February 23, 2011

No peace without until peace within

Howard Brinton writes, in the introduction to The Guide to True Peace:

But how, the activist will ask, can we heal a sick world when we are advised to "retire from all outward objects and silence all desires in the profound silence of the whole soul" (p.2)? The answer is that there is no peace without until there is peace within.

A man who is inwardly disordered will infect all about him with his inner disorder. John Woolman, a New Jersey tailor of the eighteenth century, followed without reservation the type of religion portrayed in The Guide to True Peace, yet he was one of the world's greatest social reformers. When he went about persuading the Quakers, a hundred years before the Civil War, to give up their slaves, he did not say much about suffering and injustice. He simply pointed out to the slaveholders that they felt no inner peace.

The history of the Society of Friends shows that almost always this search for inner peace is the dynamic of Quaker pioneering in social reform. True peace comes, not by inaction but in letting God act through us. (x)

January 7, 2008

A Guide to True Peace

or the Excellence of Inward and Spiritual Prayer is a small book Compiled Chiefly From the Writings of Fenelon, Mme. Guyon, and Molinos.

I don't remember how exactly I found it, but I ordered this a couple of years ago and frequently carry it around with me. (It's a tiny book, and looks like it's available online as well.) Pendle Hill reprinted it in 1979, from a 1946 reprint they did with Harper & Row, and there's an introduction by Howard Brinton. It looks like the original was compiled around 1813, by a pair of Quakers, working from the materials of the Catholic Quietists.

Of the three, Molinos seems to be the most extreme, while Guyon and Fénelon are considered 'semiquietists'. I've written about Fénelon's letters before. (It's probably notable that Quietism was condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church in 1687, and still raises sparks in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia.)

I'd be curious to hear if other people are reading this little book, and what they see in it. Diane Guenin-Lelle wrote an article on Quakers and Quietism that explains a lot of where this material came from as well.

The last chapter, "On Perfection, or the Union of the Soul with God", is what grabbed my attention again. When I'd first read it, it seemed too lofty a suggestion to make:

The most profitable and desirable state in this life is that of Christian perfection, which consists in the union of the soul with Infinite Purity, a union that includes in it all spiritual good; producing in us a freedom of spirit; which raises us above all the events and changes of this life, and which frees us from the tyranny of human fear; it gives an extraordinary power for the well performing of all actions, and acquitting ourselves well in our employments; a prudence truly Christian in all our undertakings; a peace and perfect tranquility in all conditions; and, in short, a continual victory over self love and our passions. (109)

And then this ties back to the discussion I've had lately around deification:

"Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The soul, remaining in its disorderly will, is imperfect; it becomes more perfect, in proportion as it approaches nearer to the Divine will. When a soul is advanced so far that it cannot in anything depart therefrom, it then becomes wholly perfect, united with, and is transformed into, the divine nature; and being thus purified and united to Infinite Purity, it finds a profound peace, and a sweet rest, which brings it to such a perfect union of love, that it is filled with joy. It conforms itself to the will of the great Original in all emergencies, and rejoiced in everything to do the divine good pleasure.

The Lord draws near to such a soul, and communicates inwardly to it. He fills it with himself because it is empty; clothes it with his light and his love, because it is naked; lifts it up, because it is low; and unites it with himself.

If you would enter into this heaven on earth, forget every care and every anxious thought, get out of yourself, that the love of God may live in your soul, so that you may be enabled to say with the apostle: "It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives within me." How happy we would be if we could leave all for him, seek him only, breathe after him only; let only Him have our sighs. Oh, that we could but go on without interruption toward this blessed state! God call us to do so and come to him. He invites us to enter our inward center, where he will renew and change us, and show us a new and heavenly kingdom, full of joy, peace, content, and serenity. (114-6)

I think I'll be carrying this book around with me for a while.

February 24, 2007

Under the Banner of Heaven

What does a Jon Krakauer book that combines Mormon history with a true-crime murder story have to do with Quakerism?

Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) and George Fox were very different people, though both were convinced that God spoke to them, leading them in a better direction. Fox argued that revelation from God was possible for everyone who sought it, while Smith was more cautious, arguing that continuing revelation from God was restricted to a much smaller group of prophets. Krakauer describes how this reflected a change from the earliest doctrine:

In the beginning, Joseph Smith had emphasized the importance of personal revelations for everyone. Denigrating the established churches of the day, which were far more inclined to filter the word of God through institutional hierarchies, he instructed Mormons to seek direct "impressions from the Lord," which should guide them in every aspect of their lives.... With everyone receiving revelations, the prophet stood to lose control of his followers.

Joseph acted fast to resolve this dilemma by announcing in 1830 - the same year the Mormon Church was incorporated - that God had given him another revelation: "No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jr." But the genie was already out of the bottle. Joseph had taught and encouraged his Saints to receive personal revelations, and the concept proved to be immediately popular. (78-9)

Smith himself claimed divine origins for the Book of Mormon, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also records ongoing revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants book, which includes revelations to Smith and to his successors as Mormon leaders. The most controversial of the official revelations endorsed polygamy, something the official Church has long since rejected.

The second focus of Under the Banner of Heaven is a group of apostates from the main Mormon church, whose path, though they claim it was inspired by divine revelation, led them to murder. (I should note that Mormon critics of the book are appalled by Krakauer's linking the murders to Mormon history and also by his telling of that history.) They find their claims to divine inspiration through the work of Prophet Onias, who founds a School of the Prophets:

there was one aspect of Onias's School of the Prophets that set him apart from the leaders of other polygamist sects: he instructed his followers how to receive divine revelations. Indeed, teaching this sacred art - which had been widely practiced by Mormons in Joseph's day yet all but abandoned by the modern Church - was the school's main thrust. Onias intended to restore the gift of revelation by teaching twentieth-century Saints how to hear the "still small voice" of God, which, as Joseph explained in Section 85 of the Doctrine and Covenants, "whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake." (85)

Onias taught a group of students about prophecy, but unfortunately a revelation came out as:

Thus Saith the lord unto My servants the Prophets. It is My will and commandment that ye remove the following individuals in order that My work might go forward. For they have truly become obstacles in My path and I will not allow My work to be stopped. First thy brother's wife Brenda and her baby, then Chloe Low, then Richard Stowe. And it is My will that they be removed in rapid succession and that an example be made of them in order that others might seen the fate of those who fight against the true Saints of God. And it is My will that this matter be taken care of as soon as possible and I will prepare a way for My instrument to be delivered and instructions be given unto my servant Todd. And it is My will that he show great care in his duties for I have raised him up and prepared him for this important work and is he not like unto My servant Porter Rockwell[?] And great blessing await if if he will do My Will, for I am the Lord thy God and have control over all things. Be still and know that I am with thee. Even so Amen. (165-6)

When Ron Lafferty showed his revelation to his brother Dan, Dan told him "Well, I can see why you're concerned, as well you should be... all I can say is make sure it's from God. You don't want to act on commandments that are not from God, but at the same time you don't want to offend God by refusing to do his work." (166)

When they presented this revelation to the other members of the School of the Prophets, everyone except the Laffertys and their brother voted it down, as not a real revelation. The Laffertys left the School and later carried out two of the 'removals'. They appear to still believe they were right.

Under the Banner of Heaven has much more detail on that terrible story, but for now I'd like to use this 'revelation' to examine some key safeguards Quakerism has maintained to avoid such situations.

A very basic safeguard is some key phrasing in the Declaration of 1660, which states unequivocally:

That the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.

If later Quakers accept this statement, and receive a leading that counters it, they have at least to spend time contemplating whether their leading is true or whether the shared leading of the early Quakers is true. Even if they haven't read the Declaration, they'll likely have a sense that their leading conflicts with centuries of tradition. (Thanks to Zach for pointing out the language of the Declaration in a very different context.)

It's certainly possible for Quakers to breach that pacifist barrier, as the Free Quakers did. Pacifism provides a firewall, but it isn't the only test, and there are, of course, many possible things people might wrongly interpret as leadings that would cause harm short of violence.

While Quakerism broadly continues the quest for the Light, for direct contact between worshipper and worshipped, a community can better resolve true leadings from false than an individual. Meeting discipline is one aspect of this, and clearness committees are another. Quakers also shifted from early openness to all revelation to a more cautious model, but left the practice open to all, subject to consideration with other Quakers.

George Fox and other early Quakers were wise, I think, in that they left they left the core of their teaching intact: "Christ has come to teach his people himself," "that of God in them all" to speak to them and help them find the path. Revelation, leadings, and prophecy are available to everyone - but in a context that makes it very hard for leadings like Ron Lafferty's to come through. Quaker process may be notorious for its slowness, but the approach of a Quaker meeting requires participants to think about themselves, their role, and the object of the discussion in a different way than people voting. That holds true perhaps especially when they don't get what they want.

Is it possible that a 'renegade Quaker' will think they have received violent leadings, share them with others but reject their concerns, and act on the leadings? Certainly. It may have already happened. (Let me know in comments, please, though I hope not.) I suspect the odds of it happening are dramatically lowered, however, by the structures Quakers have built for testing revelations, for sharing them and figuring out where they come from and what they mean.

(It's also interesting to note that one church descended from early Mormonism, the Community of Christ, emphasizes peace and is non-liturgical. It also has continued prophecy and a Doctrine and Covenants updated by Presidents of the church in consultation with a review process by the World Conference of the church.)

January 13, 2007

The Braithwaite books

The more I've read about Quaker history, the clearer it's become how many of the amazing nuggets of Quaker history come from William C. Braithwaite's two volume history of early Quakerism. The Beginnings of Quakerism to 1660 was originally published in 1912, with a second edition in 1955, while The Second Period of Quakerism was published in 1919 with a second edition in 1961. Like Friends for 350 Years, it includes asterisks which lead to updates, provided in this case by Henry J. Cadbury.

Braithwaite built on earlier research, as L. Hugh Doncaster's Foreword explains:

At the time of his death in 1905, John Wilhelm Rowntree had collected much material to enable him to write a history of the Society of Friends "which should adequately exhibit Quakerism as a great experiment in spiritual religion, and should be abreast of the requirements of modern research." Subsequently his friends Rufus M. Jones and William Charles Braithwaite agreed to carry out this task, and the Rowntree Series of Quaker Histories, edited by Rufus M. Jones, was published during the next sixteen years...

Few books of historical study stand the test of being reprinted forty years later [now ninety], but those responsible for the Rowntree Series have no doubt about the rightness of making The Beginnings of Quakerism once more available..

But while there is room for fresh interpretation in the light of recent research, the main body of The Beginnings of Quakerism remains by far the most adequate study of its subject, and no further valid interpretation is likely to be made without building on this foundation.

Both books have had their introductions by Rufus Jones dropped, "on the ground that recent studies have, in the minds of a number of scholars, put Quakerism in a rather different light."

Both books include long quotes at the start of every chapter, along with excerpts of original materials throughout. While the language and the perspective may well date to 1912, the story-telling is excellent. Braithwaite's voice is present throughout, but in the first book I didn't notice much of his own opinion. (It's there, of course, just not obtrusive.) In the second book, where he thinks things sometimes went wrong, his own opinions surface more frequently, especially in the chapter on Formulation of Faith.

While the interpretation might not be quite as sensational as more recent tellings, there's an incredible amount of information here, not all of it flattering. The books are large and dense (607 pages for the first volume, 735 for the second), but fortunately well-indexed. I'd love to follow the footnotes further.

The two books are available in a hardcover reprint by Sessions of York, though the only place I've found selling them new is They'd certainly be worth tracking down in a library, and I hope meetings have them in their libraries, but they're also one of those resources that you'll want to return to again and again if you do much reading in Quaker history.

(I could probably write this blog as a series of reflections on Braithwaite and have material for the next fifty years.)

January 11, 2007

Notes on George Fox

I mentioned in my last piece that I'd used Notes on George Fox to look up mentions by Fox of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Since Fox's Works are unindexed, and don't even have Tables of Contents in many cases, having an external index is incredibly helpful.

Lewis Benson's works, including the Notes, are available from the New Foundation Fellowship. Benson describes their creation in the Introduction:

These notes were accumulated over a period of forty years. They represent an attempt to devise a means for quickly assembling what Fox wrote on a particular subject, as it appears in his Journal, his Collected Works, and some of his unpublished writings. The notes were put together for my own use on the basis of a very broad and loose scheme. Categories were added as subjects or words recurred frequently and seemed important to Fox...

The notes can be of real use to students who want to inform themselves about Fox's preaching and teaching. Perhaps it is inevitable that there will now be users of these notes who are more interested in finding support for a thesis than in listening to Fox. These notes were not intended for that kind of user...

I want to stress that I did not set out to produce a subject index to Fox's writings. This, I hope, will be done by others. With the exception of the notes on the unpublished writings of Fox, which were done on a Woodbrooke Fellowship (1954-1955), these notes were put together in broken time while learning my trade as a printer and earning my living by it. It was always my intention to devote as little time as possible to compiling these notes and I have never thought of them as representing a great contribution to scholarship.

Benson's humility aside, these Notes are a tremendous help in finding what Fox had to say on a given subject. It's better than an index, because it includes excerpts, not just page numbers, though Benson rightly warns users of the index that they should always check the original context rather than pulling quotes from these volumes.

It's not always the easiest pile of paper to work with, and it's unfortunate that their small volume of purchasers means that the NFF prints off copies as they're ordered, leading to a high price tag. Hopefully mentioning it here might eventually lead to a few more people finding and using it.

November 26, 2006

A History of God

Karen Armstrong's A History of God explores the history of monotheists' relationship to their God, exploring Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It's a topic bound to aggravate a lot of readers - reading the 174 Amazon reviews "Lowest Reviews first" is fun. Some people find it disrespectful of religion, while others find it dangerously respectful of religion and disrespectful of rationality.

Armstrong tackles a topic that is obviously too large for a mere 399 pages, and does show her own opinions occasionally, especially at its conclusion, where she expresses her hopes for more mystical and less fundamentalist religion. The book can't dive too deep into the details of the subjects it discusses, providing enough information to tell the story and show paralllels across the three religions. Jumping among the three (with comparative asides on Buddhism and Hinduism) creates some challenges for telling the story. Armstrong does make different choices than many similar works, spending more time on Ranters than on Quakers, for example, but I usually find it works pretty well.

September 1, 2006

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.)

August 28, 2006

George Fox's Legacy

Commenting on an earlier posting on New Light on George Fox, Martin Kelley suggested that I look into the more recent collection, George Fox's Legacy: Friends for 350 Years. The first was the result of a conference marking the 300th anniversary of Fox's death. The latter is the result of a conference marking 350 years since Quaker preaching took off.

While New Light on George Fox focused sharply on Fox himself and early Quakers, George Fox's Legacy explores the ways that Quakers have related to Fox. There are two excellent essays, one on Fox and Penn and another on Fox and Penington, that could probably have appeared in either volume, but overall the two collections are very complementary.

Running down the list of essays, here's a thumbnail sketch of my perspective on each:

George Fox and William Penn: Their Relationship and Their Roles within the Quaker Movement

Melvin Endy challenges the notion that William Penn took Quakerism in a very different direction than Fox had intended, exploring the relationship between Fox and Penn and concluding that differences are smaller than they are often described.

Liberal Friends (Re)Discover Fox

Chuck Fager looks at how far FGC Friends had drifted from Fox by the early 1900s and explores rising interest in Fox from the 1950s onward. There's some amazing stuff in here about what Quaker psychics reported Fox (and Jesse Holmes) as saying, as well as a general story that raises all kinds of questions about what it means to be a liberal Quaker.

"New Light on Old Ways": Gurneyites, Wilburites, and the Early Friends

Thomas Hamm, whose Transformation of American Quakerism I'll be visiting soon, examines the uses Orthodox Quakers made of early Friends' writings, especially the dwindling interest the Gurneyite wing had for them and the increasing interest of the Wilburites.

The Search for Seventeenth-Century Authority During the Hicksite Reformation

H. Larry Ingle examines the interest Hicksites took in the early Quakers, and how their perspective biases toward the early Fox and his companions, rather than the later more conservative Fox.

Early Friends and the Renewal of British Quakerism, 1890-1920

Thomas Kennedy examines a subject I know little about, British Quakerism's shift from the evangelical toward a more liberal approach, and how the early writings of Friends factored into that.

Isaac Penington and the Authority of George Fox

Rosemary Moore writes a provocative piece following Isaac Penington's shift from support for a more open, individualist approach to the more centralized, communitarian approach that Fox created after the Restoration. Penington's own journey illustrates many of the splits that Ingle describes as inspiration for the Hicksite split. Moore's final question - "Pope George Fox?" - is a difficult one.

"Come in at the Door!" - How Foxian Metaphors of Salvation Speak to Evangelical Friends

Arthur Roberts does something different here. In some ways he demonstrates what others are describing here, by reading Fox and excerpting Fox with an eye to reinforcing his own evangelical perspective. It's an excellent telling, but in the end it doesn't convince me that Fox would have agreed with Roberts or show me the path from Fox's perspective to Roberts'.

Holiness: The Quaker Way of Perfection

Carole D. Spencer here writes an essay that I'll keep coming back to. I like the whole book, but Spencer does an amazing job of connecting early Quakerism with the later holiness movement (citing Hannah Whitall Smith as a key example). The article ranges from Smith to Fox to Catholic and Orthodox perspectives on holiness, integrating Quaker perspectives with a broader Christian framework.

Jerry Frost's introduction helps tie them together and point out where they differ. It's an amazing collection, well worth the $10 for anyone who'd like to explore the diverse perspectives Quakers have taken toward their origins.

August 10, 2006

Friends for 350 Years

Howard Brinton's Friends for 300 Years, published in 1952, is a Quaker classic, and pretty much the only book on Quakerism I find regularly in used bookstores. Pendle Hill Publications reissued it in 2002 with a foreword, update, and notes by Margaret Hope Bacon as Friends for 350 Years.

Like The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, the author's voice is pretty clear, though in this case the voice is closer to my own. Unlike that book, however, the notes provide a second voice (Bacon) critiquing and sometimes correcting Brinton. Flipping back and forth between the notes and the main body of the book, you can hear a conversation going on disputing things like the influence of European mystics on Quakerism, questions of race in John Greenleaf Whittier's poetry, the optimism of the New Testament, and the behavior of various groups of Friends.

Unlike Walter Williams in The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, Brinton writes from a Wilburite perspective (see comments), giving them the benefit of the doubt for adherence to the original religion:

Among the Wilburites there was more opportunity than in either of the other two [Hicksite or Gurneyite Orthodox] for a genuine synthesis of the mystical and evangelical elements in Quakerism. It was they who could most clearly lay claim to be the heirs of the original Society of Friends. But there was an important difference. The code of behavior which the first Friends arrived at through immediate experience of the Inward Light, the Wilburites, with many exceptions, tend to accept in large measure on the basis of tradition.

While Brinton's claim that the Wilburites were the true heirs may raise some eyebrows, Brinton is constantly looking for a balance of the mystical element he sees Hicksites focusing on and the evangelical element that Evangelical Friends proclaim. The result is a book, that while still focused mostly on unprogrammed meetings, tries to reflect the understandings of a fairly wide swath of Quakerism.

It's an excellent book for newcomers to Quakerism to start with, as it focuses on what Quakers do and how they reached those conclusions rather than starting with the story of George Fox roaming England. Every section includes historical material, but it's not until near the end that Brinton assembles "The Four Periods of Quaker History". He's constantly telling stories, but his main narratives are built on Quaker practice. The outline itself is telling:

  • I. "To Wait upon the Lord"

  • II. The Light Within as Experienced

  • III. The Light Within as Thought About

  • IV. The Meeting for Worship

  • V. Vocal Ministry

  • VI. Reaching Decisions

  • VII. The Meeting Community

  • VIII. The Meeting and the World

  • IX. The Four Periods of Quaker History

  • X. Quaker Thought and the Present

  • An Historical Update by Margaret Hope Bacon

  • Page and Line Notes by Bacon

  • Appendix I: The Philadelphia Queries of 1946

  • Appendix II: The Philadelphia Queries of 2000

I strongly recommend Brinton's book, both for the content broadly - I'm sure I'll be citing it regularly - and as a chance to explore his perspective.

Now, does anyone know of a general history of Quakerism written explicitly from a Hicksite (or modern explicitly liberal) position?

August 8, 2006

The Rich Heritage of Quakerism

While I was in Portland, staying far too close to the temple of books that is Powell's, I picked up an old copy of Walter Williams' The Rich Heritage of Quakerism. I have a 1962 copy, though I think Barclay Press is distributing a more recent version with an epilogue.

I'd never read Quaker history quite like this. The one Quaker I'd dated, long ago, had warned me that Quakers in the midwest (and Kenya) were not much like the Quakers meeting Sunday mornings in Swarthmore, but it, well, it never occurred to me that they'd be this different. (I suspect Rachael's outlook was somewhere between Williams' perspective and mine, though that conversation was a long time ago.)

There are some excellent sections on early Quakerism, looking beyond Fox to the wider movement, though there's little mention of the doctrines which separated Quakers from their fellow nonconformists. It's hard to tell in the stories Williams tells of the early Quakers why fellow Christians would want to arrest and torment them, though he writes:

As the Friends Movement grew in extent and influence, opposition and persecution also increased. It was an age of intolerance. Men craved religious liberty for themselves, but felt it their right, indeed their duty, to enforce their own convictions upon others. Said Oliver Cromwell to his Parliament, "Everyone desires to have liberty, but none will give it."

...There was no little misunderstanding of the beliefs which Friends held an taught. One of the most frequent charges brought against them was blasphemy, since they spoke frequently of the Indwelling Spirit of God. Not infrequently, too, they were arraigned for their refusal to pay tithes demanded by the state to support the priests; they were charged with disturbing religious services, even with plotting against the government. Again, the magistrates were frequently angered by their refusal to take an oath for any reason, or to remove the hat in deference to them, or to employ the plural "you" in addressing them. As a result, frequent fines were imposed or prison terms allotted to Friends.

Nevertheless, the glow of Christian victory and of joyous enthusiasm was on an ever-increasing number of men and women... (36-7)

Williams' chapter on early Quaker doctrine carefully avoids anything that might seem controversial to other Christians, and later he doesn't care to report on the affairs of the Hicksites after the schism:

In the succeeding pages we shall give but slight attention to the Hicksite group. It has generally failed to be self-propagating, and consequently has rather steadily dwindled in numbers. However, one would not overlook nor minimize the contribution which some of its members have made to numerous humanitarian and reform movements. (170)

In that spirit he mentions Lucretia and James Mott, and Isaac Hopper, and Swarthmore College's existence, but doesn't mention, for example, Friends General Conference at all. (Well, there's a population table in the back which notes that FGC includes about 26,000 Quakers in 1961.)

Probably the best way to explain Williams' perspective is to let him speak for himself, in a piece at the end of "Dominant Trends Among Twentieth-Century Quakers" that seems to sum up his hopes for present Friends (and I think what he wished older Friends had consistently done.) The same conversations are certainly continuing today, and often include a voice like this:

The time is ripe for Friends to awake, repent, and seek to serve God humbly, and their generation worthily. This duty attaches to us all. God waits to work, and he employs human helpers who are fully yielded to Him.

In the opening address given to the 1960 session of the Five Years Meeting, Seth B. Hinshaw sounded a heartening call to that organization - one which ought to be heard and heeded by all Friends. The following excerpt, taken from the official Minutes of that body, indicates its nature:

We have come to a cross-roads of destiny, an hour of decision, and the hour of our visitation. God has brought us together to see whether our generation will rise up and fulfill our mission... We need more than fine challenges; we need total commitment and spiritual dedication to the work that is before us... The gospel we preach must be whole, and not fragmented.

It is encouraging to note that the spirit of this address, delivered by the Executive Secretary of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, is signally reflected in the Message sent forth by the Five Years Meeting. This Message reads, in part, as follows:

We reaffirm that to be a Quaker is to be a Christian... We acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who is our Saviour and Lord, and honor Him as the great Head of the Church which He has established in the world. Through the Holy Spirit he guides its ministries, bestows gifts for its work, convinces the unbelieving, baptizes the believers, and is in communication with His people, feeding them upon the bread of life...

This experience [the transforming power of Christ within] binds us into a warmly evangelical fellowship, under the compulsion to proclaim that there is One, even Christ Jesus, who does speak to the condition of every man and time... We are constrained by the love of God to call upon every meeting to examine its message and mission, and join in a spiritual awakening which will bring the entire Friends Movement into new areas of evangelism, Christian education, missions, stewardship, and social concerns.

Would God that Friends of America and of the whole world would rise to the challenge set forth above. We may be sure that such dedication comes at a high price; but our generation desperately needs the ministry which only such servants of God can render.

I don't recommend this book as a reliable source for Quaker history, but I'm very glad to have to have read it, finding in it a detailed explanation of a different perspective from that I'm used to, with the explanation itself assuming that perspective.

July 21, 2006

Prayed through

I keep a copy of Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion in my backpack. It's small but powerful, a good place to turn when I feel capable of reading tremendous insights presented powerfully. This morning I fell into this paragraph:

We may suppose these depths of prayer are our achievement, the precipitate of our own habits at the surface level settled into subconscious regions. But this humanistic account misses the autonomy of the life of prayer. It misses the fact that this inner level has a life of its own, invigorated not by us but by a divine Source. There come times when prayer pours forth in volumes and originality such as we cannot create. It rolls through us like a mighty tide. Our prayers are mingled with a vaster Word, a Word that at one time was made flesh. We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. Something of our punctiform selfhood is weakened, but never lost. All we can say is, Prayer is taking place, and I am given to be in the orbit. In holy hush we bow in Eternity, and know the Divine Concern tenderly enwrapping us and all things within His persuading love. Here all human initiative has passed into acquiescence, and He works and prays and seeks His own through us, in exquisite, energizing life. Here the autonomy of the inner life becomes complete and we are joyfully prayed through, by a Seeking Life that flows through us into the world of human beings. (17-18)

Kelly's description is far ahead of my own journey, where I've only had small flashes of that mighty tide rolling through. Reading of Kelly's experience is no substitute for that tide, but it suggests a direction I hope to follow.

July 15, 2006

A New England Fire-Brand Quenched

Most of George Fox's published writing is available somewhere on the Web, often at the Earlham School of Religion's Digital Quaker Collection. Some discussion on the Quaker Texts mailing list revealed the largest piece which isn't freely available, A New England Fire-Brand Quenched, was written by Fox with John Burnyeat in 1679. I'll be trying to make that 450-page volume available over the next few years here.

The book is, much like The Great Mystery, a point-by-point reponse to criticism. Unlike that book, which responded to a wide variety of critics, A New England Fire-Brand Quenched is a detailed response to a single critic, Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, champion of religious freedom, and a religious dissident himself. H. Larry Ingle provides some background to the dispute between Williams and Fox in his First Among Friends, exploring the ways their similarities would lead them to greater conflict:

Roger Williams... was himself so rigid that he found it difficult to get along with anyone in religious matters; the Friends' reputation for a free-wheeling theology made it impossible for him ever to hit it off with them. Considering them the worst kind of antinomians, nearly anarchists, he castigated them as "anti-Christian," "blasphemous," "scornful," "censorious," and tossed the catch-all label "Ranter" right back at them for encouraging women to strip naked....

An irascible Roger Williams [who had just lost an election to Quaker forces], his teeth on edge, licked his political wounds and determined to have it out with the Quaker invaders.

Actually, Fox and Williams had much in common, in both their styles and their ideas. Blunt and forthright, disdaining the niceties of polite society, they were principled and argumentative men, and each insisted on the rightness of his own convictions. Both profoundly disliked hireling ministers. Williams was a committed democrat politically, if less willing than Fox to adapt these principles to his religious predilections - he deemed allowing women to speak as something he called "will worship." He referred to himself as a "Seeker." They each wanted active government, though Williams was not as thorough-going as Fox, who had glimpsed the possibilities of a true revolution at home.

Both found much to respect in Indian ways and wanted Europeans to deal justly with the Native Americans. Curiously, they got on better with the aboriginals, despite the gulfs of cultural differences and language, than they coould with each other or with those of their own people with whom they disagreed on theological matters; each, in other words, only practiced tolerance up to a point of ideological closeness. Fox thus reserved his choicest anathemas for any adherent who dared carry his principles too far, while Williams, unable to vouch for his wife's salvation, refused to take communion with her. (238-9)

Williams and Fox seem to have been just close enough to ignite their strongest fighting passions, though Fox left Rhode Island before Williams' invitation to a debate arrived, and the debate between Fox and Williams wound up in print instead, as the title page of this book records:

A NEW-ENGLAND Fire-Brand Quenched, Being an ANSWER unto a Slanderous Book, Entituled; GEORGE FOX Digged out of his Burrows, &c. Printed at Boston is the Year 1676. by Roger Williams of Providence in New-England.

Which he Dedicated to the KING with Desires, That, if the Most-High please, Old, and New-England may Flourish, when the Pope & Mahomet & Constantinople are in their Ashes.

Of a DISPUTE upon XIV. of his Proposal held and debated betwixt him, the said Roger Williams, on the one part, and John Stubs, William Edmundson and John Burnyeat on the other.

At Providence and Newport in Rode-Island, in the Year 1672, IN which his Cavils are Refuted, & his Reflections Reproved.

In Two Parts

AS ALSO, An ANSWER to R.W.'s APPENDIX, &c. WITH A POST-SCRIPT Confuting his Blasphemous Assertions, viz. Of the Blood of Christ, that was Shed, its being Corruptible and Corrupted; and that Salvation was by a Man, that was Cor- ruptible, &c. Where-unto is added a CATALOGUE of his Railery, Lies, Scorn & Blasphemies: And His TEMPORIZING SPIRIT made manifest. Also, The LETTERS of W. Coddington of Rode-Island, and R. Scot of Providence in New-England concerning R.W. And Lastly, Some TESTIMONIES of Ancient & Modern Authors concerning the LIGHT, SCRIPTURES, RULE & the SOUL of Man.


Printed in the Year M DC LXXIX.

A "CATALOGUE of his Railery, Lies, Scorn & Blasphemies" ? Should be interesting reading. I'll be posting this in pieces as I manage to type them in, so there's much much more to come.

Update: I've created a category containing all the pieces I type in, if you want to find it in one place.

July 13, 2006

The Great Mystery of the Great Whore

Volume III of the Works of George Fox is titled merely The Great Mystery on its spine. Looking inside to the cover page, however, a much clearer description of the book - and George Fox's perspective on the world in 1659 - is revealed:

The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded;

and Antichrist's Kingdom Revealed Unto Destruction.

In answer to many false doctrines and principles which Babylon's merchants have traded with, being held forth by the professed minisers, and teachers, and professors in England, Scotland, and Ireland, taken under their own hands, and from their own mouths, sent forth by them from time to time, against the despised people of the Lord, called Quakers, who are of the seed of that woman who hath been long fled into the wilderness.

Also, An invasion upon the great city Babylon, with the spoiling of her golden cup, and delicate merchandise, whereby she hath deceived the world and nations; and herein is declared the spoiling of her prey, in this answer to the multitude of doctrines held forth by the many false sects, which have lost the key of knowledge, and been on foot since the apostles' days, called Anabaptists, Independents, Presbyters, Ranters, and many others; who out of their own mouths have manifested themselves not to be of a true descent from the true christian churches: but it is discovered that they have all been made drunk with the wine of fornication received from the whore which hath sitten upon the beast, after whom the world has wondered.

By George Fox.

"And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her, for no man buyeth their merchandise any more." - Rev. xviii. 18.

And they cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, what city is like unto this great city? And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea, by reason of her costliness, for in one hour is she made desolate." - Rev. xviii. 18, 19.

I'm just getting started with this 614-page battle against Babylon, but the opening certainly sets the stage well, as does Edward Burrough's "Epistle to the Reader"at the beginning, which tells the story of Quakerism's early days.

Fox regularly impresses me with his comfort in books of the Bible that frequently leave me baffled. He's obviously inspired by Revelation, as should be clear from this title page, but he also leaps into Hebrews and the rest of Paul's letters with delight. I have a lot yet to learn.

June 30, 2006

Apocalypse of the Word

Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word is a stunning re-telling of early Quakerism, focusing on "The Life and Message of George Fox." Gwyn builds on Lewis Benson's earlier work (which unfortunately I haven't yet read) to present a comprehensive overview of Fox's work, exploring Fox primarily through the Journal and the Works.

I don't think I can write a review of the book - beyond to say that it's compelling, and has me reading a lot deeper into Fox. I'll be writing about and around it here for a long time to come. Its very title - Apocalypse of the Word - can be read with a eschatological perspective (Fox did, after all, have a tremendous interest in the Book of Revelation), or as Apocalypse meaning revealing, and the Word as Christ.

June 22, 2006

First Among Friends

The cover of H. Larry Ingle's First Among Friends is a first sign that it isn't going to be the typical biography/hagiography of George Fox. The picture is a cartoonish "supposed portrait" of Fox, not an idealized vision of a man with long hair wearing leather.

Inside, the book promises "a biography firmly rooted in [Fox's] period," attempting "to rescue Fox from poorly grounded, usually uncritical, and theologically oriented works." Ingle seems determined to go back to the sources, including but not defined by Fox's own Journal.

So far, it's been an interesting ride. I'll post more here when I've finished it, but I'll be posting a few tidbits well before that.

May 31, 2006

New Light on George Fox

Some discussion on the QuakerInfo forums led me to this book, which is now fifteen years old. It's a collection of essays presented at a 1991 University of Lancaster conference marking 300 years since the death of George Fox, and its various essays look at early Quakerism from a variety of perspectives rather different from the canonical view of Quakerism created by Fox's Journal and the writings of Friends like Robert Barclay and William Penn.

Perhaps the most startling theme of these essays is the early development of Quakerism, especially during the swirling chaos and explosive expectations of the later years of the Commonwealth. Millenarianism, the slow development of the Peace Testimony, and a sense of Christ's physical presence go well outside my usual expectations of Quaker doctrine. They do, however, help to explain a lot of seemingly strange situations in the 1650s, especially James Naylor's Christ-like entry into Bristol and his ensuing blasphemy trial. Splits like that of John Perrot, the Wilkinson-Story separation, and the Keithians make more sense when the early Quaker enthusiasm is looked at more for what it was than what it became.

The early radicalism and later (relative) conservatism also help explain how Quakers of varying kinds can go back to the writings of George Fox and find a variety of messages to support their current causes. One essay looks at how Robert Barclay (the 19th century descendant of the theologian) could argue that Quakers were predecessors of 19th century evangelicals, while another essay looks at how a cautiously anti-slavery tract by Fox was published in Philadelphia by Friends eager to slow abolitionist tendencies. Many early Quaker pieces were later edited heavily, notably Fox's correspondence and Journal, and it seems that later printings of early tracts were often more cautious than the original.

I suspect I'll be citing this book a lot in the future, but for now this summary, from David Boulton's essay, seems a good place to stop:

Quakerism was born in a critical overlap between a time when faith in regeneration by political means, strongest in the civil war period, was dying but not yet dead, and a time when faith in a 'kingdom not of this world' was making waves but had yet to reach high tide. Fox and his fellow Quaker pioneers of the early 1650s had to face the confusions and uncertainties of this transition (which they did not know was a transition), and their early utterances on public policy illustrate the tension between the old vision, not yet wholly discarded, and the new, not yet fully embraced. Paradoxically, not until after the restoration to power of Quakerism's bitterest enemies did the movement fully develop its unique and most radical approach to politics and public policy, when the perceived demands of the 'kingdom not of this world' led them into direct action and civil disobedience as means of furthering social justice in this world.

(Unfortunately, the book is now listed at $119 on Amazon, though it was $31.25 at Quaker Hill Bookstore in an earlier edition. It's definitely a book worth finding through a library, excellent though it is. For a much cheaper, shorter piece that still conveys much of the chaos of the 1650s and its impact on Quakerism, try the Pendle Hill pamphlet The Atonement of George Fox, which looks at Fox and James Nayler.)

(Correction: The $119 book referenced above has a similar title and publication date, but it's for a book that expands on one of the essays in the conference papers collection. Amazon lists New Light on George Fox: 1624 to 1691 (ISBN: 1850721424) as unavailable, so it doesn't come up in searches.)

May 16, 2006

Fox's speller?

While hunting for A New-England Fire-Brand Quenched, a book of George Fox's that doesn't seem to be available online or in the Works, I stumbled upon Instructions for Right Spelling and Plain Directions for Reading and Writing True English, apparently a speller with religious instruction. I hadn't seen it referenced before, and it also appears to be largely unavailable except in libraries. (You can see card catalog entries for this book at Cornell.)

The title page identifies it as "By G.F. and E.H. Enlarged by A.S.", and it's listed under Fox regularly. "E. H." is probably Ellis Hookes, with whom Fox wrote The Arraignment of Popery in 1669. Cornell dates the original speller at 1673, though the edition I have is 1691. (Update: I found a bit more on it, focusing on the catechism, and confirming Fox's participation.)

The piece that intrigues me most is "The Child's Lesson", pages 8 to 12 of the speller. It reads like it could be Fox, or might not be. It could be Ellis Hookes, or the mysterious "A.S." (If anyone has ideas, I'd love to hear them.) Most of it is in blackletter script, but once transcribed, it looks like:

The Child's Lesson

Christ is the Truth. Christ is the Light. Christ is My Way. Christ is my Life. Christ is my saviour. Christ is my hope of Glory.

Christ is my Redeemer. Christ is my Rock. Christ is the Door. Christ is my king, and Lord of Lords. Christ is the Corner-stone. Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away my sin.

Christ is the Power of God. Christ is my wisdom. Christ is my Righteousness. Christ is my Sanctification. Christ is my Justification. Christ is the Seed, Christ is the Resurrection.

Christ destroyeth the Devil and his Works, which leadeth Man and Woman from God; and so Christ is the Way to God again.

Sarah was a good Woman.

Jezebel was a bad Woman, who killed the Just, and turned against the Lord's Prophets, with her attired head and painted face, peeping out of the Window.

Christ I must feel within me, who is my Life and my Light, and the Truth; and that is God that sheweth me my Thoughts and Imaginations of my heart; and that is the Lord God that doth search my heart.

It is the Spirit of Truth that doth lead into all Truth.

It is the Spirit of Truth that reproves the World of Sin.

And that is the good Spirit which reproves the bad and his Works.

And the Light manifesteth and reproveth; and that which doth make manifest and reprove, is the Light.

And that which giveth the Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, is the Light which shineth in the heart.

And that which may be known of God is manifest within, which God hath shewn unto you; that is that which shews you Sin and Evil.

The Gospel is the Power of God.

The Cross of Christ is the Power of God, which crucifieth from the State of Adam and Eve in the Fall; in that Power is the Glorying, an Everlasting Glorying: And this is above the fleshly Glorying of Adam and Eve in the fall, with his Sons and Daughters.

The Church is in God the Father of Christ, and not a Steeple-house, and that is the Spirit that mortifies from my Sin.

And they that are led by the Spirit of God are the Suns [sic] of God; and that is the Spirit of God, which doth instruct me in God's ways, which are good, and that is the bad Spirit which leadeth into bad ways.

And if I be a Child of God, I must not grieve him, but must be meek, and sober, and gentle, and loving and quiet, righteous and humble, and live in the fear of God, and live godly, and not Lye, nor do any wrong to any one.

So if I be wild, froward, wicked, heady, high-minded, wilful, stubborn, proud, envious, disdainful, scornful, unrighteous, ungodly, and Lye, and do not the Truth, and forget God, such God turneth into hell, that Grieveth him.

In the beginning was the Word.

Since the beginning were the Words; and since the beginning was Babel; which is the beginning of Tongues, which is the Priests Original, but the Saints Original is the Word before Babel was, and that is the Originel [sic], makes Divine, and not the Tongues that began at Babel.

Continue reading "Fox's speller?" »

April 30, 2006

George Fox's Journal

There are several editions of George Fox's Journal available. I mentioned the one in the Works of George Fox, which is substantially similar to the one published by Penguin. A version of the Journal edited by Rufus Jones is available online.

I'm generally using John L. Nickalls' edition of the Journal of George Fox, which includes a lot of material that was left out of the earlier editions, and marks where material was added.

March 19, 2006

George Fox's Works

In 1831, defending themselves against charges that they had strayed from Quakerism, Hicksite publishers assembled and printed an 8-volume collection of The Works of George Fox. That collection was reprinted in 1975 by AMS for libraries, and again in 1990 for the George Fox Fund and the New Foundation Fellowship. Its contents are also available through Earlham School of Religion's Digital Quaker Collection.

(The easiest way for me to navigate through Fox's works in the DQC and elsewhere is through the Quaker Heritage Press's catalog entry for Fox.)

The eight volumes break down as follows:

  • Volumes I-II are George Fox's Journal, in the version edited by Thomas Ellwood, including the preface by William Penn.

  • Volume III, a book responding to a vast number of critics of Quakerism, is usually referred to as The Great Mystery, but the full title and explanation is The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded; and Antichrist's Kingdom Revealed Unto Destruction, with another two paragraphs of similarly contentious description on the title page. Fox definitely expressed his opinions strongly!

  • Volumes IV-VI are the "Doctrinal Books", containing a wide variety of publications Fox wrote. It lacks a Table of Contents, but the catalog entry for Fox breaks out individual titles of pieces included here.

  • Volumes VII-VIII are Epistles of George Fox, letters organized chronologically. It's a wonderful volume to open to random pages and read for inspiration, though I'm also trying to read it in sequence.

The collection isn't quite complete, as, for example, A New England Fire-brand Quenched isn't in it. (I've tracked that down on microfilm.) Still it's a vast set of George Fox's writings that goes well beyond the Journal, and which provides endless material for contemplation.

February 6, 2006


I have four collections of Quaker writings I refer to regularly:

I'll review each of these separately. I'll admit that I purchased the shorter version of Quaker Spirituality before I realized it was a reduced version of the larger book, which I already had but couldn't find. Both books are useful, though, and the smaller one frequently stays in my bag for times when I have to wait for something, and would like something to read. (Plain Living is good for that too, I think.)

When possible, I'll provide citations for quotes all of these, at least for the first three.