William Ames (---- 1662) was born at Frampton Cotterell in Gloucestershire, near Bristol. He has been described as having obtained an education that was of no use in preparing him for life. He was a soldier in the King's Army, and became a Marine Soldier under Prince Rupert. When serving in Ireland, he became a Baptist, but converted to Quakerism in 1655. Ames religious service was principally in Western Europe.
In his youth he was of a cheerful temper, and fond of the society of those of similar dispositions; but, in the gay and unguarded indulgence of this inclination, he was often disquieted in his mind; and, in consequence, became a closer follower of the priests and teachers. He also exercised himself diligently in reading the Holy Scriptures, which, though it is a practice very excellent in itself, was not sufficient to bring him to true peace of mind with the Lord.
Though he was of a quick understanding, and capable of deducing much argument from the scriptures; yet he appears, for a time, not to have been favored with the Key of David, which only can unlock and open that rich treasury, and furnish from those abundant stores, the food convenient for the seeking, hungry soul.
In this unsatisfied condition of mind, he entered into religious communion with the Baptist society, and became a teacher among them. At this period he was more strict and careful of his conduct, and endeavored to avoid the committing of sins; yet he found that the root from which they sprang was alive in him; and when he met with anything contrary to his own will, anger soon prevailed. Few appear to have been more fully and clearly taught the doctrine of the blessed redeemer of men, when he said: "Without me ye can do nothing."
He could speak of justification, sanctification, and cleansing by the blood of Jesus, but was sensible he had not attained that pure washing; and even perceived that he was no true member of Christ, because he had not experienced regeneration. Thus he learned that a high profession was of no value, and that something beyond it was essential to enable him to attain a happy condition.
Though he was thus clearly sensible of one thing still lacking; and, on committing sin, felt in himself a swift witness against it, an internal monitor [the Light] that struck him with terror; yet he did not comprehend what it was, which in mercy so disquieted his soul.
In addition to the ministerial office which he had taken upon himself, he was employed as an officer in the army. In this capacity as an officer in the army, he maintained a strict life himself, and kept his soldiers under severe discipline; and when any of them were guilty of immorality on the first-day of the week, he had them put under confinement and restraint.
At length, in the year 1655, while Edward Burrough and Francis Howgill were at Cork in Ireland, he heard one or both of them preach, declaring that what convinces man of sin, is the Light of Christ, which enlightens every man that comes into the world. This doctrine entered so deeply into his heart, that he embraced it, from a firm conviction of its being the Truth; and walking with great circumspection and fear before the Lord, he found, that by diligent attention to that divine principle which inwardly reproved and condemned him for evil, he came to be delivered from the power of sin, and to witness sanctification.
He became a Quaker, and continuing in the way of godliness, a year later he became a zealous preacher of that doctrine which had so deeply penetrated his own heart.
In the year 1657, we find him at Amsterdam, in company with a person of the name of Humble Thatcher, who does not appear ever to have been fully in communion with our religious Society. It seems, from the circumstance of their being companions, and from William Ames being a man of extraordinary courage and boldness, that they were arrested, on suspicion of having placed a paper on the door of the English meeting-house, in that city; but of this charge William declared himself innocent; and also that he did not know who was the author of the paper. This happened at the time when many false reports were in print, concerning the Quakers, which probably occasioned the magistrates to be more apprehensive respecting them; and sending for William Ames and his companion to appear before them, they were commanded to depart the town in twenty-four hours.
Persuaded of their own innocence, these courageous and resolute men did not think proper to obey the command. The next day, from a conscientious scruple, not putting off their hats when before the magistrates, they were falsely considered as not owning the subordination or respect due to rulers; and after being kept in custody for some days, they were at night led through the Regulars gate, and banished out of the town.
William Ames judging that he had committed no evil, returned the next day into the city, and passed the great market-place called the Dam. On this occasion it is said that some of the magistrates saw him and observed: "Lo! there is the Quaker; if we had a mind now to make martyrs, here would be an opportunity for it." But it seems that because there was no proof of their having done any evil, the magistrates deemed it safest to overlook his return.
He stayed some time in the city, and the doctrine which he preached found some entrance, even among a few of the collegians. At this time also his ministry proved convincing to Jacob Williamson Sewel, of Utretcht, free citizen and surgeon, resident at Amsterdam, and Judith Zinspenning his wife, who were the parents of William Sewel, the historian of our Society, and a lexicographer. These, with two three more, were the first to form a meeting in Amsterdam.
In the preface to William Sewel's The History of the Rise, Increase, and Progress of the Christian People Called Quakers, he mentions William Ames as having had considerable influence with several collegians when he was first at Amsterdam, who were so fully convinced of the doctrine he preached, that they approved of it; and one of them, Adam Boreels, so early as the year 1662, according to William Sewel, wrote a paper in Latin, with a title signifying "The Light upon the Candlestick," which contained the doctrines preached by William Ames, and was so expressed in the title page. This treatise had been translated into English, and forms an Appendix to William Sewel's History.
On one occasion, as Ames was walking next the prince, in his garden, with his hat on, the courtiers inquired of the prince, if they should question Ames for doing so; but he would not permit them take the matter further.
At another time the prince arranged to have both his chaplain and William Ames to dine with him, with a view, it seems, that William, whom he knew to be a bold man, might find occasion to reprove the chaplain. For this purpose, when they were at dinner, the prince allowed his jester to come in, and on playing his tricks the chaplain was silent. William Ames took occasion from this circumstance to reprove such vain actions; but chiefly aimed his remarks at the chaplain, whom, for his silence at the lewd remarks of the jester, he censured in very plain terms; which, however, appeared to afford satisfaction to the prince. This fact marks the uprightness, boldness, and firm integrity of the character of William Ames.
At Kriesheim, a town in the Palatinate, not far from Worms, he found such entrance among the Baptists, that some families not only received the doctrine he preached, but bore public testimony for it there. When Pennsylvania was created as a Quaker led colony of England, they all unanimously went to that province. Thus they providentially escaped the distresses which resulted from a brutal war soon afterwards; in which the Palatinate [their original homeland] was laid waste by the French, and thousands were bereaved of their possessions and reduced to poverty.
The success which William Ames had in his preaching, reaching so many of the hearts of the inhabitants of Palatinate, resulted in the authorities fining any person who gave support to William Ames. When the Prince Elector was informed of this persecuting fine, not only did he abolish the fine, but ordered some of the court, who had-sent for William, to cease persecuting him.The Prince's sister also behaved very kindly towards William Ames, and received his exhortations favorably.
The next year he went again into the Palatinate, with John Higgins, and visited the Prince Elector; he also sent a letter to the Prince, with a book written by George Fox, of which John Higgins appears to have been the bearer. From the captain of the prince's guard, they understood that he was glad of William Ames' return; and the prince himself desired John Higgins to thank William Ames for the letter and book; and added, that he took their visit to him and his family very kindly, and believed that what they spoke was in love to their souls.
William Ames also went to Hamburg, Bohemia, and Dantzig, and from-the latter into Poland; but it is not certain in what year. At Hamburg and Dantzig he met with some who received the doctrine he preached; but in Poland the people were rude and haughty.
After being confined a little more than three weeks in Bedlam, the under governor indirectly expressed a wish that they would escape; saying that he should not hinder them. William Ames, not choosing to be reputed one who broke prison, concluded the conversation with saying: "Well, I intend to go out tomorrow." The next day they were allowed to go out, and William went with the deputy, before the dike- grave, not choosing to leave the town without seeing him. The dikegrave [a magistrate] behaved moderately; but not judging it eligible for them to be released, expressed a desire for them to return to the prison, with which they complied, and were detained some time longer, before they were set at liberty. William then proceeded on his journey in Germany, and then returned to his native country; but after some time he went again to Holland, probably with an intention of settling there.
In 1662, he was taken from a Friend's house in London, with Samuel Fisher and three others, and suffered a severe imprisonment in London’s Bridewell prison; but his health not being equal to endure such severity, he was released, lest he should die there. Such was the rage of persecution at that time, that not only public meetings were interrupted, but private houses were broken into, and friendly visits were construed into meetings contrary to law. His settled home at this time was at Amsterdam, to which place, after his release, he returned, with his health much impaired; and he did not survive very long the effects of the severity he endured in Bridewell. In the course of his sickness, which was lingering, he was informed, that, among the Baptists and collegians, it was reported, he had changed his sentiments, and was grieved for having judged them wrongfully. This he denied; and said that he still judged their way of worship, especially their disputations and will-worship, to be out of the way of the Lord.
In this testimony for truth he continued, and died in peace. This was in the latter part of the year 1662. William Sewel thus concludes his account of this bold advocate, of the Light of Christ in the Heart. "He was indeed a zealous man, and though some were ready to think he was too zealous, yet he was discreet; and I know that he was condescending in indifferent matters, thinking that there were customs, which though not followed in one country, were yet tolerable in another. He was also generous; and lest he might seem burdensome to any, he rather chose to work with his own hands." He did this, at wool-combing, during his last imprisonment in London. He published several small works, which are enumerated in John Whiting's catalogue of Friends' Books. In this list appears to be included "The Light upon the Candlestick," already noticed in this Memoir; and from his name being in the title page, John Whiting attributed the authorship Ames, [incorrectly, for it had been written by an anonymous writer, who had heard Ames preachings, but who mixed the wisdom of man strongly in his writing].
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