Isaac Penington's 1653 Pamphlet Concerning Government

A Conſiderable QUESTION ABOUT Government,

(Of very great Importance in reference to the ſtate of the preſent times)

Briefly Diſcuſſed.

WITH A Neceſſary

Governors and Governed.

By ISAAC PENINGTON, (junior) Eſq

May 9.


Printed for Giles Calvert,
at the black ſpread-Eagle at the Weſt end of Pauls.


A QUESTION ABOUT Government, &c.
THe Queſtion is this: Which is better, both for the Good, Safety and Welfare, both of the Go­vernors and Governed, Abſolute or Limited Au­thority?
Abſoluteneſs is a full Power of Government without interruption, without rendering an account, reſiding in the Breſt, Will or Conſcience of the Governor or Go­vernors.
Limitation is a circumſcribing of this Power within ſuch certain bounds, as the people, for whoſe ſake and benefit Government is, ſhall think fit to confine it unto, for their good and ſecurity.
Now without Controverſie great is the advantage of Abſoluteneſs, both to the Governors in the execution of their Duty, and to the People towards their reaping the fruit of Government; ſuppoſing the perſon or per­ſons who govern, to be men of knowledg and integrity, whoſe Judgments and Conſciences are not liable to be deceived or perverted.
Laws cannot fully anſwer the needs and neceſſities of men, many may need a Law before it can be made: nay Laws are uſually much needed by the people, and they ſuffer much through the want of them before they have them: but a ſtanding clear free Light and full Power might effect this.
But now in reſpect of the corrupt eſtate of Man, who is too apt to bend all aſide to his own advantage with the prejudice of others, this root becomes evil, and brings forth the worſt kind of fruit. It brings forth Slavery in ſtead of Liberty, Oppreſſion in ſtead of Eaſe, ſwallowing up the good and happineſs of the People in ſtead of nouriſhing and preſerving it.
It is the happineſs of Man to be governed by Rules of Righteouſneſs: To have theſe freely, purely, ſwiftly and fully framed and diſpenced. This may be beſt done by an abſolute Government. But becauſe of mans corruption (which always lieth lurking in him, and is ſtill ready to iſſue forth from him, when it eſpyeth its opportunity) it is impoſſible this ſhould be rightly or­dered and adminiſtred: And we find dayly, that by Abſoluteneſs in Government the People are expoſed to ſlavery, their liberties, yea their very lives ſubjected, not to righteouſneſs in another, but to the corruption of another. So that Abſoluteneſs of Government, take it as the ſtate of things now ſtands, is no other then a giving up of the eſtates, liberties and lives of the People into the jaws of unrighteouſneſs, into the hands of a ſelfiſh Power.
This then is the plain reſult; Abſoluteneſs is beſt in it ſelf, but limitations are ſafeſt for the preſent condition of man. But what if God (from whom both theſe had their being, continuation and bleſſing) be ſtriking at the root both of Abſoluteneſs and of Limitedneſs, ſhewing the weakneſs and inſufficiency of both, and turning them upſide down as faſt as he diſcovereth it? For my part I deſire to be ſilent concerning theſe things; not only outwardly before men, but even inwardly in mine own Soul: According to which propenſity, I haſten to a concluſion, only adding one word of advice both to the Governors and the Governed in theſe tottering times.
My advice to the Governors is, That they undertake not to bring forth that which is not in them. He who ſtands below, when he looketh on thoſe above, eaſily eſpyeth many miſcarriages in them (though not always juſtly) making no queſtion of amending them, when he himſelf comes in place, and is inveſted with Power; but doth it prove ſo? The Parliament ſeemed to ſpring up with a more excellent ſpirit, undertaking to rectifie that which was crooked in the foregoing Government, but did they indeed and in truth effect it? The Army ſeemeth to riſe up with a more excellent ſpirit then they: but what their thoughts and intentions are, and what will be the ſucceſs, the Lord only knoweth, (for man himſelf knoweth neither his own heart nor ways, ſel­dom being what he ſtill taketh himſelf to be.) He who is of counſel with the Lord, may know what he intends; but alas how eaſily may all the good purpoſes of man fall to the ground, and he prove the great Introducer of that which he propoſed to himſelf to be the Deliverer from! There is ſome times a ſudden blaſt of the Lord, leading man towards that which is righteous; but ſo ſoon as man is exalted, he forgets the Lord, and returns into himſelf, and in that very day all his good thoughts dye and periſh. Man ſo ſoon as ever he comes into place of government, his heart is immediatly lifted up above his brethren, which temper maketh him unfit for go­vernment, and prepareth the way to his own ruine. The wind of the Lord is ſtrong, O take heed of exaltation! The wiſdom, heart, and ſpirit of man is narrow and weak, Oh take heed of undertaking much! The true oil is very rare and ſcarce, O who can do the work of the Lords annointed!
My advice to the Governed is, but this. Expect not that fruit from your Governours, the root whereof is not in them. Did man ever bring forth righteouſneſs or peace? Have ye not yet had enough of looking for Reformation and amendment of things from this or that party? O Lord God what a poor Reformation and ſettlement is it, which man deſires, and yet how far is he from attaining it! In the midſt of all his travell­ing pangs, he travels but with the wind, and can bring forth but a whirlwind. Who hath ſhaken this State? Is it not the Lord? and do ye think man can ſettle it? If ye your ſelves were Governours, ye would act like thoſe that had gone before you; and having the ſame ſpirit of ſelfiſhneſs and injury in you (though ye ſee it no more in your ſelves, then they did in themſelves) how dare ye be ſo bitter againſt them? Be ſtill, be qui­et, and ye ſhall ſee that the Lord will deal with thoſe that oppreſs you. There is no power of unrighteouſ­neſs and oppreſſion, ſhall be able to found it ſelf ſo deep, or ſettle it ſelf ſo ſtrong, but the Lord will ſhatter and raze it. If the Lord hath deſigned (and be ariſen in this Land) to break open the gates of violence and op­preſſion, wo be them who henceforth, under any pre­tence whatſoever, ſtep into the ſeat of it. There ſhall henceforward be no peace to the wicked, ſaith my God; but onely a little ſtilneſs and ſecurity, while his foun­dation is undermining. Fear not the hand of the op­preſſor becauſe of his height or irreſiſtibleneſs; for, for this end is all this, that God might glorifie and exalt himſelf in his downfal and deſolation; which when it is perfected, then ſhall it be ſaid and ſung with joy, Come and ſee what deſolations the Lord hath made in the earth. Onely be not ye too buſie, but kiſs the rod; and com­plain not ſo much of the iniquity and unrighteouſneſs of others, but mourn bitterly over that root, nature, and vigor of it which is in your ſelves.
There is indeed a great truth now held forth, That the Saints ſhall govern the world, which is the very inte­reſt of the world, though they know it not: for the na­ture and happineſs of their life dependeth upon the na­ture and happineſs of the life of Chriſt. When the Spi­rit of Chriſt is poured out upon, and ſpringeth up in his Saints, they ſhall be able to effect this: But if they who are not this in truth, ſhall take this upon them (or if they who are in it, in the root and nature of it, ſhall ſtep into it too ſoon) they will not onely fall ſhort of ef­fecting what they aim at, but in ſtead thereof will bring forth the clean contrary, viz. the greateſt unrighteouſ­neſs eſtabliſhed by the ſtrongeſt and moſt unrighteous Law. The Law of the ſpirit of Chriſt is the eaſieſt, the beſt, the ſweeteſt: but the Law of the Spirit or cor­ruption of man, under that vizard is the worſt. Oh that this ſo long-captived-Nation, could lift up their eyes towards, and wait for, the ſalvation of God!

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