes were very many; I may mention some few of the principal ones; which if they be seen into and removed, by that power which is able to do it, such as are of a more inferior influence, will not be able to stand.
1. One cause of their blind zeal, and bitterness against Christ, was, Their ignorance of the Scriptures, and of the power of God. If they had known the Scriptures in the true light, they could not but have known Christ, from whom the Scriptures were given forth; and if they had known the power of God, they could not but have known him who came in the power; yes, who was the power. They had knowledge enough of both these one way; that is in the letter. They knew the words of scripture, (they could make large expositions of them), they knew what was said in scripture concerning the power of God, but they did not know the thing itself; and so turned against it, and made use of the words, (which came from it, and testified of it), against it.
2. A second cause of this their sad miscarriage in their zeal, was Their putting the law and ordinances, and writings of the prophets, out of their proper places. They exceedingly magnified and cried them up, in that carnal way by which they apprehended and practiced them, but understood not the right end and use of them. By these means, practicing the shadows in the carnal mind, they lost the substance, to which the proper use of the shadows was to have pointed them.
3. Their high conceits of the goodness of their state in relation to God, and of the certainty of their knowledge of the truths of God from Moses and the prophets. They were confident they knew God correctly*, and that he was their Father, and that they were his children and people. So Christ appearing in a seeming contrariety to these, (notwithstanding all his powerful preaching and miracles), they made no question but they might boldly conclude him not to be of God.
4. Christ's coming in a way that they did not expect for him. They had concluded from the Scriptures how Christ must appear; and he coming in a far different manner, they could not own him, but looked upon him as a deceiver, one that pretended to be Christ, but was not like to what the scripture said of Christ. So what the scripture said of Christ's second coming, is hidden as much from the carnal eye of believers in this age, as what was said concerning his first coming, was hidden from them in their age; and he will steal upon them as a thief, at a time, and in a way, and after a manner, that they do not expect.
5. (This reason is the main one, and cause of all the former.) Because they were from the light within, from the true light in their own hearts and consciences. The light within is the great ordinance of God, and the proper means to give the knowledge of him, (2 Cor 4:6.); without which it was never received under any dispensation for the light that shines abroad, or from without; knowledge about God can alone be known and received by the light that shines within. Christ himself opens this in a parable; "The light of the body", (said he), "is the eye; if, therefore, your eye is single", (clear without beams or specs), "your whole body shall be full of light." Mat 6:22. But if that is evil, if that is dark, if that is closed by the god of this world, all Moses' words, all the prophets' words, yes, all Christ's and his apostles' words, cannot give you light. Can I see the light of the sun, moon, or stars, or of any fire or candle, if I have not a natural eye, and if that natural eye is not open? So neither can I see the light of any dispensation of life, if I have not an eye within me open, with which to see it. So that what gives me the sight of the things of God, is the eye which God has given me. By that may be read the eternal power and Godhead in the creatures, in the books of Moses and the prophets, in the writings of the evangelists and the apostles, as the Spirit leads and opens. Yes, the same Spirit, which opened to these without books, may again open to any of us without books at his pleasure, (and will not be limited to books); and we then may read also as they did, even within, in the Spirit, and in the immediate life; but without this Spirit, none of these things of God can be read correctly. Now the God of this world had blinded this eye in the Jews; yes, they themselves had "stopped their ears, and closed their eyes," etc., they would not see this way, they would not be converted and healed this way. They would keep up the knowledge which they had gathered from Moses and the prophets, without this eye; and with that they would see, or not at all.
Thus being from the light within, they could not see the place of life within, where life is to be received; they could not see the womb of wisdom, which is within, and so could not enter in to it, and be born again. Being not born of the wisdom, how could they justify the wisdom? Being not born of the light, how could they know or own Christ, whose coming and appearance was in the light? For that appearance of Christ the life, in that body of flesh, could not be discerned by all men's wisdom in the letter, (the disciples themselves came not so to know it); but "my Father which is in heaven has revealed it to you." And mark it: the disciples who were illiterate, and not so knowing of the scriptures that were written of Christ, yet they knew Christ; but the Scribes and Pharisees, who were very skilful in the letter, could not know him. What was the reason? The reason lay in the difference of the eye, or light, with which they looked; one looked with an outward eye, the other with an inward eye. A little inward light will do that, which a great deal of outward light will not do. I can certainly affirm that all the light, which men can gather from the Scriptures, cannot give them the knowledge of Christ as he has appeared in this age; no, or as he has appeared in any age, since the days of the apostles; but a little true inward light will give the knowledge of this thing, and open those scriptures infallibly, (in due time), which all the generations of wise and learned men have been arguing and disputing about, in that wisdom and searching spirit, with which they will never understand them. This is then the main and full reason of the deep error of the Jews, and their desperate splitting upon the rock, which would have saved them. They were begotten of the letter, which was given forth in former ages; but not of the life, which was raised up in their age; and so they knew not how to turn to the light within themselves, which alone was able to give them the true and certain knowledge of the things of God.
Now consider these things well, O you believers of this age! and take heed that you do not fall after the same example of unbelief. "Be not high-minded, but fear." Be not so confident of what you have gathered by your wisdom for truth from the Scriptures, (after the manner that they were, of what they had gathered by their wisdom); but fear, lest you should be mistaken as they were; and wait for the opening of that eye in you which was shut in them; even the true eye, in the true light, by the holy anointing; where there never was nor can be any mistake. The Jews fell by unbelief. Unbelief of What? They believed the Scriptures, they believed according to that knowledge they had gathered from the Scriptures; but they did not believe in the living Word. They had a knowledge abiding in them, which they had gathered from the Scriptures, but they had not the living Word abiding in them; and so their faith was but unbelief, (for the living faith stands in the belief of the living Word in the heart, which the Scriptures direct to; without the knowledge of which, all knowledge of words is vain; and without faith in which, all faith is vain also). Now said the apostle to the Gentile Christian, "You stand by faith." Rom 11:20. By what faith? By faith in that Word in the heart, which they neglected and turned from. Rom 10:8. For Moses had taught them, after the laws and ordinances about worship and sacrifices, that the Word that they were to obey and do, (the Word that could give them life, and make them obedient to all the commandments without), was in their heart and mouth. Deut. 30:14. And so the prophet Micah, when they proposed sacrifices and oil, to please God with, brings them to this which was given to them in common with mankind. Micah 6:8. For all ordinances and laws and observations and practices without, are but to bring to the life within, which is to be found again there, where it was lost, and still lies slain and hidden , (even in the field or house where it was lost). And he that seeks abroad, never finds it; but when the candle is lighted in his own house, and he searches narrowly in the field, in his own heart, and the eternal eye begins to open in him; then he cries out, God was in this place, and I was not aware of it. Ah! how the enemy bewitched me, to run from mountain to mountain! and from hill to hill! and has hereby covered my eye from beholding the mountain of the Lord's house, and from feeling the spring of my life, which I further and further ran from, all the while I was seeking abroad. Therefore, O you professors, be not so conceited like the Jews, and running after them into their desolation and misery, but learn wisdom by their fall! Do not you set up your ordinances and scriptures, after the manner that they set up theirs; for this is your danger. For this I clearly, in the light of the Lord, testify to you: that if you gather a knowledge and wisdom from the letter of the Scriptures, after the manner that they did, without knowledge of the Word within, and without a light within from that Word, you lose the living faith, you are but dead branches; and all your knowledge of scriptures, and practices, and faith, and duties, etc., that you here hold and observe, are but for the fire; and the flames of eternal wrath shall kindle more fiercely upon you because of them, than upon the Jews for you stumble upon the same stumbling-stone at which they stumbled and fell, and it will fall upon you also. And as you have more scriptures than they had, and the experience of their fall to warn you; so your destruction will be exceeding dreadful "if you neglect so great salvation;" of which at this day there are so many living and powerful witnesses, as they are known and owned to be in the light of the Lord, though despised in your exalted and conceited wisdom.
Now to help any honest and single hearts among you over this great stumbling-block of a light within, consider these few things.
1. That all the knowledge, all the true knowledge, that you ever had of God, was from a light within. I do not deny that you might receive your knowledge through the Scriptures, (and some warmth formerly in those things which you call ordinances and duties); but that by which you received the knowledge was the light within; the eye that God secretly opened in your spirits. This was the way you then came by it, though you perhaps might feel the thing, but not know how you came by it, even as a babe may see truly, but does not understand its own eye, or know how it sees.
2. While this eye was kept open in you, your knowledge was true in its measure, and serviceable to you, and did draw you nearer to God, making you truly tender, meek, sweet, humble, patient, loving, gentle, and of precious breathings towards God, and after righteousness. Oh! how lovely were you to God in this state! "When Israel was a child, I loved him." God remembers at this day the kindness of your youth, and is seeking after you. Oh! why do you so harden your hearts against him?
3. That wherever this eye is shut, the virtue of the true knowledge is lost, and the sweet fruits thereof wither. The outward part of the knowledge may be retained; yes, perhaps increased, but the life is gone, and the pure sweet savoriness, (to God), vanished. And if this eye were but a little opened again in you, your death and unsavoriness might be soon seen and felt in you, in all your knowledge, duties, ordinances; yes, in your very graces and experiences. You have a faith still; yes, but it lacks the savor of your former faith; you have some kind of love, gentleness, and meekness; yes, but it is only a thing formed by the fleshly wisdom and reasoning, but not natural from the living spring, not such as you once felt, etc., for the true and living eye being shut, that which is then best, (or afterwards attained), is held but in the dead part, and serves but to feed death.
4. The great work and design of the enemy of your souls is not to steal away the bulk of your knowledge, or to draw you from ordinances or duties; but to steal the life out of your spirits. This I have experienced from my childhood. I might still have knowledge enough of any kind; but what I lacked was life; and I was still sick under all the sorts of knowledge that ever I met with, and under all ordinances and duties, for lack of the life. The Lord had given my soul a taste of true life, whereby I became unsatisfied without it, and no manner of knowledge or enjoyment could take me up by the way. Yes, when through extremity I seemed willing to be content with anything; yet still my heart was sick after that one thing, which alone could truly ease and satisfy it. Now if the enemy can prevail herein to blind the inward eye, and steal away the life within, he has enough. Then abound as much as you will in knowledge, in zeal, in duties, in ordinances, in reading scriptures, praying, meditating, etc., you are the surer his [Satan's] hereby, and so much the better servant to him. For how much the richer you are in knowledge, experiences, hopes, and assurance, without the life and power; so much the more acceptable and honorable and useful are you in his kingdom.
Therefore see where you are. Is the inward eye open in you? Do you know the light within?, (Surely he that sees by a light within, can hardly speak evil of it!). Or has the enemy, by some of his artifices, drawn a veil over that eye, with which once you saw in some measure? Oh! be not slight in a matter of so great weight! Oh! please not yourselves with the eye of the perishing wisdom, with death's eye, and with death's knowledge of scriptures and of the Son of God; which speaks great words of the fame of true wisdom, but is a stranger and enemy to the real thing! Oh! life is precious! eternal life is precious! To have the word of God abiding in the heart, and to feel the true light give the true life, who can set a value on this! Ah! do not lose your souls for a trifle; for a little such knowledge of the Scriptures as the earthly part can gather! This I cannot but exceedingly despise, although the Scriptures I truly honor, for their testimony of that whereby I live. If you see not the way of life by the inward light, which alone can show it, you lose your souls. If the God of the world has blinded that eye in you, what are all your treasures of wisdom and knowledge? What are all your hopes? And what will become of you? All these sparks of your own kindling from scriptures will not secure you from the bed of sorrow. O you several sorts of professors, why will you die with the uncircumcised? Why will you go down into the pit, among them that know not the Lord?
But what shall I say to this generation? The spiritually-wise foresee the storm, and hides himself; but the spiritually-foolish run on headily, and are punished. The clouds have long been gathering; but the sick eye cannot discern the signs of the times and seasons; and so because judgment comes not as men expected, they grow hard, and wear off the sense with which they were somewhat affected at the first threatening of it; but assuredly both judgment and mercy hasten, and they will come, and will not tarry.
For the same Lord God Almighty, which confounded the Heathens' Babel, (when their sins and vain confidence were ripe), which they built to prevent any future flood, (for though they once had the true knowledge of God from an inward light, Rom 1:21, yet they soon left that, "not liking to retain God in their knowledge," verse 28, but running out into imaginations, and so building a Babel, whereby their foolish hearts became darkened to the light which God had made to shine in them; which showed what might be known of God unto them, verse 19); yes, the Lord God which overthrew the Jews' Babel, which they had built from their knowledge of the laws and ordinances of Moses, and the scriptures written to them, (they running out into imaginations also); whereby they likewise thought to prevent "the overflowing scourge" from coming near them, Isa 28:15; the same God will overthrow the Christians' Babel, which they have built from the prophets' and apostles' words, (by their own imaginations and conceivings in the high-mindedness, out of the fear), whereby they think to escape the deluge of eternal wrath. (For their city also shall be "thrown down with violence," and shall be "found no more at all," Rev 18:21.). The great work of this day is to discover the rottenness of their wall, and the untempered state of the mortar with which they had daubed it. He that reads, let him understand; but the uncircumcised in heart and ears cannot.
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