Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Or founding Quaker Heterodoxy revealed in the words of an early disaffected Quaker, Francis Bugg
I have recently been reading the writings of Francis Bugg as part of my ongoing work to give context to William Rogers documentation (1680) of John Wilkinson's and John Story's disagreement with George Fox and the institutionalization of the early Quaker gathering.
Briefly, Francis Bugg was a member of the early Quaker gathering. He eventually left the Quakers and set about actively speaking and writing against Quakerism in general and George Fox specifically.
Bugg's book "The Pilgrim's Progress from Quakerism to Christianity" written in 1698 is an important source document giving a first person account of the nature of the Quaker experience. His accounting is significant as it is from the perspective of an individual who was devout Quaker who then became disaffected. It is often the case that reading the perspective of the disaffected reveals nuances not readily gleaned from the renderings of the devout. Bugg's writings are full of such treasures.
Bugg's main contention is that he was carried away by the "dissimulation" of Quaker "teachers" like George Fox. That is, the genuine intent of the leaders of the gathering was to use the silent meeting "to wean us off from so much as the remembrance of all external Religion, and also, to prepare us to receive the false Notions of Quakerism ..."
Bugg also writes:
"But, let it be noted, Not a Chapter in the Bible was ever read amongst us, but all exhorted to adhere to the Light within, to obey the Light within, and to follow the Teachings thereof, as a Guide sufficient to lead us to Salvation; yea above Scripture, above Fathers, above Counsels, and above Churches: This I now confess, was a Paradox; not Orthodox, but absolutely works Heterodox: For let the Scripture command Subjects to be obedient to Magistrates, Children to obey their parent, Wives to reverence their Husbands, and live in subjections to them, Servant to obey their Master, Christian to obey their Pastors, all this signified little; the Light within (our teachers taught us) was Christ, and Christ the Power of God, the higher Power to which every Soul was to be subject; yea, all Power in Heaven and Earth, was committed to the Light; (a) and that no Command in Scripture was any further binding, than as we were convinced of the Lawfulness thereof, by the Light within us. (b) So, that all our obedience to God, and his Commands, were bottomed and founded in our Conviction, by the Light within; that being the only Rule, Judge, and Guide, both superior to the Scriptures, Fathers, and Councils. For, said they to us, That what is spoken from the Spirit of Truth (c) in any is of as great Authority as the Scriptures and Chapters are, and greater."
I welcome and embrace Bugg's criticisms and warnings against Quakerism as he met it. For in his analysis, a sense of the essence of founding Quakerism is revealed. He witnessed, experienced, and testifies to the essence of the Quaker experience through Silent Meeting as a weaning "from the Articles of Christian Faith, and the Principles of Christian Religion ... to throw off all Instituted Religion, but even to a degree higher, even to throw contempt both upon the Scriptures, Ordinances, and Ministers, and all things Sacred, crying down all Forms and Constitutions, how ancient and profitable forever they were, and all under a higher Dispensation, even the Light within, &, etc.
Now, while Bugg came to speak out against the Light within as sufficient guide without regard to outward forms and persons, this witness is what attracted him to Quakerism. I suggest he was sympathetic to this testimony in and of itself even after he abandoned Quakerism. However, as many founding and early Quakers documented in their writings, something happened after about 35 to 40 years from the founding of Quakerism. They document that many of those who were “teachers” (including George Fox) in the Gathering changed their accent so to speak. They began to suggest that there was a need to re-institutionalize the gathering. To Francis Bugg and many others in the gathering at the time, this re-institutionalization of the gathering represented a betrayal of the very essence of their witness and testimony. Williams Roger, in 1680, writes that those who wished to re-institute the gathering back into an adherence to outward forms were leading the gathering back into a way of life that they had rejected. Francis Bugg goes even further and suggests the establishment forces had intended to do so from the very founding of the Gathering, but first, they had to “wean” them from the outward forms they had grown into so as to inject another set of outward forms of their creation. So, what was the "dissimulation" or hidden purpose behind this testimony of the sufficiency of the Light within?
Bugg writes the "teachers" within the gathering use the design of silent meeting "to bring us off, and wean us from the Articles of Christian Faith, and the Principles of the Christian Religion; thereby, to mould us, and square us, as fit Tools for their turn, to supplant and overthrow it. And this I know, that the more we obeyed the Doctrine of our new Teachers [George Fox, William Penn, etc.] the more we grew dead to all Instituted Religion ... these Silent Universities tends only to empty the mind of all true and solid Notions of the Christian Religion, and only to prepare them for the wild Notions of Quakerism, which hath such a sandy Foundation." According to Bugg, this weaning from outward forms was only a preparation for the implanting of another set of outward forms those "teachers" wish to institute upon the gathering. Bugg is suggesting a conscious effort of bait and switch by the Quaker "teachers."
"For after we became dead to the Rudiments of the world, as we accounted those Christian Duties, commanded by Christ and his Apostles, and practiced by Christian Churches downwards, as Baptism, Supper, Confession of Sin, &c, and became steadfast and fixed in the Notion of Quakerism; of which I gave only a Hint as I passed through my Pilgrimage in that Particular; then our teachers began to think themselves of the necessity of a Government in our Church, as well as our Neighbors; and if a Government then a Governor; and this Government must be either inward, or Outward.: The Inward we had tried and found defective, for the Disciple pretended he was enlightened, as well as the Apostle; and he thought he had as much right to follow his Guide, i.e. his Light within, as to follow and obey the Light in his Teacher, or the Light in any Man.Upon this, the teachers met in Council at London, in the Month of May 1666, to settle this so necessary, as well as difficult Point; and many Arguments passed between the Clergy and Laity, between the Teachers and the Deputies. As last it was decided, That the Body should govern, and the Light, in particular, should submit to the Body. But still, this Body being without a Head, seemed like a Monster; so that there was a necessity to find a head to clap upon the Body. Well, this head must either be visible, or invisible,; the latter it could not be, for then the least Hearer would plead his Light, his Guide, his Judge, his Leader; as the Teachers told them in the beginning, when they decoyed them over to them. So then it was resolved, it must be George Fox, he being the first, must become our Great Apostle; who, together with the Body, was to Govern from East to West, and from North to South. Since which time, it was in vain for any single Person to plead the Sufficiency of his Light, or the Authority of it, for to the Light the Body was all Power in Heaven and Earth committed.”
With these words Bugg documents a time (he later asserts to be the first 40 years) when many Quakers lived in the sufficiency of the inward Light as literally ("particularly") their only guide and teacher. A time when, generally speaking, the inward Light itself replaced, or took the place of, all outwards form and institutions. Those in the Gathering were “weaned” from outward forms. In essence, they no longer reflected upon or looked toward outward forms (institutions, creeds, scripture, traditions, ideologies, theologies) as their guide. Rather, their meaning, purpose, direction, and identity rested in the inward Light itself in itself. Then, some teachers in the Gathering began to suggest a need for adherence to outward forms (irrespective of guidance in the Light itself) because “the Disciple pretended he was enlightened, as well as the Apostle; and he thought he had as much right to follow his Guide, i.e. his Light within, as to follow and obey the Light in his Teacher, or the Light in any Man.” There is so much going on here. The reason the teachers re-turned back again upon outward forms is that there were people who stayed true to the Light in their conscience and would not submit their Light to the Light of the teachers or any man or outward body or institution. In essence, the teachers did not have control. There were just too many people who experienced the original Quaker witness of the sufficiency of the inward Light literally and would not submit to the outward notions of the “teachers.”
Francis Bugg writes further:
“And to support this Glorious Cause, W. Penn wrote a Book ( A Brief Examination and Statement … pg.3), wherein he affirms, ‘That it is a dangerous Principle, and pernicious to True Religion; and which is worse, it is the Root of Ranterism, to assert, That nothing is a Duty incumbent upon thee, but what thou are persuaded, [or convinced] is thy Duty, &c.’ This was printed in 1681, and written by the same William Penn which in the Year 1673 wrote his book entitled, Quakerism a New Nick-Name of Old Christianity; where he then judged it so far from Ranterism, to act as they were persuaded, that, pg. 71, he saith, ‘No Command in the Scripture, is any farther Obliging upon any Man, than as he finds a Conviction upon his Conscience; otherwise Men (said Mr. Penn) should be engaged in without, if not against conviction; a thing unreasonable in a Man, &c.
Bugg then responds:
Thus it is plain, That with respect to the Commands of God recorded in the Holy Scriptures, Men are to be at liberty; they are to obey, if they be convinced or persuaded it’s their Duty so to do; if not, they may by Mr. Penn’s Doctrine, be at liberty.
Bugg is here suggesting that Penn has changed his “doctrine,” over time, about the sufficiency of the inward Light as Guide. To be fair, Penn disagreed with Bugg’ assessment. The point here is to show there were people amongst the Quaker Gathering who expressed there was a change in testimony among those who sought to institutionalize the Quaker gathering. This move toward institutionalization the Gathering represented a return to “that which they had left behind,” as William Rogers writes. Again, there were many Quakers who witnessed and experienced the sufficiency of the inward Light itself in itself as their only Guide. The movement away from this sufficiency itself in itself was a movement away from the very core of their experience and bondage to the very process of adherence to outward religious and civic forms; a process in which they no longer participated.
I appreciate Bugg’s, first person, documentation of this pivotal moment when many in the Gathering turned back again to outward forms and many did not. He documented a period (the first 40 years) when the Gathering united around the direct experience of the sufficiency of the inward Light itself as their guide; a time when, by the power and illumination of the Light within their conscious and conscience, they were weaned from reflection upon outward forms. Truly, by looking back upon the idols of outward form and thereby being hardened against the sufficiency of the inward Light, Bugg finds those teachers in betrayal of the original Quaker experience. William Rogers also expressed similar sentiments in 1680. The fact that many in the Quaker gathering at the time cried out against the establishment forces in Quakerism is a powerful testimony that a change was introduced. That change was the veiling of the sufficiency of the inward Light itself in itself by outward forms and institutions outwardly imposed upon the Quaker gathering by the establishment forces including George Fox and William Penn.
Bugg gets right down to it by quoting William Penn again in the context of those outward forms Penn thinks should be followed irrespective of conscience or conviction. In doing this, Bugg is suggesting that, while Penn takes the liberty to not follow commands recorded in Scriptures, like baptism, based upon conscience, he goes about suggesting that all Quakers should follow the outwards forms he and others have established even when they do not share the conviction of conscience. Bugg writes:
“Well, it say let us hear what Commands of the Quakers are, that whoever amongst them pleads for their Liberty, whether to obey or not to obey, as Ranters, Rebels, and what not. See his Brief Examination ...., pg. 11: ‘And this I affirm, from the Understanding I have received of God, not only that the Enemy is a work to scatter the Minds of Friends by the loose Plea; What hast thou to do with me? Leave me to my Freedom, and to the Grace of God in myself, and the like. But this Proposition and Expression, as now understood and alleged, is a deviation from, and a perversion of the Ancient Principle of Truth. For this is the plain Consequence of this Plea; if any shall say, I see no evil in Paying Tithes to Hireling Priests, in that they are not claimed by Divine Right, but by Civil Laws of the Land. I see no evil (saith another) in marrying by Priest, for he is but a Witness. I see no evil (saith a third) in declining Public Testimony in Suffering-Times, for I have Christ’s and Paul’s example. I see no evil (saith a fourth) in respecting the Persons of Men; for whatever others do, I intend a sincere notice, that I take those I know. I see no evil (saith a fifth) in keeping my Shop shut up on the World’s Holy Days [Fast Days] for I would not willingly give offense to me Neighbors, &c."
Bugg then writes:
"Reader, I have been the larger on the Quotation, because it may evidently appear, beyond all their Glossing, that like the Pharisees, their Forefathers, they make void the Commands of God, by exalting their own Traditions above them, saying, None are any further obliged to obey the Commands of God in the Holy Scriptures, than they are convinced or persuaded by the Light to obey; but their own Commands, such as not paying Tithes, not marrying with a Priest, not putting off the Hat, not shutting up their Shop-Windows on Holy-Days and Fast Days; this is highly Criminal, to plead their liberty in these Things, is Ranterism and Rebellion."
Bugg presses even further suggesting: "the Quakers have rejected the Government and Guidance of the Light in the Particular to be suﬃcient, but that the Light in the Particular must Vail to the Light in the Body, or Church."
Many Quakers, from the beginning of the Gathering's founding to this very day, testified to an experience through which they witnessed (lived) a withdraw of affection for meaning, purpose, identity, conscious, and conscience anchored in and informed by outward political and religious, intellectual constructs and institutional forms and practices. The inward Light itself in itself replaced a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by outward forms by directly and without mediation anchoring the conscious and guiding the conscience so that meaning, purpose, and identity existed without reference to outward political and religious forms.