ON THE LIVES OF
Site Editor's Preface
Isaac Penington, (1616-1679), was giant in the early Quaker movement, primarily due to the power and clarity of his writings regarding the faith that leads to victory over sin and entry into the Kingdom of God while on earth. He was described by the founder of the Quakers, George Fox as: "some years before his death, the Lord, in and with his power, set him free from; and gave him dominion over all." William Penn also echoes the same information. I rarely see this testimony of certainty for the early Quakers. So it is with confidence that many of Penington's extensive writings are placed on this site, as they particularly speak to the individual's necessity of receiving Christ the Light in the heart, receiving his conviction of sin, receiving his stroke against it, becoming a new creature, feeling the springs of life bubbling from the heart, reading the Scriptures in the heart, and seeing your blessed savior in your heart. No other man writes as Penington writes; he is a noble worthy of the Lord. His blessed wife, Mary, also has a wonderful story within this memoir. I pray you will be inspired to continue on the cross, forsaking all the world, so you too can experience of what Isaac Penington so ably relates to us. The text for this Memoir was taken from two sources - Memoirs of the Life of Isaac Penington by William Grover and the Penns' and Peningtons' by Maria Webb. Penn's introduction below comes from The Letters of Isaac Penington, John Barcay, Edt.
Testimony of William Penn concerning Isaac Penington -
As ‘the memory of the just is blessed,' so to me there seems a blessing upon those, that have a right memory of them; therefore, to the memory of this just man, my dear Friend and father-in-law, Isaac Penington, I do, with a sincere and religious affection, dedicate this enduing testimony.
He was well descended as to his worldly parentage and born about the year 1617, being heir to a fair inheritance; his education was suitable to his quality among men, having all the advantages the schools and universities of his own country could give, joined with the conversation of some of the most knowing and considerable men of that time. His natural abilities, the gifts of his Creator, excelled; he was a man quick in apprehension, fruitful in conception, of a lively wit and intelligence, but adorned with an extraordinary mildness and engaging sweetness of disposition.
His father's station in public business, gave him pretensions enough to a share of this world's greatness; but he, with blessed meek spirit of Moses, refused the Egyptian glory of it, and chose rather a life dedicated to an inquiry after God, and holy fellowship with him and his despised Israel. He was the eldest son of Isaac Penington Sr., of London, many years an Alderman, and for two years successively Mayor of the London, also a noted Member or the Long Parliament.
Very early did the Lord visit him, with more than ordinary manifestations of His love; and it had such an effect upon him, that it kept him both from the evils and vain worships of the world; he became the wonder of his kindred and familiars for his amazing life and serious frequent retirements, declining all company that might interrupt his meditations. By thus giving himself over to a life of mourning and pilgrimage, he was as unpleasant to those of the world, as they were to him. Nor did this sorrow flow from a sense of former vice, for he was virtuous from his childhood; but, with holy Habakkuk from the dread he had of the majesty of God, and his desire to find a resting place in the great day of trouble. Nothing in these exercises gave him ease or comfort, but the smiles of God's countenance upon his soul, and that he thirsted after with a continual solicitation; first: ‘How shall I appear?' and then, 'Oh that I may appear before God!'
His inward exercises and enjoyments being of a very peculiar nature, made him take little comfort in any of the religious societies then known to Him. He was as one alone; for he saw so much of that uncircumcised and uncrucified flesh, which is as grass, professing the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom; - I mean, people under only ordinary convictions, who had never known Jacob's troubles, nor the fear and trembling with which salvation is to be wrought out; - and that, in religious duties, the spirit and abilities of man took up so great a share among them, and the Spirit of the Lord so little. With such he was often burdened and pressed in spirit to lay open their carnal state under a Christian profession. For, though they held the notions of Truth, it was not in the precious experimental sense of the holy virtue and life of it; insomuch, that he found it his duty to endeavor to break their false peace, and bewilder their lofty wisdom and professions rather approving of a state of humble doubting, than hypocritical confidence. For, the Lord's coming in spirit, without sin, to the salvation of the soul, is to be waited for; that people may truly know him and his work, and, from there, speak forth his praise to others; rather than profess the enjoyments of other saints, which have been obtained through great tribulations, while they have never known this in themselves and so, can have no true sense of an acceptable sacrifice of God's preparing.
Such views drew reproach upon him from the worldly professors, all a man singular and censorious; yet those who with him waited for the consolation of Israel and the coming of the Son of man in power and great glory, found him out, valued, and honored him; and, sweet was their fellowship to him, who boasted in nothing more, than that they had nothing to boast of, while the Laodicea of their age thought she lacked nothing. In that emptiness, they waited to be filled of Him, who fills all things at his coming and kingdom, that they might be the witnesses of his resurrection and appearance. Some of them died before that blessed time came; some saw it, and were glad, and with good old Simeon departed in peace; others lived to see that blessed day both dawn and break forth upon them, to their admiration and comfort; among whom, my dear father-in-law, Isaac Penington, was not the last, nor the least of note.
About the year 1657, it pleased the Lord to send him a Peter, [George Fox] to declare to him, that a time of pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, and breaking forth of a heavenly work of God in the souls of men and women, had come; and many Aquilas and Priscillas came after, who instructed him in the way of God more perfectly. Though he was advanced above many in his knowledge of Scripture, and had formerly received many heavenly openings of Truth's mysteries; yet, did the Lord's, way of appearance disappoint his expectation. And when the light broke forth in his heart, which his sincerity longed for, he found in himself a great mixture; and that he had much to lose and part with, before he could become that blessed little child, that new and heavenly birth, which inherits the kingdom of God: this, indeed, made him cry. 'Narrow is the way, and strait is the gate that leads to life.'
But, to the glory of the living God, and praise of this just man's memory, let me say, - neither his worldly station, (the most considerable of any, that had closed in with his way of religion), nor the contradictions it gave to his former conceptions, nor the debasement it brought upon his learning and wisdom, nor yet that reproach and loss which attended his public espousal of it, did deter him from embracing it. With an humble and broken spirit, he fell before this holy appearance of Jesus , - that true Light of men, whose power and life he felt revealed within him, to the saving of his soul , and boldly confessed this spiritual coming of the great Messiah, who was able to teach him all things; to His name his knee truly bowed, and with Nathaniel he could cry, 'You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel' Now, he saw clearly between the precious and the vile in himself, between what was truly of God, in his former exercises, and what was merely of man. He was not stiff nor stout in defense of his own building, and former apprehensions; no, but sold all for the 'pearl of great price,' and became willingly 'poor in spirit,' that he might enter ‘the kingdom of God.' Thus, parting with all he had not received of God, he received a new stock from heaven, in which the Lord prospered him; the dew of heaven rested upon his branch and root, he grew rich and fruitful in all heavenly treasure; full of love, faith, mercy, patience, and long-suffering; diligent in the work of the Lord, and his duty to God and men. So much that, I may say, he was one of a thousand; zealous, yet tender; wise, yet humble; a constant and early attendant at meetings, watchful and reverent in them; one that ever loved power and life, more than word; and, as it was for that he waited, so would he be often deeply affected with it, - even, enabled to utter such testimonies, as were greatly to the help of the poor and needy, the weary and heavy-laden, the true sojourners and travelers to eternal rest. To this, his writings as well as ministry tended; in which, it will be easy for the reader to observe, his peculiar and mighty love to the great professors of religion in these kingdoms; whom carnal apprehensions or unjust prejudices, have hindered from closing with the blessed Truth, as it is known and felt among us. His fervent labor to remove these obstructions was with such tenderness, yet great clearness, that I may venture to style him their apostle; for, as in almost every meeting, so in every book, the bent of his spirit was towards them: - that those who made a more than ordinary profession of God, - not without some ancient touches of the divine grace, and experience of his heavenly visitation, (though much extinguished by human and worldly mixtures) - might come to know what that was they once tasted of, how they lost it; and which is the way to recover the living and full enjoyment of it,- even, the inward knockings and appearance of Jesus, the Saviour, to the salvation of their souls. I pray God, they may answer his love for he was much spent on their account; that so his ministry, writings, travels, and tears, may not be matter of charge and evidence against them in the day of judgment.
As his outward man grew in age, his inward man grew in grace, and in the knowledge of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the excellence of which, he had justly counted all things else but as dross and dung. For it was observable, among them that rightly knew him in his declining time, when the candle of his natural life burnt more dim, his soul waxed stronger, and, like a replenished lamp, shined with greater luster; and truly, he had a double portion of the Spirit upon him, being anointed with judgment and zeal for the Lord, which appeared in two eminent respects.
First, he was very urgent, that all those who knew anything of the heavenly gift of ministry to others, would always wait in their several exercises, to be endued with matter and power from on high, before they opened their mouths in a testimony for the Lord. And did, at all times, as well out of meetings as in them, they might live so near the Lord, as to feel the key of David opening the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom; and, by experiencing the depth of the heavenly travail, and the trials, deliverances, and consolations of it,- with that dominion and victory that, in the end, by perseverance is obtained, - they might be as true saviors on mount Zion, the salt and lights of the world, thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work, and master builders in God's house : - that a pure and living stream of ministry, might be continued and conveyed to the generations to come, - that they might not only hear, but taste of what we have known of the Word of life and work of redemption in our age.
But, his excellence in the second respect, was his fervent love to the heavenly union of brethren; whatever struck at that, though under ever such specious pretences, he no sooner perceived, however subtle the mischievous working thereof, than with deep wisdom he detected, and with his whole might opposed it. For, though by nature he was long suffering, to a degree of letting his mercy to others, almost wound his own soul; yet, so deeply did his love to the Lord and his people, and to that comely order in which God had settled them, engage his soul; that he was bold as a lion. Yes, warlike as a champion against that spirit, that went up and down to sow jealousies, to smite and reflect upon the holy care of the brethren, interpreting their tender love and great pains, as if what was done by them were not intended for the edification of the body, but for the exaltation of some particular person over it. This ingratitude and injustice his soul abhorred, and often he mourned for such as were so seduced; as if it were the design of those that had from the beginning laid themselves out in the service of God and his people, to bring them at last to a blind and unwarrantable subjection, that they themselves might the better exercise dominion over them. This evil eye he helped to put out; and, in his opposition to this wandering and destroying spirit, that ever leads out of the love and unity of brethren, he approved himself a valiant of Israel, a Phinehas for the God of his salvation ;- and the rewards of heaven were poured into his bosom; for his holy ministry manifestly increased in life and power, and his peace flowed as a river, and many were witnesses of his enlargements. Let those that have lost their first love, and are gone from their ancient habitation, ‘rage, and imagine vain things,' if they will; surely, the travail, and testimonies of this blessed man will be a witness against them, that will not easily be silenced, and a burden upon their backs. that will not readily be taken off. Yet, because he desired not their destruction, but prayed earnestly to the last for their return, let me not while I am writing his character, fall short of his compassions. No, I pray God also, with my whole spirit, that they may repent, be contrite in heart, and faithfully return, at which, if the angels in heaven rejoice, certainly the spirits of the just, that dwell in heavenly places, will abundantly rejoice too.
These two cares were chiefly and almost continually before him. And as he was, in these respects, a light in the church, so he was a blessing to his own family: a loving husband, a very tender and prudent father, a just and kind master, - I will add, a good neighbor, and a most firm friend; of all unapt to believe ill, never to report it, much less to do it to any; a man that ruled his tongue, swift to hear, slow to speak; but when he did speak, he was serious, yet sweet, and not without cheer. What shall I say more? For, great and many were the gifts God honored him with, and with them he truly honored his profession.
Being thus fit to live, he was prepared to die, and
had nothing else to do, when that summons was served
upon him, which was in the 63rd year of his age; at
which time, it pleased the Lord, he fell very sick, under
a sharp and painful sickness, which hastened his
dissolution. However, to internal peace so well established,
the anguish of that bitter exercise could give
no shock; for he died, as he lived, in the faith that
overcomes the world; whose soul, being now released
from the confinements of time and frailties of mortality,
he ascended into the glorious freedom and undisturbed
joys of the just; where, with his holy brethren, the
patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs of Jesus, he
forever blesses and praises the God and Father of
the righteous generations by Jesus Christ, God's Lamb,
and our heavenly Redeemer - to whom with the
Father be all honor, glory, might, majesty, and
dominion, through every age of his church, and forever.
The elder Penington had been chief magistrate or the metropolis, he had raised the forces of the city to join the parliament's army, he had been entrusted with the charge of the Tower, and had been one of the council of state; but the Restoration reversed the condition of public affairs, and he died a prisoner in the fortress that he had formerly commanded. But though Isaac Penington declined to enter into the contests which rent the nation, he was far from being an unconcerned spectator of the misery of his country. In this some of the tracts that he published long before he joined the Society of Friends, bear ample testimony. But he looked for the cause of the evil, rather in the depraved state or man's heart in general, than in any particular party or set of men.
When his son Isaac Penington, Jr. was twenty-two years of age, we may conceive what opportunities for worldly aggrandizement the intervening twenty years, from 1638 to 1658, must have spread before the son of that popular, wealthy, democratic politician. But of no such opportunities did he avail himself; the aspirations of the son were not directed by ambition; they were deep and earnest, but not worldly; more of the maternal than the paternal type. His mother's heartfelt desires were rather for the religious welfare, and the establishment of the Christian character of her children, than for their elevation in the world; and these feelings met a cordial response in the mind of her eldest son. It is true he did not ignore the importance of the great political questions which so much engrossed his father's attention, and which were so earnestly debated in that day. But whenever he wrote on them, which was not often, he discussed them in reasonable and Christian spirit, untinctured by Puritan bitterness.
One of his publications, written in 1651, which treats of matters connected with national government, is entitled The Fundamental Right, Safety, and Liberty of the People. In that he says, alluding to a limited monarchy, "Though I shall not plead for the resettlement of kingly government, (for I am not so far engaged in my affections to it, as it yet has been), yet I would not have any blame laid upon it beyond its desert; for doubtless it has its advantages above any other government, on one hand; as it has also its disadvantages on the other hand." "Kingly power did pass its limits - we may now speak of it." He then goes on to query, "Does parliament now keep within its right limits?" ... "and if things should yet devolve lower, into the great and confused body of the people, is it likely they would keep their limits?" He shows that in establishing justice the impossibility of the people acting for themselves, and the impropriety of their representatives in parliament assuming both legislative and administrative powers. But under no circumstances would his conscience allow him to bind himself to a party. He says, "There is not one sort of men on the face of the earth to whom I bear any enmity in my spirit; but I wish with all my heart they might all attain and enjoy as much peace, prosperity, and happiness as their state will bear; and there are not any to whom I should envy the power of government. But whoever they are whom I saw fitted for it, and called to it, they should have my vote on their behalf." He goes on ito show that where the spirit of selfishness holds its natural place in men's hearts, their government will not promote spontaneously true freedom for others who are under them; for when the selfish man has great power, it will be exerted in promoting his own aggrandizement, and the freedom of others only in so far as it suits his selfish ends. Therefore he maintained it was alone the change of heart from sinful selfishness, to the desire after the promotion of Christian righteousness among the national governors, that could secure true justice to those they governed.
Openly declaring such views, Isaac Penington
did not attach himself to any section, in that way
which would prevent him from pointing out what
he thought wrong in their proceedings. We cannot
wonder under these circumstances, that he was not
welcomed as a political writer by any of those who
were struggling for power; politics in their worldly
constructions and acceptations could not be long pursued by such a mind as his. Religion was his
home; and it was all religious subjects that his
heart and pen were chiefly engaged for many years
--laboring to promote righteousness in all things.
But in these efforts he met with much that was disheartening,
and finally his hopes became so much
depressed by the conclusions he drew from the Calvinistic
theology that had been presented to him as
gospel truths, that his energies for a time seemed
totally prostrated. In this depressed state he providentially
made the acquaintance of Lady Springett.
Her mind had more natural cheerfulness than
his; but, like his, was deeply impressed with the
consciousness that nothing on earth was worth
living for if the heart was not fixed in its trust in the
Lord, and in its desire to do his will on earth above
all things. With these feelings in her soul, she was
moving about amid the amusements and fashions
of London life, when she first became acquainted
with Isaac Penington. Before she met with him,
she had had many trying experiences in her search
after spiritual life. She was the widow of Sir
William Springett, who died when she was about
twenty years of age; and now she was about thirty,
Penington being eight years older.
Penington's acquaintance with Lady Springett
soon ripened into confidential friendship, and a
loving attachment succeeded. In 1654 they were
married. During the interval between their marriage and removal to the Grange in 1668, they first
became acquainted with the Quakers, or Friends of
Truth, as they originally designated themselves.
Under the gloom of that awful perversion of Christ's gospel to man, Isaac Penington's sensitive mind suffered fearfully for years. Gleams of hope and spiritual brightness at times shone through the clouds, and brought some comfort to his mind; but no settled peace, no full abiding sense of his Heavenly Father's loving care kept possession of his soul, so long as an apprehension of the truth of that God-dishonoring doctrine continued to find any place in his mind. But at length the time arrived when the triumph of Christian truth drove out that evil error, which, under one phase or another, had tended in Penington's mind to destroy a right sense of the supreme justice, love, and mercy of the Lord. They who were made instrumental in bringing about this happy change were not among the learned theologians of that day, but belonged to the Christian body before alluded to, which rejected the systematic theology taught by the professors of the popular divinity. He describes the result of his intercourse with the Quakers as follows :
In another place he speaks of having "now at length met with the true way, and walked in that with the Lord, where daily certainty, yes, full assurance of faith and of understanding, is obtained." "Blessed be the Lord! There are many in this day who can truly and faithfully witness that they have been brought by the Lord to this state. We have by this learned of Him, not by the high, striving, aspiring mind, but by lying low, and being contented with a little; if only a crumb of bread, yet bread; if only a drop of water, yet water. And we have been contented with it, and thankful to the Lord for it. Nor was it by thoughtfulness and wise searching, or deep considering with our own wisdom and reason that we obtained this; but in the still, meek, and humble waiting have we found it." There was in Isaac Penington's religious experience much spiritual feeling; and occasionally we find in his writings an amount of figurative expression which has sometimes been called mysticism.
Whether it has a right to be so called, or not, depends on the meaning we attach to the word. If by mysticism in religion, we only mean an earnest longing after, and very high enjoyment of inward spiritual communion with God, and, in writing, frequent allusions to such spiritual experience, mingled with figurative phrases, we do not need to object to its application to Penington. But if, as is more commonly understood, we mean by religious mysticism an ecstatic state of feeling, leading into what is unpractical and mysterious, instead of a calming influence that acts on the conscience and regulates the whole moral life, Penington was no mystic. That mysticism which looks at Bible history and Gospel teaching through a haze that resolves them into fanciful types and figures, dissipating the simple truth and the obvious meaning of Holy Scripture, could not correspond in any degree with Penington's religion. He, though contemplative and retiring, was a true practical Christian. In common with the early Friends, he avoided using terms which had originated in the dogmatic theology. With them he wished to keep to Scripture language, and to avoid artificial terms which were liable to unscriptural fabrications.
It will be observed that he regarded that which is now called Calvinism as having led his mind into serious error, and away from the reverential caution of his earlier days. It is in relation to its teachings that he says, "I have known it, indeed, to be a bitter thing to follow this wisdom, instead of that which could make me truly to understand the Scriptures." In some other instances he uses still stronger language, when describing the mental suffering and perplexities which had resulted from his having been influenced by such doctrine, instead of seeking and waiting reverentially and trustingly for the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he afterwards found to make clear whatever was necessary to be cleared, so that "God's will was truly made known to the heart in salvation, new life, and power."
The unsatisfied feeling with regard to spiritual communion with God, which for so many years was endured both by Isaac Penington and his wife, does not appear to have arisen, out of, or to have been accompanied by, a sense of unforgiven sin. Circumstances indicate that in both cases the Lord was leaving them to pass through necessary experiences, until that degree of insight was acquired which prepared them to fill their allotted positions in the church. Isaac Penington became an eminent preacher of the Gospel among the Friends, and also a tireless writer. He was ever ready to put forth his literary powers and gentle persuasive influence, in defense of that spiritual religion and gospel Truth which had brought so much comfort to his own soul. Mary Penington seems to have been in a special manner fitted to be a true helpmate to him; her practical business capacity supplying what was less active in him. United they went forward with abiding trust in their Heavenly Father's love and care, their spiritual life being made strong in the Lord. To the inquiry, years after he had joined the Friends, if he were truly satisfied with the spiritual privileges he enjoyed, Isaac Penington replied, "Yes, indeed; I am satisfied at the very heart. Truly my heart is now united to Him whom I longed after, in an everlasting covenant of pure life and peace."
Of the early Puritans he retained a high appreciation and affectionate remembrance; but he regarded them as having eventually missed their way in some religious matters of great importance to spiritual life. He says: "There was among them great sincerity, and love, and tenderness, and unity in what was true; minding the work of God in themselves, and being sensible of grace and truth in one another's hearts, before there was such a rent among them. By degrees forms and different ways of worship grew among them, and the virtue and power of godliness decreased, and they were swallowed up in high esteem of and contending each sort for their own forms, while themselves had lost a sense of what they were inwardly to God, and what they had inwardly received from God in the days of their former zeal and tenderness. Oh! that they could see this. Oh! that they could return to their early Puritan state, to the love and tenderness that was then in them. May the Lord open again the true spiritual eye in them, and give them to see with it!"
When Isaac Penington had anchored on what he felt to be gospel Truth, he was tireless in his efforts to draw others into that state that had brought him so much consolation and clearness of spiritual vision. Especially dreading that teaching that did not dwell on or lead to a consciousness of the absolute necessity of the purification of the heart and conduct, he became very close and earnest in pressing home the worthlessness of religious belief which did not bring forth holiness of' life. Many of his letters addressed to acquaintances under these feelings still exist. Some of them were to persons now quite unknown, and various others to his own relatives, including several in serious conflict with his father, a Puritan, [it should be noted, that Isaac Penington had probably not yet entered the Kingdom at this early date; nor had he the benefit of Fox's admonitions to: do not contend with those out of the truth, and do not educate the wise - unless specifically directed by the Holy Spirit as to exactly what to do, and when to do it. If someone asks, you should be ready to give a reason for your hope of union and entering the Kingdom, but only if asked.]
An event was then approaching in the nation's history which must have claimed the utmost attention and interest of Alderman Penington. Whether amid that anxiety the correspondence between him and his eldest son extended any further, or was ever renewed, it is now impossible to ascertain.
When Richard Cromwell had proved himself unequal to the task of holding the reins of government which had been placed in his hands, one popular change succeeded another without any consolidation of central authority. Most of those who had sat as the late king's judges could read in the signs of the times the probable restoration of the Stuart dynasty. That thought brought more terror to many hearts than they were inclined to manifest. At length the crisis came, and on the first day of May, 1660, the famous declaration of Charles the Second from Breda was presented by his commissioner to both Houses of Parliament; and also to the city authorities, and through them to the nation. The royal promise of indemnity which it contained raised for a few days the drooping hopes of those who had most to fear. Thus the indemnity clause announced :
Of the original members of the Parliamentary High Court of Justice, which condemned the late King, forty-eight were still living; and nineteen of these, relying upon the word of a king so solemnly set forth, delivered themselves up as accepting pardon and promising allegiance to Charles the Second. Of the remaining twenty-nine, who could not rely on the royal promise as sufficient to ensure pardon, a few secreted themselves in England -the others immediately went abroad. Alderman Penington was one of the nineteen who, relying on the word of the King, came in before the expiration of the forty days. On the 8th of May the two Houses of Parliament proclaimed Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and on the twenty-fifth he arrived at Dover.
Before the arrival of the King, the Parliament, anxious to prove to him its great loyalty, decided that all they who had sat as his father's judges should be imprisoned and brought to trial; and also everyone who in an official capacity had had anything to do with his accusation or execution. About three months after the kingdom was restored to Charles, twenty-nine persons were brought to trial, and condemned to death as regicides. Included in the twenty-nine were the nineteen trusting ones who had given themselves up on his declaration of indemnity. Of the nineteen, fourteen were spared from death, the punishment being changed to imprisonment for life, and all their property and estates were confiscated. Ten, among whom were six who had signed the king's death-warrant, and four officials, were condemned to death, and suffered execution.
Alderman Penington, with the thirteen others, was committed as a prisoner to that Tower over which he once ruled as an honorable and executive governor; but his duration there was cut short by hard usage. Sir John Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, was devoid of, humanity and of principle; and the treatment to which he subjected the prisoners was consistent with his character. Lucy Hutchinson, in the memoirs of her husband, Colonel Hutchinson, says :
This unscrupulous man, Sir John Robinson, will come under our notice again.
It was in October that the regicides were condemned and their estates confiscated. In the State Papers belonging to that period, which have recently been published, I find this entry, " December 7th, 1660: Petition of George, Bishop of Worcester, to the King, for the grant of a lease of tenements in Whitefriars belonging to the bishopric, value eighty pounds a year, forfeited by Isaac Penington, late Alderman of London." And again, "August 8th, 1661; Grant to George, Bishop of Worcester, of five houses, etc. in Whitefriars, near Fleet-street, lately belonging to Isaac Penington, attainted of treason." In the Gentleman's Magazine it is stated that Alderman Penington's estates, among which was the seat of the Shurlows, called The Place, being confiscated, were given by Charles the Second to the Duke of Grafton. Finally, we have in the State Papers, under the date of "Dec. 19th, 1661; Warrant to Sir John Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, to deliver the corpse of Isaac Penington, Sr. who died in prison there, to his relations."
Neither record nor relic beyond what has been introduced, have I been able to discover of the condemned alderman, Isaac Penington, except that his silver drinking cup has for many years been in possession of his American descendants. It is now the property of Edward Penington of Philadelphia. It has on it the Tower stamp, the initials I. P., and the date 1642, the year in which he was chosen Lord Mayor of London.
Isaac Penington's Spiritual Journey
"In the sense of my lost estate,” thus Penington proceeds,
We have another description, written at a different time, of his walk:“My heart from my childhood," says he,
Mary Penington's Spiritual Journey
Mary Penington also had been religiously inclined from her childhood, and had been brought up in a family in which the forms, at least, of religion were observed with great strictness. While yet a child she was one day much struck with hearing a sermon read, on the text, "Pray continually." The writer, among other benefits of prayer, had observed that it was an exercise in which the saints were distinguished from the world; for, though the world could in many things hypocritically imitate them, yet in prayer it could not. This forcibly wrought on her mind, for she knew that the printed prayers which she used, were such as the world also could use; and she therefore, with sorrow, concluded herself to be yet unacquainted with true prayer. When the reader had finished, and she was left alone in the room, she threw herself on the bed, crying out aloud, Lord, what is prayer? At this time, she could barely write, and could scarcely join her letters; but, having heard that some persons wrote prayers for their own use, she penned one to serve her as a morning supplication, The subject fit was, that “as the Lord had commanded the Israelites to offer up a morning sacrifice, so she offered the sacrifice of prayer and desired preservation for the day."
She while in this practice, and wrote two other
Prayers, but doubt crept in here also and she began
to think true prayer was extemporaneous. Extemporaneous
prayer, therefore, she attempted, but found
that she could not always pray. Sometimes she kneeled
long, but could not utter a word. At length one
day, she heard of the sentences of Prynne, Bestwick,
and Burton, three eminent sufferers in the persecution
under Archbishop Laud, in the reign of Charles I. The
sad relation of the lot of these men sunk deep into her
mind, and cries were raised in her, (or them and all the
innocent people in the nation. She went into a private
room and shutting the door, poured out her soul to the
Lord they are her own words), in a vehement manner
for considerable time, being wonderfully melted. In
this, she felt ease, peace, and acceptance, knowing assuredly that this was true prayer.
Soon after this she entirely refused to join in the common prayer read in the family, or to kneel in the place of public worship; but went on foot two or three miles, regardless of the weather, to hear a puritan minister to pray, who prayed extemporaneously. About this time she also avoided vain company, declined the use of cards and similar amusements, was strict in observance of what was termed the Sabbath, and would not even eat on that day such things as took up much time to prepare.
Thus she stood her ground against the formality of a ceremony without scriptural foundation, but still being unsettled in what to believe, she swayed in the spiritual winds, from one notion to another; finally resorting to spiritually exercises. She fasted often prayed at least three times a day, often many more times, and daily sought to hear sermons, lectures, fasts, and thanksgivings. Most of the day was spent in reading the Bible, or in praying, listening to other, etc. She says, “so great was my delight in these things, I sought solitary places to pray in: gardens, fields, and out buildings so that I could be alone, which was necessary because I was loud in my pouring out my soul.”
Mary Penington describes her own religious feelings as being at this time in a very unsatisfied state. She says she changed her ways often, going from one notion to another. In fact, she went the whole round of the popular sects of that day; heard their preachers on all occasions; made the acquaintance of high religious professors; attended their lectures, their fasts, their thanksgivings, their prayer meetings; watched their private walk in life, and noticed the position they took in the world. Instead of meeting with the spiritual instruction and seeing the realization of the Christian life of which she had been in quest, she turned away heartsick, tender of the impression of a prevailing empty show that had assumed the name of religion. At length she made up her mind to abandon all outward forms of religious worship, and to hold herself unconnected with any section of Christians, relying on the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of the Lord, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Having found no abiding comfort amid religious professors, she at length determined to try the world of people living for pleasure. She says,
After a round of such fashionable recreations as above specified, she tells us that, taking with her none but he daughter, little Guli, and her maid, she would often in disgust forsake for a time city life, and seek entire seclusion in the country, where she would give way to her feelings of distress. She says, "I was not hurried into those follies by being captivated by them, but from not having found in religion what I had sought, and longed after. I would often say within myself, what are they all to me? I could easily leave all this; for it has not my heart, it is not my delight, it has not power over me. I would rather serve the Lord, if I could indeed feel and know what would be acceptable to Him. One night in my country retirement I went to bed very sad and disconsolate; and that night I dreamed I saw a book of hieroglyphics of religion respecting things to come in the Church, or religious state. I dreamed that I took no delight at all in them; and felt no closing of my mind with them, but turned away greatly oppressed. It being evening, I went out from the company into the open air, and lifting up mine eyes to the heaven and cried out, 'Lord, allow me no more to fall in with any false way, but show me the truth.' Immediately I thought the sky opened, and a bright light like fire fell upon my hand, which so frightened me that I awoke, and cried out. When my daughter's maid, (who was in the chamber), came to the bed-side to see what was the matter with me, I trembled a great time after I was awakened."
She ventured not to suppose that she felt an influence of God's Spirit on her heart; although at times so great was her thirst for God, that she seemed to resemble the parched earth, or the hunted deer, panting for water. In this state another remarkable dream was her lot, a part of which in her own words is as follows:
Her mind having fully realized the superficial and unsatisfying character of the fashionable amusements of the world of pleasures, her thoughts again and again turned to the religious feelings of former days. She still clung to the belief that though she had run into vanity, she was yet under her heavenly Father's care, and that He who had made the blessed promise to that state, knew of the hungering and thirsting after righteousness which often had such possession of her mind. But above all things she abhorred hypocrisy and religious presumption in anyone, and therefore she often distrusted herself, and these feelings. She could not for a long time entertain the idea that it was the Holy Spirit which was giving her these gleams of light and trust, and tendering her heart in prayerful feeling towards God. Thus she details circumstances that unfold her state of mind:-
Looking back on that period, when she would not allow to herself that she had any religion at all, she says it was wonderful to her to remember how she, notwithstanding, confided in the goodness and care of God.
An opportunity for acquaintance with the "Friends of Truth" by and by presented itself unsought for, as Mary Penington thus states :
The effect upon Mary Penington's mind of this application of the text quoted by Thomas Curtis, was not of a transient character. Such of her practices as were contrary to the teaching and commands of the Lord Jesus were brought in review before her by the Holy Spirit, now at work in her heart.
Before the termination of the state of conflict which she had sustained so long, Mary Springett was married to Isaac Penington. Her regard was attracted to him, because, as has been hinted, she perceived that he had discovered the deceit of all mere notions: that, like herself, he refused to be comforted by any form of religion, and was unwilling to rest satisfied short of a heartfelt experience of the power. In this concern they united, and on her part there was a sincere desire to to be serviceable to him, in his disconsolate condition. Thus they lived together, until the visit from the stranger already mentioned. But previously to this, Mary Penington had heard of a people which had lately risen in the North, and were called Quakers. Consistently, however, with her plan of doubting all professions, she resolved not to inquire after them or their principles; so that it was a year or more before she knew any thing of them, except that they used the singular number in speaking to a single person. She had also seen a book of George Fox written in the plain style, which she accounted ridiculous; and she had likewise heard some false and calumnious reports. She held this people therefore in contempt; nevertheless she often had a secret desire to be with them when they prayed. The reader may recollect that to be acquainted, with the genuine spirit of prayer, was one of her earliest desires; and she now thought that if she were present in the time of prayer, she could feel whether they were of the Lord or not. But she postponed to gratify this inclination, because she knew not how to attend their meetings undiscovered; and if it should be known, she feared that it would be reported, she was inclined to their way, while she herself had no such intention.
It has been already mentioned that Mary Penington has left some account of the particulars, so far at least as they affected herself, of the conference with Thomas Curtis and William Simpson. Her own words will best delineate the situation of her mind at that juncture. "My mind," says she, “was somewhat affected with the man who had discoursed" [with] "us the night before (that is, the-man who had spoken to her husband and herself in the park); for though I judged him weak in managing what he pretended to, yet he mentioned many weighty scriptures, which dwelt with me, proving from them many things to be right, which I was not in the practice of; and others to be wrong, which I was practicing; and indeed it made me very serious, and quite disposed to hear with attention what these men, (Curtis and Simpson), should say. It immediately arose in my mind, if I will know whether this is the truth which they have spoken, I must do whatsoever is manifested to be the will of God. And what was contrary to the Lord in me, as clearly set before me, and I saw that it must be removed before I could be capable of judging the right of their principles. This wrought much in me, to obey what I new was my present business, I now found that my vain inclinations and propensities were much stronger than. I imagined, and that those things which I thought I had treated with indifference yet had great power over me. Terrible was the day of the Lord against all my vain and evil imaginations. This made me continually cry out and mourn, both day and night, and if I only ceased a little, then I was, on the other hand, distressed with fears, lest I should be again reconciled to those things which I felt the judgment of God was upon, and which I bad a detested. Then I cried to the Lord that I might not be left in a quiet and secure state, until all the evil that lodged in my heart was wrought out. Many times has this Scripture been recalled: "But you will not come to me so that you might have life.’ Then I had a sense of my unwillingness to bear the cross of Christ, so that I was ready to say: It is true that I am lost if I do not bear the cross, but I will not come because I cannot bear to give up what is so dear to me. I clearly saw my unwillingness to forsake my beloved lusts that might come unto him for life ; but still upon every painful conflict this was in still in my mind, That although such severe discipline seemed more than I could bear, yet the wrath of God was greater, and would be far worse. I set myself against taking up the cross to the language fashions, customs and honors of the world; for indeed my station and connections in life made it very hard; but I never had peace or quiet in mind until the Lord, by the stroke of his judgments, brought me off from all these things, which I found the light to manifest deceit and bondage in. Yet thus to become a fool, and lose my reputation in the world, cost me many tears, many wakeful nights.
The axe being unsparingly brought down on the root of the evil that was within, much painful exercise succeeded. She says :
During the mental struggles above alluded to, Mary Penington does not appear to have sought or maintained any intimate acquaintance with the Friends, or to have made a practice of attending their meetings; but it is most probable she had been reading some of their writings. She states:
In 1658-four years after her marriage with Isaac Penington, their family consisted of three other children besides Gulielma.
Gulielma Maria Springett, (her daughter by her deceased first husband), then in the fifteenth year of her age was a lovely, graceful girl, the delight of her family and friends.
Thomas Ellwood gives us a peep into the home of the Peningtons at this period, through his graphic description of the first visit he and others of his father's family paid them, after they had settled at Chalfont. The Ellwoods had made the acquaintance of Lady Springett and her daughter in London, several years before her marriage with Isaac Penington. Thomas Ellwood, who was a few years older than Guli, speaks of having been her playfellow in former times, and of having been often drawn with her in her little coach through Lincoln's- inn Fields by Lady Springett's footman.
Ultimately the family left London, and settled at Crowell in Oxfordshire, on the Ellwood estate. Hearing that the Peningtons had moved to Chalfont, the Ellwoods, father and son, went to visit them; and Ellwood in his autobiography speaks of the occasion as follows:
It was not very long before the family of Ellwood made another visit at Chalfont. They stayed several days, and attended a meeting in the neighborhood with the family, at which Thomas Ellwood was convinced; but, as it is not the object of this work to detail the history of this Friend, who has himself done it so ably and agreeably, the visit is chiefly mentioned to show the practice of Isaac Penington: namely, in the long evenings of winter, to call in the servants who were Friends, and to sit together in silence. At least this was done at the period of the visit in question.
It is natural, for there is what may be called the nature of spiritual things, it is natural for the humble mind which has long endured conflict, and has been brought through it, not by any inherent strength of its own, to pity those who are still sustaining the warfare; and to be greatly desirous of stretching out to them the hand of support. Thus it was with Mary Penington. In a visit at the house of Ellwood she observed the sufferings of the son from the temper of the father, on the occasion of remaining covered [not removing his hat] before him. She remembered what her husband had suffered from his own father, on a like account. She also narrated that the relation of it to her friend Ellwood, and how his convincement had drawn from him, at a time when he did not expect it to be his own case, a heavy censure on the alderman. She had therefore the opportunity of offering some arguments on behalf of the son, not easily to be evaded by the father. Added to this intercession, she desired and obtained the father's permission, that young Ellwood should return with her and her husband in the coach, and remain with them awhile at Chalfont. Great indeed was the love and the kindness of Isaac and Mary Penington to Thomas Ellwood, while he remained in the family. They were as affectionate parents to him, and as tender nurses in his state of religious childhood. Besides their seasonable counsels, and exemplary conversation, they furnished him with the means of going to other meetings of Friends in the country, when no meeting was held at their house. And Thomas Ellwood asserts that the time he passed in their company was so well spent, that it not only afforded him great satisfaction to his mind, but in good measure turned to his spiritual advantage in the truth. If the woe be attached to those who offend the little ones that believe; surely the blessing will rest on the heads of such as, through their love to the Lord, are sedulous to comfort them.
Up to this time, Isaac Penington had escaped what may be termed judicial suffering, It is possible, the rank his father, the alderman, held in the republic might have its share in procuring him this exemption. But on the restoration of Charles II, such a motive had it ever existed, would fail to operate; and the frantic insurrection of the Fifth-monarchy men soon gave the spirit of persecution a pretext for harassing the dissenters, The first notice we have of any imprisonment of Isaac Penington is in the Account of Friends' sufferings, (in 8 v.), where, under the head Buckinghamshire, in the year 1660, it is briefly said that "Five, namely, Isaac Penington, George Salter, Thomas Pewsey, William Sexton, and Edward Barton, were apprehended by the constables when together, and sent to prison for such meeting." The prison was the county goal at Aylesbury, in which we find them remaining on the 30th 11th month (answering to that called January) 1660; together with sixty two others who were chiefly committed for refusing to swear the oath of allegiance; but who had for the more part, been taken up when meeting peaceably together. There is a short letter which Isaac Penington wrote during this imprisonment to his young friend Ellwood, then also in confinement at Oxford. It may serve in this place as a specimen of Isaac Penington's mind in the estimating of sufferings, and of the unabated care and affection which he bore to Thomas Ellwood:
Isaac Penington remained in prison a part of the following year; and from Ellwood, who having gained his own liberty from an imprisonment, sometimes visited him in prison, we learn some of the particulars of his treatment there; to estimate which rightly, it should be noticed that he was of a tender habit of body; and his education and manner of life had been those of a gentleman.
Most of the sixty-three prisoners were kept in an old room behind the goal, which had once been a malt-house, but, says Ellwood, then decayed, and scarcely fit for a dog-house. It was also so insecure, that the prisoners might have escaped; and it was, probably, the confidence placed in them, which procured for them this incommodious lodging. Isaac Penington, whether his lodging were in this or another room, for Ellwood in his testimony, calls it a cold and very incommodious room without a chimney, contracted so much disease, his imprisonment being in winter, that for several weeks after he was unable to turn himself in bed. There is something animating in the cheerfulness with which our early friends underwent the rigors of confinement; of which, so far as relates to Isaac Penington, proof will be given as we proceed.
In this confinement he wrote his piece entitled, "Somewhat spoken to a weighty question, concerning the Magistrate's Protection of the Innocent; in which is held forth the Blessing and Peace, which nations ought to wait for and embrace in the latter days," (42 pages). He pleads for an exemption from fighting, for such as are redeemed from the spirit of the world to the spirit of the gospel.· "How can he fight with creatures in whom is love and good will towards those creatures; and whose bowels are rolling over them because of their wanderings in the lusts, in the strife, and in the wars?" Yet he asserts the duty of the magistrate to protect not only those who are unable through weakness, but such as are forbidden, by motives of gospel good-will, to fight for themselves. He thus obviates the fear some have had, that a nation of peaceful Christians would be invaded and ruined. Such a thing must have a beginning before it can be perfected. Whoever would see this lovely thing brought forth in the general, must cherish it in the particular. It is not for a nation coming into the gospel-principle to take care beforehand how it shall be preserved; but the Gospel will teach a nation, as well as a particular person to trust the Lord, and wait on Him for preservation. He condemns not, yes, he appears even to be too liberal in allowing, to the magistrate the use of the sword, in repelling invasion or rebellion; but he declares there is a better state, yes, said he, it is far better to know the Lord to be the defender, and to wait on Him daily, than to be ever so strong and skilful in weapons of war. He instances the case of the Egyptians, of Scnnacherib, and of the enemies of Israel, who were restrained, while Israel went to appear before the Lord. " Will he not," says Penington, "defend that nation whom He teaches to leave off war?" The work has several divisions in one of them he states what the Friends desire with reference to government. 1. Universal liberty for all sorts to worship, as Christ shall open men's eyes to see the truth. 2. That no laws contrary to equity may remain in force, nor any be made but agreeably to equity. There is also a lively address: "To such as have felt the power of the endless life drawing; and have faithfully followed the Leader of the Rock of Israel." This has the date of his prison-house. "From Aylesbury prison in Bucks, where my life breathes for the consolation and redemption of God's Israel, and for the turning of the captivity of the whole creation." The following prayer concludes the pamphlet:
After Isaac Penington was discharged from this imprisonment, he went again to reside at his house at Chalfont, in which there was generally held a meeting twice in the week; but one first·day in four, there was a more general meeting, to which most of the Friends of the neighboring meetings usually resorted. At one of these general meetings were present, besides the neighboring Friends, a brother of Isaac Penington, named William, who was a merchant of London, and with him a Friend of Essex; there was also the noted George Whitehead of Westmoreland, a man inured to suffering, Thomas Ellwood, and one John Ovy, a baptist teacher, who had desired to become acquainted with Isaac Penington. These came on the preceding day, and were entertained in his hospitable mansion.
The meeting had not long been gathered, and was sitting in great stillness and composure, when a party of horse made its appearance, and the two Peningtons, the Essex Friend, George Whitehead, Thomas Ellwood, and three or four more were taken into custody, and immediately conveyed to a magistrate who resided at a considerable distance. The remainder held their meeting without further molestation.
This seems to have been an arrest made conformably to a proclamation forbidding the meetings of dissenters; which had been issued in consequence of the rising of the Fifth monarchy men; but neither the commander of the soldiers, Matthew Archdale of Wycomb, nor the magistrate, William Boyer of Denhem, appear to have been inclined to persecution. One showed his leniency by apprehending so few; the other by finding, or contriving, means for discharging those few. He considered Isaac Penington as but at home in his own house; his brother and the Essex man, as naturally on a visit, and the neighboring Friends as persons whom he could easily send for. These therefore he dismissed; but he could find no such excuse for Ellwood and Whitehead, whom therefore he threatened to commit ; but at length allowed them, as it was too late in the day to send them to Aylesbury, to return home with Isaac Penington, on promise of being ready at his house in the morning; when he took care not to send for them, or molest them any more.
It was not long after this event that Isaac Penington found means to introduce Ellwood as a reader to the poet Milton, who had then lost his sight; which circumstance is probably interesting to the literary world, as Ellwood was the cause of his writing the poem called Paradise Regained.* This fixed Ellwood in London, by which means in the year 1662, he underwent imprisonment both in Bridewell and Newgate' and after his release, became Latin tutor to the children of Isaac Penington. Penington was esteemed curious and skilful in pronunciation, and was very desirous to have his children well grounded in their native tongue. For this purpose he had procured for them a veteran, trustworthy teacher, who performed his office to the satisfaction of his employer; but as he aimed no higher, and a successor more learned had not yet been found, Isaac Penington, who then being in ill health kept his chamber, requested Ellwood to enter his children in the rudiments of Latin. He complied; but, instead of a temporary, became a permanent tutor, and stayed nearly seven years with the family.
Before the close of 1660, both Isaac Penington and Thomas Ellwood were made prisoners for obeying their conscience. They were confined in separate prisons, the former in that of Aylesbury, the latter in Oxford, for continuing to attend their own religious meetings. This step resulted from the outbreak of the Fifth Monarchy Men.
From the time of Isaac Penington's release in the early part of 1661, it does not appear that he was molested on account of his religious principles, until the year 1664; but though he himself was at liberty, he did not forget his fellow-prisoners whom he had left, or who had since his release been committed to prison at Aylesbury; for in the 7th month of the year 1661, he went to visit them in their confinement; and while with them, wrote the following letter to king Charles:
In 1665, religious persecution again disturbed the quiet that had prevailed for the previous few years among the worshippers who weekly assembled in the Penington parlor. Before this disturbance commenced, an illustrious poet, well known to some of the family at the Grange, had determined to seek a retreat in their neighborhood, from the pestilence which was depopulating the capital. This was the summer of the great plague of London. Every week the number of its victims was increasing, while death in its most alarming form was spreading terror all around. As many as could leave the doomed city, and were not bound by conscience or by feelings of self-sacrifice to watch over the sick and dying, sought refuge in the country. John Milton, dependent as he was at that time on the sight of others, requested his former pupil to find a house for him near his own home. Thus Ellwood relates the circumstance :-" I was desired by my employer, Milton, to take a house for him in the neighborhood where I dwelt, that he might go out of the city, for the safety of himself and his family, the pestilence then growing hot in London. I took a pretty box for him in Giles Chalfont, a mile from me, of which I gave him notice, and intended to wait on him, and see him well settled in it, but was prevented by that imprisonment." "That imprisonment," will be explained by the following extract from Ellwood's autobiography:- "Some time before this, a very severe law was made against the Quakers by name, particularly 'prohibiting our meetings under the sharpest penalties; five pounds for the first offence so called, ten pounds for the second, and banishment for the third; under pain of condemnation. for felony if escaping or returning without license. This act was looked upon to have been procured by the bishops, in order to bring us to conform to their way of worship. No sooner was that cruel law made, than it was put in execution with great severity. And although the storm it raised fell with greater weight on some other parts, yet we were not in Buckinghamshire wholly exempted from it, as it reached us after a time, For a Friend of Amersham, Edward Perrot, departing this life, the Friends of the adjacent country resorted pretty generally to the burial; so that there was a fair appearance of Friends and neighbors, the deceased having been well beloved by both. After we had spent some time together in the house, Morgan Watkins, who at that time happened to be at Isaac Penington's, being with, us, the coffin was taken up and borne on Friends' shoulders through the street towards the burying-ground, which was at the town's end, being part of an orchard which the deceased in his lifetime had given to Friends for that purpose.
It so happened that one Ambrose Bennett, a barrister-at-law, and a justice of the peace for that county, riding through the town that morning on his way to Aylesbury, was informed that there was a Quaker to be buried there that day, and that most of the Quakers in the country were coming to the burial. Upon this, he set up his horses and stayed; and when we, not knowing of his design, went innocently forward to perform our Christian duty for the interment of our friend, he rushed out of-the inn upon us, with constables, and a rabble of rude fellows whom he had gathered together. Having his drawn sword in hand, he struck one of the foremost of the bearers with it, commanding them to set down the coffin. But Thomas Dell, the Friend who had been struck, being more concerned for the safety of the dead body than for his own, held the coffin fast. The justice observing this, and being enraged that his word, however unjust, was not forthwith obeyed, with a forcible thrust threw the coffin from the bearers' shoulders, so that it fell to the ground in the midst of the street; and there we were forced to leave it, for immediately thereupon the justice gave command for apprehending us, and the constables with the rabble fell on us, and drew some, and drove others into the inn; giving thereby an opportunity to the rest to walk away.
Of those thus taken, I was one and Isaac Penington another. Being with many more put into a room under a guard, we were kept there until another justice had been sent for to join the other in committing us. Being called forth severally before them, they picked out ten of us, whom they committed to Aylesbury jail, for what neither we nor they knew; for we were not convicted of having either done or said anything which the law could take hold of. Our great concern was for our friend Isaac Penington, because of the tenderness of his constitution; but he was so lively in spirit, and so cheerfully given up to suffer, that he rather encouraged us than needed any from us."
The ten Friends thus committed were kept in prison for a month; when that time had elapsed, the doors were opened and they were discharged.
Only four weeks elapsed until Isaac Penington was again imprisoned by order of William Palmer, deputy-lieutenant of the County of Bucks. At the time the order was issued and executed, Mary Penington had not left her room after the birth of one of her children; I believe her youngest son Edward. The mittimus made out by Palmer was to the effect that the jailor of Aylesbury prison "should receive and keep the body of Isaac Penington in safe custody, during the pleasure of the Earl of Bridgewater." This Earl of Bridgewater, as it appears, had conceived a bitter antipathy to Isaac Penington, because he would neither, when addressing him, use the phrase "My Lord," nor sign himself, in writing to him, "Your humble servant." Penington had conscientiously adopted the truthfulness of address advocated by the Friends, and could not call any man" his lord" who was not so; nor call himself the servant of anyone to whom he owed no service. The Earl had declared he should "lie in prison until he would rot," if he would not apologize to him for the omission, and address him in the manner which he conceived due to his rank.
His fourth imprisonment was in the same year, 1665, about a month after his release from the former. -- Prior to this time his commitment had been by the civil magistrates; but now, that he might experience the severity of each, he fell into the military hands. A rude soldier, without any other warrant than what he carried in his scabbard, came to his house, and told him he came to bring him before Sir Philip Palmer, one of the deputy-lieutenants of the county. He meekly went, and was by him sent with a guard of soldiers to Aylesbury jail, with a kind of mittimus, importing, "That the jailer should receive and keep him in safe custody during the pleasure of the earl of Bridgewater;" who had, it seems, conceived so great, as well as unjust, displeasure against this innocent man, that, although, (it being the sickness year), the plague was suspected to be in the jail, he would not be prevailed with, by the earnest importunity of a person both of considerable quality and power in the county, only to permit Isaac Penington to be removed to another house in the town, and there kept prisoner until the jail was clear. Afterwards a prisoner dying in the jail of the plague, the jailer's wife, her husband being absent, gave leave to Isaac Penington to transfer to another house, where he was shut up about six weeks: after which, by the procurement of the earl of Ancram, a release was sent from Philip Palmer, by which he was discharged, after he had suffered imprisonment three quarters of a year, with apparent hazard of his life, and that for no offence.
By the time he had been at home about three weeks, a party of soldiers from Philip Palmer, (by order of the earl of Bridgewater, as was reported), came to his house, and seizing him in bed, carried him away to Aylesbury jail again; where, without any cause showed, or crime objected, he was kept in prison a year and a half, in rooms so cold, damp, and unhealthy, that it went very near to cost him his life, and procured him so great a sickness, that he lay weak because of it for several months. At length a relative of his wife's, by an habeas corpus, removed him to the King's-Bench bar, where, (with the wonder of the court that a man should be so long imprisoned for nothing), he was at last released in the year 1668. This was his fifth imprisonment.
His sixth imprisonment was in the year 1670, in Reading jail, whither he went to visit his friends that were sufferers there for the testimony of Jesus. Of which, notice being given to one called Sir William Armorer, a justice of the peace for that county, and living in the town, he was summoned before him, and committed to the jail, becoming a fellow-sufferer with them, whom, being sufferers for the truth, he came to visit. Here he continued a prisoner a year and three quarters, and was brought under the sentence of premunire, [loss of property for lifetime and life imprisonment]; but at length the Lord delivered him.
Isaac Penington's mind was meantime so deeply centered in devotion to the Lord, and in resignation to His holy will in all things, that the prison surroundings were very lightly regarded when compared with the happiness he felt in the assurance that the persecution he was enduring would bring honor and exaltation to the cause of Truth. In humble adoration before God his Saviour, every murmuring thought was hushed, as he wrote to her from whom he was so cruelly separated:-
Notwithstanding the declaration of the Earl of Bridgewater, Isaac Penington's friends, being aware that he had broken no law, calculated on his release whenever the assizes came round. But the Earl, also aware of that fact, took means to prevent a trial. Therefore, when the term arrived, no such case appeared. Thus term after term passed away without any trial, or any notice whatever of Isaac Penington's incarceration. It became evident that the mittimus, made out by the deputy-lieutenant of the county was being literally obeyed, and that the prisoner was really designed to remain imprisoned during the pleasure of the haughty earl.
The following is a letter of loving advice, written by Penington to his persecutor, the Earl of Bridgewater:
While he was in jail, he wrote this very humble, loving letter to George Fox, his spiritual father, who had first convinced him preaching at the famous Yearly Meeting at John Crook’s, in Bedfordshire, at Whitsuntide, 1658:
Prior to this, on his several releases from prison, Isaac Penington had returned to his house, called the Grange, at Chalfont, St. Peter’s; but on this release he had scarcely a home to which to resort. His wife relates that they had been injured by their relatives, who, knowing their conscientious scruple to swear, had involved them in a suit in Chancery, where their answer without an oath was invalid. They were also wronged by their tenants, and perplexed with various lawsuits; but at length the relatives were able to carry their machinations to so great a length that, during the time that Isaac Penington lay in the last mentioned cruel imprisonment, his wife and family were turned out of his house, by the persons who had gotten possession of his estate. By these means the family was broken up. The wife placed herself at Aylesbury, near her husband; and the youthful Gulielma Springett went for awhile on a visit to Bristol. Afterwards the family had lodgings in the adjoining parish called Chalfont St. Giles's, and then moved to more spacious ones at Amersham. During their residence a the former place, the tutor, too, of the children who having been himself fostered in the family, was now taken from them and also committed to prison, by Bennett, the same violent magistrate who the year before had committed both of them to prison. At length the family was located in a suitable habitation.
They were very attached to the friends in the neighborhood of the Chalfonts, whom they had been instrumental in gathering to the knowledge of the Truth, with whom they had suffered, and with whom, no doubt, they had harmonized and rejoiced. They therefore sought a house in that neighborhood; but finding none that seemed to suit them, to lease, and not inclining to make a purchase, the wife proposed that they should go and reside on an estate in Kent, part probably of her own real property, which had not like all her husband's, been taken away by the relatives. Isaac Penington objected to this, for the reasons already mentioned, and because the inhabitants of that part or Buckinghamshire, in which they had so long lived, knew and commiserated their troubles and losses and did not expect their establishment now could be any longer as it had been, or equal to the rank they had held. They had lived in great plenty, but were now obliged to submit to a much lower style of life than that to which they had been accustomed; and to their neighbors it was almost a matter of surprise that they could still pay to every his what they owed. At length they decided to go and board during one summer at Waltham-Abbey in Essex, in order that their children, who about this time lost their domestic tutor by the marriage of Thomas Ellwood, could attend a school in that town run by Christopher Taylor. Near time of their departure for their new lodgings, a Friend who was expressing his regret at losing their society, again proposed to them a small purchase. Mary Penington, who seems comfortable in material matters as well as spirituals, to have been truly a help-mate to her husband, objected greatly to the proposal, and told the person making the proposal that the circumstances of her husband and herself would not permit it. Their friend, however, urged his proposal so strongly, that Mary was induced to go and inspect the premises. It was a small estate called Woodside, near Amersham, of about £30 per annum, with an old house on it; and it had so ruinous and unpromising an appearance, that Mary entirely gave up the thought of the purchase. Soon after this, the worthy couple were disappointed in their expectation of procuring a house at Beaconsfield; on which proposals were again made to them, respecting the estate at Woodside.
Mary Penington's husband left the entire management of the business; so she reset her thinking. " Taking," says she, "some friends with me, I went to see it again. While they viewed the ground, I went into the house. The whole plan was in my mind what to pull down, and what to add. Calculating the whole expense, I judged it might be done by selling an estate of mine in Kent. Next day we went for Waltham, requesting our friends to act in the affair, and write [to] upon it; which they did; and informed us the title was clear. When I received the message, my mind was set upon the Lord, with desires that if it was if it was the place he intended for us to live, he would make it happen. My husband was very averse to building; yet considering his all was lost, and the estate to be disposed of was mine, he was willing for whatever I wished, providing he had not trouble in building; so we agreed to the purchase. My mind was often engaged in prayer so that I might be preserved from the world’s entanglements; and I considered the house to be the Lord’s regard for our need and Him for us. When it was bought, I went industriously and cheerfully about the business, but I saw many unusual encumbrances present themselves, which, I still cried to the Lord, that I might go through in his fear, and not darken and encumber my mind. I was, by the surveyor, put upon altering my plan, and raising a part new from the ground. With my husband agreeing with him, I could not well avoid it. So we built the house. But before Isaac Penington could enjoy the new home, he was imprisoned again for 21 months in the jail at Reading.
In the year 1670 was passed that singularly oppressive law, commonly called the Conventicle-Act. It imposed heavy fines on such dissenters as should allow meetings to be held in their houses, and gave unusual powers to magistrate for the levying of these, and other fines which it imposed, and for the imprisonment of such as should become obnoxious to the severity of the law. It also held out great encouragement to informers, and of course the country was soon infested with that pernicious race of men. By the vigilant and reasonable exertions of Thomas Ellwood, who, in nearly the outset of the business in the county of Bucks, procured two informers to be convicted of perjury, Buckinghamshire was not much molested with this new engine or oppression; but in the neighboring county of Berks, the Friends had their full measure of distress by means of the persecuting law. The jail at Reading was crowded with them, and Isaac Penington going, according to Christian practice, to visit them in their confinement, was informed against before a magistrate who bad long signaled himself as a furious persecutor. By this man Isaac Penington was committed to the same prison, disregarding that he had come to sympathize with his brethren already there. We do not in this instance read of his being at any religious meeting, or violating any clause of the late act. It is, however, more than possible that his visit was employed in silent retirement; but the current of persecution at that time raged too violently to be always confined even in legal channels.
In the twenty-one months of Isaac Penington's detention, is probable that some of the assizes or sessions of trial courts occurred during the period, and Penington was convicted of refusing the oath of allegiance, because it is related by Ellwood, in his testimony that Penington was sentenced to premunire. It appears also from Besse's Account of Sufferings, that the magistrate had sent for him, on the information of the jailer, had tendered to him the oath, and had made the refusal the ostensible reason of his treatment. However, when Charles the Second released, by letters patent, such Friends as were imprisoned on suits of the crown, Isaac Penington shared in the benefit, and left, for the sixth and last time, the confinement of a prison. A fellow-sufferer, in several of his imprisonments, gives the following description of his conduct in those trying situations:
AFTER the settlement of Isaac Penington at Woodside he suffered no further religious persecution. His constitution had been greatly impaired by the treatment he had previously endured, but the latter years of his life passed on peacefully, his affectionate wife watching carefully over his declining health. Their children grew up around them with indications of piety which made their parents' hearts thankful, and hopeful in view of the future. William and Gulielma Penn were near enough to ensure occasional fellowship between the two families; and we may imagine how happy the fellowship must have been between such cultivated religious minds, bound together as they were by the closest ties of love and relationship.
It is pleasant to know that in life's evening the
family at Woodside were allowed to enjoy without
molestation the peace and comfort of their humble
home. It was not on what they lost of this world's
wealth that the father and mother were then disposed
to dwell, but on what they had gained in
the sense of Divine approval, and the assurance
of the Lord's presence being with them and their
children. This added far more to their happiness
than all the wealth the world could bestow. In
true thankfulness and contentedness they could
praise their Heavenly Father's care, which had circled
around them amid fierce persecution, and love
filled their hearts with love and devout trust in
Mary Penington of her dearly departed beloved husband:
Site Editor's Comment : In the above eulogy, Mary asks for the fathers of Israel to speak to her husband's state in Christ; and so did Fox, Ellwood, and Penn state of his mighty possession of Christ and the Kingdom.
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