William Dell

The Building and Glory of the truely Christian and Spiritual Church.
Represented in an exposition on Isia. 54, from vers. 11 to the 17.

Preached
To his Excellency Sir Tho. Fairfax and the General Officers of the Army with diverse other officers and souldiers and people at Marston, being the head-quarter at the leaguer before Oxford, June 7. 1646.

London 1646

Excerpts:

 

To the Reader

Having obtained this grace from God, to be called into some friendship and familiarity with Jesus Christ - so as to hear and receive from him something of the mind and bosom of the Father - according to his free grace, who hath mercy on whom he will. And having after many tears and temptations (not unknown to many yet in the body) obtained this further grace, to speak the Word of God with boldness. I have also been counted worthy to be taken into some fellowship with Christ in his sufferings and to endure the contradiction of sinners and oft-times to encounter the rage and madness of men - yea, and to fight with men after the manner of beasts, altogether brutish and furious. And thus hath it fared with me often, especially at two remarkable times. The one, at Lincoln, upon occasion of two sermons preached there on these words of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 9.7. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. Where in giving unto Christ his own proper due, many were angry I had taken too much from men (to whom yet nothing belongs but iniquity, shame and confusion). They could not bear this, that the Lord alone should be exalted. But that doctrine of truth, the Lord hath strongly upheld with the right hand of his righteousness, and the glory of it hath since shone in this kingdom, much contrary to their desire.

The other time wherein I met with remarkable opposition was lately at Marston, the Head quarter at the Leaguer before Oxford; whither some coming out of the City of London (in all probability out of some special design seeing the old malignity now acts in a new form, and is daily coming forth in a second and more plausible, cunning and deceiving edition) became exceeding angry and heady against the plain and clear truth of the Gospel delivered in this following exposition. (Wherein the whole truth and substance of what was then delivered is exactly set down, and nothing abated, but rather some things further pressed adding - as Jeremiah in the second roll many like words to the former). Now some of these men, seeing themselves and their new design clearly discovered by the light of the Word and made altogether naked, suddenly they grew fierce and furious, contradicting and blaspheming. Yea, some of them speaking the language of hell upon earth (of which there are some witnesses) as become men of such a generation. These men, according to operation of that spirit which works mightily in the children of disobedience, come and fill the whole city with lies and slanders, laying to my charge things that I knew not. The falsehood and untruth whereof, there are some hundreds - and some of them of great and eminent worth and piety - ready to witness.

Wherefore of mere necessity, I was forced to publish this exposition as a witness to this and the following generations of these men's resisting the Spirit and acting against Christ himself in the Word. And though the discourse be very plain, not savoring of any acurateness of human wisdom and learning, yet they that are themselves spiritual will acknowledge something of the Spirit in it, and for that cause will relish and love it - though others will therefore be at the greater enmity against it. But for my part I have set down my resolution on the Lord, in this cause of Jesus Christ, not to weigh all the power of earth and hell, one feather -  but to put it to the utmost trial whether the truth of the Gospel, or the slanders and lies of men shall prevail. Whether the smoke of the bottomless pit that comes forth out of the mouth of these and many others shall be able to blot out or darken the brightness of Christ's coming in the ministry of the Gospel. Yea, and whether the power and malice of the devil and the world shall be stronger than the love and protection of Jesus Christ.

And I doubt not but the more the world acts in the spirit of the devil, the more will Christ enable us to act in his own Spirit, till all at last shall be forced to acknowledge that the Spirit that is in us is stronger than the spirit that is in the world. And what now have all these men obtained by all their malice and fury but a greater and more open discovery of the truth. And to cause that that light of the Gospel that only shone in one congregation should through the printing of it have its beams scattered in many parts of the kingdom. And wherever the truth comes, the children of truth will entertain it, and ask nobody leave. And thus through the over-ruling power of God's wisdom do these men betray their own and their fellows' cause, and overthrow their own and their ends. And whilst they think to oppress the truth, propagate it the more; and thus shall truth's enemies perish, and the truth itself flourish. Yea, flourish through slanders, oppositions, contradictions, blasphemies, and all the vileness and villainy in the world. And all this confidence in us arises hence, because Christ is not as a dead man but is risen and ascended and sits at the right hand of God, and fills all things and doth all things in heaven and in earth, in the world and in the Church, among his friends and among his enemies till these be made his footstool - which is the very thing we are now in expectation of.

 Now, one thing more which I think fit to acquaint the world withal in this epistle is this, That none of those thorny bearers durst after come to discourse with me or to look me in the face. But one among them that seemed of a better temper than the rest, upon the urging of a godly citizen then present did speak with me. And the question he asked of me was this:  Whether I thought that all Presbyterians were carnal Gospellers? I told him, I was far from thinking any such thing, for I knew some of them very godly Christians and did acknowledge the grace of God in them. And that for mine own part, I did not allow any such distinction of Christians as Presbyterians and Independents, this being only a distinction of man's making tending to the division of the Church. And added that as in Christ's kingdom neither circumcision availeth anything nor un-circumcision but a new creature, so in this same kingdom of Christ, neither Presbytery availeth anything nor Independency, but a new creature. And that the kingdom of God stands not in Presbytery or Independency, but in righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. And that if I saw anything of God or Christ or the Spirit in anyone I reckoned him as a brother, not taking any such opinion into consideration. And that the unity of the Spirit, and not of opinion, is the bond of peace in Christ's kingdom. The man then pretended to be satisfied and rejoice in his satisfaction, but since (as is related) hath shown his stomach again. But because he seems to be a Christian, the Lord lay it not to his charge.

Another thing which I find my heart stirred up within me to do is to testify to the world what I know in mine own experience touching the army under the command of that most faithful and worthy General, Sir Thomas Fairfax. And that because I am not ignorant of the great undervaluing and despising and reproaching of it by many, even of those whose blood runs warm in their veins and who enjoy all the comforts they have in the world through the faithfulness, diligence, activity, labours, hunger, thirst, cold, weariness, watchings, marchings, engagements, stormings, wounds and blood of these men, instruments in the hand of God for the subduing that malignant power that rose up against the state and the saints of God. Yea, instruments of God's own choosing and calling forth to his foot for this great and glorious service, which after ages will wonder and stand amazed at, as well as at the vile ingratitude of this age to such instruments as these, for which God will not hold it guiltless. This then for my own part I am most confident on, that there are as many gracious and godly Christians in it as in any gathering together of men in all the world again:  men full of faith and the Spirit and the admirable endowments of it. More particularly there are these six things most remarkable in this despised army.

1.  Their unity, which is admirable. It being more the unity of Christians than of men, more a unity in the Spirit than in the flesh, in the Father and Son, than in themselves. And this hath been one great means of their great success, they being all in both counsel and action but as one man.  The Lord hath taken them and knit them up in one bundle and so their enemies could not break them but have been broken by them. Many of their matters of greatest moment have been carried in council with that unity that sometimes not so much as one hath contradicted.

2.  Their humility, which hath been admirable as well as the former. For after great and glorious victories to the wonder of the kingdom and of the world, when kings of the Army did flee apace and the men of might ran away as women, I have never heard any of the worthy and godly commanders or officers ever to say, I did this or that, or to boast of his own counsel or his own strength; or to attribute anything to himself or anybody else of what God had done. But everyone to say, This was the Lord's own doing and it is marvellous in our eyes; and it was not our own hand or bow but the Lord's right hand and his arm and the light of his countenance. And they have been most willing to be nothing themselves, that God might be all.
And this hath been one means to keep them humble, because though God hath been much with them, yet the world hath been much against them. Yea, the world hath been much against them not for their own sakes, who have done the work of the kingdom faithfully and honestly, but for God's sake in them. Because there is more of God among these men than among other men, therefore are they so maligned by many men. For the world always most hates where there is most of God; and you may have a shrewd guess where there is most of God by observing where the greatest hatred of the world lies.

3.  Their faith. There are many in the Army, men of great and precious faith, through which they have wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Through this faith they have pursued their enemies and overtaken them, and turned not again till they had consumed them. They have beaten them small as dust before the wind and cast them out as dust in the streets. Through faith they have entered strong cities, and (let them that will needs be offended stumble and fall at it) that Bristol, among other places, was conquered by faith more than by force.

4.  The spirit of prayer. And this the Lord hath poured forth upon many of them in great measure, not only upon many of the chief commanders, but on very many of the inferior officers and common troopers - some of whom I have by accident heard praying with that faith and familiarity with God, that I have stood wondering at the grace.

5.  The special presence of God with them. I have seen more of the presence of God in that Army than amongst any people that ever I conversed with in my life. There hath been a very sensible presence of God with us: we have seen his goings and observed his very footsteps, for he hath dwelt amongst us and marched in the head of us and counseled us and led us, and hath gone along with us step by step from Naseby to Leicester, and from thence to Langport and Bridgewater and Bath and Sherborn and Bristol and the Devizes and Winchester and Basing and Dartmouth and Exeter and into Cornwall and back again to Oxford. And all along his presence hath gone along with us and he hath been our strength and glory.

6.  The sixth remarkable thing in the Army is their faithfulness to the state. How have they gone up and down in weariness and labours and dangers and deaths to do the kingdom's work? and when was it that they sat idle? Have they taken the pay of idleness or lived the life of luxury upon the state maintenance? Have they sought to lengthen the wars for their own advantages? Have they not made even a short work? I challenge all the former generations of the world to stand forth and show so much work of this kingdom in so little time. And farther, by all this success have they ever lifted up so much as to petition the Parliament in anything, or to remonstrate anything proudly and undutifully to them, as some people surfeited with peace and plenty have done? Or, though the kingdom, next under God and the Parliament, owes its protection and deliverance and freedom from tyranny and popery to this worthy Army, have they for all this ever appeared to contest against the kingdom for anything or to stand with their swords in their hands to make demands? Nay, I declare this to all the kingdom, that as God hath made them glorious in so doing, so he hath made them contented to be perfect by suffering if it be the will of God.

And most confident I am, that though some men for private ends and interests are murmuring and others speaking out against this Army, as the perverse Israelites against Moses and Aaron, yet the Lord in his due time will take away the reproach of all his people therein, and that we shall hear songs from all the ends of the kingdom, even glory to the righteous.

 

An Exposition of the 54 chapter of Isaiah, from verse 11 to the end.

 

And therefore let us not be over-troubled, though at present we see in a numerous nation but few true children of the spiritual Church, for God shall bless these few, and bid them increase and multiply and replenish the earth. So that though the assemblies of the saints be now but thin, and one comes from this place and another from that to these assemblies, and in many and most places of the kingdom, these few are fain to come together secretly for fear of the Jews - that is the people of the letter - yet though the pouring forth of the Spirit, it shall come to pass at last that they shall come in flocks, as doves to their windows.

Yea, these very promises are now in the very act of accomplishing among us. For the spiritual Church hath received a very great increase within these few years, and God hath many faithful people in many places of this kingdom. And of this myself and many more in the Army are witnesses, for having marched up and down the kingdom to do the work of God and the state, we have met with many Christians who have much Gospel light, and (which makes it the more strange) in such places where there hath been no Gospel ministry And one thing that is remarkable touching the increase of the Church at this day, is this, That where Christ sends the ministration of his Spirit there are many young people brought in to Christ, being most free from the forms of the former age, and from the doctrines and traditions of men, taught and received instead of the pure and unmixed Word of God. Whereas many old professors, who are wholly in the form, prove the greatest enemies to godliness: and thus the first are the last, and the last first.

That the truly faithful are precious stones in the building of the Church, partaking of the nature and spirit of God, and of the lustre and operation of both. Whereas on the contrary, other people are the vile of the earth, the true filth and off-scouring of all things (Psalms 15) in whose eyes a vile person is contemned. A man that is a natural man, a sinful and unregenerate man, who hath no other nature in him but that corrupt nature he brought into the world, though in this present world he may be a gentleman or a knight or a nobleman or a king, yet in the eyes of God and his Saints, he is but a vile person. And a poor mean Christian that earns his bread by hard labour is a thousand times more precious and excellent than he, according to the judgment of God and his Word.

For God doth not now make any people or kindred or nation his Church, but gathers his Church out of every people and kindred and nation. And none can be stones of this building but those that are first elect and after made precious through a new birth and the gift of the Spirit. Consider what great enemies they are to the true and native glory of the Church that would have every man in a kingdom a member of the Church, and would have those taken into the flock that are none of Christ's sheep, and those taken into the Church of God that are not of God, and would gather up any stones to make this temple of God. These are the men that would keep off those glorious things from being fulfilled in the Church which are spoken of it.
It lies in the power of no man to make such a building as this is. What wild and woeful work do men make when they will undertake to be building the Church by their own human wisdom and prudence and counsel? When they think, we will have the Church of God thus and thus; and we will make it up of such and such men; and we will govern it by such and such laws; and we will get the power of the magistrate to back ours; and then what we cannot do by the power of the Word and Spirit, we will do by the power of flesh and blood. When the building of the Church is left to men, how wonderfully is it managed? Why, saith one, we must needs admit such an one, he is the chief man in the parish or he is a man of good esteem in the world, or he is a nobleman, or he is my near kinsman, or is thus and thus related to me, or he is a good, civil, fair-dealing man and we must need admit him. And thus will flesh and blood be ever making a carnal temple for God to dwell in, but God's true habitation can never be framed but by the Spirit.

And therefore what a sad thing is it, when men look for their teaching no further than men? They only look to the minister or to such an able, learned, orthodox man - as they phrase it - or at the highest to the Assembly. And what they shall teach them, they are resolved to stand by it and build upon it for their foundation. In the mean time never regarding in truth the teaching of God, but say, What! can so many grave, learned, godly men err? And shall not we believe what they determine? Why now, these are none of the children of the spiritual Church, for they neither have God's teaching nor care for it. But the spiritual Church is all taught of God.

And thus when the enemy fails at the strength of his weapons, he undertakes again with the malice of his tongue, and with this the enemy strikes against the Saints that profess the truth, and against the truth itself professed by the Saints.
Against the Saints that profess the truth; clothing them with odious names and loading them with base aspersions - Independents and sectaries and schismatics and heretics. And some such, there are indeed in the kingdom. But they abuse the precious Saints of God with these and other reproaches, and so crucify Christ again in his body, not between two thieves but between two hundred thieves, that so it may be the greater difficulty to discern him. and except they engage the magistrate's power against the Saints, they think they can never do them mischief enough.

As the enemy strikes with their tongues against the Saints that profess the truth, so also against the truth professed by the Saints:  and this they call, by way of reproach, new light, as their predecessors at the beginning of the breaking forth of the Gospel in this kingdom called it New Learning. Yea, they call the truth, error; and the very mind of Christ in his word, heresy; and the power of godliness, Independency; and the contending for the faith once given to the Saints, faction and sedition and the like.


 


[Spelling and punctuation modernized]

William Dell (ob.1664) was educated at Cambridge and became a secretary to William Laud. During the Civil War, he was Parliamentary chaplain and was appointed Master of Gonville and Caius, College, Cambridge. He lost this post and his living in Bedfordshire at the Restoration.

leaguer = siege

malignity = Parliamentarians called Charles I's supporters "malignants".

the Assembly = The Westminster Assembly, convened by Parliament to discuss how best to reform the Church of England.