The phrase "day of visitation" is found among the ratings of her early friends — I just ran across it recently in Barclay's Apology. It's a term you do not hear use that often anymore.

As someone who sympathies lean towards universalism it's a bit of embarrassment. The notion here is that while the light/that of God is truly universal faithfulness to it is not. And that we each come hardwired with our own tipping points so to speak. The spirit/light/Christ works within each of us calling us to something more (something traditionally called salvation). As we resist this motion within us we become hardened to it. And there is a point where — I'm not so sure whether it's God giving up on us or whether it's simply the point where resistance become so habitual that any further action by God simply drives us deeper into darkness. This is not a terribly hopeful concept.

So here's my question: where did this idea come from? Is it a product of early Quaker experience in witnessing? Or does this notion have its roots in Scripture and in the Quaker reading Scripture?

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I never really thought about the original source of this. I suspect there was more that one influence on this early Quaker concept. 

The first thing that came to mind was the Hebrew Testament stories of God calling individuals to the life of a prophet - Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah. In the Christian Testament, the annunciation and the road to Damascus stand out. 

The there were the experiences of individual Friends. I suspect being convicted by the Light and inwardly changed was the biggest influence on the whole notion. 

As for resistance leading to loss of capacity, I find metaphor from the world of medicine/biology helpful. Muscles that are not used atrophy; neural pathways that are not developed tend to die off. None of that precludes the unexplained recovery of function, but the warning still holds. 

As for not hearing the term very often, I suspect it may still be in use among Conservative and Evangelical Friends. In my humble experience,  we Liberal are pretty uncomfortable  with discussing Quaker theology (there ,I used the T word). Also, anything that smacks of kharisma seems out of place in the context of most meetings. Ironic since early Friends were very charismatic. 

Modern minds have a hard time seeing the thin places. And being open to a visitation means giving up control. 

It might have been based on one of Jesus' parables in which God's message comes down in an unsuitable place, where it fails to thrive. Or another, in which many people receive invites to His dinner, but find other concerns more pressing... Perhaps on what is said to happen to Pharaoh each time he's agreed to let those pesky Hebrews go?

My best guess would be 'John's references to the Light being people's condemnation so far as they preferred darkness?

People do seem to get stuck in ruts that they fail to escape in this lifetime. One Christian perspective on that might be: That's what death is for.

But if someone is still alive, God must not have given up on them (though people might have.) And after physical death (though I've got no definite information about what happens subsequently offstage) God's mercy won't have changed.

Perhaps, like the notion of Hell, the idea was just provided to encourage us not to dawdle so much?

Isaiah 10:3 / 1 Peter 2:12

The early Quakers used this phrase or phrases like it often. Sometimes speaking of the Eternal Day and also in context with their Witness (experience, as opposed to mere "lines" or outward testimony or theology) of the Day of Visitation as literally the second coming of Jesus Christ which "is come and is coming." Here are a few quotes from Isaac Penington.

"Now this I have to say to all ; Let every one look to his foundation ; for the Lord can arise again ; yea, and will arise again, and shake once more; and then the heavens and the earth, which have not a true foundation, cannot but fall. If the earth be not founded upon and settled in righteousness, its present establishment will not stand. If the heavens bo not founded upon and settled in truth, they will melt and pass away before the fire of the Lord. There is a spirit that 

mourneth deeply to the Lord, groaning inwardly, and his ears are open to it, and he will plead the cause of his seed; and the churches and religions wherein the seed of the ser pent can live and nourish, shall wither and come to an end. Dust is already become the serpent's food. The spirit of man, in all his exercises of religion, knoweth not the bread of life ; but the dead feed upon the dead, and the dead spirit of man loves to have it so. But this cannot continue; for the Lord hath been at work all this while; and when he brings forth the people which he hath been forming, aiid their religion, the religion of man will appear what it is; and shame and sorrow will be the portion of all who have pleased themselves therein, and trifled away the day of their visitation."

Source: "The Works of Isaac Penington, Vol. 1 pg 49"

"How many have first lost the guidance of his Spirit, and then drowned their life in religious performances ! How many have drunk of the cup of fornication from the life, at the hands of the fleshly wisdom ! How many have filled their spirit with New-Testament idols and images! How many have even hardened their hearts and consciences, by following the doctrines of men, their imaginary meaning of scriptures, and the imaginations and dreams of their own hearts! Is it not time for men at length to turn back towards the Lord, to wait for the visitation and light of his Spirit; from whom they have gone a whoring, and whom in all things they have grieved ? And if ever any feel and enjoy the guidance of God's Spirit, their conscience must be kept ten der to it, and ready to hear and follow his voice, who speaks in Spirit to that which is born of him, which infallibly knows his voice, and (being kept clear) cannot doubt con cerning it. "My sheep hear my voice," saith Christ: they know it, and the voice of the strange spirit they know not so as to follow it, but turn from it, both in themselves and others. But that which is not the sheep, but hath only got the sheep's clothing, cries out, How shall we know the voice of the Spirit? We may be deceived. Nay, that which is born of God, that which is the elect of God, can not be deceived. Wait therefore for the birth of the Spirit, to which the Spirit is given for a guide, who infallibly guides it out of deceit. All deceivers are out of this birth, out of this Spirit; perhaps in some birth or other framed from the letter, and living in the imitation of some practices and ordinances from the letter (under which cover they lie in wait to deceive), but strangers to the life and power, and to that wisdom which begets and bears to God.

Source: "The Works of Isaac Penington", Vol. 1 pg 467

Object. But could not God save any if he would? Who can resist his will or his power? Who can stop or resist him in the work of redemption, or destruction?

Ans. God can so put forth his will and power, as none can resist. Yea, the will and power of God, which offereth to save, and standeth ready to save, will bring destruction upon all that so dally with it, as to neglect and let pass the day of their visitation: and thus none can resist his will, or his power. But in the way wherein he appeareth, and hath chosen to work out life and salvation, Satan, and man's corrupt heart and mind, may and do often resist the will and power of the Lord. Now, that which resisteth is not of God, but against him; yet it is the patience of the Lord, to suffer it. I find drawings in my heart from God, or I durst not open these things. For I dare not hold out to men what the Lord hath given me to know and experi ence, but only what he giveth and chooseth for me to hold out: and that will be life to them that receive it. But if I should hold out any thing of myself, that would not reach to life, but only feed the wrong part in men; and so help to build up that, which God will again throw down, before he saves that soul which is built up with the knowl edge of things after this manner.

Source: "The Works of Isaac Penington", Vol. 2 pg 148

QUESTION: How is the light or candle of the Lord diminished, and at length extinguished or put out in some? Or how cometh that about?

A N S W E R. By their neglecting, despising, quenching it; hearkening and giving way to the contrary spirit in its motions and temptations. For as the good let in, stops and works out the evil; so the evil let in, stops and works out the good: so the Philistine nature given way to, stops the inward well which Jacob had digged and opened. There is a time when life is a mystery, a fountain sealed; and there is a time wherein God unseals the fountain, and opens the mystery in the heart. Oh! then great care is to be had, and the soul is to lie very low in the, pure fear, that it may continue in his goodness, and walk worthy of his love, that the fountain may be kept open, and the pure springs of the holy land flow, and not be sealed and shut up again. For there are some that rebel against the light, and they dwell in a dry land. There were some that did always resist and vex God's Spirit, and the Lord's Spirit ceased striving with them, and gave them up to a reprobate sense and judgment concerning the things of God. There are some that do not improve God's good talent, and from them that which was once given is again taken away. Yea, the candle of the wicked shall one time or other be put out, and they shall be silent in darkness, and their mouth stopped from having any thing to say against God, his truth and people for ever more. And all men had need to take heed how they be wan ton with the grace of God, or despise the day of their visitation by the holy light of God's Spirit; for if God take away the talent, if God put out the inward candle, who can light it again? Oh! how did poor David, the man after God's own heart, suffer by letting the enemy's temptations in up on him “Cast me not away from thy presence,” said he, “and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Indeed he did lose his condition at the present, and he speaks as a man in danger of being quite undone; though afterwards he came to comfort and assurance that God would restore to him the joy of his salvation, and light his candle, and enlighten his darkness again.

Source: "The Works of Isaac Penington", Vol. 2 pg 273, 274

There are so many other examples. These are just a few. I have known a couple moment in my life when I consciously turned from the inshining Light and knew a dark conscious and conscience. Truly, I tested Grace and stood at the abyss of a conscious and conscience lost in darkness had I died in that state of being. I'm am ever grateful the Lord did not cease striving with me. 

Thanks, Keith, for posting the use of "day of visitation" in context in the writing of Isaac Penington.  I don't have time at the moment to read the quotations in toto;  I am hoping to do better later.  Can anyone else quote the use of this concept in ministers' journals or other writings.

As for the experience of a day (or days) of visitation, this may be found in many ministers' journals, whether they use the exact phrase or not.  My wife was a descendant of Mary Starbuck of Nantucket.  John Richardson's journal narrates his visit to Nantucket and a meeting at Mary's home--where he preached for hours (as I recall) on " "Except you be regenerated and born again, ye cannot inherit the Kingdom of God."   Mary listened intently, and his evangelistic sermon proved to be, for her, a day of visitation!

Definitely from Scripture -- Isaiah 10:3; Hosea 9:7; 1 Peter 2:12.

Also "time of visitation" in Jeremiah 8:12; 10:15; 51:18; 46:21; and 50:17; and Luke 19:44. 

Vail Palmer

You can certainly find the phrase in use by George Fox (though you might need to do an 'expert search' and put 'university' in the 'do not include' box.) I gather it was a familiar Biblical usage that made sense to his Puritan opponents as well.

This would be the most familiar: Jesus addressing Jerusalem in Luke:

"And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation."

It would also be in tune with Fox's use, quoted in his Journal, of what he'd written to the English government about their persecutions of Friends, about Englands' "day of visitation."

Just randomly grabbing a few of many such quotes from


Isaiah 10:3 What will you do on the day of reckoning, when ...

... And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which
shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and ...
// - 18k

Jeremiah 50:27 Kill all her young bulls; let them go down to the ...

... woe unto them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation. ... woe to
them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation. ...
// - 18k

Jeremiah 51:18 They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when ...

... They are vanity, the work of errors: in the time
of their visitation they shall perish. ...
// - 17k

Jeremiah 11:23 Not even a remnant will be left to them, because I ...

... And there shall be no remnant of them: for I will bring evil upon the
men of Anathoth, even the year of their visitation. ...
// - 17k

Jeremiah 23:12 "Therefore their path will become slippery; they ...

... them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein:
for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, saith the ...
// - 19k

Jeremiah 10:15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when ...

... They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time
of their visitation they shall perish. ...


David, thanks for bringing this up. You asked where the idea of "the day of visitation" came from, whether it's based in the experience of the early Friends, or whether its roots are in Scripture and their reading of Scripture. The matrix of Friends theology is personal experience; they found that their inward experience was affirmed by Scriptures, and their theology was the result. The link between primary convincing experience and the secondary affirming Scriptures is drawn by George Fox in the following passage from his Journal:

The Lord God opened to me by his invisible power, how that ‘every man was enlightened by the divine light of Christ.’ I saw it shine through all, and that they that believed in it came out of condemnation to the light of life, and became the children of it; but they that hated it, and did not believe in it, were condemned by it, though they made a profession of Christ. This I saw in the pure openings of the light without the help of any man; neither did I then know where to find it in the scriptures; though afterwards, searching the scriptures, I found it. For I saw in that light and spirit which was before the scriptures were given forth, and which led the holy men of God to give them forth, that all must come to that spirit, if they would know God or Christ, or the scriptures aright, which they that gave them forth were led and taught by (Works, i, 89). [emphasis mine]

You describe the original Quaker position well when you write that the light of Christ is universal, but faithfulness to that light is not universal. The seventeenth-century Quaker ministers sought to provoke not only an awareness of the light but also sought to compel a person to choose light, or darkness; to choose life, or death. They did not spare the "dissemblers" who tried to evade circumstance or decision, as can be seen here in the concluding paragraph to a tract titled "The Vials of the Wrath of God poured forth upon the Man of Sin":

Silence all presumptuous talkers of God, who see him not, but are presumptuous boasters, who live in envy, crossness, and perverseness, and vain contention, which proceeds from corrupt minds, who mind the earth, and earthly things, who are enemies to the cross of Christ, who glory in your shame, whose end is destruction, whose belly is your God, who do not see God, are not come so far as Moses; for Moses saw God face to face; and death reigns from Adam to Moses, and all that see not God, death reigns in you. To that in your conscience I appeal, which Christ hath enlightened you withal, which calls you to repentance, which shews you your evil deeds, which will be your teacher, owning and loving it; and your condemnation, hating it. Now you have time prize it; this is the day of your visitation (iv, 30-1). [emphasis mine]

Hello, Stephanie!   I wish the phrase "day of visitation" were used more frequently by Evangelical and Conservative Friends.  For me, it connotes the importance and urgency of entering into a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than a merely formal and abstract connection with Him.  I think it is possible to sense when participants in a meeting are personally involved in a relationship with Christ, rather than merely being Christian in an abstract, ideological way.

Old-time traveling Friends ministers often noted in their journals meetings where religion was a mere formality and where meeting participants were in a "living" relationship with Christ.

The passage which prompted my question:

God oftentimes answers the secret travail and breathings of his own Seed through such a one, so that the rest will find themselves secretly smitten without words, and that one will be as a midwife, through the secret travail of his soul, to bring forth the Life in them, just as a little water thrown into a pump brings up the rest, whereby Life will come to be raised in all and the vain imaginations brought down, and such a one is felt by the rest to minister life unto them without words; yea sometimes when there is not a word in the meeting, but all are silently waiting, if one come in that is rude and wicked and in whom the power of darkness prevaileth much, perhaps with an intention to mock or do mischief, if the whole meeting be gathered into the Life, and it be raised in a good measure, it will strike terror into such an one, and he will feel himself unable to resist, but by the secret strength and virtue thereof the power of darkness in him will be chained down, and if the day of his visitation be not expired it will reach to the measure of Grace in him and raise it up to the redeeming of his soul, and this we often bear witness of, so that we have had frequent occasion, in this respect, since God hath gathered us to be a people, to renew this old saying of many, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"

Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Proposition 11, section VII.

Barclay here, appears to be using the phrase to mean something like, "a person's last chance for salvation".

The idea would fit the theology of the time; but there is something distinctly iffy  in it: that a human being could be so warped that God Himself couldn't straighten him out. (Maybe he wasn't going to make it in this physical lifetime; there's nothing inherently blasphemous about that.  But to limit God's love, persistence, or resourcefulness, by calling anyone ultimately beyond hope, not so good.)

It probably isn't good for people to plan on enjoying their sins now, on repenting later. That idea over-rates the joys both of sin and of repentance; and clearly anyone who can repent now had best get on with it!

Forrest Curo wrote: "...clearly anyone who can repent now had best get on with it!"  !!!!

When I was the local postmaster in these parts, I sometimes discussed local people's predicaments and spiritual needs with a minister/customer. (No, this was not part of my job description, but some people treated me as a sounding board for difficulties they faced in life!)

I once asked the minister why X, a well-known man who was an influential in the area for much of his life, did not take his problematic spiritual condition more seriously as he approached the end of his life.  The minister replied that people who habitually have not paid much attention to their spiritual life often become hardened in that way, and don't manage to break out of this habit pattern in their old age.  Sadly, their day of visitation had seemingly come and gone, without redeeming response.


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