A Fiery Flying Roll: A Ranter’s Warnings to the Great Ones
“Ranter” Abiezer Coppe launches his Fiery Flying Roll against all those who would rule over the free individual.
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
At the Putney Debates of 1647, the New Model Army and its elected “Agitators” composed what was essentially the first proper political party. They advanced a “Leveler” case for vesting governmental power in the House of Commons, they questioned the legitimacy of great landholdings, they proposed stripping Kings and Lords of their rights to veto legislation from the Commons, and indeed, the Levelers sought to begin a worldwide revolution against the ruling classes. But the Army’s leadership followed Cromwell and his grandees in the Parliament ensured that the most radical notions from Putney would not become incorporated into the English constitution. Conservative Parliamentarians successfully prevented Putney‐style radicalism from having much institutional impact, but they could not contain a set of ideas.
Abiezer Coppe was born on 20 May, 1619 in Warwick, England. At age thirty, he published the following screed against all forces which would rule over the free individual. Coppe’s Fiery Flying Roll lashed out at both sides of the English Civil War–the monarchists who lost the war but retained so much power and influence, and the Parliamentarians who represented new classes on the make and old rulers who knew when to make a truce. Coppe was a “Ranter.” The designation was one foisted on a diverse popular movement of nonconformist dissenters. Conservatives tended to smear the most radical elements of their new Commonwealth, and “Ranter” was intended to call out and shame those of loose morals and irreligion. In practice, Ranterism was characterized by popular antinomianism–no one and no institutions should come between the individual and their personal connection with God. They believed all man‐made laws, bodies, moral codes, and creeds tended to separate the individual from their real covenant with the Lord. What appeared to conservatives to be sexual promiscuity was in fact liberated individualism; religious fanaticism was inspired spiritualism; lawlessness was in fact a fierce and uncompromising sense of social justice.
Coppe’s Word from the Lord to all the Great Ones of the Earth is a study in Commonwealth high weirdness. It provides a fascinating look into popular ideas during a truly radical, revolutionary time. In an era when state terrorism pushed common people to the breaking point, Ranters like Coppe fought back with fierce, fiery, flying rants like the following.
For now the Lord is come to
A Fiery Flying Roll: A Word from the Lord to all the great Ones of the Earth, whom this may concerne: Being the last WARNING PIECE at the dreadfull day of JUDGEMENT.
Advise and warne
Judge and Sentence the Great Ones.
As also most compassionately informing, and most lovingly and pathetically advising and warning London.
With a terrible Word, and fatall Blow from the Lord, upon the Gathered CHURCHES.
And all by his Most Excellent Majesty, dwelling in, and shining through AUXILIUM PATRIS, alias, Coppe. With another FLYING ROLL ensuing (to all the Inhabitants of the Earth.) The Contents of both following.
Isa. 23.9, The Lord of Hosts (is) staining the pride of all glory, and bringing into contempt all the honourable (persons and things) of the Earth.
O London, London, how would I gather thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings. &c.
Know thou (in this thy day) the things that belong to thy Peace – I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jewes, and are not, but the Synagogue of Satan, Rev. 2.9
January 4, 1649.
Imprinted at London, in the beginning of that notable day, wherein the secrets of all hearts are laid open; and wherein the worst and foulest of villanies are discovered under the best and fairest outsides. 1649.
An inlet to the Land of Promise, the new Hierusalem, and a gate into the ensuing Discourse, worthy of serious consideration.
My Deare One.
All or None.
Every one under the Sunne.
My most Excellent Majesty (in me) hath strangely and variously transformed this forme.
And behold, by mine owne Almightiness (In me) I have been changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the Trump.
And now the Lord is descended from Heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the Arch‐angell, and with the Trump of God.
And the sea, the earth, yea all things are now giving up their dead. And all things that ever were, are, or shall be visible – are the Grave wherein the King of Glory (the eternall, invisible Almightinesse, hath lain as it were) dead and buried.
But behold, behold, he is now risen with a witnesse, to save Zion with vengeance, or to confound and plague all things into himself; who by his mighty Angell is proclaiming (with a loud voice) That Sin and Transgression is finished and ended; and everlasting righteousnesse brought in; and the everlasting Gospell preaching; Which everlasting Gospell is brought in with most terrible earth‐quakes, and heaven‐quakes, and with signes and wonders following. Amen.
And it hath pleased my most Excellent Majesty (who is universall love, and whose service is perfect freedome) to let this forme (the Writer of this Roll) as no small signe and wonder in fleshly Israel, as you may partly see in the ensuing Discourse.
And now (my deare ones!) every one under the Sun, I will onely point at the gate; [through] which I was led into that new City, new Hierusalem, and to the Spirits of just men, made perfect; and to God the Judge of all.
First, all my strength, my forces were utterly routed, my house I dwelt in fired; my father and mother forsook me, the wife of my bosome loathed me, mine old name was rotted, perished; and I was utterly plagued, consumed, damned, rammed, and sunke into nothing, into the bowels of the still Eternity (my mothers wombe) out of which I came naked, and whetherto I returned again naked. And lying a while there; rapt up in silence, at length (the body or outward forme being awake all this while) I heard with my outward eare (to my apprehension) a most terrible thunderclap, and after that a second. And upon the second thunder‐clap, which was exceeding terrible, I saw a great body of light, like the light of the Sun, and red as fire, in the forme of a drum (as it were) whereupon with exceeding trembling and amazement on the flesh, and with joy unspeakable in the spirit, I clapt my hands, and cryed out, Amen, Halelujah, Halelujah, Amen. And so lay trembling, sweating, and smoaking (for the space of half an houre) at length with a loud voice (I inwardly) cryed out, Lord what wilt thou do with me, my most excellent majesty and eternall glory (in me) answered & sayd, Fear not, I will take thee up into mine everlasting Kingdom. But thou shalt (first) drink a bitter cup, a bitter cup, a bitter cup; whereupon (being filled with exceeding amazement) I was throwne into the belly of hell (and take what you can of it in these expressions, though the matter is beyond expression) I was among all the Devils in hell, even in their most hideous hew.
And under all this terrour, and amazement, there was a little spark of transcendent, transplendent, unspeakable glory which survived, and sustained itself, triumphing, exulting, and exalting it self above all the Fiends. And confounding the very blacknesse of darknesse (you must take it in these termes, for it is infinitely beyond expression.) Upon tis the life was taken out of the body (for a season) and it was thus resembled, as if a man with a great brush dipt in whiting, should with one stroke wipe out, or sweep off a picture upon a wall, &c. after a while, breath and life was returned into the form againe; whereupon I saw various streames of light (in the night) which appeared to the outward eye; and immediately I saw three hearts (or three appearances) in the form of hearts, of exceeding brightness; and immediately an innumberable company of hearts, filling each corner of the room where I was. And methoughts there was variety and distinction, as if there had been severall hearts, and yet most strangely and unexplicably complicated or folded up in unity. I clearly saw distinction, diversity, variety, and as clearly saw all swallowed up into unity. And it hath been my song many times since, within and without, unity, universality, universality, unity, Eternall Majesty, &c. And at this vision, a most strong, glorious voice uttered these words, The Spirits of just men made perfect. The Spirits, &c, with whom I had as absolut, cleare, full communion, and in a two fold more familiar way, then ever I had outwardly with my dearest friends, and nearest relations. The visions and revelations of God, and the strong hand of eternall invisible almightinesse, was stretched out upon me, within me, for the space of foure dayes and nights, without intermission.
The time would faile if I would tell you all, but it is not the good will and pleasure of my most excellent Majesty in me, to declare any more (as yet) then thus much further: That amongst those various voyces that were then uttered within, these were some, Blood, blood, Where, where? upon the hypocriticall holy heart, &c. Another thus, Vengeance, vengeance, vengeance, Plagues, plagues, upon the Inhabitants of the earth; Fire, fire, fire, Sword, sword, &c. upon all that bow not down to eternall Majesty, universall love; I’le recover, recover, my wooll, my flax, my money. Declare, declare, feare thou not the faces of any; I am (in thee) ammunition of Rocks, &c.
Go up to London, to London, that great City, write, write, write. And behold I writ, and lo a hand was sent to me, and a roll of a book was therein, which this fleshy hand would have put wings to, before the time. Whereupon it was snatcht out of my hand, & the Roll thrust into my mouth; and I eat it up, and filled my bowels with it, (Eze. 2.8, &c. cha.3.1,2,3) where it was as bitter as worm‐wood; and it lay broiling, and burning in my stomack, till I brought it forth in this forme.
And now I send it flying to thee, with my heart, and all, per AUXILIUM PATRIS...
A word from the Lord to all the Great Ones of the Earth (whom this may concerne) being the last Warning Piece, &c.
The word of the Lord came expressly to me, saying, Sonne of man write a Roule, and those words, from my mouth, to the Great ones, saying, thus saith the Lord:
Slight not this Roule, neither laugh at it, least I slight you, and cause all men to slight and scorne you; least I destroy you, and laugh at your destruction, &c.
This is (and with a witnesse, some of you shall finde it, to be) an edg’d toole; and there’s no jesting with it, or laughing at it.
It’s a sharp sword, sharpened and also fourbished –
No sleepy Dormouse shall dare to creep up the edge of it.
Thus saith the Lord, You shall finde with a witnesse, that I am now coming
Advise and Warne
Judge and Sentence You, O ye great ones.
Containing Severall strange, yet true and seasonable informations, to the great ones, as also an apologeticall hint of the Authors principle, standing in the front. –
Thus saith the Lord, I inform you, that I overturn, overturn, overturn. And as the Bishop, Charles, and the Lords have had their turn, overturn, for your turn shall be next (ye surviving great ones) by what Name or Title forever dignified or distinguished), who ever you are, that oppose me, the Eternall God, who am UNIVERSALL Love, and whose service is perfect freedome, and pure Libertinisme.
But afore I proceed any further, be it known to you, That although that excellent Majesty, which dwels in the Writer of this Roule, hath reconciled ALL THINGS to himselfe, yet this hand (which now writes) never drew sword, or shed one drop of any mans blood. [ I am free from the blood of all men] though (I say) all things are reconciled to me, the eternal God (IN HIM) yet sword levelling, or digging‐levelling, are neither of them his principle.
Both are as farre from his principle, as the East is from the West, or the Heavens from the Earth (though, I say, reconciled to both, as to all things else) and though he hath more justice, righteousnesse, truth, and sincerity, shining in those low dunghills, (as they are esteemed) then in the Sunne, Moone, and all the Stars.
I come not forth (in him) either with material sword, or Mastock, but now (in this my day–) I make him my Swordbearer, to brandish the Sword of the Spirit, as he hath done severall dayes and nights together, [through] the streets of the great City.
And now thus saith the Lord:
Though you can as little endure the word LEVELLING, as could the late slaine or dead Charles (your forerunner, who is gone before you –) and had as live heare the Devill named, as heare of Levellers (Men‐Levellers) which is, and who (indeed) are but shadowes of most terrible, yet great and glorious good things to come.
Behold, behold, behold, I the eternall God, the Lord of Hosts, who am that mighty Leveller, am comming (yea even at the doors) to Levell in good earnest, to Levell to some purpose, to Levell with a witnesse, to Levell the Hills with the Valleyes, and to lay the Mountaines low.
High Mountaines! Lofty Cedars! Its high time for you to enter into the Rocks, and to hide you in the dust, for feare of the Lord, and for the glory of his Majesty. For the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtinesse of men shall be bowed downe, and the Lord ALONE shall be exalted in that day; For the day of the Lord of Hoasts, shall be upon every one that is proud, and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low. And upon all the Cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the Oaks of Bashan; and upon all the high Mountaines; and upon all the Hils that are lifted up, and upon every high Tower; and upon every fenced Wall; and upon all the Ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant Pictures.
And the LOFTINESSE of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtinesse of men shall be laid low. And the Lord ALONE shall be exalted in that day, and the Idols he shall utterly abolish.
And they shall go into the holes of the Rocks, and into the Caves of the Earth, for feare of the Lord, and for the glory of his Majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
In that day, a man shall cast his Idols of Silver, and Idols of Gold – to the bats, and to the Moles. To go into the Cliffs of the Rocks and into the tops of the ragged Rocks, for feare of the Lord, and for the glory of his Majesty. For the Lord is now RISEN to shake terribly the Earth, Isa. 2.10. to the end of the Chapter.
Hill! Mountains! Cedars! Mighty men! Your breath is in your nostrils.
Those that have admired, adored, idolized, magnified, set you up, fought for you, ventured goods, and good name; limbe and life for you, shall cease from you.
You shall not (at all be accounted of (not one of you) ye sturdy Oake) who bowe not down before eternall Majesty; Universall Love, whose service is perfect freedome, and who hath put down the mighty (remember, remember your fore‐runner) and who is putting down the mighty from their seats; and exalting them of low degree.
Oh let not, (for your owne sakes) let not the mother of Harlots in you, who is very subtle of heart.
Nor the Beast (without you) what do you call em? The Ministers, fat parsons, Vicars, Lecturers, &c. who (for their own base ends, to maintaine their pride, and pompe, and to fill their own paunches and purses) have been the chiefe instruments of all those horrid abominations, hellish, cruel, devlish persecutions, in this Nation which cry for vengeance. For your owne sakes (I say) let neither the one, nor the other bewitch you, or charme your cares, to heare them say, these things shall not befall you, these Scriptures shall not be fulfilled upon you, but upon the Pope, Turke, and Heathen Princes, &c.
Or if any of them should (through subtilty for their owne base ends) creep into the Mystery of that forementioned Scripture.
And tell you, Those words are to be taken in the Mystery only; and they onely point out a spirituall, inward levelling (once more, for your owne sakes, I say) believe them not.
‘Tis true, the History, or Letter (I speake comparatively) is but as it were haire‐cloth; the Mystery is fine Flax. My flax, faith the Lord, and the Thief and the Robber will steale from me my flax, to cover his nakednesse, that his filthinesse may not appeare.
But behold, I am (now) recovering my flax out of his hands and discovering his lewdnesse – verbum sat –
‘Tis true, the Mystery is my joy, my delight, my life. And the Prime levelling, is laying low the Mountaines, and levelling the Hills in man.
But this is not all.
For lo I come (saith the Lord) with a vengeance, to levell also your Honour, Riches, &c. to staine the pride of all your glory, and to bring into contempt all the Honourable (both persons and things) upon the earth, Isa 23.9
For this Honour, Nobility, Gentility, Propriety, Superfluity, &c. hath (without contradiction) been the Father of hellish horrid pride, arrogance, haughtinesse, loftinesse, murder, malice, of all manner of wickednesse and impiety; yea the cause of all the blood that ever hath been shed, from the blood of righteous Abell, to the blood of the lost‐Levellers that were shot to death. And now (as I live faith the Lord) I am come to make inquisition for blood; for murder and pride, &c.
I see the root of it all. The Axe is laid to the root of the Tree (by the Eternall God, My Self, saith the Lord) I will hew it down. And as I live, I will plague your Honour, Pompe, Greatnesse, Superfluity, and confound it into parity, equality, community; that the neck of horrid pride, murder, malice, and tyranny, &c. may be chopt oft at one blow. And that my selfe, the Eternall God, who am Universal Love, may fill the Earth with universall love, universall peace, and perfect freedome; which can never be by humane sword or strength accomplished.
Wherefore bow downe, bow downe, you sturdy Oakes, and tall Cedars; bow, or by my selfe Ile break you.
Ile cause some of you (on whom I have compassion) to bow &c. and will terribly plague the rest.
My little finger shall be heavier on them, then my whole loynes were on Pharaoh of old.
And maugre the subtilty and sedulity, the craft and cruelty of hell, and earth: this Levelling shall up.
Not by sword; we (holily) scorne to fight for any thing; we had as live be dead drunk every day of the weeke, and lye with whores i’th market place, and account these as good actions as taking the poore abused, enslaved ploughmans money from him (who is almost every where undone, and squeezed to death; and not so much as that plaguy, unsupportable, hellish burden, and oppression, of Tythes taken off his shoulders, notwithstanding all his honesty, fidelity, Taxes, Freequarter, petitioning &c. for the same,) we had rather starve, I say, then take away his money from him, for killing of men.
Nay, if we might have Captains pay, and a good fat Parsonage or two besides, we would scorne to be swordsmen, or fight with those (mostly) carnall weapons, for any thing, or against any one, or for our livings.
No, no, weel live in despite of our foes; and this levelling (to thy torment, O mighty man) shall up, not by sword, not by might, &c. but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.
For I am risen, for I am risen, for I am risen, to shake terribly the earth, and not the earth only, but the heavens also, &c.
But here I shall cease informing you.
You may for your further information (if you please) reade my Roule to all the rich Inhabitants of the earth.