Those Early Quakers who were come out of the process of participation in and identification with outward Ecclesiastical and Magisterial Forms, Practices, and Prescriptions.

In 1673 a letter from an anonymous Quaker was published. This letter expressed the writer’s concern that those who were establishing outward structure to guide and inform the gathering were usurping the prerogative of the inshining Spirit itself in itself to rule and guide the gathering in and through the conscience and consciousness of people by forcing people in the gathering to follow their rule. He accused those establishment forces, who were admonishing or contending for submission to the rule of the Body (Brethren) over against the motion of the inshining Spirit of Christ in the conscience, of capital crime. In the sense that those who contended for participation in and identification with outwardly established forms, practice, and prescriptions, were literally drawing the life of Christ out of the conscience and imposing outward form (outside of the inshining Life) upon the conscience of people in the gathering … effectively killing the Life itself in itself in the conscience.

It is asserted in Print, that if I believe the Light within me directs me to a thing and the Body shall not have unity with it, it is safer for me to rely upon the judgement of the Body. I remember about a dozen of the great ones subscribed a Paper to this effect, and sent it to Hartford, but it was there much disliked: There was this also in it, That if any person had (as he thought) a command from God, to do a thing, or to put forth a thing in Print, he must first come and lay it before the Body, and as they judg, he must submit. Is not this an arbitrary Government, bounded by no Law, but what G.F. and a few more please? Herein the ground of our Liberties is taken from us, (to wit) To live, act, and judg according to the Law within. In this is the distribution of Justice, and he that is overawed by a power without, stifles and strangles true Judgement, which ariseth in himself; by this is Justice and true Judgement, obstructed and violated. It’s the highest usurpation of our just Liberties; For when such Principles are established, they are not easily laid down, they have encroached {Page 19}Jurisdiction where none was, taking upon them a Power to judg and domineer over the Innocent, over the Conscientious, over the tender in Spirit, by new Laws which the Spirit never gave forth, nor hath unity withal, nor many of the Body, which through fear oppose these things. They go higher, they say, Their Judgement is God’s, and their Acts are as blinding as God’s, it proceeding from the Spirit of the Lord in the Body: Their Judgements are so positive from God and for God, and their Censures so severe, which causeth a faint-heartedness in the weaker, to speak according to their measure lest they should displease the Body, and be brought to Judgment. It is a dangerous evil for any man, men, or Councel, to make him or them Lords, or Lawgivers in the Church: Christ himself being the immediate Lawgiver, and Judg in this the Day of his Power. Men have commonly thought, that to preserve the Church in peace, is to suppress errour; whereas to preserve them in Faith and Love, with the Father, Word and Spirit, this is rather to preserve the Church.

Source: The Spirit of the Hat London. 1673

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Comment by Howard Brod on 10th mo. 9, 2018 at 8:24pm

Hi Keith,

I have a few questions about those earliest Quakers from the 1640's through the 1670's that you might know from your research. 

  1. Were local groups more egalitarian in nature than hierarchical; did each local group have an appointed leader that the group chose or did they rely on the Spirit in an egalitarian fashion to use whoever was best suited at the right moment? And is this why they were opposed to the appointed elders in London trying to control them through an imposed hierarchy and petty notions (like removing their hat or dressing in a certain way). Did they not do similar impositions locally before the London elders did so?
  2. Do you know if locally they made group decisions, and if so did they use a process locally similar to what liberal Quakers do in our day?
  3. While it appears those earliest Quakers did allow individual Quakers within their group to write or speak as guided by the Holy Spirit, were they more restricting of someone who spoke or wrote in the name of the whole local group by first requiring a sense of the meeting before an individual would do so on behalf of the group.

As you are aware, those earliest Quakers seem to be culturally very similar to liberal Quakers in that liberal Quaker Yearly Meetings have no central control over local meetings.  Over the last nearly two hundred years liberal Quakers have evolved to remove any central control over local meetings (more or less reverting back to those earliest days), and in fact yearly meetings are regarded merely as non-binding associations for liberal Quakers where local groups share with each other and occasionally make agreed upon decisions; yet, there are no controlling elders.  Additionally, within most (if not all) liberal Quaker Yearly Meetings, local meetings and individual Quakers are free to write or speak as they are moved by the Spirit, and even publicly and whole-heartedly disagree with the Yearly Meeting's statements in its minutes or Faith and Practice. This is done with the blessing and even encouragement from the Yearly Meeting.  This liberal Quaker Yearly Meeting culture is increasingly influencing local meetings to become more akin to those very earliest Quakers: egalitarian, and respecting of individual liberty, along with a trend to  dismantle forms inherited from past Quaker organization and tradition.  

I'd be interested in any insights you are able to provide.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 11, 2018 at 6:46pm

Hello Howard. I am compelled to be careful and circumspect relative to your questions. For, while there are some particulars that today’s Liberal Quakers may share with some early Quakers, they sometimes manifest as strained reflections in a mirror of abstraction. My research, so far, suggests to me that making general statements about the beliefs of early Quakers is like treading on wet algae laden stones at low tide. It is a slippery trek that often leads to a fall. With that said, it is not so with specific early Quakers. It is good we have written record from early Quakers themselves.

I’d like to start this conversation by addressing your questions indirectly. My research began by asking whether there were some early or first Quakers who testified to coming out of the process (relatively speaking) of identification with and participation in outward (visible) institutional forms, prescriptions, and practices. That is, were there early Quakers who, through the appearance of the inshining Spirit of Jesus Christ in their conscience, no longer engaged in and were come out of the process of being guided and informed by the prescriptions and judgements of outward visible church fellowships gathered around set times and places for worship? The answer to this is most certainly yes.

In 1669, a tract was published written by Nathaniel Smith entitled *The Quakers Spiritual Court Proclaimed. In an Epistle to the Readers, Smith writes:

…all Sects, Formes, or other Dispensations, if thou please to call them so, (or by what Name so ever) 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 a 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.

Also in 1680 Williams Rogers, in his The Christian Quaker … writes:

And therefore, when our Opposers … would reflect upon us on this wise; You are a confused People; you gather not into Church-fellowships; you have no certain Way to know one another to be Members of the Church, as we have. And why do you not put forth your Creed, that so we may know what and how many the Articles of your Faith are, and what you stand for, and what you stand against?

Smith, in the first guote, clearly states that some first Quakers were unique in that they did not enter into the process of being gathered into outward laws of outward visible fellowships to govern and rule those gathered in the Light itself. In fact, they spoke against it.

Rogers, in the second guote, tells of professors of Christianity who came amongst early and first Quakers and criticized them for not entering into Church-fellowships and for not laying out, in visible credal form and Articles of Faith, what they believe.

In 1673, William Penn, writing against the writer of The Spirit of the Hat, writes:

There is either such a Thing as a Christian Society, sometimes call’d a Visible Body, or Church, or there is not: If there be not, all is at an end; and why Contend we at all? If there be, then this Church either has Power or not: If no Power, then {Page 9} no Church. If a Body, Church or Society (for the Word Church signifies no more, borrowed from the Assemblies of the Athenians) then there must be a Power within it self to determine; an anointing to lead into all Truth. Deny this, and all fall of it self.

Penn’s words here are telling and instructive. He is arguing against those Quakers, like the writer of The Spirit of the Hat, who did not look toward the outward visible Church to guide and inform their conscience and who followed the impulse of the Spirit in their conscience; even in the face of the visible Church’s frowning. Penn correctly writes: “If their be no visible Church…why contend at all? He nails it!!! He perfectly explains (in spite of himself and his intentions) what many Quakers experienced directly and testified to. If people are not gathered into outward visible forms and are not guided and ruled by visible prescriptions, practices, and articles of faith, there is no reason for contention … there is peace. For these Quakers were come out of identification with and participation in outward visible forms because the inshining Spirit appeared in their conscience and took the place of outward visible form to guide and rule. It was not that they were come out of visible form that mattered, it was the appearance of the inshining Light of Christ in their conscience that brought them into independency from outward form and dependency upon the inshining Light itself in their conscience to guide and rule their relationships and interactions.

The experience and testimony of coming out of the process of being guided and informed by outward visible articles of faith, leaders, and institutions and born into the sufficiency of process of identification with and participation in the inshining Light in the Spirit in the conscience was alive amongst the early Quakers from the Dawning of the Gospel Day within people in England in the 1640s. This specific dispensation has lived on throughout the history of Quakerism even though there were many Elders (Even George Fox) in the gathering who did not feel comfortable with this way of existing together with one another. Imagine, a people who were bound and gathered together solely and completely by an invisible impulse or motion that dawned or appeared in each of their consciences so that thy focused completely on the dawning of Son and this inshining Dawn stepped into the place of visible institutions, practices, prescription, and leaders and revealed and enlightened the gathering itself in itself in their consciences.

As if crying out from the depths of hissoul the author of The Spirit of the Hat writes:

And because a further Dispensation is not relished by the [Quaker] Elders, the which they hide from the Inferiours, lest their glory should be eclipsed, and draw the rest from dependence upon them: They content themselves with this limited Ministration, and set up Tabernacles here for their Residence; which is above, and beside the Spirit of the Lord’s teaching, which leads us to know and follow the Lord. These are they that stop Israels travel out of all appearances, which his Spirit leads not to; These are they that lay stumbling blocks in the way of their Journey; These are they that will not have the Lord’s People, Prophets; that their Persons may be still had in admiration for advantage sake: else, that meaneth it that certain Persons are appointed to spend the whole time in speaking in every Meeting, and all the rest to come as Hearers, neglecting the Gift in themselves, and waiting upon their Lips. When as oftentimes fresh Springs arise in particulars, to make glad and comfort the Hearts of others: But through the long Declarations and Discouragement, withal {Page 21} the Springs are stopt, and the tender nipt. Ah! God will visit you for these things. And certainly if this Babylonian practice had not been exercised, his precious Truth had been published in the mouths of thousands more, and 10000 more to the knowledge thereof would have been brought; a greater growth in the Truth witnessed, and the Mind and Will of the Lord more revealed; a greater discovery of the Man of Sin within and without us, by the transcendent brightness of the Everlasting Day, which will again break forth, and recover the ground which hath been lost; open the Mysteries which are yet hidden, break the Serpent’s head, and wound the Leviathan Amen, Halelujah.

Something so seemingly impossible happened among those people who witnessed the Everlasting Day arise in their conscience during those days in the 1640s. The same is happening even to this day. People came to live together independently of outward visible forms, leaders, and institutions to guide and inform their relationships and interactions. They became heirs to eternity and took ownership of their heritage together … they came to the touch. The inshining Light of the Spirit of Jesus Christ became their sole, complete, and sufficient inshining invisible Touch-Stone.

I sense their is something of the Dawning amongst Liberal Quakers who have come to know the experience of the Gospel Day in their conscience as I sense it in some in the various other postures in Quakerism. Below is something I wrote immediately after reading your thoughts and questions. I hope this reply furthers a discussion.

Float with me a bit in the sea Quakerism at the dawning of the Gospel Day in the conscience of a people. No anchor … leaving no wake. First you see other people on the sea who are on float freely and who gather together as the Spiritual wind directs and only as it directs. These people do not gather in fellowships structured by outwardly established times, days, and places. Then there are those who do gather together according to outwardly established structures, only they remain on the float and unanchored. However, there are also those who anchor in outward structure even while remaining on float. Then there are those who seek land for fellowship and those who remain on land, never on float, and etc.

In the dawning of the Gospel Day, it was not so much whether on float or not; as whether the Gospel Day had dawned in the conscience of the people. The Dawning is the focus. And in the Dawning there is unity. From all postures and conditions there are those who see the dawning Son inshining upon their conscience and they remain and take up habitation in the Light and the Light brought witness of the Son and all were come into the unity of the Gospel Day.

It then happened that their were those who were on float who came into conflict with those who were not (late 1650’s early 1660’s). Each side side telling the other that their posture toward the Light was a more true reflection. Conflict manifested and Marked a turning from habitation in the Gospel Day. The light being pushed aside into a corner in the consciences of the people. The postures, shadows, types, and reflections overshadowed the light of the Gospel Day in the consciences of the people. The act of posturing in reflection and seeking rule in the conscience is the cause of conflict and nurtures further conflict and the horizon shadowed in the dimming of the Gospel Day in the conscience of some. Yet, there was and is a great blessing that manifested in the dimming, there were many many (who were not so public) who remained in the light of the Gospel Day and who manifested forbearance and condescension through the power of the light itself in their conscience.

Comment by Howard Brod on 10th mo. 12, 2018 at 8:31am

Thanks Keith.  I believe you answered most of my questions, pointing me to suspect that there is a commonality between many earliest Quakers and many liberal Quakers in our own day.

Historically, liberal Quakers arose in 1828 due to a desire to weaken the Quaker hierarchical structure first imposed by George Fox (and others) 150 years earlier - despite objections from a number of prominent early Quakers. The dismantling of outward forms continues among a number of  liberal Quaker meetings in a deliberate fashion, so that a deeper experience of the Light may manifest within the meeting and in the lives of individual Friends. 

The great Quaker schism in 1828 was at its core all about the imposition of outward forms to control Friends' individual relationship with the inshining Light. Ever since that time, liberal Quakers have continued the dismantling of outward forms, albeit slowly over time. I can attest that when a gathering of Friends mindfully dismantles outward forms, amazing spiritual insights and experiences occur for individuals in the meeting and for the meeting as a whole.  

Spiritual liberty in the inshining Light is indeed our natural state, as many of those earliest Quakers knew.


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