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A Brief Memoir of Penn.

By James M. Brown.

(Included with his 1857 reprint edition of Primitive Christianity Revived, By William Penn.)


"Yet him God the Most High vouchsafes
To call by visions from his father's house,
His kindred and false gods, into a land
Which he will show him, and from him will raise
A mighty nation, and upon him shower
His benediction so, that in his seed
All nations shall be blest. He straight obeys,
Not knowing to what land, yet firm believes."—Paradise Lost.

AT this time commenced the conflict between the father and the son. The fond parent, who had paved the road for his son to honour, wealth, and fame, now for the first time saw his hopes blighted, and in the anguish of his spirit resorted not only to harsh words, but to blows, in order to change his son's course; and finding both ineffectual, he turned him out of doors. The youth bore it patiently until affection triumphed over anger, when he was sent to France with some persons of quality, with the view of having his attention directed from the subject of religion. He continued there until the object was very nearly accomplished, and when he returned his father was much pleased to find the experiment had proved so successful. A knowledge of the French language and French politeness had been acquired, together with a desire to practise them.

Now it was that he was tempted of the devil to desert his religious principles. To his youthful mind were presented the honours and pleasures of the world, the favour and love of that father who had done so much for him already, (and was anxious to do so much more,) and the comforts of his home, where he enjoyed all he could desire, with a prospect (provided he did not offend his father) of inheriting his whole estate. To all this must be added the favour of his king and the smiles and caresses of the court. Several years were spent in this dubious condition, and especial care was taken by his father to prevent a return to his former companions. He entered him as a student of law at Lincoln's Inn, had him employed in the king's service, presented him to great personages, and caused him to visit them. In the Dutch war he belonged to his father's staff for a short time, yet witnessed real service. Shortly after this the plague ravaged London, and William Penn changed his residence.

The solemn scenes he had witnessed in the metropolis no doubt revived his former religious sentiments, and more than ever convinced him of the folly of seeking happiness in any thing except purity of heart, with which he always associated a life of self-denial. The admiral was not long in discovering a change in his son's demeanour, and determined to repeat his former experiment; and, owning a fine estate in Ireland which required immediate attention, proposed to his son to go and take charge of it, giving him letters of introduction to the first officers of the government. He arrived in 1665 among his father's friends, by whom he was received with marked respect. He associated on the most familiar and friendly terms with the Duke of Fronde and his family. An insurrection among the soldiers at Carrickfergus afforded Penn an opportunity to display his military talents. He served as a volunteer, and so distinguished himself as to receive general applause from his superior officers, who proposed that be should join the army, and take command of a company of foot. To this he assented, and sought his father's consent, which, not being obtained, the idea was abandoned, but not before he had his likeness painted in military costume, which is said to be the truest one ever taken of him.

The duke presented him with a highly responsible office connected with the fleet at Kinsale, the duties of which he discharged to the entire satisfaction of his employer. The interest of the Irish estate required his services in London, when his superior capacity for business was fully developed. His father, fearing the religious influence of his former acquaintances, soon hurried him off to Ireland. Having business at Cork, he there met and associated with Quakers, and at their meeting again heard Thomas Loe, who began his discourse with these ever-memorable words, "There is a faith that overcomes the world, and there is a faith that is overcome by the world." By this discourse Sir Admiral Penn's apparently well-laid plans were entirely defeated, and William Penn, Jr., thoroughly convinced, subsequently became a regular attendant at their meetings, brooking violent persecution. In 1667 he and many others were apprehended at a Quaker meeting in Cork, and taken before the mayor, who, observing that his dress was not that of a Quaker, would have set him at liberty upon bond for his good behaviour. Penn refused to accept this, and, with eighteen others, was committed to prison.

His openly espousing the cause of the Quakers soon procured him the reproachful name, which was accompanied with scoff and derision; he was a by-word of scorn and contempt. The father, being informed of the course his son had taken, recalled him, and on his return was fully satisfied of the truth fulness of the accounts he had received, not by his dress but by his address.

Every parent must sympathize with William Penn the elder. Language cannot describe the anguish he experienced on this occasion. I shall not attempt it. "My pen," says a former biographer, "is diffident of its abilities to describe that most pathetic and moving contest which was betwixt his father and him. His father, actuated by natural love, principally aiming at his son's temporal honour; he, guided by a divine impulse, having chiefly in view his own eternal welfare. His father, grieved to see the well-accomplished son of his hopes, now ripe for worldly promotion, voluntarily turn his back upon it; he, no less afflicted to think that a compliance with his earthly fathers pleasure was inconsistent with an obedience to his heavenly one. His father, pressing his conformity to the customs and fashions of the times; he, modestly craving leave to refrain from what hurt his conscience. His father, earnestly entreating him, and almost on his knees beseeching him, to yield to his desire; he, of a loving, tender disposition, in an extreme agony of spirit to behold his father's concern and trouble. His father, threatening to disinherit him; he, humbly submitting to his father's will therein. His father, turning his back on him in anger; he, lifting up his heart to God for strength to support him in that time of trouble."

His father, to compromise matters somewhat, proposed to excuse him from complying with the fashionable manners and customs of the day, provided he would take off his hat in the presence of the king, the duke, and himself. He, desiring time to consider the question, withdrew, and humbled himself before God, with fasting and supplication. He was thus strengthened in his resolution, and, returning to his father, humbly signified that he could not comply with his desire. His father, finding himself utterly disappointed of his hopes, could no longer endure him in his sight, and the second time turned him out of doors.

William Penn, in relating his religious experience at a meeting on the Continent in 1677, said, "Here I began to let them know how and when the Lord first appeared unto me, which was about the twelfth year of my age, anno 1656. How at times, between that and the fifteenth year, the Lord visited me, and of the divine impressions he gave me of myself, of my persecutions at Oxford, and how the Lord sustained me in the midst of that hellish darkness and debauchery; of my being banished the college; the bitter usage I underwent when I returned to my father—whipping, beating, and turning me out of doors in 1662; of the Lord's dealing with me in France, and in the time of the great plague in London; in fine, the deep sense he gave me of the vanity of this world, of the irreligious ness of the religions of it. Then of my mournful and bitter cries to him that he would show me his own way of life and salvation, and my resolutions to follow him, whatever reproaches or sufferings should attend me, and that with great reverence and brokenness of spirit. How after all this the glory of the world overtook me, and I was even ready to give up myself unto it, seeing as yet no such thing as the primitive spirit and church on the earth, and being ready to faint concerning my hope of the restitution of all things.

"It was at this time that the Lord visited me with a certain sound and testimony of his eternal word through one of those the world calls Quakers, namely, Thomas Loe. I related to them the bitter mockings and scornings that fell upon me, the displeasure of my parents, the invectiveness and cruelty of the priests, the strange ness of all my companions. What a sign and wonder they made of me; but, above all, that great cross of resisting and watching against mine own inward vain afflictions and thoughts."

I feel that I would be remiss were I to fail to make another extract from his writings touching upon this immediate subject; a lesson so well calculated to encourage all those who are in the way of righteousness to persevere therein at all hazards, and at the same time to admonish parents and guardians against putting obstacles in the way of tenderly visited minds. He says, "My own father, after thirty years' employment with good success in divers places of eminent trust and honour in his own country, upon serious reflection, not long before his death, spoke to me in this manner : 'Son William, I am weary of the world; I would not live over my days again if I could command them with a wish; for the snares of life are greater than the fears of death. This troubles me, that I have offended a gracious God that has followed me to this day. Oh, have a care of sin ! that is the sting both of life and death. Three things I commend to you: 1. Let nothing in this world tempt you to wrong your conscience; I charge you do nothing against your conscience; so will you keep peace at home, which will be a feast to you in a day of trouble. 2. Whatever you design to do, lay it justly and time it seasonably, for that gives security and despatch. Lastly : Be not troubled at disappointments; for if they may be recovered, do it; if they can't, trouble is vain. If you could not have helped it, be content; there is often peace and profit in submitting to Providence; for afflictions make wise. If you could have helped it, let not your trouble exceed instruction for another time. These rules will carry you with firmness and comfort through this inconstant world.' At another time he inveighed against the profane ness and impiety of the age; often crying out with an earnest ness of spirit, 'Wo to thee, 0 England! God will judge thee, 0 England ' Plagues are at thy door, O England!' He much bewailed that divers men in power, and many of the nobility and gentry of the kingdom were grown so dissolute and profane, often saying, 'God has forsaken us, we are infatuated, we will shut our eyes, we will not see our true interests and happiness; we shall be destroyed!' Apprehending the consequences of the growing looseness of the age to be our ruin, and that the methods most fit to serve the kingdom, with true credit at home and abroad, were too much neglected; the trouble of which did not a little help to feed his distemper, which drew him daily nearer to his end; and as he believed it, so less concerned or disordered I never saw him at any time; of which I took good notice. Wearied to live, as well as near to die, he took his leave of us and of me with this expression, and a most composed countenance: 'Son William, if you and your friends keep to your plain way of preaching, and keep to your plain way of living, you will make an end of the priests to the end of the world. Bury me by mother. Live all in love. Shun all manner of evil. And I pray God to bless you all; and he will bless you.'"

He died on Friday, 16th September, 1670. I let the reader make his own comment.

Truly man sees not as God sees; and would it be too much were I to say that God raised up William Penn for a special purpose, as he did Moses? There is certainly a very striking similarity in many important events of their lives. Moses was brought up at court; the same may be said of William Penn. Moses could look forward to the time when he could enjoy all of the worldly pleasures this life affords; so could William Penn. The popularity and wealth of Sir William Penn, and the great obligations that rested on Charles II., as well as his inclination to promote the son, rendered it plain to the weakest capacity that worldly glory was in the grasp of William Penn.

God saw proper to call the attention of Moses to the burning bush, yet permitted it not to be consumed. This seems to be the starting-point in his religious life, and one, no doubt, to which he often recurred when bis faith or patience wavered.

God kindled in the bosom of William Penn a fire that was to him as remarkable and as certain a beacon in after life as was the burning bush to Moses, with this difference, however, in favour of William Penn, his fire never ceased to burn upon the altar of his heart.

How beautifully does St. Paul describe Moses in his Epistle to the Hebrews, chap. xi. 24-27!—"By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible."

I will also record here what William Penn said of Moses, after speaking of Abraham and Job; he said,

"Moses is the next great example in sacred story for remarkable self-denial, before the times of Christ's appearance in the flesh. He had been saved, when an infant, by an extraordinary providence; and it seems, by what follows, for an extraordinary service. Pharaoh's daughter (whose compassion was the means of his preservation when the king decreed the slaughter of the Hebrew males) took him for her son, and gave him the education of her father's court. His own graceful presence and extraordinary abilities, joined with her love for him and interest in her father to promote him, must have rendered him, if not capable of succession, at least of being chief minister of affairs under that wealthy and powerful prince. For Egypt was then, what Athens and Rome were after, the most famous for learning, arts, and glory.

"But Moses, ordained for other work, and guided by a better star, a higher principle, no sooner came to years of discretion, than the impiety of Egypt and the oppression of his brethren there, grew a burden too heavy for him to bear. And though so wise and good a man could not want those generous and grateful resentments that became the kindness of the king's daughter to him, yet he had also seen that God that was invisible, and did not dare to live in the ease and plenty of Pharaoh's house whilst his poor brethren were required to make brick without straw.

"Thus the fear of the Almighty taking deep hold of his heart, he nobly refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose rather a life of affliction with the most despised and opprest Israelites, and to be the companions of their temptations and jeopardies, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: esteeming the reproach of Christ (which he suffered for making that unworldly choice) greater riches than all the treasures of that kingdom. Nor was he so foolish as they thought him. He had reason on his side; for it is said he had an eye to the recompense of the reward : he did but refuse a lesser benefit for a greater. In this his wisdom transcended that of the Egyptians, for they made the present world their choice, (as uncertain as the weather,) and so lost that which has no end.

"Moses looked deeper, and weighed the enjoyments of this life in the scales of eternity, and found they made no weight there. He governed himself, not by the immediate possession, but the nature and duration of the reward. His faith corrected his affections, and taught him to sacrifice the pleasures of self to the hope he had of a future more excellent recompense."

Permit me to pursue the parallel. By faith William Penn, when he was come to years, refused to enjoy the pleasures of the court of Charles the Second; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the honours of England: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook England, not fearing the wrath of the king : for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

What a remarkable man, and what a remarkable life! With every opportunity for the enjoyment of all that worldlings could desire, he, when yet a youth, renounces them all, and incurs the absolute displeasure of his king and father, and was turned out of doors; incurs the scoffs and sneers of every worldly-minded man at home and abroad; associates with the low and humble and despised followers of Jesus Christ; suffering persecution and imprisonment joyfully.

In the fulness of time, however, a door of deliverance is opened for him and his oppressed brethren. The second land of promise is in view, but Penn is required to do more than Moses, yet his faith fails not. He hesitates not to embark a very large portion of his estate (some say $200,000). in a wilderness beyond an ocean three thousand miles in width, inhabited by a few European adventurers and hordes of savages. He called it the holy experiment.

I will here insert a letter which was written by him at Chester, Pennsylvania, on the 5th of the 12th month, (February,) 1682, which will explain my views more fully.


I could speak largely of God's dealings with me in getting this thing. What an inward exercise of faith and patience it cost me in passing. The travail was mine, as well as the debt and costs, through the envy of many, both professors, false friends, and profane. My God hath given it me in the face of the world, and it is to hold it in true judgment, as a reward of my sufferings; and that is seen here, whatever some despises may say or think. The place God has given me, and I never felt judgment for the power I kept, but trouble for what I parted with. It is more than a worldly title or patent that hath called me in this place.

Keep thy place: I am in mine, and have served the God of the whole earth since I have been in it; nor am I sitting down in a greatness that I have denied. I am, day and night, spending my life, my time, my money, and am not sixpence enriched by this greatness; costs in getting, settling, transportation, and maintenance now in a public manner at my own charge duly considered; to say nothing of my hazard and the distance I am from a considerable estate, and, which is more, my dear wife and poor children. Well, the Lord is a God of righteous judgment. Had I sought greatness I had stayed at home, where the difference between what I am here and was offered and could have been there, in power and wealth, is as wide as the places are. No, I came for the Lord's sake, and therefore have I stood to this day, well, and diligent, and successful, blessed be his power. Nor shall I trouble myself to tell thee what I am to the people of this place, in travails, watchings, spendings, and my servants every way, freely, (not like a selfish man,) I have many witnesses.

To conclude, it is now in friends' hands. Through my travail, faith, and patience, it came. If friends here keep to God, and in the justice, mercy, equity and fear of the Lord, their enemies will be their footstool; if not, their heirs, and my heirs too, will lose all, and desolation will follow; but, blessed be the Lord, we are well, and live in the dear love of God, and the fellowship of his tender, heavenly Spirit; and our faith is for ourselves and one another, that the Lord will be with us a King and a Counsellor forever. Thy ancient though grieved friend,


I will here give an extract from his writings, to show what sustained him in his trials and tribulations.

"Wherefore, my dear friends, be not you discomfited; for there is no new thing happened unto you; 'tis the ancient path of the righteous. For thy sake, says David, have I borne reproach; I am become a stranger to my brethren, and an alien to my mother's children. When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. I made sackcloth also my garment, and I became a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkard. Save me, 0 God, for the waters are come in unto my soul; and the water-floods are ready to swallow me up. They persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.

"Do you not know this, dear friends? are not your tears become a reproach, your fasts a wonder, your paleness a derision, your plainness a proverb, and your serious and retired conversation a byword? Yea, when the Lord hath wounded, have not they also grieved? And when the Lord hath smitten you, have not they mocked? But this was David's joy, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name's sake; he make me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff comfort me.

"Who was the comforter and preserver of Shabrack, Meshach, and Abednego, that refused to obey the king's command against the commandment of God? They would not bow to his image; but rather chose the fiery furnace than to commit idolatry, or bow to another thing than to the living God. Did not we cast three men into the midst of the fire? said Nebuchadnezzar; lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt. And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

"Oh! my friends, the fire obeyeth him, as well as the winds and seas. All power is given to the Son of God, who is given to you for your salvation. Well, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the king calleth out of the fire, and they have no harm, though the mighty men that cast them into the fiery furnace were consumed. The God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is by the king highly preferred. Here is the end of faithfulness; here is the blessing of perseverance. God will bring honour to his name, through the patience and integrity of his people.

"And it was this Son of God that preserved Daniel in the lion's den; it was his voice, that David said, divideth the flames of fire; he rideth upon the winds, he sitteth upon the floods. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. They that trust in him shall never be confounded. Blessed arc they whose God is the Lord: for he is a present help in the needful time of trouble. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and he delivereth them. Oh! taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Oh! fear the Lord, for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions shall lack, and the old lions suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord shall not want for any good thing. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of all; for the Lord redeemeth the souls of his servants, and none of them that trust in him shall be made desolate. For which cause, my dear friends, cast away every weight, and every burden, and the sin that doth so easily beset you. Neither look at the enemies' strength, nor at your own weakness; but look unto Jesus, the blessed Author of your convincement and faith: the mighty one, on whom God hath laid help for all those that believe in his name, receive his testimony, and live in his doctrine; who said to his dear followers of old, Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom; and they that endure to the end shall be saved. I will not leave you comfortless, said he; I will come to you; he that is with you shall be in you.

"This was the hope of their glory, the foundation of their building, which standeth sure. And though sorrow cometh over night, yet joy shall come in the morning. Ye shall weep and lament, said Jesus, but the world shall rejoice, and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy, and their rejoicing into howling. And, bo! I am with you to the end of the world.

"Be ye, therefore, encouraged in the holy way of the Lord; wait diligently for his daily manifestations unto your souls, that you may be strengthened in your inward man, with might and power to do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. Oh! watch that you enter not into temptation; yea, watch unto prayer that you enter not into temptation, and that you fail not by the temptation.

"Christ said to Peter, canst not thou watch one hour? Every one hath an hour of temptation to go through; and this is the hour that every one is to watch. Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, was under great temptations; he was sad unto death; he did sweat drops of blood, but he watched, he prayed, he groaned; yea, he cried with strong cries; but through suffering overcame; and remember how in the wilderness he was tempted, but the angels of the Lord ministered to him. So they that follow him in the way of the tribulations and patience of his kingdom, God's angels shall minister unto them all; yea, he will keep them in the hour of temptation; he will carry their heads above the waters and deliver them from the devouring floods.

"Wherefore, finally, my friends, I say unto you in the name of the Lord, Be of good cheer! Look to Jesus, and fear not man, whose breath is in his nostrils. But be valiant for the truth on earth. Love not your lives unto the death, and you shall receive a crown of life and glory, which the God of the fathers, the God of the prophets, the God of the apostles, and the God of the martyrs, the true confessors of Jesus; yea, tho God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ shall give unto all those that keep the pure testimony of his Son in their hearts and patiently and faithfully endure to the end.

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

"I am your friend that sincerely loves you, and earnestly travails for your redemption, WILLIAM PENN."

[Continued, Chapter 3]