The Quakers and Quietism

By Pamela M. Oliver

INTRODUCTION: That there was a change in the nature of the Society between the years 1647 and 1742 seems indisputable. It was withdrawing from outwardly-observable religious acts or witnesses to the Truth. Was it an increase in spiritual zeal: the belief that inaction or quietness would lead one to hear the Spirit more clearly? Or was it through persecution, increased wealth or an unthinking following of what the first Publishers of the Truth taught that lead to this decline? In the latter case the Society would have lost some or all of that “life of Christianity, taking place in the heart, that makes a Christian” that Robert Barclay thought essential to a church. Were the Meetings of the late 17th- and early 18th- centuries ‘open’ or ‘dry’?

CHAPTER I: A historical background to why and how the early Publishers of the Truth went about their work. The new Covenant lies within the hearts of believers. Inequality, tithes, titles, worship, holy days etc. were renounced. “Coming into obediance of the Inner Light.” Scripture only words about God; convincement can only happen through personal, immediate relevation. It was important that Quaker ‘stands’ be not taken up by the individual until she or he was moved by the Spirit. Fox and other early Friends believed that the Truth would be the same to all and not disagree with the scriptures. Fox thought James Nayler a ‘wicked spirit’ for purporting to be an appearance of Christ by not admonishing those who said he was. Could the Truth be different for each individual? If it could then one could not teach others of it, nor doubt their word if they were to say they knew it. Nayler was “resistinge ye power of God in mee” said Fox, but eventually repented and rejoined the Society. Wayward Friends deeds were to be progressively discussed up the church order until either the Friend ceased or the Society determined what was to be done. The first Elders felt that the Spirit led them to know the Truth, that the Truth was the same for all, and thus that they were led to discipline Friends whom they considered disobedient to that Truth. John Perrot went to Rome in 1657 to convert the Pope. His partner Luffe was hanged and Perrot was sent to the madhouse. Fox wished Perrot to “wither like ye grasse on ye house toppe.” Perrot believed in forgiveness because the Truth changed from person to person and day to day. Those who believed in one Truth would try to convince whose who were unsure, whereas those who believed as Perrot did would not. In 1666 the Society decided that it had the power to judge Friends’ misdemeaners and to expel them if it thought they had strayed from the Truth. The first Publishers of the Truth were not willing to debate positions such as Perrot’s. “All Friends had to do was to accept it and follow it and admonish those who did not.” -p.29. Quakers must have removed their hats when praying because Perrot did not agree with doing so. “The personal teaching of the Spirit to each [person] continually” vs. “the acceptance of established basic principals thougth internal conviction.” -p.30. The Elders “placed the authority of the church over that of the Spirit” p.31. Fox seemed to believe that only the church as a body could discern the Truth. An annonymous booklet entitled “SPIRIT of the HAT etc.” (1673) questioned this premise. Barclay believed in the need for discipline and outlined how it should be done. In the 1670s the Society began to split between the personal revelationist ‘hat-men’ and the doctrinal elstablished-order exponents.


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