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Historical texts  >  Burrough's Epistle To The Reader (1)

The Epistle To The Reader


Edward Burrough *

London the 9. Mo. 1658

(Part 1 of 5)

"Come forth in fair dispute, to contend in the spirit of meekness ..."

written as an introduction to

The Great Mystery
of the Great Whore of Babylon Unfolded ... 

by George Fox**

And the Merchants of the Earth shall weep and mourn over her, for no man buyeth their merchandize anymore, Rev.18.18. And they cryed when they saw the smoak of her burning, saying, what City is like unto this great City: And they cast dust on their heads, and cryed weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great City, wherein were made rich all that had Ships in the Sea, by reason of her costiness, for in one hour is she made desolate, Rev.18,18,19.

To all the world to whom this may come to be read, that they read with a good understanding, and hereby they may come to the perfect knowledge of the ground of difference between the priests, and professors, and all sects in these nations, and us who are in scorn called Quakers; showing that the controversieon on our part is just and equal against them all, and that we have sufficient cause to cry against them, and to deny their ministry, their church, their worship, and their whole religion, as being not in the power, and by the spirit of the living God, as commanded of him, or ever practised by his saints: but this declareth the ground, and foundation thereof to be another thing, than that on which the true church, and ministry, and practice, and worship, and true religion were built in the days of the apostles. And also, this is an invitation to all sects and professions of people, to come forth and try if what they hold and profess be according to the scriptures of truth; and to do this in tryall, by evident and sound arguments, and by the best spiritual weapons they have, and to lay aside all this persecution and unrighteous dealing, and stocking, and whipping, and imprisoning of us for speaking against their religion; and that they come forth in fair dispute, to contend in the spirit of meekness, for what they profess and practice, and to prove, according to the scriptures, their ministry, church, and whole religion, that it is in, and by the spirit and power of God, or otherwise to renounce and deny all their religion, and the profession and practices thereof, that every man may be satisfied who they are that are in the true and right way, and of the true worship, and true religion, and who are not; and this is desired by us who are called Quakers. And here also is a true account of our first beginning and coming forth in the world; and of the great sufferings we have sustained, and how we have been carried on and preserved to this day.

The Lord God everlasting, who is true and faithful, hath fulfilled his promise in us, and unto us, and we are gathered from the mouths of all dumb shepherds, and out of the mouths of all hirelings, who have made a prey upon us, and fed themselves with the fat, and devoured souls for dishonest gain. And we are come to the fold of eternal rest, where Christ Jesus is the chief Shepherd, and he is the shepherd and bishop of our souls, that feedeth his flock with living bread that nourisheth us unto life eternal. He hath called us by his name, and put us forth, and he feedeth us in green pastures, and we are fed with hidden manna, and lie down at noon with his gathered flock. And out of nations, kindreds, multitudes, and peoples are we redeemed to God, and are come out of the world, and out of great Babylon, and out of spiritual Sodom and Egypt, where the Lord Christ was and is crucified, and lieth slain to this day. And atop of the world hath the Lord set us, on the mountain of his own house and dwelling; where we behold and feel the life, and glory, and crown of the world that hath no end; and the world that hath an end is seen over, and its crown and glory are his footstool that reigns among us. And as for all that which this perishing world brings forth, which men seek after only, it is reckoned our temptation, though all the sons of Adam are seeking its glory, its riches, its crowns, its contentments. But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another Kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long; and he is our refuge, our rock, and our fortress against all our enemies. And what though the wicked arm themselves, and the ungodly bend their bow -- what though all sorts of people, from the prince upon his throne to the beggar upon the Dung-hill, exalt themselves against the despised people of the Lord's inheritance, who, for his name's sake, are killed all the day long! -- what though the wise men bring forth their arguments, and the rulers bring forth unrighteous judgements against the seed that God hath blessed? -- what though the revellers and scorners open their mouths, and reporters and revellers cast out their bitter words as a flood against the remnant of the woman's seed, that hath long been fled into the wilderness. And what then if the teachers, the prophets, and the elders, and the heads, and wise men of the world set themselves to pray, and preach, and print against the chosen seed of Jacob? -- Notwithstanding all this, though this is come to pass, and hell open her mouth, and her floods break forth to overflow, and be much more increased; yet shall the King of righteousness rule among his people, and his presence will not forsake his chosen ones. The Lord is with us, a mighty, and a terrible one, and the shout of a king is amongst us, and the dread of the Almighty covereth us, and it goeth before us, and compasseth us about; and the Lord is working a work in the earth, mighty and wonderful! He is gathering the scattered, and binding up the broken hearted, and his people shall dwell in safety, and none shall make them afraid, and no weapon that is formed against them shall prosper, nor any hand that is lifted up shall prevail. For Sion shall arise out of the dust, her beautiful garments shall be put on? and mourning and sorrow shall flee away; and her light is risen, that is everlasting, and the sun shall never go down, but his day shall remain for ever, and the night shall not again cover her brightness, nor the sun set upon her habitations. The city that hath long lain waste, shall again be builded, and the dwelling that hath long been without inhabitant, shall be replenished; for the numberless seed of Jacob is coming out of Egypt, that will replenish the whole earth, and the seed of Esau shall become bondmen. And wherefore are you gathered together? and to what purpose have the wicked spent their strength to oppose what the Lord is bringing to pass! Shall not all our enemies be broken to pieces, and will not the Lord grind them to powder! Will he not mar their beauty, and stain their pride? Will he not bring down their crowns, and corrupt their glory, and stain it with his fire of wrath, and make them ashamed of their ways and doctrines! Hear this ye priests, and howl, and lament for the misery that is coming upon you! the Lord hath laid you naked, and made you bare, and you are seen as you are, and the elect is risen amongst us which ye cannot deceive. But, alas ! wo is me ! how have you caused the people to err, and how have you led the blind out of the way, and how is truth fallen in your streets! And you have daubed falsely with untempered mortar, and have cried peace to the wicked, and condemned the righteous-, and all this hath vexed the righteous soul, and the Lord will now arise, and is risen, and you shall not resist, and escape the stroke of his hand, which will come upon you, and bruise you as a millstone; for you have caused the wicked to rejoice, and the righteous to mourn, and you have made sad his heart whom God hath not made sad.

Have not you fed yourselves with the fat, and clothed with the wool! and hath not the people's souls been starved, and leanness been upon them all! Your plants are dry, barren trees that bring forth no good fruit; and your people are like a wilderness that is untilled, and unploughed, and undressed; and your flocks are like wild asses upon the mountains that are untamed, as rude as the horse and mule, that know no bridle And now it is seen what the end of your ministry is, and what fruit it hath brought forth. The Lord hath taken notice, and beheld how you have loitered and lain idle, and the nations lie yet like fallow ground that bears no fruit; and men's hearts are untouched with absence of God's word, and there is no sound, true, and perfect sense amongst your people of the dealings of the Lord, nor of the operation of his spirit, but they remain in great blindness and ignorance, void of the knowledge of God. For ye have not caused them to hear his word, but you have told your dreams, and your false visions, and you have spoken imaginations of your hearts, and not from the mouth of the Lord; neither have you stood in his counsel, nor hearkened to his voice, and therefore people remain unprofited. What they and you know, it is naturally, and not by the spirit of the Father; but as dry trees you are, not taught of the Father, and as rough goats, in the nature of swine that are polluted in the filth of the world, and in the nature of dogs, and lions, devouring one another, and biting one another, and killing one another; which things were not in the churches of Christ. And we have a great controversy with you, and that from the Lord. We have tried you, searched you, and discovered your foundation, and it is not sound, nor will stand in the trial. We have fetched your line from the first original, and we have found out your beginning, and we find yours of that race, which Christ prophesied of that should come, who should deceive many, having the sheep's clothing, but inwardly ravening; and who John saw were come, and went out from the apostles and true churches, went from the truth, and went into the world, and had the form of godliness without the power: here began the race in the apostacy of the churches. And when they apostatized from the true faith, then came your original up, and the world went after them, and all that dwelt upon the earth worshipped the beast, that hath reigned through all this time of apostacy, which hath been since the days of the apostles.

And we find your original goes no further than to the false brethren, and false apostles, who went out from the true apostles, and run for gifts and rewards, and preached, for filthy lucre, and through covetousness made merchandise of souls, seeking money and gain to themselves. I say, we find your original begins there, and your line goes no further, and never came your first rise so far as the true apostles; you were not, in your beginning, of their life nor birth, nor can be reckoned from their original or you succeed not them; but you truly succeed the false apostles, and false brethren, which Christ prophesied should come after his days, and John saw were come and coming in his days. And we find you of this stock and generation, and now you are discovered to be contrary to the true apostles, and agreeing with the false apostles, in call, in practice, in maintenance, and in all things; and the line of true judgement is laid upon you all, and you are measured, and found too short, and weighed, and found too light. And we will deal truly with you in Judgment: first, we do hold controversy with you as concerning your call, your ministry, it agreeth not with, but is contrary to what the apostles' call was; they were called by power from on high and were made ministers by the gift of the holy spirit received from God, and their ministry was an absolute gift from God, and not to be bought and sold for money; and they were anointed of the Father, by his spirit of promise, to preach the gospel. But your call is at schools and colleges, in such and such orders, which are attained through natural industry, such and such arts and sciences, and degrees, having been so many years brought up in studying natural arts and natural languages; this is your ordination and your call, having no respect to receive or to wait for the gift of the holy spirit, to be made ministers thereby; and this is different from the apostles and true ministers, and equal and according to the false prophets and deceivers.

Secondly Again you are not according, but contrary to the true ministry and ministers of Christ in practice; for they were led by the spirit of the Father which dwelt in them, and they preached the gospel by the spirit, and spake as the spirit gave them utterance, and went up and down the world through nations, converting people to the knowledge of the truth; and what they had handled, tasted, seen, and felt of the word of life in then, that they declared to others, and preached the gospel which they had not received from man, nor by man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ in them. But your practice is not such, but contrary, for the spirit of this world leads you, and it you follow in all your works, in your preaching, praying, and in your whole worship, in form and tradition; what you have studied out of books and old authors, you preach to people, and what ye have noted in a book, that you preach by an hour glass, and not as the spirit of God gives you utterance.

And you seek out and inquire after great benefits, and much money by the year, and where there are much tithes and glebe lands, and such like; thither and to such a place, you go, and seek to be ministers there, and there you remain twenty or forty years, more or fewer as you can agree with the people, and while they will give you so much as will content you, and maintain you, your wives and families, as you say, and regard not whether any be converted to God by your preaching, but people remain always in blindness and ignorance generally, and without the knowledge of God. For you preach other men's words, and what you have collected in your imaginations from the saints' words, an hour by a glass, leaning upon a soft cushion, and for money and hire preaching to the people, and this is your manner of practice, and ministry in these nations.

But thus did not the apostles, nor Christ's ministers; but the contrary. And by your fruits and works it appears that you are not followers of that spirit that Christ and his ministers were guided by, neither are lawful successors of the apostles; but by your fruits and practice you manifest that the Lord never sent you, and Christ never called you into his service to be his ministers; for in all your practices and in your whole performances of worship you differ, and do not agree with, but are contrary to what the practice and worship of Christ's ministers and churches were in the days of the apostles. This I charge upon you, in the name, and by the authority of the Lord God, and am able to prove it against you, face to face, or otherwise to show that you are not of the same spirit, but contrary to the saints and apostles of old, and so not true successors of them, nor lawful ministers of Christ; as to all people it is, and shall be made manifest.

Thirdly. You disagree with and are contrary altogether to the true ministry, and to the apostles, in respect of your maintenance and wages; for the wages which Christ allowed his ministers, was, into whatsoever house they entered, that was worthy, they might eat such things as were set before them, for the workman (saith he) is worthy of his hire. And the apostles eat only of the fruit of the vineyard that they had planted, and of the milk of the flock which they kept, by a free gift of the people, whom they had begotten to the faith; and to whom they sowed spiritual things, it was but as a small matter if they reaped their carnal things; and though as a free gift they would do it, yet the apostle said he would not make the gospel of Christ chargeable. And in this manner were Christ's ministers and ministry in wages and gifts, upheld and maintained outwardly in the world.

But your practice and maintenance are not such, but contrary, as is fully made manifest; for you will have so much by the year promised to you in tithes, money, or glebe lands, or stipends; and of drunkards, and swearers, and profane worldly people, who are not sheep of Christ's flock, nor plants of his vineyard, you will have so much of each of them, and of every man in such a compass as you call your parish. And if any, either out of covetousness or good conscience, cannot pay you, you sue at law, and cast them into prison, for wages, and spoil their goods, and take treble, nay sometimes five-fold damage. And through violence, and injustice, and cruelty are you maintained in such a manner, and not as the true ministers and apostles of Christ were, but in a way and manner quite contrary, as it is manifest; and so therein it is proved, that you are not lawful successors of the apostles and ministers of Christ.

Fourthly. Again, you follow not the apostles and true ministers of Christ, but are contrary to them in doctrine, as this following volume will clearly manifest, which for this very end is collected from your own mouths and pens, that all men may see what you are, and what you hold and profess; and being truly laid down and answered, let yourselves, and all sober men, compare your doctrines and sayings with the doctrines of the apostles, and they may see you agree not with them, but are contrary to them. And now, friends, to all you that profess yourselves to be ministers of the gospel, I do hereby declare unto you, in the name and authority of the Lord, that we have controversy with you, and a great charge against you in all these things, in your call, in your practice, in your maintenance, and in your doctrines; and our mouths hath the Lord opened, and they cannot be shut from declaring and crying against you, as such whom the Lord never sent, but are contrary to Christ, his prophets, and apostles, in all your ways and practices; and the hand of the Lord is certainly against you, and his power and dread will come over you, and lie upon your consciences.

Now, reader, whosoever thou art that readest this following volume, if thy mind be sober, and thy heart right towards God, thou may come to a good understanding of the ground and cause of this great controversy, between the priests and the professors of this nation, and us who are in scorn called Quakers, for it is not unknown to nations. Of this great debate and battle, now for some years of continuance in this nation, no man can be ignorant. What putting in prisons, and what persecuting, and what preaching and printing against us, and what reports and fame have been through this nation for some years past! And the Quakers, so called, have written, and spoken, and printed against the priests, and their worships, and ways, and doctrines, and declared against them, as deceivers and false prophets, and such as never were sent of God. And on the other hand, thus have the priests, and more abundantly, cried out against, and printed against the Quakers, as heretics, and deceivers, and witches, and all that they could say that was evil. And these things being not unknown, but publicly brought to pass, it will be good to discover unto every man, the first ground and cause of this great strife, and the matter of it, and its beginning, so that all may know the certainty of these things, and know they are not without good ground and sufficient reason on our part, to wit, that we have just cause to do, and strive against that generation of priests and teachers, and that we do nothing rashly, and without sufficient reason.

[Continued in Part 2]

Notes and Links

Edward Burrough (1634-1662)
Born in 1634, Edward Burrough was eighteen years old in 1652 when he became active among the people — "who are in scorn called Quakers." In 1654, the Quakers began a concerted mission to spread their new understanding from the north of England into every corner of Britain, and beyond. Burrough and Francis Howgill were chosen to represent them in London. (See part three, especially, for Burrough's account of this missionary effort, of which he was in the vanguard.)
Burrough was twenty-four when he wrote this "Epistle to the Reader" — as an introduction to a longer work by George Fox, then thirty-four. Burrough died in prison a few years later, at the height of a wave of repression that followed the restoration of monarchy in England.
This online document is divided into five parts, which may be given as:
Part 1 - Come forth in fair dispute, to contend in the spirit of meekness ...
Part 2 - And thus we became followers of the Lamb whithersoever he goes ...
Part 3 - To all manner of sufferings and reproaches, and hard trials ...
Part 4 - We should agree to have the liberty, freely and soberly to object against the priests ...
Part 5 - Them that have had the words but were out of the life, which life now is risen ...
The Great Mystery
Burrough's "Epistle to the Reader," i.e., this document on the web, introduces a book (not included here) written by George Fox in answer to 100 tracts written against the Quakers.
The full title of the book is:
The great mistery of the great whore unfolded : and antichrists kingdom revealed unto destruction. In answer to many false doctrines and principles which Babylons merchants have traded with, being held forth by the professed ministers, and teachers, and professors in England, Ireland, and Scotland, taken under their owne hands, and from their owne mouths, sent forth by them from time to time, against the despised people of the Lord called Quakers, who are of the seed of that woman, who hath been long fled into wildernes ... in this answer to the multitude of doctrines held forth by the many false sects, which have lost the key of knowledge, and been on foot since the apostles dayes, called Anabaptists, Independents, Presbyters, Ranters, and many others, who out of their own mouths have manifested themselves not to be of a true descent from the true Christian Churches : but it's discovered that they have been all made drunk with the wine of fornication received from the whore which hath sitten upon the beast, after whom the world hath wondred.
This is a work in progress, having been scanned and OCR'd a few pages at a time by Allistair Lomax and then posted to this site over a period of several weeks. Formatting, footnotes, etc. will change until we get it fully presentable. Comments and suggestions are welcome, to: CONTACT and