William Penn, 1666 (age 22)
Copy of a seventeenth-century portrait, possibly by Sir Peter Lely
(Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

From Preface to George Fox's Journal (1694)
by William Penn

Two things are to be considered: The doctrine they taught and the example they led among all people. I have already touched upon their fundamental principle, which is as the cornerstone of their fabric, and indeed, to speak eminently and properly, their characteristic or main distingishing point or principle, viz., the light of Christ within, as God's gift from man's salvation. This, I say, is as the root of the goodly tree of doctrines that grew and branched out from it, which I shall now mention in their natural and experimental order.

First, repentance from dead works to serve the living God. Which comprehends three operations: first,a sight of sin; secondly, a sense and godly sorrow for sin; thirdly, an amendment for the time to come. This was the repentance they preached and pressed and a natural result from the principle they turned all people unto. For of light came sight, and of sight came sense and sorrow, and of sense and sorrow came amendment of life.... None can come to know Christ to be their sacrifice that reject Him as their sanctifier, the end of His coming being to save His people from the nature and defilement as well as guilt of sin; and... therefore those that resist His light and spirit make His coming and offering of none effect to them.

From hence sprang doctrine they were led to declare as the mark of the price of the high calling to all true Christins, viz., perfection from sin, according to the Scriptures of truth, which testify it to be the end of Christ's coming and the nature of His Kingdom, and for which His spirit was and is given, viz., to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and holy because God is holy....

Thirdly, this leads to an acknolwegment of eternal rewards and punishments, as they have good reason; for else of all people certainly they must be the most miserable, who for above forty years have been exceeding great sufferers for their profession, and in some cases treated worse then the worst of men, yea, as the refuse and offscouring of all things.

This was the purport of their doctrine and ministry, which, for the most part, is what other professors of Christianity pretend to hold in words and forms, but not in the power of godliness, which, generally speaking, has been long lost by men's departing from that principle and seed of life that is in man... and by which he can only be quickened in his mind to serve the living God in newness of life....

The Quaker Testimonies:

Besides these general doctrines, as the larger branches, there sprang forth several particular doctrines, that did exemplify and further explain the truth and efficacy of the general doctrine before observed in their lives and examples. As,

  1. Communion and loving one another. This is a noted mark in the mouth of all sorts of people concerning them: they will meet, they will help and stick one to another; whence it is common to hear some say, "Look how the Quakers love and take care of one another." Others, less moderate, will say, "The Quakers love none but themselves." And if loving one another and having an intimate communion in religon and constant care to meet to worship God and help one another be any mark of primitive Christianity, they had it, blessed the Lord, in an ample manner.

  2. To love enemies. This they both taught and practiced. For they did not only refuse to be revenged for injuries done them, and condemned it as of an unchristian spirit, but they did freely forgive, yea, help and relieve those that had been cruel to them when it was in their power to have been even with them (of which many and singular instances might be given), endeavoring through faith and patience to overcome all injustice and oppression and preaching this doctrine as Christian for others to follow.

  3. Another was the sufficiency of truth-speaking, according to Christ's own form of sound words of Yea, yea, and Nay, nay, among Christians without swearing....

  4. Not fighting, but suffering is another testimony peculiar to this people. They affirm that Christianity teacheth people to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and to learn war no more, that so the wolf may lie down with the lamb and the lion with the calf, and nothing that destroys be entertained in the hearts of people.... Thus, as truth-speaking succeeded swearing, so faith and patience succeeded fighting in the doctrine and practice of this people. Nor ought they for this to be obnoxious to civil government, since it they cannot fight for it, neither can they fight against it, which is no mean security to any state. Nor is it reasonable that people should be blamed for not doing more for others than they can do for themselves. And, Christianity set aside, if the coast and fruits of war were well considered, peace with all its inconveniences is generally preferable...

  5. Another part of the character of this people was and is, they refuse to pay tithes or maintenance to a national ministry, and that for two reasons. The one is, they believe all compelled maintenance, even to gospel ministers to be unlawful, because expressly contrary to Christ's command, Who said, "Freely you have received, freely give"; at least, that the maintenance of gospel ministers should be free and not forced. The other reason of their refusal is, because those ministres are not gospel ones in that the Holy Ghost is not their foundation, but human arts and parts. So that it is not matter of humor or sullenness but pure conscience toward God that they cannot help to support national ministries where they dwell, which are but too much and too visibly become ways of worldly advantage and preferment.

  6. Not to respect persons was and is another of their doctrines and practices for which they are often buffeted and abused. They affirmed it to be sinful to give flattering titles or to use vain gestures and compliments of respect, though to virtue and authority they ever made a difference, but after their plain and homely manner, yet sincere and substantial way; well remembering... the command of their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, Who forbade His followers to call men Rabbi, which implies Lord or Master....

  7. They also used the plain language of thou and thee to a single person, whatever was his degree among men.
    And indeed the wisdom of God was much seen in bringing forth this people in so plain an appearance. For it was a close and distinguishing test upon the spirits of those they came among, showing their insides and what predominated, notwithstanding their high and great profession of religion....

  8. They recommended silence by their example, having very few words upon all occasions. They were at a word in dealing, nor could their customers [with] many words tempt them from it, having more regard to truth than custom, to example than gain. They sought solitude; but when in company they would neither use nor willingly hear unnecessary as well as unlawful discourses, whereby they preserved their minds pure and undisturbed from profitable thoughts and diversions. Nor could they humor the custom of "Good night, good morrow, Godspeed," for they knew the night was good and the day was good without wishing of either, and that in the other expression the holy name of God was too lightly and unthinkingly used and therefore taken in vain. Besides, they were words and wishes of course, and are usually as little meant as are love and service in the custom of cap and knee.

  9. For the same reason they forbore drinking to people or pledging of them, as the manner of the world is: a practice that is not only unnecessary, but they thought, evil in the tendencies of it, being a provocation to drink more than did people good, as well as that it was in itself vain and heathenish.

  10. Their way of marriage is peculiar to them, and shows a distinguishing care above other societies professing Christianity. They say that marriage is an ordinace of God, and that God only can rightly join man and woman in marriage. Therefore they use neither priest nor magistrate, but the man or woman concerned take each other as husband and wife in the presence of divers credible witnesses, promising unto each other, with God's assistance, to be loving and faithful in that relation till death shall separate them.... Which regular method has been, as it deserves, adjudged in courts of law a good marriage, where it has been by cross and ill people disputed and contested for want of the accustomed formality of priest and ring, etc. Ceremonies they have refused, not out of humor, but conscience reasonably grounded, inasmuch as no Scripture example tells us that the priest had any other part, of old time, than that of a witness among the rest before whom the Jews used to take one another; and therefore this people look upon it as an imposition to advance the power and profits of the clergy. And for the use of the ring, it is enough to say that it was a heathenish and vain custom, and never in practice among the people of God, Jews or primitive Christians....

  11. It may not be unfit to say something here of their births and burials, which make up so much of the pomp and solemnity of too many called Christians. For births, the parents name their own children, which is usually some days after they are born, in the presence of the midwife if she can be there, and those that were at birth, who afterward sign a certificate, for that purpose prepared, of the birth and name of the child or children, which is recorded in a proper book n the Monthly Meeting to which the parents belong, avoiding the accustomed ceremonies and festivals.

  12. Their burials are performed with the same simplicity. If the body of the deceased be near any public meeting place, it is usually carred thither for the more convenient reception of those that accompany it to the burying ground. And so it falls out sometimes that while the meeting is gathering for the burial some or other has a word of exhortation for the sake of the people there met together. After which the body is born away by the young men or those that are of their neighborhood or that were most of the intimacy of the deceased party, the corpse being in a plain coffin without any covering or furniture upon it. At the ground they pause some time before they put the body into its grave, that if anyone there should have anything upon them to exhort the people, they may not be disappointed, and that the relations may the more retiredly and solemnly take their last leave of the body of their departed kindred, and the spectators have a sense of mortality by the occasion then given them to reflect upon their own latter end. Otherwise, they have no set rites or ceremonies on those occasions. Neither do the kindred of the deceased ever wear mourning, they looking upon it as a worldly ceremony and piece of pomp; and that what mourning is fit for a Christian to have at the departure of a beloved relation or friend should be worn in the mind, which is only sensible of the loss; and the love they had to them and remembrance of them to be outwardly expressed by a respect to their advice and care of those they have left behind them, and their love of that they loved...

    These things, to be sure, gave them a rough and disagreeable appearance with the generality, who thought them turners of the world upside down, as indeed in some sense they were, but in no other than that wherein Paul was so charged, viz., to bring things back into their primitive and right order again. For these and such-like practices of theirs were not the result of humor or for civil istinction, as some have fancied, but a fruit of inward sense, which God through His holy fear had begotten in them. They did not consider how to contradict the world or distinguish themselves as a party from others, it being none of their business, as it was not their interest.... And though these things seemed trivial to some and rendered these people stingy and conceited in such persons' opinion, there was and is more in them than they were or are aware of.

    It was not very easy to our primitive Friends to make themselves sights and spectacles and the scorn and derision of the world, which they easily foresaw must be the consequence of so unfashionalbe a conversation in it. But herein was the wisdom of God seen in the foolishness of these things. First, that they had discovered the satisfaction and concern that people had in and for the fashion of this world, notwithstanding their high pretenses to another.... Secondly, it seasonably and profitably divided conversation; for this making their society uneasy to their relations and acquaintance, it gave them the opportunity of more retirement and solitude, wherein they met with better company, even the Lord God their Redeemer, and grew strong in His love, power, and wisdom, and were thereby better qualified for his service....

    And though they were not great and learned in the esteem of this world (for then they had not wanted followers upon their own credit and authority), yet they were generally the most sober of the several persuasions they were in and of the most repute for religion, and many of them of good capacity, substance, and account among men. And also some among them wanted not for parts, learning, or estate, though then, as of old, not many wise or noble, etc., were called or at least received the heavenly call, because of the cross that attended the profession of it in sincerity. But neither do parts or learning make men the better Christians, though the better orators and disputants; and it is the ignorance of people about the divine gift that causes that vulgar and mischievous mistake.

    "For of Light Came Sight," From Preface to George Fox's Journal, quoted from The Quaker Reader, Selected and Introduced by Jessamyn West (New York: The Viking Press, 1962)107-113.

Page Created August 1, 2000