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Spiritual Reformers In The 16th And 17th Centuries by Rufus M. Jones


The spiritual struggles which culminated in the great upheaval of the English Commonwealth were the normal fruit of the Reformation spirit, when once it had penetrated the life of the English people and kindled the fire of personal conviction in their hearts. Beginning as it did with the simple substitution of royal for papal authority in the government of the Church, the English Reformation lacked at its inception the inward depth, the prophetic vision, the creative power, the vigorous articulation of newly awakened personal conscience, which formed such a commanding feature of the Reformation movement on the Continent. It took another hundred years in England to cultivate individual conscience, to ripen religious experience, to produce the body of dynamic ideas, and to create the necessary prophetic vision before an intense and popular spirit of Reform could find its voice and marching power. The contact of English exiles and chance visitors with the stream of thought in Germany, in Switzerland, and in Holland, and the filtering in of literature from the Continent, together with the occasional coming of living exponents, sowed the seeds that slowly ripened into that strange and interesting variety of religious thought and practice which forms the inner life of the Commonwealth. The policy of the throne had always opposed this steadily increasing tide of thought which refused to run in the well-worn channels, but, as usual, the opposition and hindrances only served to {267} deepen personal conviction, to sharpen the edge of conscience, to nourish great and daring spirits, to formulate the battle-ideas and to win popular support. The inner life and the varied tendencies of the Commonwealth are too rich and complicated to be adequately treated here. The purpose of this chapter is to show how the type of inward and spiritual religion, which the Reformation in its kindling power everywhere produced, finds expression in the writings of three men who came to large public prominence in the period of the Commonwealth, Francis Rous, Sir Harry Vane, and Peter Sterry.


Francis Rous was born in Cornwall in 1579. He graduated B.A. at Oxford in 1597 and at the University of Leyden in 1599. He entered the Middle Temple in 1601, with the prospect of a legal and public career before him, but soon withdrew and retired to Cornwall, where in a quiet country retreat he became absorbed in theological studies. His later writings show an intimate acquaintance with the great Church Fathers, especially with St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and the two Gregorys, and with the mystics, especially with the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Bernard, Thomas a Kempis, and John Tauler. He was intensely Puritan in temper and sympathies in his earlier period of life, and much of his writing at this stage was for the purpose of promoting the increase of a deeper and more adequate reform in the Church. He translated the Psalms into |English Meeter,| and his version was approved by the Westminster Assembly, authorized for use by Parliament, and adopted by the estates in Scotland, |whose Psalms,| Carlyle says, |the Northern Kirks still sing.|

He was a member of Charles I.'s first and second Parliaments, and again of the Short Parliament and of {268} the Long Parliament. He was also a member of the Little Parliament, often called |Barebones Parliament,| of which he was Speaker, and of the Parliaments of 1654 and of 1656, and he was, too, a member of Oliver's Council of State. He was one of many thoughtful men of the time who passed with the rapid development of affairs from the Presbyterian position to Independency, and he served on the Committee for the propagation of the Gospel which framed a congregational plan for Church government. He was a voluminous writer, but his type of Christianity can be seen sufficiently in his three little books: Mystical Marriage (1635), The Heavenly Academy (1638), and The Great Oracle (1641).

He, again, like so many before him, influenced by Plato as well as by the New Testament and Christian writers, made the discovery that there is something divine in the soul of man, and that this |something divine| in man is always within hail of an inner world of divine splendour. |I was first breathed forth from heaven,| he says, |and came from God in my creation. I am divine and heavenly in my original, in my essence, in my character. . . . I am a spirit, though a low one, and God is a Spirit, even the highest one, and God is the fountaine of this spirit [of mine].|

The possession of this divine |original,| unlost even in the mist and mystery of a world of time and sense, enables man, he holds, to live in that higher world even while he sojourns in this lower world. Human reason, i.e. reasoning, is sufficient to guide in the affairs of this life, but it is blind to the world of the Spirit from which we came. |The soule has two eyes -- one human reason, the other far excelling that, a divine and spiritual Light. . . . By it the soule doth see spiritual things as truly as the corporall eye doth corporal things.| |Human reason acknowledges the sovereignty of this spiritual Light as a candle acknowledges the greater light of the sun,| and, {269} by its in-shining, the soul passes |beyond a speculative and discoursing holiness, even beyond a forme of godliness and advances to the power of it.| But this inward Light does not make outward helps unnecessary. |The light of the outward word [the Scriptures] and the Light in our soules are twinnes and agree together like brothers,| and again he says, |It is an invaluable [inestimable] Loss that men do so much divide the outward Teacher from the Inward,| though he insists that the ministry of the Spirit is above any ministry of the letter.

This eye of the soul which is a part of its original structure and is responsive to the Light of the spiritual world, so that |soule and Light become knit together into one,| is also called by Rous, as by his predecessors, |Seed| or |Word.| Sometimes this divine Seed is thought of as an original part of the soul, and sometimes, under the assumption that |man has grown wild by the fall of Adam| and is |run to weeds,| it is conceived, as by Schwenckfeld, as a saving remedy supernaturally supplied to the soul -- |Christ entering into our spirits lays in them an immortal seed.| In any case, whether the Seed be original, as is often implied and stated, or whether it be a supernatural gift of divine Grace in Christ, as is sometimes implied, it is, in Rous' conception, essential for the attainment of a religious experience or a Christian life: |A Christian man hath as much need of Christ's Spirit [called in other passages Seed or Word] to be a Christian and to live eternally, as a natural man hath of a spirit [principle of intelligence] to be a man and to live temporally, so Christ's Spirit and a man together are a Christian, which is a holy, eternal and happy thing.| He shows, as do so many of those who emphasize the inner experience of Christ as a living presence, an exalted appreciation of the historical revelation in Christ. Christ is, he says, both God and man, and thus being the perfect union of divinity and humanity {270} can be our Saviour. Here in the full light of His Life and Love we may discover the true nature of God, who was |great with love before we loved Him.| The outer word answers to the inner Light as deep calls unto deep, and the two are |knit together| not to be sundered. The eye must be on Christ the Light, and the wise soul |must watch the winde and tide of the Spirit, as the seaman watcheth the naturall winde and tide. When the tide of the Spirit floweth then put thy hand to the oar, for then if thou row strongly thou maiest advance mightily.|

He quaintly says that he has written about these spiritual things, about the world of divine splendour and the |soule's inner eye,| because he wants to exhibit |some bunches of grapes brought from the land of promise to show that this land is not a meere imagination, but some have seene it and have brought away parcels, pledges and ernests of it. In these appears a world above the world, a love that passeth human love, a peace that passeth naturall understanding, a joy unspeakable and glorious, a taste of the chiefe and soveraigne good.| He has, further, written because he wanted to |provoke others of this nation to bring forth more boxes of this precious ointment.|

His little books are saturated with a devotional spirit rising into words like these: |Let my love rest in nothing short of thee, O God!| |Kindle and enflame and enlarge my love. Enlarge the arteries and conduit pipes by which Thou the head and fountaine of love flows in thy members, that being abundantly quickened and watered with the Spirit I may abundantly love Thee.| They contain bursts of intense prayer -- |Put thy owne image and beauty more and more on my soule.| He went through all the Parliamentary storms of that great epoch; he was Provost of Eton College; he was Cromwell's friend; but his main ambition seems to have been to be |knit to God by a personal union,| to have |the {271} dayspring in his own heart,| and to be taught in |the heavenly Academy -- the High School of Experience.|


The story of Sir Harry Vane's life, adequately told, would involve the entire history of the great epoch of the Commonwealth. Next to Cromwell, he was the most influential shaper of events from the time of the meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640 until his |retirement| on the occasion of the expulsion of the members of Parliament in 1653. In his views of constitutional government and of human liberty he was one of the most original and one of the most modern men of the seventeenth century. Richard Baxter, who had no love for Vane, is only stating an actual fact when he says: |To most of our changes he was that within the House that Cromwell was without.| Clarendon, who loved him still less, said of him: |He was indeed a man of extraordinary parts, a pleasant wit, a great understanding which pierced into and discerned the purposes of men with wonderful sagacity.| What Milton thought of him he has told in one of the noblest sonnets that a poet ever wrote on a great statesman:

Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old,
Than whom a better senator ne'er held
The helm of Rome, when gowns not arms repelled
The fierce Epirot and the African bold:
Whether to settle peace, or to unfold
The drift of hollow states hard to be spelled,
Then to advise how war may best upheld
Move by her two main nerves, iron and gold,
In all her equipage; besides to know
Both spiritual power and civil, what each means,
What severs each, thou hast learned, which few have done: The bounds of either sword to thee we owe;
Therefore on thy firm hand religion leans
In peace, and reckons thee her eldest son.


Vane was quite naturally selected at the Restoration as one of the actors in the historical drama who could not be allowed to live any longer. The day after Vane's trial began, Charles II. wrote to Clarendon: |He is too dangerous a man to let live, if we can honestly put him out of the way.| His death brought out the loftiest traits of his character, and gave him a touch of beauty and glory of character which for posterity has done much to cover the flaws and defects which were not lacking in him. |In all things,| writes Pepys, who saw everything in those days, |he appeared the most resolved man that ever died in that manner.|

It is, however, not Vane the statesman, the maker of covenants with Scotch armies, the creator of sinews of war for the battles of Marston Moor and Naseby, the organizer of a conquering navy, the man who dared withstand his old friend Cromwell in the day of the great soldier's power, that concerns us in this chapter; it is Vane, the religious Independent, the exponent of inward religion; the man whom Milton calls |religion's eldest son.| Even in his early youth he passed through a decisive experience which altered his entire after-life. |About the fourteenth or fifteenth year of my age,| he said in his dying speech, |God was pleased to lay the foundation or ground-work of repentance in me, for the bringing me home to Himself, by His wonderful rich and free grace, revealing His Son in me, that by the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent, I might, even whilst here in the body, be made a partaker of eternal life, in the first fruits of it. . . . Since that foundation of repentance was laid in me, through grace I have been kept steadfast, desiring to walk in all good conscience toward God and toward men, according to the best light and understanding God gave me.| From this early period on through his life, he always emphasized the importance of first-hand experience, of inward revelation, and of Christ's reign in the kingdom of the {273} human soul. He was still a very young man, when, under the impelling guidance of his conscience, he felt himself called to intermit, as Schwenckfeld and others had done, the practice of the sacraments of the Church. His attitude toward the sacraments at this time, and, apparently ever afterwards, was that of the |Seekers.| He had reached the insight that religion is a spiritual relationship with a spiritual God, and on the basis of this position he questioned the divine |commission| of those who administered the external ceremonies of the Church. It is, however, perfectly clear that these views were not |original| with him, but that he had come under the influence of the teachings of the men whom I am calling |spiritual Reformers.|

How inward and mystical his type of Christianity really was, may be gathered from a short passage of an Epistle which he wrote in 1661: |The Kingdom of God is within you and is the dominion of God in the conscience and spirit of the mind. . . . This Kingdom of Christ is capable of subsisting and being managed inwardly in the minds of His people, in a hidden state concealed from the world. By the power thereof, the inward senses, or eyes of the mind are opened and awakened to the drawing of them up to a heavenly converse, catching and carrying up the soul to the throne of God and to the knowledge of the life that is hid with Christ in God. Those that are in this Kingdom, and in whom the power of it is, are fitted to fly with the Church into the wilderness, and to continue in such a solitary, dispersed, desolate condition till God call them out of it. They have wells and springs opened to them in this wilderness, whence they draw the waters of salvation, without being in bondage to the life of sense.|

He was only twenty-two years of age when, |for conscience' sake| and |in the sweete peace of God,| he left England and threw in his lot with the young colony in Massachusetts Bay. At twenty-three he was {274} Governor of the Colony and found himself plunged into a maelstrom of politics, Indian wars, and ecclesiastical quarrels which would have tried even a veteran like John Winthrop. It was here in Massachusetts that the lines of his religious thought first come clearly into view, if any of Vane's religious ideas can ever properly be called |clear.| The controversy in the Massachusetts Colony (1636-1638) was initiated and led by Anne Hutchinson, and was, in the phraseology of that period, an issue between |a Covenant of Works| and |a Covenant of Grace,| which was a seventeenth-century way of stating the contrast between a religion historically revealed and completely expressed in an infallible Book on the one hand, and, on the other, a religion primarily based on the eternal nature of God and man, and on the fact of immediate revelation and communication between the God of Grace and the needy soul. Governor Vane aligned himself with the Hutchinson party and was in sympathy with this second type of religion, the religion of inward experience, the immediate conscious realization of God, which, in the terminology of the times, was called |the Covenant of Grace.| Absorbed as he was for the next fifteen years after his return from America in momentous public affairs, he had no opportunity to give expression to the religious ideas which were forming in his mind. During his |retirement| after his break with Cromwell, he wrote two books which give us the best light we can hope to get on his religious views -- The Retired Man's Meditations (1655), and A Pilgrimage into the Land of Promise (1664), written in prison in 1662.

Baxter complained that his Doctrines were |so clowdily formed and expressed that few could understand them,| and the modern reader, however much time and patience he bestows upon Vane's books, is forced to agree with Baxter. Vane acknowledges himself that his {275} thought is |knotty and abstruce.| In religious matters his mind was always labouring, without success, to find a clear guiding clue through a maze and confusion of ideas, which fascinated him, and he allowed his mind to get lost in what Sir Thomas Browne calls |wingy mysteries.| He had no sound principle of Scripture interpretation, but allowed his untrained and unformed imagination to run wild. Texts in profusion from Genesis to Revelation lie in undigested masses in his books. He had evidently read Jacob Boehme, but, if so, he had only become more |dowdy| by the reading, for he has not seized and appreciated Boehme's constructive thoughts, and, at least in his later period and in his last book, he is floundering under the heavy weight of millenarian ideas, which do not harmonize well with his occasional spiritual insights of an ever-growing revelation to man through the eternal Word who in all ages voices Himself within the soul. He was an extraordinary complex of vague mysticism and astute statesmanship.

In one matter he was throughout his life both consistent and clear, namely, in the advocacy of freedom of conscience in religion. He put himself squarely on a platform of toleration in his early controversy with Winthrop. His friend Roger Williams in later life heard him make |a heavenly speech| in Parliament in which he said: |Why should the labours of any be suppressed, if sober, though never so different? We now profess to seek God, we desire to see light!| Throughout his parliamentary career he stood side by side with Cromwell in the difficult effort, which only partly succeeded, to secure scope for all honest religious opinion. Finally, in The Retired Man's Meditations, he wrote: |We are bound to understand by this terme [the Rule of Magistracy] the proper sphere, bounds and limits of that office which is not to intrude itself into the office and proper concerns of Christ's inward government and rule in the {276} conscience.| After defining the magistrate's proper functions in the affairs of the external life, he then adds: |The more illuminated the Magistrate's conscience and judgment is, as to natural justice and right, by the knowledge of God and communications of Light from Christ, the better qualified he is to execute his office.|

The central idea of his religious thought -- though it never completely penetrated the fringes of his mind -- was the reality of the living Word of God, the self-revealing character of God, who is an immediate, inward Teacher, who is His own evidence and demonstration, and who has, Vane testifies, |experimentally obtained a large entrance and reception in my heart as a seed there sown.| This living Word is not to be confused with the Scriptures, which are an outward testimony to the inner Word -- an external way to the |unveiled and naked beauty of the Word itself,| who is Spirit and Life. In the long process of self-revelation through the living Word a temporal universe has been created by emanations in time, a universe double in its nature, first a deeper, invisible universe of light, of angels and exalted spirits, then a visible and material and |animalish| world, a shadow of the invisible world. At the top of the order, man was created, uniting both the visible and the invisible worlds in one being. Man thus in himself is in miniature a double world, a world of light and spirit and a world of shadow. Two seeds, as Boehme had already taught, are always working in man, and his native free-will determines the course of his destiny. In his first test, man fell, though |the tree of life,| which was a visible type of Christ, was before his eyes in Paradise, but this event was only the beginning of the long human drama, and the real history of the race is the story of the stages and dispensations of the living Word of God, educating, regenerating, and spiritualizing man, and bringing him to the height of his spiritual possibilities.


In the first stage of this divine pedagogy, man has the Word of God within himself |as a lampe or light in his mind, manifesting itself to inward senses, assisted by the ministry of angels.| This is the period of |conditional covenant,| under which man's spiritual life depends on |obedience to the inward operations of this Word,| and those that obey are made |Children of the Light,| and attain a forward-looking apprehension of the coming Son.

The second degree of glory -- |a more excellent and near approach to the sight of the Son Himself| -- is the training stage under the written word, which makes wise unto salvation. This is a dispensation of discipline, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, and it culminates in the manifestation of Grace in Jesus Christ, who is the Root of a new race. There are two ways of using the ministry of Grace in Jesus Christ -- on the lower level as mere |restoration-work| and on the higher level as |re-creation into new life.| Those who apprehend Christ on the lower level, as simply a new law-giver, do not get beyond the spirit of bondage and do not succeed in attaining an immutable and incorruptible nature. Those, however, who are born from within by the immortal and incorruptible Seed of God are |changed from their wavering unstable power| into an inward likeness to God, into a love that binds man's spirit into union with God's Spirit, into |steadfast and unmoveable delight in goodness| and |fixed and unshaken averseness to sin and evil.|

The third and final stage of glory, the full dispensation of the Spirit -- when |the whole creation will be restored to its primitive purity and to the glorious liberty of sons of God| -- will be the thousand years' reign of Christ to which, Vane believed, both the outward and inward Word testify.

It is not easy to see how a man of Vane's mental and moral calibre, who had himself, as he tells us in his scaffold speech, been |brought home to himself by {278} God's wonderful, rich and free Grace, revealing His Son in me that I might be a partaker of eternal life,| and who had all his life held that there is an eternal Word and Seed of God working both without and within to bring men to their complete spiritual stature, should be unwilling to trust the operation of this divine Word to finish what He had begun, and should resort to a cataclysmic event of a new order for the final stage. We of this later and more scientific age must, however, speak with some caution of the idealistic dreams and visions and glowing expectations of men, who in their deepest souls believed that God was a living, acting God who, in ways past finding out, intervened in the affairs of men and fulfilled His purposes of good. |God is almighty,| Vane said once in a Parliamentary speech. |Will you not trust Him with the consequences? He that has unsettled a monarchy of so many descents, in peaceable times, and brought you to the top of your liberties, though He drive you for a while into the wilderness, He will bring you back. He is a wiser workman than to reject His work.|

George Fox, in 1657, was |moved of ye Lord to speake to him of ye true Light,| having heard that |Henery Vane has much enquired after mee.| Fox told him, in his usual fashion, |howe yt Christ had promised to his disciples to sende ym ye holy ghoast, ye spiritt of truth which shoulde leade ym into all truth which wee [Friends] witnessed and howe yt ye grace of God which brought salvation had appeared unto all men and was ye saintes teacher in ye Apostles days & soe it was nowe.| Vane's comment on the Quaker's message was: |None of all this doth reach to my experiens,| and Fox, in his plain straightforward manner, said: |Thou hast knowne somethinge formerly; but now there is a mountaine of earth & imaginations uppe in thee & from that rises a smoake which has darkened thy braine: & thou art not ye man as thou wert formerly. . . . I was moved of ye Lord to sett ye Seede Christ Jesus over his heade!|


Clarendon was more charitable toward Vane than was Fox, who never deals gently with persons who approach his point of view and yet miss it. The former, declaring that Vane's writings lack |his usual clearness and ratiocination,| and that |in a crowd of very easy words the sense was too hard to find out,| yet concludes to give the furnace-tried statesman the benefit of the doubt: |I was of opinion that the subject was of so delicate a nature that it required another kind of preparation of mind, and perhaps another kind of diet, than men are ordinarily supplied with!|

There can, at any rate, be no doubt of Vane's honesty or of his loyalty to the Light within him. Standing face to face with death, he told his strange audience that he had put everything that he prized in the world to hazard for the sake of obeying the best Light which God had granted him, and he added these impressive words: |I do earnestly persuade all people rather to suffer the highest contradiction from men, than disobey God by contradicting the Light of God in their own conscience.|


Peter Sterry was born in Surrey, early in the seventeenth century, and entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1629, graduating B.A. in 1633 and M.A. in 1637. Emmanuel College had been founded during Elizabeth's reign (1584) by one of her statesmen, Sir Walter Mildmay, for the especial encouragement of Calvinistic theology, and it was the most important intellectual nursery of the great Puritan movement in England. During Sterry's University period there was a remarkable group of tutors and fellows gathered in Emmanuel College. Foremost among them was Tuckney, who was tutor to Benjamin Whichcote the founder of the school of Cambridge Platonists, or |Latitude-Men,| and Whichcote himself was at Emmanuel College {280} throughout Sterry's period, graduating M.A. the same year that Sterry graduated B.A.

Sterry was a thorough-going Platonist in his type of thought and had much in common with Henry More, whose writings were |divinely pleasant| to him and whom he calls |a prophet| of the spiritual unity of the universe, and with Ralph Cudworth, the spiritual philosopher, though he finds |somewhat to regret| in the work of both these contemporary Cambridge Platonists. Sterry is not usually reckoned among the Cambridge Platonists, but there is no reason why he should not be included in that group. He was trained in the University which was the natural home of the movement, he read the authors most approved by the members of this school, and his own message is penetrated with the spirit and ideals of these seventeenth-century Platonists. His writings abound with references to Plato and Plotinus, with occasional references to Proclus and Dionysius the Areopagite; and the world-conceptions of this composite school of philosophers, as they were revived by the Renaissance, are fundamental to his thought. He was thoroughly acquainted with the writings of Ficino, and quotes him among his approved masters. He had also profoundly studied the great mystics and was admirably equipped intellectually to be the interpreter of a far different type of Christianity from that of the current theologies.

He became intimate in his public career with Sir Harry Vane, and there are signs of mutual influence in their writings, which gave occasion for Richard Baxter's pun on their names: |Vanity and sterility were never more happily conjoined.| Upon the execution of Charles I., Sterry was voted a preacher to the Council of State with a salary of one hundred pounds a year, which was soon after doubled and lodgings at Whitehall added. He generally preached before Cromwell on Sundays, and on every other Thursday at Whitehall, frequently before {281} the Lords and Commons. A number of his sermons were printed |by Order of the House,| and enjoyed a wide popularity, though their great length would make them impossible sermons to-day. Cromwell evidently appreciated his preaching very highly and felt no objection to the mystical strain that runs through all his sermons. He had many points of contact with Milton, and may have been for a period his assistant as Latin Secretary. He was devotedly fond of music, art, and poetry, and he held similar views to Milton regarding the Presbyterian system. He naturally fell out of public notice after the Restoration, and quietly occupied himself with literary work, until his death in 1672. The main material for a study of his |message| will be found in his three posthumous Books: A Discourse of the Freedom of the Will (1675); Rise, Race and Royalty of the Kingdom of God in the Soul of Man (1683), and Appearance of God to Man in the Gospel (1710). His prose style is lofty and often marked with singular beauty, though he is almost always too prolix for our generation, and too prone to divide his discourse into heads and sub-heads, and sub-divisions of sub-heads. Here is a specimen passage of his dealing with a topic which Plato and the great poets have often handled: |Imagine this Life as an Island, surrounded by a Sea of Darkness, beyond which lies the main Land of Eternity. Blessed is he who can raise himself to such a Pitch as to look off this Island, beyond that Darkness to the utmost bound of things. He thus sees his way before and behind him. What shall trouble him on his Twig of Life, on which he is like a bird but now alighted, from a far Region, from whence again he shall immediately take his flight. Thou cam'st through a Darkness hither but yesterday when thou wert born. Why then shouldst thou not readily and cheerfully return through the same Darkness back again to those everlasting Hills?| I will give one more {282} specimen passage touching the divine origin and return of the soul: |At our Birth, which is the morning of life, our Soul and Body are joined to this fleshly Image as Horses are put into a Waggon, to which they are fastened by their Harnes and Traces. The Body is as the forehorse, but the Soul is the filly which draws most and bears the chief weight. All the day long of this life we draw this Waggon heavy laden with all sorts of temptations and troubles thorow deep ways of mire and sand. This only is our comfort that the Divine Will, which is Love itself in its perfection, as a Hand put forth from Heaven thorow a Cloud, at our Birth put us into this Waggon and governs us all the day. In the evening of our life, at the end of the day, Death is the same Divine Will as a naked Hand of pure Love, shining forth from an open Heaven of clear light and glory, taking our Soul and Body out of the Waggon and Traces of this fleshly Image and leading them immediately into their Inn.|

Everything in the universe, he believes, is double. The things that are seen are copies -- often faint and shadowy -- of That which is. Every particular thing |below| corresponds to an eternal reality |above.| Even those things which appear thin and shallow possess an infinite depth, or we may just as well say an infinite height. |Didst thou ever descry,| he asks, |a glorious eternity in a winged moment of Time? Didst thou ever see a bright Infinite in the narrow point of an Object? Then thou knowest what Spirit means -- that spire-top whither all things ascend harmoniously, where they meet and sit connected in an unfathomed Depth of Life.| And the immense congeries of things and events, even |the jarring and tumultuous contrarieties,| |through the whole world, through the whole compass of time, through both the bright and the black Regions of Life and Death,| consent and melodize in one celestial music {283} and perfect harmony of Divine purpose. |The stops and shakes make music as well as the stroaks and sounds,| even Death and Hell |are bound by a gold chain with shining links of Love| to the throne of God.

He outdoes even the |pillar| Quakers, his contemporaries in later life, in his proclamation of a Divine Root and Seed in the soul of man. In words almost precisely like those which Barclay used later in his Apology, he says: |There is a spiritual man that lies hid under the natural man as seed under the ground,| or, again, |go into thyself beyond thy natural man, and thou shalt meet the Spirit of God.| There is |something eternal,| |a seminal infiniteness,| in the soul, its native Root and Bottom, consubstantial with it and inseparable from it. |It lasts on through all forms, wearing them out, casting them off for new forms, through which it manifests itself, until it finally brings us back into Itself and becomes our only clothing.| But though |native,| it is not a part or function of the natural, psychical man, it is not of the |finite creature.| It is from above, a transcendent Reality; it belongs to the eternal world and yet it is a Root of God within, a point in the soul's abyss (or apex) unsevered from God, so that one who knew the soul to its depths would know God. Beneath all the wreck and ruin and havoc of sin it is still there, with its |glimpses of immortal Beauty.| The prodigal who would return |home| must first return to himself, to that divine Seed, |hid deep beneath the soil and dung, beneath the darkness, deformity and deadness of its Winter-Season and rise up in its proper Spring into pleasant flowers and fruits, as a Garden of God.| There is thus |a golden thread| which is always there to guide the soul back home, through all the mazes of the world, or, to use another of his figures, |Thou hast but to follow the stream of Love, the Fountain of the Soul, if thou {284} wouldst be led to that Sea which is the confluence of all the waters of Life, of all Truth, of all Goodness, of all Joy, of all Beauty and Blessedness.|

The Fullness of the juncture of God and Man is seen only in Christ. In Him, |God and Man are one, one Love, one Life, one Likeness.| He is the Pattern, the unspoiled Image, the Eternal Word, and He is, too, the Head of our race. In Him the Divine Spirit and the human spirit |are twined into one.| |If you want to see God, then see Christ.| If you want to see what the Seed in us can blossom into when it is unhampered by sin, again, see Christ. He is a Life-giving Spirit who can penetrate other spirits, who broods over the soul as the creative Spirit brooded over the waters, and who, when received, makes us radiant with Love, which is the only truth of religion.

Sin is the mark and brand of our failure -- it is our aberration from the normal type as it is fully revealed in Christ. |Nothing is so unnatural as sin,| nothing is so irrational, nothing so abnormal -- it is always a break from the unity of the divine Life, a movement towards isolation and self-solitariness, a pursuit of narrowing desires, a missing of the potential beauty and harmony of the Soul. But in every case, whether it be Adam's or that of the last man who sinned, it is always an act of free-will -- |even in its most haggish shapes sin is the act of free-will.| Some strange contrary principle in us, something from a root alien to the divine Root, makes civil war within us, and though the Word of God's eternal Love is ringing in our ears and though the gleams of divine Beauty are shining in our eyes, we still walk away into |the barren dessert of the world and forsake our proper habitation in the paradise of God.| There is no way back from the |barren dessert,| without a complete reversal of direction, a conversion: |He that will pass {285} from the dismal depths of sin to the heights of strength and holiness must make his first motion a conversion, a change from a descent to an ascent, from going outward toward the circle to go inward towards the centre|; there must be an awakening so that the soul comes to see all things in the light of their first Principle; a Birth through the Spirit and a newness of life through the bubbling of the eternal Spring.

The mighty event of re-birth is described by Sterry very much after the manner of Schwenckfeld. The new Seed, Christ Jesus, the divine Life itself, comes into operation within the man, and the new-made man, raised with Christ, is joined in Spirit with Him and lives henceforth not after Adam but after Christ the Head of the spiritual Race. The shift of direction, the complete reversal, however, does not mean |parting with delights,| or |putting on a sad and sour conversation| -- on the contrary, it means enlargement of soul and |a gainful addition of joy,| the discovery within of another world and a new kingdom.

Like all this group of thinkers to whom he is kindred, Sterry makes a sharp contrast between the Spirit and the letter, between what happens within the soul and what is external to it. The early stage of religion is characterized by externals, and only after long processes of tutorship and discipline does the soul learn how to live by the Seed of life and Light of truth within. The early stage is legalistic, during which the person is |hedged about| with promises and threats, |walled in| with laws and ordinances, |living in a perpetual alarm of fears,| |shut up to rules, retirements and forms| -- but it is far better to serve God from fear and by outward rules than not to serve Him at all. The true way of progress is to move up from fear and law to love and freedom, and from outward rules to the discovery of a central Light of God, a Heavenly Image, in the deeps of {286} one's own spirit -- |real knowledge comes when the Day Star rises in the heart.| We pass from |notions| and |words| to an inward power and a bubbling joy. He calls the period of law and letter a |baby-stage,| |when we see truth as blear-eyed beholders.| Legal religion compared with the religion of the Spirit is |like a spark struck from flint at midnight| compared with the sun; it is like |drawing the waters of Grace, a bucketful at a time,| when we might have |the Spirit gushing as a living and perpetual Fountain.| But God is so good that He speaks to us in a variety of ways, and He lets us |spell His name| with the alphabet, until we learn to know His own Voice. Nature, in the elements of visible creation, tells us of Him; Reason compels us to recognize One who is First and Best, the All in all; the written word cries in our ears that God is Love; but above these voices there is a Principle within our own souls by which |God propagates His Life| in us, and he who, in this love-way, has become a son knows God as Abba-Father. We pray now with power, when this new Life of the Spirit has come into us, and we pour our spirits out in self-forgetfulness, |as a River pours itself into the sea, where it loseth its own name and is known only as the waters of the Sea.|

He is always gentle in his account of other religions and other stages of faith, and he sees good in all types, if only they help the soul to hunger for the Eternal and do not cramp it. |O that I had a hundred mouths,| he writes, |an hundred tongues, a Voice like the Voice of God that rends Rocks, to cry to all sorts of Persons and Spirits in this Land and in all the Christian World through the whole creation: 'Let all that differ in Principles, Professions, Opinions and Forms, see the good there is in each other'!|

The world, busy with action and choosing for its historical study the men who did things, has allowed {287} Peter Sterry to drop into oblivion and his books to gather dust and cobwebs, but there was, I think, a Seed of God in him, and he had a message for his age. He sincerely endeavoured to hand on the torch which in his youth at Cambridge had been kindled in him by some other flame. |When one candle is lighted,| he beautifully says, |we light many by it, and when God hath kindled the Life of His glory in one man's Heart he often enkindles many by the flame of that.|

I have studied the |Familists,| the |Anabaptists,| the |Seekers,| and |Ranters,| and some of the interesting religious characters, such as John Saltmarsh, William Dell, and Gerard Winstanley, in my Studies in Mystical Religion (London, 1908).

Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches (New York, 1900), i. p.103.

These three books were issued together in Latin under the title, Interiora Regni Dei, in 1655 and in 1674, and in an English Collection of Rous' Works under the title, Treatises and Meditations (1657).

Mystical Marriage, pp.1-2.

Treatises and Meditations, pp.230-231.

Treatises and Meditations, pp.240 and 258.

Ibid. p.235.

The Heavenly Academy, pp.110-111.

Mystical Marriage, p.10.

Treatises and Meditations, p.496.

Mystical Marriage, p.10.

Ibid. p.16.

Ibid. p.193.

Preface to Mystical Marriage.

Mystical Marriage, p.322.

The Heavenly Academy, Preface, and ibid. p.57.

Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. p.75.

Clarendon, History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars (Oxford, 1827), p.1581.

Milton's sonnet To Sir Henry Vane the Younger.

Burnet, History of his Own Times (Airy ed.), i. p.286.

Pepys, Diary (ed. by H. B. Wheatley, London, 1893), ii. p.242.

An Epistle to the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth. The lines which I have put in italics in the text clearly show the |seeker|-attitude.

See my Quakers in the American Colonies (1911), pp.1-25.

In his Retired Man's Meditations he speaks of |Christ's rule in the legal conscience| and |Christ's rule in the evangelical conscience,| by which he means to contrast a religion founded on external performances or historical events, and a religion founded on events transacted in the soul of the man himself.

Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. p.75.

See Vane's A Brief Answer to a certain Declaration made of the Intent and Equity of the Order of Court, etc., in Hutchinson's Collection of Original Papers.

Preface to Williams' Bloudy Tenet.

The Retired Man's Meditations, p.388. Italics mine.

Ibid. Preface

Ibid. chap. ii.

Ibid. ii. chaps. iii. and iv. See also A Pilgrimage into the Land of Promise, pp.1-3.

A Pilgrimage into the Land of Promise, pp.51-52.

Ibid. pp.55-56.

Retired Man's Meditations, chap. xxvi.

Journal of George Fox (Cambridge ed.), i. pp.313-314.

Animadversions on Cressy's Answer to Stillingfleet (1673), p.59.

See A Discourse of the Freedom of the Will (1675), pp.31-32.

Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. p.75.

A Mr. Sterry was appointed Sept.8, 1657, to assist Milton as Latin Secretary (Nat. Dict. of Biog. Art. |Sterry|).

Besides the above named I have also used his Sermons on The Clouds in which Christ Comes (1648) and The Spirits' Conviction of Sinne (1645).

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.8.

There is, he thinks, an inner |body| which is as immortal as the soul and which together with the soul is united to the body of flesh -- |the fleshly Image.|

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.435.

Ibid. p.24. See also ibid. p.5, and Discourse, p.55.

Discourse, pp.30-35. Also p.161.

Ibid. Preface, p. c 8, and Rise, Race and Royalty, p.164.

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.126.

Ibid. p.96.

Ibid. pp.4, 5, 6, 18-19.

Discourse, pp.67 and 77.

Rise, Race and Royalty, Preface, p. b 2. See also pp.362 and 512-513.

Discourse, Preface, pp. a and c 6, and Rise, Race and Royalty, p.101.

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.78.

Ibid. p.68.

Ibid. pp.95 and 184. Also Appearance of God, pp.239 and 251.

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.73.

Ibid. pp.16-18 and 141, and Discourse, pp.141-142.

Appearance of God, p.91.

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.359.

Rise, Race and Royalty, pp.2, 23, and 466.

See especially Appearance of God, pp.74-75 and 480.

Rise, Race and Royalty, pp.107-109.

Rise, Race and Royalty, pp.46-47 and 467.

Ibid. pp.56-60.

Ibid. pp.63-67.

Appearance of God, pp.130-131.

Discourse, Preface, p. a 6.

Rise, Race and Royalty, p.39.

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