William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Of New Lights, and How to Keep Off from Splitting Either upon the

Charybdis of Pertinacity and Tenaciousness, or upon the Scylla of
Levity, Wavering, and Skepticism
by George Gillespie

It is pleaded by some, who pretend to more tenderness of conscience
than others, that to establish, by the law of the land, a confession
of faith, or a directory of the worship of God, and of the
government of the church, and to appoint penalties or punishments
upon such as maintain the contrary doctrines or practices, is to
hold out, and shut the door upon new light; that as the state and
church have discovered the evil of diverse things which were
sometime approved and strengthened by the law of the land, so there
may be afterwards a discovery made by the light of experience, and a
further search of the scripture, to make manifest the falsehood of
those doctrines which are now received as true, and the evil of that
government and way which is now embraced as good, for [Gk.] hai
deuterai phrontides sophoterai [second thoughts are wiser ones].
For satisfaction in this difficulty, first of all, I do not deny
but most willingly yield yea, assert, as a necessary truth, that
as our knowledge (at its best in this world) is imperfect (for we
know but in part), so it ought to be our desire and endeavour to
grow in the knowledge of the mind of Christ, to follow on to know
the Lord, to seek after more and more light, For "the path of the
just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the
perfect day," Prov. 4:18.

Secondly, I acknowledge that this imperfection of our knowledge is
not only in degree, but in parts: that is, we may know afterwards
not only more of that good or evil, or truth or error, of which we
knew somewhat before, but we may happily come to know the evil of
that whereof we knew no evil before, or the good of that in which we
knew no good before; so we may come to know diverse truths which
before we knew not.

Thirdly, I acknowledge there is not only this imperfection, but
ofttimes a great mistake, misunderstanding, error, and unsoundness,
in the judgment of Christian persons or churches, so that godly men
and true churches may come to know that to be evil which they
sometime thought good, and that to be false which sometime they
thought true, or contrariwise; which experience has taught, and may
teach again.

Fourthly, I confess it is no shame for an Augustine to write a book
of retractions. It is the duty, not only of particular Christians,
but of reforming, yea, the best reformed churches, whensoever any
error in their doctrine, or any evil in their government or form of
worship, shall be demonstrated to them from the word of God
(although it were by one single person, and one, perhaps, of no
great reputation for parts or learning, like Paphnutius among the
many learned bishops in the Council of Nicea), to take in, and not
to shut out further light; to embrace the will of Christ held forth
unto them, and to amend what is amiss, being discovered unto them.
Fifthly, I also believe that, towards the evening of the world,
there shall be more light, and knowledge shall be increased, Dan.
12:4, and many hid things in scripture better understood, when the
Jews shall be brought home, and the Spirit of grace and illumination
more abundantly poured forth. We have great cause to long and pray
for the conversion of the Jews; surely we shall be much the better
of them.

But, on the other hand, the greatest deceits and depths of Satan
have been brought into the world under the name or notion of "new
lights." Did not the serpent beguile Eve with this notion of a new
light (Gen. 3:5)? Which example the apostle sets before our eyes, 2
Cor. 11:3, plainly warning us that Satan is transformed into an
angel of light, and his apostles into the apostles of Christ, ver.
13-14; so Rev. 2:2.

Did not Jeroboam make Israel to sin by a false new light? "It is too
much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel,"
etc., 1 Kings 12:28. He would show to the ten tribes how they might,
in all matters of religion, be independent upon Jerusalem; howbeit
(to note that by the way) he did not erect independent churches
without an independent commonwealth. He would show them also that
they were abused with a pretended sacred order of priests, the
ministers of the Lord, therefore no jure divino [divine right] men,
but ministers dependent, 2 Chron. 11:14-15. And so he would needs
make priests of the lowest of the people, 1 Kings 12:31, for all
which he had a pretence of power or liberty from God, 1 Kings 11:37.
His new light made an independent church, and a dependent ministry.
The Gnostics had their name from the profound knowledge and greater
light which they pretended to above all others, yet the ancient
writers tell us they were but a profane sect. Mohammed himself
pretended that the angel Gabriel taught him his Koran, that so he
might purchase the greater credit to it.

Now, it is to be observed, there are many cautions necessary, and
that there is much to be said against many of those things which now
go under the name of "new lights" among those who plead for liberty
of conscience.

"New light" is become a beguiling word, as once among the Greeks,
[Gk.] Nea xelidon. A beguiling word I may well call it; for most of
those things which are now cried up as new lights are neither lights
nor new. Not lights, because not according to the word, from whence
all true light must be derived; not new, because the very same
things have been before moved and maintained. Antinomianism,
Anabaptism, universal atonement by the death of Christ, universal
salvation, a temporal and earthly kingdom of Christ, and the saints'
liberty of conscience, etc., have been maintained and confuted also
before this age. Independency itself, if it be a light, yet it is no
new one lately struck out, for it was long since a known tenet of
the Arminians, that synods or councils ought only to debate,
deliberate, consult, and advise, but not to exercise any
jurisdiction, to inflict any censure, or to enjoin any thing under
pain of censure. See the propositions offered by the Arminians in
the 25th session of the Synod of Dordt; see also Episcopii Disp.
Theol. [Theological Arguments of Episcopius (Simon Bishop)], part 3,
disp. 54, thes. 9-10; part 3, disp. 32, thes. 4-5, 11.

But now I come to the particular cautions concerning new lights.
First, it is but a false new light which expels not only the old
darkness, but much of the good old light. As in medicines the
Paraclesian way is most dangerous when it is destructive to the
Galenic way, and overthrows the old approved principles. Yet it is
of very good use when prudently and skillfully managed, for
perfecting the Galenic way, and for doing things more speedily,
easily, and pleasantly, than the Galenic way could do. So in
divinity, such new lights as do not expel, but retain, improve, and
perfect the old, may be of singular good use; but those new lights
which are destructive and expulsive of the old true lights, those
new ways which lead us away from the old and the good way, are to be
utterly disliked and avoided.

2 John, ver. 8, "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things
which we have wrought." He speaks it against those deceivers who
would have seduced them from the doctrine of Christ, as is evident,
both from the preceding verse, and from that which follows,
"Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ,
hath not God" [vs. 9], etc. Rom. 16:17, "Now, I beseech you,
brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to
the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." A bishop, says
Paul, Titus 1:9, must hold "fast the faithful word, as he hath been
taught." Phil 3:16, "Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained,
let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." This he
adds as a prevention of a dangerous mistake and abuse of that which
he had said immediately before, "And if in anything ye be otherwise
minded, God shall reveal even this unto you" [vs. 15].
"Behold, a reserve for any new light," might some say. Nay, but take
heed, says the apostle, you do not shut forth, but keep fast, the
light you have already attained unto; you must not, under pretence
of new light, lose what you have gained. Col. 2:6-8, "As ye have
therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted
and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been
taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man
spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit," etc. These
apostolical rules are very far contrary to the academical, yea,
Pyrrhonian demur and dubitation, by which some call in question the
most received doctrines of the Christian church.

If skepticism be tolerable in the Christian faith, why are we bidden
"stand fast in the faith?" 1 Cor. 16:13. And again, Heb. 10:23, "Let
us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." And why
did Jesus Christ himself write to those who had not received the
false doctrines of that time, "That which you have already, hold
fast till I come?" Rev. 2:25.

It was a foul error in Balaam, the false prophet, that after God had
said to him concerning Balak's messengers, "Thou shalt not go with
them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed," Num.
22:12; yet, at the next sending of messengers, he would needs seek
(forsooth) a new light from God, ver. 18-19: "If Balak would give me
his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of
the Lord my God, to do less or more. Now, therefore, I pray you,
tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will
say unto me more." God gave him a new light, indeed, but in wrath
and judgment, quite extinguishing and expelling judicially that
light which the false prophet himself had not entertained, but
wickedly forsaken, ver. 20, "And God came unto Balaam at night, and
said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with
them." Behold the fruit of not entertaining light once received from
God! So likewise the young prophet, 1 Kings 13, for not holding fast
what he had received from God, but taking in a new false light from
the old prophet, was most exemplarily and severely punished for it.
This is the first caution most necessary for the sectaries of this
time, whose new lights are such, that among them, vetera deperdita
[old abandoned matters] and nova reperta [new inventions] go hand in
hand together, and are almost convertible terms, as if a man should
not keep what he had, because he finds somewhat which he had not.
Secondly, many of these new lights which some brag of, not only
expel much of the good old light, but bring in gross Egyptian
darkness. There is a woe denounced against those who put "darkness
for light," as well as against those who put "light for darkness,"
Isa. 5:20. I may well say that gross darkness is introduced, when
the fundamental articles of faith are called question, denied, and
oppugned as the Godhead of Jesus Christ, the divine authority of
the scriptures, the immortality of the soul, the eternity of glory
to the elect and of torments to the reprobate, etc. If the
foundations be shaken, what can the righteous do? If we hold not
fast this gospel, if we embrace not this Saviour, we cannot have
another, 1 Cor. 3:11, "For other foundation can no man lay than that
is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Gal. 1:6, 8, "I marvel that ye are
so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ
unto another gospel. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach
any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto
you, let him be accursed."

Thirdly, beware of those new lights which make any certain truth
(although neither fundamental nor circumstantial) to be uncertain.
As we ought not to say of any sin, so neither of any truth, "Is it
not a little one?" Let every truth be highly valued. Buy the truth,
and sell it not. Say not, "This truth is but a matter of discipline,
let it go; it is not worth the buying." "He that is faithful in that
which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in
the least is unjust also in much," Luke 16:10. Melchior Adam, both
in the life of Karlstadt, and in the life of Luther, observes the
great evil which grew out of Luther's dislike of Karlstadt's
strictness, zeal, and forwardness in abolishing auricular
confession, and difference of meats, and casting out images out of
churches, at which things Luther was the more offended, because done
by Karlstadt in Wittenburg, during Luther's absence, and without his
knowledge and counsel. Luther did also allege that Karlstadt's
strictness and zeal in these things hindered and retarded the
reformation in more substantial points of doctrine. However, the
story notes, that hence was the first rise of that deplorable
sacramentarian controversy, which has ever since made so great a
rupture in Germany. I could never yet observe, or read, or hear of
controversies about discipline in any Christian church, but they
grew higher and higher; and those who rejected or slighted the will
of Christ in smaller things, did afterwards slight it in greater

Fourthly, beware of those new lights which not only refuse to admit
some certain truths, but refuse to admit any truth now held or
professed in the reformed churches, as sure, and certain, and
infallible; as if, because men's judgments are not infallible, but
subject to error, therefore we cannot be sure, nor infallibly
persuaded, of this or that article. The holy scripture will teach us
that believers may attain to a certain and infallible knowledge of
some truths; for it was no impossible thing that Paul prayed for,
when he prayed that the Colossians might have "all riches of the
full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the
mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ" [Col. 2:2]. The
mystery of God, that he is, and that he is eternal, invisible,
omnipotent, etc., his nature and his attributes; the mystery of the
Father, or that there is a distinction of persons in the Holy
Trinity, and an eternal generation; the mystery of Christ, his
person, natures, offices, birth, passion, death, resurrection,
ascension, and intercession; these are things of which the apostle
would have us most fully and certainly persuaded. Timothy was
assured of the things he had learned, 2 Tim. 3:14; so was
Theophilus, Luke 1:4.

A mariner is not infallible in his judgment; yet he may be assured
infallibly, that such a thing is a rock which he must avoid, and
such a way is the way he must direct his course. A physician is not
infallible in his judgment concerning the symptoms, causes, and
cures of diseases; yet he may be most certainly persuaded such a
disease is deadly, and there is no cure for it, or such a thing may
be cured, and this is the cure. So, in divinity, the obnoxiousness
of men's judgment to error hinders not but they may be infallibly
persuaded of this and the other truth.

Fifthly, beware of those new lights which come not from the Sun of
Righteousness. "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not
according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,"
Isa. 8:20. When men walk in the light of their own sparks they shall
lie down in darkness. New fancies are not new lights. It is no truth
which cannot be grounded upon the word of truth. It was a wild fancy
of the Weigelians, that there is a time to come (which they call
seculum Spiritus Sancti [the age of the Holy Spirit]) in which God
shall, by his Spirit, reveal much more knowledge and light than was
revealed by Christ and his apostles in the scriptures. There is so
much revealed in scripture, as the apostle calls the "wisdom of
God," and the "hidden wisdom" of God, 1 Cor. 2:7. The things which
are preached and written to us are the things which the very angels
desire to look or pry into, 1 Pet. 1:12. And says not Christ, "That
which ye have already hold fast till I come?" Rev. 2:25. More of
this error, see in Brochmand. System. Theol., com. 1, art. 6, cap.
2, quest. 12.

Sixthly, take heed of proud, and lofty, and self-conceited new
lights, 1 Cor. 14:32-33, "And the spirits of the prophets are
subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but
of peace." If the spirits of the prophets must be so subject, how
much more the spirits of private persons. Wherefore, in a reformed
church, all pretended new lights, which are against the received
doctrine, government, or form of worship, ought to be, in all
humility and submission, offered to be tried by a learned and godly
synod. The Locrean severity was such, that no man might move for a
new law but with a rope about his neck, that if his motion were
thought good, he might be spared, but if bad, hanged. So Demosthenes
tells us (Advers. Timocr. [Against Timocrates]). I will not allow
this severity against such as offer new lights, or move for new
changes in the church; but I may well apply here the Athenian law
recorded by Demosthenes in the same oration. The Athenians went not
so far as the Locri; yet no man might move for a new law in Athens
unless the motion were offered and submitted to the senate, who were
to judge whether the old or the new were better.

Seventhly, beware of separating new lights. To separate from, or
gather new churches out of true reformed or reforming churches, has
not the least warrant from the word of God. When we see this or that
amiss in a church, we are bidden to exhort one another, and provoke
one another to good, but not to separate, Heb. 10:24-25. Zwingli
conferred amicably with the Anabaptists in Zurich, as with
dissenting brethren, and no course was taken to suppress or restrain
them by the secular power, till they grew to gather churches out of
the true reformed churches. But when it came to that, they could not
be suffered or forborne; it was thought necessary to restrain them.
Eighthly, beware of these new lights which dare not be seen, and are
kept up in corners. Truth seeks no corners; light does not shun
light. A candle is not lighted to be put under a bushel, "but on a
candlestick," Matt. 5:15. John 3:20-21: "Every one that doeth evil
hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should
be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light." Prov.
4:19: "The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what
they stumble;" I add, to make up the antithesis to verse 18, their
way is darkened more and more until the dark is night. I have heard,
when the Arminians were put to it in the Synod of Dordt, to declare
their judgment and sense which they would hold at, they declined it,
and Episcopus answered in the name of the rest, "Dies diem docet
[Day instructs day]." And is it not so with the sectaries of this
time, from whom you cannot draw a clear model of what they hold?
Ninthly, refuse such new lights as have "fellowship with the
unfruitful works of darkness." Eph. 5:11. It is a deceitful new
light which makes men forbear to reprove, speak, or petition,
against those evils in a state which their consciences know to be
sinful, and to wink at such things as publicly dishonour God in a
nation, upon hopes that themselves shall be winked at and tolerated.
But "what communion hath light with darkness?" 2 Cor. 6:14. There
are some who pretend to a new light, and to tenderness of
conscience, who are yet content to combine and associate themselves
with those of another and different way (which themselves condemn as
a sinful way), in that common cause of theirs, for crying up their
great Diana, liberty of conscience, and for opposing the church
government by presbyteries and synods. How they who would not assist
the presbyterians, for the purging of their congregations, and keep
off all scandalous persons from the sacrament, and yet do assist and
strengthen Separatists, Anabaptists, Antinomians, Socinians,
Erastians, Seekers, in seeking after toleration how, I say, they
will answer this to God and their own consciences, let them look to

Again, many of the pretended new lights have communion with darkness
in another respect, because they are borrowed from heresies buried
in darkness. How many "new lights" are now brought from the Arians,
Manichees, Novatians, Donatists, the Contemplative Monks and Friars,
the Photinians, Socinians, Arminians, etc. These are no more new
lights than a beggar's cloak is a new garment, being newly made up
out of many old riven and rotten clouts sewn together.
Tenthly, away with those new lights which let men see nothing
better, which bring no edification; those Boetia nigmata [Boetian
obscurities], those nonsense and haughty high nonsense in which some
frothy spirits evanesce. "Let all things be done unto edifying," 1
Cor. 14:26. There are vain babblings, and science, falsely so
called, which have made men err from the faith, 1 Tim. 6:20-21.
Lastly, take good heed of those new lights which follow new
interests. Such was that of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 12:26 to the end; and
that of Balaam, Num. 22:15-20. There are some who suppose that "gain
is godliness," says the apostle, 1 Tim. 6:5; and so there are some
who suppose new interests to be new lights.


Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Discovery of the Americas