Thumbnail Biography of
Isaac Penington (1616-1679) was the eldest son of Sir Isaac Penington, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1642 and 1643, and a staunch Puritan Congregationalist. His father sat on the tribunal which convicted Charles I of treason and executed him. In 1654 he married Mary, widow of Sir William Springett, and daughter of Sir John Proude. [Penington's step-daughter, Gulielma Maria Springett married William Penn]. Both Isaac and Mary had been for some time among those called Seekers, and by this experience were prepared to hear the truth of the Quaker message of union and restoration to the image of God. Their convincement took place in 1658, and shortly afterwards moved to Bucks. Penington suffered six imprisonments, five at Aylesbury and one at Reading, which he cheerfully suffered; and which he apparently did not make a huge effort to obtain his release. [Which could be explained by his not having attained the Kingdom until late in life; his suffering used to bring him to perfection as part of his cross; this would explain Penney's contrasting statement of Penington to Fox, who was in the Kingdom before he was 22 ]: "Fox, active and alert in mind and body, passed through the danger to which Penington, quite and submissive, fell an easy prey.
It was about ten years after the death of her first husband, when Lady Springett and Isaac Penington were married. The circumstances of their conversion to the principles of the Friends we find in the words of Mrs. Penington herself, having written her memoirs for the benefit of her grandson, Springett Penn. She said:
"One day, as my husband and I were walking in a park, a man that had for a little time frequented the Quaker’s meetings saw us as we rode by in our celebrant, vain apparel. He spoke to us about our pride, at which I scoffed, saying, 'He is a public preacher indeed, preaching on the highways!' He turned back again, saying he had a love for my husband, seeing grace in his looks. He drew near to pale, and spoke of the light and grace of God that had appeared in all men. My husband and he having engaged in discourse, the man of the house coming up, invited the stranger in. He was but young, and perceiving my husband was too able for him in the fleshly wisdom, said he would bring a man the next day, who would better answer all his questions and objections."
This was the beginning of Isaac and Mary Penington's Quaker convincement. Commenting on the processes of the latter’s conversion to Quakerism, a writer of that sect has said:
With Isaac Penington, convincement was a tremendous struggle, nor did he capitulate until he heard George Fox, at the famous Yearly Meeting at John Crook’s, in Bedfordshire, at Whitsuntide, 1658. Penington thus refers to his own conversion:
It was not long after Isaac Penington’s conversion that troubles came thick and fast to him and to those dear to him. Oliver Cromwell died that year- September 3, 1658; in due time Charles II came to the throne; the elder Isaac Penington [his father] was thrust into the Tower as a prisoner, where he had once been governor; he was tried and sentenced to death, but, as stated, the former Lord Mayor died of his infirmities before the day of his execution rolled around; the latter’s estate was confiscated, among other pieces of property taken being Chalfont Grange, the home of the younger Isaac Penington, which he supposed to be his, but which was, nevertheless, given to the Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of Charles II; though Penington was not finally dispossessed until 1666.
But other and more serious troubles came to Isaac Penington, and as the direct result of his conversion. By the military order of the Earl of Bridgewater, Penington was sent to Aylesbury jail because he would not address him as "My Lord" and say "Your humble servant." At this particular time the plague was raging in the prison. Once afterward, he was incarcerated by order of the Earl of Bridgewater. These two imprisonments lasted, respectively, nine and eighteen months. But this was by no means all. Between 1661 and 1672 he spent four years and three quarters in jail, usually at Aylesbury, but once at Reading.
Upon one occasion he was arrested while in attendance at meeting; once while walking upon the street in a funeral procession, the coffin being thrown to the ground; at another time when in bed; again upon the occasion of the birth of one of his children; and it was while he was in prison that his family was turned out of Chalfont Grange.
But none of these things moved either Isaac Penington or Mary, his devoted wife. While in confinement, as well as the intervals between his numerous persecutions, Isaac Penington spent his time in writing pamphlets and books upon religious subjects, mainly in explanation and defense of the tenets of the Quakers. The list of his works occupies twenty-six pages in Joseph Smith’s Catalogue of Friends’ Books.
After being dispossessed from the Grange, and during one of the intermissions between Isaac Penington’s imprisonments, the family lived at Bury House, near Amersham, Buckinghamshire, and it was here that William Penn came courting Mrs. Penington’s daughter by her first husband, Gulielma Maria Springett, who had been brought up in the family of Isaac Penington as one of the latter’s household. After the daughter’s marriage to Penn, April 4th, 1672, the Penington Family removed to Woodside, in the Parish of Amersham, near their former residence. Here Isaac Penington spent his remaining days in peace, dying finally October 8, 1679, at Goodnestone Court, in the Parish of Goodnestone, County Kent, where he had gone upon a visit—Goodnestone Court being the property of his wife, which she had inherited from her father, Sir John Proude. His widow survived him three years, her death having occurred at Worminghurst, Sussex, William Penn’s home, September 18, 1682, a little more than a fortnight after her distinguished son-in-law had sailed out of the Downs, in the ship Welcome, for Pennsylvania, his new world on the banks of the Delaware. Both husband and wife were buried at Jordans, near their old home, Chalfont Grange. Beside them were laid to rest the remains of the daughter, Gulielma Maria Penn, [William Penn's first wife] who died February 22, 1693-94. In the next grave, at due time, was buried the Founder [William Penn] himself. The four simple headstones side by side, can be seen at Jordans today.
Isaac and Mary Penington had six children, as follows: John, Mary, Isaac, another son, name unknown, who died young; William and Edward. The eldest of the six children, John Penington, was the author of several Friends pamphlets, two of which, relating to George Keith’s schism, were published in London in 1695.
Although I am not ignorant that many weighty and living testimonies have been already given in by true and faithful witnesses upon the same occasion, which might well seem sufficient to excuse mine; yet am I not thereby clear, but find a pressing upon my spirit to write a few lines also concerning this my dear deceased friend; to which, I confess, I am induced, and in some sort engaged, by the double obligation of affection and gratitude. I did love him, and that love was entire, and I am sure, very deserved; for he was worthy indeed of love from all men, but more especially from me, to whom he had been abundantly kind; for in the day in which it pleased the Lord to awaken my soul, and call me out of the pollutions of the world, both with respect to worship and conversation, (for which I became the derision of my country, the scorn and contempt of my friends and acquaintance, and in a manner an outcast also, exposed as it were in the world to change in it), how welcome was I then to him! How affectionately did he receive me! How carefully did he take care of me! How tenderly and like a father did he watch over me, that I might not be drawn back, or anyway be betrayed from the simplicity of truth, as I had received it! And can I ever forget his love, or let his manifold kindness slip out of my mind! Oh no; the remembrance of him is pleasant to me, and I cannot think of him without delight. For as a friend, I truly loved him; as a father, (for such his care of me rendered him to me), I reverenced him; as an elder, I honored him, and that, (as he right well deserved), with double honor. My spirit was truly united to his; yes, my soul was linked and knit with him in the holy covenant of life, which death has not been able to dissolve. Bear with me therefore a little, I implore you, whoever you are, under whose eye these lines may chance to fall, if I take liberty to express my sense of this my beloved friend; in which if I seem somewhat particular, know that my acquaintance with him was so.
He was naturally furnished with a sharp and excellent wit, and that well cultivated and polished with an ingenuous and liberal education; his disposition was courteous and affable, free from pride and affectation. His ordinary discourse cheerful and pleasant, neither morose nor light, but innocently sweet, and tempered with such a serious gravity, as rendered his converse both delightful and profitable.
From his childhood, (as I have heard him occasionally say), he was religiously inclined, and sought the Lord in his tender years. And although the way of truth was not then so cast up unto him, as since, through the goodness of the Lord, it was; yet that he had then, at times, some true touches and tastes of life, some openings and sights of heavenly things, (though not so clear, unmixed, and abiding as after), the treatises which he then wrote do manifestly declare. -- And although at the first manifestation of truth unto him in this present dispensation, he was not without doubts and jealousies concerning it, as himself relates; nor free for some time from disputes and reasonings against the lowliness of its appearance, yet, after it pleased the Father, in the riches of his grace, to reveal his Son in him, thereby giving him to see, and certainly to know, what was that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Oh, how joyfully did he receive it! How willingly did he bow unto it! How readily did he yield his neck to the yoke of Christ! And how constantly and delightfully did he wear it! Did he then regard the pleasures of the times, or value the preferences and honors of the world, though living at that time in the favor and affluence of it? No, no; he turned his back upon it all; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; and casting down his crown at the foot of Jesus, he willingly became a fool to the world, and to the wisdom thereof, that he might be made truly wise to God. In which he surely obtained his desire; for as he honored the Lord, and preferred him above all; so the Lord did highly honor him, and gave him liberally of the true and heavenly wisdom, adorned with humility; so that he was educated, and yet humble; full of knowledge, (heavenly knowledge), yet not puffed up with it. And as he had freely received of the Lord, so did he freely and readily communicate the same, (as the following testimony does witness), unto such as stood in need of counsel, advice, information, or direction in their travel to the heavenly country. To which service he was fitted and very well furnished by the experiences of his own travel; for the Lord had led him through many straits and difficulties; through many temptations, trials, and exercises, by which the Lord had tried and proved him. Not only through the Red Sea and the Wilderness had he passed, but he had also seen the bottom of Jordan , and he had known and felt the upholding, delivering arm of the Lord through it all; by which he was able to speak a word of information to the bewildered passenger; a word of encouragement to the weary and fainting traveler; a word of comfort to the afflicted soul, and a word of consolation to the wounded spirit. And oh, how sweetly have I heard it flow from him! How has it dropped like the dew, and distilled like the gentle rain! Ah, how tender, how compassionate, how full of bowels and feeling sympathy was he! Surely his words have been many times as apples of gold in pitures of silver. For in truth the Lord was with him, and his heavenly power did often fill his temple; and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon him, and the fruits of which were plentifully brought forth through him, in love, in joy, in peace, in long-suffering, in gentleness, in goodness, in faith, in meekness, and in temperance; so richly did the word of the Lord dwell in him. His delight was in the service of God, to which he was wholly given up, and in it spent most of his time, either publicly in meetings waiting upon God, or privately in visiting and ministering unto those who were distressed, or anyway afflicted in mind or body; and when at home, he was frequent in retirements, and very inward with the Lord. Very fervent he was in prayer, and very frequent; for the Spirit of grace and supplication was plentifully poured upon him, by which he often wrestled with the Lord, and not in vain. He frequently read the holy Scriptures, and with great delight and profit; for he made it not a cursory or formal business, nor sought to pick out the meaning by his natural wit or learning; but, with a great composedness of mind, and reverence of spirit, waited to receive the true sense of them from the openings of that divine spirit, by which the writers of them were inspired. Great and strong was the travail of his spirit for the conversion of others; and in a more especial manner did his love flow and bowels yearn after the stated believers of Christ, for whom he continually and earnestly labored, both by word and writing, (not ceasing to seek them to his dying day), that they might be brought off from the shadows, and come at length to inherit substance. And blessed be the Lord, by the powerful operation of the Spirit of God, through his ministry, many were turned to the truth, and many confirmed in it; for the Lord was with him, and spoke by him; so that his teaching was with divine authority, in the demonstration of the Spirit, and of power. To the world, and the affairs of it, he was very much a stranger; but deeply experienced in the things of God. For his affection was set on things above, his conversation was in heaven, and his life hidden with Christ in God. He was but a pilgrim on the earth, and is now gone home. In his family he was a true pattern of goodness and piety; not only by his grave example, but by his savory instructions and exhortations to godliness. To his wife he was a most affectionate husband; to his children, a loving and tender father; to his servants, a mild and gentle master; to his friends, a firm and fast friend; to the poor, compassionate and openhearted; and to all, courteous and kind. He was very zealous for the truth, unwearied in promoting it, bold and undaunted in the defence of it, faithful in his testimony to it, patient and cheerful in his suffering for it. He was a very good and pious man; one that truly feared God, and warily eschewed evil.
His exercises were great and varied in the times of his former professions; how earnest and pressing his spirit then was after the pure enjoyment of God; how strange and admirable the dealings of the Lord were with him; and how far he came at length to see the travail of his soul, and to be satisfied; as himself of all men best knew; so he has occasionally scattered here and there a hint thereof, in several pieces of the following books; which, for the reader's satisfaction, I had once thought to have collected and presented here together; but finding, among his loose papers, a summary account thereof, written with his own hand, above a dozen years ago, when, being in bonds for Christ's sake, he was sick near unto death, I chose rather to transcribe that here, and refer the more curious and industrious reader to the several books and papers of the ensuing volumes, in which he has touched the same subject; as namely, The Way of Life and Death, etc. in the preface, and in the postscript. Babylon the Great described, etc. The scattered Sheep, etc. An Examination of the Grounds, etc. and A Glass for Professors. Where is the Wise? Observations on Rom. 14:20. Of the Church in its first and purest State. The Holy Truth and People defended. Not to enumerate each particular.
Penington's account of his spiritual travels and travails is as follows:
"A true and faithful relation, in brief, concerning myself, in reference to my spiritual travails, and the Lord's dealings with me. I say true and faithful, because it is of the truth, and not given forth in my own will, but in the Lord's will and requirements of me at this time, for his service. The relation is as follows:
Neither to him was it given only to believe, but to suffer also for the sake of Christ. His imprisonments were many, and some of them long, which with great stability and quietness of mind he underwent. But because so general an account may perhaps not answer the expectation and desire of the reader, I will here subjoin a more particular; but that as contracted and short as may be.
His first imprisonment was at Aylesbury jail, in the years 1661 and 1662, being committed there for worshipping God in his own house; where, for seventeen weeks, great part of it in winter, he was kept in a cold and very incommodious room, without a chimney; from which hard usage his tender body contracted so great and violent a sickness, that for several weeks after, he was not able to turn himself in his bed.
His second imprisonment was in the year 1664, being taken out of a meeting, where he with others was peaceably waiting upon the Lord, and sent to Aylesbury jail, where he again remained a prisoner between seventeen and eighteen weeks.
His third imprisonment was in the year 1665, being arrested, with many others, in the open street of Amersham, as they were carrying and accompanying the body of a deceased friend to the grave. From here he was sent again to Aylesbury jail; but this commitment being in order to banishment, was only for about a month.
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.
Thus through many tribulations did he enter into the kingdom; having been exercised, tried, proved, and approved by the Lord. He was long in the warfare, and, like a good soldier, manfully endured the fight of afflictions; but having fought the good fight, and kept the faith, he has now, in the Lord's good time, finished his course, and is gone to possess the crown of righteousness laid up for him, and all those who love the bright appearance of the Lord. He was a faithful laborer in the Lord's vineyard for many years; but now has he ceased from his labor, and his works follow him. He walked with God, and is translated. To the Lord he lived, and in the Lord he died, and by the Spirit of the Lord he is pronounced blessed; therefore blessed forever be the name of the Lord.
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