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Barclay's Apology

Whenever I have a question about Quaker theology, I revisit Robert Barclay's Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678). Quaker Heritage Press has kindly made it available online, and they also sell it in hardcover for $24.99. The online version is good for reference, but the physical book is much better for reading, especially as I find I want to go back and forth among sections.

It's definitely an apology meaning "argument", not an apology meaning "I'm sorry".

Barclay's writing style and approach are very different from other early Quakers, and I recognize that it isn't a summation or even necessarily a consensus position of early Quaker beliefs, (It's a reasonable summation of post-Restoration Quaker perspectives, which are significantly toned down from the 1650s.) Nonetheless, it's a very useful book for specifying both Quaker beliefs and backing for those beliefs

Barclay was an unusual Quaker for his time, having come from a Calvinist family, then studied at the Catholic Scots College in Paris before becoming a member of the Society of Friends. The Apology reads more like regular theology than Quaker missive, and Barclay's awareness of multiple religious and intellectual traditions means that the book is written with a wider range of possible objections in mind.

His Theses Theologicae are an excellent summary for me of early Quaker beliefs, though the book provides much more backing for them. If you need to think through Quaker doctrine in a more structured way than Fox's letters or even Penn's essays offer, the Apology is an excellent place to start.

(There's also a version called Barclay's Apology in Modern English. I don't find Barclay's English difficult to start with. Quaker Heritage Press has more concerns about that version.)


I just received Barclay's Apology from QHP. Awesome read! Thanks for your "review".

Hi Simon,
There are a lot of intelligent people who see continuity between Fox (et al.) and Barclay (e.g. Mel Keiser), but I think there are real points of divergence.

Perhaps the biggest I'm aware of is his Calvinistic belief in total depravity. William Braithwaite says in The Second Period of Quakerism,

"The Calvinism of Barclay the Scotchman lay only a little way below the surface. Man, he says, can do absolutely nothing to bring about his own salvation; God must have all the glory. the only that that man can do is to wait for the grace to come — for the moving of the spirit, the shining of the light — and not resist it when it works." (p. 388)

This is what leads him to postulate his "vehiculum dei", divine vehicle, which ferries divine goodness between God and man, because God certainly cannot Himself actually dwell in depraved human beings, quite to the contrary of what the Quaker preaching was in the 1650s.

I think there's an article that discusses this in New Light on George Fox.

Just checked my notes — the article is "The making and unmaking of a god" by Richard G. Bailey. A quote:

"De-divinisation brought widespread loss of charismatic power. The imminent kingdom withered away.... Quakers were no longer the God-filled, divinised saints living in the vanguard of the last great apocalyptic event in history.... The personal presence of the celestial Christ was transformed into an impersonal principle, a moral power, guided by a disembodied Spirit." (p. 118)