Barclay’s Apology Revisited

In 1676 Robert Barclay, a well-educated Scottish Friend, published a major theological defense of Quakerism called An Apology for the True Christian Divinity. This tome was first published in Latin and soon afterward translated into English. Since that time Barclay’s Apology has been translated into several languages. The Apology was used extensively by Friends to explain their faith well into the 19th century. Although Friends have never embraced creedal statements, Barclay’s Apology is even to this day considered one of the most articulate explanations of the Quaker faith.

Barclay’s Apology is based on fifteen propositions or theses. The language (even in modern English) seems archaic today and most liberal Friends are less concerned about justifying their faith based on the Bible or critical analysis of sacred text (exegesis). Nevertheless there is much we can learn from this classic work. Much of what we currently take for granted about our faith was best expressed by Robert Barclay over 300 years ago.

Not all segments of the Religious Society of Friends accept Barclay’s view of the Inner Light of Christ. Ohio Yearly Meeting (“Gurneyite”) in 1877 rejected the doctrine of the Inner Light as “dangerous, unsound, and unscriptural.” Most Friends however, even evangelicals, have not gone to this extreme. These days I suspect that the 15th proposition is the most problematic for us, in that Friends are generally not too concerned with the evils of stage plays, music, or card games in the 21st century. Plain dress has all but disappeared though Friends often tend to be modest in their attire, not dressing up to impress others.  Propositions 10 and 11 may also be problematic for pastoral Friends, in that a programmed service (by definition) relies upon more than “waiting upon the Lord.”

Herein is a summary of Barclay’s Apology, based on the modern English version by Dean Freiday and notes from Friend Geoffrey Kaiser’s series of talks about the Apology in the 1990s. You can read the Apology online for yourself at the following link: http:  http://www.qhpress.org/texts/barclay/apology/.

Proposition 1:  The True Foundation of Knowledge
The height of happiness is the knowledge and firsthand experience of God in our lives. This is essential to our faith and should be understood and trusted. (John 17: 3)

Proposition 2:  Inward and Unmediated Revelation
The only way to know God first hand is as an inward experience. Revelation is not only the foundation of faith, it is the main purpose and object of faith. Revelations serve as their own evidence. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom 8: 14)

Proposition 3:  The Scripture
The Scriptures are useful because they are (1) a faithful account of God’s people through the ages, (2) they are prophetic, and (3) they outline the chief principles of Christianity. Nevertheless they are only a declaration of the source of Truth, not the Truth itself. Mistakes in translation and interpretation can and have been made. The Spirit, not Scripture, is the foundation and basis of all truth and knowledge. The Spirit allows us to interpret scripture with confidence and it is the primary rule of faith. You do not need to be literate or able bodied to understand the work of the Spirit.

Proposition 4:  Spiritual Estrangement (“The condition of man in the Fall”)
Although there is an inward impetus that can lead to evil, we are not born evil. People do evil when they give in to their evil impulses. Separating ourselves from evil is necessary to walk in the Light. (Rom 5: 12-15)

Proposition 5:  The universal redemption by Christ
There is a Light which enlightens every soul that comes into this world (John 1: 9). It is not necessary to profess Jesus or know of him to be redeemed. The Inner Light of Christ is available to all.

Proposition 6:  Universal Spiritual Opportunity (“The Saving and Spiritual Light by which every man is enlightened”)
While outward knowledge of the history, principles, or testimonies of Christianity are helpful, it is not necessary for a soul to walk in the Light. Anyone can respond to the Light and turn to goodness. “Conscience is a wonderful thing, when it is properly informed and enlightened,” but it is not the same thing as the Light, because conscience is culturally conditioned; the Light is universal.

Proposition 7:  Walking in the Light (“Justification”)
For those who do not resist the Light, but receive it, it becomes a holy, pure and spiritual birth within them. It produces all holiness and good works, which are the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22-23). God works through people everywhere, not merely by good works, even those that arose from the Spirit of Christ, but “follow as naturally as fruit from a fruitful tree.”

Proposition 8:  Perfection [or “the achievement of spiritual maturity”]
When immersed in the awareness of the Inner Light a soul is oblivious to evil promptings. “Yet there is still room for spiritual growth, and some possibility of sinning remains if the mind is not diligently and watchfully applied to heeding the Lord.” (Rom 6: 14, 8: 13, 6: 2, and I John 3: 6) Walking in the Light takes persistence. It is however achievable because Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light. (Mat 11: 30)

Proposition 9:  Paradise Lost (“perseverance in the faith and the possibility of falling from grace”)
Even though “the inward grace of God is sufficient to bring about salvation,” people will resist it deafening their spiritual awareness, hardening their hearts, and make a shipwreck of their faith. (Jude 4, I Tim 1: 19)

Proposition 10:  Ministry
All true ministry is ordained by God. Without spiritual ordination there is no spiritual authority. All ministry should be guided by the Light and offered freely. (Mat 10: 8) While receiving aid such food and clothing are acceptable, we are not to make a trade of our religion. No matter how learned or by whose authority you preach the gospel, it must be Spirit led. Those who do otherwise “they should be considered deceivers and not true ministers of the gospel.” Because we are all “one in Christ” (Gal 3: 28) men and women have equal access to the Light and gender is not a qualifier for ministry.

Proposition 11:  Worship
“True and acceptable worship” of God stems from the “inward and unmediated moving and drawing” of the Spirit. “It is not limited by places, times, or persons.” Worship is based on inward seeking and waiting in the Light. (Isiah 40: 31) Outward rituals may produce feelings similar to the Light, but “these empty forms are to be denied and rejected.” While it is necessary to set aside some time for the worship of God, we are not required to do it on any particular day of the week.

Proposition 12:  Baptism
There is only one true baptism which is “of the Spirit and of fire”, (Matt 3:11, Eph 4: 5, I Cor 12: 13) which does not include an outward observance.

Proposition 13:  Communion
True communion is inward and spiritual, not an outward observance. Christ’s breaking of bread was symbolic and not meant to be a continuing ritual. (John 6:32-35, I Cor 5: 8)

Proposition 14:  Government and conscience
The power and dominion of the conscience is the province of God. No person, regardless of their position in government, has the right to force another person to act against their conscience. Transgressors must be subject to law and justice must be evenhanded.

Proposition 15:  Vain and empty customs and pursuits
True religion liberates people from prejudices, customs, tradition and belief’s which cloud their spiritual vision so that they may better walk in and be taught by the Light. Those who abide in the Light will feel its increase within and its blessings. Vain customs such as bowing to one another are unfitting for followers of Christ. Participation in revenge or warfare are not consistent with our faith. We are called to be humble and therefore should wear modest clothing. [Note: No mention is made of what constitutes modest attire.] Frivolous diversions, such as card playing, stage plays, dance and music are to be avoided because they “waste precious time and divert the mind from the witness of God in the heart.” (Eph 5:11, I Peter 1: 14, John 5: 44)

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2 thoughts on “Barclay’s Apology Revisited

  1. That was Ohio Yearly Meeting Damascus which did not participate with the “liberal” Guernsey Friends in 1877. They became the Evangelical Friends Church Eastern Region. David Updergraff and Dougan Clark were Holiness Quakers that influenced “Ohio Yearly Meeting Damascus.””
    Mahalo for your blog.

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