By John Banks
I came of honest parents. My father's name was William and my mother's name Emma. I was their only child, born in Sunderland, in the parish of Issell in the county of Cumberland. My father having no real estate of his own he took land to farm and by trade he was a felt monger and glover.
In some years after, he removed within the compass of Pardshaw meeting where both my parents received the truth some time after me, and lived and died in it, according to their measures. To this meeting I belonged above forty years.
Though my parents had not much of this world's riches, yet according to their ability and the manner of the country, they brought me up well and in good order and were careful to restrain me from such evils as children and youth are apt to run into, especially my dear mother, she being a zealous woman. Their care therein for my good had a good effect on me, and so will it have, we may hope, on all who perform their duty as they ought to their children. If not, they will, it is feared, be found guilty in the day of account.
I was put to school when I was seven years of age and kept there until I was fourteen; in which time I learned both English and Latin and could write well. When I was fourteen years of age, my father put me to teach school one year at Dissington and after that at Mosser Chapel near Pardshaw where I read the Scriptures to people who came there on the first-day of the week, and the homily, as it is called, and also sung psalms and prayed. I had no liking to the practice, but my father, with other people, persuaded me to it.
For this service my wages from the people was to be twelve pence a year from every house of those who came there to hear me, and a fleece of wool and my table free, besides twelve pence a quarter for every scholar I had, being twenty-four. This chapel is called a chapel of ease, the parish steeple-house being some miles off. Amongst the rest of the people who were indifferent where they went for worship came one John Fletcher, a great scholar, but a drunken man. And he called me aside one day, and said that I read very well for a youth but I did not pray in form, as others used to do, and that he would teach me how to pray and send it to me in a letter, which he did.
When it came, I went out of the chapel and read it. And when I had done, I was convinced of the evil thereof by the light of the Lord Jesus, which immediately opened to me the words of the apostle Paul concerning the Gospel he had to preach, that he had it not from man, neither was he taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. In answer to which it rose in me, "But thou hast this prayer from man, and art taught it by man, and he one of the worst of many." So the dread of the Lord fell upon me, with which I was struck to my very heart, and I said in myself, "I shall never pray on this wise."
It opened in me, "Go to the meeting of the people in scorn called Quakers, for they are the people of God." And so I did the next First-day after, which was at Pardshaw. This being before the end of the year when I was to receive wages of the people for such service as I did, I could take none of them, being convinced of the evil thereof, nor did I ever read any more at the chapel.
When about sixteen years of age, in the tenth month, 1654, it pleased the Lord to reach to my heart and conscience by his pure living Spirit in the blessed appearance thereof in and through Jesus Christ whereby I received the knowledge of God and the way of his blessed truth, by myself alone in the field, before I ever heard any one called a Quaker preach and before I was at any of their meetings. But the First-day that I went to one, which was at Pardshaw, as aforesaid, the Lord's power so seized upon me in the meeting that I was made to cry out in the bitterness of my soul in a true sight and sense of my sins, which appeared exceeding sinful. And the same day, as I was going to an evening meeting of God's people, scornfully called Quakers, by the way I was smitten to the ground with the weight of God's judgment for sin and iniquity which fell heavy upon me, and I was taken up by two Friends.
Oh ! the godly sorrow that took hold of me that night in the meeting so that I thought in myself every one's condition was better than mine. A Friend who was touched with a sense of my condition and greatly pitied me was made willing to read a paper in the meeting, which was so suitable to my condition that it helped me a little and gave some ease to my spirit. I was now very much bowed down and perplexed, my sins being set in order before me. And the time I had spent in wildness and wantonness, out of the fear of God, in vanity, sport, and pastime, came into my view and remembrance. The book of my conscience was opened, for I was by nature wild and wanton. And though there were good desires stirring in me many times, and something that judged me and reproved me and often strove with me to restrain me from evil, yet not being sensible what it was, I had got over it.
I was like those who make merry over the witness of God, even the witness and testimony of his Holy Spirit, in and through Jesus Christ his Son, made known in God's great love to the sons and daughters of men. This was that, whereby the Lord many times strove with me, until at last he prevailed upon me. So that I may say, as a true witness for God and the sufficiency of his power and quickening Spirit, I did not only come to be convinced by the living appearance of the Lord Jesus of the vanity, sin, and wickedness which the world lies in, and that I was partaker thereof, but by taking heed thereto, through watchfulness and fear, I came to be sensible of the work thereof in my heart, in order to subdue and bring down the wild nature in me, and to wash and cleanse me from sin and corruption, that I might be changed and converted.
But before I came to witness this work effected, oh the days and nights of godly sorrow and spiritual pain I traveled through for some years! The exercise I was under bore so hard, both upon my body and mind, that I left off the practice of teaching school, which, although good and lawful, yet was not agreeable to me in my condition then. I put myself to learn my father's trade, with something of husbandry, which I followed with diligence and lived with my parents, who some time after, came to receive the truth, which was great rejoicing to my soul.
As I traveled under the ministration of condemnation and judgment for sin and transgression, great was the warfare I had with the enemy of my soul, who, through his subtlety, sought to betray me from the simplicity of the truth and to persuade me to despair, as though there was no mercy for me. Yet in some small measure I knew that the Lord had showed mercy to me, which he mixed with judgment, for my sins past. But the experience I had gained in the travail of my soul, and the faith begotten of God in my heart, strengthened me to withstand the enemy and his subtle reasonings. I overcame the wicked one through a diligent waiting in the light and keeping close to the power of God, waiting upon him in silence among his people, in which exercise my soul delighted.
Oh! the comfort and divine consolation we were made partakers of in those days. And in the inward sense and feeling of the Lord's power and presence with us, we enjoyed one another, and were near and dear one unto another. But it was through various trials and deep exercises, with fear and trembling, that thus we were made partakers. Blessed and happy are they who know what the truth has cost them and hold it in righteousness.
Waiting diligently in the light and keeping close to the power of God which is therein received, I came to experience the work thereof in my heart in order to effect my freedom from bondage, which by degrees went on and prospered in me, and so I gained ground more and more against the enemy of my soul through faith in the power of God, without which no victory is obtained. My prosperity in the truth I always found was by being faithful to the Lord in what he manifested, though but in small things, unfaithfulness in which is the cause of loss and hurt to many in their growth in the truth.
After I had passed through great tribulation, weeping and mourning in woods and solitary places alone, where I often desired to be, I came to more settlement in my spirit and peace began to spring in my soul where trouble and sorrow had been. Then at times I would be ready to think that I should not again meet with such combats and besetments by the enemy of my soul as I had passed through. But the more I grew in experience of the dealings of the Lord with me, so much the more did the enemy transform himself. And as he could not prevail by his former presentations, so in his subtlety he would invent new ones.
Thus I came clearly to see that it was not safe for me to sit down satisfied with what I had passed through, or the victory I had already obtained, but I had to travel on in faith and patience, and watch diligently in the light of Jesus Christ, where the true power is still received. For notwithstanding the many deliverances, and strength, and victory, I had experienced, the Lord, according to the greatness of his wisdom, was pleased to make me sensible of my own weakness, and that there was no strength to stand nor place of safety for me to abide in, but in his power and under a sense thereof, I was humbled, bowed, and laid low. Wherefore I took up a godly resolution in his fear, "I will rely upon the sufficiency of thy power, O Lord, for ever."
About six years after I had received the truth, through great exercise and godly sorrow, I came to be settled in the power of God and made weighty in my spirit thereby. And I had some openings from the Spirit of Truth in silent waiting upon the Lord, which tended to minister comfort and satisfaction to my soul in a renewed experience of the dealings of the Lord with me. And the Lord opened my mouth with a testimony in the fresh spring of life that I was to give forth to his children and people.
Oh! then a great combat I had through reasoning that I was but a child and others were more fit and able to speak than I. But the Lord by his power brought me into willingness, and with fear and trembling I spoke in our blessed meetings.
At one time as I was sitting in silence waiting upon the Lord in a meeting of Friends upon Pardshaw Crag, a weighty exercise fell upon my spirit, and it opened in me that I must go to the steeple-house at Cockermouth, which was hard for me to give up to. But the Lord by his power made me shake and tremble, and by it I was made willing to go. But when I had given up to go, I would have known what I was to do there, which was the cause that for a little time I was shut up within myself and was in some measure darkened so that I cried unto the Lord, that if it was his will I should go, I would give up. And being made sensible it was, I went in faith and quietness of mind and spirit.
As I was going, it appeared to me as if the priest had been before me and it opened in me to say to him, "If thou be a minister of Christ, stand to prove thy practice. And if it be the same as the apostles and ministers of Christ in doctrine and practice, I will own thee. But if not, I am sent of God this day to testify against thee."
And so soon as I entered the place where the hireling priest George Larcum was preaching, he cried out, "There is one come into the church like a madman with his hat on his head. Churchwardens, put him out!" For he could not preach after I came into the steeple-house. So they put me forth, as he bid them. This was in Cromwell's time, and not long after the government was changed and he himself turned out of the place. Some time after I was put forth, I was moved of the Lord to go in again, and had strength given me to stay until the priest had done, but his preaching was burdensome and confused.
Then, with the words aforesaid, I opened my mouth in the fear of God, which made the hireling go out with all the haste he could at a contrary door than he used to do, and the people were in a great uproar, some to beat me and some to save me from being beat. When they had haled me out of the house, I was enabled by the power of God to declare the truth amongst the people and to manifest the deceiver they followed. And having obeyed the requirings of the Lord, I came away in sweet peace and spiritual comfort in my heart.
At a certain time, being at a meeting of Friends upon the Howhill near Coldbecke in Cumberland, George Fletcher of Hutton Hall, a justice of the peace, so called, came into the meeting in a rude manner, riding among Friends who were sitting upon the ground and trod with his horses feet upon a woman's gown. I was moved of the Lord to kneel down to prayer at the head of his horse, and as a wicked persecutor of God's people, he struck me bitterly over my head and face with his horse-whip. When he saw he could not move me, he called his man, being near by, to take me away, who came in great fury and took me by the hair of my head and drew me down the hill.
But I got upon my feet and said to his master, "Dost thou pretend to be a justice of peace and breakest the peace and disturbs, persecutes, and abuses God's peaceable people and sets on thy servant so to do?" He said that we should know he was a justice of peace before he had done with us. Could no place serve us to meet in but under his nose? Yet it was at a great distance from his dwelling, upon the common.
He committed me and three more to the common jail at Carlisle, it being at the time when that act was in force, which imposed a penalty of five pounds for the first offence, ten pounds for the second, and for the third, banishment. By his warrant he caused one cow and a horse worth six pounds ten shillings to be distrained of my father, with whom I lived, for my fine of five pounds, it being the first offence so adjudged by him, and he kept me in prison some weeks too.
George Martin, a wicked hard hearted man, being jailer, put us in the common jail, for several days and nights, without either bread or water because we could not satisfy his covetous desire by giving him eight pence a meal for our meat. So he threatened that when he put us in the common jail he would see how long we could live there without meat and he suffered none that he could hinder, neither would he allow any of our friends to bring us any bedding, not so much as a little straw. We had no place to lie on but the prison window, upon the cold stones, the wall being thick. There was room for one at a time. And when he saw that he could not prevail, notwithstanding his cruelty, he removed us from the common jail into a room in his own house, where he had several Friends prisoners for non-payment of tithes at the suit of the said George Fletcher.
The jailer was often cruel, wicked, and abusive in his behavior to Friends. But in a few years he was rewarded according to his doings, for he himself was cast into prison for debt, and so ended his days.
When the quarter sessions began at Carlisle, which was in about two weeks after our commitment, we were called and examined by one Philip Musgrove of the said city, called a justice. He was an old persecutor who, under a great pretense of love to us, said that if we would but conform and come to the church, they would show us all the favor they could. And when any one of us would have answered his questions or proposals, he would say that we must be silent, except we would conform, for we might not preach there.
He would tauntingly say, "When you are banished beyond the seas, then you may preach there." One of us replied, "We were not afraid to be banished beyond the seas." For we did believe, and had good cause so to do, that the Lord our God whom we worship and serve and who by his great power had preserved us all along until now on this side the sea would also preserve us on the other side, as we stood faithful in our testimony for him.
We were set at liberty that sessions, goods being taken for all our fines. But the sheriff for the county, Willfrid Lawson of Issel Hall, being there, said to the jailer, "If they will not pay fees, put them into the common jail again and keep them there until they rot." So the jailer put us into the common jail again, because we could not pay him fees, where was a Bedlam man and four with him for theft and two notorious thieves called Redhead and Wadelad, two moss troopers for stealing cattle, and a woman for murdering her child. Several of the relations and acquaintances of these were suffered to come to see them after the sessions was over, who gave them so much drink that most of them were basely drunk. And the prison being a very close nasty place, they did so abuse themselves and us with their filthiness that it was enough almost to stifle some of us.
On the morrow we let the jailer know how we were abused, whereupon he bid the turnkey bring us to the room where we were before, saying he scorned to keep us there for we were honest men, setting our religion aside. One of us answered, "If the tree be good, the fruit cannot be evil." So not long after we had been in his house, he gave us our liberty without paying fees. This was in the fifth month, 1663.
Here follow some letters I wrote whilst I was a prisoner at Carlisle:
Dear Father and Mother,
My duty is hereby remembered to you and my dear and tender love, both naturally and spiritually, doth hereby reach unto you both. And as you are faithful according to what the Lord hath made known unto you by his pure light, the Lord will preserve you.
Dear parents, as it is thus ordered that I am called to suffer for no other cause than worshiping God among his people, I desire you to be content and do not murmur or complain but live in love, quietness, and all unity with each other so that the blessing of the Lord may be upon you and prosper what you go about. For they that truly fear the Lord, shall want no good thing.
Let your faith stand here, dear hearts, and be patient and content in your minds and not too much concerned for me and my welfare. For I am persuaded, feeling the evidence of Truth in my heart, that I suffer not for evil-doing, but for obeying the requirings of the Lord, yea, for worshiping and serving him in spirit and in truth so that it is and shall be well with me as I keep faithful unto the end. Be not at all dejected, or cast down in mind concerning me: but rather rejoice with me, that the Lord hath not only counted us worthy to believe in his name, but also to suffer for the same.
Your obedient son,
From the house of our friend, Mungo Bewly, one of the prisoners, (being five) where the constables are ready to take us away to prison in the city of Carlisle in Cumberland, the 8th day of the Fifth month, 1663.
Dear Father and Mother,
My dear and tender love, as a dutiful and obedient child, I do most dearly and tenderly remember to you. And if I should not write one word more to you, as to that, I do not question but that you believe and are sensible that my love is large and dear to you both for your good in all respects. And this I can say of a truth, that all I desire of you is that you would be patient and truly content, that you may come to say in truth, "The will of the Lord be done," both concerning you and me.
So, dear hearts, keep the faith, and hold fast the word of his patience, and in that suffer, as one with me, though you be at liberty. And give up freely unto the Lord, for what we have is his. And if he bless, who can curse? Blessed, praised, and magnified be his holy name for evermore.
Your dutiful son,
A letter to Friends.
Dear Friends in the precious Truth, to whom my love in the same is beyond expressions, we are with our Friends at present who are in prison for tithes and are like to be retained after the sessions for fees even if we get our liberty then, all our fines being levied. But be it as the Lord sees good, we can truly say that he is near to support us, for his presence is even in the midst of us and we are at true peace with him in our suffering, and we are bound together with and in the bond of love, peace, and unity.
This, indeed, my heart rejoices to tell you, and I do believe you will be glad and rejoice with me, who am and do remain your brother and fellow-sufferer, who never knew the worth of a prison so much before, to my sweet peace and inward consolation, though I have yet tasted but a little thereof.
From the prison-house in Carlisle, the 18th of the Fifth month, 1663.
Some time after this I had drawings in my spirit to visit the neighboring counties, as Westmoreland, Lancashire, and some parts of Yorkshire, several times before the Lord sent me forth into other countries. So when I was clear of those counties, I returned home to my parents and lived with them about a year more.
Upon the 26th day of the sixth month, 1664, I took a Friend by name Ann Littledale to wife in a public meeting of God's people in scorn called Quakers in a Friend's house in Pardshaw town before many witnesses, as having freedom and liberty in the Lord so to do, which as a blessing and mercy I received from his hand, wherefore I am bound in duty to give him the praise and to return him the honor and glory, who lives for ever.
About four years after I was married, the Lord called me forth to travel in the work of the ministry, and I was made willing to leave all in answer to his requirings to go into the south and west of England. Yea, I was made willing to leave my dear wife and sweet child, though near and dear unto me, and went forth in the power and Spirit of the Lord Jesus. Our friend John Wilkinson and I traveled together in the Lord's work and service (this was Cumberland John Wilkinson). We took our journey in the second month, 1668, and traveled into Yorkshire and visited many meetings in divers places, where we had good service for the Lord and his truth.
A letter to my wife, written upon my journey towards the west and south of England, follows:
Thou art dear unto me, together with our little one, in the nearness of that pure Spirit by which the Lord hath joined us together as one heart and mind. From a sense of his pure love felt to abound in my heart, I dearly salute thee, and do hereby let thee know that I am very well at present, both in body and spirit, for which I can do no less than bless and praise the holy name and great power of the Lord for ever, who hath thus far preserved me in my journey in true peace and comfort; whereby it is confirmed unto me that I am in my place and that the work and service I have to perform is for the Lord and the furtherance of his blessed truth. Blessed be that day in which I was made sensible of the same, that the Lord should count me worthy to do any service for him.
Wherefore, my dear, be thou encouraged to trust in the Lord more and more, and put thy confidence in him in all things, who is able to do whatsoever he pleaseth and seemeth good in his sight. For he can make all things work together for good to them who truly love and fear him, and are concerned for the prosperity of his blessed truth, though we must expect to meet with various exercises in the way to come to be made partakers thereof.
The desire of many people hereaway is after the Lord and they flock to our meetings like doves to the windows when they hear of any that have the way of truth to declare. We have had a meeting every day this week, and shall have one tomorrow, if the Lord will.
Remember my love and due respect to my parents and let them know that I am well every way, and to Friends without respect of persons, as they inquire of me.
Thy dear and loving husband, according to my measure of the truth received.
Written near Bradford, in Yorkshire, the 14th of the Third month, 1668.
From Yorkshire we traveled into Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire, where we had many blessed meetings, and where I wrote the following letter to my wife.
Unto whom I am truly united in the pure love and unity of the Spirit of Truth, wherein the Lord hath made us truly one, do I dearly salute thee, and let thee know that I am well in all respects, blessed and praised be the Lord our God for evermore.
In my heart I reach forth a hand unto thee. Give me thine, and let us go along together in the work and service of the Lord that so we may be a strength and encouragement to each other to go on in faithfulness, and finish a faithful testimony for the Lord in what he requires of us, in doing or suffering, and giving up whatever we have or enjoy in this world.
My dear heart, give all up freely, as to the Lord our God, to be ordered and disposed of by him, who is wise and wonderful in counsel and to be admired of all them who truly love and fear him, and wait for his glorious appearance of light and life. Take no thought nor care for me but in the Lord, who hath a care and tender regard unto us, and all his people, as our hearts are kept near to him.
We came this day to see our dear friend William Dewsbury, and intend to travel through the county in visiting of the seed of God, towards Bristol, and then as the Lord may order us.
So with the remembrance of my duty to my parents, and my love to Friends, as though named, I remain thy dear and loving husband,
Warwick, the 4th of the Fourth month, 1668.
From Warwickshire we traveled into Gloucestershire, and so to Bristol, where the Lord made our service acceptable to Friends and other people. And we traveled through Somersetshire, from whence I wrote the following letter to my wife.
In that love which still endureth and increaseth in my heart to thee do I feel thee, and the further I am separated from thee, the nearer thou art unto me, even in that which length of time or distance of place shall never be able to wear out or bring to decay. Feel the reach of my love in thy heart, and be thou broken and tendered in the sense thereof, even of the heart-breaking love of God in which my heart abounds in love to thee with breathings to God that we may be kept living to him, through all our various exercises, that so we may daily learn with the blessed and wise apostle, in all conditions to be content, and that patience may have its perfect work in us. For patience gains experience, and experience hope that never makes ashamed, but anchors the soul both sure and steadfast unto God.
My dear, give me freely up to the will and disposing of Him into whose hand I am freely given up, both soul and body. Keep near the Lord at all times, and pray for me in spirit so that I may be preserved faithful to the Lord, to finish a good testimony for him, and that I may not return to thee until his time, that so we may enjoy each other in the Lord and be made partakers of his blessings upon us and ours, and all we take in hand, without which it will not prosper. For it is in vain to strive against the Lord, before whom all nations are but as the drop of a bucket. If he bless, none can curse, blessed and praised be his holy name for evermore. Amen.
By this, thou and the rest of my family and friends may understand that I am pretty well in health at present, through the goodness of the Lord, though I have been under weakness of body at times since I wrote my last from Warwick. But the Lord by his power strengthens me many times far beyond what can be expected, considering my own weakness. I have faith to believe, and that upon good ground, that whatsoever the Lord is pleased to exercise me in, or call me to, he will give me strength to perform and go through, and nothing shall be able to hinder it. I am truly content, whatsoever the Lord may suffer to come upon me, because hitherto he hath kept and preserved me, to his praise and glory, and to my sweet peace and comfort; endless praises to Him who lives for ever!
Remember my dear and tender love, as also my duty and tender regard, to my parents, for they are very near and dear to me, with my love also to Friends, neighbors, and relations, as if named. My companion and fellow-laborer in the Gospel desires to have his love remembered to thee.
And so I bid thee farewell. The Lord keep and preserve thee, with all his people, faithful in this trying day, which possibly may have the effect to try the faith of many.
Puddimoore-Milton in Somersetshire, the 28th of the Fourth month, 1668.
The truth of our God prospers and gaineth a good report in these parts and many other places where we have traveled and many are coming in to partake thereof. For people in many places are weary of the hireling priests and dead formal worship of the world, and their assemblies grow thin. The Lord, by the all-sufficiency of his power, hath made our service effectual unto many, both Friends and other people, and very full and peaceable meetings we have had in several counties and shires, wherefore we cannot but return the praise, honor, and glory unto Him whose the work and power are, and count nothing too hard for us, so that we may bear a faithful testimony for Him, to the good of souls so that he over all may be glorified, and that we may feel true peace with Him in the end for our reward. J. B.