Early Modern Futures

Gerrard Winstanley, Breaking of the Day of God

As Winstanley’s and Usher’s works suggest, the 1640s was a decade of prophecy. A leader of the group known as the Diggers, or True Levellers, Winstanley wrote numerous pamphlets reading the times in light of biblical prophecy, while urging the redistribution of land and a return to prelapsarian existence. Many of these works, like The Breaking of the Day of God, work by reading biblical prophecy in light of present history, thereby urging reformation on the part of his readers in order to fulfill later parts of the prophecy. By putting his readers in the middle of biblical eschatological history, distinctions between biblical prophecy and present times are utterly effaced, as Winstanley, like the publishers of Usher’s Remarkable Prophecies, attempts to enact a particular visionary future.

The Breaking of the Day of God, written at the beginning of the Commonwealth period,states that Britain is living in the age of Revelation’s rule of the beast, but asserts that the day of judgment is near, when the beast shall be overthrown and God’s rule be reinstated. God is “judging the Serpent,” Winstanley writes. “And if England, Scotland, and Ireland; this three-fold Kingdom, united under one head or State Government, be the tenth part of the City Babylon, that must fall off from the Beast first, as I have no doubtings but daily confirmations in me, that it shall be, You shall then see, That all this envy and bitterness of spirit in these Nations, shall die, and shall be swallowed up, in the spirit of love” (A3v). This beast is what Winstanley calls the “usurped Ecclesiastical power,” i.e., the established church; just opposition to this power has led to rebellion against the magistracy as well, he notes, but “it must not be so, for Magistracy in the Common-wealth must stand, its Gods Ordinance” (131-2).

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