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could give some account of their conversion, at least, of very promising experiences of the work of God's grace upon their hearts, and under mutual agreements and covenants of fellowship they kept together. These people were somewhat of a softer temper, and seemed to recommend religion by the charms of its love, mercy, and goodness, rather than by the terror of its judgments and punishments; by which the former party would have terrified people into religion.
They also allowed greater liberty to prophecy than those before them; for they admitted any member to speak or pray, as well as their pastor (whom they always chose, and not the civil magistrate). If such found any thing pressing upon them to either duty, even without the distinction of clergy or laity; persons of any trade, be it never so low and mechanical. But alas! even these people suffered great loss : for tasting of worldly empire, and the favour of princes, and the gain that ensued, they degenerated but too much. For though they had cried down national churches, and ministry, and maintenance too, some of them, when it was their own turn to be tried, fell under the weight of worldly honour and advantage, got into profitable parsonages too much, and outlived and contradicted their own principles : and, which was yet worse, turned some of them absolute persecutors of other men for God's sake, that but so lately came themselves out of the furnace, which drove many a step farther, and that was into the water. Another baptism, as believing they were not scripturally baptised; and hoping to find that presence and power of God in submitting to that or, dinance, which they desired and wanted.
These people made also profession of neglecting, if not renouncing and censuring, not only the necessity but use of all human learning as to the ministry; and all other qualifications to it besides the helps and gifts of the Spirit of God, and those natural and common to men; and for a time they seemed like John of old, a burning and a shining light, to other societies.
They were very diligent, plain, and serious, strong in scripture, and bold in profession, bearing much reproach and contradiction : but that which others fell by, proved their hurt. For worldly power spoiled them too; who had enough of it to try them what they would do if they had more; and they rested also too much upon their watery dispensation, instead of passing on more fully to the fire and Holy Ghost, which was his baptism, who came with a fan in his hand, that he might thoroughly (and not in part
only) purge his floor, and take away the dross and the tin of his people, and make a man finer than gold. Withal, they grew high, rough, and self-righteous, opposing further attainment; too much forgetting the day of their infancy and littleness, which gave them something of a real beauty; in so much that many left them and all visible churches and societies, and wandered up and down, as sheep without a shepherd, and as doves without their mates; seeking their beloved, but could not find him, as their souls desired to know him; whom their souls loved above their chiefest joy.
These people were called Seekers by some, and the Family of Love by others ; because, as they came to the knowledge of one another, they sometimes met together, not formally to pray or preach, at appointed times or places, in their own wills, as in times past they were accustomed to do; but waited together in silence, and as any thing rose in any one of their minds that they thought savoured of a divine spring, so they sometimes spoke. But so it was that some of them not keeping in humility and in the fear of God, after the abundance of revelation, were exalted above measure, and for want of staying their minds in an humble dependance upon him that opened their understandings to see great things in his law; they ran out in their own imaginations, and mixing them with those divine openings, brought forth a monstrous birth; to the scandal of those that feared God, and waited daily in the temple, not made with hands, for the consolation of Israel; the Jew inward, and circumcision in spirit.
This people obtained the name of Ranters, from their extravagant discourses and practices. For they interpreted Christ's fulfilling of the law for us, to be a discharging of us from any obligation and duty the law required, instead of the condemnation of the law for sins past, upon faith and repentance, and that now it was no sin to do that which before it was a sin to commit; the slavish fear of the law being taken off by Christ, and all things good that man did, if he did but do them with the mind and persuasion that it was so. Insomuch that divers fell into gross and enormous practices; pretending in excuse thereof that thcy could, without evil, commit the same act which was sin in another to do; thereby distinguishing between the action and the evil of it, by the direction of the mind and intention in the doing of it. Which was to make sin superabound by the aboundings of grace, and to turn from the grace of God into wantonness, a securer way of sinning than before : as if Christ came not to take
away sin, but that we might sin more freely at his cost, and with less danger to ourselves. I say, this ensnared divers, and brought them to an utter and lamentable loss as to their eternal state, and they grew very troublesome to the better sort of people, and furnished the looser with an occasion to profane.
It was about that very same time, as you may see in the ensuing annals, that the eternal, wise, and good God was pleased, in his infinite love, to honour and visit this benighted and bewildered nation with his glorious day-spring from on high; yea with a most sure and certain sound of the word of light and life, through the testimony of a chosen vessel, to an effectual and blessed purpose, can many thousands say, Glory be to the name of the Lord for ever.
For as it reached the conscience and broke the heart, and brought many to a sense and search, so what people had been vainly seeking without, with much pains and cost, they by this ministry found within ; where it was they wanted what they sought for, viz. the right way to peace with God. For they were directed to the light of Jesus Christ within them, as the seed and leaven of the kingdom of God; near all, because in all, and God's talent to all. A faithful and true witness and just monitor in every bosom. The gift and grace of God to life and salvation that appears to all, though few regard it. This, the traditional Christian, conceited of himself, and strong in his own will and righteousness, and overcome with blind zeal and passion, either despised as a low and common thing, or opposed as a novelty, under many hard names and opprobrious terms; denying, in his ignorant and angry mind, any fresh manifestation of God's power and Spirit in man in these days, though never more needed to make true Christians : not unlike those Jews of old that rejected the Son of God at the very same time that they blindly professed to wait for the Messiah to come; because, alas, he appeared not among them according to their carnal mind and expectation.
This brought forth many abusive books, which filled the greater sort with envy, and lesser with rage, and made the way and progress of this blessed testimony straight and narrow indeed to those that received it. However, God owned his own work, and this testimony did effectually reach, gather, comfort and establish, the weary and heavy laden, the hungry and thirsty, the poor and needy, the mournful and sick of many maladies, that had spent all upon physicians of no value, and waited for relief from
heaven; help only from above : seeing upon a serious trial of all things, nothing else would do but Christ himself, the light of his countenance, a touch of his garment and help from his hand, who cured the poor woman's issue, raised the centurion's servant, the widow's son, the ruler's daughter, and Peter's mother, and like her, they no sooner felt his power and efficacy upon their souls, but they gave up to obey him in a testimony to his power, and with resigned wills and faithful hearts, through all mockings, contradictions, beatings, prisons, and many other jeopardies that attended them for his blessed name's sake.
Ånd truly, they were very many and very great; so that in all human probability they must have been swala lowed up quick of the proud and boisterous waves that swelled and beat against them; but that the God of all their tender mercies was with them in his glorious authority, so that the hills often fled and the mountains melted before the power that filled them; working mightily for them as well as in them, one ever following the other. By which they saw plainly, to their exceeding great confirmation and comfort, that all things were possible with him with whom they had to do. And that the more that which God required seemed to cross man's wisdom, and expose them to man's wrath, the more God appeared to help and carry them through all to his glory : insomuch that if ever any people could say in truth, Thou art our sun and our shield, our rock and sanctuary, and bythee we have leaped over a wall, and by thee we have run through a troop, and by thee we have put the armies of the aliens to flight, these people had right to say it. And as God had delivered their souls of the wearisome burthens of sin and vanity, and enriched their poverty of spirit, and satisfied their great hunger and thirst after eternal righteousness, and filled them with the good things of his own house, and made them stewards of his manifold gifts; so they went forth to all quarters of these nations, to declare to the inhabitants thereof, what God had done for them; what they had found, and where and how they had found it; viz. the way to peace with God: inviting them to come and see and taste for themselves, the truth of what they declared unto them.
And as their testimony was to the principle of God in man, the precious pearl and leaven of the kingdom, as the only blessed means appointed of God to quicken, convince, and sanctify man; so they opened to them what it was in itself, and what it was given to them for: how they might know it from their own spirit, and that of the subtle ap
pearance of the evil one; and what it would do for all those whose minds are turned off from the vanity of the world and its lifeless ways and teachers, and adhere to this blessed light in themselves, which discovers and condemns sin in all its appearances, and shows how to overcome it, if minded and obeyed in its holy manifestations and convictions : giving power to such to avoid and resist those things that do not please God, and to grow strong in love, faith, and good works : that so man, whom sin hath made as a wilderness, overrun with briers and thorns, might become as the garden of God, cultivated by his divine power, and replenished with the most virtuous and beautiful plants of God's own right hand planting, to his eternal praise.
But these experimental preachers of glad tidings of God's truth and kingdom could not run when they list, or pray or preach when they pleased, but as the Christ their Redeemer prepared and moved them by his own blessed Spirit, for which they waited in their services and meetings, and spoke as that gave them utterance, and which was as those having authority, and not like the dreaming, dry, and formal Pharisees. And so it plainly appeared to the serious minded, whose spiritual eye the Lord Jesus had in any measure opened; so that to one was given the word of exhortation, to another the word of reproof, to another the word of consolation, and all by the same spirit and in the good order thereof, to the convincing and edifying of many.
And truly, they waxed strong and bold through faithfulness; and by the power and Spirit of the Lord Jesus hecame very fruitful; thousands, in a short time, being turned to the Truth through their testimony in ministry and sufferings, insomuch as in most counties, and many of the considerable towns of England, meetings were settled, and daily there were added such as should be saved. For they were diligent to plant and to water, and the Lord blessed their labours with an exceeding great increase; notwithstanding all the opposition made to their blessed progress, by false rumors, calumnies, and bitter persecutions; not only from the powers of the earth, but from every one that listed to injure and abuse them: so that they seemed indeed to be as poor sheep appointed to the slaughter, and as a people killed all the day long
It were fitter for a volume than a preface, but so much as to repeat the contents of their cruel sufferings from professors as well as from profane, and from magistrates as well as the rabble, that it may well be said of this abused