RANTERS, an antinomian and spiritualistic English sect in the time of the Commonwealth, who may be described as the dregs of the Seeker movement. Their central idea was pantheistic, that God is essentially in every creature, but though many of them were sincere and honest in their attempt to express the doctrine of the Divine immanence, they were in the main unable to hold the balance. They denied Church, Scripture, the current ministry and services, calling on men to hearken to Christ within them. Many of them seem to have rejected a belief in immortality and in a personal God, and in many ways they resemble the Brethren of the Free Spirit in the 14th century. Their vague pantheism landed them in moral confusion, and many of them were marked by fierce fanaticism. How far the accusation of lewdness brought against them is just is hard to say, but they seem to have been a really serious peril to the nation. They were largely recruited from the common people, and there is plenty of evidence to show that the movement was widespread. The Ranters came into contact and even rivalry with the early Quakers, who were often unjustly associated with them. The truth is that the positive message of the Friends helped to save England from being overrun with Ranterism. Samuel Fisher, a Friend, writing in 1653, gives a calm and instructive account of the Ranters, which with other relevant information, including Richard Baxter's rather hysterical attack, may be read in Rufus M. Jones's Studies in Mystical Religion (1909), xix. In the middle of the 19th century the name was often applied to the Primitive Methodists, with reference to their crude and often noisy preaching.
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