Eusabius Pagit, a nonconformist minister based in Kilkhampton, Cornwall, declared in a sermon of 1583 that ‘God appoynteth eyther to life or death, God chooseth either to Salvation, or refuseth to Damnation: for he doeth predestinate as well the wicked as his children’. This was the doctrine of double predestination, and to modern sensibilities it might strike us as very strange; indeed, doubly strange that Pagit would not only believe this but also choose to advertise it. He was not alone, though. From the middle of Queen Elizabeth’s reign to the end of that of King James I, a significant proportion of English churchmen both subscribed to this doctrinal position and also articulated it to their congregations and in print. Pagit, in fact, was insistent that the doctrine had to be articulated: predestination is ‘a matter of great waight: therefore it must be spoken and heard with great reverence if you do not understand it, least you spurne against the Almightie’.1 The temptation to ask questions of this doctrine, even to become morally outraged is, Pagit admits, great. But God sends temptations to separate the wheat from the chaff, and predestination demanded a very specific psychological and pietistic response. Pagit put the issue like this: ‘Doth [God] cast off to damnation a childe a thousande yeares before hee bee borne? It is not unrighteousnes. Why? Because it is his wil’.2 A generation later, the conformist minister Anthony Maxey, preaching before King James, went as far as to state that the doctrine of predestination ‘containeth the whole summe of our religion’.3 He did not
mean by this a narrow obsession with the doctrine’s internal nuts and bolts. Rather, by predestination Maxey, and many like him, understood a wider nexus of theological ideas and pietistic attitudes which, taken together, give life meaning, direction – and, above all, certainty. This is why Richard Crakanthorp, and hundreds of ministers who shared his beliefs, could declare that the doctrine of predestination represented ‘the chiefest comfort which can enter into the heart of a mortall man’.4 This is a study of predestinarian ideas in England between around 1590 and 1640. I try to give a voice to figures like Pagit, Maxey and Crakanthorp, whose ideas may seem alien to us today. I ask why they believed in predestination, and why they thought it their ‘chiefest comfort’.