Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Is So Difficult About Water Baptism?

By Anthony Buzzard

As one who has learned almost everything by being challenged on various biblical issues over 40 years, I venture to stimulate the thinking of some fellow unitarians on the question of baptism. These are friends, whose zeal for the Bible is undoubted, who have been taught that baptism in water is a pointless ritual not applicable to Christians.

The argument has been put this way: “There are two major baptisms in the New Testament:
a) water baptism begun by John the Baptist;
b) baptism in the spirit — the baptism which Jesus Christ baptizes with and which makes someone a Christian.”
Take a careful look at the above statement. It is really not a fair account of what the Bible teaches. There is a major missing factor. The facts are that Jesus also baptized in water. There are therefore three baptisms, not two: a) the water baptism of John; b) the water baptism authorized by Jesus; c) baptism in the spirit.

Everyone is familiar with the baptism of John. It has clearly been superseded by Christian baptism. Christian baptism is both by water and by spirit. In John 4:1, 2 we learn that “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were).” John 3:22 says that “Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea, and there Jesus was spending time with them and baptizing.” There is no doubt therefore that Jesus baptized in water (although the actual act of immersion was performed by his agents, the disciples). This initiation ceremony was baptism performed by Jesus — Christian baptism in water.

The great commission mandates that disciples until the end of the age go into all nations and teach whatever Jesus taught. Part of that commanded disciplining process is to “baptize them into the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). That is a clear command from the lips of Jesus, and it features amongst the marching orders of the Church.

The Apostles clearly understood it that way. Peter’s appeal to his first-century audience has not become obsolete:
“Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” Acts 2:38
The typical initiation into the Church is by repentance, believing the Gospel of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ and baptism in water. Acts 8:12 provides an early creed:
“When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the Gospel about the Kingdom and the Name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, both men and women.”
As if to leave no possible loopholes, Luke reports that even after the reception of Holy Spirit, the Gentiles were to be baptized in water. Peter was only following his Lord’s command when he called for water and ordered “them to be baptized who had received the holy spirit” (Acts 10:47, 48). When Paul discovered converts who had received John’s water baptism only, he immediately administered Christian water baptism into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5). The New Testament Church certainly did not teach that spirit baptism replaced Christian water baptism. The two go together as the standard way in which a person is joined to the body of Christ. Late in his career Peter can still talk of “baptism which saves” us, as “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:21). Of course, no one is suggesting that there is anything “magical” in the water. What counts is the childlike submission to the ordinance prescribed by Jesus. It is a simple matter of obedience.

Baptism without a persistent continuation in the Christian life cannot save a person, any more than a one-time decision which is not followed by commitment. Salvation is by grace and faith, which means also (in Paul’s words) “obedience from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17). That teaching included baptism. This way of inviting converts to become Christians is a part of what salvation by faith meant to the Apostles. They taught the “obedience of faith” everywhere (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).

God has given us a proper procedure for admission to His Church. Baptism in water is a public renouncing of sin and a determination to serve God and the Messiah. Labels like “carnal ordinance” or “legalism” misrepresent the apostolic teaching about Christian water baptism. Jesus himself was baptized in water (Luke 3:21). He made and baptized converts (John 4:1), and he ordered his followers to make and baptize converts (Matt. 28:19, 20).

There is no need for division or difference over this very simple matter, which has not been a problematic issue for millions of Bible readers over many centuries.

Evangelicals recognize that Peter’s appeal for repentance and baptism is strikingly different from modem evangelistic formulae. Writing on “Conversion in the Bible,” R.T. France observes that:
Our tendency to see baptism as a symbolic optional extra, or to be embarrassed by the inclusion of a physical act as part of the spiritual process of conversion, contrasts with the strongly “realist” language of the New Testament about the saving significance of baptism (e.g., John 3:5; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). While there are no New Testament grounds for believing that baptism by itself makes a person a Christian, the idea of an unbaptized Christian is equally foreign to its thought. “Without it [baptism] a believer did not enter the primitive community of faith” (S.S. Smalley) (Evangelical Quarterly, 65:4, 1992, p. 306).
We appeal, therefore, to our unitarian friends who have been caught in the falsely spiritual view that the physical act of baptism is not part of Christian discipleship. It was the Gnostics who created a mistaken division between what is physical and what is spiritual. The Apostles, in mandating water baptism, were obedient, as we should be, to the command of Christ. And recognizing the Lordship of Jesus is the heart of what it means to be a believer. There is no genuine confession of Jesus as Lord without obedience (Rom. 10:9).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin

By Dan Corner

This article deals with a little-known but very important part of church history from the Reformation period. This information has been so concealed from the public in our day that very few people know anything about these appalling facts. Whistles need to be blown. Brace yourself for a shock.

On October 27, 1553 John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, had Michael Servetus, the Spanish physician, burned at the stake just outside Geneva for his doctrinal heresies.[1] John Calvin, the originator of the popular doctrine of “once saved, always saved” (known in certain circles as “the perseverance of the saints”) violated the cry of the Reformation — “sola Scriptura” — by murdering a doctrinal “heretic” without scriptural justification. The killing of Servetus was something Calvin had planned long before Servetus was even captured. Calvin wrote to his friend Farel on February 13, 1546 (seven years prior to Servetus’ arrest). He went on record as saying: “If he [Servetus] comes to Geneva, I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.”[2] Evidently, in that day Calvin’s authority in Geneva, Switzerland had ultimate “weight.” This is why some referred to Geneva as the “Rome of Protestantism”[3] and to Calvin as the Protestant “Pope of Geneva.”[4]

During Servetus’ trial, Calvin wrote: “I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty.”[5] All this reveals a side of John Calvin that is not known and hardly appealing, to say the least! Obviously he had a prolonged, murderous hate in his heart and was willing to violate Scripture to put another to death and in a most cruel way. Although Calvin consented to Servetus’ request to be beheaded [thought to be better than being burned alive], he acquiesced in the mode of execution employed. But why did Calvin have a death wish for Servetus? “To rescue Servetus from his heresies, Calvin replied with the latest edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which Servetus promptly returned with insulting marginal comments. Despite Servetus’ pleas, Calvin, who developed an intense dislike of Servetus during their correspondence, refused to return any of the incriminating material.”[6]

“Convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic authorities, Servetus escaped the death penalty by a prison break. Heading for Italy, Servetus unaccountablystoppedat Geneva, where he had been denounced by Calvin and the Reformers. He was seizedthe day after his arrival, condemned as a heretic when he refused to recant,and burned in 1553 with the tacit approval of Calvin.”[7]

“In the course of his flight from Vienne, Servetus stopped in Geneva and made themistake of attending a sermon by Calvin. He was recognized and arrested aftertheservice.”[8] “Calvin had him [Servetus] arrested as a heretic, Convicted andburned to death.”[9]

From the time that Calvin had him arrested on August 14th until his condemnation, Servetus spent his remaining days “in an atrocious dungeon with no light or heat, little food, and no sanitary facilities.”[10]

Let it be noted that those responsible for burning Servetus in Geneva put half-green wood around the feet of the victim and a wreath strewn with sulfur on his head. It took over thirty minutes to render him lifeless in such a fire, while the people of Geneva stood around to watch him suffer and slowly die! Just before this happened, the record shows:

“Farel walked beside the condemned man, and kept up a constant barrage ofwords, in complete insensitivity to what Servetus might be feeling. All he had in mindwas to extort from the prisoner an acknowledgment of his theological error[which readers of this magazine know was not an error at all but Jesus’ own truth about GOD] — a shocking example of the soulless cure of souls. After some minutes of this, Servetus ceased making any reply and prayed quietly to himself. When they arrived at the place of execution, Farel announced to the watching crowd:

‘Here you see what power Satan possesses when he has a man in his power. This man is a scholar of distinction, and he perhaps believed he was acting rightly. But now Satan possesses him completely, as he might possess you, should you fall into his traps.’ [Well did Jesus say, “Those who kill you will think that they are doing God a service”!]

“When the executioner began his work, Servetus whispered with trembling voice: ‘Oh God, Oh God!’ The thwarted Farel snapped at him: ‘Have you nothing else to say?’ This time Servetus replied to him: ‘What else might I do, but speak of God!’ Thereupon he was lifted onto the pyre and chained to the stake. A wreath strewn with sulfur was placed on his head. When the faggots were ignited, a piercing cry of horror broke from him. ‘Mercy, mercy!’ he cried. For more than half an hour the horrible agony continued, for the pyre had been made of half-green wood, which burned slowly. ‘Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me,’ the tormented man cried from the midst of the flames.”[11]

Although we have essentially the same cry from the converted, repentant thief on the cross (Lk. 23:42-43, cf. Lk. 18:13) and Scripture says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13), Farel still reckoned Servetus an unsaved man at the end of his life: “Farel noted that Servetus might have been saved by shifting the position of the adjective and confessing Christ as the Eternal Son rather than as the Son of the Eternal God.”[12]

“Calvin had thus murdered his enemy, and there is nothing to suggest that he ever repented of his crime. The next year he published a defense in which further insults were heaped upon his former adversary in most vindictive and intemperate language.”[13]

As the Roman Catholics of 1415 burned John Hus[14] at the stake over doctrine, John Calvin, the Protestant, likewise had Michael Servetus burned at the stake. But was doctrine the only issue? Could there have been another reason, a political one?

“As an ‘obstinate heretic’ he had all his property confiscated without more ado. He was badly treated in prison. It is understandable, therefore, that Servetus was rude and insulting at his confrontation with Calvin. Unfortunately for him, at this time Calvin was fighting to maintain his weakening power in Geneva. Calvin's opponents used Servetus as a pretext for attacking the Geneva Reformer’s theocratic government. It became a matter of prestige — always the sore point for any dictatorial regime — for Calvin to assert his power in this respect. He was forced to push the condemnation of Servetus with all the means at his command.”[15]

“Ironically enough, the execution of Servetus did not really bolster the strength of the Geneva Reformation. On the contrary, as Fritz Barth has indicated, it ‘gravely compromised Calvinism and put into the hands of the Catholics, to whom Calvin wanted to demonstrate his Christian orthodoxy, the very best weapon for the persecution of the Huguenots, who were nothing but heretics in their eyes.’ The procedure against Servetus served as a model of a Protestant heretic trial…It differed in no respect from the methods of the medieval Inquisition…The victoriousReformation, too, was unable to resist the temptations of power.”[16]

Is it possible for a man such as John Calvin to have been a “great theologian” and at the same time to act in this reprehensible way and afterwards show no remorse? Dear reader, do you have a heart that could, like John Calvin, burn another person at the stake? Do you approve of this brutal murder?

Let us illustrate this another way. Suppose a man from your congregation with a reputation for being a spiritual leader captured your neighbor’s dog, chained it to a stake, then used a small amount of green kindling to slowly burn the dog to death. What would you think of such a person, especially if he afterwards showed no remorse? Would you want him to interpret the Bible for you? To make the matter even worse for John Calvin, a person, unlike a dog, is created in the image of God! Like it or not, we can only conclude from this evidence that John Calvin’s heart was darkened, and not enlightened, as a result of his murderous hate for Servetus. At best, Calvin was spiritually blinded by this hate and therefore, spiritually hindered from rightly expounding the word of truth.[17] At worst, which was apparently the case, John Calvin himself was unsaved, according to Scripture:

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:3-4).

“And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding [continuing] in him” (1 Jn. 3:15, NKJV).

The Greek adds an important word to 1 John 3:15 sometimes omitted in English translations. That word is “continuing” or “abiding” (NKJV) and states that murderous people don’t have eternal life continuing in them.

Dear reader, since murderers are unsaved and John Calvin was a murderer, then Calvin was unsaved! Moreover, since the unsaved are darkened in their spiritual understanding (Eph. 4:18) and Calvin was unsaved based on Scripture, then was not Calvin darkened in his spiritual understanding? Jesus said we can “know” people by their fruit (Matt. 12:33) — be it John Calvin or anyone else! Similarly, the Apostle John wrote:

“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the Devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 Jn. 3:10).

Can you say Calvin did what was “right” regarding Servetus? If not, then doesn’t this make him a “child of the Devil” according to this verse and others already cited? Though some will rant and rave over this conclusion, can we scripturally come to any other?

No other evidence is needed to objectively assess Calvin’s spiritual status. However, two other men should also be briefly mentioned:

Two other famous episodes concerned Jacques Gruet and Jerome Bolsec. Gruet, whom Calvin considered a Libertine, had written letters critical of the Consistory and, more serious,
petitioned the Catholic king of France to intervene in the political and religious affairs of Geneva. With Calvin’s concurrence he was beheaded for treason. Bolsec publicly challenged Calvin’s teaching on predestination, a doctrine Bolsec, with many others, found morally repugnant. Banished from the city in 1551, he revenged himself in 1577 by publishing a biography of Calvin that charged him with greed, financial misconduct, and sexual aberration.”[18]

How should a heretic or any false teacher be dealt with, that is, if one is willing to abide by the biblical guidelines? Paul wrote Titus and touched upon this very issue, which first starts out as a qualification for eldership in the church:

“He [the elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach, and that for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:9-11).

Clearly, then, a false teacher should be “silenced,” not by having him killed, as Calvinism’s founder did, but by refuting him with Scripture. This is the true Christian method. [Readers should bear in mind that Calvin was the heretic as well as the one who burned the holder of Truth about God at the stake!]

If Calvin’s example is the standard, the next time the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries come to our door, we should physically overpower them, bind them to a stake, and make human candles out of them. Can you imagine a professing Christian doing this, much less a reputed theologian? If done, could you force yourself to believe such a person was truly saved and adhere to his unique doctrinal distinctives?

Also, false teachers should be openly named as Paul openly named Hymenaeus and Philetus who were destroying the faith of some of the Christians whom Paul knew: “Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18).

Why did Calvin grossly violate these scriptural guidelines? Since Paul’s holy spirit-inspired directives (and example) regarding how to deal with a heretic were diametrically opposed by Calvin, isn’t it safe to assume that Calvin was governed by a different spirit than Paul had? Moreover, why have these facts about John Calvin’s life rarely been mentioned in our day? The answer to this last question is obvious. They are both an embarrassment and refutation of Calvinists who proudly refer to themselves by his name! Since they are the evangelical majority and it is their power and influence that has the greatest sway over what is disseminated throughout our land and even the world, this information about their founder is seldom, if ever, heard. Many people are only now learning the shocking facts about Calvinism’s founder as they read them for the first time!

“No event has more influenced history’s judgment of Calvin than the role he played in the capture and execution of the Spanish physician and amateur theologian Michael Servetus in 1553. This event has overshadowed everything else Calvin accomplished and continues to embarrass his modern admirers.”[19]

Three important questions remain: (1) Can John Calvin be scripturally justified for murdering Michael Servetus? (2) Does a murderous hate, according to Scripture, render one spiritually unable to accurately interpret the Scriptures? (3) Can a murderer be saved according to Revelation 21:8?

All these answers have a bearing on the credibility of Calvin’s popular “perseverance of the saints” doctrine, among others. Regretfully, Calvin’s version of Christianity is the prevalent view in our land, but is his view Scriptural? To answer in the affirmative is to say that Calvin’s double predestination is true, that is, some are predestined for Heaven [Heaven in the Bible is nowhere the destination of the saved — ed.] and others are predestined for Hell without free choice on their part![20] This would violate many Scriptures, especially 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Furthermore, Calvin’s teachings declare Jesus’ work on the cross was not infinite, because according to that teaching, he did not shed his blood for every human, but only for the elect — those predestined to be saved. This is clearly refuted by 1 John 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Also, his “perseverance of the saints” doctrine would assert that God’s power will keep a truly saved person secure, in spite of grievous sins committed after regeneration and/or any doctrinal heresies that would be embraced, thus violating many scriptural examples and warnings which prove the opposite!

It should be apparent that, from the founder down to us today, the “perseverance of the saints” doctrine (most commonly known as “once saved always saved”) has often been a “license for immorality” taught under the banner of grace (see Jude 3, 4). As Calvin’s own theology allowed for his actions against Servetus, many in our day are sexually immoral, liars, drunkards, filled with greed, etc., while they profess salvation. This is a ramification of Calvin’s perverted grace message — a teaching which has “spread like gangrene” from a man who could openly burn another to death and for the remaining 10 years and seven months of his life, never publicly repent of his crime.

“Servetus’ ashes will cry out against him [Calvin] as long as the names of these two men are known in the world.”[21]

Responses to this article from

“One year ago, while taking a European History class, I chose to do a final project on the Reformer John Calvin. After gathering all the facts I could find in books, I turned to the Internet for the latest information. What I found was an article titled, ‘His Ashes Cry out Against John Calvin.’ Shortly after reading it, I changed my topic from John Calvin to Michael Servetus. Interested by this story and seeing much of your information came from Bainton’s book Hunted Heretic, I searched madly for a copy through used bookstores, for about a year. One day, I received a letter that I might purchase a copy for a not-so-high amount, and amazingly the copy was signed by Bainton himself. I’m back at this web site, scratching up information for a friend on his report on Calvin. The whole point of this is that I would just like to thank you for giving me a brand new point of view on John Calvin. This web site has one thing that many don’t, and that is credibility. Thanks again.”

“On Monday I received a phone call from the chairman of the board of the church I pastor. Brother Phil was upset some of his fellow Christian school board members were pestering him about not being a Calvinist. They were saying his simple Bible believing faith was naive and he needed to study John Calvin to understand what it means to be saved. He asked me for help. Well, I had long ago in college studied Calvin and decided his position on predestination was not in line with the clear teaching of Scripture. I had two funerals to do this week and no time to prepare anything. But I located your work ‘His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin’ on the internet. I read this work word for word to the men's Sunday School class and the reaction was universal: They all exclaimed: Who needs a murderer to teach Bible doctrine? Thank the Lord that your article ‘His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin’ headed off a very divisive issue. I am waiting to hear what the school board members think when they read ‘His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin’! Again, thank you.”


[1] “On only two counts, significantly, was Servetus condemned — namely, anti-Trinitarianism and anti-paedobaptism [infant baptism]” (Roland H. Bainton, Hunted Heretic, The Beacon Press, 1953, p. 207). Comment: Regarding his rejection of infant baptism, Servetus said, “It is an invention of the Devil, an infernal falsity for the destruction of all Christianity” (Ibid., p. 186.) Many Christians of our day could only give a hearty “Amen” to this statement made about infant baptism. However, this is why, in part, Servetus was condemned to death by the Calvinists!

[2] Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Baker Book House, 1950, p. 371.

[3] The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, Moody Press, 1982, p. 73.

[4] Stephen Hole Fritchman, Men of Liberty, reissued Kennikat Press, Inc., 1968, p. 8.

[5] Walter Nigg, The Heretics, Alfred A. Knopf, 1962, p. 328.

[6] Who's Who In Church History, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1969, p. 252.

[7] Steven Ozment, The Age Of Reformation 1250-1550, Yale University Press, 1980, p. 370.

[8] The Heretics, p. 326.

[9] The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, p. 366.

[10] John F. Fulton, Michael Servetus Humanist and Martyr, Herbert Reichner, 1953, p. 35.

[11] The Heretics, p. 327.

[12] Hunted Heretic, p. 214. Comment: Nowhere in the Bible do we see this sort of emphasis for one’s salvation. The dying thief, the Philippian jailer and Cornelius were all saved by a most basic trusting-submitting faith in Jesus.

[13] Michael Servetus Humanist and Martyr, p. 36.

[14] John Hus attacked various Roman Catholic heresies such as transubstantiation, subservience to the Pope, belief in the saints, efficacy of absolution through the priesthood, unconditional obedience to earthly rulers and simony. Hus also made the Holy Scriptures the only rule in matters of religion and faith. See The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, p. 201.

[15] The Heretics, p. 326.

[16] Ibid., pp. 328, 329.

[17] For example, in clear contrast to the meaning that Jesus gave of the parable of the weeds in the field (Mt. 13:24-43) where the Lord told us “the field is the world” (v. 38), John Calvin taught “the field is the church.” See Calvin’s verse by verse commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

[18] The Age of Reformation 1250-1550, pp. 368,369. Bolsec's book in which he charges Calvin as he did is cited as Histoire de la vie, moeurs, actes, doctrine, constance et mort de Jean Calvin,. pub. a Lyon en 1577, ed. M. Louis-Francois Chastel (Lyon, 1875).

[19] Ibid., p. 369.

[20] Augustine of Hippo, the Catholic theologian, was an earlier proponent of predestination from whom John Calvin drew ideas.

[21] The Heretics, p. 328.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Enoch and Elijah: Where Are They Now?

By Jim Punton and Anthony Buzzard

Hebrews 11:5: “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Other heroes of faith are then listed in this hall of fame. Then the writer says: “All these died in faith, not having received the promises. They saw the promises from afar and welcomed them. They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the land” (Heb. 11:13). “What more shall I say?…Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the prophets…All these, though well attested through their faith, did not obtain the promise” (Heb. 11:32, 39).

The writer to the Hebrews allows for no exceptions when it comes to the question of death. Enoch died, and the prophets died. Elijah, of course, was a celebrated prophet.

There is no hint here that either Enoch or Elijah was taken to be with God in heaven and given immortality before Jesus. They were removed, certainly, but the text does not say “taken up to the throne of God.” In fact their colleagues went looking for them, expecting to find them in a different location on earth. On the basis of these facts we conclude:

1. By the end of the first century no human being other than Christ himself had been resurrected from death into immortality. Peter said (about 31 AD), “David has not ascended into heaven” (Acts 2:29, 34). Paul said that Christ was “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20) and “afterwards, at his coming again, those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:23). Jesus was the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). Between Christ’s resurrection and Christ’s return, these dead are “asleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14). Since “the fathers fell asleep” (2 Pet. 3:4) none who trusted God before or after Christ has been awakened. None has been removed to heaven. No one but Christ has ascended to heaven.

2. Those who have “fallen asleep” trusting in Christ “have already perished,” says Paul (1 Cor. 15:18), unless there is a coming resurrection. If there is no resurrection, there is no life beyond death. Paul places no hope in the dead being now immortal nor even alive. No one yet has immortality. Immortality is a gift beyond death, to be given only to those who have God’s Holy Spirit, and to be given when Christ returns. If he doesn’t return, if there’s no resurrection, then the dead are already perished. BUT Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! Immortality awaits our awakening at Christ’s return (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:29).

3. This is not contradicted by 1 Peter 3:18-19. Christ was “put to death”; but he was raised again or “made alive” (v. 18). Having then also “gone”[1] or ascended to God, he made by this his proclamation of triumph over the demonic, the “spirits in prison” (v. 19). Carefully read, this passage says nothing of an alleged “life” of Jesus while he was dead. It does not speak of activity between his death and resurrection. It affirms his resurrection — he was dead and then “made alive” by resurrection. Then followed his ascension. In that risen condition he made a proclamation of the defeat of evil to fallen spirits (angelic beings, v. 19). The robbing or “harrowing” of Hades (by which Christ supposedly set free the Old Testament believers and took them off to heaven) is fantasy. And it is based on misinterpreting the above and Ephesians 4:8. The “captivity he took captive” probably refers again to the “principalities and powers” (Eph. 1:21, 22; Col. 2:15).

4. The “sleep” of death itself need hold no fears. At the resurrection the period of death will seem to have been as momentary as any undisturbed sleep now. And, to the Lord, all our time is present. Tyndale says this: “I think the souls departed in the faith of be in no worse case than the soul of Christ was from the time that he delivered his spirit into the hands of his Father until the resurrection of his body in glory and immortality” (1534).

5. The early church firmly held that resurrection at Christ’s return was our hope of God’s Kingdom. Till then, the whole person who died remains in sleep. Justin Martyr (who died in 165 AD) says: “I choose to follow not men or men’s teachings, but God and the doctrines delivered by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians but...who say that their souls when they die are taken to heaven, do not imagine that they are Christians...Christians who are right-minded on all points are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead” (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 80).

Elijah and Enoch are not, as we saw in Hebrews 11, exceptions. They too died (Heb. 11:13, 39), although they had previously experienced a miraculous “transference” by divine intervention.


The year in which Elijah was lifted up and carried off in a whirlwind was 852 BC. This was the year when Jehoram (son of Ahab) began to reign over the northern territory of Israel (2 Kings 1:17; 3:1). Elijah was removed and Elisha succeeded him as God’s prophet to Israel (2 Kings 2:1, 11).

But in the southern territory of Judah another Jehoram (son of Jehoshaphat) had been reigning alongside his father from 853 BC and became sole king of Judah in 848 BC (2 Kings 8:16).
So from the time of Elijah’s disappearance in 852, till 841 BC, there was a Jehoram in Judah and a Jehoram in Israel. They were brothers-in-law.

Jehoram of Judah turned to idolatry (2 Chron. 21:11). In 842 BC, the year before he died of dysentery, and ten years after Elijah had gone, Jehoram of Judah received a letter from Elijah (2 Chron. 21:12-15). Elijah was still alive, still on earth, still active for God ten years after he was removed from Israel.

In 852 Elijah had been caught up “into the heavens,” into the sky, in a whirlwind. The other prophets were afraid that he might have been dropped on some mountain or in some valley (2 Kings 2:16); they obviously hadn’t thought that Elijah would be carried beyond the skies. Fifty athletes searched for him for three days but “did not find him” (2 Kings 2:17). Clearly they expected him to have been transferred from one location on earth to another on earth. And so it was. But God did not reveal where. Yet, from that unknown place, Elijah continued his watchful and prayerful concern for Israel and Judah. He broke his silence after ten years when he wrote his letter to Jehoram of Judah. We are told no more, and don’t know when or where he died. But we do know that immortality awaits him when he is awakened by Christ at the last day (1 Cor. 15:51-56). Three of Jesus’ disciples were allowed a glimpse of that future Kingdom and saw Elijah alive by resurrection there. But this was a vision (Matt. 17:9), the future being seen in advance. Like Moses, Elijah now awaits the resurrection. There is no contradiction of John 3:13 in what the Bible tells us of Elijah.

Those who insist that the whirlwind took him “to heaven,” to immortality, into God’s presence (despite Heb. 11:13, 39) have real difficulty with Elijah’s letter to Jehoram. They have to suggest (a) that 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 is a corrupted text (though there’s no evidence for this); or (b) that Elijah foresaw Jehoram’s idolatry and, writing the letter before he was removed, left it with someone with instructions to send it ten years later; or (c) that he came back from heaven in order to write to Jehoram. But the straightforward explanation rings most true. And John was not opposing the Old Testament Scriptures when he wrote John 3:13.

What evidence is there that the Hebrews ever thought Elijah had ascended to God? His fellow prophets didn’t think of this. Nor in the rest of the Old Testament is it suggested. Josephus (writing about the same time as John) says, “Elijah disappeared from men and no one knows to this day of his end” (Antiq. ix. 2:2).

As for his being transported in the whirlwind, we may have a parallel in the account of Philip in Acts 8:39. It seems to be a similar phenomenon. But while Elijah was not found (2 Kings 2:17), Philip was found (Acts 8:40).


On this understanding, Elijah did not ascend into heaven and gain immortality. He was carried by God’s Spirit to an undisclosed location where he lived on, serving his Lord; ten years passed before he spoke out his challenge to Jehoram of Judah. He eventually died in faith, as did all the prophets (Heb. 11:32, 39, 40) and he sleeps now till Christ returns.

What Then of Enoch?

Isn’t the Bible clear that he was transfigured and transferred to God’s presence in heaven? Genesis 5:24 says: “He [was] not, for God took him.” The Hebrew text has no main verb. We’ll come back to the phrase. The other verb “took” is from a common Hebrew verb laqah, meaning “take, take away, remove, carry off.” Its usage covers the “taking away” of purchases from a market, of a woman from her father’s house through marriage, of life by violence.

It is a feature of laqah that “when nephesh, ‘life, person,’ is the object in every instance in the OT the meaning is ‘to take away life, to kill.’”[2] Elijah, for example, uses it to refer to his opponents’ plans for him: “They seek my life [nephesh] to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). The psalmist says, “They plotted to take away my life [nephesh]” (Ps. 31:13). Ezekiel has, “If the sword should come to take away a life [nephesh] from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity” (Ezek. 33:6). Most interestingly we have in Proverbs, “The reward of the just will be a tree of life, but the lives [nephesh] of the unjust will be taken away. The man who is just on the earth will receive what he deserves; how much more the unjust and the sinner” (Prov. 11:30, 31).[3]

Jonah actually prays to God, “O Lord, take away my life [nephesh]” (Jonah 4:3) and Elijah earlier had prayed, “O Lord, take away my life [nephesh]; I am no better than my fathers before me” (1 Kings 19:4).

As in the last two examples, God may be the one who “takes away” being (nephesh). So the phrase “God took him” (Gen. 5:24) is not unique. Hosea speaks for God: “In my anger I gave you a king; in my wrath I have taken him away” (Hos. 13:11). But it needn’t mean “destroyed.” The Psalmist can say: “With your counsel you will guide me, and with glory then take me away” (Ps. 73:24), and “God will ransom my being [nephesh] from the power of Sheol [the Unseen world of the dead], for he will take me away” (Ps. 49:15).

The phrase “God took him” would not then be a surprising one to the Hebrews. It would not of itself suggest a unique experience for Enoch. They would read it as implying an ending of life by intervention of God such as that prayed for by Elijah and Jonah. More than the phrase itself would be required to indicate that Enoch bypassed death, or that he was removed into God’s presence in heaven. The Old Testament gives us no further information beyond saying that “all the days of Enoch were 365 years” (Gen. 5:23). But we should note that the phrase “he was not” would itself be taken to mean “he died” (cf. Job 7:21; 8:22; Ps. 39:13; 103:16; Prov. 12:7). Hebrews 11:13 says that Enoch (v. 5) died along with all the rest of the heroes of faith.

The Septuagint

The Greek-speaking community of expatriate Jews in Alexandria required the Old Testament to be translated into Greek. This was completed between 250 BC and 170 BC and is known as the Septuagint (LXX). It was important to the early church and frequently quoted. It renders Genesis 5:24: “He was not found because God transferred him.” “He was not” has become “he was not found” (perhaps influenced by the Elijah story). “God took him” has become “God transferred him.” This translation goes beyond the Hebrew original “God took him,” but needn’t mean more.

The Greek word rendered “transferred” is from metatihemi which means “place or position differently, change the position of, relocate, resite, transfer.”[4]

a. It appears in the LXX of the Old Testament as follows: “Cursed is the one who transfers his neighbor’s landmarks” (Deut. 27:17). “Ahab...sold himself to what was evil in God’s sight as Jezebel, his wife, transferred him” (i.e. changed the position he took, 1 Kings 21:25; 20:25, LXX). “The mountains are transferred into the depths of the seas” (Ps. 45:3). “Do not transfer the eternal landmarks” (Prov. 23:10). “I will proceed to transfer this people and I will transfer them” (Isa. 29:14). “Lebanon will be transferred as the mountains of Carmel” (Isa. 29:17). “The rulers of Judah have become like those transferring landmarks” (Hos. 5:10). Here we see the main use as repositioning landmarks (Deut. 27:17; Prov. 23:10; Hos. 5:10); resiting mountains moved from one place to another (Ps. 45:3; Isa. 29:17); displacing people and relocating them (Isa. 29:14; and the transferring of allegiance from Yahweh to Baal, effected in Ahab by Jezebel (1 Kings 21:25).

b. It appears in the New Testament as follows: “Jacob died, he and our fathers, and they were transferred to Shechem” (Acts 7:16). “I’m astonished that you are transferring so quickly to another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). “The priestly office being transferred, a transfer of law of necessity also occurs” (Heb. 7:12). “By faith Enoch was transferred...God transferred him” (Heb. 11:5). “Persons transferring the grace of God...” (Jude 4). The noun (metathesis) occurs at Hebrews 7:12; 11:5; 12:27.

Usage of the verb in the LXX and New Testament strongly suggests that we understand it in Genesis 5:24 (LXX) as God’s transferring Enoch from one location or site to another. (It is not a word for transfiguration or transformation and does not speak of being taken up to immortality.) Elijah was transferred alive from one place in Palestine to another. Was Enoch similarly transferred? Or is the reference to the transferring of the dead Enoch for a secret burial like that of Moses (Deut. 34:5, 6; Jude 9)?[5] Or is it something else?


The Jewish historian, Josephus, says: “As for Elijah and for Enoch (who was before the flood) it is written in the sacred books that they disappeared” (Antiq. IX. 2.2). He gives no hint that he thought Enoch had ascended immortal to heaven. But he does indicate mystery in his “disappearance” and links it with that of Elijah.

Writings Between the Old Testament and New Testament

a. About 180 BC we find in the Book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus: “Enoch pleased the Lord and was taken away. He was an example of repentance to all generations” (4:4). A Hebrew version of this passage says, “He was a sign of knowledge to all generations” (Cairo Genizah B text). The whole verse is missing from the Syriac version and from the Masada scroll. Whatever the reading should be, it does not advance our search, beyond showing profound regard for Enoch.

b. About 100 BC we find a substantial legend surrounding Enoch. The Book of Jubilees (4:16-26) suggests that he was the first to learn writing and to write prophetically, that he devised the astronomical signs and constructed the first calendar, that he was foremost in knowledge and wisdom. In his sleep he was taken on a tour of the earth and the heavens; he met the fallen angels who had had sexual relations with women and fathered the nephilim (Gen. 6:1-4; Jude 6: 1 Pet. 3:19). God finally carried him off to the Garden of Eden where he remains, recording the wickedness of mankind in preparation for the final judgment. Jubilees is a fictional work which carries us well outside the Bible. But it allows us to see one view, which may have become widely held. But that view puts Enoch in Eden, not heaven.

c. An important collection of five writings, mostly from the second century BC, is known as Ethiopic or 1 Enoch. The section “The Watchers” (1:36) quotes the same prophecy of Enoch’s as Jude does (Jude 14, 15; Enoch 1:9). Another section, “The Giants,” was replaced by “The Similitudes” (37-71) which was probably written at least as late as 100 AD. It is not found at Qumran. In “Similitudes,” the legend of Enoch is further developed. Enoch is identified with “the Son of man” (Enoch 71:14) and reference made to his “sitting on the throne of glory” (45:3; 61:8; 69:2).

It has been improbably suggested that this work may pre-date Jesus and that Jesus is referring to Enoch in John 3:13: “No man has gone up into heaven except the one who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man [Enoch] who is in heaven.” Is there a comparison of Enoch and of the Messiah, both as “Son of Man”? Are we to see both as ascending to heaven, both as making proclamation to the imprisoned angels? Intriguing though this is, it is unconvincing. John 3:13 probably refers to Jesus entering, during his life, into the secrets of God through his intimate relation to God.

d. In Slavonic or 2 Enoch, a later Christian work which may include Jewish material, we find Enoch petitioning God on behalf of the fallen angels and reporting back to them God’s negative response. He then returns to earth for 30 days and is taken permanently to Eden (2 Enoch 68:1-3).


We have strayed some way from the Biblical data in order to explore material that may have been available to the early Christian community. To recap: Genesis 5:24 simply says, “He [was] not, because God took him.” The Hebrew does not imply anything unique by “took.” The LXX makes this “God transferred him,” a Greek word that suggests change of location. Josephus says he “disappeared,” echoing the LXX “he was not found” for the Hebrew “he not.” If the Old Testament and Josephus were our only sources, there would be no grounds for assuming anything different to have happened to Enoch than happened to Elijah. But we have inter-testamental Jewish writings which have Enoch transferred to the Garden of Eden — not to heaven. And we have one work, later than John’s gospel, which has Enoch in heaven as the Son of Man.

New Testament

Genesis 5:24 is quoted in the New Testament, in its LXX form: “He was not found, because God transferred him” (Heb. 11:5). The writer prefaces the quotation with “Enoch was by faith transferred, in order not to see death” (Heb. 11:5). This well-known chapter tells us what was accomplished by means of faith; and Enoch “by faith was transferred.” We are not told what this involved. If it meant relocation, we do not know the whereabouts. We are not told that he ascended “to heaven.” The mystery remains.

The purpose of his being “transferred” was “not to see death.” This very phrase occurs in Luke 2:26 where Simeon saw the infant Messiah as God had promised. He was ready then to “see death,” to be “released in shalom” (v. 29). To “see death” is the opposite of to “see life.” “The one who does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36). “See” as “experience” is used with “decay” (Acts 2:27, 31) and “grief” (Rev. 18:7), as well as with “life” and “death.” It occurs with a different verb in John 8:51 where the Greek has, “If anyone keeps my word, he will in no way see death eternally” (cf. the next verse where Jesus talks of us “tasting” death eternally: John 8:52; Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; Heb. 2:9).

In what sense did Enoch not “see” or “experience” death? Was it a deferment like Simeon’s (Luke 2:26)? Was it the means of his avoiding the “eternal death” (John 8:51, 52), the “second death” (Rev. 20:14)? Which “death” did he not “see”? If “the first,” for how long did he “not see” it? One suggestion is that both Enoch and Elijah were faced with violent death from which God rescued them: “In Hebrews 11:5 it is said ‘By faith Enoch was translated’ (that is, transferred from one place to another) ‘that he should not see death’ (that is, a martyr’s death) at the hands of the ungodly world, no doubt for his prophecy of a coming judgment upon them (Jude 14, 15). In the same way Elijah was no doubt translated (that is, transferred), certainly not to the planets, that he might not meet with a martyr’s death at the hands of Jezebel.”[6]

Did Enoch die? The writer to the Hebrews states clearly that he did. Having listed many who trusted God, including Enoch, he says, “these all died in faith” (11:13). Besides, “All these…received not the promise” (11:13, 39). Enoch has not yet received it. Nor will he till the resurrection. Paul does not except Enoch (or Elijah) from death. He says, “Death passed upon all men” (Rom. 5:12). Whatever in reality happened to Enoch, whatever Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5 mean, ascent into heaven to receive immortality before the resurrection is not claimed for Enoch or Elijah in the Old Testament or New Testament.


Enoch and Elijah, having “died in faith,” are asleep. With all who “sleep in Christ,” they have no awareness of the passage of time as they “await” his coming. Yet his return will bring their awakening to life and immortality at the first resurrection (Dan. 12:2; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 1 Cor. 15:20, 51-54; John 5:25, 28; Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus will come back and reign for 1000 years in a renewed earth with all the saints of all the ages. Following the progressive eradication of all that is evil, a further renewal will bring “heaven” to this planet (Rev. 21:1-4). “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

[1] That “having gone” (v. 19) refers to his ascension is clear from its reappearance in verse 22 (cf. Acts 1:10, 11; John 14:2, 3, 12, 28; 16:7, 28).

[2] Robert Bratcher in Bible Translator 34, no. 3, July 1983, p. 337.

[3] The Greek (LXX) has: “the lives of the unjust are taken away.” The OT “a wise man takes away lives” should probably read “violence takes away lives.”

[4] Methistemi is a different verb occurring in the NT at Luke 16:4; Acts 13:22; 19:26; 1 Cor. 13:2; Col. 1:13.

[5] The Hebrew here (Deut. 34:6) has been taken as: “he buried him” (RSV); “he buried himself” (Rashi. Ibn Ezra); “he was buried” (JB); “buried him” (GNB); perhaps it’s simply “someone buried him”; the LXX has “they buried him.”

[6] George Waller, A Biblical Concordance on the Soul, the Intermediate State and the Resurrection, 1906.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Wher's the love?"

As most of my readers know, this site is dedicated to espousing the truth, expounding it, and even hammering it to the point of nailing it down into your psyches. Each and every month your humble writer strives and toils to enable you to further grasp your “Christian hope” so that you will “always be ready to explain it” [1Pe 3.15] to anyone, no matter what!

Most of the people I personally run into and try to persuade with the systematic theology of the Bible[1] (contrary to traditional orthodoxy) are in love with their particular religion so much, that the comforting blind Delusion [aka Devil] has either stopped them from further “examining the scriptures daily [since they are the only means to attaining “the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes in Christ Jesus”, Acts 7.11; 2Tim 3.15; cp. John 5.39-40], or they have simply given up and prefer to remain in what they feel is the true love they have found in their respective churches (due to their newly found personal relationships or family members). Yet, time and time again they not only close their doors but label me a heretic. And time and time again I walk away scratching my head wondering, 'where’s the love?'

The truth is we all seek love — not only that, we crave it. We need it so much that sometimes we leave everything because of it, without even knowing what love is (I certainly did!). This is a universal hunger in all human beings. The void has to be filled and so we fill it, for the good or the bad.

But love, as it’s popularly known, can be deceptive. This can only be found out when we experience a sensation we equate with love but on hindsight we realize that it wasn’t love at all. In other words, love can also be faked, fabricated. This happens more often than not because we so thirst and hunger for love that we go head first, blind, like a runner in the dark. This experience is similar to what some call romantic (puppy) love, that warm, fuzzy feeling you get in your gut.
“That love is a natural insanity, a temporary delusion which the individual is compelled to suffer for the sake of the race, is indeed an explanation that has suggested itself to many who have been baffled by its mystery…It must be remembered that in the lower sense of deception, love may be, and frequently is, a delusion. A man may deceive himself, or be deceived by the object of his attraction…In first love, occurring in youth, such deception is perhaps entirely normal…”[2] emphasis added
Yet, at some point in “the race,” God’s unique brand of love (agape) may come to us. In whatever manner it comes to us the result is the same: we regain our sight, and most importantly, our perception of where we are or what we have gotten ourselves into. Most people do not take advantage of this ‘side-effect’ [if you will] and it’s a shame because sometimes that moment can come and go so quickly as to make it almost illusory.

Many people’s spiritual growth has been stunted because of the way certain religions successfully manufacture and sell this type of delusional love [masquerading as agape]. In the process they captivate a large part of humanity who naturally crave the love that can only come from "the one true God and Father of the lord Jesus Christ" [cp. Jn 17.3; Rom 15.6; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3; Eph 1:17].

Whenever I meet traditional 'Christian folk' many quote to me Paul’s ‘love chapter’ [1Cor 13] explaining that ultimately, at the end of all things, this is what Christianity is all about. Well, you can imagine, after about a zillion times of "searching and examining" this, I noticed something very essential in that chapter, the key [I think] to understanding what God’s love should really be affecting in our individual lives.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” 1Cor 13.6
There it is, in a nice little verse, compact, yet so beautifully true! As Jesus himself famously attests, “you will know [future tense] the truth and it shall set you free” [John 8.31-32]. In order for us to reflect God’s love and truly walk in the sandals of our lord Jesus we must love in a way that is in step with what the Bible defines as love, something that “rejoices with the truth.” God's definition of "truth" (a real, all-consuming, life-changing, encompassing truth) cannot be a partner with error (evil, wickedness).

Now, how do we know we are in the truth? As I mentioned, the Bible calls on all who profess to love God (not just church leaders, the clergy, etc.) to keep searching and examining the scriptures. Along with this we are commanded to constantly "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" [1 John 4.1] so we can "reprove, rebuke, exhort" [2Tim 4.2] and teach the sound [health giving] doctrine, in order to prove ourselves "sound in faith, in love" [Titus 2.2].

I urge you, as a fellow searcher and hungerer[3] for "truth in love", to test everything this site claims. Don’t just believe it because you don’t have either the time or the patience or the ability to prove it, but because you love God and His word.
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” Rom 8.28
The “good” here is not truth that rejoices with error (evil), but the truth that permits us to “walk in [His] love” [2John 1.4; 3 John 1.3-4].

[1] The best expositions include Peter’s address to the crowd at Pentecost [Acts 2.14-41], Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin [Acts 7] and Paul’s defense of his gospel [Acts 13.16-48].

[2] Studies in the Psychology of Sex Vol. 6, Havelock Ellis, p 124, 2007. Emphasis added.

[3] "n. One who hungers; one who longs." Webster’s Dictionary, p 713, 1913.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is logos?

“Some early Christians maintained their monotheism by believing that the one God simply took on a human form and came to earth—in effect, God the Father was born and crucified as Jesus. They are entitled to their belief, but it cannot be derived legitimately from the Gospel according to John. John is not describing something like the Hindu concept of an avatar, such as when the god Vishnu is thought to periodically take a mortal form to accomplish things on earth…What then is the logos?...

John says it was the agent through which God (the Father) made the world…How does God create in Gen 1.1? He speaks words that make things come into existence. So the word is God’s creative power and plan and activity…theos in John 1.1 is used qualitative [“and the word was divine”]…by placing theos first in a be-verb sentence, without the article [ho=the], John is trying to stress that the Word has the character appropriate to a divine being…As Christians chewed on this problem in the decades and centuries after John, some of them developed the idea of the Trinity…But John himself has not formulated a Trinity concept in his gospel…

A failure to grasp the nuance of John’s thought can be seen in how several translations inappropriately introduce the male pronoun ‘he’ into John 1.1-2. In John 1.1 the TEV and LB use the pronoun ‘he’ for ‘the Word’ at some point to reduce the redundancy of John saying ‘the Word’ three times. A similar substitution of ‘he’ can be seen in John 1.2 in the NASB, NIV, NRSV, NAB, AND the AB. In this case ‘he’ replaces houtos, ‘this one’…all this translations suggest that ‘the Word’ is a male of some sort…the Word is not Christ in the Gospel according to John. The Word is a divine being or agency that transcends human qualities.

[What I have just explained is not some novel interpretation of the passage. It is, in fact, part of the orthodox, mainstream understanding within Christianity, what is known as the ‘Two-Nature Christology’. The ‘Two-Nature’ doctrine is not the only possible way to understand what John meant by the Word becoming flesh. But that doctrine is in agreement with John in the idea that Jesus Christ does not pre-exist with God, rather the Word does.]

The preponderance of evidence, from Greek grammar, from literary context, and from cultural environment, supports this translation [“And the Word was a god”], of which “the Word was divine” would be a slightly more polished variant carrying the same basic meaning…Bias has shaped most of these translations much more than has accurate attention to the wording of the Bible…No translation of John 1.1 that I can imagine is going to be perfectly clear and obvious in its meaning. John is subtle, and we do him no service by reducing his subtlety to crude simplicities.” BeDuhn, Truth in Translation, p 113-134.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Immortal Longing

By Xavier

The Apostle Paul warns the reader not to “receive a different spirit from the one you received [nor to put up with] a different gospel from the one you accepted...because even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed [anathema]...for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” [2Cor 11.4, 14; Gal 1.8]. The Apostle John likewise exhorts his reader not to “believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God [since by testing] those who call themselves apostles and are not, [we may find] them to be false” [1John 4.1; Rev 2.2].

The purpose of this article is to call on the reader to further “search and examine the scriptures” with a ‘Berean’ spirit [Acts 17.11; Isa 34.16], in order to “fight the good fight of the faith [so that we might be able to] take hold of the eternal life” that awaits us [1Tim 6.12]. As Christians, founded on Peter’s confession [“Son of God” Mat 16.13-20, and not God the Son], we should not be afraid to question what we have been taught[1] or whatever personal experience [no matter how vivid and real] we may have had in our lives. And although space may not allow me to fully tackle all the passages used by those who believe in the immortality of the soul[2] doctrine (i.e. Parable of Lazarus, Lu 16.19-31), my aim is to prove (as per sola scriptura) not only how this aberrant interpretation contradicts the gospel message, but how it is a stumbling block to our taking “hold of the eternal life” as promised by God.

In John 3.13 Jesus affirms that “no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man[3]. This explains why Jesus later says to his apostles “where I am going you cannot come—follow” [Jn 8.21; 13.33]. We know that the writings of John remain the source for most of the false doctrines that have developed over the ages [Trinity; Hell etc.], this is also true for those who share a [over] realized eschatology, from which the immortal soul doctrine originates:
“The assumption that John dispenses with [a literal] future resurrection [of the dead] would mean that he has significantly altered the view of ‘resurrection’ found elsewhere in the documents of the NT or in the Judaism of the period[4] [where] the dead are raised, not ‘spiritually’ or metaphorically, but bodily...the data of the Gospel [of John] do not bear out the assumption that John has collapsed the future resurrection into a present quality of life, even a divinely given life...Language of being raised up remains resolutely attached to the future, to the ‘last day’ [thus bringing] to fruition what the Father offers through the Son, the gift of life.”[5] [Emphasis added]
The belief “of the period” the writer alludes to here is the one that is founded on the prophetic visions experienced by men like Daniel [12.2] and Ezekiel [37], where a literal reanimation of dead bodies by the power of God’s spirit is in view. This unchanging understanding at the centre of what ultimately the gospel message promises [eternal life to be attained only in the KOG], is maintained by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2.29-35:
“Brothers and sisters, we all know that the patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay...For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, 'The LORD [YHWH] said to my lord [adoni, human superior]: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’ [ref. Psa 110.1]." [TNIV]
A closer look at this key passage reveals that not only Peter knew of David’s death[6] but everyone else within earshot was also aware of this fact. But, like Daniel and Ezekiel, David was also a prophet who saw “what was to come...the resurrection from the dead of the Messiah”, a sort of prelude to the core promises that the gospel message of the KOG can only provide.

So what does this mean? No one, including prophets, patriarchs or kings, is said to be currently alive [conscious and active] in heaven, where only Jesus is said to be at the present because he is the “firstfruits [first to rise from the dead] of those who have fallen asleep [dead]” [1Cor 15.20-23; cp. Acts 26.23]:
1Cor 15.20: …If God raised Christ from the dead, then Christ truly was the firstfruits (Ex. 23:19; Lev. 23:10; Deut. 18:4; Neh. 10:35) or the first of many others who would also be raised from the dead. (See also Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:23; Col. 1:18.) The term “firstfruits” (Gk. aparchē) refers to a first sample of an agricultural crop that indicates the nature and quality of the rest of the crop; therefore, Christ's resurrection body gives a foretaste of what those of believers will be like.” ESV study Bible[7] [Emphasis added]
If this isn’t clear enough for the reader, Paul reiterates Peter’s message in Acts 13: “when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep [died]; he was buried [laid] with his ancestors [fathers] and his body decayed” [v. 36]. The second part of this verse is variously translated as “slept with his fathers”. When you do a ‘phrase count’ [36 times in all] you will discover that all of the kings registered in the book of Kings [cp. Chronicles] are said to have “died [and laid to rest with their fathers]”, from Solomon to Jehoiakim; all of them[8]!

In a beautifully composed piece of poetry, Job mentions this fact when, in his distress, he wishes he had joined all who were already in this state of rest [and not enjoying the glories of heaven] rather than being born:
“Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace. I would be asleep and at rest. I would rest with the world’s kings and prime ministers [counsellors], whose great buildings now lie in ruins. I would rest with princes, rich in gold, whose palaces were filled with silver. Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light? For in death the wicked cause no trouble, and the weary [righteous] are at rest. Even captives are at ease in death, with no guards to curse them. Rich and poor are both there, and the slave is free from his master.” Job 3.13-19 NLT
If not one of the kings is said to be presently alive and conscious in the heavens [or under it], we have to surmise that the same applies to the “fathers [ancestors]” of David, which includes those patriarchs who came before him. How do we know? The OT testifies that Abraham was laid with his “fathers in peace” [Gen 15.15; 25.8], the same for Isaac and Jacob [Gen 47.28-31], Moses [Due 31.14-15; 34.5], King David and his son Solomon [2 Sam 7.12; 1K 2.10; 11.21; cp. 2Chro 9.21]. The NT again verifies the unchanging nature of their current state:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance [via prophetic “utterances” and covenantal promises]...Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Heb 11.13-15 [TNIV]
So did Luther and Calvin, stalwarts of the so-called Protestant spirit of sola scriptura, disseminate this information to their congregations correctly?
"In the interim [between death and resurrection], the soul [person] does not sleep [rest] but is awake and enjoys the vision of angels and of God, and has converse with them."[9]

"This verse [‘...Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Acts 7:59] clearly testifies that the soul of man is not a vanishing breath [does not die], according to the ravings of some madmen [like the prophets?!], but that it is an essential spirit, and survives death."[10]
Perhaps a couple of Church Fathers, who presumably lived closer to the Apostolic Age, might get it right?
Tertullian, The Soul 22:2: "We define the soul as born of the breath of God, immortal..." c. AD 208

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of St. Moses, 2.40: "…pagan philosophy says that the soul is immortal. This is a pious [good] offspring [teaching]…" c.AD360-394
So I ask you, faithful reader, what sets us [or our dearly departed] apart from all the faithful? Why should we attain an immortal soul that is clearly not available to them, thus bypassing not only “the last day” but judgment itself? A judgment that, according to Paul, even Christians like himself will come under [Rom 14.10[11]]?

What meaning, if any, do we give to the explicit commandments of the lord Jesus Christ?

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him...I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Jn 3.36; 11.25-26 [ESV]



[1] “The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God...” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 2, Ch. 1, Art. 1, Par. 6, Man, 2.366, 382; Art. 12.4.1035. 1992.

“The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: [Gen 3.19; Acts 13.36] but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: [Lu 23.43; Eccl 12.7]...” Westminster Confession of Faith, 32.1, 1646AD.

[2] The Bible presents the soul as the whole, individual person and not a separate “living entity [part]”. This is in lieu of the wrong interpretation of what Paul says in 1Thess 5.23, where he is simply using several terms [“spirit and soul and body”] to describe one and the same entity for greater emphasis.

[3] That some of Jesus’ sayings [not only in this verse but in others] include a figure of speech known as prolepsis, where a future event is referred to in the present tense [or in anticipation], is verified by the fact that some manuscripts add “who is in heaven”.

[4] Ed. Note: Cp. Gen 2.17; 3.19-22; Job 7.21; 34:14-15; Ecc 12:7; Psa. 6.15; 13.3; 30.9; 88:10-15; 103.14; 104.29; 115:17; Job 10.18-19; Jer 51.39; Ezek 18.4, 20; Eccl 3.19-20; 9.5, 10.

[5] The God of the Gospel of John, Marriane Meyer Thompson, p. 82-83, 2001.

[6] In the Bible sleep means “death” [koimao “asleep”, Mat 9.24; 27.52; Mar 5.39; Lu 8.52; Jn 11.11-13; Acts 7.60; 13.36; 1Cor 11.30; 15.6, 18, 20; 1Thess 4.13-15; 5.6, 10; 2Pe 3.4]. The OT equivalent is “slept with his fathers” (as shown throughout 1–2 Kings; 1–2 Chronicles). This is described as a deep sleep from which people will one day be awakened (cp. Dan. 12:2).

[7] WARNING: As good as most of the biblical commentaries sometimes are, they also get it wrong. The ESV Study Bible commentary for the following verse [1Cor 1.23] reads: “Until that time, those who have died exist in heaven as spirits without bodies.”?!

[9] Luther’s Works, Vol 25, p 321, cited in Morey, p 201, Death and the Afterlife, Bethany, 1984.

[10] Commentary on Acts, ibid. p 209.

[11]Rom 14.10-12: everyone will stand before God, who will judge all on the last day. The future day of judgment is prophesied in Isa. 45:23. Every person will give an account of his life to God at the judgment. Though justification is by faith alone, what Christians do will affect God's evaluation of their service to him and the rewards they will receive (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10–17; 2 Cor. 5:10).” ESV Study Bible.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Burning of Edward Wightman: Puritanism, Prelacy and the Politics of Heresy in Early Modern England

By Ian Atherton, Keele University &
David Como, Stanford University

Edward Wightman, the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England, in April 1612, has usually been dismissed, his anti-Trinitarian speculations seen as the product of a deranged mind. Close study of his surviving trial records, however, reveals that Wightman was a leading member of the godly clique in his home town of Burton-upon-Trent, and that he had very similar ideas to Bartholomew Legate, another anti-Trinitarian who was burned at the stake just a few weeks before him. Both men emerge as the victims of a complex series of events: the king's desire to be seen as orthodox in the light of the Vorstius affair; the in-fighting for control of the ecclesiastical establishment on the elevation of George Abbot to the archbishopric of Canterbury; and the campaign of the emerging anti-Calvinist group around Bishop Richard Neile against puritans. Wightman's career from puritan to heretic suggests that recent historiography stressing puritanism as a force for social and political order has underestimated the degree that the godly community contained within itself all the components necessary to generate profoundly radical people and ideas.

ON 5 December 1611, Edward Wightman, sometime draper, alehouse keeper and self-proclaimed prophet of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, was brought for the final time before the consistory court of Richard Neile, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. His appearance represented the last instalment of a dramatic show-trial in which Wightman had been accused of maintaining a number of grievous errors, including denial of the Trinity, asserting the mortality of the soul and proclaiming himself to be the Holy Ghost. Over seven days in November and December, and before an impressively large turnout to suit the gravity of the proceedings (reckoned by one to be over 500 persons) the court had probed and confirmed the heretic's beliefs. On that final day and as Wightman looked on, the court pronounced sentence against him, condemning him for stubbornly upholding ‘the wicked Heresies of the Ebionites, Cerinthians, Valentinians, Arrians, Macedonians, of Simon Magus, of Manes, Manichees, of Photinus, and Anabaptists, and of other Heretical, Execrable, and unheard Opinions, by the instinct of Satan’, and he was duly handed over to the secular authorities for punishment.1 On Friday 20 March 1611/12, Wightman was brought to the stake in Lichfield to be burned.2

When the fires were set alight, Wightman's courage failed him. He quickly cried out that he would recant, although by then he had been ‘well scorched’, whereupon the crowd ran forward and put out the flames, some of them suffering burns themselves in the process: ‘they had much a doe to save hym’ noted one newsletter writer. A form of recantation was hastily prepared, which he read and professed before he was unchained from the stake and carried back to gaol. Two or three weeks later Wightman was again brought before the consistory court to repeat his recantation, but once more emboldened, and no longer feeling the flames upon his back, he refused and ‘blasphemed more audaciously than before’. On hearing the news, the king ordered that the writ for Wightman's execution be renewed, and on 11 April 1612, he was once more led to the stake. He would not be given another chance. Although Neile recalled three decades later that Wightman had ‘died blaspheming’, one contemporary newswriter portrayed a rather more wrenching, and less tidy, ending: Wightman ‘was caried agayne to the stake where feeling the heat of the fier again would have recanted, but for all his crieinge the sheriff tould hyme he showld cosen him no more and comanded faggottes to be sett to him whear roringe he was burned to ashes’.3

In death, Edward Wightman inauspiciously secured a place for himself in the annals of history by becoming the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England (narrowly edging out another accused anti-Trinitarian, Bartholomew Legate, who, as we will see in due course, had been burned in London three weeks earlier). For this reason, Wightman's name has from time to time been invoked as a symbol of the waning barbarism of a past age, offering fodder for the occasional imaginative author or hagiographic denominational chronicler, particularly those who have tried to see him as torch-bearer for the English Baptists or Unitarians.4 From the beginning, however, most commentators have found it easiest to dismiss him as in some way mentally unstable, a ‘frantique and distracted’ person, ‘a mad enthusiast, fitter for Bedlam, than any other place’ or a ‘poor crazy soul’.5 With the exception of Christopher Hill, who characteristically saw Wightman as part of a plebeian underground of radical religious dissent, modern scholars have tended to regard him as either a spectacular curiosity or a deranged fantasist – in either case, a man quite disconnected from the historical currents of his time. Alexander Gordon thought that ‘religious fanaticism had turned his head’, Wilbur Jordan claimed that he was ‘plainly mad’ and Paul Welsby called him an ‘ignorant and half-witted soul’.6

Reconsideration of the life and death of Edward Wightman, especially through a more thorough analysis of the key sources than has hitherto been attempted (in particular a small cache of documents relating to the examination of Wightman in the summer and autumn of 1611,7 and a copy of the official judicial record of his trial, which survives among the papers of the antiquary and Lichfield native Elias Ashmole in the Bodleian Library in Oxford8) enable us to piece together a much deeper and richer portrait of our subject, allowing us to move beyond the unedifying picture of Wightman as a uniquely delusional oddity. Unbalanced he may have been, but Wightman's strange career has much to tell us about the cultural, political and social world in which he lived. To begin with, despite his very radical opinions, Wightman was no lone wolf. He appears to have been a central figure within the Burton puritan community for more than a decade before his odd opinions began to turn heads. This, in itself, provides us with a significant opportunity both to explore the dynamics of that community, and to situate Wightman within a broader historiographical context. Recent scholarship on Puritanism has tended to challenge older, Whiggish views, which had seen the godly as an embattled dissenting minority, in constant tension with the established church and state. The scholarship of Patrick Collinson, Peter Lake and others, has revealed the extent to which large numbers of people who can meaningfully be regarded as ‘puritans’ were in fact integrated into the broader structures of power during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Both in rural communities and in larger towns, godly gentlemen and burghers often sat at the very pinnacle of local society, operating in tandem with an increasingly evangelical Protestant ministry to bring godly order and reformed orthodoxy to the countryside. This view has largely transformed our notion of Puritanism; where once the godly had been seen as a dissident force, pushing ever closer to conflict with the established authorities, they now reappeared as a force for social and political order, a crucial bulwark of the post-Elizabethan Protestant state.9

Yet for all its persuasive power, this revisionist view left certain questions unanswered. Most specifically, the new interpretation left little room for the undeniably radical forms of puritan religiosity that burst onto the scene during the 1640s and 1650s. How were these strange and often unprecedented forms of religious practice related to the orderly and seemingly conservative mode of piety that had held sway amongst the godly prior to 1640? Wightman's life, from its promising start as a member of the godly élite of Burton to its much less satisfying end at the stake in Lichfield, offers us a fascinating vantage point from which to survey this problem. How did this unlikely progression take place? How, in turn, did members of the godly community respond to the self-made prophet in their midst? As we shall see, the evidence suggests that Wightman was hardly a sui generis madman. Rather, his unhappy pilgrimage into error appears to have been very much the product of ideological and cultural tendencies that were present within the godly community itself, forces which could and did prove deeply corrosive to established order. The story told here thus contributes to an emerging new synthesis on the nature of Puritanism, one which emphasizes the heterogeneity of the pre-civil-war puritan community, and likewise pays close attention to those structural features of puritan piety and practice that tended to undermine, however unintentionally, order, orthodoxy and religious unity.10

Edward Wightman was baptized in orthodox fashion in the parish church of Burbage in south-west Leicestershire on 20 December 1566.11 His parents, John Wightman and Modwen (née Caldwall), had links also with Burton-upon-Trent, twenty-five miles to the north-west in Staffordshire, where they rented a house in the High Street.12 In 1611 Edward's mother and father were described by the churchwardens of Burton as an ‘honest parentage’:13 his mother was a member of an important family of clothiers in Burton and was probably the ‘Mudwyn Wightman’ who was trading as a clothier in 1582; she was also related to Richard Caldwall, a medical doctor in nearby Lichfield who established a charity for Burton clothmakers in the early 1580s.14 His father was probably master of Burton grammar school and from 1557 the first headmaster of Repton grammar school, a few miles down the river Trent in Derbyshire.15 It is likely that Edward attended Burton grammar school: reporting to their bishop in June 1611 the churchwardens of Burton said that he was ‘trayned up’ in Burton ‘in good schoolinge’,16 while his literacy and scriptural knowledge as an adult suggest that he received more than the rudiments of letters and his penmanship was such that, as we shall see, he acted as an amanuensis in the recording of some of the details of a case of alleged diabolical possession in Burton in the mid-1590s.17 He then entered the business of his maternal family – the cloth trade. He was apprenticed to John Barnes, a woollen draper in Shrewsbury, and in 1590 was admitted as a master of the Shrewsbury Drapers' Company.18 He soon returned to Burton and set up as a draper in what was then Burton's staple industry. It was a trade that he was still practising in 1600, when he was described as a clothier.19 Born into a prosperous middling family, by the early 1590s Wightman stood poised to step into a life as a solid merchant-burgher within his mother's ancestral town.

In religious affairs the Burton that Wightman had grown up in was characterised by the power and influence of Thomas, Lord Paget, a zealous recusant. Lord of the manor, and frequently resident in the town in the 1570s and early 1580s,20 Paget sought to promote Roman Catholicism in the parish: many of his household servants were recusants; he patronised William Byrd, the church-papist composer, who had a room in Paget's house next to the church, and he had a household choir to sing mass; he even sought to discharge his duty to provide the bread and wine for eucharists in the parish church by supplying ‘little singing cakes after the old popish fashion’.21 By contrast Shrewsbury had seen evangelical preaching since the 1560s and in the late 1580s and early 1590s – when Wightman was there – there was a serious attempt under John Tomkys, preacher of one of the city-centre parishes, to set up a Genevan-style discipline and establish a godly commonwealth in the Welsh marches.22 By the time that Wightman returned to Burton – by September 1593, when he married Frances Darbye there23 – the religious temper was closer to that of Shrewsbury, for the town had witnessed a religious revolution. Paget and his Burton household had become involved in the plotting around Mary, queen of Scots (held as a prisoner in neighbouring Tutbury Castle, and elsewhere); after the uncovering of the Throckmorton Plot, Paget had fled abroad in 1583.24 Into the vacuum left by Paget had stepped the Hastings family of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, which had wielded some influence in Burton before the Reformation. The impeccably Protestant Henry Hastings, earl of Huntingdon, headed the feoffees of the Burton town lands by 1595, and oversaw a rapid growth of evangelical Protestantism in the town.25 Peter Eccleshall, town preacher from the mid-1580s, was a puritan nonconformist prosecuted before quarter sessions in 1588 for not using the Book of Common Prayer, but defended by a number of the leading godly in Burton,26 and it was probably the prospect of furthering a godly reformation in the town that attracted the godly pamphleteer Philip Stubbes to settle there briefly in the early 1590s.27 By 1596 there was a ‘common exercise’ in Burton conducted by Eccleshall and other godly ministers from east Staffordshire and south Derbyshire (in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield), and west Leicestershire (in Lincoln diocese), chief among whom was Arthur Hildersham of Ashby-de-la-Zouch; after 1603 the exercise also included William Bradshaw, preacher at Stapenhill, on the opposite bank of the Trent to Burton.28

Wightman rapidly rose in this new godly milieu and less than three years after his marriage he played a leading role in some of the most remarkable events in Burton in the early modern period.29 In February 1596 Thomas Darling, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy, alleged that he been possessed by a devil sent by a witch, Alice Goodridge of Stapenhill. In his fits of possession Darling had episodes of vomiting and paralysis, and visions of green angels and a green cat with ‘eyes like flames of fire’. What made the case particularly notable was that Darling, whose education, it was noted, had been both ‘religious and godly’, and who became known as ‘the boy of Burton’, clearly cast himself in the role of a puritan saint. In his possessions he claimed not only to be diabolically possessed but also to be simultaneously divinely inspired. Arthur Hildersham came to pray with him and although he failed to deliver the boy, Darling thereafter frequently invoked Hildersham's name during his fits, and expressed the hope that he might live ‘to be a preacher and thunder out the threatenings of Gods word, against sinne and all abhominations, wherewith these dayes doo abound’. Darling's devil was finally exorcised by another godly minister based in Ashby, John Darrell, who had a notable reputation as an exorcist. Darling himself went on to court his own form of puritan martyrdom: as a student at Merton College, Oxford, in 1602 he was sentenced in Star Chamber to have his ears cropped and to be whipped for libelling the vice-chancellor, various privy councillors and others, and for complaining of the growth of popery which he said was nursed by various bishops and courtiers.30

By no means everyone was convinced of the truth of Darling's possession, and the case quickly became entangled with a wider struggle then raging in England over similar cases of alleged possession and exorcism. Nationally the battle lines divided along the puritan/anti-puritan cleavage; within Burton the godly recognised the importance of the case as ammunition for their cause, and sought to record faithfully the details of his fits. The matter is well known to historians,31 but previous commentators have failed to notice Wightman's leading role in the investigation, recording and promotion of the case and his connection to the deliverance of the boy. Wightman was one of the five named as Alice Goodridge's interrogators when she was brought from Derby gaol to Burton town hall in May 1596; they succeeded in wringing a confession from the poor woman that the devil had appeared to her ‘in likenesse of a little partie-colored dog red and white’ called Minny whom she sent to bewitch Darling.32 The details of Darling's possession were recorded by a number of people, one of whom was Wightman. The main report, written by Jesse Bee, a Burton saddler related to Darling by marriage, was supplemented by others including Oliver Ramplain, the town schoolmaster, and Thomas Saunders, who ‘when he came home, he did cause one Edward Wightman vpon his report to set them down’.33 Edward's wife Frances was important in Darling's exorcism. Encouraged by Darrell, Darling's friends and family spent a day in prayer and fasting over the boy in preparation for his deliverance; Darling, in a trance, interrupted the prayers of the assembled company shouting ‘There is a Woman earnest at prayer, get her away’, to which one in the room replied ‘Wee cannot spare her: yet did none of them all that were there know that shee was praying; till (looking backe) they saw her earnestly at prayer in a corner being behynde them’. The story is related in A Most Wonderfull and True Storie. One copy at Lambeth Palace Library contains many marginal annotations, and against this passage the annotator has added ‘Wightm his Wife’, identifying Frances Wightman as the earnestly praying woman.34 Furthermore, in October 1598 as the truth of Darling's possession was still being debated and Darrell's claims as an exorcist were being investigated at Lambeth, forty-three people put their hands to a testimonial of Darling's character and the truth of his possession. Among them was one named in print as ‘E. wrightman’, surely our Edward.35

It is not only significant that Wightman was a major actor in the cases of Goodridge and Darling; also important was the fact that he was acting in concert with many of the leading members of the town. Those named as his coadjutors, and those who signed the testimonial of Darling's character, included the minister, Peter Eccleshall, most of the leading clothiers of the town, one of the constables, many of the wealthiest tenants and a number of people who acted as churchwarden or local juror.36 The Darling case had arisen in the centre of the parish's élite: Darling himself was well connected and his uncle, Robert Toon, was one of the wealthiest of the town's inhabitants who occupied ‘one of the fairest’ stone-built houses in Burton.37 All of this suggests that Wightman was anything but a lonely, unbalanced outsider. On the contrary, despite his relative youth, by the mid-1590s Wightman was an important and respected figure in the godly clique that had formed around the minister and had rapidly established itself at the centre of Burton's society and in control of much of the town.

Hence, where Christopher Hill suggested that Wightman might be an exemplar of a radical plebeian underground, in fact he began his adult life as a respectable middling householder and a pillar of Burton's godly community. Yet this may be less anomalous than at first it seems. A more detailed look at the Darling case serves to reveal aspects of puritan piety that are often overlooked, but which perhaps shed light on Wightman's spiritual environment. To begin with, the whole affair was carried out before a backdrop of intense, indeed overwrought, spiritual excitement. The fact that Darling claimed not just to be possessed by the devil, but to be speaking with divine inspiration, added a very unusual dimension to the case, and appears to have amplified the intensity and fascination that surrounded the whole imbroglio. During his periods of ‘possession’, Darling engaged in a series of ‘dialogues’ in which the devil cried out, only to be answered by something like a divine, or angelic spirit. Under interrogation by the ecclesiastical authorities later on, Darling revealed his own understanding of his situation: ‘as I know at this present for a certainty, that I have the spirit of God within mee: so do I with the like certaintie believe, that in my dialogues with Sathan, when I alleadged sundry places of scripture, to withstand the temptations he assaulted me with: I had the spirit of God in me, and by that spirit resisted Sathan at those times, by alleadging the scriptures to confound him’.38
This was not as outlandish as it might at first appear. The notion that the Holy Spirit somehow dwelled in believers was a puritan commonplace with ample scriptural precedent. Expositors differed on how this message was construed and what it entailed: some puritans, alarmed by the possible consequences of proclaiming the indwelling of the spirit in the faithful, preferred to downplay the immediacy of the direct divine presence, claiming that the spirit dwelled in people not directly, but through its gifts and effects. Others, however, tended to emphasise the direct and unmediated influence of the spirit on believers. This tendency was most evident amongst more extreme puritans, reaching its zenith amongst separatists, who vigorously denied the legitimacy of scripted prayer, arguing that a pre-set liturgy stifled the free play of the spirit in the believer's heart. It was this operating assumption that seems to have informed the entire Darling affair. In their apparent conviction that the spirit was directly and immediately operating through Darling, in the concerted and communal efforts of Hildersham, Darrell and Burton's godly to exorcise the boy through powerful mutual prayer, and finally in their decision to record and publish the ‘wonderful’ events that took place at Burton, all of the protagonists seem to have allowed for or accepted this vision of the autonomous power of the spirit, operating in an unmediated way in the sphere of everyday human events.

Writing on the parallel case of the unfortunate tub-prophet William Hacket, Alexandra Walsham has drawn attention to the ways in which godly religiosity could and did co-exist with forms of belief and practice usually labelled as ‘magical’, including beliefs about witchcraft, demonic possession and sorcery.39 All of this would appear to be amply borne out by the events at Burton. Darling's case allows us to extend Walsham's analysis: underlying this fusion between godly piety and less seemly forms of ‘popular’ belief was an abiding conviction in the operative power of spiritual forces, both Satanic and holy, in the quotidian affairs of humankind. Walsham rightly uses the confluence of godly religiosity and ‘magical’ thinking to call into question recent arguments about the inability of committed Protestantism to appeal to a supposedly unlettered and crypto-Catholic populace. Yet the Burton case suggests that Walsham's insight might be expanded in other directions. For those who gathered around Darling were not unlettered plebeians. Nor were they members of some radical puritan fringe. These frenetic attempts to record Darling's divine outpourings, to channel and amplify the Holy Spirit, and to harness the spiritual charisma of ministers were taking place at the very pinnacle of Burton local society and were lent credibility by Arthur Hildersham, one of England's most respected puritan ministers, who allegedly read over and approved Bee's manuscript before publication. What this suggests is that far from representing an unseemly aberration, confined to a plebeian fringe or a small band of self-segregating radicals at the edge of the puritan community, this sort of charged, spiritist enthusiasm was entirely familiar even to the most respectable members of the godly community.

This is a point that has for too long been ignored in existing accounts of the culture and thought-world of the godly, particularly those which have emphasized the extent to which godly values percolated through the Elizabethan and Jacobean establishments. To be sure, the events in Burton were carried out by a newly ascendant godly local élite, a point of great significance; but it is equally true that the mode of piety and the structures of thought that were in evidence in the Darling affair were anything but stable and orderly. The basic assumption that the Holy Spirit could and did enter the world in such a direct and unmediated manner, even hijacking the bodies of believers, opened up many possibilities for disorder and mischief. In theory, the spirit was of course taken to be self-regulating, a regulation that was ensured by the presence of learned and orthodox ministers; when Hildersham first arrived on the scene in Burton, for instance, he was careful to warn all those present that while ‘the Lord ofte in these daies, by the praiers of the faithful casts out divels’, the idea that a godly minister might of his own power miraculously expel demons ‘is an opinion dangerous’.40 On the face of it, this was a warning against the extravagant claims of Catholic exorcists. Just beneath the surface, however, Hildersham's words seem to suggest an anxiety that the intense spiritual frisson of such situations could easily spiral out of control, leading to errors and dangerous misconstructions. Despite the warnings, however, once such powerful spiritual forces were assumed to be present in the everyday worlds of belief and practice, they proved very difficult to discipline. And while ministers such as Hildersham and Darrell might act as a brake against the excesses that could be wrought by such enthusiasm, in point of fact their very authority as powerful ministers of the word was partly bound up in their presumed ability to muster the spiritual gifts of the godly in order to contain and tame the forces of darkness. Hence, Darrell's intervention signally escalated the temperature of an already overheated situation, a fact that was then used to trumpet Darrell's achievement, further enhancing his reputation as a minister of special spiritual prowess.

None of this was lost on Darrell's critics at the time. It was precisely these claims to special ministerial charisma that Bancroft and Harsnett sought to expose as specious, fraudulent and dangerous to the peace of the church. Their polemical onslaught achieved at least some of its desired effect. Darrell was convicted of fraud and went into hiding, while the practice of group exorcism seems by and large to have been abandoned by the godly.41 Yet at a deeper level, their triumph may have produced an unwanted side-effect. By intervening in the affair, the authorities had in fact undermined some of the fragile cultural forms through which the godly domesticated and reined in the enthusiastic, potentially destabilizing dimensions of their piety (a pattern that would be repeated again a decade later).

These observations have important implications for Wightman's later development. First of all, from the outset, Wightman's intimate involvement in the Darling affair suggests that he himself was entirely amenable to the possibility of unmediated spiritual intervention. As has been argued elsewhere, such direct reliance on the spirit carried with it not simply a tendency towards chaotic and enthusiastic practices such as those exhibited in the Darling case, but also a latent tendency towards ideological disintegration. Those open to the everyday presence of the spirit were decidedly more likely to allow the spirit to lead them in directions that were not sanctioned by the learned élite, the church, or by traditions of orthodoxy.42 Consistently prompted by godly preachers to ‘try the spirits’ by checking the words of ministers against the Gospel, and invested with a sense – perhaps even an expectation – that the Holy Spirit would act as their internal guide, such men and women might easily find themselves arguing conclusions that no orthodox ministers could countenance.

Under ideal circumstances, such deviations could be smoothed over, hedged or argued into insignificance through the careful efforts of educated, godly ministers and their respectable lay followers. But in the aftermath of the Darling case, as again in the case of Wightman, the pointed intervention of hostile elements in the ecclesiastical hierarchy had the effect of disrupting or rendering unavailable the means through which such centrifugal tendencies could be tamed by the learned and the orthodox. Moreover, such intervention, which was no doubt perceived by some among the godly community as a form of prelatical, antichristian persecution, may well have served to harden or radicalize some of its victims, driving them further away from accommodation with the authorities; such seems to have been the case with Darling, whose later challenge to the establishment cost him his ears; and such may well have been the case for Wightman, who in time embarked on an excursion into radical separatism that would eventually cost him much more.

In April 1604, at the Trinity sessions for Staffordshire, Wightman was licensed as an alehouse keeper. In a report to the bishop, the churchwardens of Burton explained the change from his earlier calling as a clothier by saying that Wightman was ‘much impoverished, and deeplie indebted’.43 It is possible, however, to examine the change in his fortunes and trade more closely. The churchwardens, writing in June 1611, reckoned that Wightman had been running an alehouse for ‘some Tenne or twelue yeres or more’, which would date his unlikely career change to about 1600. Wightman may well have been a victim of the severe economic dislocations of the 1590s. The bad harvests of that decade had undermined the economy more generally, and the cloth trade – which tended to suffer when inflated food prices ate into disposable income – appears to have been particularly hard hit.44 Nevertheless, Wightman's final abandonment of his calling may have been the result of more specific events and misfortunes. In November 1600 Wightman, then still described as a clothier, was forced to give his recognisance to appear at the next quarter sessions in Staffordshire for the settlement of a dispute between him and his apprentice Samuel Royle whom he had discharged only two years into his apprenticeship. Wightman, however, failed to appear at the Epiphany sessions at Stafford in January 1601, and presumably forfeit his £40 bond. Perhaps this was sufficient to cause Wightman's clothing business to fail and make him turn to the less respected trade of victualler. The dates fit approximately with the churchwardens' memory of events, and one further piece of evidence may add weight to this hypothesis. The justice who took Wightman's recognisance in 1600 was Sir Humphrey Ferrers. According to the churchwardens when Ferrers died Wightman went about claiming that he had been the victim of ‘some iniustice or wronges formerly done him’ by Ferrers; could Ferrers's intervention in this 1600 dispute between master and apprentice have been that grievance which still rankled with Wightman more than seven years later?45 Wightman was more successful as a victualler selling ale than as a draper selling cloth, although the churchwardens attributed this change in fortune to his skill at gambling, an expertise, they claimed, he practised ‘well neare continually’; and thus ‘the resort to his house beynge very great, his estate was much bettered’.46

The churchwardens' report to the bishop was doubtless framed to make sure that Wightman's culpability was evident but limited to Wightman himself; as few other people as possible were to be tainted by the heinous crime of heresy. Thus, throughout, Wightman is portrayed as standing on the margins of society, but never so far beyond the pale that his neighbours should have reported him to the authorities sooner. The description of Wightman as an inveterate gambler did precisely that, marking out his antisocial behaviour and placing him in a grey area where respectable behaviour shaded into criminality. Nevertheless, the churchwardens' account needs to be placed alongside the willingness of not only Wightman's neighbours to stand surety for him in a further alehouse recognisance in 1610, but also the Staffordshire justices to license him at the Michaelmas sessions that year. Two of Wightman's recognisances, of 1604 and 1610, suggest that he was enmeshed in a network of neighbourly relations firmly within local society. On both occasions his sureties were leading citizens and they included two men, Henry Clarke and William Woodcock, who were members of the godly clique in the 1590s.47 Moreover, as we will see, despite his increasingly eccentric opinions, Wightman continued to engage in personal debate and discussion with a number of godly ministers, both locally and in London, all of whom appear to have been reluctant to abandon him even as he drifted further and further into error. Despite his change of calling, even as late as 1610, Wightman had not entirely lost his status as one of the chosen saints, and the image of him standing on the fringes of respectable society will not wash.

This is all the more remarkable given the fact that by 1610 Wightman seems to have been well along his journey into heresy. It is here, in tracing the story of Wightman's descent into error, that our story becomes most murky. The most detailed account we have is the report of the Burton churchwardens; although their narrative receives some confirmation in a life of Arthur Hildersham published by Samuel Clarke, it is also open to question for reasons already mentioned.48 In order to reconstruct Wightman's trajectory, we must look carefully not just at the accounts of these observers, but also at his opinions themselves, in an attempt to place them within a broader context of contemporary theological opinion and debate. This process necessarily demands inference and guesswork; the results, inevitably, are suggestive but uncertain.

In the churchwardens' version of events the first sign of unorthodox opinions came in the immediate aftermath of the death of Sir Humphrey Ferrers, which took place at the beginning of January 1607/8. In ‘an ydle company in his owne house’ Wightman fell to discussing Ferrers's death and the grudge he still held against the magistrate and uttered the ‘damnable heresie’ that ‘the soule of man dyeth with the bodie and participateth not either of the ioyes of Heaven or the paynes of Hell, vntill the generall daie of Judgment, but resteth with the bodie vntill then (or wordes to the like effect)’. No explanation was given for why or how he had arrived at this deeply heterodox opinion, but the churchwardens suggested that this single error opened up the floodgate to further blasphemies. Once Wightman had ventured into heresy, they claimed, there was no stopping him, and he grew ever bolder, debating the point ‘in all companies ... as well with Devines as other of the laitie’. Henry Aberley, curate of Burton, sought to put a stop to Wightman's heterodox ideas by preaching against such heresies, but the principal effect was to call down upon his head a torrent of abuse from Wightman, who thereafter for ‘a longe tyme’ absented himself from the parish church in Burton and ‘resorted to other Churches where [he] pleased himself’.49

Remarkably, as Wightman was busily descending into error, members of the Midlands puritan community, not least Hildersham himself, expended considerable effort in trying to reclaim their erstwhile fellow puritan. That they were willing to do so is a tribute to the bonds of unity that held the godly community together. Viewed as erring brethren, figures such as Wightman were rarely in the first instance thrown to the wolves of ecclesiastical justice. Recent research on the puritan community in London and elsewhere has shown that the godly tended to try to resolve in-house theological disputes through negotiated, informal means of compromise. Private debate, the exchange of manuscripts and letters, and sometimes semi-formal disputations, could all be used to defuse potentially serious conflicts, and to keep contentious arguments from spreading outwards to produce serious rifts or embarrassing conflicts with the ecclesiastical authorities. Only when such informal means had broken down, and one of the enraged parties escalated the dispute, did such conflicts erupt into the more public world of print or legal court.50 Wightman's case follows this pattern closely. Initially, Hildersham and Simon Presse, minister of Egginton (Derbyshire), another leader of the local exercise, personally met with Wightman and tried to convince him through scriptural argument of the error of his ways. When this tactic failed Hildersham took the dispute into the pulpit, confuting Wightman's heresies at the next exercise at Burton, 15 March 1608/9, more than a year after he first began to ventilate his heterodox views.51 Wightman and Hildersham then continued corresponding but on finding Wightman ‘to abounde in his owne sence and to be insaciable in his wilful resolucions’, Hildersham refused to be drawn into a theological disputation, with the result that Wightman ‘gloried much’, boasting that his opinions were ‘invincible and not to be confuted’. Robbed of the opportunity to engage in a written controversy with Hildersham, Wightman nonetheless ‘began to write books of great volume’.52 The backroom processes of discussion apparently continued, for two years later the famous London puritan Anthony Wotton conferred with Wightman and agreed to read one of his manuscripts. Moreover, despite the fact that he was very frankly maintaining heterodox ideas, and that he had apparently ceased to attend his local parish church, none of the ministers involved in the affair appear to have made any attempt to have Wightman cited before the church courts. Two years would pass before his local minister saw fit to have him presented at Neile's episcopal visitation.
During those two years, Wightman seems to have undergone a process of radicalization. The churchwardens suggested that until 1609 Wightman's only publicly proclaimed heterodox idea was his doctrine of the mortality of the soul or thnetopsychism.53 Wightman himself corroborated this at his trial, maintaining that he had himself believed the doctrine of the Trinity ‘untill within theis Two yeares last past’.54 Moreover, at least at the outset, his activities appear to have been relatively narrow in scope. The churchwardens paint a picture of Wightman as an eccentric but essentially harmless busybody in Burton, the Jacobean equivalent of the bar-room bore, ‘never or seldome’ venturing out into the ‘towne and Countrie’ without his own books ‘in his bosome’, and never letting slip an opportunity to read from them to others, which they describe as his ‘delite’. Nonetheless, his activities were essentially restricted to his own circle of ‘favourers’. The churchwardens named only eleven men with whom he often conversed: two they described as his kinsmen while a third was probably a relation of his wife. None of the eleven, the churchwardens pointedly added, ever approved of Wightman's ideas.55 If Wightman did find followers it is likely that they were few in number, though the loss of the Lichfield consistory office case books between 1603 and 1620 means that it is not known whether there was any attempt to prosecute his favourers.56

Although none of the great books that Wightman is alleged to have written has been found, judging from the records of his later trial, and especially passages from his writings excerpted there, it appears that between 1609 and 1611 his ideas developed and grew more heretical and the scope of his activity appears to have widened. By early 1611 Wightman was dispensing a whole series of deeply unorthodox ideas, and doing so in an increasingly confrontational and public manner. The churchwardens later reported that in Lent 1610/11 (which began on 6 February), he had interrupted the Burton exercise and ‘twise or more did presse and with audacious and lowde wordes importune the minister in that assemblie to have had hearinge to have spoken in that publique place upon the porcion of scripture then in hand’. Only with difficulty was he silenced. It was probably this increasingly obstreperous behaviour that finally brought him into the church courts. Within days of his performance at the Burton exercise, Wightman was presented by the minister and churchwardens of Burton at Bishop Neile's primary visitation, which began in mid-February 1610/11.57 Very quickly, the machinery of the ecclesiastical courts swung into action. At the beginning of March 1610/11 the bishop sent his warrant to the constables of Burton ordering them to bring Wightman before him at the house of his chancellor, Dr Zachary Babington, in Curborough, just north of Lichfield, the next day.58 Neile returned to Westminster a few days later taking Wightman with him.

All of this suggests a process of escalation in which Wightman grew progressively bolder, courting a broader audience and perhaps inviting a final confrontation with the ecclesiastical authorities. Nevertheless, even as Wightman increased the pitch of his own rhetoric, it appears that members of the godly community continued to make informal efforts to reclaim him from the brink. Although the chronology is murky, it was probably during Wightman's first days in London that he made contact with Anthony Wotton, the famed nonconformist lecturer of All Hallows, Barking. Wotton apparently agreed to read Wightman's writings, which in turn seems to have prompted Wightman to write a kind of compendium of his theology. Only a handful of fragments of the treatise have survived, but the first lines provide an important clue as to Wightman's views: ‘A letter written to a learned man to discover and conf[ut]e the Doctrine of the Nicolaitanes very mightely Defended with all the learned of all sorts, and most of all hated and abhorred of God himself, because the wholl world is drowned therein: And seeing he hath promised to anwere he knewe not unto what, and least he should alsoe deale with me as the men of that faccion have done allready’. As Wightman reported in his first formal examination before Neile on 18 April 1611, ‘Mr Wotton tould him he would read it, and give him an Answere hereafter, since which tyme he hath not seene Mr. Wotton’.

It was at this point that Wightman made what was perhaps his most audacious and ill-advised move. Having first written his manuscript for Wotton, Wightman delivered a second copy to King James.59 It is not clear whether he did so personally, or whether he used an intermediary; in either case, it was this manoeuvre that seems to have brought down the full force of ecclesiastical justice upon him. James did not take kindly to such uninvited gifts. Earlier in his reign, attempts to present him personally with manuscript petitions calling for further reformation had provoked his fierce indignation.60 This must have been all the more true when the manuscript in question was a manifestly heretical challenge to centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine. James was widely known as a king with a theological bent, and since 1607 he had been engaged in a battle of books with Roman Catholic apologists over the Oath of Allegiance, both personally and by encouraging others to write in his defence. One of the central planks of the king's case was the preservation of his catholic orthodoxy through his adherence to the three great creeds of the church, the Apostles', the Nicene and the Athanasian.61 It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Wightman now found himself committed as a close prisoner in the Gatehouse, for it was precisely these creeds that he called into question in his manuscript. As Wightman admitted at his trial, ‘the heresies of the Nicolaitanes’, denounced in the title of his manuscript, referred to ‘the comon receaved faith contayned in those 3. Invencions of man, comonly called the Three Creeds, to witt, the 12. Articles of beleif, the Nicene Creed and Athanasius Creed, which faith within theis 1600 yeares past, hath prevayled in the world’.62

All Europe, in short, had been overcome by a kind of spectacular delusion, a perversion of Christianity which had crept in immediately after the deaths of the Apostles. This plague of error infected even the most foundational documents of the Christian tradition, the creeds, which Wightman dismissed as mere ‘inventions’. The record of his trial allows us to clarify what, precisely, Wightman believed had gone wrong. Where alleged heretics sometimes equivocated or evaded the charges against them, Wightman forthrightly engaged his accusers, even going so far as to correct and fine-tune the articles of error drawn up against him by Neile's court so as to leave no mistake as to his own opinions. This unusually candid record reveals that Wightman's initial flirtation with mortalism seems to have led to a sort of avalanche, in which he sloughed off one fundamental doctrine after another. At the root of his departure from orthodoxy was a form of hyper-puritan critique, in which Wightman rejected not simply the doctrine of the Church of England, but the entire framework of Christian orthodoxy as a mass of unscriptural accretions. Although there were aspects of Christian truth available in English pulpits, Wightman believed that for the most part, the Church was miserably polluted. He argued ‘that the baptising of Infants is an abhomynable Custome’, and he denied that ‘the practise of the Sacraments as they are now used in the Church of England are according to Christe his Institution’, affirming that rightly understood, ‘only the sacrament of baptisme [is] to be administred in water to converts of sufficient age of understanding converted from infidelity to the faieth’.63

Wightman, therefore, might be thought a species of anabaptist; indeed, Norman Burns has suggested that Wightman's views map onto those of the English anabaptist community in the Netherlands sufficiently well to call him an anabaptist and to raise the possibility that he may have been converted by one of the missionaries sent by English anabaptists from Haarlem. Certainly, in John Payne's account of the English separatists in Holland, there is a similarity of views: unorthodoxy about the Trinity, refutation of infant baptism and the assertion that ‘soules do slepe in grave wth the bodies vntill the resurrectio[n]’. The congruence of views, however, is limited: there is nothing in Payne's account of these Haarlem anabaptists about the Creeds or Nicolaitans, and nothing in Wightman's known views denying either the right of magistrates to use the power of the sword or the Lord's day.64

There was more to Wightman's theology than anabaptism and mortalism; nor would these two errors, serious as they were, have been enough to get him burned at the stake. Wightman's most grievous departures from orthodoxy concerned the Trinity and the nature of God. It was presumably on these points that he so vehemently rejected the formulae of Nicaea and Athanasius. Both of these Creeds had been structured primarily as responses to Arian denials of the Trinity. And like the Arians of the fourth century, Wightman flatly denied ‘the Trinity of persons in the unity of the Diety’, explicitly rejecting that ‘Jesus Christe is the true naturall Son of God, perfect God and of the same substance, eternitie and Majestie with the Father in respect of his Godhead’; similarly, he repudiated the notion ‘that the person of the holy Ghost to be God, coequall, coeternall and coessentiall with the Father and the Son’. Neither the Holy Spirit nor Christ was thus divine. Rather, Christ was ‘only man and a mere Creature and not both God and man in one person’. Yet, as Wightman carefully explained to his judges, this did not mean that Christ was a man like all others; in amending and correcting the article tendered to him by the court on Christ's humanity, Wightman very deliberately inserted the clause that he believed Christ was ‘onely a perfect man without sin’ (an odd claim to which we will return shortly).65

Perhaps most destructive to his cause was the fact that Wightman assumed the mantle of a divinely appointed prophet, appropriating to himself a series of prophetic scriptural passages which were usually taken to refer either to Christ or to John the Baptist. Thus, the verse ‘I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee’, drawn from Deuteronomy (18:18) and the Acts of the Apostles (3:22 and 7:37), was taken by Wightman to refer to himself, as was the phrase from John's Gospel (16: 7–8 and 13), which looked forward to the arrival of the ‘comforter’ who ‘will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment ... [and] will guide you into all truth’. Both prophecies sealed Wightman in his belief that he was ‘that person of the holy Ghost spoken of in Scriptures’. In addition to claiming that he somehow embodied the Holy Spirit, Wightman also claimed to be the second coming of Elias (or Elijah), whose return, predicted in the book of Malachi (4: 5–6), would famously ‘turn the heart of the father to the children’. (The second Elias was a crucial eschatological figure, although the orthodox generally argued that the prophecy in question had already been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist).66

There is no doubt that Wightman actually did hold himself in such high regard: two documents surviving in the Lincolnshire Archive Office – one, a manuscript in Wightman's own hand, the second, a record of one of his examinations – confirm and clarify the allegations made in court. Just as the articles charged, Wightman affirmed my selfe to be that prophet promised in the 18 of Deuteronomie And that Elyas in the 4th of Malachie promised to be sent before the great and fearfull day of the Lord. And that comfortor in the 16th of John which should convince the world of sinne of righteousnes and of Judgment.67

As the other surviving fragments of his writings demonstrate, Wightman believed that the two witnesses of the book of Revelation were Christ and the Holy Ghost (that is, Wightman himself) who together would effect the redeeming of the world ‘from the tyranny of the Devill’, which the devil exercised ‘by heresie and misbelief’. This, then, was at the heart of what Wightman meant when he proclaimed himself to be a prophet: he, Edward Wightman, had been sent by God to convert the world from the diabolical errors of the ‘Nicolaitanes’. As he put it, ‘God the Father, and Christ, and himself, this examynate [were] united togeather, for the same worke, of the salvacion of the world, by Christe through his death, and by him this Examynate through the restoring of the true fayth’.68

It was to accomplish this mission that Wightman had proclaimed his message, and had approached King James. If he achieved his ends, if he should ‘overcome and everie one shall be convinced in themselves’, then Wightman expected a two-fold reward. First, he hoped for the ‘protection’ of the king and all those ‘as are neare vnto God both in office and dignitie’. Second, he looked for an eternal reward, ‘a royall Diademe’ set upon his head – not the crown of any earthly kingdom, but the recognition by others that both ‘inward truth’ and ‘the glorie of God’ dwelt within him ‘so plentifully’. As proof of his status as a true prophet, on 9 September 1611 Wightman offered the world a prophecy, written down as he was a prisoner and could not go about to preach it. He predicted that the ‘greate and terrible day threatened in dyvers places in the scriptures’ would come to pass before All Hallows day, 1 November. God had apparently chosen the day because Neile had, so Wightman alleged, promised to burn Wightman at the stake in Burton before 1 November, unless he recanted.69 So confident was Wightman that he promised to recant all his opinions if his prophecy did not come true.70 History does not, alas, record his opinion when he awoke in his cell that morning.

It is not difficult to see why later commentators have tended to regard Wightman as a lunatic; but before dismissing his ideas as the delusional froth of a tattered mind, it is crucial to see that when placed within his proper contexts, there was coherence, even a logic, to Wightman's ideas. We have already observed one of those contexts: the environment of intense spiritist piety that was in evidence among Burton puritans, even of the most exalted status. Given that virtually everyone around Wightman in the Burton godly élite seems to have accepted the power of the divine spirit to enter and circulate through believers at will, it is not at all difficult to see how Wightman might have arrived at the conclusion he did; Wightman had simply gone from a situation in which it was legitimate to say ‘the Holy Ghost is in me’, to one in which he was saying ‘the Holy Ghost is me’. But even this is somewhat less bizarre than it would at first appear. For although Wightman proclaimed himself to be the Holy Ghost, this claim was considerably softened in its extremity by the fact that he also claimed that the Holy Ghost was not divine.71 Moreover, even though he obviously believed that he somehow specially manifested the spirit, Wightman continued to suggest that others could receive the spirit as well. One of the few extant fragments of Wightman's manuscript summa imagined ‘God himselfe setled as it were in a Chariott and the two faithfull wittnesses both the Son and the holy Ghost as it were tyed togeather in one to drawe him amongst you all, and to offer his free Spiritt unto all that yow might be saved’.72 The spirit was thus available to all, even if Wightman was the primary and necessary conduit.

While of course none of this would have been sanctioned by anyone within the puritan community, it seems easy enough to see how Wightman made the journey from the rabid spiritism of the godly community in which he lived to the even more rabid positions for which he went to the stake. Yet this is not the only context in which Wightman needs to be placed. As noted above, all of this was from a certain perspective a kind of hypertrophied puritanism, a species of separatism run amok. In pronouncing himself to be the Holy Ghost, and in claiming that he represented the fulfillment of various eschatological prophecies from the Old Testament, Wightman was in fact inserting himself into a series of debates and discussions that had taken place at the very fringe of the English puritan community during the previous twenty years. These conversations had begun almost as soon as Elizabethan theoreticians such as John Greenwood and Henry Barrow began to elaborate the case for separation from the English church. In the process of divorcing themselves from a church they perceived to be the illegitimate progeny of Rome, separatists began to question not just the authority of the pope or the Church of England, but almost all notional sources of ecclesiastical legitimacy. In a world in which Christ's truth seemed to have been everywhere swallowed by antichristian darkness, and in which even putatively godly Protestants engaged in spineless compromises with prelatical tyrants, all human sources of authority began to look deeply suspect. Even heroes of the reformed tradition quickly became tarnished (in this spirit, Barrow, for instance, described John Calvin as ‘a painful and profitable instrument, in the thinges he saw, and times he served in, yet not without his manie errors and ignorances, especially touching the planting, government, and ordering of the Church of Christ’73). In such an atmosphere, more radical spirits easily moved into a position in which all theological and ecclesiastical authorities apart from scripture – including that of the Fathers and the early Church – were pronounced unsound. This position had a two-fold consequence: first, it tended to delegitimise long-standing traditions of orthodoxy, making it more likely that separatist adventurers would find in scripture doctrines that challenged prevailing mainstream Christian theology. Secondly, it seemed to suggest that all the churches of Christendom were partly or wholly vitiated by error, in effect, leaving a gaping void where once had stood parishes, cloisters and cathedrals. As early as 1590, Henry Barrow had hinted that such ideas might already be circulating. He warned against the opinion that ‘the building of CHRISTS Church and the worke of the ministerie [must] cease, untill some second John Baptist or new Apostles be sent us downe from heaven except peradventure they after their long travel bring us forth some new Evangelist: and sure if they make a new ministery they must also make a new Gospell and confirme yt with new miracles’.74

Within a decade, others at the separatist fringe had embraced precisely this idea. The culprits here were the Legate brothers – Walter, Thomas and Bartholomew, the last of whom would be burned at the stake some three weeks before Wightman. It is to the Legates that we must now turn, for their story helps to situate Wightman in a much firmer ideological context. The Legates haled from an old and respected family in Hornchurch, Essex. Like Wightman, Bartholomew Legate traded in cloth; more prosperous than Edward, he was described in 1589 as a ‘gentleman’. In that year, he was taxed with an £80 recusancy fine for failure to attend church. Hornchurch was during this period the site of considerable puritan radicalism, centring on the house of the schoolmaster John Leech, who at one point was accused of being an ‘anabaptist’. This may have been polemical exaggeration, designed to undermine a particularly strident puritan, but in 1593, a Thomas Legate, possibly Bartholomew's brother, was indeed presented (together with Leech) before the church courts for refusing to allow the baptism of Legate's child.75

All three brothers soon became notorious for their ultra-separatist opinions. In 1600, Henoch Clapham, himself a veteran of the Anglo-Dutch separatist milieu, complained of ‘our English Arrians’, who ‘denie all Baptisme and Ordination, till new Apostles be sent to execute those parts to the Gentiles, and Elias the Thisbite do come for that end’.76 Eight years later Clapham elaborated on this passing comment, offering a detailed, if entirely biased, caricature of those he now denounced as ‘Legatine-Arians’. Clapham attributed to ‘the Legatines’ the belief that ‘The Church being to be latent and invisible for many yeares, so that her place was no more to be found; it must accordingly follow, that there could be no more a visible Church, till some notable men were stirred up of God, to raise it again out of the dust’.77 This was separatist rigorism taken to its logical extent: not only the Church of England, but also all earthly churches, were hopelessly corrupted by the spirit of Antichrist. Nothing less than new Apostles were necessary to set things aright and re-establish the true worship of Christ. Another ex-separatist later confirmed Clapham's story, explaining that the Legates were ‘ancient Separatists from the Church of England, living sometimes in the Cittie of London’ who ‘held it stifly, that their must be new Apostles, before their could be a true constituted Church, and they drew it from this their ground’. He further observed that ‘These Legats had a conceit, that their name did (as it were) foreshew and entitle them, to be the new Apostles, that must doe this new worke’.78

This rejection of the outward structure of the church appears to have been accompanied by a rejection of its fundamental doctrines, most particularly the Trinitarian formulations of the early creeds. Like Wightman, the ultra-separatist Legate brothers argued that Christ was not truly God. Hence, according to Clapham, the Legates maintained that Christ was ‘a meere Man, as was Peter, Paule, or I: Once whereas we have the Spirit in measure, and were borne in sinne; he hath the Spirit beyond measure, and was borne free from sinne’. If Clapham is to be trusted, the logic behind their argument was as follows: ‘it being meere Man that sinned, it must be meere Man that must satisfie Gods justice’.79 In other words, they seem to have argued that if Christ were truly God, the traditional view of a substitutionary atonement would collapse; only if Christ were a perfect, sinless man, could the traditional view be maintained without contradiction. Whatever the precise route through which they arrived at their opinions, one thing seems clear: the position attributed by Clapham to the Legates on the nature of Christ was, to all appearances, identical to the one adopted by Wightman at his trial in late 1611, when he carefully corrected the articles against him to specify that Christ was not God, but ‘a perfect man without sin’.

These parallels are certainly striking. Indeed, the theological congruences between the Legates and Wightman are so remarkable that they are almost certainly not accidental. Indeed, from one perspective, Wightman looks like a fulfilment of the prophecy laid out by the Legates. The Legates claimed that there was no true Church on earth, all extant churches having fallen away into sin after the deaths of the Apostles; so did Wightman. The Legates denied Trinitarian orthodoxy, claiming that Christ was but a perfect man; so did Wightman. The Legates repudiated the sacraments of the Church; so did Wightman. Most intriguingly, the Legates called for new Apostles, the second coming of Elijah, in order to re-establish the true faith on earth; indeed, to all appearances, this is precisely what Edward Wightman claimed to be. So closely do these pieces interlock, that it seems plausible, perhaps even likely, that Wightman was at some point exposed to the ideas of the Legates or of some now unknown missing link to the Legates. It must be emphasised that this is merely a reasonable inference from the broken shards of data we have; there is no direct evidence of such a contact. At the very least, however, it seems safe to hypothesise that Wightman's opinions emerged out of engagement with ideas, questions and problems that were alive and hotly debated at the separatist margin of the puritan community. This in turn serves to place Wightman's theological position – at first glance, so seemingly outrageous – within a continuum of contemporary religious debate, rendering him at once less bizarre and less mysterious.

The notion that Wightman may have been exposed to ‘Legatine’ ideas is by no means impossible. The Legates acquired at least some followers and sympathisers: the puritan minister Thomas Gataker would later report that he had encountered one such unnamed admirer in London around 1611, whom Gataker described only as ‘a Gentleman-like man’.80 In short, while it hardly seems likely that droves of radical separatists were carrying the ideas of the Legates into the countryside, the brothers appear to have won enough support to trigger both unease and back-room debate among the godly in London. This brings us to the last, puzzling detail of this tangled story. It may have been concern about the spread of anti-Trinitarian ideas that in 1609 led one London minister to preach and publish an extended cycle of sermons on the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The sermon cycle, which spanned nearly 500 pages of finely printed text, laid out and defended the doctrine of the Trinity in excruciating detail. The minister carefully defended the idea of Christ's divinity, before attacking in laborious detail the errors of the full pantheon of late antique anti-Trinitarian heretics – Arians, Ebionites, Manichaeans, to name a few.81 Although he nowhere mentioned modern anti-Trinitarian heretics, one suspects that his numerous, vehement denunciations of early Christian villains represented a scantily clad warning to those who might be questioning the doctrine of the Trinity. The preacher of this ponderous sermon-cycle was none other than Anthony Wotton, minister of All Hallows, Barking, and two years later the object of Wightman's manuscript magnum opus.

Wotton's role in all of this remains murky. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that Wightman had been put in contact with Wotton because the uncompromising nonconformist Wotton was known to be a ‘specialist’ on the doctrine of the Trinity, and as such, might have been seen as the most likely figure to satisfy Wightman's objections and to bring him back from the brink. Yet it is also just possible that Wightman had sought out Wotton on the basis of rumours that Anthony Wotton was himself not entirely orthodox on the doctrine of the Trinity. As is well known, shortly after the burning of Wightman, Wotton would be subjected to a fierce attack by the puritan cleric George Walker, who accused the elder minister of Arminianism and Socinianism, the latter of which was widely associated with denial of Christ's divinity. Although Walker's accusations were to all appearances overblown, if not entirely baseless, the controversy over Wotton's alleged ‘heresies’ would linger on for years, occasioning bitter disputations and political in-fighting amongst the godly in London. Given the present state of our knowledge, we simply cannot know how Wotton became embroiled in the Wightman affair, nor whether his involvement brought him under suspicion, helping to fuel Walker's very vehement accusations in the years that followed. For the time being, the most we can say is that Wotton's involvement represents an extremely suggestive and tantalizing puzzle, one that underlines the complex, and often heated, world of subterranean theological disputation that flourished beneath the surface of the English puritan community.82

Bartholomew Legate went to the stake on 18 March 1611/12; Wightman, for the first time, two days later. Why were they tried and burned? No one had been executed for heresy in England since 1589, when Francis Kett went to the stake in Norwich.83 Why, suddenly, after more than two decades, was the practice revived? The question is particularly poignant since Legate, at least, appears to have been in custody for more than a decade. During part of this period, he was allegedly given the freedom of the prison. The king was certainly aware of him and, ever enamoured of theological disputation, James apparently several times had the accused heretic brought before him to try to convince Legate of his errors.84 Before 1611 there was no particular rush to make an example of Legate. How did circumstances change? Apart from the added urgency of the appearance in Wightman of another heretic of similar views, the answer to this question lies in a combination of three individuals or groups who sought to use the cases of Wightman and Legate to their own ends, and in so doing ramped up the pressure for their prosecution: the king, Archbishop George Abbot of Canterbury and the anti-Calvinist divines around Neile.

The king's immediate political mood was vital in securing the prosecution of Wightman. James had in recent years trumpeted his own credentials as a vigorous defender of the fundamental orthodoxies of the church. His efforts to consolidate this image reached their high point during his celebrated polemical attack on Conrad Vorstius, a German academic who in 1611 was nominated for the chair in divinity at the university of Leiden, but who had published one of Socinus's works and who was deemed unsound on the Trinity by the Contra-Remonstrant or ultra-Calvinist party in the Netherlands. In their attempt to block Vorstius's preferment the Contra-Remonstrants looked to England, especially Abbot, as upholder of Calvinist orthodoxy, and Abbot promised to engage the support of James. The king was the more willing to see Vorstius's opinions condemned because the previous year, in a controversy over the Oath of Allegiance, a Jesuit writer had jointly accused him and Vorstius of atheism, Arianism and heretical opinions about the Holy Spirit. Egged on by Abbot and others, by September 1611 James was deeply involved in the controversy, denouncing Vorstius as deserving severe punishment and fulminating against his works. It was an opportunity for James to defend before the theatre of Europe his orthodoxy, his adherence to the three creeds and his reputation to be ‘a King that without mixture of glory or private design, taketh so much to heart the injury that is done to the blessed Trinity’.85 The matter rumbled on from the summer of 1611 until April 1612, which meant that Wightman's trial was played out against the backdrop of the Vorstius affair, with James's denunciations of heresy abroad and his stance to show ‘how stout and earnest a Defendour he is of the opinions of the true Catholike Church’.86

Yet it should be noted that Wightman's appearance on the scene preceded the king's active engagement with Vorstius. Indeed, one might easily argue that the two cases escalated together; upset about Wightman's very direct and inappropriate overtures in March 1611, the king launched into a dual campaign against heresy at home and abroad. From this perspective, Wightman was very much a victim of his own audacious challenge to the king, while Legate was swept up by events, as James sought to make an example of both men. Indeed, when the legal process stalled as it did after the judgment of the Lichfield consistory, the king was reported to insist that the executions take place as soon as possible.87 Doubts had been raised about what the due legal process was in the case of heretics. Had the abolition of the 1401 statute de heretico comburendo by the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy removed the legal authority to execute heretics, or did the writ de heretico comburendo lie at common law; if the latter, was a conviction before the High Commission needed, or did one before a bishop's consistory (as in the case of Wightman and Legate) suffice? During his imprisonment, Legate had played on these uncertainties by denying the authority of the London consistory court and threatening to sue it for false imprisonment.88 James ordered Abbot to resolve the legal problems. The question was remitted to the lord chancellor and a panel of senior judges – at the king's behest Sir Edward Coke, who was known to believe that the cases should have been tried before the High Commission, was excluded – and decision was given that Wightman's conviction before the Lichfield consistory court was sufficient authority for the issuing of a writ out of Chancery for his execution.89

While Wightman and Legate were thus caught up in a web of international diplomacy, their cases were shaped by the play of competing factions at court and in the English ecclesiastical hierarchy. 1611 represented a moment of flux at the Jacobean court. The aftermath of Lord Treasurer Salisbury's failure to secure a financial settlement for the king in the 1610 parliament, together with the death of Archbishop Bancroft late in 1610, resulted in large questions about the future ecclesiastical regime and prompted considerable jockeying and manoeuvring, as individuals and groups vied to secure their power in a subtly changed and uncertain order.90

One of the chief beneficiaries was, of course, Abbot, the new archbishop of Canterbury. Installed in April 1611, he was quickly sworn into the Privy Council, where he became one of the most active and diligent members.91 One of his aims was to use his new position and power at court to undermine a circle of ‘avant-garde conformists’ – William Laud, Lancelot Andrewes, John Buckeridge and Neile, to name the most important – whose own sacramentalist and anti-Calvinist brand of piety threatened his own. Abbot had no easy ride in the first months of his archiepiscopate in 1611, however. His attempt to block Laud's candidature as president of St John's College, Oxford, failed, in part because Neile used his proximity to James to lobby on behalf of Laud, but the dispute dragged on throughout the summer of 1611, running parallel to the unfolding case of Wightman.92 Furthermore, in May 1611 (and in obscure circumstances) Abbot was forced to issue a set of royal injunctions to his bishops which called for the removal of intransigent nonconforming clergy and which was used in Lincoln diocese to harass six veteran puritan ministers.93

The Wightman case was thus a further challenge to Abbot's position, since it raised questions about Wightman's relationship with the Midlands puritans (a point which, as we shall see, Neile was eager to exploit in order to use Wightman's case as a means of harassing the godly). It was also, however, an opportunity for the archbishop, for if he could control the arraignment, then the godly might be protected and Neile's campaign be deflated. Moreover, by linking Wightman with Vorstius and exploiting the king's recent obsession with theological orthodoxy, Abbot might be able to solidify the Calvinist cause both at home and abroad, and push the Remonstrants (and their English sympathisers in the Neile circle) out of royal favour at a critical moment of shifting balance at court.

Wightman, therefore, was batted back and forth like a shuttlecock between the spring and autumn of 1611 as James, Abbot and Neile pondered what to do and how his case might be best used for their own ends. In the first ten weeks of his imprisonment, Wightman was brought before the High Commission four times before being discharged uncondemned in mid-June 1611; after an initial burst of energy and concern, the court appears to have decided to take no immediate action against the accused heretic who remained imprisoned at the king's pleasure, ‘kept close prisoner with very strickt and extreme vsages’.94

At the end of the summer, however, Neile attempted a decisive move. After returning from progress with the king, on 4 September Neile again summoned Wightman into his presence and, according to Wightman, ‘told me that unlesse I did recant my opinions he would burne me at a stake in burton before Allholland day next’.95 Two points are worth noting here. First, if Wightman's account is to be believed, Neile at this stage took the initiative for the trial into his own hands, vowing that he, not the High Commission, would prosecute the case. Secondly, the timing of Neile's manoeuvre may be critical, for it came just five days after James had decided to take determined action against Vorstius, ordering his ambassador at the Hague to set the diplomatic wheels in motion to crush the German theologian.96 Neile was either acting on James's order, or, more likely, taking advantage of the king's immediate zeal against anti-Trinitarian heterodoxy to further his own political programme (or perhaps a combination of the two).

About a month later Abbot responded. He had Wightman brought before the High Commission once again, this time with Legate, probably in October 1611. Sir Edward Coke described the event as part of the archbishop's battle with him in the interminable war over prohibitions, but it was just as important for Abbot to have the heretics tried before the High Commission, where he might have a direct influence over the trials, rather than in the diocesan consistories, where they would be beyond his direct reach.97 In November, however, Wightman's trial in Lichfield began. Abbot had lost the battle over Wightman, as he was shortly to do in the similar case of Legate. Perhaps James did not wholly trust his archbishop with the trials of two men who had emerged out of godly circles. Legate's diocesan was a very different figure from Wightman's – the evangelical Calvinist Bishop John King of London, a man more congenial to Abbot's theology and style of churchmanship. King did indeed preside over Legate's trial, but interestingly, he did not do so alone. The special meeting of King's consistory which convicted Legate in February 1611/12 was bolstered by the presence of other bishops – Neile, Buckeridge and Lancelot Andrewes of Ely – and according to the sole known manuscript account of the proceedings, Neile claimed at the trial to be interrogating Legate ‘by commandement from the Kinge’. All of this suggests not merely that Neile, Andrewes and Buckeridge had been dispatched by James to stiffen Bishop King's resolve, but more generally that both cases were pushed forward by an incipient anti-Calvinist grouping within the church.98

Throughout his imprisonment, Wightman had been subjected to a series of conferences with learned divines. His disputants were a weighty line-up that included two bishops (Neile himself and Buckeridge of Rochester), a future archbishop (Laud, in 1611 president of St John's College, Oxford), a dean (Richard Clayton of Peterborough) and three prebendaries (Robert Newell of Lichfield, who was Neile's half-brother and his chief confidant; Christopher Sutton of Westminster, where Neile had been dean until the previous year; and Benjamin Carier of Canterbury).99 It was a roll call of what would, after Neile's elevation to the see of Durham in 1617, be known as the ‘Durham House group’, divines of an anti-Calvinist bent gathered under Neile's wing who formed the nucleus of the faction that would dominate the church's leadership in the next reign.100 Similarly, the personnel involved in Wightman's trial in Lichfield were all known for their strident anti-puritanism and their attachment to ecclesiastical order and obedience and many of them were not officials of the diocese but were ‘imported’ for the occasion, such as two of the eight clerics who preached in the cathedral against Wightman's errors on the final day of the trial: Laud and Richard Butler, archdeacon of Northampton.101 While the conferences failed to make Wightman see the error of his ways, they were a means of gathering evidence against both him and, crucially, Hildersham, whom Neile intended to prosecute as the fount of Wightman's errors.

If Wightman's arrest by an anti-Calvinist bishop was a function of historical accident, with Wightman making himself too obstreperous and too visible for the Burton godly to handle just weeks after the appointment of a controversial anti-puritan to the see of Coventry and Lichfield, Neile and his friends certainly sought to exploit the case as a weapon against the Midlands puritan community. Immediately on his appointment to Coventry and Lichfield, and before the Wightman case, Neile had apparently determined to harass the godly, procuring the king's order in January 1610/11 that the corporation of Coventry receive the sacrament kneeling, not sitting or standing.102 The Wightman case gave Neile the perfect opportunity to extend his campaign, and particularly to target Arthur Hildersham, the father of the Midlands godly who had frequently been in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities: he had been suspended in 1591 and 1605 (on both occasions he was restored after three years) and he had been before the High Commission in 1598.103 Neile was eager to prove that Wightman had learned his errors from Hildersham; he managed to make the king doubt Hildersham's orthodoxy sufficiently for James to order Bishop William Barlow of Lincoln to suspend Hildersham.

Tainted by Wightman and the doubts over Hildersham, the exercise at Burton, Ashby and Repton was stopped.104 Exercises and lectureships elsewhere came under suspicion: in Lincoln diocese that at Leicester was suspended in the late summer of 1611 while three others may also have been the victim of the same campaign.105 Owing to his drive against the puritans in the Midlands, Neile was in 1614 accused of a catalogue of crimes including putting down lectures and discouraging preaching.106 In godly circles it was remembered that Neile, in a ‘fierce and furious sort’, went about ‘a busseling and blustering’ so that ‘many were troubled’ by him, while Edward Vaughan hoped that he and the other godly of the diocese would be ‘more and more countenanced and comforted’ and ‘haue a more peaceable proceeding in our preaching’ under Neile's successor than under Neile.107 The republication in 1613 of a controversial sermon by Francis Holyoake should probably be placed in this context. Holyoake, rector of Southam in Warwickshire, and described by Ann Hughes as that county's ‘leading Arminian minister’ – he was later to publish a Latin–English dictionary that defined ‘Praedestinatiani’ as ‘A kinde of Heretiques’ – had preached strongly against puritan nonconformity, asserting that diversity of practice in worship confused ‘Some poore soules’, leading them into popery, atheism or ‘other heresies and schismes’. The sermon, which had apparently caused a storm of protest among the godly of Coventry where it was first preached, was edited for publication by Archdeacon Hinton, who also had a role in convicting Wightman.108

Finally, in Oxford about September 1612 another member of Neile's circle, John Howson, launched an attack on Socinianism but, unlike others who had linked the heresy with Arminianism, Howson connected anti-Trinitarianism with Calvinism, preaching against the glosses in the Geneva Bible which he claimed contained the seeds of Arianism. Clearly expecting his audience to think of Wightman and Legate, he embraced what he called ‘this occasion of this new spreadinge (not new springine) [of] Arianisme both att home, and abroad’ and lambasted ‘thes Puritan glossers’ who, in the Geneva Bible, ‘by false glosses, Translations, or Annotations [seek] to corrupt ye sence of ye holy scriptures, which concerne ye divinitie, or humanitie of our blessed saviour’. This, he averred, ‘is the highes steppe to ye Arian mountayne’. His tactic backfired, however: under counter-attack by Oxford Calvinists, including Henry Airay and Robert Abbot (the archbishop's brother), Howson was censured by the vice-chancellor.109 The attempt of the Neile group to use Wightman and Legate as sticks with which to beat the godly fizzled out and Calvinists and anti-Calvinists found new ground over which to fight,110 though some of the mud thrown by Neile against Hildersham stuck, for the claim that Wightman had learned his heresies from Hildersham was still recalled in the late 1640s.111

Wightman and Legate are chiefly remembered as the last persons burned at the stake for heresy in England; it was thus that their cases were noted by a number of writers in the wake of the 1689 Toleration Act.112 For this reason, it is tempting to see their tragedies as somehow marking a turning point, in which a rising tide of tolerationist sentiment finally eclipsed a brutal medieval practice. Yet their unenviable distinction was largely accidental: their deaths marked no major sea-change in thought. It is true that there was in England a minority opinion opposed to the execution of heretics.113 To some extent, this vein of sentiment may have been nurtured by the posturing of the post-Reformation state, which, for propagandistic purposes, had formally refrained from killing people for religious opinion, while elevating Foxe's martyrs to almost cultic status. As a result, only a handful of men and women had been burned for heresy after Elizabeth's accession in 1558, and it is possible that this relative decline in the practice, combined with the propaganda of the Protestant regime, may have effected something of a shift in opinion. Thomas Fuller seemed to assume as much when, looking back from the 1650s, he claimed that the burnings of Legate and Wightman ‘much startled the common people’ so that James decided that in the future heretics ‘should silently and privately waste themselves away in the prison’ rather than be subjected to risky public execution.114

Yet despite Fuller's assertion, all indications suggest that mainstream, élite opinion supported the executions. Not only the king was said to insist on the burnings. Others such as Andrewes supported James or joked about the burnings: the Roman Catholic newswriter Edward Bennett wished Wightman's fate on ‘all heretickes that will never repent’ and asked his correspondent ‘to pitty us who live amongest these combustious spirittes’.115 Nor were such sentiments limited to Catholics and supporters of prelacy. In the months that followed Wightman's execution, as the conforming puritan and future Presbyterian George Walker escalated his campaign against Anthony Wotton, Walker hinted that he believed Wotton's errors deserved death.116 After Wightman a number of religious radicals nearly met the same fate. Abbot was prepared to deal out the same sentence against William Sayer of Norfolk later in 1612, threatening ‘to frie him at a Stake’. Sayer escaped only because he wisely retracted his initial mutterings against the doctrine of the Trinity; under the terms of the Act of Supremacy, his crimes were thus judged as separatism, and not heresy against the three creeds and first four general councils.117 In 1639 John Trendall of Dover was arrested for heresy. The government dredged up the precedent of its treatment of Wightman and Neile wrote approvingly of the burnings of 1612 as having done ‘a great deale of good in this Church’, suggesting that ‘the present times do require like Exemplary punishment’. Only the privy council's preoccupation with the Scottish crisis saved Trendall.118 The downfall of the bishops and the abolition of the High Commission in 1640–2 removed the existing machinery for dealing with heresy, but many remained convinced that, in the words of Ephraim Pagitt, ‘such whose Heresies are blasphemous in doctrine, or dangerous to the State, deserve death’.119 New legislation in May 1648, an ‘ordinance for the punishing of blasphemies and heresies’, made espousal of anti-Trinitarianism, soul sleeping and other named heresies felonies punishable by hanging.

Opposition from Independents and sectaries, however, meant that the ordinance was never enforced.120 Only with the passage of an act in 1677 abolishing the death sentence for all ecclesiastical offences was Wightman's position as the last in the line of English heretics burned at the stake secured.121

It was largely political fortune and contingency, then, which handed Wightman his dubious honour. Yet this should not be a surprise, since it was the vicissitudes of political and polemical in-fighting which had brought him to the stake in the first place. Both Wightman and Legate were casualties of broad forces at work within church and state. They suffered their fate partly as a result of the king's own immediate priorities, and partly as a result of the clash between the Calvinist Abbot and the growing faction of court churchmen surrounding Neile, Buckeridge and Andrewes. Moreover, precisely because they were essentially super-radicalised puritans, possessed of typically godly associations, their cases were mobilised for polemical purposes that far transcended the very particular, not to say unique, opinions they had articulated. This was in many ways entirely unjust. Members of the godly community such as Hildersham had, after all, opposed Wightman's errors, and tried to convince him to relinquish them. Although the churchwardens of the town noted that he had a number of friends and ‘favourers’ in Burton, Wightman appears to have won no real converts, particularly once he entered his final phase as the new Elijah. To this extent, attempts to conflate Wightman with fellow members of the godly community were cynical and unwarranted.

Yet this article has also tried to demonstrate precisely how and why such a conflation was possible. As we have seen, even in trying to wean him from his errors, inveterate puritans such as Hildersham were tacitly acknowledging what was patently obvious to people like Neile and Buckeridge: that is, that Wightman was in a very real sense the progeny of the godly community whence he came. This study has sought to explore some of the ways in which that community, for all its commitment to order and orthodoxy, could and did produce so peculiar and radical a figure. It is a jarring, and in some ways, unfamiliar view of the godly community, but one that nevertheless does justice to certain facets of the culture of puritanism that have hitherto been ignored. In Wightman's life and career, we see a puritanism in which famous, university-trained ministers presided over exorcisms; solid puritan burghers, obsessed with order and godly reformation, gave credence to claims of both demonic and divine inhabitation; members of town élites indulged in forms of piety that were anything but orderly or decorous; learned and nationally acclaimed puritan ministers simultaneously cultivated coteries of devoted lay followers, while at the same time trying to control and contain the sometimes anarchic consequences of that same lay devotion; putatively orthodox and conformist godly devotees rubbed shoulders with and jousted with separatist and even heretical brethren in a private world that was effectively off-limits to outsiders. Only when these debates and devotional practices spiralled out of control, either reaching a fever pitch of spiritual enthusiasm and puritan self-congratulation (as in the case of Darling) or growing too wild-eyed and acrimonious (as in the case of Wightman) did they come to the attention of the broader world. At such moments, hostile elements within the ecclesiastical establishment could seize upon them and turn them against the godly, undermining the practices on offer within the godly community to contain and channel these disruptive tendencies, and providing radicalising fodder for members of the godly community who viewed such interventions as episcopal oppression. In one sense, then, the careers and public emergence of radicals such as Wightman were a consequence of the complicated dynamic between the godly and the authorities, in which long stretches of relative lenience were punctuated by fierce and sometimes humiliating instances of official repression. Viewed from another perspective – one that has been emphasised throughout this article, and one which would become all too clear after 1640 – it might well be argued that the godly community contained within itself all the components necessary to generate profoundly radical people and ideas. Viewed from this vantage point, Wightman looks less like a fabulous curiosity – and much more like a natural by-product of the culture of English puritanism.

Top Notes

1. Bodl[eian Library], ms Ashmole 1521 B(vii), [1a–1b], 1–43; Dr Williams's Library, Morrice ms J, fos 10, 12, 14, cited by permission of the Trustees of Dr Williams's Library (there is a microfilm of this manuscript in the Folger Library); A True Relation of the Commissions and Warrants for the Condemnation and Burning of Bartholomew Legatt and Thomas Withman (London, 1651): Wightman's name is correctly rendered on p. 7. The warrants in this last have often been reprinted, perhaps most accessibly in W. Cobbett and T. Howell, Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials (33 vols, London, 1809–26), ii, cols 727–38. The authors would like to thank Ann Hughes, Peter Lake and Michael Winship for their helpful comments on this paper, the members of seminars at Keele and the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies where earlier versions were aired, and Bob Dowling, John Coffey, Roger Pooley, Jane Tillier and Ron Wightman for their assistance.

2. M. Questier (ed.), Newsletters from the Archpresbyterate of George Birkhead (Camden, 5th series, 12, 1998), 153; National Archives (Public Record Office) [hereafter PRO], SP16/432/27iv, fos 63r–64v, calendared in C[alendar of] S[tate] P[apers,] D[omestic], 1639–40, 84–5. The date is given in John Chamberlain's newsletter: T. Birch (ed.), The Court and Times of James the First (2 vols, London, 1849), i, 163.

3. Questier, Newsletters, 153; CSPD, 1639–40, 84–5. The date of Wightman's execution has been variously rendered by historians, but is fixed as 11 April 1612 by William Neile, brother of Bishop Neile, in his almanac (Durham Dean and Chapter Library, ms Hunter 44/17, fo. 216v), and confirmed by J. Stow and E. Howes, The Abridgement of the English Chronicle (London, 1618), 531.

4. T. Crosby, History of the English Baptists (4 vols, London, 1738–40), i, 107–8; T. Lindsey, Apology (London, 1774), 48–52; T. Lindsey, An Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship (London, 1783), 272–[6]; W. Mountford, ‘Edward Wightman the Martyr’, Christian Pioneer, xvii (1843), 145–73; B. Mardon, ‘Burning of Edward Wightman’, The Christian Reformer, xi (1844), 99–103 (also 191, 343); R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography: Or Sketches of the Lives and Writings of Distinguished Antitrinitarians (3 vols, London, 1850), iii, 534–9, 565–8; [R. Spears], Memorable Unitarians, Being a Series of Brief Biographical Sketches (London, 1904), 25–6; A. W. Fox, Four English Unitarian Martyrs (London [1913]), 8–12.

5. W. Prynne, The Sword of Christian Magistracy Supported (London, 1647), 67, a reference we owe to John Coffey; Gentleman's Magazine, xxviii (1758), 162; A. G. Matthews, The Congregational Churches of Staffordshire (London [1924]), 12; W. H. Frere, The History of the English Church. V. The English Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I (London, 1904), 370.

6. C. Hill, ‘From Lollards to Levellers’, in M. Cornforth (ed.), Rebels and their Causes: Essays in Honour of A. L. Morton (London, 1978), 59, 60; A. Gordon, ‘Edward Wightman’, D[ictionary of] N[ational] B[iography] (London, 1908–9); W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England (4 vols, New Haven, 1932–40), ii, 49; P. Welsby, George Abbot: The Unwanted Archbishop, 1562–1633 (London, 1962), 47.

7. L[incolnshire] A[rchives] O[ffice], D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1–4. The documents were first recorded in 1852 at Lincoln Cathedral, and were deposited in the county record office in 1969 by the dean and chapter; we are grateful to Dr Mike Rogers, archivist at Lincolnshire Archives Office, for this information. They were first used by Ken Fincham: K. Fincham, Prelate as Pastor: The Episcopate of James I (Oxford, 1990), 334.

8. Bodl., ms Ashmole 1521 B(vii), [1a–1b], 1–43. It was first but briefly analysed in C. Burrage, The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550–1641) (2 vols, Cambridge, 1912), i, 217–20.

9. Many of the key players in the redefining of puritanism not as an opposition against the ‘Jacobethan’ church but as a key element, style, tendency or movement within the church have shifted their views subtly in the last three decades. See P. Lake, The Boxmaker's Revenge: ‘Orthodoxy’, ‘Heterodoxy’ and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London (Manchester, 2001), 11–16 for an attempt to characterise these shifting positions. See also P. Collinson, The Religion of Protestants (Oxford, 1982); P. Lake, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge, 1982); Fincham, Prelate as Pastor; T. Webster, Godly Clergy in Early Stuart England: The Caroline Puritan Movement, c. 1620–43 (Cambridge, 1997).

10. P. Lake and D. Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents: Dispute Settlement and the Production of "Consensus" in the London (Puritan) "Underground"’, Journal of British Studies, xxxix (January 2000), 34–70; Lake, Boxmaker's Revenge; D. Como and P. Lake, ‘Puritans, Antinomians and Laudians in Caroline London: The Strange Case of Peter Shaw and its Contexts’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, l (1999), 684–715; D. Como, ‘The Kingdom of Christ, the Kingdom of England, and the Kingdom of Traske: John Traske and the Persistence of Radical Puritanism in early Stuart England’, in M. C. McClendon, J. Ward and M. MacDonald (ed.), Protestant Identities: Religion, Society and Self-Fashioning in Post-Reformation England (Stanford, 1999), 63–82; D. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil-War England (Stanford, 2004).

11. Leicestershire Record Office, DE 3367/1 [fo. 1v]; Bodl., ms Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 16–17. The suggestion in the article on Edward Wightman in the O[xford] D[ictionary of] N[ational] B[iography] (Oxford, 2004) that he was baptised in 1580 at Hinckley is wrong.

12. S[taffordshire] R[ecord] O[ffice], D4219/1/1, marriage of 6 November 1553; D(W)1734/2/3/21b, 23.

13. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

14. William Salt Library, Stafford, MS 1/64/23.

15. Lichfield Record Office, B/C/11/Joan Walker (1557); A. Macdonald, A Short History of Repton (London, 1929), 86, 91, 244 (noting that the first headmaster of Repton was called Wightman, but speculating that he was the Thomas Wightman who graduated at Oxford in 1539). In 1590 it was said that Edward's father was John, late of Repton: W. G. D. Fletcher, ‘The Earliest Book of the Drapers' Company, Shrewsbury’, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 4th series, xi (1927), 145.

16. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

17. It is not clear whether any of the surviving papers from Wightman's trial are holograph, but one, dated 9 September 1611, may be: LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2.

18. Fletcher, ‘Earliest Book of the Drapers' Company, Shrewsbury’, 145; Shropshire Records and Research Centre, MS 1831/6/1, 314. The record of his apprenticeship has not survived in the Drapers' Company records. We are grateful to James Lawson and William Champion for much assistance with the Drapers' Company archive.

19. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r; SRO, Q/SR/77/24. Note that in the published edition of the Staffordshire quarter sessions rolls Wightman's place of residence is given as Norton; the original is worn at the crucial point, but the initial capital letter of the place can be made out as a B, and all the details fit the place being Burton: S. A. H. Burne (ed.), The Staffordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls, vol. iv, 1598–1602 (Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 1936), 296.

20. SRO, D(W)1734/3/3/268; D(W)1734/3/4/80, expenses account, 1573 [fo. 8v]; D(W)1734/3/3/276, fos 70–1; D(W) 1734/3/3/280; PRO, SP12/193, fo. 143.

21. SRO, D(W)1734/2/7/8, fo. 8; D(W)1734/3/3/280, 6–15 Aug. 1580; PRO, SP12/193, fo. 143; C. Harrison, ‘William Byrd and the Pagets of Beaudesert: A Musical Connection’, Staffordshire Studies, iii (1990–1), 54; Victoria County History of Staffordshire, iii, 99.

22. P. Collinson, ‘The Shearmen's Tree and the Preacher: The Strange Death of Merry England in Shrewsbury and Beyond’, in P. Collinson and J. Craig (ed.), The Reformation in English Towns, 1500–1640 (Basingstoke, 1998), 205–20; B. Coulton, ‘Implementing the Reformation in the Urban Community: Coventry and Shrewsbury 1559–1603’, Midland History, xxv (2000), 43–60.

23. SRO, D4219/1/1, marriage of 11 September 1593.

24. G. E. Cokayne, Complete Peerage (2nd edn, 14 vols in 15, London, 1910–98), x, 282; CSPD, 1581–90, 134; L. Hicks, An Elizabethan Problem: Some Aspects of the Careers of Two Exile-Adventurers (Oxford, 1964), 33–8; PRO, SP12/193, fo. 143v.

25. Victoria County History of Staffordshire, ix, 8–10, 25, 86, 90–1; C. Cross, The Puritan Earl: The Life of Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon (London, 1966).

26. PRO, E164/41, fo. 21; S. A. H. Burne (ed.), Staffordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls, vol. i, 1581–1589 (Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 1929), 317–18.

27. SRO, D4210/1/1, baptism of 17 November 1590 and burial of 14 December 1590; P. Stubbes, A Christal Glasse for Christian Women (London, 1592); DNB, s.n. Stubbes, Philip.

28. S. Harsnett, A Discovery of the Fravdvlent Practises of Iohn Darrel (London, 1599), 270–1, 293; P. Collinson, ‘Lectures by Combination: Structures and Characteristics of Church Life in Seventeenth-Century England’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xlviii (1975), 197; S. Clarke, The Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines (London, 1677), 43, 51.

29. [J. Bee], The Most Wonderfull and True Storie, of a Certaine Witch named Alse Gooderige of Stapenhill (London, 1597); Harsnett, Discovery; J. Darrell, A Detection of that Sinnfvl, Shamfvl, Lying, and Ridicvlovs Discovrs, of Samvel Harshnet (n.p., 1600).

30. D. P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries (London, 1981), 56; CSPD, 1601–3, 292–3, 300; J. Bruce (ed.), Diary of John Manningham (Camden Society, 1st series, 99, 1868), 169; H. Foley (ed.), Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (7 vols in 8, London, 1875–83), i, 18–19.

31. C. L. Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism (London, 1933), esp. 176–81; C. Hole, Witchcraft in England (London, 1945), 78–80; C. H. Rickert, The Case of John Darrell, Minister and Exorcist (Gainesville, Florida, 1962), 10–18; B. Rosen (ed.), Witchcraft (London, 1969), 300–2; K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth, 1973), 576–80; Walker, Unclean Spirits, 52–6; F. W. Brownlow, Shakespeare, Harsnett, and the Devils of Denham (Newark, Delaware, 1993); M. Gibson, ‘"Now the Witch is Dead": A Study of a Narrative of Witchcraft on the Staffordshire–Derbyshire Border’, Staffordshire Studies, ix (1997), 9–17; T. Freeman, ‘Demons, Deviance and Defiance: John Darrell and the Politics of Exorcism in late Elizabethan England’, in P. Lake and M. Questier (ed.), Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church, c. 1560–1660 (Woodbridge, 2000), 34–63.

32. [Bee], True Storie, 25–6.

33. Harsnett, Discovery, 265–7; [Bee], True Storie, 3, 37.

34. [Bee], True Storie, 35, copy in Lambeth Palace Library, bound with other tracts concerning witchcraft in a volume with the initials R.B., pressmark PB.1597.15. The annotator was probably Richard Bancroft, his chaplain Samuel Harsnett or one of their clerks, who questioned Darling as part of their investigation of Darrell in 1598–9. We are grateful to Melanie Barber and Christina Mackwell of Lambeth Palace Library for advice on the identification of the annotator.

35. Darrell, Detection, 265; Walker, Unclean Spirits, 52.

36. The names of those mentioned in connection with the cases of Darling and Goodridge can be compared with the following: SRO, D(W)1734/2/3/13, fo. 1r; D(W)1734/2/3/16; D(W)1734/2/3/19; PRO, E179/178/219, rot. 1, E179/178/248, rot. 1, E179/178/256, rot. 1, E179/178/281, rot. 1; C. Owen, Burton upon Trent: The Illustrated History (Derby, 1994), 42–5.

37. [J. Darrell], The Triall of Maist. Dorrell ([Middelburg], 1599), 55; [Bee], True Storie, 1.

38. Harsnett, Discovery, 290.

39. A. Walsham, ‘"Frantick Hacket": Prophecy, Sorcery, Insanity, and the Elizabethan Puritan Movement’, Historical Journal, xli (1998), 27–66.

40. [Bee], True Storie, 26.

41. J. Darrell, The Replie of Iohn Darrell (n.p., 1602), sig. A2v; Freeman, ‘Demons, Deviance and Defiance’, 46, 55, though Freeman thinks that the contest between Darrell and his opponents ended in a draw.

42. See Como, Blown by the Spirit, ch. 5.

43. SRO, Q/SR/92/67, m. 1; LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

44. See J. Walter, Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers (Cambridge, 1998), 249, for comments on the relationship between harvest failure and the cloth trade.

45. LAO, D & Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r; SRO, Q/SR/77/24. Ferrers died on 8 and was buried on 9 January 1607/8: SRO, D5368/2/6; C. F. Palmer, The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth (Tamworth, 1845), 365. He had a house at Walton-on-Trent, four miles south of Burton: Tamworth Castle Museum, Ferrers Papers, no. 51.

46. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

47. SRO, Q/SR/92/67, m. 1; Q/SR/116/86; Darrell, Detection, 184; Owen, Burton, 42–3.

48. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1; S. Clarke, The Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines (London, 1660), 144–56.

49. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1. For Aberley see M. W. Greenslade, ‘The 1607 Return of Staffordshire Catholics’, Staffordshire Catholic History, iv (1963–4), 6–32; Clarke, Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines, 147.

50. Lake, Boxmaker's Revenge, 218–57; Lake and Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents’.

51. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r; Clarke, Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines, 147–8. For Presse see J. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1500–1751 (4 vols, Oxford, 1891–2), iii, 1199, and S. Presse, A Sermon Preached at Egginton (Oxford, 1597). Presse was rector of Egginton from c. 1590 until his death in February 1611/12: Derbyshire Record Office, D840 A/PI 1.
52. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

53. N. T. Burns, Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), 16–18.

54. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 17.

55. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

56. Lichfield Record Office, B/C/3/10–11. The claim in J. Weever, Ancient Fvnerall Monvments (London, 1631), 55, that Wightman ‘had his followers’ may result from a conflation of the cases of Wightman and Legate.

57. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 1, 15; Articles to be Enquired of within the Diocese of Couentrie and Litchfielde (London, 1610[11]); there is a copy in Archbishop Marsh's Library, Dublin. Neile left London for Lichfield on 12 February and returned on 9 March: Durham Dean and Chapter Library, MS Hunter 44/17, fo. 216r.

58. SRO, D4219/7/2. The warrant is undated but instructs the constables to bring Wightman before the bishop on Tuesday 4 March. The date presents some problems, as 4 March 1610/11 was a Monday, so the bishop probably meant 5 March, shortly before he departed for London: Durham Dean and Chapter Library, MS Hunter 44/17, fo. 216r.

59. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 2–3. He also sent ‘the lord Archbysshope’ (probably George Abbot, of Canterbury) ‘an other’ book (it is not clear whether this was different from that delivered to Wotton and the king), ‘besydes other odd papers’, said to be at least 40 sheets of paper in all: LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2.

60. B. W. Quintrell, ‘The Royal Hunt and the Puritans, 1604–5’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xxi (1986), 41–58; A. Bellany, ‘A Poem on the Archbishop's Hearse: Puritanism, Libel, and Sedition after the Hampton Court Conference’, Journal of British Studies, xxxiv (1995), 140–1.

61. F. Shriver, ‘Orthodoxy and Diplomacy: James I and the Vorstius Affair’, ante, lxxxv (1970), 453–4; James VI and I, The Workes of the Most High and Mightie Prince, Iames by the Grace of God, King of Great Britaine (London, 1616), 302.

62. Bodl., MS. Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 8. It is not clear why he chose the label ‘Nicolaitans’. The Nicolaitans are mentioned in Revelation 2:6 and 2:15 as a heretical group who apparently taught that Christians could eat meat offered to idols and practise sexual immorality, and of whom the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum are warned. The Church Fathers (notably Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius) added little to this understanding of the group, beyond seeing the Nicolaitans as libertines or antinomians, and it was this view which prevailed after the Reformation: the 1599 notes to the Geneva Bible described the Nicolaitans as ‘heretikes which held that wiues should be common’. Perhaps it was the forthright condemnation of the group in the Bible (where Jesus says that he hates the doctrine of the Nicolaitans) which led Wightman to his unusual position of labelling the three creeds as the heresies of the Nicolaitans. It is notable that on the very page of the Geneva Bible that the Nicolaitans are condemned are echoes of two more of Wightman's ideas: the sleep of the first death and his refutation of Jesus's divinity. It is almost as if Wightman has creatively read (or misread) that page, which begins with the abhorrence of ‘the workes of the Nicolaitans’ so that everything which follows in the text or the notes is also condemned as if it were a part of the Nicolaitan heresy. A. von Harnack, ‘The Sect of the Nicolaitans and Nicolaus, the Deacon in Jerusalem’, Journal of Religion, iii (1923), 413–22; W. Perkins, A Godly and Learned Exposition or Commentarie vpon the three first Chapters of the Reuelation (London, 1606), 93; J. Durham, A Commentarie upon the Book of the Revelation (London, 1658), 78–80; The Bible (London, 1599), sig. Zzziiiv (STC 2173).

63. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 8–9, 23. Wightman's opposition to paedobaptism did not prevent the baptism of seven of his children between 1594 and 1611: SRO, D4219/1/1.

64. Burns, Christian Mortalism, 120, 123; J. Payne, Royall Exchange (Haarlem, 1597), 21–3, 45–7.

65. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 5, 10–11, 19.

66. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 6. In the record of the trial proceedings all Biblical citations are paraphrases; here the quotations are from the Authorised or King James version of 1611.

67. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, 4.

68. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/4.

69. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/4; D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, fo. 1r.

70. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/3.

71. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 5. According to W. Burton, The Description of Leicester Shire (London [1622]), 307, Wightman had maintained that the Holy Ghost was a creature ‘different from God’, whose ‘essence’ was ‘corporeall and visible, yet transparent and tra[ns]lusent’. Burton lived at Fauld, only five miles from Burton-upon-Trent, and so may have met Wightman or those who knew him.

72. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/4.

73. H. Barrow, A Brief Discoverie of the False Church (n.p., 1590), 13.

74. Barrow, Brief Discoverie, 115.

75. For the Legates, see D. Como, ‘Bartholomew Legate’, ODNB; M. McIntosh, A Community Transformed: The Manor and Liberty of Havering, 1500–1620 (Cambridge, 1991).

76. H. Clapham, Antidoton: Or a Soveraigne Remedie Against Schisme and Heresie (London, 1600), 33.

77. H. Clapham, Errour on the Right Hand (London, 1608), 29.

78. Edmund Jessop [John Etherington?], A Discovery of the Errors of the English Anabaptists (London, 1623), 76–7. On the authorship of this book see C. Marsh, The Family of Love in English Society, 1550–1630 (Cambridge, 1994), 239–40.

79. Clapham, Right Hand, 43–5.

80. T. Gataker, An Answer to George Walker's Vindication (London, 1642), 38–9.

81. A. Wotton, Sermons upon a part of the first Chap. of the Gospell of S. John (London, 1609), 29–30, 41, 45, 55, 58, 78, 80, 93, 94, 114–18, 152–4, 178–9.

82. Lake and Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents’.

83. J. Coffey, Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England 1558–1689 (Harlow, 2000), 99–102.
84. PRO, PRO31/3/44, fo. 93r; T. Fuller, The Church History of Britain (3 vols, London, 1837), iii, 252–4.

85. Shriver, ‘Vorstius Affair’, 449–74.

86. I. Casaubon, The Ansvvere of Master Isaac Casaubon to the Epistle of the Most Reuerend Cardinall Peron (London, 1612), 4.

87. H. F. Brown (ed.), Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts relating to English Affairs, existing in the Archives and Collections of Venice, 1610–1613 (London, 1905), 294.
88. Fuller, Church History, iii, 252–4; Birch, Court and Times of James the First, i, 136; F. Pollock, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (2nd edn, 2 vols, Cambridge, 1911), ii, 551–2; W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law (6th edn, 16 vols, London, 1938–65), i, 616–19. The first Lollard to be burned, William Sawtre, was in fact executed two weeks before the passing of the 1401 Act.

89. Huntington Library, EL 2183–4, transcribed in J. P. Collier (ed.), The Egerton Papers (Camden Society, 1st series, vol. xii, 1840), 447–8; E. Coke, The Twelfth Part of the Reports (London, 1656), 93; E. Coke, The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (London, 1660), 39–40.
90. See L. Peck, Northampton: Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I (London, 1982), 30–1.

91. Welsby, George Abbot, 43.

92. N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590–1640 (Oxford, 1990), 68–9; CSPD, 1611–18, 33, 43, 75; H. R. Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573–1645 (London: Macmillan, 1940; 2nd edition, 1962), 48–9; for Neile's role in approaching James to secure the position for Laud, see Lambeth Palace Library MS 943, fo. 59r.

93. K. Fincham (ed.), Visitation Articles and Injunctions of the Early Stuart Church (2 vols, Church of England Record Society, 1, 5, 1994–8), i, 98–9; Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 219.

94. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, fo. 1r. The records of Wightman's investigation before the High Commission have disappeared; like most of the court's papers they were probably destroyed during the civil wars: R. G. Usher, The Rise and Fall of the High Commission (Oxford, 1913), 367–71.

95. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, fo. 1r.

96. Shriver, ‘Vorstius Affair’, 455.

97. Coke, Twelfth Part of the Reports, 88–9. Coke wrongly calls the archbishop Bancroft, but the date and circumstances fit with Abbot's archiepiscopate. S. R. Gardiner, History of England from the Accession of James I to the Outbreak of the Civil War, 1603–42 (10 vols, London, 1883–4), ii, 122–4, follows Coke in placing the events in the context of prohibitions.

98. G. Roberts (ed.), Diary of Walter Yonge (Camden Society, 1st series, 41, 1848), 25–6.; British Library, Harl.Ms 3795, fo.51.

99. CSPD, 1639–40, 84; LAO, D & C Ciij/13/2/2/3; Dr Williams's Library, Morrice MS J, fos 10, 12, 14. For all these see DNB. For Clayton's links with the Neile circle see CSPD, 1603–10, 526.

100. A. Foster, ‘A Biography of Archbishop Richard Neile (1562–1640)’ (D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 1978), 66, 212–20, 310. Clayton died in 1612 and Carier converted to Rome in 1613 and died shortly thereafter: M. Questier, ‘Crypto-Catholicism, Anti-Calvinism and Conversion at the Jacobean Court: The Enigma of Benjamin Carier’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xli (1996), 45–64.

101. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 29–30; CSPD, 1639–40, 84. For Butler's ‘proto-Arminian’ views, his conformist drive and his links, through St John's College, Oxford, with Neile, see J. Fielding, ‘Arminianism in the Localities: Peterborough Diocese, 1603–1642’, in K. Fincham (ed.), The Early Stuart Church, 1603–1642 (Basingstoke, 1993), 95, 97–9.
102. Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 239; W. Dugdale, The Antiquities of Warwickshire (2 vols, London, 1730), i, 151. Dr Williams's Library, Morrice MS J, fo.10, shows that Neile's target in 1611 was Hildersham.

103. W. Scott, The Story of Ashby-de-la-Zouch (Ashby, 1907), 367–9; C. W. Foster (ed.), The State of the Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I as Illustrated by Documents relating to the Diocese of Lincoln, vol. I (Lincolnshire Record Society, 23, 1926), 363–6.

104. Huntington Library, Hastings Correspondence, Box 7: HA 2 and HA 408, calendared in Historical Manuscripts Commission, 78, Report on the Manuscripts of the late Reginald Rawdon Hastings (4 vols, London, 1928–47), ii, 54–5; Scott, Ashby, 370–1.

105. H. Stocks (ed.), Records of the Borough of Leicester, 1603–1688 (Cambridge, 1923), 115. At some point between 1608 and 1613 Barlow closed lectureships at Aylesbury and Huntingdon, and refused to allow a lectureship to be established at Sleaford: E. Venables, ‘The Primary Visitation of the Diocese of Lincoln by Bishop Neile, A.D. 1614’, Associated Architectural Societies' Reports and Papers, xvi (1881), 44.

106. M. Jansson (ed.), Proceedings in Parliament 1614 (House of Commons) (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, vol. 172, 1988), 339–88, 396–412.

107. Clarke, Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines, 48; E. Vaughan, A Plaine and Perfect Method (London, 1617), sig. A4. For a different view that underplays the severity of Neile's attack on the godly, see Foster, ‘Archbishop Richard Neile’, 74–5.

108. F. Holyoake, A Sermon of Obedience especially vnto Authoritie Ecclesiasticall (Oxford, 1610, republished Oxford, 1613); A. Hughes, Politics, Society and Civil War in Warwickshire, 1620–1660 (Cambridge, 1987), 67–9; F. Holyoake, Dictionarium Etymologicum Latinum (London, 1640), sig. Aaaa2r.

109. N. Cranfield and K. Fincham (ed.), ‘John Howson's Answers to Archbishop Abbot's Accusations at his "Trial" before James I at Greenwich, 10 June 1615’, Camden Miscellany, xxix (Camden, 4th series, 34, 1987), 320–2; Bodl. MS Rawlinson D. 320, fos 46–65v; Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 69 (which places Howson's sermon in a different context).

110. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 70, 72–4.

111. J. Cotton, The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared (London, 1648), 39, a reference we owe to Ann Hughes.

112. G. Croese, The General History of the Quakers (London, 1696), ii, 193; E. S. De Beer (ed.), The Correspondence of John Locke (8 vols, Oxford, 1976–89), vi, nos. 2621, 2631, 2653; Truth brought to Light: Or, the History of the First 14 Years of King James (London, 1692).
113. PRO, PRO31/3/44, fo. 93r; T. Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity ([?Amsterdam], 1612).

114. Fuller, Church History, ii, 506–8. His claim rests on James's treatment of a Spanish or Portuguese Cistercian monk condemned in 1618 to be burned for blasphemous heresy but whose sentence was suspended and who spent the rest of his days in Newgate. In this case, however, the king's actions owed more to a thaw in his private attitude to Roman Catholics in connection with the Spanish match than to any feelings about the impropriety or inadvisability of burning heretics. CSPD, 1611–18, 522, 525–7; A. J. Loomie, ‘Bacon and Gondomar: An Unknown Link in 1618’, in A. J. Loomie (ed.), Spain and the Early Stuarts 1585–1655 (Aldershot, 1996), ch. 10.

115. F. Higham, Lancelot Andrewes (London, 1952), 63; Questier, Newsletters, 153, 155. Jordan's claims that the burnings of Legate and Wightman were ‘vigorously condemned by every writer who dealt with the case’ and that their execution ‘enjoyed no support in the public conscience of England in 1612’ (Religious Toleration, iv, 478) cannot be reconciled with the evidence.
116. Lake and Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents’.

117. Burrage, Early English Dissenters, ii, 169–71.

118. CSPD, 1639–40, 80–5; PRO, PC2/50, fos 271v, 279, 281, 296r; PRO, SP16/427, fo. 180r.

119. E. Pagitt, Heresiography, or a Discription of the Heretickes and Sectaries sprang up in these Latter Times (4th edn, London, 1647), sig. B2v.

120. C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait (ed.), Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660 (3 vols, London, 1911), i, 1133–6; H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 1951), 163–217.

121. 29 Charles II c. 9. In Scotland, however, the death penalty remained and the last person executed for blasphemy or heresy was Thomas Aikenhead, hanged in Edinburgh in January 1696/7 for denying the Trinity: DNB. Burning at the stake, meanwhile, remained on the statute book in England until 1790 as the punishment for a woman who murdered her husband, and it was occasionally used in the eighteenth century: 30 George III c. 48; Gentleman's Magazine, xliii (1773), 461.