Peter Sterry (1613–1672)

PETER STERRY

ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM (1907) - Scott, W. Major (William Major)

Peter Sterry and his writings have fallen into general but undeserved obscurity, although, among those who are versed in mystical theology and thought, his name is honoured and his writings studied still. Sterry's works exercised great influence in their day, and their influence among "the curious and understanding in this kind of writings" is not yet spent.

Despite the fact that his name is by no means familiar to the multitude, Sterry is one of the greatest of the English mystics, and was numbered among the circle of men known as the Cambridge Platonists. Benjamin Whichcote, on hearing of Sterry's death, referred to him as " that greatly enlightened friend of ours, who is now taken from us."

The date of his birth is uncertain, but he was born in Surrey, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1629— three years after Whichcote and one year before Ralph Cudworth. He graduated B.A., in 1633, the same year that Nathaniel Culverwel entered Emmanuel, and was elected a Fellow of his college in 1636—the entrance year of John Smith—proceeding M.A., in the following year. He became a minister of the gospel in London, " and was one of the fourteen divines nominated for the Westminster Assembly by the House of Lords in May 1642." Seven years later, Sterry was elected as preacher to the Council of State with a stipend of 100 pounds a year (which was afterwards doubled), and apartments at Whitehall. "His duties were to preach on Sundays before Cromwell either at Whitehall or Hampton Court, on every other Thursday morning at the former, and frequently before the Lords and Commons." He was a friend of Sir Henry Vane the younger, and was deeply attached to Cromwell.

Sterry took no pert in the ecclesiastical polemics of his time, though he was vehemently opposed to the "constitutions, methods and discipline" of Presbyterianism, and was a supporter of no religious communion that " laboured to hedge in the wind, and to bind up the sweet influences of the Spirit." A man of cultivated mind and artistic instincts, with a feeling for literature and painting, after the death of Cromwell he continued to reside in London, taking pupils, preaching and writing until his death after a lingering sickness, in 1672. When asked on his death-bed, " how his mind stood," it is recorded that "he attested by his last words, with much composure, that it then pleased God also to give him full assurance of those truths he had taught others."