A spiritual journey in the 1640s and 1650s...
...Now if then you had asked me what I thought God was, the Devil was, what the Angels' nature was, what Heaven and Hell was, and what would become of my soul after death? My answer had plainly been this: that my God was a grave, ancient, holy, old man, as I supposed sat in Heaven in a chair of gold, but as for his nature I knew no more than a child; and as for the Devil, I really believed was some deformed person out of man, and that he could where, when and how, in what shape appear he pleased; and therefore the devil was a great scarecrow in so much that every black thing I saw in the night, I thought was the devil; but as for the Angels, I knew nothing at all; and for Heaven, I thought was a glorious place, with variety of rooms suitable for Himself, and his Son Christ, and the Holy Ghost; and Hell, where it was I knew not, but judged it a local place, all dark, fire and brimstone, which the devils did torment the wicked in, and that for ever; but for the soul at the hour of death, I believed was either by an Angel or a Devil fetched immediately to Heaven or Hell. This was the height of my knowledge under the Bishops' Government, and I am persuaded was the height of all Episcopal ministers then living. . .
After this I travelled into the Church of the Presbyterians. . . for herein consisted the difference of the Presbyterian and Episcopal, only in a few superstitious rites and ceremonies, as also their doctrine was more lively than the Episcopal, for they would thunder the pulpit with an unknown God, which then I thought was true, and sharply reprove sin, though since I saw we were the greatest sinners. . . The Presbyterians began to be a great people, and in high esteem, and at that time there was a greet slaughter of the Protestants inIreland [October 1641] that London was thronged with their ministers and people, and several collections were gathered for them; but this I observed, that as the Presbyterians got power, so their pride and cruelty increased against such as was contrary to them, so that thirdly I left them, and travelled to the Church of the Independents; for this I observed, as wars increased, so variety of judgements increased. . .
But I must return to the time then under Doctor Crisp's doctrine, in which I did endeavour to become one of those that God saw no sin, and in some measure I began to be comforted therewith; but how, or which way to continue in the same I could not tell, having as yet but little understanding in the Scripture I was silent, only still enquiring after the highest pitch of light then held forth in London. . . Fourthly, take notice in this Sect I continued a certain time, for Church it was none, in that it was but part form, and part none. . .
Now after I had continued half a year, more or less [as a preacher in Norfolk] the Ministers began to envy me for my doctrine, it being free grace, so contrary to theirs, and that the more [as] their people came from their own parish to hear me . . . Now I knowing no other but those sayings 'Go ye teach all Nations, baptizing them, and lo I am with you to the end of the world' [from Matthew 28: 1920]; that continuance to the end of the world, was the loadstone that brought me to believe that the baptism of the Apostles was as much in force now, as in their days, and that command did as really belong to me as to them; so being convinced, for London I went to be further satisfied, so that after a little discourse with Patience, I was by him baptized in the water that runneth about the Tower. ..
I continued preaching the Gospel and very zealous I was for obedience to the commands of Christ Jesus; which doctrine of mine converted many of my former friends and others to be baptized, and so into a Churchfellowship was gathered to officiate the order of the Apostles, so that really I thought if ever I was in a true happy condition, then I was . . . Now dipping being a command of Christ, I judged them rebels that did profess the name of Christ, and not submit their bodies to the ordinance of Christ, and that Christ requires obedience from none but such as was capable of being taught, and therefore no children, but men and women, ought to receive the ordinance of
baptism . . .
[In January 1645 Clarkson was questioned about adult baptism by the parliamentary committee at Bury StEdmonds and kept under house arrest.] Then said Sir John Rouse [one of the Committee] we are informed you dipped six sisters one night naked. [Clarkson] That is nothing to me what you are informed, for I never did such a thing. Nay further, it is reported, that which of them you liked best, you lay with her in the water? Surely your experience teacheth you the contrary, that nature hath small desire to copulation in water, at which they laughed; but, said I, you have more cause to weep for the unclean thoughts of your heart. . .
[The committee challenged the legality of Clarkson's marriage, which had been contracted by mutual consent before his congregation.]
I being vexed at their folly, answered, marriage is no other, but a free consent in love each to the other before God, and who was sufficient to publish the contract as myself? . . .
After I had lain there [at Bury St Edmonds under arrest] a long time, Mr Sedgewick and Mr Erbury came to visit me, with whom I had great discourse, and after they were gone, I had a great conceit in my mind, as touching the succession of baptism, which I could not see but in the death of the Apostles, there was never since no true administrator . . . So . . . I was minded to travel into the wilderness; so seeing the vanity of the Baptists, I renounced them and had my freedom July 1645].
Then, sixthly, I took my journey into the society of those people called Seekers, who worshipped God only by prayer and preaching . . . As all along in this my travel I was subject to that sin, and yet as saintlike, as though sin were a burden to me . . . I concluded there was none could live without sin in this world; for notwithstanding I had great knowledge in the things of God, yet I found my heart was not right to what I pretended, but full of lust and vainglory of this world. . .
Now after this I return'd to my wife in Suffolk, and wholly bent my mind to travel up and down the country, preaching for moneys. . . There was few of the clergy able to reach me in doctrine or prayer; yet notwithstanding, not being a University man, I was very often turned out of employment, that truly I speak it, I think there was not any poor soul so tossed in judgement, and for a poor livelihood, as then I was . . .
[As a 'teacher' in the Army] I quartered in a privatehouse, who was a formerfriend of mine, asked me if I had heard not of a people called 'My one flesh' [The Ranters]? I said no, what was their opinion and how should I speak with any of them? Then she directed me to Giles Calvert. So that now friends, I am travelling further into the wilderness . . .
Seventhly, I took my progress into the wilderness. . . with many more words I affirmed that there was no sin, but as man esteemed it sin, and therefore none can be free from sin, till in purity it can be acted as no sin, for I judged that pure to me, which to dark understandings was impure, for to the pure all things, yea all acts were pure. . .
Now Copp was by himself with a company ranting and swearing, which I was seldom addicted to, only provinc bv Scripture the truth of what I acted; and indeed Solomon's writings was the original of my filthy lust, supposing I might take the same liberty as he did, not then understanding his writings was no Scripture, that I was moved to write to the world what my principle was, so brought to public view a book called The Single Eye [October 1650] so that men and women came from many parts to see my face, and hear my knowledge in these things, being restless till they were made free, as then we called it. Now I being as they said, Captain of the Rant, I had most of the principal women came to my lodging for knowledge, which then was called The Headquarters. Now in the height of this ranting, I was made still careful for moneys for my wife, only my body was given to other women: so our company increasing, I wanted for nothing that heart could desire, but at last it became a trade so common, that all the froth and scum broke forth into the height of this wickedness, yea began to be a public reproach, that I broke up my quarters, and went into the country to my wife, where I had by the way disciples plenty. . .
The ground of this my judgement was, God had made all things good, so nothing evil but as man judged it; for I apprehended there was no such thing as theft, cheat, or a lie, but as man made it so: for if the creature had brought this world into no propriety, as Mine and Thine, there had been no such title as theft, cheat, or a lie; for the prevention hereof Everard and Gerrard Winstanley did dig up the commons, that so all might have to live of themselves, then there had been no need of defrauding, but unity one with another. . .
But now to return to my progress, I came for London again, to visit my old society; which then Mary Midleton of Chelsford, and Mrs Star was deeply in love with me, so having parted with Mrs Midleton, Mrs Star and I went up and down the countries as man and wife, spending our time in feasting and drinking, so that taverns I called the house of God; and the drawers, messengers; and sack, divinity; reading in Solomon's writings it must be so, in that it made glad the heart of God; which before, and at that time we had several meetings of great company, and that some, no mean ones neither, where then, and at that time, they improved their liberty, where Doctor Paget's maid stripped herself naked, and skipped among them, but being in a cook's shop, there was no hunger, so that I kept myself to Mrs Star, pleading the lawfulness of our doings as aforesaid, concluding with Solomon all was vanity . . .
Now in the interim I attempted the art of astrology and physick, which in a short time I gained and therewith travelled up and down Cambridgeshire and Essex . . . improving my skill to the utmost, that I had clients many, yet could not be therewith contended [contented?] but aspired to the art of magic . . . I improved my genius to fetch goods back that were stolen, yea to raise spirits, and fetch treasure out of the earth, with many such diabolical actions . . . At that time I looked upon all was good, and God the author of all, and therefore have several times attempted to raise the devil, that so I might see what he was, but all in vain, so that I judged all was a lie, and that there was no devil at all, nor indeed no God but only nature; for when I have perused the Scriptures I have found so much contradiction as then I conceived, that I had no faith in it at all . . . I neither believed that Adam was the first creature, but that there was a creation before him . . . I really believed no Moses, Prophets, Christ, or Apostles, nor no resurrection at all; for I understood that which was life in man, went into that infinite bulk and bigness, so called God, as a drop into the ocean, and the body rotted in the grave, and for ever so to remain.
In the interim came forth a people called Quakers, with whom I had some discourse, from whence I discerned that they were no further than burning brick in Egypt [Exodus 5], though in a more purer way than their fathers before them. . .
[c. 1658] Then for London I went, and going to visit Chetwood my former acquaintance, she, with the wife of Midleton, related to me the two witnesses; so having some conference with Reeve the prophet, and reading his writings, I was in a trembling condition . . . Now being at my journey's end as in point of notional worship, I came to see the vast difference of Faith from Reason, which before I conclude, you shall hear; and how that from Faith's royal prerogative all its seed in Adam was saved, and all Reason in the fallen Angel was damned, from whence I came to know my election and pardon of all my former transgressions; after which my revelation growing, moved me to publish to the world, what my Father was, where he liveth, and the glory of his house, as is confirmed by my writings now in public; so that now I can say, of all my formal righteousness, and professed wickedness, I am stripped naked, and in room thereof clothed with innocency of life, perfect assurance, and seed of discerning with the spirit of revelation...
Dr Crisp: was Tobias Crisp, an Antinomian minister who preached in London in 1642-43.Mr Sedgwick and Mr Erbury': William Sedgwick and William Erbury who were both ministers in the Isle of Ely at this time. They were identified with the 'Seekers', both rejecting church organization and stressing the importance of God's spirit within the individual before the Scriptures. 'Giles Calvert' was a radical printer who often acted as a link between the various sectaries whose works he published. ''Copp' was Abiezer Coppe, the Ranter. 'Everard and Gerrard Winstanley': the Diggers. 'Reeve the prophet': John Reeve who founded the Muggletonian sect with Lodowick Muggleton. Reeve and Muggleton believed themselves to be the 'two witnesses' (Revelation 11) who were to declare a new system of faith and had the authority to decide the eternal fate of individuals. Reeve saw faith as the divine element in man, reason as the element that came from Satan. Clarkson was apparently a Muggletonian until his death. This commentary and the source is taken from: Ann Hughes, ed., Seventeenth-Century England. A Changing Culture. Volume I. Primary sources (Open University, 1980). [941.06 SEV]