Nathaniel Smith and his testimony of the uniqueness of Quakers

Research Note, Inshining Light sufficiency, Outward Forms, excommunication, I AM

In The Quakers Spiritual Court Proclaimed published in 1669, Nathaniel Smith writes:

... all Sects, Formes, or other Dispensations, it thou please to call them so (or by what Name soever) after they have raised to themselves a considerable number of People, then they go about to set up themselves, and make to themselves Laws, whereby they may Govern, and bear Rule one over another; for these People called the Quakers, were the only People that did speak against this, and said, That Man ought to fear God, and to walk justly before him, and be taught of him; but now they have a Rule or a Light to walk by, (or rather of Law) and if any do not observe this, then he is cast out from amongst them, as not being one of the Flock of God.

This is another compelling piece of personal testimony (anecdotal) suggesting that there was a time at the foundation of the Quaker gathering wherein not only were they not guided and informed by outward forms and insitutions, but they actually spoke out (relatively speaking) against the very process of identification with and participation with outward forms to rule and govern over against the conscience. Smith here actually takes the time to point that Quakers, were the only People that did speak against this and who testified to the sufficiency of being taught of God. He also documents that there came a time wherein, like all other “Dispensations,” some of the quakers were led back into idenitification with and participation in outward forms.

The is compelling to me because, in my research, Smith’s testimony mirrors the testimonies of a number of other founding and early Quakers; which I will also publish over time. One piece of anecdotal information is not reliable enough to support a conclusion, however, a number of them over time and place and from different people, can be.

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 29, 2017 at 11:27pm

Jesus knew the forms of the customary worship of his nation, followed these where they served God's purposes, was taught by God throughout -- and faced accusations of violating commandments when he saw them conflicting with God's purposes.

He didn't tell anyone, that I know: "We should stop being Jewish and keeping the Sabbath." He said that the form we call Sabbath observance was created for the sake of human beings -- which implied that it did serve a function and should be kept in normal circumstances, though not in all circumstances. His rabbinical contemporaries generally agreed.

The same should apply to the form of renouncing explicit forms... It's good to be reminded that the forms are not the point. But it only makes sense to the extent that it furthers God's intentions for us. If it becomes a reason to devalue the worship of people who do find religious formalities helpful for bringing them closer to God,  that becomes a hindrance.

There's no reason to deny that people can be, and are taught by God. But we aren't all ready for the same lessons, and we don't all learn the same way. God is a better teacher than to forget that.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 4, 2017 at 12:29pm
William Rogers, in the First Part of His “The Christian Quaker ...” on pages 3 and 4 writes this concerning the witness of some Quakers from the beginning. This was written a decade after William Smith’s words.

That about Twenty Six Years past, it pleased the Lord to send forth many faithful Labourers of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, who in his Name, Dread, and Power testified, that their CALL was not of MAN, but of GOD; and that their Message was both to the Professour, and to the Prophane. To the Prophane crying on this wise, [Turn from the Evil of your Wayes, and Doings, and meet the Lord by sudden Repentance of your open Transgressions] To the Professours (who were not in the Common Pollutions of the World) on this wise, [Your Outward Forms, your Outward Ordinances, and Outward Church Fellowships, they are even but as Rudiments of this World, and the Lord hath no Regard thereto] and to both of them, [Turn in your Minds to the Light of Christ Jesus, that shines in your Consciences.] exalting the Measure thereof (as given to every man to profit withal) to be that Law, that Order, the Rule of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, unto which every one respectively ought to be subject, and yield Obedience; not by Constraint, but a willing Mind, and that for Conscience sake: And as we were so subject, we became Members of that Body against which the Gates of Hell never did, or can prevail; not yet against any one Member thereof, while at abiding on the Rock Christ, which is that Body the unworthy Eaters discerned not.

And thus for many Years it continued amongst the Friends of Truth (or Children of Light (for so were we called in the beginning) magnifying by their Testimonies, Obedience unto the Light of Christ Jesus (which as the Scripture Testifies, lighteth every man that cometh into the World) as the only RULE and GOVERNOUR in the Church of God, unto which whosoever took heed, and was obedient, was esteemed to live under the Government of Christ; knowing and believing, that as Christ’s coming is to be waited for in the Hearts of the Sons and Daughters of Men, so there his <First Part 4> Governments to be exalted, and that whosoever should endeavour by outward Ways and Means, to establish an Outward Government, and Outward Rules, Orders, Laws, or Prescriptions over the Heritage of God, under the Notion or Pretence of Christ’s Government, would be found invaders of Christs Prerogative, and building the things which in the Light of. Christ Jesus had been often testifyed against, as more agreable to the First Covenant than the Second, under which we are; and touching which ‘tis thus said, by the Prophet, I will put my Law in their inward Parts, and write it in their Hearts, and they shall teach no more every man his Neighbor, and every man his Brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them, to the greatest of them, saith the Lord. Jer. 31.33.34.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 4, 2017 at 2:07pm

We do have that Law in our hearts, and each of us would like to believe he's arrived at the point where we don't need each other to help read it. But dyslexia happens to the best of us.

We don't need anyone to force a reading on anybody else.  But when there might be a shadow we're missing in our hearts, the Light in someone else's heart can sometimes point out a message we've been missing. Coming together, comparing notes -- just being with each other, for that matter -- has its point.

Historically there seems to have been an ongoing tension between the wish to keep one's Meeting 'under control' and the knowledge that there's a larger Control than our own at work, requiring us to deal gently and respectfully to each other and each other's reading of that Law. Overall and over time, we seem  (admitting that we ain't There yet) to have been Steered through that remarkably well, so far.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 4, 2017 at 2:12pm
Rogers goes on to write on pages 11 and 12 in “The Christian Quaker ...”:

Tis well remembered, that that one Man G.F. went some years past into many parts of this Nation, advising Friends to hold such Meetings, viz. Monthly, and Quarterly; and in many places his Counsel was readily embraced: but for our parts, we understood not at that day, that it was designed by him, or any else, that those Meetings should not only be accounted the Church, but also such as professed the Truth, ought to believe as this Church believes; had he so expressed himself, Testimonies would have arisen as a Flood against <First Part 12> such Darkness; for this would have plainly appeared to us, to have opened a Door, whereby that Babylonish Rubbish, which we had been long testifying against, might have been exalted in one day. And to be very plain, we cannot but now declare, that we are fully satisfied in our Consciences, that by this very Door, a Body of Strife, Contention, Emulation, Malice, and Envy, together with a Rending, Dividing Separate Spirit from the Truth, is entred amongst many hundreds, who before walked together with us in an Heavenly Union and Fellowship, in the Life of Righteousness; which doubtless may (if it hath not already) occasion many Honest Simple-hearted Friends this in their Hearts to say; [Where are the People whom we shall now follow?] But if such retire into the Sanctuary of the Lord, there in stillness to wait what God will say, they will undoubtedly have this answer; [You have a Teacher with you, which cannot be removed into a Corner; follow that Teacher, lest peradventure your Feet do slip, by going from your Inward Guide, and following the Footsteps and Dictates of Man.]

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 4, 2017 at 4:15pm

It's after a marriage that people start to really discover the disagreements and difficulties...

The effort to reach unity ("Our way!" -- "No! _Our_ way!") where there was actually disagreement

vs splintering into tiny groups each with their own One True Way s...

persists in various forms throughout our history. Sometimes an oppression unity really needs to be broken up! And other times there's conflict that could be better handled.

All that is practice. We're still working on it. The Light is the same but we see from different angles of vision, with different blockages...

That Light is what we need to settle disagreements... but as long as people see different things by it, we can't all be seeing as well as we think!

If God starts with people where they are (and God clearly does, look at us!) then we need to learn to do the same. It's not easy.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 4, 2017 at 5:43pm
On pages 15 and 16 of the First Part of “The Christian Quaker ...” William Rogers writes:

We now come to say something to these foregoing words, viz. That in London and other part of this Nation, where such Meetings where usually held, the sense of the Generallity hath been taken for the sense of such Meetings. To this we answer, if thereby is intended, that the generality may claim power to declare, that their sense is the sense of the Meeting, it opens a Door whereby the Reputation and Honour of Truth , as Profest, owned and practiced amongst the Friends thereof, may fall in one day; For when these Meetings were assented unto (we cannot say established by man) we look upon our selves all Servants one unto another, and not Masters and Rulers over one another; and so had then no occasion given us to discourse of Authority, but when there was, we well Remember, that we, ascribed all Authority unto the appearance of the invisible Power of God; and so no encouragement was given by us, that any one Man or Men should take upon him or them, to Rule and Govern in such Meetings; but our expectations were, that every Member should there appear in subjection of Christ, the Head and higher Power, unto which as Members of his Body we owe Obedience: In this sense we readily embraced the Counsel, to Meet together to Serve, <First Part 16> but not to Bear Rule over one another’s Consciences: and matters intended by us to be transacted in those Meetings, and by others also (as far as we understood) were chiefly, To take care of the poor, the fatherless and the widdow. And that if any professed the Truth, and dishonour’d the same by prophane and evil Conversation, we might by such ways and meanes, as the Lord on every occasion might direct, (not then thinking that the day would ever come, wherein an Outward Directory should be placed as a Judg over our Consciences) Indeavor to reclaim such from the Evil of their Ways; and for these Services we are sensible, that Meetings are proper, and therefore to continue in the services thereof: yet never thought we should have seen the Day, wherein any professing the Truth would have attempted to treat on such a Subject as this viz. [How far doth this Government extend in matters Spiritual, and purely conscientious?] and not only so but be approved (as the aforesaid Book of Government, wherein the said sentence is written, hath been) by a Meeting that takes upon them to take Care (as they pretend) that nothing be Printed whereby the Truth may be dishonour’d.

His testimony that their was a time when the gathering of the Children of Light lived in unity and that unity dissolved by the actions of George Fox, and those who followed him, who set about to establish outward forms to rule and guide the gathering. His words echo those of other contemporary Quakers. There is this consistent narrative that Meetings, in general, were set up as vehicles to help those in need, however, that this was a mere pretense to open the path toward the establishment of outward institutional forms and prescription to rule and govern the gathering. Francis Bugg, a disseffected Quaker, even goes so for as to suggest that those of wished to bring the gathering out being ruled and governed solely by the inshining Light and back into idenifitication with and participation in outward forms, tricked the gathering into accepting outward Meetings to help people in need so that they could then establish their own outward forms over against the gathering through the auspices and instrumentality of the outward Meetings. Rogers here says that if Fox were honest with them at the beginning his wish to bring them back into idenitification with and participation in outward forms to rule and govern them would have been dismissed summarily.

It is important to understand that some early and Founding Quakers were come into unity through a consciousness anchored in and conscience informed by the direct and immediate impulse of the inshining Light itself in itself through this different conscious the gathering had experience true unity. Their claim is that it was the coming back into idenitification with and participation in the act of establishing outward forms to rule and govern the gathering that was the cause of disunity.

The testimony is that the process of idenifitication with and participation in outward forms is the cause of disunity and the coming out of idenifitication with and participation in outward forms and coming into idenifitication with and participation in outward forms in the only way to unity. In a letter to George Fox, John Wilikinson was prescient in his statement that George Fox’s establishment and enforcement of outward forms to rule and govern the gathering would lead to nothing but a history of disunity and bifurcation.

I am researching deeper into other founding and early Quaker writers to glean, if I can, just how pervasive the Quaker consciousness that identification with and participation in outward forms was the problem and that it is discovered to them through the direct and immediate inshining LIght itself in itself upon their consciousness and conscience. There may be something very instructive here that shines a instructive light upon why some Quakers wrote down historical documentation for posterity that it would be known that many of them did not follow George Fox back into that which they are come out of which was identification with and participation in outward forms to anchor their consciousness and inform their conscience. It is also instructive how those who set out to re-establish the gathering back into outward forms tried very hard to suppress and extirpate those Quakers who would following them back into outward forms from the gathering.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 4, 2017 at 10:06pm

"Suppress"? "Extirpate"?  There have been many dissident Meetings and Quaker factions over the centuries, none that I know of massacred by fellow Quakers. ("Looks that could kill" seldom do.)

People who feel led by the Light to gather together in their worship do not require any authorization whatsoever from their local Meeting(s) if any. If they aren't led to practice all the outward organizational functions of a Meeting, or any of these whatsoever, there's no reason they should have to. Even in officially-Quaker Meetings, members who don't feel led to participate in some way don't get rounded up and forced to, not around here anyway!

I've known at least one informal worship group formed by resigned members and their friends, including a few Friends who worshipped both with the exiles/refugees and with their former Meeting. The only thing is, the non-Quakers had too many things more important to them than worshipping Saturday mornings. For awhile the group outnumbered the smaller of two local Meetings, but over half a year drifted away into other interests, until the group simply died of indifference.

Any Quaker extirpation of dissenting groups or members has been entirely self-inflicted.

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 5, 2017 at 12:19am

In many different comments that I have offered over the years I have been led to echo the same awareness that these earliest Quakers came to know through the power of the inshining Light; that true unity does not come about through the forcing of notions, theology, beliefs, practice, organizations, structures; nor traditions.  Forcing, control, and coercion are not of the Light. Unity comes about only through trusting in the Light to direct one's own conscience to live his or her life and being in the Light itself. It is wrong to threaten expulsion (as Fox and company threatened) just because a person doesn't agree to a unilaterally imposed organizational control. This idol form of  'organization' and human leadership placed above the inshining Light itself, can only lead to disunity.

A sharing of a communal journey with the Light - under those forced circumstances - can not be sustained. Yet, a communal 'Light journey' and experience is made more rewarding and productive when shared with others, and is needed if the world is ever to be 'One'.  'Sharing Light with others' was the early reason that these Children of Light gathered together.  Thus, they minimized the use of forms so that the human ego did not get in the way of the action of the Light. This is still true in our day: To the degree a Quaker meeting can eliminate forms from their gathered experience, the Light will more easily fill everyone's being with the essence of God.

I speak this from my own experience within a liberal Quaker meeting that at one time did not quite realize the importance of this earliest Quaker understanding (and I include myself). However, my experience within this liberal Quaker meeting has demonstrated that once a Quaker meeting communally realizes the importance of eliminating these 'form' idols, a meeting experiences many communal improvements: a diminishing of pettiness among Friends, no more cliques, no more  control and domination by committees and instead utilizing the whole meeting's discernment, no more named leaders as a realization emerges that anyone can be used as a leader by the Spirit at any time for any length of time about anything, frequent new Friends coming in the door on Sunday, naturally arising social action from anyone, a vibrant spiritual energy within the meetinghouse and on the grounds, a ceasing of judging one another, increased genuineness between each other, on and on.

But such a change takes discussion, a willingness, and a slow but steady communal unfolding of changes to minimize and eliminate the use of forms wherever possible.

It can be done.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 5, 2017 at 10:56am

The structures of Quaker Meetings really suit the people they suit.

So far as the people implementing them are attentive to doing so in the same Light we all mean to follow, they provide a helpful practice in bringing all the intense passions and disagreements people have about how best to accomplish any good end

to be reconciled by that Light in the best way possible -- given the people involved, as they are at that time.

The results are not ideal, because we are not. We may, for example, be dangerously captive to some abstract ideal at the expense of our own humanity (even "absence of forms" for example -- or "Quaker Process" for another) to an extent which seriously limits our ability to be fit tools for God's purposes.

Me, I don't expect the people we have at business meetings to bring on the Kingdom of God any time soon. They can do what they're up to doing just fine without me, so I leave them to it.

Sometimes the formalities of 'one-hour-or-until-the Clerk-feels-we're-done' and 'shsss don't anybody talk much' strike me as limiting the Spirit unduly, but that's what it takes to suit the people we have and are, for now.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 5, 2017 at 11:56am

“For we know, that when Truth was Preach’t amongst us in the beginning, and the Light of Christ shining in our Conscience magnified as our only Guide (the Gift of the Father) and Appearance of Christ Jesus, the great Ordinance and Power of God unto Salvation) our souls were wonderfully reacht, and affected with the sound thereof; believing, that the day was then come unto us, wherein the Promise of the Father, according to the Words of Christ, was fulfilled unto us, viz. But the Comforter, which is the Spirit of Truth, which the Father will send in my Name, he shall Teach you all things, and Guide you into all Truth: And thus the Eyes of our Understandings came to be opened, that we saw most of the Professours (then in being) to be but in the Gentile nature, and come no further than the Outward Court, which the Angel (as John Testified1 ) was not to measure: for was not their Preacher Outward, their Rule Outward, their Order Outward, their Ordinances Outward, and the Tokens, and Marks of Membership in their Church Outward? And when those Outward Things were magnified, and the Preaching of the Light of Christ Jesus, as the Guide to the Father, degraded by our Opposers, we were even ready to fear (on their behalf) that they were of that number, who saw, but did not perceive; did hear, but not understand. Our breathing now unto the Lord is, That none of those who have formerly received the Truth in the Love thereof, may continue so hardened, as to see and not Perceive; to hear and not Understand; and so (in a dark and vailed Estate) <First Part 21> conclude, that [as *2 Heirs of the Gospel, Life and Salvation, they are entered into an Heavenly Possession] (whenas the Possessions they are entered into, are but some outward Observations, which may more properly be accounted to relate to the Outward Court, than to the New Jerusalem, and Heirs of the Kingdom of God) but rather that they may so perceive, and understand the things of God, as to bow to the appearance of Christ Jesus in themselves, as the only Lawgiver, Spiritual Guide, and Teacher, which is infailible, and cannot be removed into a Corner: with confidence then may we conclude, that none such will ever more boast of the possession which they have taken (as Heirs of the Gospel) with respect to things that are without.”

It is compelling to me that there were many founding and early Quakers who testified to the witness that, for a time, the gathering was in unity in the sufficiency of the inshining Light itself in itself to rule and guide. They then testify that some people in the gathering, lead by George Fox, came back into identification with and participation in outward forms and set about to reestablish the Gathering back into outward forms. Those who would not follow the establishment forces back into the process of identification with and participation in the outward form the establishment forces profess were called evil and dark. Some of them were excommunicated (extirpated) from the gathering. The writings of those who wrote against the gathering being led back into outward forms were suppressed by the Second Days Meeting.

  1. Keyboarder’s Note: A reference to Revelations 11: 1,2 which reads: 1. Then was given me a reede, like unto a rod, and the Angel stood by, saying, Rise and mete the Temple of God, and the alter, and them that worship therein. 2. But the court which is without the temple cast out, and mete it not: for it is given unto the Gentiles, and the holy citie shall they trade under Foote, two and fourtie moneths. Source: Geneva Bible 1560 ↩︎
  2. *Note, This sentence [viz. as Heirs of the Gospel, Life and Salvation to your possessions] hath been of late years frequently expressed by G. F. when speaking to Friends by way of encouragement to continue Mens and Women's Meetings, distinct from the publick Meetings for Worship; by which meanes ‘tis much doubted, that some ignorant People have concluded, that their frequenting those meetings is an evidence, that they are Heirs of Life and Salvation. ↩︎


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