Posts Tagged ‘barclay’

Robert Barclay – An Introduction

December 20th, 2009 No comments

The following is a talk I gave at Devonshire St and Wahroonga local meetings in Sydney. It is on my favourite Quaker topic of Robert Barclay. Barclay was an early Quaker theologian, who tried to articulate a theological justification of the Quakers. Some of the text below will read as though it should be spoken as one would expect.  I hope you enjoy it.

Robert Barclay – An Introduction

Presented by Paul L. Copeland


Let us begin with a moment of silence.

“… And O Blessed God! Thou has been graciously pleased to begin a good work, a glorious work of righteousness in our days and times.  Blessed God and Father! We humbly pay Thee, carry it on and make it prosper.  Prosper the souls of thy people in it, that they may be a growing, thriving and increasing people in thy holy ways and in thy blessed work; and as Thou hast sown a precious seed and planted a noble vine by thine own Almighty hand; and hast given us a root of life, the foundation of our faith, love and obedience, which foundation Thou hast laid in Zion; Lord, keep thy people sensible of it; that they may mind it, and wait upon Thee, and be preserved in that root of life wherin thy blessing is; that thy people may partake of thy blessing, and grow up into the nature of that life, to bring forth fruit to Thee – to increase in faith and love, in obedience and humility and meekness; that the life of true Christianity may be promoted and increased among thine heritage; …”[1]

The preceding passage is part of a prayer offered by Barclay at Grace Church Street Meeting, May 16th, 1688. I thought in an appropriate way to start our journey into the world of Robert Barclay.

Robert Barclay and his Apology for the True Christian Divinity have had a profound impact on my understanding of Quakerism and on how to live as a Quaker.  For this reason I felt it important for me to pass on some observations and insights revealed by Barclay.  I should say now that I do not consider Barclay to be canon.  As we often say no one person can speak for Quakerism as a whole.  However, Barclay was the first, and for quite a while the only Quaker to expound a theological basis to Quakerism.  When one reads Fox, Penn and Pennington we generally find very moving tracts that show us an avenue to the Light, but rarely is there a systematic analysis of the theological grounding behind their experience.

As Howard Brinton says in the Preface to the Pendle Hill Pamphlet Barclay in Brief:

George Fox, William Penn and Robert Barclay were the three great trail-breakers of primitive Quakerism.  What Fox accomplished in the filed of religious pioneering and church organisation and what Penn achieved in political and social action, Barclay attained in the field of thought and scholarship.[2]

Barclay sets forth in the Apology a justification of Quakerism when compared to two of the main Christian branches at work in 17th Century Britain: Catholicism and Calvinism. However as a whole the Apology also argues against Protestantism, Pelagianism and Socinianism. But is this work relevant today, we shall discuss this later on.

As we start this investigation we must remember that Barclay wrote in a time that was theologically different from us.  Nearly everyone in Britain professed a faith, most could not read the Bible, yet they believed it to historically correct and to be the literal Word of God.  Barclay also writes at a time when Quakerism was still very Christocentric, whereas we now have more Universalist tones to modern Quaker publications.

But who was Robert Barclay?

Barclay was Born in 1648 and died in 1690, aged a relatively young 42. He died as a result of fever. He was from a noble Scottish family, in fact is father David Barclay was a soldier and fought for Sweden in the Thirty Years War, and was later a Colonel in the Royalist army in the English Civil war. His father was the subject of Whittier’s poem Barclay of Ury. His mother Catherine was a third cousin to Charles I.

Robert Barclay was brought up with a Calvanist background, in fact Barclay himself says , “My first education from my infancy up, fell amongst the strictest sort of Calvanists”[3].  At an early age though Barclay was sent to Scots Theological College in Paris, which was a Roman Catholic Institution, where his uncle was the Rector.  Of the Catholic influence on him Barclay said:

“… and my tender years and immature capacity not being able to withstand and resist the insinuations that were used to proselite me to that way, I became quickly defiled with the pollutions therof”

But at the request of his dying mother his father brought him back to Scotland, where Robert deliberately chose not to join with any religious establishment.

In 1665 his father was imprisoned for having held office under the Commonwealth.  Here Daviid Barclay was sharing a cell with Quaker John Swinton, who convinced him to the Quaker way.  Robert was brought to Quakerism through his father and he joined the Society in either late 1666 or early 1667.  The following words that Barclay used to describe his experience with the Quaker Meeting for Worship are well known and repeat them here:

“For, when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up; and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed; and indeed this is the surest way to become a Christian; to whom afterwards the knowledge and understanding of principles will not be wanting, but will grow up so much as is needful as the natural fruit of this good root, and such a knowledge will not be barren nor unfruitful.”[4]

Barclay’s father remained in prison for four years, and Robert was sent back to the estate at Ury.  He continued to study widely and in 1670 he married Christian Molleson in Aberdeen, it was the first Quaker wedding in Aberdeen and it led to public disturbances.  The next six years leading up to the publication of the Apology saw him travelling in the ministry and answering controversies.  In 1676 the Apology for the True Christian Divinity is published in Latin.

In 1682 twelve Quakers under the auspices of Penn established East New Jersey, Barclay was made non resident governor and this role involved him in a lot of administration. The constitution of this province strongly reflected Quakers views of tolerance. In 1686 his father died and the role of managing the Ury estate fell to him.  The last years of his life were spent mainly in quest work amongst friends in Scotland.

His Publications

Barclay’s first well known publication was A Catechism and Confession of Faith published in 1673.  In it Barclay uses the Bible as a reference to support the current practices of Quakerism. It covered a range of topics from the knowledge of God, Faith, Resurrection, Worship and many more.  Here is an extract from Chapter 6 on Faith, Justification and Works.


Concerning Faith, Justification and Works.

Question. What is Faith?

A. Faith is the Substance of things hoped for and the Evidence of things not seen [Heb. 11:1].

Q. Is Faith of absolute Necessity?

A. Without Faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him [Heb. 11:6].

Q. Are we justified by Faith?

A. Wherefore the Law was our School-master to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by Faith [Gal. 3:24].

Q. What is the Nature of this Faith that availeth to Justification?

A. For in Jesus Christ neither Circumcision availeth any thing, nor Uncircumcision; but Faith which worketh by Love [Gal. 5:6].

Q. Are Works then necessary to Justification as well as Faith?

A. But wilt thou know, O Vain Man, that Faith without Works is Dead? Was not Abraham our Father justified by Works when he had offered Isaac his Son upon the Altar? Seest thou how Faith wrought with his Works, and by Works was Faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled; which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for Righteousness: He was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by Works a man is justified, and not by Faith only [James 2:20-24].

Q. If then both be equally required in Justification, what are these Works, which the Apostle excludes so much?

A. By the Deeds of the Law there shall no Flesh be justified in his Sight [Rom. 3:20].

Q. But though we be not justified by the Deeds of the Law, is not this to exclude Boasting, that the Grace of God may be exalted?

A. For by Grace are ye saved, through Faith, and that not of your selves, it is the Gift of God; not of Works, lest any Man should boast, for we are his Workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good Works [Eph. 2:8-10].

Q. Are even the Works which are performed by Grace excluded? Are we never said to be saved or justified by them?

A. Not by Works of Righteousness which we have done; but according to his Mercy he saved us by the washing of Regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his Grace we would be made Heirs, according to the hope of Eternal Life [Tit. 3:5-7].

In 1674 Barclay wrote The Anarchy of the Ranters, it was published in 1676 under the full title of:



















Barclay and Keith

It would be remiss of me to pass over a topic that Wragge expands on at depth in his short work The Faith of Robert Barclay.  George Keith was a Scottish Quaker contemporary of Barclay.  Keith envisaged as early as 1669, “the universal gathering of all nations, kingdoms, languages and kindred of the earth” and was a strong opponent of slavery as early as 1693.  It seems apparent that Keith had some influence on the young Barclay when he joined the Society; Keith was 10 years older and had been a Quaker since 1663, around three years before Barclay.  However, Keith has become something of a lost soul to Quaker history, primarily because he left the Society and became one of its vehement opponents. Keith felt that Quakers had veered to far away from Christian beliefs and formed a splinter group of Keithan Quakers, also called Christian Quakers.

The similarities of Keith’s and Barclay’s writings can be illustrated by comparing a few passages from Keith’s Immediate Revelation and Barclay’s Apology.



On the nature of the Seed

“for the Godhead is not divisble nor discerptible into particles, being a most simple, pure, being devoid of all composition or division.” [5] B. speaks of God’s nature “which is not divisible into parts and measure as being most pure, simple being void of all composition and division.”
“…the body of Christ, His flesh and blood which cometh down from Heaven and giveth life unto man, unto that soul or mind of man which eateth and feedeth upon it …”[6] “and this we call ‘vehiculum dei’ or the spiritual body of Christ, the flesh and blood of Christ which came down from Heaven of which all the saints do feed”

On the Scriptures

“Observe then the difference that’s betwixt these two – the new revelation of new things and the new revelation of the good old things – the first of these two, we do not plead for, but the latter …”[7] “So we distinguish betwixt a revelation of a new gospel and new doctrines, and a new revelation of the good old gospel and doctrines; the last we plead for, but the first we utterly deny.
“The glorious gospel of Christ is not the words… it is that which the words declare of, but not the words themselves.”[8]

“though the Scriptures declare of that word, yet they are not it…”[9]

‘they (the Scriptures) are only a declaration of the fountain, but not the fountain itself.” The letter of Scripture is “a meer declaration of good things, but not the things themselves.

Barclay also wrote about Quaker worship and leant heavily on the writings of Keith demonstrated as follows:



“for if a company of people should come into a a dark place, every one of them having a lamp or candle lighted, each person enjoyeth not only the light of his own but also of all his neighbours, where each suffer their light freely to shine forth.” [10] “and as many candles lighted and put in one place do greatly augment the light and make it more to shine forth, so …”

The Apology

That brings us to the Apology.  Well what exactly does the Apology have to say, put simply a lot.  I have no hope of explaining all that the Apology has to say.  So I thought I would let Robert Barclay do that for me.  There are fourteen propositions all in the same order as the Westminster Confession. They are[11]:

  • The First Proposition: Concerning the True Foundation of Knowledge [p. 19]
  • The Second Proposition: Concerning Immediate Revelation [p. 21]
  • The Third Proposition: Concerning the Scriptures [p. 62]
  • The Fourth Proposition: Concerning the Condition of Man in the Fall [p. 84]
  • The Fifth and Sixth Propositions: Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ, and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened [p. 96]
  • The Seventh Proposition: Concerning Justification [p. 167]
  • The Eighth Proposition: Concerning Perfection [p. 205]
  • The Ninth Proposition: Concerning Perseverance, and the Possibility of Falling from Grace [p. 223]
  • The Tenth Proposition: Concerning the Ministry [p. 230]
  • The Eleventh Proposition: Concerning Worship [p. 289]
  • The Twelfth Proposition: Concerning Baptism [p. 343]
  • The Thirteenth Proposition: Concerning the Communion, or participation of the Body and Blood of Christ [p. 373]
  • The Fourteenth Proposition: Concerning the Power of the Civil Magistrate in Matters purely Religious and pertaining to the Conscience [p. 407]
  • The Fifteenth Proposition: Concerning Salutations and Recreations, &c. [p. 429]

For me I have read most from the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh Propositions.  Why?  In 2006 I moved to a new school with quite a number of Anglican teachers and one Christadelphian.  Being interested in theology, we would get into discussions, and as they tried to dismantle the basis of Quakerism I turned to Barclay to give me a theological justification behind my faith.  The seventh proposition I found particularly rewarding as Barclay delves into the faith and works divide.

But let us have a look at some of the propositions and what Barclay says.

The Second Proposition: Concerning Immediate Revelation

Seeing “no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son revealeth him”; and seeing the “revelation of the Son is in and by the Spirit” (Matt. 11:27); therefore the testimony of the Spirit is that alone by which the true knowledge of God hath been, is, and can be only revealed; who as, by the moving of his own Spirit, he disposed the chaos of this world into that wonderful order wherein it was in the beginning, and created man a living soul, to rule and govern it, so, by the revelation of the same Spirit, he hath manifested himself all along unto the sons of men, both patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; which revelations of God by the Spirit, whether by outward voices and appearances, dreams, or inward objective manifestations in the heart, were of old the formal object of their faith, and remain yet so to be, since the object of the saints’ faith is the same in all ages, though held forth under divers administrations. Moreover, these divine inward revelations, which we make absolutely necessary for the building up of true faith, neither do nor can ever contradict the outward testimony of the Scriptures, or right and sound reason. Yet from hence it will not follow, that the divine revelations are to be subjected to the test, either of the outward testimony of the Scriptures, or of the natural reason of man, as to a more noble or certain rule and touchstone; for this divine revelation and inward illumination, is that which is evident and clear of itself, forcing, by its own evidence and clearness, the well-disposed understanding to assent, irresistibly moving the same thereunto, even as the common principles of natural truths do move and incline the mind to a natural assent: as, that the whole is greater than its part, that two contradictories can neither be both true, nor both false.

Barclay goes on to say:

For the better understanding then of this proposition, we do distinguish betwixt the certain knowledge of God, and the uncertain; betwixt the spiritual knowledge, and the literal; the saving heart-knowledge, and the soaring, airy head-knowledge. The last, we confess, may be divers ways obtained; but the first, by no other way than the inward immediate manifestation and revelation of God’s Spirit, shining in and upon the heart, enlightening and opening the understanding.

Barclay then lists a number of past Christians, and often quotes them to support his assertion that the Spirit is the true teacher.  He even quotes the leader of the reformation Luther:

Luther, in his book to the nobility of Germany, saith, “This is certain, that no man can make himself a doctor of the holy Scriptures, but the holy Spirit alone.” And upon the Magnificat he saith, “No man can rightly understand God, or the Word of God, unless he immediately receive it from the Holy Spirit; neither can any one receive it from the Holy Spirit, except he find it by experience in himself; and in this experience the Holy Ghost teacheth, as in his proper school; out of which school nothing is taught but mere talk.”

Barclay then condenses down the argument to five statements:

First, That there is no knowledge of the Father but by the Son.

Secondly, That there is no knowledge of the Son but by the Spirit.

Thirdly, That by the Spirit God hath always revealed himself to his children.

Fourthly, That these revelations were the formal object of the saints’ faith.

And Lastly, That the same continueth to be the object of the saints’ faith to this day.

He then sets out to argue for each statement, which then goes on for 11 pages expanding and explaining all of the points, often using scriptural references to justify his assertions.

Barclay closes the Proposition as follows:

Wait then for this in the small revelation of that pure Light which first reveals things more known; and as thou becomes fitted for it, thou shalt receive more and more, and by a living experience easily refute their ignorance, who ask, how dost thou know that thou art acted by the Spirit of God? Which will appear to thee a question no less ridiculous, than to ask one whose eyes are open, how he knows the sun shines at noon-day? And though this be the surest and most certain way to answer all objections; yet by what is above written it may appear, that the mouths of all such opposers as deny this doctrine may be shut, by unquestionable and unanswerable reasons.

The second proposition is important because it is the cornerstone of God providing continuing revelation.  Without Proposition 2 and its assertions Ministry would not be coming from God.

The Third Proposition: Concerning the Scriptures

From these revelations of the Spirit of God to the saints have proceeded the Scriptures of Truth, which contain,

I. A faithful historical account of the actings of God’s people in divers ages; with many singular and remarkable providences attending them.

II. A prophetical account of several things, whereof some are already past, and some yet to come.

III. A full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ, held forth in divers precious declarations, exhortations and sentences, which, by the moving of God’s Spirit, were at several times, and upon sundry occasions, spoken and written unto some churches and their pastors.

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.[12] Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.

Barclay then sets out a comprehensive argument through this proposition arguing why the Scriptures are secondary to the Spirit.  The continual refrain is that the Spirit is the ultimate rule or lead.  This is exemplified in this quote:

“yet we may not call them the principal fountain of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the first adequate rule of faith and manners; because the principal fountain of Truth must be the Truth itself; i.e., that whose certainty and authority depends not upon another.”

But do not make the mistake of thinking Barclay sees a lack of value in the Scriptures at all, being a man of his day he sees them as the immediate rule after the Spirit.  He elucidates it as such:

V. If it be then asked me, Whether I think hereby to render the Scriptures altogether uncertain, or useless?

I answer; Not at all. The proposition itself declares what esteem I have for them; and provided that to the Spirit from which they came be but granted that place the Scriptures themselves give it, I do freely concede to the Scriptures the second place, even whatsoever they say of themselves; which the apostle Paul chiefly mentions in two places (Rom. 15:4): “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope”; (2 Tim. 3:15-17): “The holy Scriptures are able to make wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture given by inspiration from God, is profitable for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good work.”

Barclay sees the scriptures as we perhaps see Ministry, as the children of God being moved by the Spirit and then recording it.  Remember that when Barclay wrote it was at a time when there was no question that Paul wrote all of “his” letters, including Hebrews, where as now quite a number of Paul’s letters are assumed to be pseudonymous, which does not mean they are not from the Spirit, but they perhaps lack the authority that they did in Barclay’s time.

The Fifth and Sixth Propositions: Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ, and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened

The Fifth Proposition states:

GOD, out of his infinite love, who delighteth not in the death of a sinner, but that all should live and be saved,[13] hath so loved the world, that he hath given his only Son a Light, that whosoever believeth in him shall be saved (John 3:16), “who enlighteneth EVERY man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), and “maketh manifest all things that are reprovable” (Eph. 5:13), and teacheth all temperance, righteousness, and godliness; and this Light enlighteneth the hearts of all in a day, in order to salvation; and this is it which reproves the sin of all individuals, and would work out the salvation of all, if not resisted. Nor is it less universal than the seed of sin, being the purchase of his death, “who tasted death for every man: for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

The Sixth Proposition opens in part as follows:

“According to which principle or hypothesis all the objections against the universality of Christ’s death are easily solved; neither is it needful to recur to the ministry of angels, and those other miraculous means which they say God useth to manifest the doctrine and history of Christ’s passion unto such, who, living in the places of the world where the outward preaching of the Gospel is unknown, have well improved the first and common grace. For as hence it well follows that some of the old philosophers might have been saved, so also may some, who by providence are cast into those remote parts of the world where the knowledge of the history is wanting, be made partakers of the divine mystery, if they receive and resist not that grace, “a manifestation whereof is given to every man to profit withal.”[14] This most certain doctrine being then received, that there is an evangelical and saving Light and grace in all, the universality of the love and mercy of God towards mankind, both in the death of his beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the Light in the heart, is established and confirmed, against all the objections of such as deny it. Therefore Christ “hath tasted death for every man,”[15] not only for all kinds of men, as some vainly talk, but for every man of all kinds; the benefit of whose offering is not only extended to such who have the distinct outward knowledge of his death and sufferings, as the same is declared in the Scriptures,”

These two propositions are often pointed to as the Universalist propositions.  It is here that Barclay essentially points out that the Light that provides salvation is available to all.  Not simply to a select group.  This was in some ways a counterpoint to the view of Calvinist who believed in predestination, and that God had already chosen those who would be saved. Barclay found the Calavanistic predestination concept abhorrent.

Barclay’s argument in this proposition may be crystallised down to this statement which appears in the Apology:

Our theme then hath two parts: First, that those that have the Gospel and Christ outwardly preached unto them, are not saved but by the working of the Grace and Light in their hearts.

Secondly, that by the working and operation of this, many have been, and some may be saved, to whom the Gospel hath never been outwardly preached, and who are utterly ignorant of the outward history of Christ.

This was a contentious position, particularly in Protestant Britain, where it was the knowledge of Christ and his sacrifice that was what brought about Salvation.  That Christ’s gift could save without knowledge of the events of Christ was quite heretical.

The Seventh Proposition: Concerning Justification

As many as resist not this Light, but receive the same, it becomes in them a holy, pure, and spiritual birth, bringing forth holiness, righteousness, purity, and all those other blessed fruits, which are acceptable to God, by which holy birth, to wit, Jesus Christ formed within us, and working his works in us, as we are sanctified, so are we justified in the sight of God, according to the apostle’s words: “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore it is not by our works wrought in our will, nor yet by good works, considered as of themselves; but by Christ, who is both the gift and the giver, and the cause producing the effects in us, who, as he hath reconciled us while we were enemies, doth also in his wisdom save us, and justify us after this manner, as saith the same apostle elsewhere, “According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5).

For Barclay this proposition centres on some important concepts that are carefully argued. Quakers were determined to let their lives be examples; they believed one could live as though the Kingdom of God was already present. This prompted many mainstream Protestants to accuse them of offering salvation via works. For those unfamiliar with Protestant doctrine, salvation can only be by faith alone. This was hammered by Paul particularly as he pointed out it was not though works of the Law that saved but by Faith in Christ. The early Protestants then took that salvation can only be by Faith; works played no part at all. This view stands strongly today, to the point that many say works plays no part at all. This simply is not true scripturally. According to the Bible, salvation is by faith alone, BUT if one has true faith they will also have works. This is the point raised in James Chapter 2. Luther called James a very strawy epistle. For Luther it muddied his argument that it was faith alone. Many Protestants immediately point to Ephesians 2:8-9, but they often leave off verse 10. In total they read:

For it is by grace you are saved through faith; it is not your own doing. It is God’s gift , 9 not a reward for work done. There is nothing for anyone to boast of; 10 we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the life of good deeds which God designed us for.[16]

So what does Barclay say? Well he does not argue that salvation is by works alone, he actually distances himself from the Catholic position by saying “I suppose there is enough said before to clear us from any imputation of being Popish in this matter” (p195). But he does point out that works are essential to justification.

For Barclay the key to Justification is not works of the Church, e.g. ceremonies and sacraments, nor is it through complete faith in the merits and sufferings of Christ. Instead it is through the inward Christ renewing of the mind, or the formation of the inward Christ within them. Barclay goes on to reinforce that we alone cannot bring salvation, but we need the actions of Christ within to make us righteous before God. Barclay explains there is a two stage redemption for man. First redemption is performed and accomplished by Christ for us, and then there is redemption wrought by Christ in us. The first where man is given salvation from his place after the fall, the second is whereby we witness the redemption in ourselves purifying us from corruption and bringing us into favour and friendship with God.

In point IV of the proposition Barclay sets out the three proposals that are derived thus far. In summary they are:

1. That obedience, sufferings and death of Christ is how we obtain remission from sins thus giving us grace.

2. It is by the inward birth in Christ that man is made just.

3. Since good works follow from birth, as heat from fire, hence good works are absolutely necessary for justification.

The remainder of the proposition consist of Barclay’s detailed arguments proving this three proposals mentioned above. At times these are hard to follow but I believe he makes a very strong case on all points.

The proposition closes with a very dense paragraph, and I have included part of it as it sums up the theme of Barclay’s view on Justification quite nicely.

And to conclude this theme, let none be so bold as to mock God, supposing themselves justified and accepted in the sight of God, by virtue of Christ’s death and sufferings, while they remain unsanctified and unjustified in their own hearts, and polluted in their sins, lest their hope prove that of the hypocrite, which perisheth.[17] Neither let any foolishly imagine that they can, by their own works, or by the performance of any ceremonies or traditions, or by the giving of gold or money, or by afflicting their bodies in will worship and voluntary humility, or foolishly striving to conform their way to the outward letter of the law, flatter themselves that they merit before God, or draw a debt upon him, or that any man, or men, have power to make such kind of things effectual to their justification, lest they be found foolish boasters and strangers to Christ and his righteousness indeed. But blessed forever are they, that having truly had a sense of their own unworthiness and sinfulness, and having seen all their own endeavours and performances fruitless and vain, and beheld their own emptiness, and the vanity of their vain hopes, faith, and confidence, while they remained inwardly pricked, pursued, and condemned by God’s holy witness in their hearts, and so having applied themselves thereto, and suffered his grace to work in them; are become changed and renewed in the spirit of their minds, passed from death to life, and know Jesus arisen in them, working both the will and the deed; and so having “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” in effect are clothed with him and partake of his righteousness and nature; such can draw near to the Lord with boldness, and know their acceptance in, and by him; in whom, and in as many as are found in him, the Father is well pleased.

As this paper reaches the 5000 word mark I am afraid I am going to leave the Apology there.  This is a little disappointing because there is much more to find.  We see Barclay’s views on Perfection in the next proposition and how the Quakers try to live the perfected life by following the light.  In Proposition 12 he discusses worship and interestingly rails against philosophers, saying philosophy ruins the mind; very easy for the educated Barclay to say.  And then he also in Proposition 14 discusses the early Quaker testimonies, including Peace, Oaths, Gaming, Dress and Hat Honour.

It is a very rich text and one that has a lot to say.  But what does it all mean today?

Barclay and the Message for Today

As Wragge says in The Faith of Robert Barclay, it is tempting to say that Barclay’s message is outdated, that Calvinism and Catholicism are not the prevailing issues that effect society.  In Wragge’s day humanism and communism were the big philosophical issues.  What about today, individualism, atheism and fundamentalism are prevailing trends.

It is also easy to dismiss Barclay’s message as out of touch with modern views of religion. Barclay’s Catechism and Confession of Faith may be to some people redundant as modern biblical scholarships muddies the Biblical water; no longer is it the unquestioned Word of God for most people. And as Wragge points out many people may feel cold from Barclay’s view of the Scriptures as, “the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians”.

But it would be wrong to dismiss Barclay as outdated or wrong on all matters.  Barclay ensured his continuing importance to Quakerism with the second and third propositions.  By placing the Spirit, or Light as the principle rule he is indeed entirely relevant today.  Barclay’s Apology is a long proof of the simple concept that the Spirit is the ultimate guide, and while the Scriptures may be valued they are secondary.  Patricia Williams in Quakerism A Theology for Our Times argues that this very concept is what continues to give Barclay such longevity.  In fact she argues that the theology set forth by Barclay stacks up as reliable and believable today.  This is because unlike many Christian religions, Quakerism is not being rocked by modern Biblical criticism.  Barclay’s use of the Bible is to support Quakerism’s views of the Spirit, to prove the Authors shared this view.  It is not the only source of revelation as it is for the Protestant faith.

When Barclay wrote the Apology Britain had emerged from the Civil war and there was great religious turbulence in Britain.  Today we live in a society scared of terrorism which is being fuelled by fundamentalism.  With this fear of terrorism the world has become a less open place with greater authority given to governments and security organisations.  In the US and Australia laws have been passed that take away some freedoms in the name of better security.  We are also going to war in the name of democracy while tyranny flourishes elsewhere.  These subtle moves tend to be a way to control people and limit their freedom.  In Proposition 14 Barclay states:

“But that no man, by virtue of any power or principality he hath in the government of this world, hath power over the consciences of men, is apparent, because the conscience of man is the seat and throne of God in him”

It is a reminder that we must at all times, within reasonable limits assert the right of private judgement and action, particularly against tyranny and subtle undemocratic forms of control.

Barclay is also important because contrary to what many think it is not simply just an academically driven theological tome.  It is actually a systematic record of his own experiences and general Quaker experiences as well.  In the Apology Barclay clearly draws a line between “the saving heart-knowledge, and the soaring, airy head-knowledge”[18]. The Apology is not just theory it is about the real life practices and experiences supported by theological underpinnings.

Finally I think it is very important to value Barclay because he provides us with one of the most comprehensive statements of Quakerism.  Yes there are some areas that may not be so valued today; nonetheless it is a detailed and considered piece of Ministry that speaks to many people in a variety of ways.

Is Barclay relevant to us today?  Of course he is.  Should he be quoted as canon, or as creed? Certainly not.  Barclay is worth the effort.  You will not find pithy statements about the Light, but the reward for the effort is a deeper understanding about what the logical extension is to the doctrine of the Inner Light.

I hope I have been able to scratch the surface and illuminate some of Barclay’s message.  To demonstrate the profound and powerful faith of Robert Barclay I thought the following little incident in his life would be a good illustration.

Barclay and his wife, her brother and another companion were attacked by a highway man, when the pistol was levelled at Barclay the following ensued:

“Calm and self-possessed he looked the robber in the face with a firm but meek benignity, assured him he was his and every man’s friend, that he was willing and ready to relieve his wants, that he was free from fear of death through a Divine hope in immortality and therefore was not intimidated by a deadly weapon; and then appealed to him whether he could have the heart to shed the blood of one who had no other feeling or purpose but to do him good.  The robber was confounded; his eye melted, his brawny arm trembled, his pistol fell to his side and he fled from the presence of the non-resistant whom he could no longer confront.”[19]

If anyone has any comments or questions feel free to start.

[1] Wragge, J. Phillip. (1948). The Faith of Robert Barclay. p5

[2] Mather, Elanor Price (1942) Barclay in Brief.

[3] Wragge, J. Phillip. (1948). The Faith of Robert Barclay.

[4] Barclay, Robert, (2005) Quaker Faith and Practice

[5] Keith, George. (1668). Immediate Revelation. pp 7-8

[6] ibid

[7] Keith, George. (1668). Immediate Revelation. p 2

[8] Keith, George. (1668). Immediate Revelation. p 39

[9] Keith, George. (1668). Immediate Revelation. p 128

[10] Keith, George. (1668). Immediate Revelation.

[11] Page numbers refer to the printed version of Barclay’s Apology from Quaker Heritage Press.

[12] John 16:13, Rom. 8:14

[13] Ezek. 18:32; 33:12.

[14] 1 Cor. 12:7.

[15] Heb. 2:9.

[16] Revised English Bible

[17] Job 8:13

[18] Barclay, Robert (1678). Apology for the True Christian Divinty. p23

[19] Wragge, J. Phillip. (1948). The Faith of Robert Barclay. p30

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