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 Howard Brod on 11th mo. 18, 2017 at 11:38pm

Wow.  Sounds like liberal Quakers of the 21st century.  Even though there are set times for worship for the sake of convenience, the rest sounds just like us.  And although there are set times for worship, most liberal Quaker meetings have no expectation that everyone should be at the meetinghouse to worship at that time each Sunday.  The norm is occasional worship.  My particular meeting provides keys to everyone so that they can worship whenever the Spirit moves them to do so during non-scheduled times.

So, now I am wondering which branch of Friends might most resemble the very earliest Quakers? If cherishing freedom of conscience is the distinguishing feature of those early times, the liberal Friends have as good of a claim to that as any branch.

Comment by David McKay on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 9:01am

I think it is a mistake — especially for communities that place value on ongoing revelation — to presume that the first flowering of the movement is by definition the "True Faith". Liberal Christianity for example, tends to favour the Jesus of the Gospels over the witness of the apostle Paul, despite the fact the Gospels were written quite a bit later than the writings of Paul (I for one favour the letter of James whose provenance is up for debate).

This pattern of early movements being somewhat's inchoate and without standardized doctrine, dogma or standard operating procedure is in fact well-known. Max Weber the sociologist noted an evolution in authority in such movements beginning with charismatic based authority giving way to tradition based authority which in turn became standardized enough to become legal/bureaucratic based authority. I don't think there is anything in Weber to suggest that one is preferred over the others.

Comment by James C Schultz on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 9:34am

Considering that It was the bible that was the source of George Fox's revelation of the "Inward Light", Jesus' letter to Ephesus is quite appropriate:

Rev 2:4  Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 11:20am

Every religious movement that's ever endured has been suitable and liveable for the particular people drawn to take it up. This will be a different population later on than the earliest adherents. Modern LiberalFriendists, modern TraditionalChristianFriendists and modern ContemplativativistFriendists can all claim Fox for their pedigree; but what they accept and practice will be whatever meets the needs they know, not his. I don't imagine that God ever intended a religion for people who never were nor would be...

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 1:11pm

Hello David,


This is an important and valid conversation. I agree it is a mistake presume that the first flowering of the movement is by definition the ‘True Faith.’ Personally, it is not the focus of my research to push forward such presumption. It is my focus to see whether I can tease out and push through to a particular witness that affected and informed the conscience and consciousness of some of the first Children of Light. As I posted in an recent post, the 17th century Quaker, Nathaniel Smith, 1669 testifies to the witness that what distinguished the Children of Light from all other ‘People’ was that they spoke out against the act of going about setting up themselves, and make to themselves Laws, whereby they may Govern, and bear Rule one over another. That is, Smith, and other first Quakers, were affected by the inshining Witness that they were come out of idenitification with and participation in outward forms, rules, and leaders, to rule and guide their consciousness and conscience and that they were come into identification with and participation in, the sufficiency of the inshining Light’s appearance in their conscience and consciousness to rule and guide them in matters of conscience and relationships. It was their speaking out against the very process of being guided and informed by outward forms and their affection for the sufficiency of the inshining Light itself in itself to rule and guide their conscience and consciousness that distinguished some amongst the first Children of Light from ‘all other People.’


I am not convinced that there was a time in the early history of the Children of Light, wherein there was complete unity regarding the witness of the sufficiency of inshining Light itself in itself to rule and guide. I am convinced there were some in the gathering who were come into this sufficiency and were deeply affected by and with it. (Note: I am compelled and interested in those people because I share their witness personally, and, in that fellowship, I am connected to Quakerism.) Others, were not affected in such a manner by the appearance of the Light in their conscience. They testified that the appearance of the inshining Light itself in itself in their conscience was not sufficient to sustain and nurture them spiritually. They, by their own admission, testified to a need for outward helps. With that said, it may be that there was a short period wherein, the witness to the sufficiency of the inshining Light itself in itself was more pervasive and then, as more and more people came into the gathering, those who were not so affected by the sufficiency of the Light itself in itself and were affected more by participation in and identification with outward forms outnumbered the former.


Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of the the English Language, published in 1756, defines Enthusiast as One who vainly imagines a private revelation; one who has a vain confidence of his intercourse with God. As one who is in fellow with those who are come into direct communication with immanent Presence, I affirm a confidence in this intercourse while denying the vainity of it. Johnson defines the term as a pejorative.


Your concern over the valuation of continuing revelation is curious to me because you seem to be suggesting that continuing revelation is an ongoing manifestation of outward doctrines etc. Continuing revelation in my experience is the ongoing and continuing manifestation of the illumination of the inshining Light itself in itself in my conscience and consciousness. It has nothing to do with outward moral or doctrinal forms that distill down and harden through the impulse movement of the Spirit. It is the impulse or movement itself in itself that is of value. So that, for me personally, the resting in, identification with, and participation in, the inshining Light as sufficient to guide and rule is a continuing revelation or manifestation in my daily life. It is renewed and continuing in each moment. This direct and continuing witness, experience, or revelation itself in itself is what continually connects me to and in fellowship with all others even those first Quakers who also were come into the sufficiency of continuing revelation or illumination of the Spirit itself in itself without regard for any outward form.


Finally, as to Weber, it is certainly true that most movements evolve as you point out through Weber’s finding. However, I suggest, something unique happened for some of the Children of Light and has happened both without and within the gathering up to our time, wherein, people became so identified with and participated so strongly in the inshining Light in their consciousness and conscience that they were sustained in and nurtured by this inshining Witness itself and it was discovered to them that they were come out of idenitification with and participation in outward formal organization, structure, leadership, learning, etc. in matter of conscience and human relationships. Being in the sufficiency itself in itself they testified against moving back into outward forms. As Smith, adn many other first Quakers, testified, they were come out of the “evolution” Weber identified. They, and many of us today (including myself) know a different way than that of coming into or evolving into identification with and participation in outward formal constructs. It is not that this way, for me, should be preferred. It is that, for some first Quakers (and those of us who are in fellowship with them), they personal came into and are come into the sufficiency of the inshining Light itself in itself as preferable and they shared and we are sharing this sufficiency with others today who are coming out of the outward way and seek fellowship and encouragement in their witness of the direct impulse and movement of inshining immanent Presence itself in itself taking up rule in their conscience and consciousness. There are those today who are come and who are coming into a different habitation than the outward way. There are legions of people today who are come into the outward way and participate in professing and promoting it. There are not enough who are come into the sufficiency of the inshining way and who are giving testimony to it in fellowship with one another to the nurturement of this inward witness.

Comment by David McKay on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 4:18pm

Hello James--

I do not think George Fox would own your interpretation. I viewed the Light as primary and the scripture as confirmatory not the other way round. Having said that, by the time he had his first opening he was already immersed in scripture. S his interpretation may have been flawed (or at least incomplete).

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 6:56pm

A human being whose interpretation of God's Light, Presence -- of his experience of God -- was incomplete?

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 7:33pm

Hello Howard,

"My particular meeting provides keys to everyone so that they can worship whenever the Spirit moves them to do so during non-scheduled times."

There is much you've testified to about your gathering that recommends it cordially in my Spirit. Your words above are among those that incline my mind in prayerful enthusiasm over the appearance of the inspeaking Spirit upon your gathering's consciousnesses and consciences.

Comment by James C Schultz on 11th mo. 19, 2017 at 11:01pm

Hello David:  It's hard for me to rate revelation vs. scripture as I view them as co-dependent.  I find revelation to flow out of scripture and scripture validated by revelation.  The trick is to not accept reasoning in and of itself as revelation but to exhaust reasoning until the mind gives up and is still so the still small voice of the spirit can be heard.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 20, 2017 at 12:07am

Revelation comes in many flavors, including that of reasoning... Reasoning per se, like scriptures per se, can be quite misleading; but reasoning will often turn out to be "the way to bet." That is, if someone sees a contradiction between them, either his revelation or the way he's seeing it evidently has a piece missing somewhere. (Big puzzles have big holey spots...?)

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