Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 7. Isaac and Mary Penington

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

IV. The Early Quakers

§ 7. Isaac and Mary Penington

More of a mystic than Penn was his friend Isaac Penington, son of an alderman and high sheriff of London who was one of the regicide judges. Penington was a graduate of Cambridge, as Penn was of Oxford. The stern and gloomy Calvinism in which he had been brought up distressed his tender spirit, and it was not till after years of deep inward questioning and isolation, and even of agnostidism, that he found peace at last by identifying himself with the quakers, whose teaching he had known but had long despised as uncouth and contrary to reason. He came to find “the presence and power of the Most High among them,” and declares:

  • I have met with my God; I have met with my Saviour; and he hath not been present with me without his salvation; but I have felt the healings drop upon my soul from under his wings. I have met with the true knowledge, the knowledge of life.
  • Penington’s writings, it has been recently said, “are diffuse, and on the whole unreadable.” Even the titles of his voluminous works are forgotten now; but the purest breath of Christian mysticism is in them for those who have the patience to find it and the power to breathe it. Take the following passage as typical of many others:

  • Know what it is that is to walk in the path of life, and indeed is alone capable of walking therein. It is that which groans, and which mourns; that which is begotten of God in thee. The path of life is for the seed of life. The true knowledge of the way, with the walking in the way, is reserved for God’s child, for God’s traveller. Therefore keep in the regeneration, keep in the birth; be no more than God hath made thee. Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be anything and, sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart and let that grow in thee.
  • Before the light dawned on Isaac Penington, he had found a kindred spirit in the youthful lady Springett (born Mary Proude), who, after the death of her husband at the siege of Arundel, married Penington, as she says herself, that she might “be serviceable to him in his desolate condition.” “Their love was the mature passion of pure and intense natures,” and together they suffered cheerfully the loss of worldly goods and frequent separations when Penington was thrown into prison for what he believed to be the truth. A beautiful and worthy testimony remains in the words which Mary Penington wrote, by the bedside of her sick child, when her husband had been called away from earth:

  • Ah me! he is gone! he that none exceeded in kindness, in tenderness, in love inexpressible to the relation as a wife. Next to the love of God in Christ Jesus to my soul, was his love precious and delightful to me. My bosom-one! that was as my guide and counsellor! my pleasant companion! my tender sympathising friend! as near to the sense of my pain, sorrow, grief, and trouble as it was possible. Yet this great help and benefit is gone; and I, a poor worm, a very little one to him, compassed about with many infirmities through mercy let him go without an unadvised word of discontent, or inordinate grief.