Lucy Hutchinson (16201681). On the Principles of the Christian Religion. 1817.
My deare Daughter, ALTHOUGH my infirmities and imperfections, ioynd with my outward ill successes have much weakend my authority, and made it of no force with all persons, yet I cannot be wanting to my dutie, though I want that encouragement from myselfe and others, which perhaps through humane frailty would carrie me better on in it, then I can proceed with so many cloggs upon me. Farre be it from me to seeke anie end in aniething I doe but the pure glory of God, the advancement of the kingdome of Jesus Christ, and the establishment of your soule, upon certeine and safe grounds. If any attempts have bene made to shake you in principles, I bewaile it as my neglect of fixing them by precept and example, and have written this little summary for you, not that I thinke it is aniething but what you may, more methodically collected, find in many bookes allready written, and as usefully gather for yourselfe out of the same spirituall garden, where I had them, but that it may lie by you as a wittnesse of those sound truths I desird to instruct you in, and as my last exhortation that you would take heed you be not seducd to factions and parties in religion from that Catholick faith and universall love, wherein all that are true Christians must unite. As of old neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avayled aniething but a new creature, so now neither this or that outward forme of admission into Christ, but a reall and true union with him, is in the first place to be sought, and when this is obteind, which is allwayes made by his Spiritt taking possession of our soules and inhabiting and abiding there, that spiritt of truth will lead us into all truth that is absolutely necessary for us, although sometimes through our hastinesse, and not pondering and examining doctrines as wee ought, the Lord gives us up to some error and mistakes which he either after shewes us, and humbles us thereby, or elce pardons among our ignorances, and burns up those irregular structures, as hay and stubble, while the foundation remaineth firme; but it is a dangerous thing to persist in any error, because wee have once receivd it, and the proud nature of man is very unwilling to find it selfe in an error, but a truely humble and godly heart will desire to be illuminated, and be willing to acknowledge light when it sees it. Some of the first preachers of the Gospell were carried away with the mistakes of those that preachd false doctrines in the poynt of iustification, and Apollos himselfe was a powerfull preacher, before he was thoroughly instructed, yet these being convincd of their errors continued not in them, and the ancient teachers of the Christian Church, who were holy men, many of them staggerd, and enclind sometimes to the errors of the times they livd in, which when they have bene convincd of, they have, with all Christian humillity, retracted and acknowledged. There never was a time, when the truth was more clowded with mists of error, then att this day; so that it is very difficult for young converts not to be infected with some of them, all the old ones, against which the Church of God in and immediately after Christs time so powerfully contended, being renewd in our dayes, and many new stalks growing upon every old poysonous roote, the broachers and sect masters coming many of them forth in the appearance of angells of light; and it is Sathans pollicy at this day, when the guilded baites of the world and the sweete allurements of the flesh will not prevaile, then to tempt, with a wrested Scripture, as he dealt even with Christ himselfe; and if some one opinion draw men into a sect, for that they espouse all the erronious practises and opinions of that sect, and reiect the benefitt they might have by spirituall converse with Christians of other iudgments, at least receive nothing from them without it passe the verdict of that sect they encline to. But I must, having bene very much exercisd concerning this thing, hold forth to you the testimony that I have receivd of God, whither you will receive it from me or not. Sects are a greate sinne, and Christians ought all to live in the unity of the Spiritt; and though it cannot be, but that offences will come in the Church, yet woe be to them by whom they come. It is the Apostles rule, that wee should not have the faith of Christ with respect of persons; and he warns us, that wee should not follow them further then they are followers of Christ. Love is the bond of perfectnesse, and they that breake the communion of saints walke not charitably, and will be highly accountable to God for it. Those that make devisions, and those that follow deviding seducers, keepe not close to the undisputable precept of Christ. In his name, therefore, I beg of you to study and exercise universall love to every member of Christ, under what denomination soever you find them. I shall more at large, if the Lord give me life, lay this duty before you, and leave with you what rules I have receivd from the Lord for walking att this day. It is not (as some thinke) every one is to make conscience of his owne opinion, as if there were no more certeine guide for faith then fancy; and those who thus rashly take up things, are for the most part as obstinate in adhering to them. You may perhaps, when you have read these common principles and grounds, which I have here collected for you, thinke I might have spard my payns, and sent you a twopennie catechize, which conteins the substance of all this; and it is true here is nothing but what in substance you will find in every sound catechize, but though wee ought to be taught these things, the first that wee are taught, yet they will hold us learning all our lives, and att every review wee shall find our understandings grow in them. The want of having these grounds well layd, is the cause of so many wavering and falling into various sects. Let but the iudgment be fixt in the foundation truths, and the practise will not be soe mutable and various as wee see it in many professors. The Apostle reproaches the weaknesse of our sex more than the other, when, speaking of the prevalency of seducers, he says they lead about silly weomen, who are ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; therefore every wise and holy woman ought to watch strictly over herselfe, that she become not one of these; but as our sex, through ignorance and weakenesse of iudgement (which in the most knowing weomen is inferior to the masculine understanding of men), are apt to entertaine fancies, and pertinacious in them, soe wee ought to watch over ourselves, in such a day as this, and to embrace nothing rashly; but as our owne imbecillity is made knowne to us, to take heed of presumption in ourselves, and to leane by faith upon the strength of the Lord, and beg his protection, that wee may not be led into error. Through mercy I find myselfe dayly more fixt and establisht then I have sometimes bene, when the miscarriages of many that profest the truth, were a greate stumbling block to me; and if the Lord shall make me able to declare what he hath done for my soule, I intend to comunicate it, that what hath fixt me may fix others alsoe, if the Lord see it good. Besides the stumbling blocks layd in my way, my ignorance in principles was a greate occasion of my wavering, and therefore I desire you thinke it not unworthy your paynes to examine your faith in these grounds, and lay a foundation of sound knowledge, for the building of a holy practise. The Apostle in the Hebrewes finds fault with them, for not being fully instructed in the first principles of religion. These being taught us when wee are children, wee thinke it as much scorne afterwards to come back to them, as if we should againe be set to schoole to learne our A, B, C. Yet, even in those childish rudiments, there is more misterie of learning then every common reader is capable of understanding, and it is much more so in the principles of religion, the studie of which (though I learnt my catechizes with as much attention as any of my age), yet I find now so instructive and advantageous to myselfe, that I cannot but recomend it to you, and advize you to exercise your owne knowledge therein, by instructing your children and servants; for I assure you, I have by that meanes learnt more then by all my hearing and study, having found the Lord to open my owne understanding and to warme my heart, while I have conscientiously labourd to comunicate the light he gave me: even this little booke, however it may proove to you, hath not beene fruitlesse to myselfe in the collection of it. In the mode of compiling it, you will find many frailties; cover them as Shem; but the substance of it, the truths themselves, are of God, and for his authority mine ought to take some place with you. I have had many distractions of Spirit, and interruptions in setting downe these things, which I send you, as a testimony of my best and most tender love to you, who cannot consider the age and temptations you are cast upon, without greate thoughts of heart and earnest prayers for you many times when you sleepe, and dreame not of the spirituall loving care I have for you. I acknowledge your love to me, and blesse God for the good hopes he hath given me of you, and of your sincere love to him: but when I remember that our Lord hath foretold us, that if it were possible, the very elect themselves shall be deceivd, I cannot but stirre up your watch, and put you in mind of those things you know, and exhort you to live over your principles. It is life, not notion, that God requires; if you live in your first light, God will enlarge it, and give you eternall light and life in our Lord Jesus, which is the most fervent prayer of