Reeve, John (1608-1658) (DNB00)

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REEVE, JOHN (1608–1658), sectary, second son of Walter Reeve, gentleman, was born in Wiltshire in 1608. His father, who is described as ‘clerk to a deputy of Ireland,’ was of a good family which had fallen to decay. With his elder brother, William, he was apprenticed in London to the tailor's trade. He was ‘no Latin scholar,’ but his handwriting shows that he had received a fair education. Both brothers were originally puritans, and both fell away, about 1645, to the ‘ranters.’ This was the ruin of William, who neglected his business, became a mere sot, and subsisted on charity. John Reeve, under the guidance of John Robins [q. v.], known as ‘the ranters' god,’ became a universalist. His cousin, Lodowicke Muggleton [q. v.], had been William Reeve's journeyman in 1631, but there seems to have been no great intimacy between Muggleton and John Reeve till about twenty years later. In April 1651 Muggleton believed himself the subject of an inward illumination, opening to him the meaning of scripture. This attracted Reeve, who constantly visited at Muggleton's house in Great Trinity Lane, and wearied him with questions. About the middle of January 1652 Reeve suddenly announced his own experience of similar illumination. His immediate resolve was ‘to meddle no more with religion … but to get as good a livelihood as I can in this world, and let God alone with what shall be hereafter.’ A fortnight later (3 Feb.) he alleged a call ‘by voice of words’ from heaven, constituting him the Lord's ‘last messenger,’ with Muggleton as his ‘mouth.’ Next morning a similar voice sent him, with Muggleton, to deal with Thomas Tany [q. v.], the ranter; on the third day the cousins were despatched on a like errand to Robins. This ended the series of communications.

Reeve and Muggleton now presented themselves as the ‘two witnesses’ (Rev. xi. 3), printed their ‘commission book,’ obtained a following, and excited odium. Unfriendly critics hooted Reeve with the cry, ‘There goes the prophet that damns people;’ boys pelted him in St. Paul's Churchyard. A warrant was obtained by Goslin (a clergyman), Ebb (an exciseman), Chandler (a shopkeeper), and two soldiers, charging the ‘witnesses’ with blasphemous denial of the Trinity. They were imprisoned from 15 Sept. 1653 till April 1654. In Newgate they fared ill, and were badly used by their fellow-prisoners. Three wild highwaymen tried to hang Reeve. The confinement told upon his health, which was never robust.

In 1656 he visited Maidstone, but left in haste to avoid a threatened arrest. He reached Gravesend, where he took boat when overheated, caught a chill, and fell into a consumption. For two years he lingered in a wasting condition, unable to work, dependent on the earnings of his wife and daughter, and ultimately on the contributions of friends. After his wife's death, on 29 March 1658, he visited Cambridge; returning to London, he lodged with three sisters, Mrs. Frances, Mrs. Roberts, and Mrs. Boner, who kept a semptress's shop in Bishopsgate Street, near Hog Lane end. Ann Adams (afterwards the wife of William Cakebread of Orwell, Cambridgeshire) was ‘his handmaid to guide him to other friends' houses.’ He died at the latter end of July 1658; ‘Frances,’ he said, ‘close up mine eyes, lest mine enemies say I died a staring prophet.’ He was buried in Bethlehem new churchyard (in what is now Liverpool Street).

The ‘six foundations’ of the Muggletonian theology were formulated by Reeve. His most original position is the doctrine of the ‘two seeds’ in man, a divine element and a diabolic, one of which obtains the mastery. By this conception, elaborated in a peculiar vein of mysticism, he found a way out of universalism, for ‘damnation would be impossible, if all sprang from one root.’ Other points of doctrine, common to both, are specified in the article on Muggleton. Reeve, however, retained, while Muggleton rejected, the doctrine of the divine notice of human affairs, and accessibility to prayer. His writings are not without passages of considerable beauty; their tone is much more subdued and suasive than that of Muggleton. The contrast between their respective addresses to Isaac Penington the younger [q. v.] is very marked; Reeve sympathises with quaker tendencies, which Muggleton flouts and scorns. There have always been followers of Reeve (known as Reevites and Reevonians) who have held aloof from the thoroughgoing Muggletonians.

The following works are by Reeve and Muggleton, but chiefly by Reeve. The dates of first editions are given, all quarto, and all except No. 7 without publisher's or printer's name: 1. ‘A transcendent Spirituall Treatise,’ &c., 1652. 2. ‘A General Epistle from the Holy Ghost,’ &c., 1653. 3. ‘A Letter presented unto Alderman Fouke,’ &c., 1653. 4. ‘A Divine Looking-Glass,’ &c., 1656. Posthumous publications, containing letters and papers by Reeve, are: 5. ‘A Volume of Spiritual Epistles,’ &c., 1755. 6. ‘A Stream from the Tree of Life,’ &c., 1758. 7. ‘A Supplement to the Book of Letters,’ &c., 1831. The following are by Reeve alone: 8. ‘Joyful News from Heaven, or the Soul's Mortality proved,’ &c., 1658; and a posthumous collection of papers, 9. ‘Sacred Remains, or a Divine Appendix,’ &c., 1706 (written in 1652–7); another edition 1751.

Another John Reeve, author of ‘Spiritual Hymns upon Solomon's Song,’ 1693, 12mo, was a general baptist minister at Bessel's Green, Kent.

[Muggleton's Acts of the Witnesses, 1699; The Origin of the Muggletonians, and Ancient and Modern Muggletonians, in Transactions of Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society, 1869 and 1870; Reeve's Works; manuscript records of the Muggletonian body. For the bibliography of Reeve's writings, see Smith's Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana, 1873.]

A. G.