By John Banks
A GENERAL EPISTLE TO THE FLOCK OF GOD, BUT MORE PARTICULARLY, IN CUMBERLAND
Dear Friends and Brethren,
Look to the rock from whence ye were hewn and to the hole of the pit from whence ye were digged. That is to say, never forget from whence you came, no more than to what degree you are attained, what you were when the Lord first visited you and what you still are of yourselves, without the assistance of his power. Hold this fast in your remembrance, and it will greatly tend to humble you and keep you little and low in your own eyes in true self-denial. So shall the Lord alone be exalted, and his glorious power extolled over all.
It was the Lord who visited us with the day-spring of his love from on high, by the shining forth of his glorious light in a land of darkness, a country where there was a famine, not of bread nor water, but of the preaching of the Gospel, and brought us to a country where light and life are and that flows with milk and honey. Forget not the way of your soul's travel. And you that have not known it yet must tread the same path before you can come to be sharers with those who have so done, who have known what it was when they entered on their journey, or the beginning of the work, to drink a bitter cup, even the cup of judgment, to bring down and burn up all that was contrary and as a sword to slay the enmity and of twain to make one new man.
Then was the day of weeping, and mourning, and trembling. Then did the earth tremble at the presence of the Lord. The way of Zion's redemption being through judgment, love it still and dwell in a sense of it to the end, and the enemy shall never prevail against you, dwelling in Him to whom all judgment is committed, both in heaven and in earth, in Christ, the light, the life, and the quickening Spirit.
Dear Friends, in a sense of the tendering love of God, let me ask you who delivered and saved you and who hath kept and preserved you until now. Surely you can say with my soul, "The Lord alone by his own power and strength which he hath never failed to show for those that trust in Him." Therefore trust therein and keep thereto unto the end, and you shall be eternally happy.
And as you have known the travail of your souls in passing from death to life and out of darkness into light, which is the path that the younger generation who are coming up must tread in, you can tell them by experience, for their encouragement, that the Lord will never leave them nor forsake them if they follow him in the way of his judgments, which he mixeth with mercy and which must be owned and loved to bring down self and whatever would exalt itself above the pure witness. You can tell them that when your hands did hang down and your knees smote one against another so that sometimes your hearts were fearful whether they should ever be lifted up or strengthened again, yet having faith and being taught by the grace of God to have patience also to wait the Lord's time, he has appeared to lift up the weak hands and strengthen the feeble knees and make the fearful heart strong by the might of his power.
Yea, the Lord hath often wrought your deliverance and done wonderful things for you, beyond what you then could see, so that you have been ready to say, "I hope I shall never meet with such exercises, trials and temptations as heretofore." Yet if anything of self was set up to glory above what was meet, because of what the Lord had done for you, hath not the only wise God seen it good, after all this, to try and prove you again, both without and within, that you might be kept truly humble and low before him, always depending upon his power, and on nothing of your own? Hath he not seen meet to try your faith and patience, and for a time hath hid his face from you and given you but little either of spiritual bread or water, insomuch that because of your weakness and faintness, the enemy hath been very busy to tempt you to despair of the sufficiency of the power and mercy of the Lord, or to turn you aside from the way of truth, using all his subtlety to keep you from calling to mind how the Lord heretofore brought you over mountains and high hills, and leveled them all before you? And your hopes sometimes have been so faint, that some of you have been ready to say with one in the days of old, "Lord, hast thou forgotten to be gracious?"
And yet has not the Lord, after all this and much more, renewed your hope and strength again, and by the glorious appearance of his heavenly Sun, hath broken forth and shined in your hearts, clearly discovering to you the enemy's wiles and working, with all the mists and darkness he brings in with him, and driving away the same through the power that is received in the light, even the light of life? Thereby you see what hath been the cause of your being so exercised so long after your convincement. After you have known many deliverances, and watering-showers, and fruitful seasons, yet now you are brought to judgment and the sentence of condemnation, that all which is of self, in which the enemy works to the hurt of the soul, may be slain with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and consumed with the fire of the Lord.
Thus hath the only wise God taught you by his Holy Spirit, and thereby you have learned experience and spiritual skill, how to come to his judgment seat, that you might come to his mercy seat also, that so you might know the way of your soul's travel from death to life, through weeping and mourning, to joy and gladness, through poverty and weakness, to feed at the table of the Lord and to come to have your strength daily renewed, to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus in that rest prepared of God in Him, where his glory shines in your dwellings, which will make you to shine as the stars of heaven, as you keep your station in inward watchfulness and waiting in the light.
When the mind is stayed there, it is immoveable, for its stay and strength is the sure rock and foundation of God, his great and glorious power, out of which both the water and honey proceed. Oh, the divine sweetness that is in it! Who can set forth the greatness, the goodness, and the excellency thereof?
You know, dear brothers and sisters, that our souls many times when together have been made rich partakers of the same in the enjoyment of the life-giving presence of our God and made near and dear one to another when we have been so filled with the wine of his kingdom that tears of joy have often run, which have far exceeded the tears of our sorrow.
Dear Friends, whom my soul loveth in all true tenderness and unto whom I am inseparably joined in the unity of the Spirit, my heart is full of love and life which flows from the living Fountain with desires for your eternal good. That you ancient ones, whose time cannot be long here, may finish in that in which you began, in freshness, and true tenderness, and receive the crown, that so it may be well with you for evermore.
And that you who are younger in the truth, and also in years, may not please yourselves with long life, nor yet with worldly preferment, but wait with all diligence and true fear, to feel the work of the converting, heart-tendering power of the great and mighty God, to work a true change in you, in body, soul, and spirit that so it may be well with you when death looks you in the face.
And my dear ancient Friends, be careful that you never forget nor depart from your first love and tenderness. And all you younger who have not so fully known it, wait diligently for it, that you may know the blessed effects of it, as the ancients have done, that through the fear of God placed in the heart and an awe and dread of offending the Lord you may come to say with them, "Oh! that I may never speak a word nor do any action that may grieve his good Spirit, nor break my peace with him. May I neither eat nor drink to excess, nor wear anything in apparel contrary to the pure truth, neither be found in any carriage or behavior, in conversation or communication, that may give any occasion or whereby truth may suffer." This was and is the desire and cry of all the faithful, and of those that truly fear the Lord and have known what the first love is and the blessed effects of it.
There was a time when nothing was valued like the truth, and it is so still with all who love truth and righteousness. No hardship, no scoffing, no scorn, no reproach for the name of Jesus, no suffering, no spoiling of goods nor imprisonment of body, neither principalities nor powers, things present nor things to come, shall be able to separate such from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All these, and much more than I am able to express, were the effects of your first love and true tenderness that was begotten in you thereby. Keep to it, live in it, and never depart from it nor forget it, that so you may continue unto the end in that in which you have begun. As those whom the Lord in his love and by his power hath thus far preserved, so shall you be everlastingly happy when time here shall be no more.
Dear Friends, were we the wisest, the greatest, the mightiest, or richest among the sons and daughters of men? Most of us were such as were accounted foolish, weak, mean, and contemptible, like the Jews in the days of the prophet Nehemiah, who were called feeble by the enemies of God and of his people, who mocked and laughed them to scorn, and said, "What do these feeble Jews!" not knowing what work the Lord hath determined to do by them in answer to the prayer of the prophet.
He hath done great and wonderful things in this his day through the might of his own power, by those whom he hath called and chosen out of the world, though counted weak and feeble, yet made strong through his renewing of their strength. Here is encouragement given by our Lord and Master Jesus Christ for all true believers and faithful followers of him through many tribulations. "Behold," saith Christ, "I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing by any means shall hurt you: notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes, even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
What remains for you then to say? "Oh," saith the truly humbled, "what manner of love is this wherewith the Lord my God hath loved me and visited my soul? And most especially, in a day when I was an enemy in my mind to him by wicked works. I am constrained to love him again, and to fear him always, that I may in no wise offend Him, so good and gracious a God, so dear and tender a Father, who hath dealt so kindly with me, not according to my desert, for I was unworthy that his love should reach unto me."
And such were we. Yet, notwithstanding all this, and much more, hath the Lord, with whom there is no respect of persons, loved us freely in a time never to be forgotten. Oh! be humbled and laid low before him under the sense of his love, that our hearts may be often broken and tendered thereby. For if the love of God doth not work this effect, nothing can. But all who, in true fear, dwell in a sense of what the Lord hath done for them, the secret cry of their soul is, "Oh! I can never do enough for the Lord, to answer his love and the knowledge of his blessed truth he hath given me, and the divine sweetness and abounding thereof, that I have many times felt to spring afresh in my soul in waiting upon him."
Wherefore such a one is made often to say, "There is nothing that I have that is so near and dear to me but I can freely part with it for the Lord and his worthy name's sake. For all I have and do enjoy is the Lord's." So can his redeemed say with a good understanding, not only their souls and bodies, but all they have and do enjoy are his.
Blessed and happy are all they whose godly resolution this is, who are thus redeemed by his power. Hold fast and continue your godly resolution unto the end in true faith. And look not out nor give way to the reasoning part, but keep near the Lord and rely upon the sufficiency of his power so that by waiting and watching therein you may receive strength. Then you will be strong and courageous, bold and valiant for the truth upon earth. For he, for whose name's sake you suffer, has sufficient in store to reward all your losses, crosses, trials and sufferings, both here and eternally hereafter. And assuredly he will not withhold it from you, as you stand faithful unto him in your testimony unto the end, unto which, the Lord by his own power, preserve you all. Amen.
Dear Friends, being well stricken in years, I cannot promise a long time to myself in this world, and I was willing, in answer to the motion of God's blessed Spirit, to send this epistle abroad amongst you as a token of my entire love and tender care over the flock of Christ, wishing that grace, mercy and peace, in and through Him, may be multiplied and increased amongst you, and that brotherly love and unity in the one Spirit of life may continue and abound more and more, and that in all your meetings and families you may be blessed with heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus.
From your friend and brother in the covenant of light and life,
Given forth at Meare in Somersetshire, the 23rd day of the Fifth month, 1698.