Isaac Pennington (1617-1680)
Introduction to the Author
Isaac Pennington was the son of the mayor of London. In 1658 he joined the Society of Friends (Quakers). He was such a zealous follower of Christ and filled with such faith that he was jailed 6 times for proclaiming his unshakable convictions. He spent 5 years in prison as a result of his desire to worship in a manner other than prescribed by the established church. For a Quaker, this meant through silence as opposed to liturgy, sacraments and sermons.
He also refused to take an oath. As a result, he and his wife lost all their property. The hardships he encountered in the following years helped him to understand the growth that comes through suffering. Pennington offers light and truth and comfort for all who suffer and are afflicted today as he was in his day. The following selection comes from some of the letters he wrote to friends. they reveal his own tenderness, sympathy and unwavering faith.
Excerpts from 'Letters on Spiritual Virtues'
1. Wait for breathings from His Spirit
Friend, it is a wonderful thing to witness the power of God as it reaches to the heart and demonstrates to the soul the pure way of life. Therefore, we ought to wait diligently for the leadings of the Holy Spirit in everything we do. Thus we will be able to travel through all that is contrary to God and into the things that are of God.
It is also a wonderful thing to witness God's preservation that keep us from sliding backwards and being entangled in the traps of the enemy. For our enemy has many ways and uses many devices to ensnare our minds and draw it away from the Truth. There our souls are lulled asleep with false hopes and we lose the feeling and enjoyment of the true life and power.
O friend, do you not have a sense of the way to the Father? then you must press your spirit to bow daily before God and wait for breathings to you from His Spirit. Pray that He will continue His mercy to you and make His way more clear before you every day. Yes, and pray that He will give you strength in all the trials which come your way.
2. The way to His dwelling place
And do not pay careful attention to the desires of the body, but instead, trust the Lord. though you are weak and small, and though you may fall into the company of those who are more clever than you are and are able to trick you by their reason, and though you may not have an answer to their arguments, you know and can feel God's pure Truth in your spirit. Desire only to have that life brought forth in you and to have your spirit renewed and changed by God's power.
His mercy shall reach out to you daily and you shall have true satisfaction in your heart. Hold that Truth in your heart where all the devices of the devil and the reasoning of false teachers shall not be able to reach it. You will feel the strength of the Lord helping you during times of trial and you will feel the joy of praise during the seasons of His good pleasure.
And you shall experience the truth of God's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against you. Therefore, remember, do not look to others or to the reasoning of the wise but keep yourself where you have felt the Lord visit you that He may visit you again and again, everyday, teaching you more and more of the way to His dwelling place. Drawing you near to the place where there is righteousness, life, rest and peace, forever!
3. Feed on the tree of life
O friends, feed on the tree of life; feed on the measure of life, and the pure power which God has revealed and manifested to you. Do you know where your real food comes from, do you remember the taste? Then keep to it and do not meddle with the kind of food that seems desirable to the other eye, the one that promises to make you wise.
O abide in the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus. It is there that you will be able to know and distinguish your food, which has several names in Scripture but is all one and the same thing: the bread, the milk, the water, the wine, the flesh and blood of Him who came down from heaven.
4. Dwell in your habitation
O keep out the wisdom that does not know the truth. Rather, keep to the principal of life, keep to the seed of the kingdom and feed on that which was from the beginning. Is this not the true meat? Is this not the true drink? O dwell in your habitation and feed on the food which God brings into His dwelling place. It is pure and alive and it will cause your souls and spirits more and more to live in and to God as you eat and drink thereof.
5. Helping one another with a tender heart
Friends, our life is love and peace and tenderness. We are called to bear one another's burdens, forgive one another and never judge of accuse one another. Instead, we must pray for one another, helping one another up with a tender hand if there has been a slip or fall. O wait to feel His Spirit. Wait to be guided and to walk in sweetness and walk meekly, tenderly, peacefully and lovingly with one another. Then you will be able to praise the Lord and anything that has hindered you, you will be able to overcome in the Lamb's dominion.
So watch your hearts and ways. Watch over one another in gentleness an tenderness. Know that we cannot help one another out of a snare of our own strength, for only the Lord, who must be waited upon, can do this in and for all.
Walk in such a way that you do not bring disgrace upon the truth in your hearts. But instead, let the Truth be a good savor to others in the places where you live. May the meek, innocent, tender, righteous life that is within you and governs you, shine through you into the eyes of all with whom you speak.
6. An eye of pity
Who is able to undergo the crosses and afflictions - inward or outward - that come upon us? the Lord is able to uphold the one who feels his weakness and daily waits on Him for support, even under the heaviness of the cross. I know, dear heart, that your outward trials are painful and bitter. And I also know that the Lord is able to sustain you through them and make you able to stand your ground. O that you could dwell in the knowledge and sense of this.
The Lord sees your suffering with an eye of pity and is able to achieve some good through it. Therefore do not be grieved at your situation or be discontented. Do not look at the difficulty of your situation, but instead, when the storm rages against you, look up to Him who can give you patience and can lift your head over it all and cause you to grow. If the Lord did not help us with His mighty arm, how often we would fall!. God is exceedingly good and gracious and tenderhearted. He does not turn away from the affliction of His people in any way.
7. Quickened by the Spirit
Friend, some questions about prayer may arise in your mind as you have begun to sense the Truth. Since you have operated so long from a fleshly mind and ungodly nature and not in the leading of the Spirit, you may have some doubts about the practice of prayer.
The promise of God concerning prayer is referring to the kind of prayer that is in faith. It is not dealing with the prayers that come from the flesh , will or human wisdom. The dead can not praise God nor can the dead truly pray to Him. They must be quickened by the Holy Spirit who is in them.
Therefore, we pray in life as we pray according to the Spirit of God. It is then ours to wait upon the Spirit God has given to reside in us to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ.
Read: John 6:52-59
1. Isaac Pennington encourages us to 'wait diligently for the leadings of the Holy Spirit.' Describe your experiences of being led by the Holy spirit. have you sensed any influence or work of the Spirit recently?
2. The author discusses two kinds of food; one that we eat out of pride and sin in order to become wise, and the other that we eat in order to nourish our soul. What are some of the 'bad' foods you have eaten? Where do you go to get the 'good' food?
3. According to Pennington, God is not only able to feel and identify with our pain, He is able to use it to help us grow. How has God used your past struggles and pain as a means to help you grow? Describe.
4. From where does true prayer come according to Pennington? How can we learn to pray in this way?
5. Jesus says that we are to feed on Him. What experiences have you had of feeding on the life and power of Jesus?
6. The power of God comes to us when we 'diligently wait for the leadings of the Holy Spirit in everything we do.' Learn the joy of waiting this week. In your times of prayer, as well as throughout the day, pause to wait on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
7. If you are facing a difficult time, adopt the author's suggestion: Do not look at the difficulty of your situation, but instead, when the storm rages against you, look up to Him who can give you patience and can lift your head over it all and cause you to grow.
8. Explore ways you can feed upon the 'Bread of
Life' this week. read the Gospels with a sense of hunger, go to worship
with a desire to feed upon Christ's presence and abide in Christ through
times of prayer and contemplation.