Note: This is part of the Leveller Collection of Tracts and Pamphlets.
John Warr, Administrations Civil and Spiritual in Two Treatises. The First Entitled The Dispute betwixt Equity and Form. The Other The Dispute betwixt Form and Power. (London: Giles Calvert, 1648).
1648 - no month given.
Not listed in Thomason Tracts.
My intent and purpose in compiling this enchiridion was in order to the advance of light and knowledge; for I observed a double darkness upon the minds and spirits of most men, a moral and a spiritual darkness.
That which I call a moral darkness consists in the ignorance of the grounds and reasons of things: for how few are there which are acquainted with the origin and rise of governments, the nature and bounds of subjection, the distinction between the letter of the law and the sense, meaning and equity thereof. The want of light and understanding in these things hath engaged the world into parties and factions, through the arts and subtleties of self-interested men, who have imposed upon the darkness of ordinary understandings in the above-named particulars.
And the issue of such seductions, fallacies and deceits hath been very lamentable as to sense, and to the vast prejudice of those persons who have been ensnared by them, for by this means whole herds of them have been sacrificed to the ambition and tyranny of the pretended guides, rulers and princes of the world.
An experiment of this truth we have had in this, as well as in other kingdoms; for how many poor innocent souls have perished in these wars; and their blood designed to be but as stairs and footsteps to advance those into thrones of domination and rule that thus engaged them.
The corruption and wickedness of which undertaking hath so far provoked the Almighty as to design the ruin and extirpation of that greatness which hath been thus perverted and abused.
I take this to be the ground of that darkness and confusion which at present seems to cover the face of things.
And though there be a vein of beauty in all these things, yet the glory thereof is hid from ordinary understandings, who behold only the face or rather the vizard of things, which must needs represent an ugly and deformed state, yet the beauty is seen by the spiritual man, who, in the light of the spirit, foresees the fall of flesh and worldly pomp, and rejoices therein.
For doubtless there is such a deal of corruption and self in the laws, lawyers, civil forms and constitutions of this and other nations, and those so essentially inherent in them, that the administrations themselves are like to be altered, changed and removed, that so way may be made for clearer and brighter appearances of equity and truth.
To further which design, and to take us off from persons and forms to principles and things, I have drawn forth the first part of this discourse, touching the rise and period of civil forms.
And if any shall object that these are low and inferior actings, and have their foundation in the flesh, I answer, though there may be (and I believe is) a glory above them, yet the spiritual Christian may contemplate and admire the outgoings of God even in these things, as being himself rather above than against them.
As for the second part of this discourse, I have observed that most Christians live upon men: man is cried up and idolised by us: the sermons, writings and expositions of men. To occur and prevent this evil, I have given thee in my judgment, concerning spiritual administrations in the second treatise, how that God hath appointed them only as elementary and disciplinarian things, pointing and directing us to a higher glory; for while we stand in need to teach and be taught one by another, we are not yet come to that state wherein we shall be all taught of God.
or The Clear Principle in the Civil Reference
In the light whereof is discovered
Serving as a gnomon to direct us in passing sentence upon the past or future transactions of the Parliament, Army or any other succeeding party, in the prosecution of their ends.
The administrations which God hath put the creature under are either secular and civil, or spiritual and divine.
Secular and civil administrations, relating to the guidance and orderment of outward policies and societies of men, have in them to be considered their rise, progress and expiration.
Evil manners, in as much as they are occasions, may be said to be the father and mother of good laws. Man degenerating from his primitive and original glory, and declining from a clear principle to a dark and muddy understanding, falls into the state of horse and mule, and so needs to be restrained with bit and bridle, law, penalties etc. lest the wolfish nature should break loose and fall foul on others.
The kingly creature thus dethroned is turned out (like Nebuchadnezzar) amongst the beasts, till such time as the divine principle gets ground in it again, and by degrees recovers its former state.
When this principle once recovers, man becomes a law unto himself; for that of the apostle holds true, even in this sense also, that the law was not made for the righteous, i.e. such as in whom this principle obtains rule, but for the disobedient, i.e. those who fall short of it or walk contrary to it.
This principle is the clear light, equity, reason and understanding of things themselves, abstracted from all human constituted forms: the immediate issue and product of this principle in the spirits of men, in a proposition, is Do as thou wouldst be done unto: ’tis the beauty of equity stamped upon the soul. In the absence of this principle, the greater light guides the less, and men are beholding to those who have more judgment and understanding than themselves.
Hence it comes to pass (as by corruption) that human interests and factions do prevail amongst men; for the greater understanding imposes upon the less and swallows it up in itself and the inferior understanding offers sacrifice to the greater as its rule and guide, and so men’s persons are had in admiration by us: this is the origin of fleshly interests.
And the truth is that in the absence of this principle we may be thus helpful to one another: the manifestation of the power and spirit of God is made out to some, that so they may be lights to others. This method obtains in the days of our infancy, weakness and imperfection; the less is instructed, as well as blessed, of the greater.
But this commodity is not without its inconvenience; for very few men do purely serve the design of God herein, but mingle their own interest with God’s, and their designs with his; this brings in a mixed or corrupt state.
And besides, the seemingly clear and bright principle, in most men, is but respectively so, and men are accounted wise and knowing, compared with those who have less judgment and understanding than themselves; so that the folly of some sets off the wisdom of others: and because of the weakness of this principle, men’s eyes are dazzled with mistakes, and so the blind lead the blind. But he is truly and completely wise, and universally able to guide his brother, who hath obtained the fullness of the first principle, which is (as we have said) the clear reason and understanding of all things.
But the weakest principle hath its crown, when ’tis found in the ways of righteousness, i.e. when it presents the true image of that higher principle whereto it serves to the world, on purpose to bring up others to the same height. This is an honest and just design, for thus equity gets ground, and form decreases by degrees.
In the meantime this broken, imperfect and distracted state of things is the day of man, wherein man gets both honour and dishonour, but still from himself; the inferior understanding is dishonoured by the greater, as being outshined by it; and the superior understanding is admired by the inferior, as its idol or god.
But when the clear understanding or first principle shall be fully restored, the Lord alone shall be exalted; we shall all then stand on even ground, in a perfect level, co-ordination and parity, no man admiring one another, but God in all. This is the fall of worldly interests.
This time of restitution or redemption of principles from that thick darkness wherein they have lain is that which the saints long after, and count it their honour to be employed in, viz. the redemption of the world from its civil darkness.
This darkness is within, and consists in a nescience of the first principle, and an idolising of the form; and whatever yoke is being imposed by the form, as from without, is but a badge of our inward darkness, from both which we expect our deliverance in due time.
Though it must cost the world much time and charge to be redeemed herefrom, especially having such great enemies to contest withal as the darkness of our spirits, the servility of our natures; all the constituted and established forms, which would keep us in subjection to themselves, yea all the Demetriuses of these Dianas, will cry out when their honour and profit is taken off, as it will undoubtedly be, when equity itself comes to be exalted.
And the difficulty will be the greater because reason hath been long out of the throne, and usurper form hath possessed its place: use and custom hath inured the world to bondage, and men are contented herewith as knowing no better, or as unwilling to be at the cost of deliverance; especially considering that power is sweet to those which have it and not easily wrested or extorted from them.
For the outward form is very tenacious and a lover of itself, and labours to maintain itself upon the stilts of its own power.
But form had never attained to that height, but under the covert and shadow of equity, which it pretended to hold forth; for at first it crept under the protection of reason, and lived as a servant under it; but in process of time proved false to its master, and set up for itself.
So that treachery being in the raising up of form, persecution and violence must be the maintainers of it. Hence it is that form lays heavy burdens on its followers, to cow down their spirits and keep them in subjection.
But God will break the iron yoke, and go forth with zeal and indignation against tyrant form: but very form hath corrupted itself, and darkened the true principle instead of promoting it: form has taken that honour to itself, which was due to reason. This is the ground of the controversy between reason and form, and God himself is on reason’s side.
True it is, that the injunctions of form do many times claim affinity with reason itself (at least in the pretence of those which manage them) but ’tis mixed, moderated and bended to the designs, humours and passions of men, that it forgets its own nature, and grows corrupt, according to that corrupt interest upon which it is grafted.
And besides, counterfeit reason is the ape of the true, and acts like it, but upon fleshly principles and interests.
But true reason is a great traitor to the outward form, and will in time eat out our own darkness and overthrow the form.
Did I say overthrow? Nay, it will rather perfect it, for ’tis the perfection of the shadow to expire into the substance; and the purest form being but an image of that equity which it represents, when that which is perfect comes, that which is imperfect shall be done away.
He that levels at this mark, viz. the perfection, equity and reason of things, call him what you will, is an honest man, and a friend to the world, as desirous of its good.
This clear light of equity and reason will determine the great controversies of this last age, as their proper and only judge; the form judges corruptly and amiss, but the judgment of reason is according to truth; and that reason itself is the proper judge appears by the parallel between spiritual and civil controversies. For
If we make the spirit of God or the light of the thing the judge of spiritual controversies, why should not civil righteousness and light (which bears the same proportion within its sphere) be the determiners of all disputes in the civil reference? And,
If the scripture itself be not the determiner of divine controversies, as managed by Pope, synod, council, or any other ecclesiastical form, how then come civil disputes to be decided by any outward form? The question is, whether principles or persons are fittest to determine?
You’ll say, principles must be managed by persons.
I answer, so they are, and that form will endure longest which is most conform to the first principle and gives out justice and judgment in a measured proportion thereto. This shadow will endure as a help until the substance itself comes.
But this principle, in whomsoever it already is, renders that man a judge even wherein he is judged (a certain truth, though it seems heterodox), for no man submits to the judgment of the form, contrary to his own, but either for fear or by force; and thus the form gets the superiority over the principled man, as the lion doth over the lamb or the rest of the beasts.
But true subjection is rational, not brutish, and carried on in the light of the reason and equity of the thing. Hence it is that we obey for conscience sake, not of the form but of the thing; form commands the outward man, but the understanding and judgment is led captive by none but reason itself.
That which hath the best and highest command is the supreme judge, and the perfectest in every kind is the rule of the rest; these two axioms agree to none but reason itself.
All this hinders not, but rather implies that the light of this principle, in whom it is, should give law to those in whom it is not; for thus the light of the principle comes to shine abroad, if men sincerely walk according to that rule in managing their power over others. The design of this discourse is only to free the clear understanding from the bondage of the form, and to raise it up to equity, which is the substance itself; for though the dark understanding may be restrained or guided, yet the principled man hath his freedom within himself, and walking in the light of equity and reason, truly so called, knows no bounds but his own, even equity.
The law is cried up by some as the only judge of civil controversy; but we must know that laws were made by men, and are themselves oft-times to be condemned, for few laws are the results of pure reason. Laws are of two sorts:
Some are the results of the humours, designs and corrupt passions of men to establish themselves and their own greatness: law in this sense is nothing else but will, lust, power, custom; ’tis as corrupt as those which made it.
Do not rich men oppress you? Are we not envassalled by them by fealties, homages, oaths, etc. and other badges of slavery? Are not many laws the direct issue of their own greatness, for the propagation and establishment thereof? And those laws which have any appearance of reason are yet bended by them to the same purpose.
And indeed it profits little, how good soever the law be, so long as the interpreter is corrupt; we shall never attain to perfect freedom, till reason itself make, establish and interpret its own sense.
Other laws are proportioned to that glimmering light of equity and reason which was in the breasts of those that made them; which, because it was weak and imperfect, left many things yet undone and much work for the reason of after ages to accomplish.
But lust, succeeding reason in the throne, hath not only perverted what reason hath done, and put a false gloss upon it, but added and supplied the defects of reason by dictates of its own, which by the potency of form are imposed upon the bland world as laws.
So that now lust and power hath as good a warrant in respect of established forms as reason itself; yea many times reason is condemned by the form, until the innocency thereof doth appear, and then the light of reason will clear itself, and all the fault will lie at the door of that form which hath opposed it.
Till this day of judgment and declaration comes, reason is charged with disobedience and rebellion against the state; for the corrupt and self-interested form, being judge in its own case, lays heavy loads upon the backs of its adversaries, as guilty of the breach of the Apostles’ rule, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers”.
But ’tis the power or principle, not the person simply, which we are to be subject to; so that the greatest rebellion is against reason itself, and the most unwarrantable disobedience against the equity of things; which three, viz. equity, light and reason, are the triune in the civil reference, the only fountain and queen of order, and the lawful heirs of all good and warrantable subjection.
Some disobedience is more lawful than subjection; viz. when the dictates of reason do cross the injunctions of form; he that shifts reason to embrace the form is the traitor in this case.
Upon this principle, the equity of things being supreme to the letter, form or order, are the actions of the Hollander against the Spaniard, of the Parliament against the King, or any other in other parties of the like nature, able to abide the test in the strict balance of equity itself, so far as either of these have opposed persons merely in adhesion to the principle.
But yet some reverence is to be given to the form, either for order’s sake or for necessity.
Sometimes the form is strong, and hath many followers, and the sons of reason are but few: in this case reason is wise as well as innocent, and reserves itself for a clearer call.
But yet the wisdom of reason is not mere carnal policy or sinful prudence: engage when it will, it must be against opposition; only it is content to tarry the Lord’s leisure: and if it seem to neglect the time, ’tis only to lay upon the opportunity.
And when that comes, reason is valiant like a giant. And though the victory be already got in the light of the thing, yet it shall be made more visible to the whole world, when reason shall ride in triumph in the spirits of men, and draw all forms after it, as badges of its conquest.
But order may command reason to desist sometimes; viz. when the prize contended for is not likely to countervail the cost of the suit. For though every mite of equity be very precious, and more worth in itself than the whole bundle of established forms, yet form hath a deeper root in the world though a worse foundation, and the shaking thereof may endanger the breaking of the whole. In this case reason must muster up all its forces, hold forth valuable considerations, and have a considerable number of proselytes before it can engage, lest the whole should be destroyed. And when valuable mites of equity and reason are put together, and enter the lists with established forms, if the world will not bend, it must break; and those laws (though never so essential in a constitution) which are the gravestones of liberty must be removed, that equity and freedom may obtain a glorious resurrection in the midst of us.
And truly the resurrection of principles will be the death of persons and personal interests. For when reason puts on strength, and rises from the dead, the most consecrated forms shall rend in sunder, as the veil did at the resurrection of Christ; and the whole world shall be taken off from its false basis of human forms, and carried up to the true foundation of equity and right.
Thus equity rises from the dead, but (like Ezekiel’s waters) by degrees; or, as the world out of its chaos, in a gradual perfection and ascent; so that forms are purified by degrees, and leave some dregs behind them, according to the proportion of discovered light: yea, in the strength of this discovery the purer form overthrows the corrupt, till the full vision of reason comes, which will darken the brightest form.
This destruction of the world, or the present state of things, will be a great loss to some, but a mighty advantage to the world in general, when equity shall be advanced in its perfect height (the clear image of God in the world); which is a sufficient compensation for all our sufferings, losses, blood.
But reason is not guilty of this blood: for as the schismatic is he which occasioneth, not he which maketh the schism, so all our sufferings must be charged upon the account of form and corrupt interest, which reason labours to redeem us from.
And ordinarily reason stands on the defensive posture; for form, being jealous of its honour, takes advantage to nip the first buds or appearances of reason, lest it should get ground and prove too strong.
But all this labour is in vain; for who can hinder the design of God, which is to throw down principalities and powers, and to exalt things of low degree.
You’ll say, this principle overthrows all order, magistracy, government, and lets loose the reins to all licentiousness, and makes the world a heap? All these prejudices must be removed: and, in order thereunto, consider
That there may be a counterfeit order in the forms of the world, which brings fleshly ease; but God delights to overthrow this order, and to set up his own confusion, which indeed is the best order; for the order of the world is confusion, but God’s order is peace.
There is a great deal of difference between the order of equity and the order of form; reason’s order is secret and invisible to the worldly wise, ’tis seen only by itself, and in the light of its own principle; but the world’s order is obvious, perspicuous, fleshly, and so taking with flesh and blood, like itself.
The world will venture nothing to overthrow its own order, but contributes its utmost assistance to preserve it; but the order of reason is stickled for by the champions of truth, upon whom the first principle is again risen.
And why should they cover this light under a bushel, which must shortly overflow, to the enlightenment of the civil firmament or world. This mustard seed will become a great tree, and all the birds of the air shall find protection under it against the storms, violence and fury of the outward form.
’Tis true, the form promises protection to its followers, and is kind to its own party; but when it comes to be questioned, ’tis the greatest persecutor or tyrant, and it cares not how many lives it sacrifices to its own fury.
And besides, the protection which it gives is many times so weak and imperfect, that the children of form are still subject to violence and toil; yea the form itself is made the engine of their destruction, so that the fleece is rent by those thorns and briars which should have preserved it. There can be no complete or sufficient safeguard but in the discovery of, and submission to, the clear principles of equity and right.
But as for such as despise this principle, they and they only are the opposers of higher powers, and such as speak evil of dignities; there being no dignity comparable to that of reason itself, and other dignities are made so by reason sitting as in its throne in them.
If form have any edge at all, it ought to be directed against such, that so the mad world may be restrained, and the tares or wolfish nature may not choke the lamb-like appearance of equity and truth.
For outward magistracy is or ought to be but a symbol or badge of the secret virtue and light of truth, by which, as a compass, it ought to steer.
And when equity itself comes, then the order, government and majesty thereof shall command the spirits of all, and lead them forth from the resemblance to the thing itself.
This will be a glorious time indeed, when civil righteousness and truth shall possess the spirits of all, and every man be a complete resemblance of divine wisdom, goodness, love.
This state is that which the apostle labours to raise us up to, Romans 13 (to which temporary subjection to laws and forms is but introductive), for though he advises us to pay our subjection unto whom it is due, whilst we walk in the absence of our principle, yet even in that state he minds us of a dispensation above it, wherein we should owe nothing to any man but love.
or The Clear Principle in the Spiritual Reference
Spiritual administrations relate to a higher good than civil, and bear the same proportion to the mind and spirit as civil do to the outward man.
Hence it is that parallel considerations do fall in concerning either of those administrations: and the evils which are incident to the one have their place likewise in the other; but still you must have respect to the specifical difference which is betwixt them.
For as civil forms are accompanied with many corrupt yet cleaving interests, so spiritual administrations are attended, in their proselytes, with flesh, form and self, which do many times deprave and corrupt the administration itself, and render it ineffectual to the end for which it was appointed.
And as it is the design of God to purge the civil administration from its dregs and filth, so the Lord carries on the same design in paring away all human interests from the spiritual, that so he alone may be exalted.
And besides, as civil forms are not the substance, but the outside only and appearance of that equity and reason which they ought to represent; so is it with the spiritual, as being only supplemental to our wants, weakness, absence, until such time as we come to live in the very life or substance itself.
So that spiritual administrations, being of an inferior and intervening motion, cannot possibly hold forth the most complete and glorious way of enjoyment, which in the scripture is said to be by sight, not by faith, and such a sight as is not in a form or glass, but face to face.
The sight which Moses had of God, as it did transcend the ordinary discovery to common saints, so it was far inferior to this vision (for Moses saw but the back parts of God); and yet as their sacrifices did type out the true sacrifice which we enjoy, so this vision, in regard of the immediateness of it, bears some proportion with that glorious discovery in the saints, where God shall be seen as he is.
But this discovery is darkened and veiled by the outward form, even in the design of God himself; for the weak understanding being not able to behold the brightness of his presence (as the Israelites fled from the sight of God), it is the pleasure of the Father to cast a veil over his glory, which veil is the form, that so the discoveries thereof may be borne by us.
Our enjoyment will then be most sublime when this veil is rent asunder and way made to the holy of holies or the naked glory by the power and purity of the spirit.
Within this veil are many secrets which the fleshly birth or the man of form neither understands himself nor can bear in others; for here is hid the Everlasting Gospel, and the spiritual man converses with all the mysteries contained therein.
And besides, the form is proportioned to the narrowness and darkness of the fleshly understanding; and therefore it is that the glory is limited and confined therein and given out according to the measure of our stature, by degrees.
This justifies the design and wisdom of God in choosing these ways and methods of the manifestation of himself. For the occasion of spiritual administrations is the darkness, weakness, shortness, absence and imperfection of the creature; all which make up a bundle of necessities which are thus summed up: viz.
Man, being clouded with a dark and misty understanding, stands at a great distance from the clear light of God; by reason whereof he apprehends nothing but what is suitable to himself, and his enjoyment is answerable to his light, i.e. weak and glimmering. But God, who comprehends all things in himself, stoops down to human frailty and gives out him.self in weak appearances or Mosaical forms which are as mediums between God and us.
But when this darkness and distance is removed by the power of God, man becomes near and his enjoyment is immediate, which must needs be the best because nearest the fountain.
For the appearances of God, like the beams of the sun, the farther they pass, the more weak and imperfect are they as to us. Hence it is that God in spirit, being the most immediate appearance, is therefore strongest. God in flesh is the next to that, but of an inferior cognizance and operation; and the deeper God descends into flesh, as into the sacrifices of old, the more is his glory clothed upon; and by consequence the more dark and obscure is his presence and our enjoyment.
So that still, while we are within the compass of appearances, they may afford us a good, but not the most excellent, life: for the highest life is above all appearances, even in the substance itself.
For which is better, to live in the appearance of the thing, or the thing itself? In the branch or in the tree? In the root or in the rind?
To live in the substance is a life fuller of heavenly contemplation and rest. For as the days of God’s labour were common and ordinary, but the day of his rest sanctified and holy, so it is with the saints, especially considering that all labour is in order to rest, and the end is more excellent than the means.
The life of a Christian under administrations and forms is the day of his labour, and he meets with many uncertainties, disappointments and troubles in the outward form, as the experiences of the saints can witness. But the life above is the day of his rest, wherein he studies all things and sees them to be very good, yea, and ceaseth from his works as God did from his.
But administrations take place, of one sort or another, till this state come. For as the appearances of God are stronger or weaker, so administrations are of several sorts; the most eminent are paradisical, legal and evangelical.
Paradisical administration then took place when the angelical nature, being clothed upon with a human appearance, did contemplate its maker in things below himself, viz. the clear stream of the whole creation.
For the water was not then defiled, but the true image of the substance was seen in the shadow. And the heavenly spirit, being likewise clothed upon, was a proportionated subject to entertain that discovery; so that face answered face in that, as in all other administrations.
This administration did not contain the most complete enjoyment; for here the veil was first set up, and man must of necessity have ceased to this being or form, though he had never sinned, that so he might be raised up to a higher enjoyment.
So that death, as it is the cessation of the natural being or appearance, is not properly said to be the wages of sin, and yet there is a death which is the wages of sin, of which by and by.
This administration was but for a season; for when flesh and self had defiled the stream, the glory crept inward and was withdrawn from our view, and in came a multitude of helps to usher in but a review of the same glory; this was the origin of legal sacrifices and administrations.
But as the fountain or glass was cleared by degrees, and the image rendered more perspicuous; so gospel administrations succeeded in the place of the legal, as differing only from them in degrees of light.
These administrations are of a spiritual, not chronical, consideration, and are not distinguished by fleshly epochs or periods of time, but are interchangeably managed within the saints, according to their degrees of light, as being partly bond or partly free; partly in the flesh, form and letter; partly in the spirit and power; which state is a state of confusion and mixture, not of purity.
The death of Christ himself in the flesh did not straight determine the legal administration; for the apostle and believers did continue to observe them until such time as a higher discovery was made known within them. See section LXXI.
And yet, though the progress and expiration of all administrations be in the spirit, this hinders not but that one administration may more generally take place in the spirits of Christians in one age of the world than another; and the signal appearance and course of any one administration is called a world.
For every administration hath its world or race to run out. Thus there is the legal world, in respect of which the gospel administration is called the world to come. Hebrews 2.
And the forms which are incident to every administration do obtain till the end of the world or administration itself. Thus circumcision and sacrifices endure till the end of the legal world, and gospel forms have their place till the end of their world, Matthew 28, which is the second appearance of Jesus Christ in greater immediateness and power, or until the Lord comes. Corinthians II.
And yet every change of administration will produce such a stir and combat in the spirits of Christians that the symptoms of the dissolution of the legal state or world are interpreted by some as relating to the ruin of the natural frame of things. Matthew 24.
But there is a new world yet behind, wherein there is no temple, i.e. form; for heaven and earth make a world. Revelation 21.
The first heaven and the first earth shall pass away to give place to this, i.e. the fleshly state of Christians, yea and that estate which seems to have more of heaven and divineness in it shall give way to that state which is more excellent than itself.
But a new world doth not presently introduce a new gospel, for the gospel is old and from everlasting. The legal ministration in sacrifices and types (though another world) was yet but a part of the same gospel; and the new world doth but present us with a more full and perfect relation of the same good tidings; for that is gospel.
The wisdom which is contained in every one of these administrations is justified only by her own children. And this is the ground of false judgment, when the sons of one administration pry into the secrets of another, being puffed up in their fleshly minds; whereas indeed no man can truly and properly judge of a ministration but the child thereof? i.e. one raised up to the same height; he which doth otherwise judges another man’s servant.
For God himself being the master of all dispensations accounts himself one to the legal Christian, another to the gospel; so that he which is one is yet many masters in respect of the several manifestations of himself; and the servants of God in one ministration may not judge his servants in another, but contain themselves within their own sphere.
But yet this spirit of judging is very presumptuous and of an aspiring nature (and all persecution mounts upward against that which is better than itself); for he that’s born after the flesh persecutes him that’s born after the spirit, not on the contrary. Thus men speak evil of what they know not; for no man can despise the appearances of God which he knows.
In the meantime, through evil report and good report, the truth gets ground and the potency of form is weakened by degrees. For form being the element of most saints, both the form and lives of saints are purified and raised up from lower and darker to higher and clearer discoveries; for the lives of the saints are more or less pure according to the obscurity or clearness of the outward form.
But in every form there’s weakness in some degree or other, and a tincture of flesh, self, distance, death, manhood, the true notion of which words comes to be explained.
By flesh I understand not the material part of the compound, man, or anything relating to a bodily mixture; but I take flesh for a dark and weak (though a regenerate) principle. And to clear this, consider
That there is a birth after the flesh, as well as a birth after the spirit, only the first is more in the form or letter, the latter more in the spirit and power. The former, in regard of its adhesion to the form, opposes the latter, which is above it, Galatians 4.29. Hence it is that the Apostle speaks of travelling again, Galatians 4, and Christ of being born again, John 3.
So that there is a double birth, a birth of water, i.e. to the flesh and form; and a birth of the spirit, i.e. to the power and life; not but that there is some power in the form, but ’tis a weak and inferior appearance, and therefore ’tis called a fleshly life, in a similitude borrowed from the natural part, which is from the earth, earthly.
But yet, as water came out of the sides of Christ, as well as blood, so God is the God of weakness as well as strength; of flesh as well as of spirit. For flesh is nothing else but a darker administration left behind upon the approach of a higher glory; so that the legal Christian is fleshly in respect of the gospel. Therefore the Apostle, in the sense of higher discoveries, renounces circumcision and other legal rites of God’s own planting as having no confidence in the flesh, Philemon 4. And the Galatians, who stuck upon the foresaid rites, are said to apostatise from spirit to flesh, Galatians 3.
So that the fleshly life is of a lawful race and heir of all, but under age and therefore managed like a servant, till the divine principle gets strength and grows up from childhood to manhood, even to the fulness of its stature.
Neither is the fleshly life carried on only in the legal sacrifices, but all externals are comparatively flesh; and ’tis not rare for Christians to be of as legal a spirit in the observation of gospel rites as Jews were in offering of sacrifice, especially considering that the difference of these two states is in the spirit within, and not in the outward observation; for these, which we call gospel rites, are as outward as those of the law.
But all outward, be they what they will, are part of those childish things which the Apostle says are to be put away. Hence it is that forms shall cease, even as childhood doth, and grow up of themselves to a more excellent glory, or the state of manhood and perfection.
But as man dies of himself when his radical moisture is spent, yet by intemperance and miscarriage is anticipated in his course and cut off in the midst, so the form would naturally expire of itself, yet the ruin of it is hastened by the folly and weakness of its children in their abuse thereof, even as the brazen serpent was destroyed when it began to be idolised.
For God is jealous of his honour, and rather than any part thereof shall be ascribed to the form, he will break it in pieces like a potter’s vessel. And who knows not but that provocations of this nature do abound; for the religion of most men is in the form only, as being pleasant, easy and near at hand.
Form is many ways perverted by its followers; as first, form maintains man and human interests. The distinction of clergy and laity came up under the protection of form. Form makes faction and division, even amongst the saints.
And the grosser the form, the easier is the fleshliness of its interest to be discerned, as in the papal and prelatical way. Yet the more refined forms have a spice of this evil; for clerical and fleshly interests may be maintained in a presbyterial as well as papal way, and in independent as well as presbyterial.
For the same spirit may appear under different forms; yea, all forms being of an external cognisance love to be great and expect honour from men; yea, the more refined and subtle the form is, the more eager is the spirit which animates it.
Hence it is that form opposes form, because every form would establish itself, and God suffers it to be so, as having a design to dash them one against another till both be broken.
Form is made the engine of much cruelty, persecution and blood; for who so ready to crucify Christ as the Pharisee or man of form.
But the day of the Lord is above and beyond the day of form, and when that day comes we shall all be taught of God, we shall not need weak helps. Human interests shall cease, distinctions and divisions vanish, all flesh be silent and the Lord alone exalted. So that as darkness and weakness were the womb of flesh and form and of all the inconveniences which did attend them, so discovery and light will be the grave of them, and spirit and power will succeed in their places.
And no marvel that we call men rabbi in the day of form; for self hath a great stroke here. ’Tis the man in us which admires the man in another; and as long as man lives in us we cannot see the face of God in pure and immediate discoveries. But when the man dies, i.e. the Adamical principle or nature, which is short of God, we shall see the Lord in his own appearance and we shall be like him.
This death of the manhood or human principle, with the resurrection of the divine, is that mark or goal or resurrection from the dead which the Apostle himself had not attained unto. Philadelphians 4.
This death and resurrection is carried on in us by degrees; for as the outward and fleshly man which is the man of form perishes within us, so the inward man is renewed. Therefore the Apostle saith “I die daily”.
This death is effected in us by the powerful operation of the spirit of God, taking up our weak principle into his own heavenly light, and so the man dies and is no more, even as Enoch, for God takes him.
But as long as the man lives he is for externals, outsides, appearances, letter, to be seen and heard, which all are the appurtenances of the form or fleshly man.
And this may well be called a resurrection from the dead; for there is death in some degree or other in every form.
Death is darkness, weakness, sorrow. How much of this doth a Christian meet withal in the letter or outward form, which he escapes in the spirit.
And therefore the Apostle, speaking of the weak Christian or man of form, under the notion of the observer of days, Romans 14, calls him a dying Christian. He dies, though it be to the Lord; but to live to the Lord is more excellent.
When this dying state or mortality comes to be swallowed up of life or the divine principle, we shall no longer be absent but present, and ever be with the Lord. Corinthians 6.
This death is the wages of sin, being a legal darkness, seizing upon the spirit and leading it into captivity to itself.
But as for the natural death or the cessation of the human appearance, that undergoes another consideration. For I see not how that death can be called the enemy of Christ, as having no sting in itself; neither doth the nature or human appearance obstruct or hinder the vision of God (considered in itself, for nature remains even in the highest enjoyment) as bearing no proportion thereto. A body hinders a body like itself as a cloud hinders the sun; but divine appearances (like lightning) reach the spirit and are not hindered by the scabbard of the flesh or natural part.
But death truly so called, the wages of sin and the enemy of Christ, is a spiritual evil, a legal darkness, a divine eclipse, and so can impede a spiritual good, and indeed is a great Antichrist sitting in the temple of God, and would have no god but itself.
But the highest state or day of the Lord ushers in clear appearances (as the sun scatters the clouds) and swallows up death and hell too, according to prophecy, Revelations 20.14, Es. 25.8.
But did not God himself ordain form, and where did he abrogate it? I answer:
As there was a time to plant, so there is a time to pluck up that which is planted; for form was never created as a standing rule but as a temporary help to serve a turn; which when it is once accomplished, the means cease as having ushered in the end.
Neither is the abrogation of form only in the letter, but in the discovery of a higher glory which darkens the first as the sun darkens the stars; so that the discovery of gospel forms is the abrogation of legal. And the gospel administration, in external rites, gives way to a higher glory; so that as the stars yield to the sun, so the sun to God, for he himself is the light of the new Jerusalem.
And yet there are some hints in the letter of this glorious state, as Es. 25 and Revelations 21, 2 Peter 13, though the glory of the mysteries contained within it are to be experimented in us.
You’ll say Christ and his apostles submitted to the outward form.
’Tis true Christ in flesh was made under the law and submitted to circumcision as well as baptism. He underwent the state of death or sorrow and the state of flesh or form, Hebrews 5.7, wherein he prayed and at last he was raised up to the state of mirth or immediate discovery, wherein he did rejoice, James 5–13.
So that Christ in the flesh is the figure of several administrations; and every Christian is an emblem of Christ in one stage or other of his life. Some live in a crucified, some in a glorified Jesus; some live in his life, some in his death; some live in Christ after the flesh, others in Christ after the spirit. Christ himself had not complete enjoyment under ministrations, for he was darkened and groaned under them.
The highest pitch of a Christian’s life is Christ risen, or rather sitting at the right hand of God; for here is immediateness of favour and enjoyment.
As for the apostles, their own carriages and confessions do conclude them under fleshly ministrations, for they had but the first fruits of the spirit and were in the dark in many things; yea, the Apostle Paul holds forth a state attainable by the saints which he himself came short of, Philemon 4, which John saw by the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 21.
And if any shall deny this new state, let us reason a little from concessions and grants and see what the enjoyment of a Christian may amount unto.
It is granted by all and cannot be denied that the letter of the Word holds forth more glory than is yet attained, and that many prophecies are to be fulfilled relating to the glory of the saints, amongst which that in Revelation is one; as likewise that perfection is to be pressed after, Hebrews 6, which is certainly more than uprightness, for the Apostle speaks to upright saints.
Now what this glory, this new heavens, new Jerusalem, state of perfection is, is the dispute and question of these days.
Which to me is resolved thus, that there is a glorious state of the saints to be discovered in the last days, consisting not in a fleshly paradise or material enjoyment but in the true vision of God in the spirit and high light of heavenly glory.
This state was the hope and joy of the prophets, apostles and others Christians who foresaw the day thereof.
And well might it be so, considering the many mysteries contained therein, which no other state can attain unto. For here the Christian sees all things in the light of God: here is opened unchangeable glory and essential will; perfect freedom, restitution of all things, heavenly rest. There man ceaseth, questions are resolved, union cleated and all expectations satisfied.
A particular view of all these and other secrets of this state (being all parts of the Everlasting Gospel, not circumscribed in word or letter but bearing an equal latitude with the essential will of which it is the image) may be discoursed of distinctly, if the Lord will, another time.