Final Letters to the Faithful, Written From Prison
by James Parnell
Born in 1636, died a martyr's death at the age of 19
(Click here to read a short Biography of James Parnell)


      Men had the power to confine his body, but they could not limit or control the operations of the Spirit within him. His mind was active in the midst of his outward sufferings and inconveniences of a severity and magnitude for us to excuse him from much labor for the Truth, if not exclude the possibility of doing much of anything. Yet his earnest spirit still remembered the Lord's heritage, and from the lonely and suffering cell, he was concerned to address the newly convinced with letters to build up the assemblies that had been gathered by his instrumentality, and to which he was no longer permitted to preach the Word of life. And not only was his spirit concerned on behalf of believers, but also for the wicked, whom he exhorted to turn away from their evil ways, that they might not perish in the day of wrath and righteous retribution. These papers from his cell can be instructive for us, as well as an encouragement to press on in the faith.

      Parnell lived in the dungeon of the Colchester Castle about ten or eleven months, in great self-denial and carefulness, being truly watchful over the flock of God, both in Essex and Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and the Isle of Ely, and elsewhere, where he had traveled and turned many to God. And he wrote many blessed and heavenly epistles, both to particular persons, and to the assemblies in general, which were so many that we have no certain account of them, and could not place them in order, even if they all were somehow collected together. - Stephen Crisp

      Soon after he was recommitted to Colchester Castle, he wrote the following epistle:


A few words to all my dear friends in and about the County of Essex.

      And all you, my dear friends, you scattered and despised ones, whom the Lord, by His powerful Word, is now gathering out of darkness into marvelous light, - out of the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of His dear Son, whom He is separating to Himself to walk before Him in holiness, that you might know Him, and he might know you in the light of His countenance; whose faces he has turned towards Zion, to seek after a land of rest to your wearied souls, which have been tossed to and fro, from mountain to hill, in this cloudy and dark day, seeking rest, but finding none. But now has the day of beauty arrived near you, even in you; yes. And glad tidings have come into your wearied souls, by which a pure love to the everlasting Truth has been created in you, which has been freely declared among you by the messengers of the Most High, who have reached the witness for God in your consciences, which seals the same upon your hearts, which is your Teacher, to which you pay attention and obey. In this light all stand still and behold the work which the Lord has begun among us.

      And you shall have no cause of discouragement, though the raging sea does rise, and the raging waves do swell, as if the would swallow you up. Yet the sea is limited by the Unlimited, and it shall foam out its own shame. And as I had a time to preach the Truth among you, to the convincement of many; so now I have a time to seal the same with patient suffering in the bonds of the Gospel, that you may see, that it is no other, but what we are made able and willing to seal with patient suffering, yes, with our blood, if we are called to it; as many of us have done in this nation, though it is called a land of liberty, yet it is, a land of iniquity. But truth and equity are strangers in it and are therefore persecuted.

      But happy are you, who are thought worthy to receive these strangers, [truth and equity]. And thought the raging Sodomites surround you, pressuring you to cast out these strangers, so that they may work their wills on them; yet be faithful and fear them not. But [instead] cast out your pleasures and affections before them, and stand in the faith of the God of truth and equity, and you shall see the Sodomites struck with blindness, and they shall not be able to prevail against you. But when they are weary with striving, they shall be made to lie down in sorrow. And so it shall be fulfilled, which of old was prophesied, that 'no weapon formed against the faithful shall prosper;' but woe to them who lift up the heel against them.

      Therefore I charge you all, in the name of the God of Truth, be faithful, valiant, and bold for the Truth received; and as you have received it, so walk in it, that you may profess no more in word, than in life you seal; that the light may be preached forth in your lives and shine forth in your conversations to the glory of the Father of lights, and the confounding of the heathen, who profess God in words but deny him in their life. And be willing that self shall suffer for the Truth, and not the Truth for self, (for the Truth was ever sealed with persecution, since Cain's generation existed on the earth). So own the cross and despise the shame and yield to suffer for the Truth received; all of you who would follow the Lamb to the land of rest.

      Through many trials you will grow strong and bold and confident in your God. For God is not known, what a God he is, until the time of trial. And all keep your meetings in the name and fear of the Lord God, waiting for His power, in the obedience to His light, which in your consciences reproves you when you do something wrong, that in the light you may wait, and watch over the foes that are in your own house [within yourself], that you may know the warfare begun in your hearts against your spiritual enemies. And so the God of power manifest Himself among you by His mighty power, bringing down all that is in you which opposes Him, and would not have Him to reign over your hearts, and establish you in righteousness, that you may bear his image. And He shall be your God, you shall be His people.

      And so in the unchangeable Truth I rest, in unity with all the faithful, in the glorious liberty of the sons of God, though in outward bond for your sakes,

Known to all that can read me in spirit,

James Parnell


To Friends in Essex.

      Friends - I speak to that of God in all your consciences, which there witnesses God, which is according to the mind of God, which is placed in your hearts to be your teacher - to teach you to do the will of God, and how to walk up to the mind of God, and to distinguish between truth and error, and between him that serves the Lord and him that serves Him not.

      Which Teacher - the Light, enlightens your understandings, and lets you see the land of darkness, where the house of bondage is, where the righteous Seed lies oppressed, and where the man of sin rules, and death has its dominion. Which Light is your guide out of the house of bondage, and out of the land of darkness, and out of death's dominion; and slays the man of sin, and separates you from the children of darkness, and leads you out from among them, to seek after another kingdom, in which is witnessed the perfect day where sorrow and sighing fly away.

      But then you must come out of yourselves and deny your own wisdom and reason and whatever originates from self, which is at enmity with the Light, which by the Light is condemned. But if you listen to self, then you stumble in the way, and many stumbling blocks lie before you, and thorns and briars catch hold of you, and your feet stick in the mire, and there you toil in servitude, and many hardships and impossibilities appear before you, and doubts, and fears and questionings, and murmurings, longings and unbelief rise in you; and many temptations assault you - sometimes to return and die in Egypt, - sometimes to long after delights and fleshpots of Egypt, - sometimes to think that God has utterly forsaken you, sometimes to question the very Truth of God and to be ready to call it a lie.

      There is the wavering and unstable mind; and all this arises out of darkness, where self stands; all comes by listening to self. Therefore keep you minds to the messenger of God, the Light, which brings the message of peace and the glad tidings of salvation. Keep close to the Light and own it alone to be your teacher, guide, and counselor in all the way through which you are to pass, and in all thing that you are to do.

      Stand in the denial of self and all its goals; and own the Light, which leads into singleness of mind unto God away from selfish ends. Then the Light will remove all stumbling blocks and lead you through the briars and thorns; and your feet shall not stick in the mire, but the crooked way shall be made straight, and rough and hard way made plain and easy. For in the Light there is no occasion for stumbling, but it keeps your feet from erring and your tongues from speaking evil, as you obey it, which when you are going to the right or the left, it cries: 'this is the way, walk in it.'

      This is the word in you - from which comes faith, which makes all things easy and possible. But 'without faith it is impossible to please God.' And faith is the gift of God. So this is the word of Truth, from which faith springs, which judges down all murmurings, doubtings, and repinings, and all lightness, lustings and earthliness, and condemns the ground from which all these things spring.

      And here the Ministration of Condemnation is witnessed, which in its time is glorious; through which comes the ministration of peace, which exceeds the other in glory. But take heed of getting these things into the comprehension to talk about; instead let the time of silence and patience have its work, in which wait for the fulfilling of these things, that you may read them within, and that they may show forth themselves in the life, which adorns and honors the Truth; that so you may become vessels of honor. But this cannot be witnessed without faithfulness; for it is the willing and obedient that shall eat the good of the land.

      Therefore, Friends, see how you stand in faithfulness to that, which in your measures is made known unto you; for faithfulness is of great value - and faithfulness is as well in secret, as in public, knowing that all things are public unto God, who will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. Therefore he that is faithful over a little, is approved by God, and shall be made ruler over much; but he that is slothful is cast out, and that, which he has, is taken from him. These things you have read without, but now learn them within; and read them inside yourselves, and you need not be deceived; for by the Light your hearts are searched, and by which all things are made manifest, by which you are either approved or disapproved unto God, in all your words and actions.

      Therefore, by his light set a watch over all your thoughts, words, and actions, that the righteous Judge may be set up in your hearts, which condemns deceit and iniquity, and establishes righteousness in the earth, and truth and equity in the inward parts, and cleanses the heart from evil, that this alone may guide you, and be your spring of action in all your ways and doings. And then self will have no part, but all things will be done in the cross to self, in singleness unto God. Then He alone is glorified, and His fear and awe are placed in the heart, and the tongue is bridled, and the will curbed, and the heart cleansed, and kept clean; for 'it is that which goes out of the heart which defiles.'

      Therefore I say unto you all - watch, that the pure may exercise your minds, which crucifies the carnal part, and mortifies the deeds of the flesh, and established purity in the heart, and brings forth the fruits of the Spirit, which is love in a pure life, that here you may come to live and walk and grow together in unity in your measures. For that which separates from unity is self, which causes love to grow cold. But if you abide in the love of God, self is denied; but where self is owned, the love of God is denied. So here is the enemy of your own house, which you are to war against. In the Light that discovers self is your power and strength, and as you receive the Light, you receive power and strength to deny self in its appearances. This power reconciles your hearts to each other and brings you into perfect friendship and unity, which stands not in the will of man, but in the pure nature, which is the cross to that will, which the world cannot bear, for it breaks the world's fellowship, love, and friendship; all of which stand in the corrupt will of carnal men, in which stands all their customs, fashions, and traditions; as well as all their worships and professions, from which arises persecution against you, who dwell in the pure nature and use the single, pure language, which their corrupt wills cannot bear. But look not out at what they can do to you, knowing that the worst thing they can do to you is kill your body. But eye the Lord your God in the pure, and count it your riches that you are found worthy to suffer for righteousness' sake. For through many trials and tribulations you will come forth pure unto the Lord and strong in the faith.

      So the Lord God of power be with you, and by his mighty power keep you low and watchful in your conditions so that you may regard your eternal good above all things under the sun, and that everyone of you may walk and grow in the Truth, which you have received, daily dying to the things which perish, that you may come to dwell in the life of God, out of the things of the world; then the use of them will be given to you along with the pure wisdom, as it was in the beginning, when man was in the right use of the things of the world; and here paradise will be found. But he that believes is not in a hurry, and by 'patient endurance in well-doing,' you will reap the reward if you don't faint.

      In which I say to you farewell.

      Dear Friends, it was the love of God in me, which runs forth to the Seed in you, which constrained me to write unto you, and visit you with this epistle. Now my bodily presence is barred from you by the corrupt will of man. Yet my spirit does not cease to cry on your behalf, that the Lord by his power, (by which He has awakened you out of sleep and caused his witness to answer to his truth), would bless and prosper this his happy work in your hearts, to the bringing forth of his precious Seed to rule and have dominion. So his glorious Light may shine forth in your conversations, and his beauty appear in your image. That the heathen may be ashamed, and fear before the Lord your God. And here, my friends, is my comfort in the midst of bonds. Yes, if this body was to be sacrificed up, it would not abate my joy that I have in you, in whom the work of God prospers. Therefore, I charge you all in the name of the living God, whom you profess, to abide diligently and circumspectly in his fear, that you grieve not the Spirit of God, nor cause his holy name to be blasphemed, for fear that you add affliction to the bonds of the Gospel.

      This is from a friend, who is known in spirit, who for the innocent Seed's sake suffers in the bonds of the Gospel.

James Parnell

From Colchester Castle
The 11th month, 1655.


To William Dewsbury

      Dear and precious brother in the eternal unchangeable Truth of God, I do, in my measure, salute you. You are blessed of the Lord, dear brother; your fatherly care over me I do acknowledge, and your voice is a comfort to me. I am kept and nourished in the middle of my enemies, glory be to God in the highest, who has counted me worthy to bear the bonds of the Gospel.

      Dear Brother, I am glad to hear from you and my dear brother, Thomas Stubbs, with you, whom I love in the Lord, and the rest of my fellow-prisoners; the Lord has set you as a father over them. I know your burden is great, for the work lies upon you, but your joy is in your children.

      Truly there has been a great appearance in these parts, and since I was put in prison, there is a great need of ministers; but I had a fairly large freedom among the people before the priests were allowed to arrest me. The work of the Lord was great, and it significantly spread to my great comfort. These bonds of mine have served to pierce the hearts of many to discover the spirit of my persecutors and to confirm to those the Truth that had been convinced. They have tried to make my imprisonment grievous to me, but the strength I have, the Philistines do not know. Friends are not permitted to visit me, but not all. Our tender sister, M. S. is herself in bonds in the town prison, she was put in prison yesterday evening for speaking to a priest, she has been imprisoned twice before this within a week, but they had no power to keep her in.

      So may the same power that keeps you, keep me; and please pray for me.

I rest with you in the brotherly unity, your tender brother,

James Parnell

For my dear brother William Dewsbury in the common Jail at Northhampton.

Colchester Castle,
12th of 12th month, 1655

(Note: William Dewsbury spent 20 years in prisons, for failure to swear. )


An Epistle to Friends.

     All you friends of the Light. Although we who are your ministers and messengers of the Light, are cast into prisons, holes, and dungeons, and are kept there by the devilish, corrupted will of man; although it is allowed by God, the Father of Light, for the fulfilling of the scriptures upon this generation, which was prophesied by the ministers and messengers of Light in the days of old, who suffered in the same nature, by the same generation, for the same testimony; although the Lord still allows this generation to act in their nature against us, and to fill up their measure of his wrath; all of these are allowed to show His Truth and to exalt his name of power.

     And through all this, are we known, and made manifest unto you, who are in the Light. The heathen come to know and confess that greater is He that is within us, than all those that can rise up against us. And in all this we do rejoice, and through our sufferings we are crowned, and get the victory over the world, without, [as well] as within. And though we are kept [in prison, yet it is for] the Lord's appointed time. Therefore Friends, eye the Lord in all these things; and look not out at man, nor at what man can do, either for or against us; but eye God in all his works, and in all his instruments; and there will be no cause for discouragement.

     For discouragement and fears, doubts and questionings, spring from the carnal mind. But an eternal witness we have in all your consciences, which by the Word of power is awakened in you, by which we are known, by which we are owned, by which we are witnessed and received into your hearts, wherein our unity stands with you, who are faithful unto it, by which we are remembered unto you, though far absent in body.

     And this witness we have in the men of the world; though they do not receive it, nor like to retain it in their minds; therefore they do not receive us; but because the witness lies slain in them, they strive to slay us. And this is their condemnation, which will witness unto God against them, out of their own mouths. And thus, we are a sweet savor unto God, both in you that believe, and in them that perish. Therefore, you that do believe, take heed unto this witness, and its answer in your consciences, that it may exercise your consciences in unity with God, that you may be kept in the sense of it, and taught and guided by it into the cross to your own wills, that the will of God may guide you, and not your own will. So that the living witness may be raised up in you, to live, rejoice, and be your head; and that which had been your head, may be bruised.

     And so Friends, your hearts may come to be established and confirmed in the unchangeable Truth, to which you are called, that you may be the children of Truth. So all you who own this voice, keep close to the witness in your own minds and consciences, that you may feed on the living substance at the table of the Lord; and there partake of the union and communion of saints; and as every one of you dwell in your own measures, the things [of God] will come to be cleared up to you, and the shadows will vanish away.

     Keep at home, every one, in your tents; and let the candle stand upon the candlestick, that the whole house may be enlightened; for fear that the thief gets into the secret corner and troubles you and robs you and casts a veil over your light.

     So, while you have the light, abide in it, and in it you will sec more light; and sweep clean within, and search every corner, and suffer not an enemy to remain in the house. Cast out that, which has been in the bosom, and let the Lamb be there instead, who has said, "He that loves anything more than me, is not worthy of me." So, unto the Light bring all. And woe to him that hides from the Light; the day will make him manifest.

     Oh! rest not above the Life. Feed upon nothing below it. Follow the light, which leads your minds to the Son; for in Him is peace, yes, true peace, which cannot be broken. Yes, He is the bond of peace. If you abide in Him, He will abide in you; and you shall bring forth fruit plentifully; and He will refresh you with the heavenly dew, and you shall flourish, as in a summer's day, yes, as plants of righteousness. But the spring comes first. Oh! how pleasant, and beautiful is the spring in a barren field, where barrenness and deadness fly away. As the spring comes on, the winter casts her coat and the summer is near. Oh, wait to see and read these things within. You that have been as barren, and dead and dry, without sap, until the Sun of righteousness is risen with healing in his wings, and begins to shine inside. For this is a day when he has come to visit you; yes, to you who have long sat in darkness. Now light has sprung up. Oh! Mind the secret springs and the tender plants.

     Now you are called to dress the garden; let not the weeds and wild plants remain. Fretting is a weed; anger is a weed; self-love and self-will are weeds; pride is a wild plant; covetousness is a wild plant; lightness and vanity are wild plants; and lust the root of all. And these things have had a room in your garden, and have been tall and strong: and truth, innocence and equity have been left out, and could not be found, until the Sun of righteousness arose, and searched out that which was lost, and brought again that which was driven away. Therefore, do not be idle, but come into the vineyard and work. Your work shall be to watch, and keep out the fowls of the air, the unclean beasts, the wild bears, and the subtle foxes. He that is the Husbandman, will pluck up the wild plants and weeds, and make fences around the vines. He will tell you what to do. He, who is Father of the vineyard, will be near you. Now, read all this within yourselves in your heart, or you will stumble. Whatever is not clear to you, wait for the fulfilling of it. "He that believes is not in a hurry." But, those of you who are only covered with leaves, the Son will search. You must come to the fall of the leaf, and to the time of deadness and winter, before the life will appear, and the living springs are opened. You must cast off your own garments, and then the Son will clothe you; but he will not clothe you until you are naked, [stripped of all your secrets, hidden desires, and self-righteousness]; you must not have, no, not so much as an apron of fig-leaves to cover your nakedness; for shame must come upon all flesh.

(This Epistle, written from Colchester Castle)


     The following letter bears the latest date of any of James Parnell's writings, as far as can be discovered; it was written about five months from the time of his first imprisonment; but as there were many letters written by him, during his confinement in Colchester Castle, which have not been preserved, it is not certain if this was his last.


To my dear Friends, brethren, and sisters the city of London.

     To you translated ones my love from the life does flow. You that are translatedand renewed in heart and mind; [To be translated, is to be in the Kingdom], you that are separated and redeemed from among the children of this world, and the pollutions and abominations that they live in. In you are established the works of the new creation, where dwells righteousness. You are beautiful within, and are adorned within, and are decent within, and are purified and cleansed within by the precious Blood of the Lamb, with whom you are crucified; who are in Him; who have put on the wedding garment, and are admitted to the table of the Lord, and are partakers of the holy union.

     Oh, you blessed of the Lord, you babes and children of the Most High, who dwell in purity and reign in majesty, who have established and set up His throne in your Hearts. In you is my joy and great delight. Yes, I remember you, when you were tender and springing up, but by waiting on the Lord, you have renewed your strength, and the more is my joy made full in you; and you are made precious in my sight, you are the inward Jews, of the heart circumcision, redeemed from kindred, tongues, languages and people, who have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, there to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, whom He has chosen to bear His holy image, which has been so much defaced in the world, and in you to exalt, and glorify his name of holiness among the heathen, and them that know Him not, now in this day, in which He is visiting the earth with judgment, and with mercy, and with mighty power, to call to account the inhabitants of the earth.

     And blessed are you, who have responded to His voice; you shall sing, and rejoice, when others shall weep, and mourn, and howl; though your portions [now] among them are sufferings, scornings, mockings, deridings, backbitings, revilings, persecutions, stripes, and imprisonments; yet have you learned to account these things riches, who know the Comforter within you, and your Redeemer to live with you. I do rejoice in all these things, being now made partaker of them. I am not unknown to you; my voice you know of old. Oh how do I long to see your faces, but in that I am straitened for a time! My life is bound up in many of your hearts, which makes me so that I cannot forget you, though my body is kept in strait bonds; but the straitness will be broken, when He has perfected HIS praise in them, who is my only keeper and supporter.

     Oh, you simple doves, who sit without guile in your mouths! Oh, how I am ravished with the love of you, when I behold you in spirit! You who have given up unto death, to the famine, to the sword, and to the fire; and have patiently submitted unto the Father's will, and willingly sacrificed up your lusts and affections; your faith is imputed to you for righteousness; and the God whom you have trusted and believed in, will make you rich in Him, and give you incorruptible substance, and an inheritance that never fades. In measure you can set your seals to what is written unto you.

    But some have listened to the evil spirit, which has brought evil tidings of the good land; and those have turned back into Egypt and joined with the magicians there to harden Pharaoh's heart against the innocent, and filled the mouth of the heathen with blasphemous speeches. But let them go on; "he that is filthy, let him be filthy still;" for He comes quickly, whose reward is with Him to give to them according to their doing. But all things work together for the good of you, who stand in the faith, who are not moved with the winds that blow or the storms that come against you, who watch the hand of Providence in all these things, which brings good out of evil to you children of God, who abide in the Truth, and stray not.

     So, as you have tasted, felt, known and experienced of Him, so trust in Him, and remain in your sure confidence, which has been created in you by His Word; and be as lights in the dark world both by word and conversation, that in all things you may be approved by the Father's [Spirit] in your consciences, as faithful and obedient children, every one in your calling, where you were called, that you may obtain the prize there in the end of your race. Oh, lift up your heads and look up to the Father, and see how he has tendered you, and how his love has been tendered towards you all along, who has not left you without instructors and nursing fathers, who have watched over you with tender care. In much love and tenderness am I drawn forth towards you little ones, who spring from the root of the vine, because you bear my Father's image. Long have I waited to write to you, and lately I had an opening {having seen them in the Spirit} of you, which caused me to visit you with this epistle; for you have often times been in my remembrance, though I could not write. And now you must read me in that love, which tongue cannot express, and in that epistle which is written in your hearts, without either paper or ink, by the immortal Word of life, and there my name you will know.

     So the Lord God Almighty, the keeper of Israel, overshadow you, and in His holy presence keep you pure and innocent, that you may show forth His praise in the earth, and shine forth His praise in the earth, and shine as sons and daughters of Zion; into whose blessed protection I commit you, and do lie down with you, who am a sufferer in outward bonds by the will of men for the innocent Seed's sake, but at liberty with the faithful, who am called:

James Parnell

Written from Colchester Castle, The 12th of 1st Month, 1656.


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