Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
In the ‘Introduction’ to ‘The Second Period of Quakerism’ by William Braithwaite, Rufus Jones posits that the origins of Quaker Quietism are to be found in the writings of Robert Barclay. The view of Jones is that Quakers were receptive to the teachings of Guyon and other continental Quietists because the basic teachings of Quietism are to be found in early Quaker works, particularly Barclay, prior to the Quaker community encountering continental Quietism. Jones writes, “[I]t is a plain and patent fact that Barclay’s formulation is charged and loaded with the essential conditions and tendencies of Quietism.” (Page xli)
Jones is harsh in condemning Barclay’s presentation. Jones sites as an example of Barclay’s Quietism a section of Barclay’s ‘Apology’, Proposition V and VI, section 17. I decided to look it up to see what it had to say.
Here is the essential passage, “ . . . concerning the manner of this Seed or Light’s operation in the hearts of all men, which will show yet more manifestly how we differ vastly from all those that exalt a natural power or light in man; and how our principle leads, above all others, to attribute our whole salvation to the mere power, spirit, and grace of God. . . I say . . . that as the Grace and Light in all is sufficient to save all, and of its own nature would save all; so, it strives and wrestles with all, for to save them; he that resists its striving, is the cause of his own condemnation; he that resists it not, it becomes his salvation: so that in him, that is saved, the working is of the grace, and not of the man; and it is a passiveness, rather than an act . . . So that the first step is not by man’s working, but by his not contrary working.” (Pages 128 & 129, Quaker Heritage Press Edition)
The issue is whether one can become open to the inward light through an act of will, through some kind of effort. Barclay’s view is that the inward light is always working within, but it can be blocked by human willfulness; therefore the first step is to be passive in the presence of the light so that the light can work.
I agree with Jones that this is an excellent summary of the view of Quietism. In contrast with Jones, though, I find myself highly attracted to this way of looking at the inward light that dwells in all. This is why Quaker Faith and Practice emphasize stillness and silence; because stillness and silence are a good step in the direction of setting aside our own will, of not ‘contrary working’.
I find Barclay’s formulation inspired and inspiring. In some ways it reminds me of passages in Taoist works where the Taoist Sage ‘does nothing and therefore everything is accomplished.’ I appreciate the way Barclay connects grace with this inward light. And I am deeply appreciative of how Barclay explicitly labels Quaker practice as a kind of ‘passiveness’. I appreciate this because it is a difficult notion for people to accept. And I think it has become progressively more difficult among modern Quakers who often take an aggressively activist stance.
Personally, I more and more see Quietism as the heart of Quaker Faith and Practice. And I see in passages like this one from Barclay the possibility of a more contemplative Quaker Faith. A Faith more open to grace, more removed from the world, and more open to the grace of the inward light.
Thy Friend Jim