Founding Quakerism: “Their chief design... to reduce Religion to Allegory?”

Research Notes, George Fox, Enthusiasm, Outward Rule, Sufficiency of Light, Scripture not Sufficient, aversion of outward ecclesiastical forms.

In 1776, Daniel Neal published “The History of the Puritans or Protestant Non-Conformists.” In the fourth volume of his history on pages 32-36, he writes these two paragraphs about the Quakers:

“It can’t be expected that such an unsettled People should have an uniform System of rational Principles. Their first and chief Design, if they had any, was to reduce all revealed Religion to Allegory; and because some had laid too great stress upon Rites ad Ceremonies, they would have neither Order nor Decency, nor stated Times of Worship, but all must arise from the inward Impulse of their Spirits. Agreeable to this Rule they declared against all Sorts of Clergy, or settled Ministers; Against People’s assembling in Steeple Houses: against fixed TImes of publick Devotion, and consequently against the Observation of the Sabbath. Their own Meeting were occasional, and when they met, one or another spake as they were moved from within, and sometimes they departed without any one’s being moved to speak at all.”

“The Doctrines they delivered were as various and uncertain as the Principle from which the acted. They denied the Holy Scriptures to be the one only Rule of their Faith, calling it a dead Letter, and maintained, that every Man had a Light within himself, which was a sufficient Rule. They denied the received Doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation, They disowned the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; nay, some of them proceeded so far, as to deny a Christ without them; or at least , to place more of their Dependence upon a Christ within. They spake little or nothing (says Me. Baxter [Marginal Note: Baxter p. 77]) about the Depravity of Nature; about the Covenant of Grace; about Pardon of Sin and Reconciliation with God; or about Moral Duties; but the Disturbance they gave to the publick Religion for a Course of many Years, was so insufferable, that the magistrates could not avoid punishing them as Disturbers of the Peace; though of later Years they are become a more sober and inoffensive People; and by the Wisdom of their Managers have form’d themselves into a Sort of Body politick.”


These two paragraphs captured my attention because here the author speaks of a time wherein, at least some Quakers, so came out of identification with outward ecclesiastical forms that they were averse to even conforming to specific set times for worship even of the Sabbath. He puts an exclamation on it by stating that the Quakers eventually much more sober and more conforming to outward ecclesiastical structure under outward “management.” That is, there was a time wherein, at least some Quakers, were so identified with the inshining Light as sufficient to rule and guide that they came out of such churchly structure. Dean’s words are further support for the contention that it was discovered to, at least some first Quakers, through the appearance of the inshining Light in their consciousness and conscience, that outThese two paragraphs captured my attention because here the author speaks of a time wherein, at least some Quakers, so came out of identification with outward ecclesiastical forms that they were averse to even conforming to specific set times for worship even of the Sabbath. He puts an exclamation on it by stating that the Quakers eventually became much more sober and more conforming to outward ecclesiastical structure under outward “management.” That is, there was a time wherein, at least some Quakers, were so identified with the inshining Light as sufficient to rule and guide that they came out of such outward churchly structure. Dean’s words are further support for the contention that it was discovered to, at least some first Quakers, through the appearance of the inshining Light in their consciousness and conscience, that outward Churchly forms were not necessary or valuable. Furthermore, that if a person just looks at little further back, or at least along side, the outward forms that Quaker “managers” or leadership were bringing the gathering back into, there were those other Quakers who witnessed coming out of the churchly way

I’ve published all four pages below for further reference.

From this Time we may date the Rise of the People called QUAKERS, in whom most of the Enthusiasts of these Times centr’d: Their first Leader was GEORGE FOX, born at Drayton in Lancashire, 1624. his Father being a poor Weaver put him Apprentice to a Country Shoemaker, but having a peculiar Turn of Mind for Religion, he went away from his Master, and wander’d up and down the Countries like an Hermit, in a Leathern Doublet; at length his Friends hearing he was a London, persuaded him to return home, and settle in some regular Course of Emplyment; but after he had been some Months in the Country he went from his Friends a second Time, in the Year 1646, and threw off all further Attendance on the publick Service in the Churches: THe Reasons he gave for his Conduct were, because it was revealed to him, That a learned Education at the University was no Qualification for a Minister, but that all depended on the Anointing of the Spirit; and, that God who made the World did not dwell in Temples made with hands. In the Year 1647. he travelled into Darbyshire and Nottinghamshire, walking through divers Towns and Villages, which Way foever his mind turned, in a solitary Manner, He fasted much (says my Author [Marginal Note; Sewel’s History]) and walked often abroad in retired Places, with no other Companion but his Bible. he would sometimes set in an hollow Tree all Day, and frequently walk about the Fields at the Night, like a Man possessed with deep Malancholy; which the Writer of his Life calls the Time of the first Working of the Lord upon him, Towards the latter End of this Year, he began first to set up for a Teacher of others, about Duckinfield and Manchester; the principle Argument of his Discourse being, *That People should recieve the inward Divine Teachings of the Lord, and take that for their Rule.


In the Year 1648. there being a Dissolution of all Government both Civil and Eccesiastical, George Fox waxed bold, and travell’d through the Counties of Leicestershire, Northhamptonshire, and Derbyshire, speaking to the People in Market Places, &c. about the inward Light of Christ within them. At this Time (says my Author [Marginal Note: Hist. Quakers p. 18.]) he apprehended the Lard forbid him to put off his Hat to any one, high or low; he was required also, to speak to the People without Distinction in the Language of Thou and Thee. He was not to bid People good Morrow, or good Night; neither might he bend his Knee to the chief Magistrate in the Nation; the Women that followed him would not make a Courtesy to their Superiors, nor comply with the common Forms of Speech. Both Men and Women affected a plain and simple Dress, distinct from the Fashion of the Times. They neither gave nor accepted and Titles of Respect or Honour, nor would they call any Man Master on Earth. They refused to take an Oath on the most solemn Occasion. These, and the like Peculiarities, he supported by such Passages of Scripture as these, Swear not al all. How can yes believe who recieve Honour one of another, and seek not the Honour which comes from God only? But these Marks of Distinction which George Fox and his Followers were so tenacious of, unhappily brought them in to a great deal of Trouble, when they were called to appear before the Civil Magistrate.


In the Year 1649. he grew more troublesome, and began to interrupt the publick Ministers in Time of Divine Service: His first essay fo this Kind was at Nottingham, where the Minister preaching from those Words of St. Peter, We have a more sure Word of Prophecy &c. told the People, that they were to try all Doctrines, Opinions and Religions, by the Holy Scriptures. Upon which George Fox stood up in the Midst of the Congregation and said, Oh no! ‘tis not the Scripture, but ‘tis the Holy Spirit, by which Opinons, and Religions, are to be tried: for it was the Spirit that lead People into all Truth, and gave them the Knowledge of it. And continuing his Speech to the Disturbance of the Congregation, the Officers were obliged to turn him out of the Church, and carry him to the Sheriff’s House; next Day he was committed to the Castle, but was quickly released without any other Punishment. After this he disturbed the Minister of Mansfield in Time of Divine Service, for which he was set in the Stocks, adn turned out of the Town. The like Treatment he met with at Market Bosworth, and several other Towns. At length the Magistrates of Berby confined him six Months in Prison, for uttering divers blasphemous Opinions, pursuant to a late Act of Parliament for that purpose. By this Time there began to appear some other Visionaries, of the same Make and Complexion with George Fox, who spoke in Places of publick Resort; being moved (as they said) by the Holy Ghost; and even some Women, contrary to the Modesty of their Sex, went about Streets, and enter’d into Churches, crying down the Teaching of men, and exhorting People to attend to the Light within themselves.


It was in the Year 1650. that these wandering Lights first received the Denomination of Quakers, upon the Occasion, their speaking to the People was usually attended with convulsive Agitations, and shavings of the Body. All their Speakers had these Tremblings, which they gloried in, asserting it to be the Character of good Man to tremble before God. When George Fox appeared before the Gervas Bennet, Esq; one of the Justices of Derby, Octob. 30. 1650. he had one of his Agitations, or fits of Trembling upon him, and with a loud Voice, and vehement Emotion of Body, bid the Justice, and those about him, tremble at the Word of the Lord; whereupon the Justice gave him, and his Friends, the Name Quakers, which being agreeable to their Behaviour, quickly became the distinguishing Character of this People.


At length they disturbed the publick Worship by appearing in ridiculous Habits, with emblematical or typical Representations of some impending Calamity; they also took the Liberty of giving the Ministers the reproachful Names of Hirelings, Decievers, of the People, false Prophets, &c. Some of them went through divers Towns and Villages naked, denouncing Judgements and Clalmities upon the Nation. Some have famished and destroyed themselves by deep Melancholy; and others have undertaken to raise their Friends from the Dead, Mr. Baxter says [Marginal Note: Baxter p. 77.], many Franciscan Friars, and other Paris’s, have been disguised Speakers in their Assemblies; but little Credit is to be given to such Reports.


It can’t be expected that such an unsettled People should have an uniform System of rational Principles. Their first and chief Design, if they had any, was to reduce all revealed Religion to Allegory; and because some had laid too great stress upon Rites ad Ceremonies, they would have neither Order nor Decency, nor stated Times of Worship, but all must arise from the inward Impulse of their Spirits. Agreeable to this Rule they declared against all Sorts of Clergy, or settled Ministers; Against People’s assembling in Steeple Houses: against fixed TImes of publick Devotion, and consequently against the Observation of the Sabbath. Their own Meeting were occasional, and when they met, one or another spake as they were moved from within, and sometimes they departed without any one’s being moved to speak at all.


The Doctrines they delivered were as various and uncertain as the Principle from which the acted. They denied the Holy Scriptures to be the one only Rule of their Faith, calling it a dead Letter, and maintained, that every Man had a Light within himself, which was a sufficient Rule. They denied the received Doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation, They disowned the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; nay, some of them proceeded so far, as to deny a Christ without them; or at least , to place more of their Dependence upon a Christ within. They spake little or nothing (says Me. Baxter [Marginal Note: Baxter p. 77]) about the Depravity of Nature; about the Covenant of Grace; about Pardon of Sin and Reconciliation with God; or about Moral Duties; but the Disturbance they gave to the publick Religion for a Course of many Years, was so insufferable, that the magistrates could not avoid punishing them as Disturbers of the Peace; though of later Years they are become a more sober and inoffensive People; and by the Wisdom of their Managers have form’d themselves into a Sort of Body politick.


[Source: “The History of the Puritans or Protestant Non-Conformists, from the Death of King Charles 1. to the Act of Toleration by King William and Queen Mary, in the Year 1689.” by Daniel Neal, M.A. Volume 4, London, Printed For Richard Heat, at the Bible and Crown in the Poultry. pgs. 32-36, 1776]

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Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 20, 2017 at 2:55pm

I go back to Karen Armstrong's observation that Protestantism stands out in its focus on "head beliefs" (what you *believe* is most important) versus an emphasis on practice, such as meditation, drumming or even snake handling. Such practices must be peripheral.

In saying Quakers wished to self-organize intuitively does not mean they came up with no organization, nor did they forswear pinning it down more as they became more accepted, as captains of industry.  "Head beliefs" were still not the main focus however.  Theology was not a chief concern.  This form of pragmatism found friends (and Friends) in the sphere of New England Transcendentalism.

Protestants still seem to want top down dogma imposed from God, but of course that has to mean mediated by those with deepest insight into His Word i.e. some set of scriptures.  I'm happy to put some branches of Quakerism outside the Protestant sphere, and I'm not suggesting such Quakers must eschew running million dollar meetings, as ours does.  We're well organized.  We just don't care if you think in terms of a Trinity or whatever.  That's your business.

Comment by David McKay on 11th mo. 20, 2017 at 6:21pm

Not with-it enough to speak to "we just don't care if you think in terms of a Trinity or whatever." I have head that George Fox conflated Christ and the Holy Spirit somewhat. Cannot think of anything to heavily Trinitarian in Barclay. But Isaac Penington seemed to be heavily Trinitarian to me.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 20, 2017 at 7:44pm

What does God [feel free to interpret this in whatever way you so-far envision the Life and Soul in yourself and the surrounding universe, however conceived (so far)] -- what does God intend for that little spiritual/social whirl we call 'Quakers' to be, do, or become, anyway?

That is, by the way, a perfectly factual issue -- one we can certainly disagree about, one we can't "objectively" settle by ourselves -- but one which God which might well have an answer for [or not. God might be quite content to let Quakers, whoever wants to call themselves that, decide for themselves. But God might have had far more in mind than usage of thees and committespeak and paganism-free date designations...]

We can certainly say that Real Quakers think like.... um, me. But not if there's a life at work in all this beyond our own.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 20, 2017 at 10:54pm

"But Isaac Penington seemed to be heavily Trinitarian to me." -- David McKay

I have no reason to doubt that. Some Quakers are really into theology, and once that' s your hobby, you can't help but find your place in the many on-going debates.  Ditto philosophy (more my hobby).

However the test of your Quakerism is not how you fill out the survey form on What You Believe, so much as whether you walk cheerfully and lightly over the world in ways the obviate the need for outward wars. 

Are you egalitarian in your relationships, or sycophantic? 

Many churches would cease to exist if it weren't for their top-down emphasis on the entitled (those with titles) versus the minions (those expected to just obey). Skillful Quakers manage by rotation and see business management (if only the meeting itself) as part of the practice.  A weighty Friend may be regarded as such because of her practice, whereas she cares naught for theology.  Not all religions are like that.

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