T.184 [1649.03.12] [William Walwyn], The Vanitie of the present Churches (12 March 1649).
[William Walwyn], The Vanitie of the present Churches, and Uncertainty of their Preaching, discovered. Wherein The pretended immediate teaching of the Spirit, is denyed, and the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures teaching, is maintained. With, A new and true Method of reading thereof, for the peace of mind, and the rule of life.
Gal. 6. 15, 16. For in Christ Jesus neither Circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new Creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, be.
London, Printed by J. Clows, and are to be sold in Cornhill and Popes-Head-Alley, 1649.
12 March 1649.
TT1, p. 730; Thomason E. 1367. (1.)
(Placeholder: Text will be added later.)
Although I dissent from some things in this Treatise, and other things seeme dark and doubtfull to me, yet there are many plain, clear, and evident Truths, of great use to all Christians. Therefore that the Truth may be manifest to all. And that all Believers and Churches of the Saints may be of one mind and may edifie the whole body in love. And in all their Doctrines, and Conversations, hold forth the truth as it is contained in the written word, the perfect rule of the spirit to guide us into all Truth, and to make us wise unto Salvation through that (one necessary thing) Faith, which is in Christ Jesus: which is by the Gospel, (the power of God to salvation) preached unto us. And that errour may be discovered, reproved, and corrected, and if possible, that the guilty may be convinced, and reformed.
Therefore I say to this Epistle, and the ensuing Treatise.
THE VANITIE of the present CHURCHES, and Uncertainty of their Preaching, discovered.
WHEREIN The pretended immediate teaching of the Spirit, is denyed, and the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures teaching, is maintained.
WITH, A new and true Method of reading thereof, for the peace of the mind, and rule of life.
Gal. 6. 15, 16. For in Christ Jesus neither Circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new Creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, be.
London, Printed by J. Clows, and are to be sold in Cornhill, and Popes-Head-Alley, 1649.
As there is nothing more commendable amongst men, then a true correspondency between the heart, the tongue, & the hand: so no thing is more lovely amongst Christians, then that the Conscience, the profession and the practice so universally agree; & though something be allowable unto frailty, yet when the defect or discord is continued, and that to the reproach of Christianity in generall, and to the prejudice of humane society; then certainly a reproofe is not only requisite, but the neglect thereof, a sinne of an high nature.
And so those, whom this discourse now deemeth worthy of reproofe did seeme to judge, when they condemned the persecuting practices, of the new raysed Presbyters, whose positions and professions whilst they were persecuted by the Bishops, did clearly hold forth a full and compleat liberty of Conscience, in the exercise of Religion, and justly and truly did the Independents reprove them, as their many bookes, of that Subject, do sufficiently testifie: their reproofes were sharp, and their replyes driven home; whereby they put the question of the utmost liberty of Conscience, out of all question, accompting nothing more base, or mis-beseeming a Christian, then to question, or vex, or reproach any man for his judgment or practice, touching matters of Religion, and inciting all men to peace, unity, love, and true friendship, though of never so many severall opinions, or different wayes in Religion.
By which their ingenuity, they, (as the Puritan Presbyter had done before them) gained abundance of love and respect from all men: their Congregations multiplied, and in conclusion, obtained much countenance from authority: which they no sooner tasted but instantly, some of them began to pride themselves, and to dispise others; and to reproach and villifie all such, as upon tryall and examination of their Churches, their Pastors and Sermons, finding all to be but fained imitations, nothing reall or substantiall, forsooke their societies, and thereupon as the Presbyters had used them; so deale the Independant with these, and all that any wayes adhered unto these, raysing nick-names and bitter invective reproaches against them, sparing neither art nor paines, to make them odious to others, and their lives (if it were possible) a burthen to themselves; and though reasons have been offered, and conferences desired, that they might see their error, and forbeare to deale thus contrary to their positive, owned, and declared principles: yet have they persisted therein, and go on still without ceasing, manifesting a most destructive and persecuting disposition, not only towards these, but towards many others whom they now (as compleat Judges of other mens Consciences) judge to be erronious, or heriticall, and seeme to have placed their felicity in the ruine of those whom their own Consciences cannot deny to have been instrumentall in their preservations, and who have not thought their lives too precious, to purchase them that freedom which now they enjoy.
And therefore it hath been conceived not only just, but of absolute necessity, to publish to the judgments of all impartial people, both of the Congregationall way and others: this their hard measure and unthankful usage of a harmlesse well-meaning people, and withall, to discover to all those who are conscientious, the error of their wayes, and emptinesse of the things wherein they glory, and to let all those who are wilfull or meere polititians amongst them, beare their shame openly, and since they are proofe against their Consciences, and can take up, and lay down principles, professions, and practices too, as stands most with their advantage, and like the Jewes in their worst estate, make no reckoning of oppressing all that are not of their tribes, it is but equall, that such should bear their mark in their forehead, that all men might be warned from conversing with such deceivers, and if any tartnesse appear herein, they are the occasion, it being no more then they deserve.
And not only so, but we have herein also indeavoured to support the weake, and by establishing them upon the sure foundation of the written word of God, (inclining them to give eare thereunto, as unto the only true infallible teacher of spirituall things in our times) and by directing them in a brief and plain method, in the reading thereof, how to attain to that one necessary Doctrine and main design intended therein unto man, for his temporall and eternall comfort.
To which end, that we may neither seeme to wrong the one sort, nor to delude the other, and for full satisfaction of all that are, or shall be concerned herein: we affirm it to be most palpably evident. That ye of the Independant Congregationall, or of any Church-way whatsoever, have not that true essentiall mark of a true Church to be found amongst you, which only can distinguish the true from the false, and without which a true Church cannot be:—A true Church in the Scripture sence; being such only, as wherein the very word of God is purely and infallibly preached: that’s the mark.
Now though it have been usuall among you in your prayers, to desire of God that your auditors may give eare to the word that you preach, not as unto the word of a mortall man, but as unto the word of the ever living God: and this too, with such solemn countenances, lifted up eyes and earnestnesse of expression, as if it were the sin of sinnes, for men to doubt it: Though this hath been your course: do ye not tremble when you consider it, to think that you should so frequently practice so grosse an imposture, as openly to pray unto God, that your eronious, doubtfull uncertain conceptions, (for what other are your Sermons) shall be heard and received, as the word of the ever living God; what greater impiety, nay blasphemy, then to call mans word, Gods word, to counterfeit a Preacher an Evangelist, an Ambassadour of Christs, and to deliver a Word, a Message, a Gospel, mixt and made up of opinions and conjectures, as if it were the true reall word of the ever living God.
What is this but even to debase, belye, and offer despite to the spirit of God himself, for advancing your own false Honour and repute amongst men.
Consider this seriously, all ye that are captivated with the charmings of these Sophisters, that are intangled in their formes of godlinesse, that are drawn into their imaginary Churches, that are deluded into an opinion, that they are pastors, feeders, preachers of the word of God, and be so true to God, (whose honour lyes at stake) to your selves whose peace and comfort lyes at stake, and to your Neighbours, whose good name lye at stake also: as to make a clear examination whether these pretended pastors, & Churches are taught immediately by the spirit of God, or not, as they pretend; try them by the word they preach.
And you shall find, however they have prepossest you to the contrary, that neither they, nor your selves, have any understanding at all of such divine or heavenly things, as bring peace of Conscience and joy in the Holy-ghost, by any other way or meanes, but only and solely by the Scriptures, and that neither they, nor your selves, are taught by the spirit, as they have long perswaded you, and whereby chiefly they delude you, into a belief that they are true pastors, and your Churches, true Churches of Christ. For Judge you, had they the spirit of God as you pretend? would they need, as they do; when they have resolved to speak to you from a Text of Scripture, to go sit in their Studies, three or four dayes together, turning over those authors, that have written thereupon; and beating their own braines, to find out the meaning and true intent thereof; no certainly, had they the spirit of God, it could in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, inform them the meaning of his own writings; they would not need to be studying, seven, ten, or twenty years, to understand the truth of the Gospel, and when they have done so too be as farre to seeke as they were at first for any expresse certainty therein; for do but observe, that when they have for some years preacht up a Doctrine, they are many times forst to preach it down again, as ye well know most of them have done, and that in very materiall points.
As for instance, are they not one while zealous for the baptizing of Infants, another while for the baptizing of Beleevers only, and then again for no Baptisme at all, for want of a true Ministry? do not the Pastors differ amongst themselves, and contentions arise not only between Church and Church, but in every Church within it self? are there not some that for many years have preacht up election and reprobation, and afterwards have as much preacht it down, and cryed up generall redemption, and, that man hath free will or a negative voice in his salvation, and this in a Church gathered and taught by the spirit, as they would make the world believe and those who by praying and preaching ex tempore, would be thought to have yet a more immediate teaching of the spirit; how extreamly are they to seeke in the ready understanding of the Scriptures, what weake and indigested matter issueth from them, is too easily discerned, yea what contradictions, they huddle one in the neck of another, though through confidence in the speaker, and superstition in the hearer, all passeth for currant truth.
But consider, can it be of the true spirit to produce uncertain Doctrines; if the Trumpet give an uncertain sound, who can prepare himself to the battle; so if the preacher, preach uncertainly, how can he affirm his word to be the word of God; or how from such doubtfulnesse can true faith be begotten in the hearts of the hearers? is not a Church founded upon such uncertainty, founded upon the sand, and built up with hay & stubble, not able to stand the least blast of a reasonable opposition; and will ye that have Consciences towards God, any longer be instrumented in this mocking of him, and by your countenance thereof partake with them in this strong delusion?
What doth the Pope and his Clergy more then belye themselves, and blaspheam God, in saying, they have the true spirit of God, which leads them into all truth; whilst by their lying miracles, by their art and sophistry, they lead the poor deluded people in the greatest errors, for maintenance of their own pride, covetousnesse, and luxury: The bishops they come, and by pretence of the true spirit, discover abundance of faults in the Pope and his Clergy, and make shew of great reformation; but advance only themselves and their uncertain Doctrines, for their own ambitious ends only, without any regard to the glory of God, or good of men: then comes the Presbyters, and they cry out against Common-Prayer (that was faulty enough) and studied Sermons, as stinters, and suppressors of the true Spirit of God in them; and they are no sooner in the Chaire, and their Prayers & preachings examined; but they also are found to differ one with another, to contradict themselves, & to mind only their own honour and profit; and to be possessed (as both the former) with a persecuting Spirit, which is abhorred of God, of Christ, and of all his true Ministers and Apostles.
Then comes the Independents and pretend to erect, a holy, pure and undefiled worship, according to the pattern, shewed unto them by the true Spirit indeed, pleading for generall liberty of conscience, void of all compulsion or restriction, and professing the meeknes of the very Lambs of Christ, and humility towards all men; who now could have suspected what since hath been discovered? Namely, that they as the rest, belyed the Spirit of God, (pardon the harshnes of the expression, its for Gods cause and must be spoken) they being no more infallibly certain of the truth they raise from Scriptures then any of those whom they so much condemn; they as the rest, pray, preach, and do all for mony, and without it they do nothing, taking mony for that which is not bread, but flower, chaffe, and sand mixt together; that did not people swallow it whole, without chewing, or examination, it would be as gravell between their teeth, and they would spit it out of their mouths.
And since, they are increased in numbers, and have as it were, scumm’d the Parish Congregations of most of their wealthy and zealous members. Do they not fully discover a serpentine disposition hankering after persecution? Do they not dayly spet their venom privatly and publickly, against any that either seperate from them, or joyne not with them, and that in as foul aspertions, as ever the Pope uttered against Luther, the Bishops against the Puritan, or the Presbyter against the Independents, are they not high and skillfull in rayling? making whom they please Atheists, Anti-scripturists, Antinomians, Anti-magistrats, Polligamists, Seekers, or what they will: and can these proceed from the true Spirit of God, or from the Spirit of Antichrist? Judge impartially Yee that are yet untainted in your consciences (going on in this Church-way as deceived, and not deceivers) whether yee can offer more dispite to the Spirit of Grace, then by your presence and society, to justifie this delusion; or to uphold this new idoll, this Apple of Sodome, seeming onely faire to the eye, but touch it, and it falls to powder, to the very earth, being nought but earth, like Dagon before the Arke, having neither hands nor feet, but to (discerning eyes) is a meere uselesse lump, an Idoll, which as the Apostle saith, is nothing in the world, and therefore let none, who minde the things that are of God, uphold it any longer.
It being hardly to be beleeved, the infinite evils which comes to the world by this false supposition and assumption of these Churches of having the Spirit of God, or being taught immediately thereby; for by occasion thereof, no sooner doth any one embrace any opinion pretending to Religion, and beginnes to be fortified therein, and that after frequent hearing, prayer, fasting, or humiliation, he continues to be of the same minde, but presently he thinks himselfe bound to declare to all the world, what the Spirit of God (as he calles his owne imagination) hath made knowne unto him.
And hence it is, that at present, the World abounds with such variety of opinions, concerning life and salvation, that many a sincere heart, seeking for peace and rest therein, is kept in perpetuall suspence and doubtfullnesse, whereby their lives become a very burthen to them; and many sad, and wofull effects, follow thereupon.
Some by their confidence, and extreamity of zeale, and diligence, get their opinions (how contrary to Scripture soever they are) into halfe the people of a Towne, Village and Parish; and then there is nothing but wrangling, envy, malice, and backbiting one another, to the extreme prejudice and unquietnesse of the place.
Some of them crying up their owne experiences, and the teachings of God within them, affirming that they speak, not from Books, or Scriptures, written in Inke and Paper, and in Letters and Sillables, but from the inward suggestion of the Spirit, induce multitudes to neglect the Scriptures, and to give credit onely to their wilde Notions and Opinions, and though they have no foundation in the plaine expression of the Scripture, or be contrary thereunto, yet are they satisfied, that they onely are in the truth, and all other Christians in errour, not examining their opinions by the Text, but urging that the Text is to be interpreted by their Opinions and experiences.
And hence it is, that in the esteeme of some, the Scriptures are of as small value as the Service Book: and to speak of a Christ crucified at Jerusalem, is carnall. Hence it is, that some, and those not a few, maintaine there is no sin, no evill, no difference of things, that all things are good, are one; and that all things are God, and that to see or judge any otherwise, is for want of the teaching of the Spirit; and this, though it quite contradict the whole tenour, and plaine open scope of the Scriptures, from the beginning of Genesis, to the end of the Revelation; yet passeth it for currant, and gets ground in all places.
Hence it is, that some men will neither stir, nor undertake any thing of any nature, Civill or Naturall, but as they are prompted thereunto, (as they imagine) by the Spirit, or as some phrase it, by the drawings forth of the Father, taking all their inclinations, likings, or dislikings, to be immediatly from God, whereby grosse neglects and failings (to say no more) come to be excused; and not onely so, but expresly put upon Gods score.
Hence it is, that some after extreame fasting, and continuance in prayer, (beyond what their bodies could beare,) extent of minde, and intention of apprehension, have really beleeved, they have seen Christ standing by them, and heard him vocally speake unto them, that they have scene a light waving about their beds all the night long; at other times a black darkness intermixt: and in these extasies, as they call them, (but indeed fevourish distempers) they have been bid, as they thought, to doe such things as the holy Scriptures abhorre; and yet could never rest till they had done them.
And hence it is, that some presume to be so Goded with God, and Christed with Christ, as they affirme, they are in heaven, and upon the earth; that they are ever well, and that paine is not pain; that all things are nothing, and nothing all things, and glory that they are contradictions; Prophesie of things to come, as the day of Judgement; name the time, the very day, see it false, and yet profess it true (in a sence,) and are beleeved; write bookes of the Germans madde mans Divinity, of the occurrences and successe of the present distractions, in such unheard of expressions, concerning King, Parliament, and all Parties, that to a man that gives good heed to the Scriptures, nothing appeares more irreligious; yet through the generall supposition of the immediate teaching of the Spirit, the authors please not onely themselves, but others; and none speaks against it, or writes, or preaches against it to any purpose, least they should break the golden chaine of their own honour or profit; for whoever assumes, or maintaines himselfe to be taught by, or to have the Spirits mediate teaching, is lyable to hold any thing his Fancy presents to his Imagination, and dares not condernne the false assumption of Gods holy Spirit, in another, least he should thereby condernne himselfe; since they both have but their owne bare affirmations, for their foundation, neither being able to manifest, by any thing extraordinary, the reall possession thereof.
To this sad condition are men in these times, brought by this fals presence of a Spirit, which once taken up, & insisted on, their credit becomes so ingag’d, and they are so exceedingly delighted, and lifted up, in being thought the darlings of God, that it is the hardest thing in the world, to make them see their mistake; offer but once to bring them into a doubt, or but desire them to examine how (amidst so many contradictory Opinionists, all affirming the Spirit of God for their leader in each) any one of them comes to know himselfe to be in the right, and they turne the head of one side, single, and condemn you as not enlightned, and pray not to trouble them; yet if you enquire, what at any time the Spirit immediatly hath made known unto them, they cannot tell one sillable, but recite some place of Scripture, which by serious intention hath imprinted it selfe in their minds.
If you demand a reall Demonstration of the Spirit, they can give you none, but (peradventure) will tell you, that you must awaite Gods time, and he will enlighten you. That their Spirit is as the White Stone in the Revelation, the name whereof no body knew, but he that received it; making use of false, darke, and misterious Scriptures (intended for another end) to prove that they are unable by any sound argument, or sensible demonstration to manifest: Whereas, were they really endowed therewith, they could not conceale it, nor we be unconvinced of its devine and supernaturall Power, but must needs bend our knees, and hearts in acknowledgement thereof.
If we urge the Scriptures against them, they tell us the Letter killeth, abusing, and that so grosly that place of Scripture, to the upholding their own vain imagination; nothing being more evident, then that by Letter, in that place of the Romanes, is to be understood the Law: and by Spirit: the Gospel.
And if men did not too much Idolize their owne fancies, it would soone appear. That now in our times we have no Preacher of the Gospel but the Scriptures; which being the infallible Word of God, the Word of Truth, Eph. 1. 13. not the Word of man, but (as it is in truth) the Word of God. 1. Thes. 2. ver. 13. which was not yea, and nay, but yea, 2 Cor. 1. ver. 18, 19, 20. The Word of God that abideth for ever. Is it not strange, that our pretended Preachers of all sorts, should so far prevaile upon the minds of men, as to draw them from giving eare, to what this Word of truth plainly and evidently holdeth forth, for the peace of their minds, and direction of their lives; and take up their time and thoughts wholly, or principally, with their uncertain & fallible Sermons, making them in effect, forsake these living fountains, and digg to themselves broken Cisterns, that can hold no water.
Nay, a wonderfull thing it is, that it should be received for a currant truth. That this, the greatest blessing the World knows, this word of the ever living God, should now come to be esteemed, but as a dead Letter; this sword of the Spirit, that forceth it self into our dead naturall understandings, plants it self there, makes us one with it: and forms us new; this regenerating word, this immortall seed, should be so undervalued, as to passe but as a dead Letter.
Time was, that it was otherwise in England, when our fore-Fathers would have given any thing in the world; yea, many of them gave up their lives, rather then they would part with the smalest part of this precious Word, translated into English, by the first sincere professors of true Christian doctrins; but then Godlinesse was esteemed the greatest gain, and the iniquity of Learning, was not arived to so much impudence, as to make a gain of Godlynesse, to make a trade of Religion, and to become rich by pretended preaching. Nor weaned they the people from the Scriptures, to give eare to their notions, and opinions; telling them they had the Spirit, and that the Scriptures were but a dead letter; but invited and perswaded all men, to a diligent consideration of the true scope and intent of them.
Neither did they preferr the understanding of men, with difficult points, or obscure doctrins; but (as Luther) insisted altogether upon the Doctrin of free Justification by Christ alone; and (in way of thankfulnes for so great a benefit) invited all men, to live righteously, Godly, and soberly in this present world; therein following the example of the Apostles, and the very end, scope, and main design of the Scriptures; which is that unum necessarium, and which, if people did rightly and seriously mind, they would not so easily be drawn to follow such Teachers, or to give eare to such Sermons; whereby they are alwaies learning, but never come to the knowledge of this one necessary truth.
For, how long work soever, Ministers and pretended Preachers, make of it, to maintaine themselves, and families in wealth, plenty, and honour, necessary Doctrins are not at all hard to be understood, nor require long time to learne them; and if it did not concerne their livelihood, and profession, to make men beleeve, they were people who soone understand sufficiently for their establishment, and comfort, and would fall to practice, that so they might become an honour to their profession of Christianity; for the Scriptures, or word of God, having once planted this truth in the understanding, viz. That it is the bloud of Christ, which cleanseth us from all sinne; this Evangelicall truth of its own nature, would instantly set man on work to do the will of him, that hath so loved him, and constrain him to walk in love as Christ hath loved: so that after this, all the care would be, how to advance the Gospel, by making our light to shine forth before men, that others seeing our good works, may glorifie our Father which is in Heaven.
But this is no profitable way, for any of our pretended Preachers, this Doctrin is to soone learned; for if men once come to know that this short lesson is sufficient; what will they regard? either printed discourses, or Sermons, and if once they find them also full of uncertainty, contradiction, and unnecessary things, they’le not part with their mony for such trash, when they may go to the two breasts of Christ himself, freely at all times, to the Scriptures, and buy this sweet milk and hony, without mony and without price; and if men and women come once to understand this, they will not comber themselves with many things but possessing this unvalluable truth, will ever worship God in Spirit and in Truth; and declare unto others this blessed one necessary comfortable way, and that not by preaching or long set speeches: which are apt to deceive; but by conferences, and mutuall debates, one with another, (the best way for attaining a right understanding) far excelling that which is called preaching. But then, how shall Demetrius and the Craftsmen live? even by some lawfull calling, this being the most palpably delusive of any in the world, and it is very strange, that all men do not discerne and avoid it.
It is so, as cunningly as it is carryed, & as high in repute as it is, & hath long time been, having no foundation but in the weake credulity of men; for if men but once consider it, their Sermons will appear to be but as common discourses, full of mistakes, errors, and at the least altogether uncertaine: and that all their preachings and prayings are only for mony, and that their greatest skill and labour, is to hold men ever in suspence; and upon pretence of truth, to give them a bastard Scholastick knowledge, which only serve to make men proud, wrangling Sophisters, and Disputers, vain boasters, talkers, busie-bodies, censurers, Pharisees, wise in their own eyes, and despising others, void of all true piety or reall Christian vertue: and no marvaile.
For such as the tree is, such ever will be the fruit; they boast to have the Spirit of God, & you see it is but boasting, or their own imagination only: and in the mean time, take the Scriptures for a dead Letter; and either reject them, or make them speak according to the spirit of their own Imaginations; and so instead of being reall, are at best but fantastick Christians, uncertain (if not false) Teachers: and such are their fruits. The greatest part of their time, wherein they should be imployed to feed the hungry, cloath the naked, or in visiting the fatherlesse & widdow, or in delivering the Captive, and setting the oppressed free, (all which are workes, so fully and plainly set forth in Scripture, as most pleasing to God) being spent in talking upon some hard texts of Scripture, such are their Sermons, or in disputes & contests, upon some nice & difficult questions. And this exercising themselves therein, week after week, and day after day, and in fastings and repetitions, and in writing of these doubtfull Sermons, is by them called a Religious exercise, and those who can but attain to so much boldnesse and utterance, as to speak and pray an howre, two or three, together, take upon them, and are reputed, guifted Christians, and principall religious persons, when as many of them get good estates by so doing, good benefices, and others who make not a trade of it, as many devout pastors do; yet gaine so much credit thereby, as doth much increase their Trades, and advance their Custom and dealing in the world, and now and then helps to a good round Office. And whilst any of this strain of Christians, may live in this kind of devotion twenty years, preach for twenty or forty shillings a year, and have the repute, of a most religious knowing Christian, from the testimony of the most grave, learned, and solemn pastors of all Congregations, if but a part of their religious disbursments be spent upon them, it is not to be wondered at, that so few are found to serve God sincerely in the way of pure and undefiled Religion, which would plume their Peacocks feathers, and cost them more in one year, then all their lip-service, and Church-devotion, doth many of them in their whole life-time.
Nay, so impudent are many of these proud boasting Churches, (who glory to follow precisely the pattern shewed in the mount) that contrary to all example of the Apostles and first Christians; they can content themselves to be known usurers, and those that are not such themselves, can allow it in their fellow Members, their Pastors, Elders, and Deacons can tolerate it, and why not, as well as for their pastors to take monies from such, as are of lesse abilitie then themselves; nay, do not many of them spend the greatest part of their time, either in making, buying, and selling of baubles and toyes, such as serve only to furnish out the pride, luxury, and fantasticalincsse of the world; yea, view them well in their apparell, from head to foote; consider them in their dyet and usuall feastings; in their furniture for their houses, even in these sad and miserable times; and then say, whether their silks, their fine and delicate linnen, their Laces, Beavers, Plushes; their Fancies, Plate, Rings, and Jewells; do not demonstrate from what roote they are, that they are meere worldlings indeed, and Christians only in name and tongue, and not that neither, if they are well observed.
For there are many amongst them, for slandering and backbiting; for circumvention and an hipocriticall carriage, shall vie and compare with any sort of men in the world; they can play the part of Spies, Intelligencers, plot and betray, upon pretence of intimacy, of endeared friendship and familiarity, eat, drink, be merry with you, day after day, week after week, for months, year for many years and after al: professe boldly, openly, confidently, before their Church, to Neighbors, friends, or strangers, that all this intimacy, friendship, familiarity, was only and meerely to deceive, and to discover what might be, to mischief the parties with whom they held it: shall we aske which of the Apostles was a slanderer, a spy, an Intelligencer, a betrayer: certainly none but Judas, and the followers of Judas; let them henceforth professe themselves, at least, let all that know them, so account them, unles they manifest their speedy true repentance, for bringing such reproach to the profession of Christianity.
But what will such men stick at, as have once dared to dissemble before God, to call themselves Preachers, and are not: to gather Churches, and to joyn and continue in the fellowship of meere mock Churches, that dare attempt the Ordinances with prophane hands, without, and before Commission given from above, that dare pretend Commission, and yet can shew no scale, no letters of credit from Heaven, that dare affirm their own opinions and Sermons, to be the word of God: and all this after admonition, from such persons too, as out of Conscience have seperated from them, against whom also they persist to shoote their most sharp and poysoned Arrowes; even bitter words, false invectives, lyes, and slanders.
O therefore consider this! all ye whose Consciences are yet sound amongst them, or but a little taynted, and see into what a wretched condition ye may be led before ye are aware; there is no stop in wickednesse, but a progresse from one degree of evill to another, unlesse at first: therefore stop in time, and come out from amongst them, least ye soone partake with them in their sinnes; and neither approve, nor connive at what you see and know to be against the judgment of your Consciences, least in time you become as the worst and vilest of them.
Study the Scriptures, that word of truth: blesse God for them, forsake them not for the vain traditions of men, for the uncertain notions, Doctrines, and comments of pretended Preachers; and be certain of this, that you may as soone as they themselves, come to a good and right understanding therein,—and that you may do so. Read them with these Considerations.
That although whatsoever is written, is written for our learning, and that we have great cause to be thankfull to God for vouchsaffing us the knowledge of the severall ways of his dispensations to man, according to the severall times, and ages, which were from Adam, (which was the first) unto the time of the descending of the holy spirit, (which was the last:) yet are we seriously to know, that this last dispensation of the holy spirit, is that which principally concerneth us rightly to understand, and to apply to our selves, both for our comfort and rule of life; for unto this time and dispensation doth our blessed Saviour himself referre us, saying, I will send you another Comforter, he shall lead you into all truth, he shall bring to remembrance the things that I have told you: and he performed his promise effectually to the Apostles, whose writings we have, containing what the same spirit taught unto them; the truth whereof, they were enabled, and did, confirm with miracles, so as it might be as truly said of them, as it was of Christ our Lord; that they taught as men having authority, and not as the Scribes, nor as the uncertain pharisaicall teachers of these times.
Unto which word of theirs, we are principally to give heed: but therein also, we are chiefly to discover and to mind, what that Doctrine was, which they by the spirit, were ordained to preach? because that being understood and believed, doth give the beleever thereof, the name and being of a Christian, how plain and brief soever it be; for we must note, that there are many things written by the Apostles upon occasions, that concerned only or chiefly, the times wherein they wrote, and the places and persons to whom they wrote, which is the true cause that many things are too hard for us to understand; but there was one universall Doctrine, which they were to preach to all Nations, wherewith all their writings do abound, and which is very plain and easie to be understood.
And this is it, namely, that the same Jesus whom the Jewes crucified, was Lord and Christ: That he is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world. That it is the bloud of Christ which cleanseth us from all sinne. That his love is so exceeding towards us, that even when we were enemies, Christ dyed for us: This was the Doctrine which begot people unto the faith, and made them Beleevers: and they used no other inducement, unto Beleevers, to walk as becometh this Gospel (or glad tydings of peace and reconciliation between God and us,) but this, ye are bought with a price, therefore honour God, both in your bodies, and in your spirits: their strongest Argument to perswade, being this and the like: That the love of God which bringeth salvation unto all men hath appeared, teaching us, to deny all ungodlinesse & unrighteousnes of men, and to live righteously, godly, and soberly in this present world: that we should love as Christ hath loved, who gave himself an Offering and a Sacrifice for us: so that if we would try each others Faith, we are to consider each others love; so much faith, so much love; so much love, so much pure and undefiled Religion; extending it self to the fatherles and to the Widdow; to the hungry, the naked, sick, and imprisoned; it being evident, that he who hath this worlds goods, and suffereth his brother to lack, hath not the love of God in him, yea though he have never so great parts of knowledg, zeale, tongues, miracles, yet being void of love, he is nothing: plainly manifesting that all other Religions, are but as defiled and impure in comparison of this.
And these are the Doctrines, which make good the rejoyning of the Angels, bringing glory to God in the highest, in earth peace, good will towards men: These are sufficient, and in these do all sorts of Christians agree, and never had disagreed but for false Teachers, Wolves in sheepes Clothing; who crept in to devoure the flock: causing divers strifes and contentions, about genealogies, and about the Law, which made the Apostle abundance of trouble, crying out, O foolish Galathians who hath bewitched you; telling them plainly, if righteousnesse came by the Law, then Christ dyed in vain; others, it should seem, fell to observe Dayes and Times, Sabaoths and Weeks, justifying themselves, and censuring others: provoking the Apostle to tell them, he was afraid of them, that he had bestowed labor in vain upon them, earnestly desiring them, to let no man deceive them, in respect of an holy day, or of the new Moon, or of the Sabaoth, &c.
The truth is, and upon experience it will be found a truth: that once exceed these plain indusputable Doctrines, and you will be ever to seeke; for though it be a kind of happinesse, to read in Genesis the proceedings of God towards our first Parents, to Abel, Cayne, Enoch, to Noah and the world that perished in the floud; to see his mighty power at the Confusion of Babell: his love to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve Patriarks, to see their way of worship, to observe his mighty wonders in Egypt, in the Wildemesse, and in the promised Land, under the Judges: Saul and David, Solomon, and the rest of the Kings of Judah and Israel: To know with what power he spake by his holy Prophets in all times, even to John the Baptist.
Yet when we have done all, we must acknowledge, that very many things exceed our understandings, and that we draw no comfort like unto this, that unto Christ, do all these beare witnesse: and though we have great cause to blesse God, for those wonderfull things we read of the life of Christ, of his wisdom, goodnesse, and power; by which he beat down the wisdom, craft, and policy of the Scribes and Pharices, of the high Priest and great ones of the world; and whereby he made it manifest, that he was indeed the Christ, yet draw we no comfort like unto that, which the Apostles publish’t by the power of the holy spirit, the comforter promised by Christ before his Assention: because by this dispensation of God, only, do we come to know the benefits of Christs death, and that he is the end of the Law for righteousnesse, and the propitiation for our sinnes; whereby we have peace of Conscience, and joy in the Holy-Ghost.
We Read, with thankfulnesse to God, the Acts of the Apostles, all the Epistles of Paul, of Peter, James, Jude, and the Epistles of John, & the Revelat. to St. John: But we must still acknowledge, that there are very many things in them all, which wee apprehend not fully. We Read of Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Pastors, and Teachers, and of the ordering and regulating of Churches, and of gifts given to all these from on high; but not so plainly exprest, as to leave the Conscientious without dispute, and difference thereupon: nor so collected into any one Book, as to convince, that God now under the Gospel, so exactly enjoyned Church Government, as he did under the Law; where Moses was expressely commanded to write particularly all that was required, not leaving out so much as Candlesticks, Snuffers, or Besomes. And when we come to compare the Churches, or their Pastors, and their abilities of our times, with those we read of: or the infallible power by which they spake, with the uncertaine Doctrines of ours, alas we must lay our hands upon our mouths, and hide our faces, as children use to doe, when they are discovered by people of understanding, at their childish immitations, of Christnings and Feastings; where, in a low and miserable weake forme they counterfeit things reall: so that if we shall deale plainely with our selves, we must confesse, wee are at a losse in these things, and that hence onely is our rejoycing. That wee undoubtedly know Jesus Christ and him Crucified, and knowing him, accompt all things as losse and dung in Comparison of him: and that we may be found in him, not having our owne righteousnesse which is of the Law, but the righteousnesse which is of God in him: so that the whole Scriptures to us, is as the Field mentioned in the Gospel, and this the Jewell, for which the wise Merchant, sould all that ever he had to purchase it.
And truely, if the Traders in Divine things, truely consider this, how learned soever they are in Arts and Sciences, in all kinds of Readings and Languages, and how mighty and skilfull soever they would be thought in the Exposition, opening, and interpretation of all places of Scripture, when they come to cast up their account, possibly; nay, certainly, (if they are serious therein) they will accompt all as nothing for this Pearle, which passeth value, they will sell All to purchase it; and rejoyce exceedingly in the exchange, as the most profitable that ever they made.
And this certainly would be done frequently by all who with honest and good hearts Read the Scriptures; were they not kept from it by false Teachers, who hold them in suspence for their own advantage, ever raising, and starting new Questions, and new Opinions, whereby men are ever learning, but never at rest in the knowledge of this one necessary truth: but are tost too and fro, with every winde of Doctrine: and all by giving eare to those that call themselves Preachers, but are not: that pretend to expound the Scriptures, when as they raise nothing but doubts, and darken them; that say they Interpret, when they are to seeke for the meaning; being altogether doubtfull and uncertaine in all they doe.
And therfore much more happy are they, who read with honest and good hearts, and only Read, and considerately lay to heart; giving no care to these charmers: these doubtfull Expositors, these mocke-Preachers, with their trumpery Sermons, stuft with naught but uncertainety and fantasticke doctrines, which in the day of the necessity of mans Conscience, prove like a broken Reed, that instead of help, further wounds.
Nor let any man henceforth wonder, whence so many severall and strange opinions should arise, by which the world becomes even rent and torne in peeces? It is from this kind of Preaching, and false Exposition of the Holy Scriptures. It being so, in more ancient times, with the Law and the old Testament, as Petrus Cunaeus, (de Republ. Lib. 2. chap. 17.) brings to light: affirming, That howsoever the Law was Read amongst them in the former times, either in publicke or in private, yet the bare Text was onely Read, without glosse or descant, Interpretatio Magistrorum nulla, commentatio nulla; but in the second Temple, when there were no Prophets, then did the Scribes and Doctors (mock Prophets, as our mock Preachers) begin to Comment, and make their severall Expositions on the holy Text: Ex quo natae disputationes & sententiae contrariae; from whence (saith he) sprung up debates, and doubtfull disputations: and most probable it is (saith another upon him) that from this liberty of Interpretation sprung up diversity of judgements, from whence arose the severall Sects of Pharisees, Essees and Saduces; who by their difference of Opinions, did distract the multitude, and condernne one another.
Even so in these times, when as there are no true Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Pastors, or Teachers, endowed with power from on high, as all true ones are; by which, they are enabled to divide the word of God aright, to stop the mouths of gainsayers, and to say, thus saith the Lord, thus speakes the Lord, and not I, And if an Angell from Heaven, preach any other doctrine, let him be accursed. In the absence of these, are crept in swarmes of Locusts, false Teachers, men of corrupt minds, making Marchandize of the blessed Word of Truth, and for that wicked end, dress it up in what shape their Art or Rhetorick can devise; and upon pretence of exposition, raise thousands of doubts and disputes, write millions of books, and preach innumerable Sermons; whereby the people are divided, and subdivided into Factions, Sects and parties; and whereby the end of the Gospel, which directs only to peace and love, is most unthankfully made use of, as a fire-brand of quarrells and dissentions.
In the mean time, the poor innocent Dove, that desirs to injoy the peace of his mind in this Unum necessarium, that little Doctrin of Christ crucified, and to walke in love, ever worshiping God in Spirit, and in Truth, dis-intangled from all formes, as things he finds uncertain, disingaged from all false Churches (and cannot find a true one) that in all things gives thanks, and dares not pray, but for what he needs, nor joyn with any, where he is not before agreed what to aske; This innocent dove findes not a place to rest his foot in, but is become the game of these birds of prey, these Ravens, Vultures, and Harpies.
O that all ingenious men would lay these things to heart! that they would looke more exactly into these Churches, more boldly & firmly, trying, examining & weighing them in the ballance: that they would shake off that vaile of superstition, and reverend respect to mens persons; whereby they are over-awed into a high esteeme of meer vanities, empty shels without kernells, empty clouds that hold no water. That they would consider, how extreamly partial they are in judging of things; For, who is he, that doth not exceedingly condemn the impudence of Simon Magus, in offering to buy the holy Spirit of God with mony, purposely to have made a gain thereof; and yet can daily see men counterfeit the having of the Spirit, and pretend to preach and to pray by it; when as it is evident, they have it not, and yet are no whit troubled at this, though they see it done also, even for filthy luchre, vain glory, or other vile respects, as he intended.
But all are not alike guilty, many through weaknesse, and a preposterous zeale, being carryed with the stream and current of the times; and many there are, who have run themselves quite out of breath, in searching after peace, and rest, in the various waies of these Churches, and from one Church way to another; but find none to comfort them, nothing to establish them; confessing, that instead of reall ordinances, they find only names; instead of power in them, they find only formes, fashions, likenesses and imitations, meere pictures, and Images without life, altogether dead and comfortlesse; and are held up meerely by the power of Art, craft, and pollicy of men, not without the countenance of corrupt authorities, & oppressive States-men; who find it (as it hath ever proved) a notable means to devide the people, making use thereof, to their wicked and tyrannous ends; But God in these times hath had instruments, to lay all kinds of delusion open: so that henceforth, if men continue in these evill waies, they are altogether inexcusable.
Neither will men ever live in peace, and quietnes one with another, so long as this vaile of false counterfeit preaching, remaineth before their eyes, nor untill the mocke Churches are overturned and laid flat; For so long as men flatter themselves in those vaine waies, and puffe themselves up with vaine thoughts, that they are in a way well pleasing to God, because they are in a Church way, as they call it, or because they are able to speak long together (which they call preaching) they are for the most part regardles of storing their minds with truths reall Christian virtue, little or nothing careing, either for publick Justice, Peace, or freedom amongst men; but spend their time in endlesse disputes, in condemning and censuring those that are contrary minded; whereby nothing but heats and discontents are ingendred, backbiting and snarling at all that oppose them, will neither buy, nor sell with them, if they can chuse, nor give them so much as a good looke; but on all occasions are ready to Censure, one to be carnall, another erronious; one an Atheist, another an Heretick, a Sectary, Scismatick, a Blasphemer, a man not worthy to live, though they have nothing whereof to accuse him; which in the true Scripture sence, will beare the title of an offence, but are stirred in their spirits against him, because happily he speaketh against their Church-way, and frequently sheweth the vanity and emptinesse of those things wherein they glory, and by which they distinguish themselves from other men.
So that it were much better for the Common-wealth, that all mens mindes were set at Liberty, from these entanglements, that so there might be an end of wrangling about shaddows; for if men were once free from this Church-bondage, they would by reading the Scriptures with such like considerations, as are before expressed, soone come to be able to understand the intent, & substantiall scope thereof; and become substantiall Christians; full fraught with true Christian virtue, and reall godlinesse, which would incline them lo a tendernesse of spirit towards all those they saw in any errour; make them to compassionate mens failings, and infirmities; and be ready to help the distressed, and any waies afflicted: it would enlarge their hearts toward all men, making them like unto our heavenly Father, who causeth his Sun to shine on the just, and unjust: that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth no man.
Certainely, were we all busied onely in those short necessary truths, we should soon become practicall Christians; and take more pleasure in Feeding the hungry, Cloathing the naked, visiting and comforting of the sicke, releeving the aged, weake and impotent; in delivering of Prisoners, supporting of poore families, or in freeing a Common wealth from all Tyrants, oppressors, and deceivers, (the authors and promoters of all corruption and superstition) thereby manifesting our universal love to all mankind, without respect of persons. Opinions, Societies, or Churches; doubtlesse there were no way like unto this, to adorne the Gospel of Christ; men and women so exercising themselves, and persevering therein, might possibly deserve the name of Saints; but for men to assume that title for being a Presbyter, an Independent, Brownist, Anabaptist, or for being of this or that opinion, or of this or that forme of Worship, or for being able to Pray, and Preach (as they call it) three or foure houres together, venting their own uncertain notions, and conjectures, or for looking more sadly, and solemnly then other people, or for dressing themselves after a peculiar manner: or for pretending to have the Spirit of God, though they are ever to seeke about the meaning of the Scriptures: or for sucking in, and sighing out reproaches, and slanders against their neighbours: proceeds from meer pride and vanity of mind; when as the best of these put altogether, amount not to so much, towards the making of a true Saint, as one mercifull tender hearted compassionate act, for Christs sake doth.
And therefore those who would truly honour God, let them not think, that he will be flattered with words, or be served with lip service, with that which costeth little or nothing; but let them resolve that he expecteth to be served with no lesse then with all our heart, with all our might, and with all our strength, to be honoured both in our bodies, and in our spirits, for they are his.
It is most certain, that men are first to know and understand, before they can become practicall Christians, and though the Scriptures are very plain and full, as to necessary knowledge, yet the errors of weake and perverse teachers do so abound, that it is a difficult thing to escape them, and to fall into a profitable method of reading, and meditation of the word of God: wherein may the considerations aforementioned, prove as profitable, as they are conscionably intended; but doubtlesse the best way to perfect knowledge, is, and will be, by endeavouring after meetings of people to conferre and discourse together (in a discreet, quiet, and well ordered way) upon necessary points only: the way of preaching or long set speeches, being subject to abundance of error, and inconvenience: and therefore it would be happy, that all wel-meaning people would seriously set themselves to procure frequent and full meetings, for increase of knowledg in all sorts of people, and no longer to depend, either on the publique, or congregationall Sermons, for information of their understandings: it being evident, that they serve rather to dignifie the Speakers, and to sway the hearers into what they please, then to any just or necessary end.
And as every one increaseth in knowledge, let them know, that God hath not vouchsafed his word unto us, to make us talkers, or discoursers only; as the manner of many knowing people is, who as soone as they arive to a good measure of understanding, and are thereby freed from the burthens and oppressions, which error and superstition had brought into their Consciences, instead of being thankfull to God for the same, by dilligence in the wayes of doing good; they become carelesse, turning the goodnesse and truth of God manifested in his word to Idlenesse, if not to wantonnesse, not caring what becommeth of the miseries of the times, or other mens sufferings, but ever after, live as in a pleasing dream; these who ever they are, are to be looked upon as the most unworthy of men, because the most ungratefull: the most opposite to the end of their being, the vilest of Creatures, because sloathfull Christians: the best things, being the worst, if once corrupted.
And therefore it will be very good, for every one to stir up the knowledg of God that is in him, and to keep it alive by continuall practice, upon all occasions: practice in good and just and charitable things being that wherein the Conscience is most delighted; so that if any propose to themselves any happines here in this life, it is to be found only in doing of good: the more good, the better contented, and the greater the happinesse, man being in nothing like unto God, but in doing good, nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing is more pleasant to Conscience, his vicegerent in us; to do good therefore, and to distribute, forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased: whilst we have time and opportunity, let us do good unto all men.
Let us all strive to go on before another in love, and let there be no other strife at all amongst us; we wish with all our soules that all reproach, despites and envyings amongst men might for ever cease, and that difference in judgment, may no longer occasion difference in affection; there being in our apprehension no cause at all; but that all men going in their severall wayes of serving God, whether publique or private, may neverthelesse be free to communicate in all civill Offices of love and true friendship, and cordially joyne with any, for a publique good; but if notwithstanding all that hath been endeavoured, or hath been said: this Generation of congregationall men shall continue to puffe, and swell through pride of heart, & to lift themselves up into the Chayre of the scornfull, and as the man in Peters Chayre assume a power of life and death over all opinions and wayes not owned by them: as if they were infallible judges of all controversies, making no scruple of blasting mens good names and reputations, or of undoing of whose Families thereby: they must then expect to be told their own, and be made appear to the world—as they are,—not as they would be esteemed.
It being evident by what hath been said, that although they have boasted themselvs to be rich, and increased with goods, and to have need of nothing; yet, they are as the luke-warm Church of Laodicea, miserable, & wretched, and poore, and blind, and naked—and for all their bigg and swelling conceipts of parts, of gifts, of Saint-ship, of the Spirit, & (in effect) pharisaically crying out, Lord we thank thee, we are not as other men, nor as those poore Publicans, that receive all their knowledge of Divine things from the Scriptures onely, and are taught onely thereby; Notwithstanding these bigg swelling words, their Peacocks feathers, being thus pluckt off, you see: and they, will they, nill they, must also see, that they must be content at last, to shake hands even with those poore Publicans; and acknowledge that they have no other infallible Teacher of Divine things, but the Scriptures; and that they partake no more of the Spirit, then what that blessed Word of the Spirit planteth in them.
And if their consciences are awakened, will be enforced to forsake their falling Churches: unlesse for politique ends, they shall stifle the power of these Truths within them; chusing rather to perish in the rubbish, then to seem to have bin so exceedingly mistaken; which will prove an unpardonable error; For, however the best of men may erre, yet they are the worst of men, that persist in error, after the discovery.
And therefore, if there be any whose consciences shall be fully informed of the vanity of these Churches; and yet for any ends shall continue to support the reputation of them; let all such know, that those who dare be so impious, as to stop the continuall cry of their consciences, must necessarily desire in their hearts there were no God, whose Vicegerent Conscience is; which is the most sad and dangerous condition that man can fall into in this life.
And certainly they will find it far better to forsake their tottering immaginary structures: confess their emptines, & sinfull imitation, taking shame unto themselves and giving glory unto God, whose name and power they have much diminished, by affirming those to be Churches which are not, those Pastors and Preachers which are not, those Saints which are not: his blessed Word to be but a dead Letter: that to be his Word, which is but conjecturall Sermons; and in censuring those to be erronious and carnall Christians, who have more warrant for what they do then themselves; And then by a more considerate, ingenious, and Christian-like carriage, to make amends for the future which would very much rejoyce the hearts of all that low he Lord Jesus in sincerity, whose Truth and Glory will be advanced by the Scriptures; when all the roving, wild and wandring immaginations of mens spirits, shall vanish, and come to nought.FINIS Feb. 23.1648-49, Imprimatur