Henry Pickworth and The Spirit's Ancient Operations

Research Notes and Comments: ACOEHI Pickworth, Henry

Henry Pickworth and The Spirit's Ancient Operations

In 1715 a book was published entitled A Charge of Error, Hereſy, Incharity, Falſhood, Evaſion, Inconſiſtency, Innovation, Impoſition, Infidelity, Hypocriſy, Pride, Railery, Apoſtacy, Perjury, Idolatry, Villany, Blasphemy, Abomination, Confusion, and Worſe than Turkish Tyranny. The subtitle reads, Most justly exhibited, and offered to be proved againſt the moſt noted Leaders, &c. of the People called Quakers, in their Church Capacity, before our Superiors in Church or State, when-ever they pleaſe to require it.

The author, Henry Pickworth, was Nominated and Appointed as Elder and Overſeer over their Body, at one of their Aſſemblies for Discipline near Lincoln as indicated on the title page.

Henry Pickworth was a Quaker and held a leadership role in the gathering. It appears he came into contention with Francis Bugg (once a Quaker himself) who was a critic of Quakers. Pickworth wrote against Bugg and also publicly debated him. Over time, Pickworth became sympathetic with Bugg and also became a critic of Quakers and Quaker leadership in particular.

Pickworth's A Charge of Error ... is particularly valuable for its extensive marginal notes with references to various Quaker source material. It is also of value to me in my research which is guided by the question: Whether, and to what extent, the first Quakers were drawn out of the process of reflective thought and were effectively guided and informed by immanent action of self-sustaining being in itself regarding human relationships and interactions ?

Pickworth, under the section entitled Apoſtacy, brings attention to the firſt Foundation of their [the Quakers] Separation from the Worlds erring Ways and Worſhips, was the Spirit of God objećtively operating on their Souls and Bodies. Pickworth's observation of the "objective" operation of the Spirit of God on the soul and body is worthy of further consideration.

He then writes: of the Quaker leadership's Deſertion of that moſt noble Principle, in preferring The Dićtates of the common Light in all Men coming into the world (under the Denomination of God and Chriſts only true ſaving Light) in place of it. This is a tough sentence for me to work through. Essentially he is contending there happened a turning from the operation of the Spirit of God upon their Souls and Bodies in favor of the Dictates of the of the common Light of Men ... in place of it, to guide and inform their relationships. "It" being the Spirit of God. Pickworth is asserting something which can be very difficult to work through reflectively.

The suggestion is that some Quakers were replacing the objective operation of the Spirit of God upon their Souls and Bodies with the Dictates of the common Light as it manifests through a person or group of people. In this turning, the objective nature of the Light is manifest through through the reflections (dictates) of a person or group of people rather than the objective unmediated operation of the Spirit of God itself in itself upon the Soul or conscience of a person. The source of tension between some Quakers rests in the differing experience over whether the Spirit of God operates through mediations and persuasions of objective leaders and institutions or whether the immanent self-sustaining presence of the Spirit of God is sufficient in itself to guide relationships and interactions. Some Quakers argued that, under current dispensation of the Spirit of Christ, outward helps or instrumentalities were the very cause of spiritual isolation from eternal life while others experienced reflected forms as helpful.

Pickworth references and compares George Fox's earlier writings with his later ones to show that Fox ſeldom mentions the meer Light within, and much less the common Light in all Mankind coming into the World, in his early writings; instead writing of the Divine Light of Life, Spirit and Power of God ſensibly operating on the Souls of all Men. Pickworth then writes:

But when he came to deſert this noble Principle, by preferring the Dićtates of his own Spirit, in the Imposition of his written rules, Laws and lawleſs Orders upon us in the place of it; under pretence of their being the reſults of his Light within ... Then it was, that he and his depraved Adherents fell on to deafen us with the repeated Recommendations of the Light within, the Light within every Man coming into the World, the Light, the Light, the ever blessed Light, the marvellous Light within every one, the Light which is pure, the Light which is unchangeable, the Light which is infallible, the Light which is eternal, the Light which is Chriſt, the Light which is God, the pure Meaſure of the Light within every one, which whoſoever owns for their Teacher, are all come to be one Light, and need never Man more to teach them, but as this Light within teaches them.

Pickworth is highlighting his perception of a subtle shift in how some Quakers received the operation of the Spirit of God. For many, the operations and recommendations of the Spirit of God mediated through a person or group of people was as authoritative and binding as the immediate and direct motion of the Spirit of God in the heart or conscience of a person. The operation or motion of the Spirit of God mediated through a person or group of people is as equally objective and of the same nature of the objective operation of the Spirit of God itself in itself in the heart and conscience of a person. The motion of the Spirit through a mediator does not mean the mediator is the teacher, but it is the Spirit of God teaching through the mediator. This innovation, as Pickworth calls it, is literally pivotal, it is a pivot away from the experience of many Quakers (evidenced by Pickworth's book among many others) who, through the immediate or unmediated operation of the Spirit of God in their conscience, were drawn out of the very process being guided and informed in their relationships through the reflections or persuasions of other people. Rather, the immanent and self-sustaining presence of God in their conscience was their sole and sufficient guide without regard for the persuasions of others and the institutions they fostered.

George Fox, regarding his message that God recommended the institutionalization of the Meeting system and those whose testimony to the witness of being drawn out of the process identification with and participation in reflected forms wrote in his Journal: ... to resist the Heavenly Power, and to oppose the Workings and Divine Manifestations thereof through any, is not a light Matter (View in context: http://geofoxlit.blogspot.com/p/journal-entry-8th-month-1676.html). It came to be that George Fox believed he was an objective form through which God reflected how people should relate to one another in the Gathering and to testify to the witness of being drawn out of the process of being guided by the reflected forms or Divine Manifestation of any in place of the immediate presence of God in the conscience is to resist Heavenly Power manifested through mediators or instrumentalities.

Pickworth characterizes the process of being guided and informed by reflected forms as a superſtitious Reverence to the Dictates that leads by degrees to losing all true sense of the real Guidance of the ever blessed Spirit of Life, that immediately proceeds from, God and Chriſt, the Holy Scripture[^1] direćts all to ſeek after as our chief Instructor in our Religious Concernments.

... beſides their Apostacy from the firſt Foundation Principle of the Divine Word of Life, in taking upon them to guide our People by Innovations of their own Invention (under pretence, of their being the Dićtates of the Light within them from their Creation) they have not only fallen from the Truth, and the true Chriſtian Sentiments of their own ancient Friends ... they have fallen from the very Life of Truth itself … as it was firſt occaſioned by their Eſſays to amend their Religion, in forsaking the Foundation Principle of it, through their Exaltation of their own prudential Devices as Goſpel Orders, in order, as pretended, to keep Things ſweet and clean; so, in a Sense of their Loſs of Zeal for God, by ſetting themſelves in the place of God, through their Impoſition of thoſe their Inſtitutions.

It is curious and revealing that Pickworth is want to reflect upon Fox as using the pretense of the Spirit of God operating in him to validate the establishment of reflected forms to rule and guide people in the gathering. Pickworth is want to undermine the notion that following recommendations of the Spirit of God mediated through other people is following the operations of the Spirit of God. There is a tendency, on each side of this issue, to invalidate the other side through demonization and questioning the motives of others by accusations of pretentiousness. It is one thing to affirm a difference in experience, it is another to mediate through process of reflective thought reflected forms to guide, inform, and influence how people relate to other people. Pickworth often engages in the same process questions in Fox.

In this final quotation above, Pickworth clearly lays out his observations of those in the gathering who testified to the their witness that, through reflected or outward forms (institutionally and through the persuasions of other people), the Spirit of God guided, informed, and ordered their relationships with people and with God. It is important to stay mindful and qualify that those who were in reflected forms would not agree with Pickworth's assessment that they were setting themselves in the place of God through the recommendation and promotion of reflected forms by testifing to the witness that the reflected forms were recommended by the Spirit of God. In the same way those, who were drawn out of participation in and identification with outward forms, disagreed with Fox's assessment that their testimony of not being guided by the Divine Manifestations of any but the immediate operation of the spirit of God, was in opposition to Heavenly Power.

Note and Focus: My research is to tease out and document that, even amongst the first and early Quakers, there were those who witnessed to the ongoing and lasting presence of the Spirit of God in their conscience and, through this experience, were drawn out, relatively speaking, of the process of identification with and participation in reflected forms to mediate their relationships and how they relate to God. It is not to give judgement against or demonize the spiritual witness of Quakers in different spiritual operations of the Spirit of God. As a person who knows the witness of the direct and immanent everlasting present operation of the Spirit of God in my conscience I have no stake in contention and strife with those who do not shared the same inborn witness.

The full text of the section on Apostacy from Pickworth's book is published here:

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