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The Covenantal Quietism of Tobias Crisp1

  • David Parnham (a1)

Extract

As England's public upheavals of the mid-seventeenth century were turning ominous, the antinomian preacher Tobias Crisp set his own stamp upon tempestuous times. Christ Alone Exalted comprises a series of sermons that Crisp delivered, “in or neare London,” in the early 1640s. The collection oozes discontent. Excrescences theological and devotional, Crisp had decided, needed to be removed, for they were imperiling vulnerable souls. Christian truths were now contending with “brethren” too smitten by the “righteousnesse of the Law” to stand in any but an adversarial relationship with “the free grace of God which is by faith.” Crisp offered a reparative blade. He repaired by cutting and thrusting, and in so doing sought to make amends for a host of puritan horrors. And for all the quietism that informed his alternative covenantal vision, Crisp did not operate softly. He had targets in his sights; he would dislodge from its place of security in the hearts and minds of the brethren a world of religious thought and action. The seethingly indignant responses of his critics testify to the bang with which Crisp had arrived. Crisp delivered a combustible mix of acrid polemic and nonconforming theology. He let it be known that an overly legalized soteriology had precipitated a pandemic of religious troubles; a desiccated, formulaic piety was smothering the spiritual life out of the gospel message. In short, Crisp was issuing a vigorous challenge to the legitimacy of a pietistic tradition that was overly elaborated and destructive of souls.

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2. Crisp, Tobias, Christ Alone Exalted; in Seventeene Sermons: Preached in or neare London, by the Late Reverend Tobias Crisp Doctor in Divinity, and Faithful Pastor of Brinkworth in Wiltshire (London: n.p., 1643), 455 (Hereafter cited as Christ Alone, with occasional irregular pagination silently corrected).

3. Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 198, 204–5; Como, David R., Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil-War England (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004), 6364, 70, 445–46, and passim. See also Hill, Christopher, Collected Essays (Sussex: Harvester, 1986), vol. 2, chap. 9.

4. On bellies bearing antinomians (as well as popes), see Burgess, Anthony, Vindiciae Legis: Or, a Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants from the Errours of Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and More Especially, Antinomians (London: Thomas Underhill, 1647), 48; also quoted in McGiffert, Michael, “The Perkinsian Moment of Federal Theology,” Calvin Theological journal 29 (1994): 134.

5. Crisp, as Lamont put it, “provided the intellectual crutch for a Coppe.” Lamont, William M., Richard Baxter and the Millennium: Protestant Imperialism in the English Revolution (London: Croom Helm, 1979), 135, also 140. For a sensitive rehabilitation of Coppe, see Davis, J. C., Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), esp. 48–57. And for Coppe as antinomian illuminist, see Smith, Nigel, Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), esp. 54–65, 9091.

6. Lamont, William, “Pamphleteering, the Protestant Consensus and the English Revolution,” in Freedom and the English Revolution: Essays in History and Literature, ed. Richardson, R. C. and Ridden, G. M. (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1986), 79.

7. Important studies of Rutherford, and Edwards, are Coffey, John, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Hughes, Ann, Gangraena and the Struggle for the English Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

8. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 382, 449; Crisp, Tobias, Christ Alone Exalted: Being the Compleat Works of Tobias Crisp, D.D. Containing XLII. Sermons, on Several Select Texts of Scriptures: Which Were Formerly Printed in Three Small Volumes, by That Late Eminent and Faithful Dispenser of God's Word: Who Was Sometime Minister at Brinkworth in Wiltshire; and Afterward Many of the Sermons Were Preached in and about London (London: William Marshal, 1690), 116, 118, 122 (Hereafter cited as Compleat Works).

9. Bedford, Thomas, An Examination of the Chief Points of Antinomianism (London: Philemon Stephens, 1647), 33.

10. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 522–23; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 115, 557–58.

11. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 273.

12. See, for example, ibid., 328–31.

13. Ibid., 245–54, and also, on the “elect” status of the redeemed and the prevenient divine action that election enables, see 64, 78, 97–100, 111, 213, 258–59, 267, 270, 272–77, 293–94, 328–31.

14. Ibid., 64, 78, 98, 251–55, 258–59.

15. Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939; repr., 1954), 5556.

16. Kaufman, Peter Iver, Prayer, Despair, and Drama: Elizabethan Introspection (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 21, 41, 121–22.

17. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 132.

18. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 455, 423; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 108, 126. John Eaton drew out the affront that a Mosaic renaissance was posing to “the voice of the Gospel”: “Moses with his Law is a severe exactor, requiring of us by feare, and hope of reward, what we should work, and that we should give: briefly it requireth by precepts, and exacteth threatenings: Contrariwise, the Gospel giveth freely, and requireth of us nothing else, but to hold out our hands, and to take that which is offered.” Eaton, , The Honey-Combe of Free Justification by Christ Alone (London: Robert Lancaster, 1642), 83.

19. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 185.

20. Ibid., 455. Crisp could be quite explicit about the need for fidelity to principles: “All men receive this principle, that the promises of the Gospel are the objects or grounds of mens believing, and the promises of the Gospell are nothing else but the free grant of God to men, of his own accord, for his own sake; now to turne the free grace of God granted unto men into the righteousnesse we performe in ourselves … the ground of our faith, what is this but to destroy the life of our faith, and so it must needs bee a faith indeed?” ibid., 521.

21. Ibid., 29–30; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 6, 13, 2324, 34, 50, 96, 104, 108, 137.

22. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 4, 2627, 435.

23. Ibid., 421, 24; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 84, 91.

24. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 134–35.

25. Crisp, , Christ Alone, sermon 1, passim.

26. Sibbes, Richard, Works, ed. Alexander, Grosart (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 18621864), 3:1819.

27. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 493–94, 403–4, 431, 449, 455, also 386–87, 391–92, 394, 409–10, sermon 15, passim, 490–91, 513; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 129–35, 140, 146.

28. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 460–63; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 4, 1314, 116–23, 153–54.

29. Rutherford, Samuel, A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist (London: Andrew Crooke, 1648), pt. 1, 193.

30. Sibbes, , Works, 3:3739, 19.

31. Preston, John, A Heavenly Treatise of the Divine Love of Christ (London: n.p., 1646), 9.

32. Preston, John, The Saints Qualification (London: N. Bourne, 1633), 3; Preston, John, The New Covenant, or, the Saints Portion (1st ed. 1629; London: Nicolas Bourn, 1655), 166.

33. Ball, John, A Treatise of Faith (London: E. Brewster, 1637), 132.

34. Sibbes, , Works, 5:243.

35. Preston, John, The Churches Carriage or Duty (London: N. Bourne, 1638), 139.

36. Sibbes, , Works, 3:443; 1:87.

37. Preston, John, Sins Overthrow: Or, a Godly and Learned Treatise of Mortification (London: A. Crooke, 1633), 6, 39; Preston, John, An Abridgement of Dr. Preston's Works (London: Nicholas Bourn, 1648), 700; Sibbes, , Works, 5:368–69; Perkins, William, The Works of that Famous Worthie Minister of Christ, in the Universitie of Cambridge, M. W. Perkins (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1608), 1:84.

38. Preston, , Sins Overthrow, 38; Preston, , New Covenant, 189, 286–87, 294; Preston, , Abridgement, 741; Preston, John, The New Creature: Or a Tratise [sic] of Sanctification (London: N. Bourne, 1633), 67; Preston, John, Remaines of that Reverend and Learned Divine, John Preston (London: A. Crooke, 1637), 146–48.

39. See, for identification and analysis of Perkinsian federalism, McGiffert, “Perkinsian Moment,” 117–48. On regeneration and the nonviolation of faculties, see, for example, Sibbes, , Works, 1:87; 2:332; 4:224–27; Ball, , Treatise of Faith, 1112, 16, 137–38; Perkins, , Works, 1:15, 551, 653, 703–4, 715–21; 2:353, 704–7; 3:210–11.

40. Preston, , New Covenant, 103.

41. Preston, John, The Position of John Preston Concerning the Irresistiblenesse of Converting Grace (London: Nath. Webb and Will. Grantham, 1654), 11, 13; Preston, , New Creature, 32, 6162; Preston, , Remaines, 148; Preston, , Abridgement, 692–93; Preston, , New Covenant, 276–78, 286–87; Preston, John, The Breast-Plate of Faith and Love (London: N. Bourne, 1630), 27, 40.

42. Preston, , Sins Overthrow, 56, 40; Preston, , Breast-Plate of Faith and Love, 38.

43. Preston, , Churches Carriage, 7677.

44. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 1, 380; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 137.

45. For “comfort” and “joy,” see, for example, Crisp, , Christ Alone, 233, 284, 292, 308, 338, 359, 381–89; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 27, 5152, 124.

46. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 65, 25, 53.

47. Though see ibid., 12–13, 46, 82.

48. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 98, and throughout Crisp's sermons.

49. Ibid., 291, 414–18.

50. Ibid., 280; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 511, 83, 97.

51. See Parnham, David, “The Humbling of ‘High Presumption’: Tobias Crisp Dismantles the Puritan Ordo Salutis,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 56 (2005): 5074.

52. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 50, 324.

53. Ibid., 88–89, 360–61, 399, 410–12, 422–24, 426; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 33, 4344, 9596, 103, 106, 122–23, 166.

54. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 113–14, 141, 149, 286–87, 411–12.

55. Ibid., 207.

56. Ibid., 219.

57. Ibid., 99, 384.

58. Ibid., 137, 141.

59. Ibid., 50, 52; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 73.

60. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 5758.

61. Ibid., 66.

62. Ibid., 22.

63. See, esp., McGiffert, , “Perkinsian Moment,” and the following articles by him: “The Problem of the Covenant in Puritan Thought: Peter Bulkeley's Gospel-Covenant,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 130 (1976): 107–29; “Grace and Works: The Rise and Division of Covenant Divinity in Elizabethan Puritanism,” Harvard Theological Review 75 (1982): 463502; “From Moses to Adam: The Making of the Covenant of Works,” Sixteenth Century Journal 19 (1988): 129–55; Greaves, Richard L., “The Origins and Early Development of English Covenant Thought,” The Historian 31 (1968): 2135; Coolidge, John S., The Pauline Renaissance in England: Puritanism and the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970); Stoever, William K. B., “A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven”: Covenant Theology and Antinomianism in Early Massachusetts (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1978); von Rohr, John, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars, 1986); Cohen, Charles Lloyd, God's Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, “Federal Theology and the ‘National Covenant’: An Elizabethan Presbyterian Case Study,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 61 (1992): 394407; Knight, Janice, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994). Still to be read with profit are Perry Miller's seminal writings on covenant theology.

64. Bozeman, Precisianist Strain. Como's puritans, too, are cut from preponderantly rigorist Mosaic/Pauline cloth: Blown by the Spirit, esp. 117–37. See also Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, “The Glory of the ‘Third Time’: John Eaton as Contra-Puritan,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 47 (1996): 638–54; Winship, Michael P., “Weak Christians, Backsliders, and Carnal Gospelers: Assurance of Salvation and the Pastoral Origins of Puritan Practical Divinity in the 1580s,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 70 (2001): 462–81.

65. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 87.

66. Ibid., 35, 21–22, 108.

67. Crisp tended to shift the covenant of works back to Eden, but its polemical salience was not easily resistible by a dichotomizing mind: “Either we are the Ministers and Messengers of Christ, or the Ministers of Moses; we are either the Ministers of the Covenant of Works, or the Messengers of the Covenant of Grace”: ibid., 155.

68. Sibbes, , Works, 1:7980.

69. Preston, , New Covenant, 103; Preston, John, The Churches Marriage; or, Dignitie (London: N. Bourne, 1639), 34.

70. Preston, John, The Doctrine of the Saints Infirmities (London: H. Taunton, 1638), 56. See also Cohen, , God's Caress, 78.

71. Ball, , Treatise of Faith, 375.

72. Ball, John, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London: Edward Brewster, 1645), 155.

73. Sibbes, , Works, 3:394, also 1:58; 3:17, 433, 442, 521; 4:122; 5:18, 342, 347; 6:4, 19, 542; 7:483.

74. Ibid., 3:442.

75. Ibid., 2:332.

76. Ball, , Treatise of Faith, 12.

77. As Perkins announced, faith and good works are not the causes, but rather “the fruites and effects of Gods election. Paul saith, he hath chosen us, not because hee did foresee that we would become holy, but that we might be holy.” Perkins, , Works, 1:287.

78. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 189.

79. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 9899, 612–13; Bakewell, Thomas, The Antinomians Christ Confounded, and the Lords Christ Exalted (London: Thomas Bankes, 1644), 35; Blake, Thomas, The Covenant Sealed (London: Abel Roper, 1655), 447. See also Burgess, , Vindiciae Legis, 84, 100; Geree, Stephen, The Doctrine of the Antinomians by Evidence of Gods Truth, Plainely Confuted (London: H. Blunden, 1644), 107–10; Blake, Thomas, Vindiciae Foederis (London: Abel Roper, 1653), 87; Stoever, , “Faire and Easie Way,” 144–45; Rohr, von, Covenant of Grace, 135–37.

80. McGiffert, , “Perkinsian Moment,” 135–36.

81. Preston, , Churches Marriage, 11.

82. See Parnham, “Humbling.”

83. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 63, 65.

84. Ibid., 443, 431–32.

85. Ibid., 460, also 490.

86. Ibid., 15.

87. See, for example, ibid., 236–37.

88. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 81.

89. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 45, and sermon 2, passim.

90. Ibid., 380, 423–27. Crisp cites Revelation 22:17 and John 6:37.

91. Ibid., 420.

92. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 3839, 8184, 136.

93. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 5860, also 199, 291, 476; Crisp, , Compleat Works, sermons 67, passim.

94. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 42, 8283, 8687, 90.

95. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 236. See also 64–65, on the “bitternesse” and “disquieting” that the “dust of sinne” occasions Perkinsian spirits and consciences.

96. Ibid., 14.

97. Ibid., 419; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 94.

98. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 399; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 43.

99. Crisp's assimilation of gratuitous and covenantal themes bears out his puritan credentials, and the vehemence of his hostility to rigorist ways suggests a rejection of core values that he had long carried with him—a repudiation of an ideological provenance in which he himself had been shaped. Crisp illustrates McGiffert's observation that antinomianism flowed from the puritan heart “as its characteristic and defining heresy”: McGiffert, “Perkinsian Moment,” 131. Como places Crisp within an antinomian network that he shows, brilliantly and exhaustively, to have emanated from the culture of early Stuart puritanism (see note 3 above).

100. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 27, 435.

101. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 54: “there is not one work [a man] doth, but he commits sin in it.”

102. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 52, 198; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 84. This is where Bozeman seems to misrepresent Crisp. If, as Bozeman suggests, Crispian faith is a “medium of certainty” by virtue of its capacity to “join to Christ” (Precisianist Strain, 269), it would follow that the subject of that faith was discharging the secondary, instrumental causality in a condition-meeting scenario that Crisp was interested only in abandoning.

103. See, for example, Crisp, , Christ Alone, 266–67, 497, 506, 514–15.

104. Ibid., 466, 475, also 457–522; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 169, 578.

105. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 394–95.

106. Ibid., 61.

107. Sibbes, , Works, 3:470, 472–73.

108. Ibid., 3:444; 4:130.

109. Ibid., 4:135.

110. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 6.

111. Sibbes, , Works, 2:316–17.

112. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 1617, 390–94, 446–47, 452, 493–94.

113. Ibid., 8, 11, 16, 187, 369; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 92, 96, 137; Eaton, , Honey-Combe, 10, 17, 47, 77, 87, 154, 323–24, 349, 371–72, 374–75, 405, 447, 468.

114. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 79.

115. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 57.

116. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 185, 159–60, 394–96, 523; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 4446, 114–15, 557–58. For some examples of the puritan understanding of the ability of prayers and tears to solicit God's favor, to “bring downe all mercies” and “stay” the divine “hand,” see Graham, John K., “‘Independent’ and ‘Presbyterian’: A Study of Religious and Political Language and the Politics of Words During the English Civil War, c. 1640–1646” (Ph.D. diss., Washington University, 1978), 1:104, n. 51.

117. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 17, 423, 2930, 370–71, 442–43; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 46, 73, 125.

118. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 95.

119. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 272.

120. Ibid., 10: the pietist is presented as an agent of “pride,” a man who, on account of the sin of his “best work,” forfeits earthly and heavenly “blisse” and finds himself cast “into utter darknesse.”

121. Ibid., 88: this is the “sweet song” that consumes Crisp's voice throughout the bulk of the collection.

122. Crisp exhibits an unflagging stamina in developing the theme of Christ's forensic advocacy on behalf of his sinful “clients.”

123. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 310–14, 338, 399, 520, also 367, 371; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 50, 70, 558. Even when the “husband” does appear, he is “rock”-like: more agent of forensic righteousness than intimate spiritual companion and source of infused habits and qualities. See Crisp, , Christ Alone, 380–81.

124. See, for example, Eaton, , Honey-Combe, 429–44.

125. Ibid., 78.

126. See, for example, Geree, , Doctrine of the Antinomians, 6984, 103; Rutherford, , Survey, part 2, 3940, 171.

127. On the puritan response to Crisp, see Parnham, “Humbling.”

128. Geree, Doctrine of the Antinomians, Epistle to the Reader; Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 15, 48.

129. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 100, 118, 317, 381; Crisp, , Compleat Works, 158, 169, 623.

130. Crisp, , Compleat Works, 58.

131. Crisp, , Christ Alone, 500.

1 It is a pleasure to acknowledge the guidance of Michael McGiffert, who read a draft of this article—having planted its seed in my head—and offered encouragement and detailed commentary.

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