Monday, March 14, 2016
Sitting Down in Form
THERE was a glorious day, and bright appearance of Truth in the times of the apostles. They had the true Comforter, who led them into all Truth, and kept them alive in Truth, and Truth alive in them. By this Spirit, they, as living stones, were built up a spiritual house, founded upon Sion, the holy mount; into Jerusalem, the holy city, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of Truth. And here they had their conversation in heaven, with God, the judge of all; with Christ, the Mediator; and with the spirits of just men and the holy an gels, which always behold the face of God. They lived in the Spirit, they walked in the Spirit, they prayed in the Spirit, they sung in the Spirit, they worshipped in the Spirit, and in that understanding which the Truth had made free, and had God dwelling in them, and Christ walking in the midst of them ; and, by the presence and power of his life in them, were truly dead unto sin, and alive unto God; they being not strivers against sin with man's legal spirit, but by the power of grace, which made them more than conquerors through him that loved them. This was part of the glory of that state, in the day of the sunshine of the gospel.
But, behold ! a thick night of darkness overspread the beauty of this! Some false brethren went out from the true church into the world, getting the sheep's clothing, making a great outward appearance, and drew the world after them; yea, and some from the very churches themselves. (How hard was the apostle Paul obliged to plead with the Corinthians about his own apostleship and doctrine, that he might preserve that church from the false apostles!) And when they had gathered a sufficient party in the world, they made head against the true sheep and lambs of Christ, fought with them, and overcame them. And when they had overcome them that had the living testimony of Jesus, and the true power and presence of the Spirit among them, then they set up their own dead form, making a cry all over the nations of the earth: "Revelation is ceased! there is no looking now for such an infallible Spirit, and such immediate teachings as the Christians had in the apostles' days, who had the anointing to teach them all things;" but they pointed men to traditions, to the church, as they called it (which title the whore hath engrossed since the days of the apostles), or to searching of the scripture, and reading expositions upon it, and bodies of divinity, formed by the understanding-part in man to instruct the understanding-part. Thus the whole course of religion, and of the knowledge of God, came to be out of that Spirit and life wherein it first came forth (and wherein it first stood), and consisted in doctrines of men, and a form of worship and knowledge which the wisdom of man had framed, in an imitation of that which formerly stood in the life.
And now men being gone from the life, from the Spirit, and his immediate teachings, into an outward form of knowledge and worship of God in the wrong nature, anti christ is got up, and the dragon sits in the temple, appearing there as if he were God, giving out laws and ordinances of worship in public, and putting men upon duties and exercises of devotion in private, and he is obeyed and bowed down to in the observation of these; but the true, living God is not known, nor his secret, still voice which calls out of these heard; because of the great noise which the dragon makes in his temple (for so it is now, he having gained it, though it was once God's), about his laws and ordinances of worship, which he would have all compelled to, and none suffered to testify against them that they arc his, and not the Lord's. Yet it pleased the Lord, all the night of this darkness, to raise up some witnesses against the dragon, and all his invented forms of worship; though they were still hunted, persecuted, knocked down, and their testimony cried out against, as error, heresy, schism, and blasphemy; and the ways, worships, and ordinances of the whore, the beast, and dragon, still cried up as the truth. Thus the Papists cried out against the Protestants as heretics and schismatics, who were witnesses against them; and the Protestants cried out against the Non-conformists, Separatists, and Brownists, who were witnesses against them; and every sect cries out most against them who are led further from the apostasy, and raised up by the Lord, as witnesses against them, against their sitting down in their forms, and not pursuing the guidance of that Spirit, which would lead them quite out of the darkness, and not have them sit down by the way.
Now the Lord God, in these latter days, hath not only raised up witnesses against the whore, the dragon, the beast, the false prophets, with all their inventions which they have set up instead of the truth; but hath assayed, and begun to deliver his people out of this Egyptian darkness, and to bring them back to the light of the land of Canaan. And now great enemies have appeared ; the sons of the night exceedingly strengthening themselves to keep out the day light, everyone crying up his own form, and all joining hand in hand against the power: yea, and that spirit which first tempted from God is exceeding busy to cause those whom the Spirit of the Lord hath been drawing out of the land of darkness, to make a captain to return to Egypt; or at least to sit down in some form, or some pleasant notion of things by the way, and not to follow the Lord through all his intricate leadings in the vast, howling wilderness, till he bring them into the possession of the true rest. What a work was there to quench that spirit which stirred in the Protestants against Popery, and to fix them in Episcopacy, and in the use of the' common prayer-book! When that was detected, and turned from, the Presbytery endeavored to take its place, and to bring in its directory; but the pursuit of the Lord was so hot against that, that it sunk presently, and his mighty hand would not suffer it so much as to arise. Much about the same time Independency and Anabaptism appeared and contended; and there was a more simple and honest thing stirring there, than in the other: and accordingly the blessing of the Lord (which was not to the form, but to the life which was stirring within) did appear more among them. But they fixing there, lost the life and simplicity to which the blessing was, and met with the death and the curse, which is the proper reward of the form: for any form, out of the life, kills the life; and its reward is death to itself. The form kills the life, which stirred under neath, and made it appear with some freshness ; and when the life, from which it had its seeming beauty and lustre, dies, then it soon withers and dies also: so that the living principle being once slain, there remains nothing but the dead spirit, feeding on the dead form. There was one more pure appearance, and nearer to the kingdom than all these; which was of seeking and waiting: but death overcame it also, making a form of it, and stealing in some observations, from the letter of the Scriptures, concerning the kingdom, whereby their eyes were withheld from beholding the inward principle and seed of life within, to look for some great appearance of power without (such as was among the apostles), to set things to rights; and so they were held captive by the same spirit, in their seeking and waiting, whereby the others are held in their forms. Thus have persons generally missed the following of that good Spirit, which began to lead them out of Egypt, the dark land ; and losing their guide, have fixed somewhere or other by the way; resting in some form, or in some notion or expectation of things (according as in their wisdom they have imagined from their skill in the letter), short of the life itself. Thus have their carcasses fallen in the wilderness.
Now this I have to say to you all : all you who rest in any form whatsoever, or rest in any notion or apprehension of things short of the life itself, ye had even as good have stayed in Egypt, as to fix by the way, and to take up a rest in the wilderness, short of Canaan. In plain terms, ye had as good have abode in Popery or Episcopacy; ye had been as acceptable to God there as here. Not that I say your forms of Independency, Anabaptism, or Seeking, are as bad as Popery, Episcopacy, or Presbytery: nay; they are all somewhat nearer, and the last of them very much nearer: but your fixing there, and the dead spirit feeding there on the dead thing, is as remote from life as if it had gone quite back again. And this dead spirit is as hateful to God here, as it is among the Papists ; yea, and in one sense more, be cause it makes a pretence beyond them.
And the truth is, ye have gone back again, though not in the direct form, yet into that very spirit wherein Popery's strength and kingdom lie ; and so are become one of the beast's names; and your strength and defence lie in the beast's horns, either in the outward powers of the earth, or in that inward knowledge of things and wisdom from the letter, which is out of the life, and so are not yet come out of the city of Babylon. For mark : the spirit that fixeth in a form short of the life, is the same that whored from the life: and the same spirit is the whore still, in what form so ever she be. The Spirit that rose up in the life, against the death and corruption whereof Popery wholly consisted, was a good Spirit; and this Spirit would pass through all forms, till it meet with the life. It is the other spirit that says to thee, Thou hast gone far enough; and so tempts thee to stay by the way. And he who hearkens to this spirit, and stays any where by the way, is caught with the old whore in a new dress, and is drinking the cup of fornication afresh. And then, like the Papists, he runs to the powers of the earth, to defend his form against the witnesses of God (and that is his cover under which he persecutes, and there he lies hid), or at least to his own wisdom and reason, to strengthen himself with arguments for fixing here, and against going any further. And then he grows wise in the flesh, and cries against them who are still led by the same Spirit to press on further, as weak, silly, giddy, unsettled, seduced people, that can never know when they are well. Thus the wise Episcopalians reviled the simple-hearted Non-conformists, who pursued further than they. And the Non-conformists, when they lost their simplicity, and be gan to stick, reviled those that pursued beyond them. And thus at this day, those who are pressing on in the Spirit, are disdained by those who have taken up their station in the flesh ; and with their two great horns of earthly power and earthly wisdom, are they pushing at them.
Look about ye, look about ye, all sorts of devout profes sors; see where ye are! Are you not dead in your forms? Is not the good old Puritan principle (wherein once was true life in its measure) dead and buried there? Consider with yourselves ; hath that grown in your forms? Or hath it been slain there? Speak the truth in your own hearts; can ye truly say, from a sensible feeling in the life, that that principle is still alive in you? If it were so, ye could never be drawn to persecute, no, nor suffer persecution, ye that have power to hinder it: but if that seed be choked, then ye may well connive at, if not further the enemy, and plead for him, and join interests with him. While Abel lived in you, Cain could not rise up in his dominion; but now the right seed is slain, the murdering nature appears.
Oh hasten out of this spirit! Hasten out of Babylon! Cast off the spirit of Popery: return to the old Puritan principle: do not cry it up in deceit, to oppose the present appearance of truth, which is grown up further in it; but subject that dead, formal, earthly spirit to it, which is fallen beneath it. And when ye are come to a true touch of life there, ye may be able to own the same truth in its growth to a further measure. But while thou art in the dead understanding, and from the power and life of truth in thine own particular, dost thou think to be able to measure truth aright in others? Nay; thou measurest by a false appearance of things in the fallen understanding, and in the wisdom which thou hast gathered there, since thou thyself fullest from the living principle: and this must needs commend that most which is nearest to it, and not that which is nearest to truth. And this is the great error of this age; men, with a gathered knowledge from scripture words, without the true faith and life, go about to measure that life and knowledge which come from the faith ; and because it suits not with the apprehensions which they have taken into their minds, they condemn it. And thus, being in the stumbling wisdom, and way of observation to which truth was never revealed, but was ever an offence, they stumbled at it : and so men generally dash and split themselves against the same rock now, as the Pharisees did of old. Now this understanding must perish, and this wisdom in men be brought to nought, before that can be raised up which can judge aright.
Hearken therefore to my exhortation, as ye love your souls; Come out of Popery in deed and in truth: come out of the SPIRIT of Popery : burn the whore, in her new forms as well as in her old : cast oft' all these new names of the beast, under which the old spirit has made a prey of the life in your own particulars, and lies lurking to make a prey of the life in others, and to force it into its own deceitful forms of death, and slay it. Leave defending your faith and church by the beast's horns, and come to that faith and church which is received, gathered, and defended by Christ, the One Horn of Salvation. Leave your reasonings and disputings in that wisdom which has slain the life, and come to that wisdom which comes from the life, and springs up in the life ; and ye will find more certainty and satisfaction in one touch of true life, than in all the reasonings and disputes of wise men to the world's end. The ground wherein men's religion grows (even the most zealous) is bad; even the same ground wherein the Pharisees' religion stood and grew; and it hath brought forth such a kind of fruit; namely, such a kind of conformity to the letter as theirs was; which stands in the understanding and will of man, rearing up a pleasant building there, but keeps from the life, and from building in it. But the true religion stands in receiving a principle of life ; which, by its growth, forms a vessel for itself; and all the former part, wherein sin on the one hand, or self- righteousness on the other hand, stood and grew, passeth away.
These things following strike at the king of Babylon himself; yea, even at the very root of the antichristian spirit in every man; which ho that can mildly receive the stroke of, may feel the true Spirit of life (which lies underneath) spring up in him, and give life to his soul : which, when it is delivered, will be able truly to know, and rejoice in the Lord his Saviour. And when the root of that spirit is cut down (which never brought forth sweet, pleasant fruit unto life ; but only sour fruit, finely painted and dressed for the eye and palate of death), its body, branches, leaves, and fruit will wither and die daily, and truth come to grow safely.
From: The Axe Laid to the Root of the Old Corrupt Tree
The Works of Isaac Penington Vol. 1 pages 291-298