Messenger to the Church in Philadelphia (1667-1874)
“The way of taking up the cross is an entire resignation of soul … The way is narrow indeed, and the gate very strait … they that can not endure the cross must never have the crown” (William Penn)1
by Richard Doctor
A freshly printed “blasphemous book” titled The Sandy Foundation Shaken reached the hands of the Bishop of London. It was a direct attack on the Trinity, asserting, “that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are not one Eternal Substance, and if the divine nature be in three distinct so as that one is not the other, it must follow that there would be three distinct gods … [For] what can any man of sense conclude but that here be three distinct infinities.” In brief, the trinity was “heathenish philosophy.”
(1) This condenses an extended article with references in Beauties of the Truth, February 2000.
In short order, the author, young William Penn aged 23, was under “close confinement” in the Tower of London (December 16, 1667). From his ward in the Queen’s house, there was an unobstructed view of the private execution block’s stark silhouette a few steps from his door.
In character, Penn largely took after his mother, Margaret Jasper Vandershuren Penn. Margaret was the amiable and sensible daughter of a Dutch merchant from Rotterdam. Her husband, Sir William Penn, formerly served as an Admiral of the British navy during the string of wars between the British and the Dutch to control world trade. Through setbacks, Sir William was now stripped of rank, disgraced, and in failing health.
Admiral Penn had long borne the scandal of his namesake son’s religious zeal. At age sixteen young William acted on the Quaker preaching of Thomas Loe and was expelled from the prestigious Christ Church College Oxford for publicly criticizing the Church of England (1663). The Admiral whipped, beat, and turned his son out of the house. A man of tactics, the Admiral sent young William off to Paris, then an open moral cesspool, to learn something of the real world. His agents in Paris kept watch over the errant son and sent reports back to London.
Our Huguenot Legacy
Slipping away from his watchers, Penn abandoned Paris to study religion at L’Academie Protestante de Saumur, then a flourishing center of Huguenot teaching. At Saumur, Penn lived and studied with the distinguished theologian and director Moise Amyraut. Amyraut struggled, but could find no satisfactory interpretation to reconcile the Calvinist doctrine of election with the Arminian doctrine of free grace and universal salvation. Somehow, both were true. Harmonizing these scriptures lay 200 years in the future.
We owe a great debt to the Huguenots. The air at Saumur was filled with discussion on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation that we hold today. Huguenots’ interpretation of the 1260 days of Daniel predicted the French revolution more than one century in advance. Huguenot scholar Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713), then a young man himself, would write in 1686, that the Lord’s special judgment would fall on France — the tenth part of the city (Revelation 11:13), in the decade of 1780-90, and certainly by 1796. These insights would be refined by later expositors, such as Lauchlan Taylor, Joseph Priestley, and John Lathrop (1731-1820), a Yale-educated divinity scholar. Lathrop sparked interest in Biblical chronology that William Miller (1782-1849) would fan into a full flame during his ministry.
Huguenots recognized the seven churches of Revelation as successive historic periods. The devastation and scars of Europe’s religious wars could still be seen. Yet, statecraft had changed. Heretics no longer were being murdered. The Huguenots believed the church had just entered the sixth, or Philadelphia stage.
Sir William’s agents took nearly three months to locate young William. They reported not to worry, William was a “very good character” who “keeps pace with the best sort of company amongst whom the best things are craved.” Certainly, little harm could come from these studies.
Consecration to the Lord
Amyraut’s sudden death devastated young William who returned to England late in He took up the study of law. However, his thoughts and heart sympathy dwelt on those in “covenant” relationship with God. Our privilege to participate in a “covenant … by sacrifice” (Psalms 50:5) slowly was being recovered.
When the hand of God’s providence rests upon one of his servants, irony is not uncommon. In 1665 Sir William again sent his son to Ireland, where young William tasted military action and blood. Flushed with excitement and beguiled into belief that fame and fortune lay through arms, he promptly commissioned a half-portrait. This work shows a dashing youth, with dark shoulder-length hair, wearing the black armor of battle and a cravat. Only the expressive kindness in his eyes belays the portrait’s message. Later in life, Penn would famously lay down his arms when met by a band of armed Native American Indians. For this Ambassador of Christian Peace and Brotherly Love, the painting of young William Penn in full military dress remains his only certain life portrait.
Sir William sent him to Cork, Ireland, in 1667 to arrange rents and leases on the family properties. Once again, Penn attended the itinerant preaching of Thomas Loe: “Bear the cross, and stand faithful to God, then he will give thee an everlasting crown of glory, that shall not be taken from thee. There is no other way that shall prosper than that which holy men of old have walked.”
William Penn was the right man at the right time to carry the Lord’s work forward as the sixth messenger to the church. Exactly five prophetic months after the opening of the Reformation (150 years, Revelation 9:10) saw young Penn arrested for the first of many times (November 3, 1667). His crime was attending a “heretical” Quaker assembly on Sunday. Penn’s protest for the “open door” (Revelation 3:8) of religious liberty, and the separation of church and state, would be his life’s theme. No European state, Catholic or Protestant, tolerated such liberty. Penn was the Lord’s messenger who would remake the world.
Sir William turned his son out of the house. Not surprisingly, lengthy theological treatises from Young William to his father went unheeded. Penn next wrote the treatise, The Sandy Foundation Shaken. This put him into the Tower of London.
The Cross and Crown
Penn was not idle while in the Tower. He wrote No Cross — No Crown; A Discourse showing the Nature and Discipline of the Holy Cross of Christ, and that Denial of Self, and Daily Bearing of Christ’s Cross, is Alone the Way to Rest and the Kingdom of God. Even after three hundred years, and 53 editions, it is a moving call to consecrated living. The wide distribution of editions in French, German, and Dutch, served to fix the image of the Cross and Crown in Christian hearts:
“Christ’s Cross is Christ’s way to Christ’s Crown. … It is a path, God, in His everlasting kindness, guided my feet into in the flower of my youth, when about twenty-two years of age; He took me by the hand and led me out of the pleasures and vanities and hopes of the world … [to strive] against the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
“O come! Let us follow him, the most unwearied, the most victorious Captain of our salvation; to whom all the great Alexanders and mighty Caesars of the world are less than the poorest soldier of their camp could be to them. … For Christ made himself of no reputation to save mankind; but these have plentifully ruined people to augment theirs … they advanced their empire by rapine and blood, but he by suffering and persuasion. … Misery and slavery followed all their victories, his brought greater freedom and felicity to those he overcame. In all they did, they sought to please themselves; in all he did, he sought to please his Father, who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is the most perfect pattern of self-denial we must follow, if we will ever come to glory.”
For over one thousand years the church focused on the inspiring promises of heaven while minimizing Christian life experiences. Augustine (354-430) wrote that these memories “dissipated like clouds.” Penn thought just the opposite. These life experiences acquired under unfavorable conditions were to eternally benefit the church. Sufferings for Christ, and the graces of the Spirit developed under suffering, develop them as God’s holy temple. Slowly, the understanding of the Church’s share in the sin-offering was being recovered.
Again, Penn received a devastating blow. During his imprisonment, Thomas Loe died.
A “Holy Experiment”
After release from the Tower (July 1669), Penn traveled throughout the British Isles to serve Quaker assemblies. His father’s health weakened further, and as the shadow of death deepened, Sir William was reconciled to his son. Sir William died September 16, 1670, leaving Penn in control of the family fortune — an exceeding large debt owed by England. Penn now entered the ministry full time, making two missionary circuits in Holland and Germany. Had his ministry ended here, his life would be memorable for focusing our minds and hearts on the Cross and Crown. We would hear echoes of the Quaker theme of being “simple and sincere towards all.”
To this point there is no indication in his writings that he had yet conceived of the “holy experiment,” founding a colony in the New World as the crown’s payment, settling a debt to the Penn family. After much travail, this was granted.
To most US citizens Penn is remembered as a great colonial founder who was a man of peace. He founded Philadelphia as the leading city of “Pennsylvania,” the colony named by the British government to honor Sir William. This “holy experiment” was a Christian attempt to break free from the European order and establish a representative democracy committed to liberty, civil rights, religious freedom, and a life of decent living under a government at peace. Penn is the sole colonial founder whose peace treaty with Native American Indians was honored for the three generations while Penn, his son, and his grandson administered the colony.
Voltaire, no friend of Christians, hailed Penn the greatest lawgiver since Moses. In less than a century, Pennsylvania served as the cradle for further imperfect efforts of “little strength” (Revelation 3:8). Philadelphia would be the focal point for the struggle for freedom, of importance to men everywhere. In the civic hall Penn built, the colonial delegation met to declare independence (July 4, 1776). Later, they met there again to formulate a Constitution (1787). Nor does it seem an accident that the Laodicean church’s ministry through Pastor Russell should begin in the city of Allegheny — in Pennsylvania!