The Epistle from the Elders at Balby, 1656
The elders and brethren send unto the brethren in the north these necessary things following; to which, if in the light you wait, to be kept in obedience, you shall do well. Fare well
1.-That the particular meetings by all the children of Light, be duly kept and observed, where they be already settled, every first-day of the week; except they be moved to other places. And that general meetings be kept in order and sweet in the life of God, on some other day of the week than on the First-day, unless there be a moving to the contrary: that so in the light and life, the meetings may be kept, to the praise of God.
2.-That care be taken, that as any are brought into the truth, meetings be in such places amongst them, as may be for the most convenience of all, without respect of persons: and that hands be laid on none suddenly, lest the truth suffer.
3.-That if any person draw back from meetings, and walk disorderly, some go to speak to such as draw back; to exhort and admonish such with a tender, meek spirit, whom they find negligent or disorderly. And if any, after admonition, do persist in the thing not good, let them again be admonished and reproved before two or three witnesses; that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every thing may be established. And if still they persevere in them, then let the thing be declared to the church: and when the church hath reproved them for their disorderly walking, and admonished them in the tender and meek spirit, and they do not reform, then let their names and the causes, and such as can justly testify the truth therein, and their answers, be sent in writing to some whom the Lord hath raised up in the power of his Spirit to be fathers, his children to gather in the light, that the thing may be known to the body; and with the consent of the whole body, the thing may be determined in the light.
4.-That as any are moved of the Lord to speak the word of the Lord at such meetings, that it be done in faithfulness, without adding or diminishing. And if at such meetings, any thing at any time be otherwise spoken by any not of the light, whereby the seed of God cometh to be burthened; let the person or persons in whom the seed of God is burthened, speak in the light (as of the Lord they are moved,) in meekness and godly fear, to him; but let it be done in private, betwixt them two, or before two or three witnesses, and not in the public meetings, except there be a special moving so to do.
5.-That collections be timely made for the poor, (that are so indeed,) as they are moved, according to order,-for relief of prisoners, and other necessary uses, as need shall require: and all moneys so collected, an account thereof to be taken; from which every need may be supplied, as made known by the overseers in every meeting: that no private ends may be answered, but all brought to the light, that the gospel be not slandered.
6.-That care be taken for the families and goods of such as are called forth into the ministry, or who are imprisoned for the truth's sake; that no creatures be lost for want of the creatures.
7.-That as many as are moved of the Lord in his light to take a brother or a sister in marriage, marriage being honourable in all, and the bed undefiled, let it be made known to the children of light, especially to those of the meeting of which the parties are members: that all, in the light may it witness to be of God. And being by the light made manifest to be of God13 let them be joined together in the Lord and in his fear, in the presence of many witnesses; according to the example of the holy men of God in the Scriptures of truth recorded, which were written for our example and learning; that no scandal may rest upon the truth, nor anything be done in secret; but all things brought to the Light that truth may trample over all deceit, and that they who are joined together in the Lord, may not by man be put asunder, whom God hath joined together. That there may be a record in writing, (witnessing, the day, place, and year, of such things) kept within [that meeting] of which one or both of them are members; under which writing the witnesses present may subscribe their names, or so many of them as be convenient; for the stopping the mouths of all gainsayers, and for the manifesting the truth to all that are without.
8.-That a record be kept in every meeting of the births of children of such who are members of that meeting, and of the burials of the dead who die in the Lord as they depart out of the body; which be done after the manner of the holy men of God, recorded in the Scriptures of truth; and not after the customs of the heathen; that know not God.
9.-That husbands and wives dwell together according to knowledge, as being heirs together of the grace of life; that children obey their parents in the Lord; and that parents provoke not their children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and fear of God, walking before them as good examples, in gravity and godliness; providing things honest in the sight of God and man.
10.-That servants be obedient to them that are their masters in the flesh, in things that are good, in singleness of heart as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ; doing the will of God from the heart; with good-will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men; knowing whatsoever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And that masters give to their servants that which is just and equal; forbearing threatening, knowing that their Master is also in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
11.- That care be taken that none who are servants depart from their masters, but as they both do see in the light: or any master to put away his servant, but by the like consent of the servant: and if any master or servant in their wills do otherwise it is to be judged by Friends in the light.
12.- That the necessities of the poor, widows and fatherless, may be truly supplied, and that such as are able to work, and do not, may be admonished: and if, after admonition, they refuse to work, then let them not eat. And that the children of such as are in necessity, be put to honest employment; that none be idle in the Lord's vineyard.
13.-That care be taken, that as any are called before outward powers of the nation, that in the light, obedience to the Lord be given.
14.-That if any be called to serve the commonwealth in any public service, which is for the public wealth and good, that with cheerfulness it be undertaken, and in faithfulness discharged: and that therein patterns and examples, in the thing that is righteous, you may be, to those that be without.
15.That all Friends that have callings and trades, do labour in the thing that is good, in faithfulness and uprightness, and keep to their yea and nay in all their communications: and that all who are indebted to the world, endeavour to discharge the same, that nothing they may owe to any man but love one to another.
16.-That no-one speak evil of another, neither judge one against another; but rather judge this, that none put a stumbling-block or occasion to fall in his brother's way.
17.-That none be busy bodies in others' matters, but each one to bear another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ; that they be sincere and without offence, and that all things that are honest, be done without murmuring, and disputing, that you may be blameless and harmless. the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, amongst whom they may shine as lights in the world.
18.-That Christian moderation be used towards all men: that they who obey not the word, may be won with those that in the word dwell, to guide in an holy life and godly conversation.
19.- That the Elders made by the holy Ghost, feed the flock of God, taking the oversight thereof willingly, not by constraint, but of a willing mind; neither as lords over God's heritage, but as examples to the flock of Christ.
20.- That the younger submit themselves to the elder, - yea all be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.
Given forth at a general meeting of friends in truth at Balby in Yorkshire in the ninth month 1656
From the Spirit of truth to the children of light, to walk in the light; that all in order be kept in obedience; that he may be glorified, who is worthy over all, God blessed for ever. - Amen
Richard Farnworth William Dewsbury (others)
Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.